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Hopeless Mrs. Clinton, Boobs on Facebook, Toni Morrison’s 80th: The Live Wire

| February 20, 2011

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Lobbying group picks up costs of Florida’s health-care legal challenge

From the Palm Beach Post: “Florida has paid less than $6,000 for its landmark challenge to President Obama’s health care law largely because a business lobbying group is picking up an undisclosed share of the remaining legal costs. While Florida, joined by 25 other states, won a favorable ruling last month from a federal district judge, the cost the states have split so far amounts to $46,000. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi told a state House committee this month that most of the rest is being covered by the National Federation of Independent Business, a group that opposes the law because of what it considers unconstitutional costs and regulations on firms and people. “They have dedicated a tremendous amount of resources to the lawsuit,” Bondi said Feb. 10. “We’re thrilled, because that’s saving our state money. That’s saving the 25 other states money as well.” Not so thrilled: Advocacy groups supporting the health care law that aims to cover more than 30 million uninsured. […] “My concern is if it’s a lawsuit on behalf of the people of Florida, then I would believe it should be the people of Florida footing the bill,” said state Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, a member of the House Health and Human Services Committee. “When you have an outside party paying, then every aspect of the AG’s office might be up for sale. This type of thing raises all kind of red flags.” NFIB officials declined to say how much the group is spending. “Not gonna, no,” said Bill Herrle, NFIB’s Florida executive director. “Good luck.””

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Florida’s Primary Snippiness

From Politico: “A deepening standoff between national Republicans and top party leaders in Florida has the potential to blow up the 2012 presidential primary calendar — and do lasting damage to the GOP in the nation’s largest swing state. At issue is the early date of Florida’s presidential primary election, currently set for Jan. 31, 2012. As of right now, it’s the first primary scheduled. That’s in blatant violation of Republican and Democratic National Committee rules, which say only four states — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada – can hold primary elections before the beginning of March. But despite the pleas of GOP officials in Washington, the Republican leaders of Florida’s legislature say they have no intention of shifting the date in a way that could diminish the Sunshine State’s influence in 2012. Key officials signaled they would accept nothing less than going fifth on the primary calendar — not leapfrogging the four early states, but clearly marked off from the other 45. […] There’s good reason for Republicans to covet that spot: In 2008, Arizona Sen. John McCain dealt a crippling blow to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by defeating him in Florida. A week later, the Super Tuesday primary contests ensured McCain would end up as the Republican nominee. Having played such a powerful role in the primaries last time, Florida Republicans aren’t eager to return to the ranks of states with little influence over the GOP nomination.” The full story.

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Four Girls, Four Friends, and the Death of Calyx Schenecker

A moving story in the St. Pete Times on the death of Calyx Schenecker, 16, and her brother Beau, 13, shot by their mother allegedly for talking back. The Times’ Alexandra Zayas tells the story of Calyx’s circle of friends: “The four should’ve watched The Office together that Thursday night, teenage girls giggling on webcams, alone at their computers but connected by things only they understood. They were always together. But that night, only three faces appeared on screen: Sara Wortman, Jena Young and Tatiana Henry. They thought maybe their friend was asleep or out to dinner with family. They had no idea everything had already changed; that they were no longer the Inseparable Four. They would soon learn what happened to Calyx Schenecker. Jena sent Calyx a text message the next day, when she didn’t show up at lunch. WHERE ARE YOU? No response. But after school, Sara’s friend said he learned something he needed to tell her. Jena heard from someone in a carpool that crime scene tape encircled Calyx’s home in Tampa Palms North. Tatiana, out sick that day, was sitting on her mom’s bed when the phone rang and her mom began to cry. “It can’t be,” she said. “Mom, what?” She pulled Tatiana close. “I don’t know how to tell you this … ” Eventually, everyone knew, even the news. There was Calyx’s mom in the arms of police, shaking, chained, labeled a murderer. There was Calyx beside her brother, Beau, smiling in photos as others told of how they died. She was 16. He, 13. Jena, who had Facebook-chatted with Calyx until 5:30 or 6 p.m. Thursday, kept asking herself if this was all real. Her mind lingered on absolutes of forever and never as she chewed on one thought: No more Calyx. Jena, 16, is the artsy one, with an affinity for sci-fi, striped hoodies and plaid pants. Sara, 15, is the always-punctual one, who likes math, physics, architecture and Googling stuff. And Tatiana, 15, is the mom of the group, with the big purse they all put their wallets in. Before enrolling in the International Baccalaureate program at King High School, they came from different middle schools with similar feelings about their place in teen society.” The full story.

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The Hopeless Mrs. Clinton

It looks like Hillary Clinton has been taking classes at the Baghdad Bob Academy of Crisis Management. You remember the charming and beloved Bob, more prosaically known as Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, and somewhat more disturbingly so as Saddam Hussein’s old minister of information: He’s the guy who, even as American Abrams tanks were snorting around the Iraqi capital, was assuring the world’s cameras that “There are no American infidels in Baghdad. Never!” Clinton has a few BB moments during the 18 days of the recent Egyptian revolution, when, like her boss, she seemed to think Hosni Mubarak a perfectly acceptable choice as Egypt’s dictator and transition man until presumed elections in September. Clinton had a more explicit BB moment last Dec. 3 that suddenly has more relevance, given the state-sanctioned bloodletting on Pearl Square in Bahrain this week. Clinton was having a sit-down with locals at Bahrain’s National Museum in Manama, the nation’s capital (the State Department’s word assassins called it a “townterview” hosted by Bahrain TV). Bahrainis aren’t known for being softball buffs. The host pitched her one anyway. “I know you touched upon the parliamentary elections a minute ago, but how do you see that as contributing to our democratization process here in the kingdom?” Clinton swung like she was Bill: “I think that the commitment to democracy is paramount and I’ve heard that from a broad range of your leaders and your citizens,” she said. “There seems to be a strong broadly-held commitment to democracy.” It got worse. The full story.

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Industrial Chick Factories

From Der Spiegel: “A turkey chick is fighting its way into life, hatching somewhat more slowly from its shell than the others. Its egg, perhaps, was a little too far from the top. There are 125 others, all hatchlings looking at their new world for the first time. Their nest is a plastic box, 85 by 60 centimeters with narrow slits in the sides — the legs and beaks of those buried further down stick out. The chicks are thrown out of the box onto a steel chute, from which they fall onto a conveyor belt, at least the ones that look acceptable. But in every box there are a few chicks that don’t quite make it to the top, flounder or are still struggling to emerge from their shells. Sometimes hatchery workers give those chicks a few extra minutes. But if they still can’t stand up properly, the chicks are placed back into the box. Between the remains of shells, stillborns and ailing chicks, there is another conveyor belt that moves upwards to a ramp. Behind a sheet of Plexiglas, the struggling turkey chick has finally pulled itself completely out of its egg and is peeping as it looks around. But it is late. Too late. The box is tipped and the chick, together with a pile of eggshells, slides into a grinder. Its life is snuffed out just as it was about to begin. […] Fifty years ago, it took two months until a chicken was ready to be slaughtered, at a weight of about one kilogram (2.2 pounds). Today’s chicken, housed in a gigantic, constantly illuminated barn, needs only 33 days to eat its way to a slaughter weight of 1.6 kilograms (3.5 pounds). It has been bred to no longer feel satiated. Its flesh grows faster than its bones, which often fail under the weight of the modern turbo-chicken. By the end of this manic fattening period, many animals, turkeys and broilers alike, can hardly stand up anymore. Walking to the feed or water trough is torture, and many chickens are in constant pain from blisters on their breasts, fractured bones, chemical burns on the balls of their feet and wounds inflicted by the beaks of other birds. The industry, however, doesn’t necessarily need healthy animals. Business is just as profitable with sick ones. More than 50 billion birds a year are produced in industrial poultry hatcheries worldwide. Growth rates for the meat are so high that the business has long since begun attracting financial investors.” The full story.

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Our Soviet Security State

From Secrecy News: “Legislation introduced in the Senate this week would broadly criminalize leaks of classified information. The bill (S. 355) sponsored by Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) would make it a felony for a government employee or contractor who has authorized access to classified information to disclose such information to an unauthorized person in violation of his or her nondisclosure agreement. Under existing law, criminal penalties apply only to the unauthorized disclosure of a handful of specified categories of classified information (in non-espionage cases). These categories include codes, cryptography, communications intelligence, identities of covert agents, and nuclear weapons design information. The new bill would amend the espionage statutes to extend such penalties to the unauthorized disclosure of any classified information. (Another pending bill, known as the SHIELD Act, would specifically criminalize disclosure — and publication — of information concerning human intelligence activities and source identities. Both bills were originally introduced at the end of the last Congress, and were reintroduced this month.) […] The bill would replace the Espionage Act’s use of the term “national defense information” with the broader but more precise term “national security information.” It would outlaw any knowing violation of an employee’s classified information nondisclosure agreement, “irrespective of whether [the discloser] intended to aid a foreign nation or harm the United States.” The bill would not criminalize the receipt of leaked information, and it would not apply to whistleblowers who disclose classified information through authorized channels. […] The bill does not provide for a “public interest” defense, i.e. an argument that any damage to national security was outweighed by a benefit to the nation. It does not address the issue of overclassification, nor does it admit the possibility of “good” leaks. Disclosing that the President authorized waterboarding of detainees or that the government conducted unlawful domestic surveillance would be considered legally equivalent to revealing the identities of intelligence sources, the design of secret military technologies or the details of ongoing military operations.” The full post.

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Medicare Primer

Misinformation is the mother of lousy policy, and the mother’s milk of demagogues. That’s been especially true in health care policy. The Kaiser Family Foundation has always done an excellent job of battling fallacies. Here’s its latest primer, on medicare. From the introduction: “For 45 years, Medicare has successfully provided access to health care services for the elderly ages 65 and over and many nonelderly people with disabilities, and currently covers 47 million Americans. Persistently high rates of growth in national health expenditures combined with demographic trends, however, pose a serious challenge to the financing of Medicare in the 21st century. This paper provides a detailed overview of Medicare spending and financing, beginning with a review of the factors contributing to the growth in Medicare spending, including the effects of the 2010 health reform law. Next, it explains the structure of the Medicare program’s financing, reviews various measures of fiscal status, and discusses the expected effects of rising Medicare costs on beneficiaries. The paper concludes with a discussion of the program’s long‐run financial challenges. With Medicare being the nation’s single largest health insurance program covering a large population for a broad range of health services, the program’s influence extends well beyond the assistance it provides to its beneficiaries. Medicare expenditures and the policies under which the program operates have a large impact on the nation’s health care system. One in five dollars used to purchase health services in 2008 came through the Medicare program, which finances nearly four in ten hospital stays nationally.” See the full primer.

Click on the graph for larger view.

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The Huffington Post’s Serfs

From Newspaper Death Watch: “We believe the debate over Huffington’s pay scale is a straw man for the bigger issue of content devaluation brought on by the Internet. Nate Silver contributes a fascinating analysis in this respect. He dissects the Huffington Post’s revenue model and determines that free content generates just a tiny percentage of the business. “The median blog post, with several hundred views, was worth only $3 or $4,” he writes. Even blockbuster articles contribute less than $200 to the site’s revenues. Silver’s analysis makes a number of assumptions, due to the lack of publicly available information, but the number that caught our eye was his estimate that HuffPo publishes about 100 articles per day. If you figure that nets out to 30,000 articles per year and revenues of $30 million, then the average article is worth about $1,000 to the site. Assuming that HuffPo pays a 20% royalty to the author, then the average writer would expect to receive no more than $200 per piece. Silver’s methodology, which is based on traffic, estimates the actual value at much less than that. Under any scenario, unsolicited content is worth no more than a few bucks. Huffington Post is only the most visible example of the new economics of news in which writers can expect to receive much less payment for work than they did in the heyday of mainstream media. Forcing the business to pay more to its writers doesn’t change those economics. Operations like Demand Media are standing at the ready to pay a nickel a word. The market will continue to find its low-water mark. The good news — if there is any — is that this dynamic isn’t new. Back in the pre-Internet days, The New York Times was able to get away with paying freelancers a pittance for their work because it was The New York Times. The value of the byline was enough to reward contributors, even if the actual paycheck was only beer money.” The full post.

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How to Get Boobs on Facebook

Figure 4, by Steven Assael. Click on the image for larger view.

From Gawker: “Why does Facebook hate the human body? It allows no nude pictures; porn stars are chased off the site simply for being porn stars. Even works of art that feature unclothed private parts fall before Facebook’s puritanical policies. Art schools and museums who upload nude drawings and paintings to their Facebook pages have found the pictures deleted and their accounts disabled. When the New York Academy of Art posted a drawing of a—gasp—topless woman by artist Steven Assael, it was met with a deletion and a warning: “You uploaded a photo that violates our terms of use, and this photo has been removed.” The school wrote an outraged post on its blog. “[We] find it difficult to allow Facebook to be the final arbiter – and online curator – of the artwork we share with the world.” Facebook told the New York Times that the deletion was a mistake, and that Facebook loves all art—even about naked people! In fact there is an “unwritten policy that allows drawings or sculptures of nudes,” said a spokesperson. “In this case, we congratulate the artist on his lifelike portrayal that, frankly, fooled our reviewers.” Ha, good one. Upload all the nude art you want, as long as they’re not pictures or videos… because these are not art? And make sure the drawing isn’t too good, or else it might be mistaken for a photograph and deleted. Facebook welcomes all of your shitty nude drawings and paintings.” The full post.

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Toni Morrison’s 80th

From the Library of America’s blog: “February 18, marks the eightieth birthday of Toni Morrison, Nobel and Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist, editor, and educator. In 1998 Morrison edited two volumes of James Baldwin’s works for The Library of America: Early Novels & Stories and Collected Essays. Although they were born just seven years apart, Morrison and Baldwin came from seemingly different generations of writers. They met in 1973 when Morrison was an editor at Random House and tried to sign Baldwin to a book deal. No contract ensued but they quickly became friends. “I dig Toni, and I trust her,” Baldwin wrote to his biographer David Adams Leeming. Severely weakened by his battle with cancer, Baldwin spoke about Morrison to Quincy Troupe in November 1987, just three weeks before he died, in what would be his last interview: Troupe: What do you think about Toni Morrison? Baldwin: Toni’s my ally and it’s really probably too complex to get into. She’s a black woman writer, which in the public domain makes it more difficult to talk about. . . . Her gift is in allegory. Tar Baby is an allegory. In fact all her novels are. But they’re hard to talk about in public. That’s where you get in trouble because her books and allegory are not always what it seems to be about. I was too occupied with my recent illness to deal with Beloved. But in general she’s taken a myth, or she takes what seems to be a myth, and turns it into something else. I don’t know how to put this—Beloved could be about the story of truth. She’s taken a whole lot of things and turned them upside down. Some of them—you recognize the truth in it. I think that Toni’s very painful to read.” The full post.

Watch a 2001 interview with Morrison on C-Span:

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Christopher Hitchens Answers

By way of Open Culture: “A little ways back, Christopher Hitchens fielded questions for 30 minutes from users, answering any and every question they threw his way. What historical figures, events or books have been underemphasized in American public education? Has the Iraq War (something Hitchens supported) had a positive or negative impact on Islamic extremism? What do socialism and libertarianism have in common intellectually, if anything? Other figures interviewed by Reddit users include Richard Dawkins, Noam Chomsky, and Ron Paul.” Here he is:

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