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May 11th, 2014:

Weekend link dump for May 11

Happy 50th birthday, BASIC. I sure hope there will be a celebration we can all GOTO. /rimshot

I’ve eaten crickets before, in Japan. I’d eat cricket chips as described in that post.

17 Lies We Need to Stop Teaching Girls About Sex. We should probably stop teaching them to boys, too.

How have women fared compared with men in the history of the game show Jeopardy?

How long will it take to completely binge-watch various TV shows?

“Male, but not female, experimenters induce intense stress in rodents that can dampen pain responses”.

The US uninsured rate continues to drop. I wonder what could possibly be the cause of that.

“How can Brooks and Wieseltier motivate anyone after spending years serving a movement and powerful interests that can’t reconcile their supposed commitment to republican-ordered liberty with their knee-jerk service to a casino-financed, predatory-marketing juggernaut that’s dissolving republican virtues, morale, and even sovereignty? Nationalist nostalgia and scapegoating are their timeless resorts.”

A requiem for Ladies Home Journal, which had more journalistic impact than you might think.

“Although they pointed out that any serious rewilding effort should start small, Donlan and colleagues sketched a daring vision: North American reserves populated with African and Asian elephants, to replace the ancient beasts that once maintained grasslands by suppressing woody plants, and African lions as stand-ins for the extinct American lion that kept the herbivores in check.”

The Target breach, by the numbers.

“Last year, 25 hedge fund managers earned more than double every kindergarten teacher combined”.

It’s good to be the oldest child.

We need a financial transactions tax here.

One hopes that the Obama White House outreach effort to TV weathercasters about climate change will be more successful than the Clinton White House’s effort was.

“A majority of U.S. millionaires think rising income inequality is a “major problem” and almost two-thirds favor increasing taxes on the wealthy and raising the minimum wage to reverse the trend, according to a new survey.” Of course, support for those propositions goes along party lines.

The time Superman saved Yankee Stadium from Godzilla. How can you not click on that?

“As many as 90 percent of WellPoint customers have paid their first premium by its due date, according to testimony the company prepared for a congressional hearing today. For Aetna, the payment is in the “low to mid-80 percent range,” the company said in its own testimony. Health Care Service Corp., which operates Blue Cross Blue Shield plans in five states including Texas, said that number is at least 83 percent.” Sorry, Republicans. It just keeps getting tougher to be an Obamacare hater.

The World’s Worst Books really are that bad.

“The problem is that pro-business policies don’t really contribute to economic growth. They just make the rich richer, which is not the same thing at all.”

“French professional soccer club Clermont Foot made history Wednesday when it announced that Helena Costa, a 36-year-old Portuguese woman, had signed on to be the club’s head coach for the 2014-2015 season.”

Mom could use a raise. Even the CEO of Subway thinks so.

Ah, Clinton Derangement Syndrome. I’ve missed you.

“We never see them again. That woman who just left here…you will never see her in this market again. It’s too painful. It just reminds them of how bad off they were that night.”

“These two graphs illustrate a transportation paradox: Alternatives to driving in the United States are both a luxury for the well-off and a last resort for the poor.”

“In sum, Republicans, at all levels, get that the courts matter a lot, and Democrats mostly do not.”

Nearly 200,000 ACA signups in Houston area

Not too shabby.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Like the rest of the country, the Houston area appears to have benefited from a last-minute surge in people signing up for federally mandated health insurance. At least 197,650 local residents enrolled in the program, figures released Wednesday show.

The Houston sign-ups represent almost 27 percent of Texas’ 733,757 enrollees, the Houston nonprofit health organization Gateway to Care said in a written statement. The federal government announced the overall numbers last week.

Wednesday’s announcement represents the first time Houston-specific insurance enrollment information related to the Affordable Care Act has been released publicly.

Gateway to Care was among several area organizations that helped residents sign up for coverage.

“This result could only have occurred because everyone worked so well together,” executive director Ron Cookston said in a statement.

Of the Houston area’s estimated 1 million uninsured population, half were predicted to be eligible for coverage.

“That last push must have had an effect,” said Vivian Ho, James A. Baker III Institute health economics chair at Rice University.

See here for the background. At the time that the Texas enrollment numbers were released, the estimate was 177K Houston-area folks had signed up. Before that, when the Baker Institute released its report, we learned that the expected number for the region had been 138K. Still not nearly enough – if 200K signed up and 500K were eligible, that’s a lot of folks left behind – but given the constraints, it not bad and clearly better than people thought it would be. We’ve got to aim to make it better next time. Having a better Governor would go a long way towards that.

More on Abbott and Duntsch

The Observer follows up its earlier reporting on disastrous doctor Christopher Duntsch and the efforts of Greg Abbott to ensure he is never held accountable for his actions.

Dr. Christopher Duntsch

When I wrote about Duntsch last August, there were quite a few unanswered questions. Chief among them: Why did he do it? Was he a sociopath? A drug addict? And with his record of patients dying or ending up paralyzed, how was he allowed to keep practicing?

Thanks to the new litigation, we have at least a few answers. According to the lawsuits, Duntsch had drug problems that Baylor should have known about. The lawsuits allege a shocking list of behaviors that, if true, should have been huge red flags for Baylor. They contend he was in treatment for drug abuse during his residency at the University of Tennessee. That he was abusing prescription drugs and skipped out on five drug tests that Baylor Plano asked him to take, without any consequences. That he kept a bottle of vodka under his desk; that a bag of white powder showed up in his private bathroom. That he took off for Las Vegas immediately after a surgery, leaving his patient unattended. But despite this, and despite the numerous warnings about Duntsch from doctors and nurses who had worked with him, Baylor continued to allow Duntsch to operate, and even publicized his practice and encouraged doctors like Morguloff’s to refer their patients to him.

According to the lawsuits, the reason for this was simple: The hospital had advanced Duntsch $600,000 to move from Tennessee to Dallas. “Baylor had spent a lot of money on Duntsch,” attorney Jim Girards wrote in Passmore’s complaint, “and they wanted it back.” If he didn’t work, they didn’t get paid.

But in Texas, it is extremely difficult to use the courts to hold a hospital accountable for allowing a dangerous doctor to operate, thanks to a decade-long campaign, aided by the Texas Supreme Court and the Texas Legislature. Under current law, Baylor Plano can make money off a high-dollar surgeon like Duntsch without being financially accountable for anything that he does.

The four Duntsch patients want to change that. Their only recourse is to challenge the constitutionality of the laws shielding Baylor Plano. If they win, hospitals could once again be responsible for the actions of the doctors they allow to practice. But they’re confronting powerful opponents, not just a lucrative hospital. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who’s made limiting lawsuits a feature of his political career, is facing off against them in court. Barring an upset in court, it’s likely that the hospitals who allowed Duntsch to kill and maim patients will never pay a cent in damages.


Where does this leave Dr. Duntsch’s victims? With little choice but to challenge the constitutionality of the malice law upon which the hospital immunity rests. The legal challenge in the Baylor case is the first constitutional challenge since tort reform to the credentialing laws, the first attempt to open hospitals back up to liability for the doctors they allow to practice. But Barry Morguloff and the three other plaintiffs are facing a powerful adversary: Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is the Republican nominee for governor.

Tort reform has been a major feature of Abbott’s political career. In 2002, when Abbott was running for attorney general against Kirk Watson, he made tort reform a central plank of his campaign. In his campaign literature, he referred to Watson as a “plaintiff personal injury trial lawyer,” which is to say, the kind of lawyer people love to hate.

Abbott was well-supported in that campaign, and in all subsequent ones, by groups pushing lawsuit reform. According to Texans for Public Justice, between 1997 and 2014 Abbott took in $2.3 million in contributions from doctors, hospitals and the two PACs set up to push tort reform. About $400,000 came directly from hospitals.

Abbott was well-supported in that campaign, and in all subsequent ones, by groups pushing lawsuit reform. According to Texans for Public Justice, between 1997 and 2014 Abbott took in $2.3 million in contributions from doctors, hospitals and the two PACs set up to push tort reform. About $400,000 came directly from hospitals.

If anything, those numbers understate how much he’s brought in from tort reform interests. In his gubernatorial race, Abbott has brought in $2.8 million from what Texans for Public Justice calls “tort tycoons,” the 34 super-rich Texans who also gave heavily to pro-tort reform groups like Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC. Since his race for Attorney General in 2001, they’ve given Abbott $10 million. All told, about one out of every five dollars he’s raised in his time in office has come from people and political groups staunchly imposed to strengthening the tort laws.

See here and here for some background, and be sure to read the whole story. It’s not an exaggeration to say that if Abbott wins again on this, there will be basically no way to hold incompetent doctors and the hospitals that employ them accountable for any damage they cause.

The money is the problem

A story of interest from North Carolina.


The ad first appeared on television the Friday before last, a black-and-white spot charging that Justice Robin Hudson coddled child molesters and “sided with the predators” in a North Carolina Supreme Court dissent. It has run constantly since.

As notable as the ad’s content and frequency, though, is its source. It was created and aired not by one of Justice Hudson’s two opponents in Tuesday’s primary election, but by a group that had just received $650,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee in Washington, which pools donations from corporations and individuals to promote conservatives in state politics and is now broadening its scope to target judicial races.

The sums have been unusual for such elections. The primary race for Justice Hudson’s Supreme Court seat alone has drawn more than $1 million — the bulk of it by independent groups including the Republican committee and an arm of the state Chamber of Commerce, which has spent $250,000 to promote both of her opponents with money from companies including Reynolds American, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Koch Industries.


Chris Kromm, executive director of the Institute for Southern Studies in Durham, N.C., which is tracking spending and television ads, said, “The sitting justice could be primaried out because of this avalanche of independent spending on behalf of the two conservative candidates.”

Justice Hudson has raised a few hundred thousand dollars and spent $86,000 fielding a defensive ad. She has been spending long days attending breakfasts and barbecue benefits across the state’s 100 counties, seeking to build her name recognition and fire up supporters to vote in a primary where they may not see much at stake.


Judges on higher courts are elected rather than appointed in 22 states, and in 16 more they must face retention elections at some point after their selection, according to Justice at Stake, an advocacy group in Washington. Corporations and political parties — and trial lawyers and unions — seek ideologically compatible state judges, legal experts say, because their rulings can affect redistricting and laws on such key issues as liability, medical malpractice and workers’ compensation.

The growing influx of interest group spending is transforming judicial elections and raising concerns about conflicts of interest. In 2012, $30 million was spent nationwide on television advertising for state court races, often involving attack ads, according to a report last fall by the Brennan Center, Justice at Stake and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

“Judicial races are getting swamped in this tidal wave of political money,” said Bert Brandenburg, a former Justice Department official who is the executive director of Justice at Stake. The Republican state committee has already used North Carolina as a test case. In 2012, it financed ads extolling a sitting Supreme Court justice, Paul Newby, known to be a Republican, to help him beat back a challenge from Sam “Jimmy” Ervin IV, an appeals court judge and grandson of former Senator Sam J. Ervin Jr., who died in 1985.


The explosion in outside funding is the latest development in a winding path for North Carolina’s judicial elections. In 2002, in an effort to curb spending and level the playing field, North Carolina, then under Democratic control, established public financing for races. It also said the races must be nonpartisan.

Emphasis mine. Did you hear that, Wallace Jefferson? This is happening in a state that already has non-partisan judicial elections. I’ve said all along that removing party labels from judicial candidates will do nothing to curb the influence of outside groups, and here’s the proof. North Carolina had a good idea, but recent Supreme Court decisions that have eviscerated campaign finance laws have rendered that idea moot. Until we do something about that, we’re not even tinkering around the edges. Link via Ed Kilgore.

As it happens, Judge Hudson made the cut in her primary and will be on the ballot in November, where I’m sure she’ll continue to face this kind of barrage. TheChron editorial board, in an otherwise laudable piece about the need for greater accountability among judges, also lamented the partisan election process for judges and pushed for an appointment-with-retention-elections system. Putting aside the fact that retention elections would have the same problems with big money that our current system has, you still have to design an appointment system that isn’t inherently political and also has the capacity to handle the thousand-plus elected judicial offices in Texas. As I keep saying every time this subject comes up, I don’t necessarily favor the system we now have. It has plenty of warts and weaknesses, no doubt about it. But all the would-be reformers I come across never mention the money issue, and they almost never discuss the pros and cons of their preferred alternative as well as the ones they don’t prefer. I’d be a lot more open to their suggestions if I felt like they they were honestly accounting for their positions instead of just dumping on the status quo. Convince me it’s a change for the better and not just a change for the sake of change. The system we have now may not be good, but that doesn’t mean that the alternatives would be an improvement.

It’s like the drought never really went away

If it ever did go away it didn’t go far, because here it is again.

Even as light rain moved through the region Thursday, Houston officially slipped back into a moderate drought.

Although most areas only recorded a few hundredths of an inch of rain, it nevertheless was the first measurable precipitation much of the city has received in more than three weeks.

The rain-free second half of April capped a very dry spring, pushing nearly all of the region back into a moderate drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The drought is more severe to the west of the metro area.


Houston has only received a little more than 7 inches of rain this year, which is less than half the city’s normal total of 15 inches through early May.

However forecasters believe the city is unlikely to suffer a repeat of the catastrophically dry summer of 2011, which killed millions of trees in the area and forced widespread water rationing.

“If it was not for the current strong El Niño signal coming along over the Tropical Pacific, I indeed would be very concerned that another 2011 type drought could occur over the metro area due to the very dry soil west of the area,” [ImpactWeather forecaster Fred] Schmude said. “Fortunately, the upcoming El Niño is starting to shuffle the flow pattern around a bit more which should allow for more rain producing systems as we move into the late spring and summer months.”

Any time 2011 is being invoked as a comparison, even in a “not as bad as” way, it’s not a good thing. The fact remains that much of the state has been in a multi-year drought, while our state leaders remain in denial about the underlying factors. It’s a scary place to be.