07/30/2015 archive

Told you so.

New Zealand Prime Minister Admits Drug Prices Will Rise Under TPP — Leaves Out The Part About More People Dying

by Mike Masnick, Tech Dirt

Thu, Jul 30th 2015

As we’re in the middle of crunch time for the final TPP negotiations, New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key has finally admitted what many experts have been saying for years — that under the TPP, drug prices will undoubtedly rise, because it extends monopoly protections on important medicines. Key tries to play this off as no big deal, because it’s the government paying for the medicine so the public won’t notice (leaving aside the fact that it’s their tax dollars). However, folks who actually understand basic economics note that, when the price goes up, access to drugs gets more difficult even in New Zealand, where it’s noted that some key life saving drugs have not been made available because they’re too expensive.

Back in the US, even a bunch of Congresscritters who voted in favor of giving the USTR fast track authority appear to be having a bit of buyer’s remorse as they’ve asked the USTR to explain why it appears the current draft of the TPP will make drugs more expensive rather than less.

And even the AARP has stepped in to point out that it appears the TPP is going to make it more difficult for the US elderly to afford drugs.

How can the USTR and the Obama administration continue to insist that the TPP is in the public interest when it’s abundantly clear that it’s in the pharmaceutical companies’ interests instead?

Any Excuse for Another War

Since the accord with Iran over its nuclear program, the airways have been awash with calls for Congress to squash deal, demanding a “better deal.” Most of that is coming from the pro-Israel lobby American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The agreement is also opposed by pro-Israel Christian organizations. While sounding like they want peace, behind the scenes they are actually pushing for a war with Iran. That fact was revealed by The Intercept‘s Glenn Greenwald:

The fanatical Israel-devoted group Christians United for Israel, which calls itself “the largest pro-Israel organization in the United States with over two million members,” yesterday held an off-the-record call to formulate strategies for defeating the pending nuclear deal with Iran. The star of the show was the Wall Street Journal’s longtime foreign affairs columnist and deputy editorial page editor Bret Stephens, who spoke for roughly 30 minutes. A recording of this call was provided to The Intercept and is posted here.

Stephens, who previously served as editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post from 2002 to 2004 (where he anointed Paul Wolfowitz “Man of the (Jewish) Year”), is essentially a standard-issue neocon and warmonger, which is why his mentality is worth hearing. He begins the strategy call with an attempt to sound rational and sober, but becomes increasingly unhinged and hysterical as he progresses. [..]

If the Iran deal is defeated in the U.S., what’s the alternative? The relatively honest neocons admit, as Norm Podhoretz did today in Stephens’ paper, that the alternative is the one they really seek: full-on war with Iran. Here is Stephens’ attempt to answer to that question:

   Look, there is an argument – and I am sometimes tempted by it – that if Congress were to reject this deal and then Iran were to start enriching uranium at huge rates once again, that President Obama would simply sit on his hands out of spite. That’s an option. Knowing the way this President operates, it doesn’t entirely surprise me. That being said, because this deal is effectively giving Iran a legal as well as a covert pathway to the bomb, I would still prefer that. At least it gives the next president more options than he does [sic] now.

This argument is just bizarre. Obama isn’t leaving office until January, 2017: 1 1/2 years away. Neocons have continuously claimed that Iran’s “breakout” time for developing nuclear weapons was measured in months – at the most a year away. If you actually believe that, and really think that Iran is attempting to develop nuclear weapons (a claim negated by the U.S.’s own intelligence analysis), how could you be content to purposely wait 1 1/2 years?

The answer to that question illustrates why the surface “debate” over the Iran deal is so illusory and pointless: as usual with neocons, they are being deceitful about their actual intent. They don’t want a “better deal”: at least not one that’s plausible. They want to keep Iran isolated and demonized and ultimately to depose its leadership through war or other means of aggression. They hate the Iran deal precisely because it’s likely to avert that aggression and normalize the world’s relations with that country, making the war they’ve long craved much less likely.

These people are unhinged supporters of Israel and the Saudis. Both Saudi Arabia and Israel are vehemently opposed to the Iran deal because they want the US to fight their war with Iran for them. The more the US talks with Iran the less likely it is that they and their fanatical supporters will get their war.  

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

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Trevor Timm: Donald Trump is a monster of the GOP’s own creation

It’s hard not to laugh at the entirely self-created dilemma the Republicans now find themselves in with Donald Trump. The more he insults wide swaths of voters, the more he climbs in the polls. As his fellow presidential candidates line up to openly condemn him, he further solidifies his “frontrunner” status.

The inescapable fact is that the Republican Party created the Trump Frankenstein, and they only have themselves to blame now that he is rampaging through the GOP village. [..]

Those feigning shock over Trump’s racist comments either have not been paying attention for years or have willfully ignored Trump’s long and storied history. The amount of ridiculous statements that have come out of his mouth is almost too high to count. It was only a few years ago that he led the racist Obama birther movement, while managing to keep all of his television contracts and endorsement deals. Back then, Mitt Romney was attending fundraisers with him instead of condemning him. Rick Perry, now calling on Trump to drop out of the race, was begging him for money.

Sen. Ron Wyden: Congress’ fix for high-profile hacks is yet another way to grab your private data

The government can’t keep its own data safe, but Congress wants companies to give it even more of your private information

In the wake of a series of widely-publicized hacks, including the recent compromise of government personnel records, the US Senate rushed to take up a bill that supporters say will protect the typical supporters from the sophisticated hacks of the future. It appears Republican leaders have stepped back from that plan, but rest assured, just as night follows day, supporters are planning to bring this bill back to the Senate floor this year.

The supporters are wrong. The Senate’s bill would unfortunately do little to protect your information from hackers and actually puts your personal privacy at greater risk.

Sen. Barbara Boxer: Just the Latest Attack on Planned Parenthood and the Women It Serves

This week, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid, which have provided millions of Americans with accessible, affordable health care.

These are lifelines that from their start were attacked by Republicans and their extremist allies around the country. But we held strong and 50 years later, generations of Americans have benefited from Medicare and Medicaid.

Now we are witnessing another ideological attack that would put women’s health and women’s lives at risk – this time by targeting women’s reproductive health care, an issue that was resolved back in 1973.

Today, the Republican majority is forcing another vote to defund an organization that for nearly 100 years has provided women and their families with preventive and life-saving health care – Planned Parenthood.

Dean Baker: Export-Import Bank debate reveals the corruption of economics

Ending this government entry into the credit market should be a no-brainer

In the recent debate on trade policy, most reputable economists favored fast track trade authority and the approval of Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is likely to be the first trade deal to be covered by the new fast-track rules. Their argument was simple: The reduction of tariffs and other trade barriers will increase efficiency and economic growth. This is the standard argument for free trade.

Given this general view within the economics profession why TPP is good policy, it is striking that so few economists have been outspoken in opposition to the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, a government agency that aids U.S. exports through loan and insurance guarantees. On June 30, Congress did not reauthorize the bank, which meant that it could not extend new credit, though it could still manage its existing portfolio of loans. Republican Senators led a vote to reauthorize the bank in the Senate, and now the issue has moved to the House. The whole point of the Ex-Im Bank, of course, is to have the government subsidize selected companies by giving them access to credit at below-market interest rates. This is totally at odds with free trade. It means the government is allocating credit rather than markets. It would be expected to lead to the same type of economic distortions as tariffs and quotas.

Leonard Pitts, Jr.: Police Brutality Is A Problem For Everyone

This will not be a column about Sandra Bland, although it could be.

Certainly there is cause for outrage over the way a Texas state trooper escalated the routine traffic stop of an indignant African-American woman into a violent arrest; she died of an apparent jail cell suicide three days later. But Chuck would say that in habitually defining police violence as a black problem, we make it smaller than it is.

Chuck is a reader who responded to a question I passed on in this space a few months back from another reader, a white woman named Tracy. “What can I do?” she asked, as a private citizen, to fight police brutality against African Americans? [..]

This will not be a column about Sandra Bland, although it could be.

Certainly there is cause for outrage over the way a Texas state trooper escalated the routine traffic stop of an indignant African-American woman into a violent arrest; she died of an apparent jail cell suicide three days later. But Chuck would say that in habitually defining police violence as a black problem, we make it smaller than it is.

Chuck is a reader who responded to a question I passed on in this space a few months back from another reader, a white woman named Tracy. “What can I do?” she asked, as a private citizen, to fight police brutality against African Americans?

Dave Johnson: Did Obama Administration Downplay Malaysia Slavery To Grease Trade Deal?

Cheap labor is the whole point of our corporate-rigged, NAFTA-style trade agreements. Companies get to move jobs, factories, even entire industries out of the U.S. to countries where people are exploited, the environment is not protected and “costs” like human safety are kept low.

But even so … tolerating slavery? Flat-out slavery? Really? Unfortunately, it looks like that’s what is happening with fast-track trade promotion authority, The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Obama administration.

The Breakfast Club (Reactionless Drive)

breakfast beers photo breakfastbeers.jpgOr maybe not quite so reactionless but certainly a puzzle if true.  Conventional rockets operate on the sound Newtonian principle that every action (in a vacuum where there are no other significant factors to consider) has an equal and opposite reaction.  Essentially it’s an outgrowth of the concept that the total energy of a closed system does not change.  If your closed system is you and some mass you can separate and propel away and the intitial state is that you are motionless with respect to each other and some arbitrary fixed point, when you propel that mass it does indeed move away from you but you also move away from it and also relative to your fixed point in proportion with the ratio of the mass you have acted on to you, and the velocity with which you have propelled it away.

Up until Robert Goddard many scientists were under the misconception that you needed something to push against and that therefore flight in a space environment was impossible when it’s really not and quite conventional reactions will work provided you supply them with the chemicals needed (for instance liquid oxygen and kerosene).

However even advanced propulsion systems like Ion Drives rely on kinetic energy to create thrust.  What makes them attractive and revolutionary is that they are very fuel efficient and can, since they operate fairly continuously compared to chemical rockets which go very fast initially and then coast the rest of the time, achieve quite high velocities… eventually.

What makes the EmDrive different is that it doesn’t seem to rely on kinetic energy at all.

Instead you set up a resonating microwave in a sealed cavity and out comes measurable thrust.  Oh sure, you need to add energy to the system in the form of electricity, but solar panels are good for that so essentially you have a drive with an unlimited fuel supply.

How does it work?  Nobody knows and the math to tune the microwave and the cavity is really tricky, but the parts are very cheap and almost every country that has a space program is examining prototypes.

What makes it news and not just some elaborate perpetual motion scam is that Martin Tajmar, professor and chair for Space Systems at the Dresden University of Technology who has a reputation for tracking down experimental error, has duplicated the previous results and is presenting a paper on it.

While it’s not some faster than light warp drive it does solve some fundamental problems in planetary exploration, NASA projects that even at modest output levels it could reduce the time needed for a probe to reach Pluto from 9 years to 18 months.

The ‘impossible’ EmDrive could reach Pluto in 18 months

by David Hambling, Wired

24 July 15

Last summer WIRED revealed that Nasa’s Eagleworks Lab was testing a copy of the EmDrive, a propulsion device frequently labelled as “impossible” because it appears to violate the law of conservation of momentum. Against all expectation they found it produced thrust. The response from the scientific community was dramatic, and generally sceptical — but the “anomalous thrust” stubbornly refuses to disappear as more research zeroes in on it.

(T)he subject is attracting serious examination from scientists who want to know if a sealed cavity filled with resonating microwaves can really produce net thrust. Previously the effect has been measured by British scientist Roger Shawyer, who invented the EmDrive, and a Chinese team, as well as Nasa.

(Tajmar)has investigated claims of “electrostatic torque,” a twisting force meant to occur between charged spheres, and found the supposed anomaly was due to a slight asymmetry in the experimental setup. His work on claims of gravitational shielding with spinning superconductors had led to a better understanding of sources of error in high-precision gyroscope measurements. These are cases where an apparatus apparently producing small anomalous forces needed to be examined closely.

The same applies to the EmDrive. The obvious sources of error — air currents, leaking microwaves, ionisation — have long ago been ruled out. But this is the first time that someone with a well-equipped lab and a strong background in tracking experimental error has been involved, rather than engineers who may be unconsciously influenced by a desire to see it work.

Science Oriented Video

The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations – then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation – well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.

Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1927)

Science News and Blogs

Obligatories, News and Blogs below.

On This Day In History July 30

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

Click on images to enlarge

July 30 is the 211th day of the year (212th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 154 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signs Medicare, a health insurance program for elderly Americans, into law. At the bill-signing ceremony, which took place at the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri, former President Harry S. Truman was enrolled as Medicare’s first beneficiary and received the first Medicare card. Johnson wanted to recognize Truman, who, in 1945, had become the first president to propose national health insurance, an initiative that was opposed at the time by Congress.

The Medicare program, providing hospital and medical insurance for Americans age 65 or older, was signed into law as an amendment to the Social Security Act of 1935. Some 19 million people enrolled in Medicare when it went into effect in 1966. In 1972, eligibility for the program was extended to Americans under 65 with certain disabilities and people of all ages with permanent kidney disease requiring dialysis or transplant. In December 2003, President George W. Bush signed into law the Medicare Modernization Act (MMA), which added outpatient prescription drug benefits to Medicare.

Medicaid, a state and federally funded program that offers health coverage to certain low-income people, was also signed into law by President Johnson on July 30, 1965, as an amendment to the Social Security Act.

The Daily/Nightly Show (Credible History)


Arby’s Enema

This week’s guests-

Doris Kearns Goodwin is my least favorite credible historian.

Let’s get least favorite part out of the way first.  She’s my least favorite because she’s a constantly sycophantic toady to power who has never met a Beltway trope or a piece of Villiager conventional wisdom that she was not willing to parrot or at least let pass unprotested.

Doris is a conservative historian, thoroughly unchallenging and well conected and thus trotted out frequently by talk shows (including Jon unfortunately) as a veneer of respectability.

Is she respectable?  Well, more than those idealogues and cretins you see trotted out by the racist and fascist right wing.  She might come to decide Barack Obama was a bad President (and he was) but she would never compare him with Hitler where I, a less credible historian, might.

Oh you want to get into it?  Torture, assassination by association, Gestapo-like Security State, undeclared wars of aggression.  Q.E.D., and don’t bother telling me he had no agency, he and his ‘Just Us’ department actively worked to thwart every effort at accountability.  That’s what we call accessory after the fact.

But she’s not totally unhinged from reality and as an example of historical reality and how it plays out over time I give you the underlying causes of the War for Slavery.

There was a time in the mid ’60s when the Civil Rights Movement was peaking and the centenials of this and that were being celebrated.  In secondary schools and some colleges the prevailing narrative is that it was the growing economic might of the North and a fear for diminishing political influence that were the prevailing causes of the War of Southern Rebellion.

Some far out historians (probably pot smoking dirty hippies) suggested that the two precipitating forces were the economic value of Black Human Beings as property and flat out racism.  Now they had plenty of contemporaneous primary sources that said just that in unmistakable black and white but no said the historical establishment, the North was as fully implicated in the Institution of Slavery as the South and it couldn’t possibly be.

Well, the elite North was (which it would do not to forget) and the average person was just as racist as those in the South, but what they also saw was an economic system that, even if they couldn’t articulate it as directly as we do today, Slave Labor would drive Free Labor out of the marketplace.  The resentment against the Fugitive Slave Act wasn’t driven entirely by altruistic sympathy for the poor downtrodden Black.

At the time (the 1960s not the 1860s) most historians denied that Slaves had any economic value at all and argued the South was trapped in a dying system.  Modern historians almost universally accept that the South was wealthier than the North and was poised to add to that disparity on the Cotton Trade and expansion of Slavery.  The South was not all picking and grinning, many Plantations sported Factories and Ironworks, all staffed by Slaves.

Doris Kearns Goodwin blows with the breeze, neither the best or worst, just another hack but at least a credible one.

Senior Black Correspondent

Tonightly we will be talking about Cecil The Lion with our panel Rory Albanese, Baratunde Thurston, and Bobcat Goldwait.

The real news below.