Monday ReadsPosted: September 16, 2013
I’ve not been in a very good mood the last few days. I’m trying to get my manuscript camera ready and have found that the adjustments to the font size and smaller margins have just about done me in. It’s really messed up the pagination and my seemingly endless tables of statistics. I am about ready to chew off all my nails and pull out quit a bit of hair. It’s very nerve wracking.
Here’s a few links to get you start this morning. I’ve been trying to read some interesting things in the hopes of finding some inner calm.
The best news of the weekend came when Larry Summers withdrew his name from consideration for FED chair. The last thing we needed was yet another financial market sycophant in position that matters as much as that one. The Fed has been one of the few functional institutions and thankfully, it looks like even congress respected the need for its independence.
The decision marks a disappointing turn of events for the renowned economist, who had operated at the highest levels of academia and government. But he has been dogged by controversies. Summers has come under fire for his support for deregulating parts of the banking sector while he was Treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton. While president of Harvard University in 2005, he also sparked controversy for his comments on women’s aptitude in math and science.
People close to the White House said Summers faced not only a rebellion among liberal Democrats but also other challenges, including a debate over whether to launch a military strike against Syria that stretched out the Fed process and gave more time for opposition to build.
Summers was a top initial candidate for the Fed job among senior current and former White House officials. Obama was also inclined to appoint Summers to the post, people close to the White House said. But the longer time dragged on without a nomination, the more liberal groups and some Democratic senators were able to organize to oppose Summers, who many on the left viewed as too close to Wall Street and not strong enough on financial regulation.
Opposition to Summers among Senate Democrats has been obvious for weeks but it escalated on Friday when Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) announced he would vote against Obama’s former economic adviser if he was nominated.
At least three other Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee were expected to oppose Summers — Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) – raising the politically uncomfortably scenario of Obama needing to rely on Republican votes just to get his choice for a Fed chief out of committee.
Obama has said the other candidates for the job are Fed Vice Chair Janet Yellen and former Fed Vice Chair Donald Kohn. But Summers was said to be the president’s first choice and it’s unclear if he will fall back on one of these two candidates or look elsewhere.
There are some interesting studies on obesity and the way different people process food. I found this article while reading my copy of The Economist. Links to the studies are provided in the article. A lot of the differences may have to do with bacteria found in your digestive tract.
Even more intriguing is the notion that the same diet may be treated differently by different people. Four recent papers explored this theme. In one, published in Science in July, Joseph Majzoub, also of Boston Children’s Hospital, deleted in mice a gene called Mrap2. Dr Majzoub and his colleagues showed that this helps to control appetite. Surprisingly, however, even when the mutant critters ate the same as normal mice, they still gained more weight. Why that is remains unclear, but it may be through Mrap2’s effect on another gene, called Mc4r, which is known to be involved in weight gain.
The second and third papers, published as a pair in Nature in August, looked at another way that different bodies metabolise the same diet. Both studies were overseen by Dusko Ehrlich of the National Institute of Agricultural Research in France. One examined bacteria in nearly 300 Danish participants and found those with more diverse microbiota in their gut showed fewer signs of metabolic syndrome, including obesity and insulin resistance. The other study put 49 overweight participants on a high-fibre diet. Those who began with fewer bacterial species saw an increase in bacterial diversity and an improvement in metabolic indicators. This was not the case for those who already had a diverse microbiome, even when fed the same diet.
Jeffrey Gordon, of Washington University in St Louis, says these two studies point to the importance of what he calls “job vacancies” in the microbiota of the obese. Fed the proper diet, a person with more vacancies may see the jobs filled by helpful bacteria. In the fourth paper, by Dr Gordon and recently published in Science, he explores this in mice. To control for the effects of genetics, Dr Gordon found four pairs of human twins, with one twin obese and the other lean. He collected their stool, then transferred the twins’ bacteria to sets of mice. Fed an identical diet, the mice with bacteria from an obese twin became obese, whereas mice with bacteria from a thin twin remained lean.
Archaeologist Nicolaus Seefield found the gravesite in an “artificial cave,” which he explains to LiveScience had likely functioned as a water reservoir before the burial “since the cave’s floor was perfectly clean.”
The skeletons found there were not “in their original anatomical articulation,” he says. “The observed hatchet marks on the cervical vertebra are a clear indication of decapitation”; most had their lower jaw detached, and the “spatial pattern” of the bones is consistent with dismemberment.
The archaeologists believe the dead were either prisoners of war or Uxul nobles; they hope upcoming isotope analysis will reveal whether they were from Uxul — which is near what is now the Guatemala border — or elsewhere. Neat fact from LiveScience: “Uxul” means “at the end.”
It wasn’t the only Mayan discovery of the summer: A “lost” Maya city was discovered in June.
There are many things that depress me about how eager Republicans are to punish poor people for whatever their perverse reasons. What really gets me is how they continue to ensure that poor children will have no chance. Early childhood education has usually be the one program that every one agrees on because it’s efficacy is amazing. The sequestration has led to a large number of children being tossed out of Head Start. I find this beyond troubling. Early childhood education has been shown to be one very effective way to fight inequality. Here’s yet another article on how this country has started to do things all wrong.
In many ways, we do education backwards in this country. We skimp and shortchange the poor children who need education the most, while at the same we lavish public moneys on those who need it least. Take, for instance,this article about the outrageous practice of taxpayer subsidies for the legacy admits of rich alumni of elite colleges.
In this context, advocacy for educational programs that alleviate, rather than exacerbate, inequality is particularly welcome. That’s why I especially appreciated today’s New York Times’ Opinionator blog, in which economist James Heckman writes a great op-ed about the dramatic impact of early childhood education in the lives of poor children. Heckman, as you may know, is a Nobel Prize winning economist from the University of Chicago. He’s a typical University of Chicago economist in that yes, he’s a free market true believer type. But he’s been studying pre-K programs for poor kids for years, and he supports them for conservative reasons: because they are economically rational. Early childhood education for at-risk kids is one of those (relatively) rare government programs that the free market types like because it produces not just equity, but also efficiency.
Here’s an interesting piece on the connections between the Koch Brothers and the Tea Party. It seems the Kochs just have their nasty little fingers in every thing that is unraveling our democracy.
Politico.com, the Washington insider website, has the money-in-politics scoop of the year: It has unmasked a previously unknown political money laundering operation, set up by the energy billionaires and libertarian Koch brothers, that raised $256 million and secretly spent almost all of it last year against Democrats.
The “Koch brothers’ secret bank,” which is what the website calls the Virginia-based group, whose formal name is Freedom Partners, is the glue that has been holding together the right-wing pantheon of pro-corporate, anti-regulatory, anti-Obama, anti-labor front groups that are against everything from healthcare reform to labor unions to financial market reform to progressive taxation.
“The group has about 200 donors, each paying at least $100,000 in annual dues,” Politico reported, saying Freedom Partners would soon be filing papers with the IRS disclosing its existence. “It raised $256 million in the year after its creation in November 2011, the [IRS] document shows. And it made grants of $236 million—meaning a totally unknown group was the largest sugar daddy for conservative groups in the last election, second in total spending only to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, which together spent about $300 million.”
The fact that secretive right-wingers could amass and spend a quarter-billion dollars in a presidential election cycle and go undetected under federal campaign finance law is an astounding indictment of the American electoral system, revealing that all the laws intending to inform the public about who is slinging political mud are meaningless. The mockery goes even further when considering the section of the federal tax code the group is operating under: 501(c)6. That designation is for trade associations, which lets the group conceal its donors.
Trade asociations, like trade unions, were created to represent single industries or crafts. Freedom Partners’ “trade” is the business of political assassination. What follows is Politico’s list of the groups, causes and amounts received from the Kochs’ cartel. The group’s members are drawn from the energy barons’ semiannual political conferences, which feature speeches by Congress’ Republican leadership.
So, that’s a little this and that from me this morning. What’s on your reading and blogging list today?