Sunday, December 13, 2009

How Cong. Weiner helped bring public option back; challenging another way that Obama disappoints us

President Barack Obama is a colossal disappointment to progressives. Pick your issue. The Nobel Peace Prize winner is escalating the war in Afghanistan; Obama's Education Secretary Arne Duncan is short-sightedly pursuing a program to speed up the closure of "troubled schools" as a panacea to all ills in American education; he has restricted government generosity to bailing out the financial industry (OK, the federal bailout/ buy-out of General Motors, excepted), failing to address how the recovery is a jobless recovery. Now, he is settling for a terrible health care plan that rewards medical insurance companies and forces uninsured individuals to pick up their own health care costs.
To worsen matters on the last point, President Obama is dozens of potential allies on health reform. Meet Brooklyn/Queens (New York City) Congressman Anthony Weiner. And note well, how Obama responded to Weiner's hewing closer to principles with "I hope you are enjoying your last trip on Air Force One."
John Heilemann, "Back From the Death Panel: How the public option, helped by a congressman looking for an issue and a shrewdly silent White House, returned from the brink" "New York Magazine," October 11, 2009

On the night last week when much of Washington was joyously weeping over the seal of approval bestowed on the Baucus health-care bill by the Congressional Budget Office, Anthony Weiner was in his quarters in the Rayburn Building, merrily pissing all over the legislation instead. “It’s just too weak,” he told me. “It doesn’t do enough. It doesn’t achieve real cost savings. There’s no real competition. It’s pretty much a wish list for the insurance companies.” And those were merely Weiner’s substantive criticisms of the bill. His political assessment was even harsher: “It’s effectively dead,” he said.

Not a droplet of Weiner’s dismissal of the Baucus plan came as any sort of shock; he’s been trashing the Senate Finance Committee’s efforts for weeks. What’s surprising is that anyone gives a fig what Weiner has to say about the topic in the first place. Until six months ago, after all, the congressman was known more for his yearning to acquire the keys to Gracie Mansion than his mastery of the arcana of Medicare reimbursement rates. In fact, as Weiner would be the first to admit, his interest in, knowledge of, and record on health-care reform were perilously close to nonexistent.

And yet, since May, when he concluded that taking on Mike Bloomberg was a challenge that went beyond the Sisyphean into the realm of the just plain silly, Weiner has emerged as one of the few real stars in the marathon health-care debate: the clearest and savviest (and, as always, loudest and noodgiest) voice in favor of the public option. And though it’s plain that whatever bill eventually lands on Barack Obama’s desk—and, yes, I think the odds are now close to overwhelming that a big pile of health-care paper will wind up there—won’t be anything close to Weiner’s single-payer dream, his role in framing the terms of the discussion has been more than salutary. In some non-obvious ways, you could argue that it’s been essential.

I should confess at the outset that I have a long-standing soft spot for Weiner, whom I first met more than twenty years ago, when he was a budding Chuck Schumer protégé and we played on the same Capitol Hill softball team. Weiner then was strikingly similar to Weiner now: amped-up, ambitious, wicked smart, forever gauging all the angles, unafraid of being (actually, proud of being) a royal pain in the tuchis. All the qualities, in other words, that have served him so well in the wrangle over health care.

Weiner describes his efflorescence on the subject as a matter of opportunism, in the best sense of the word. “This was one of those unusual issues where we really didn’t have a mother ship that was directing the message, and that created an entrepreneurial environment,” he says. “You didn’t have the president out there speaking clearly about what he wanted. And among my colleagues, there weren’t people that jumped out who either had a comfort with the material or weren’t intimidated by the blowback.” Weiner laughs. “Frankly, I like the blowback. After my thirteenth town-hall meeting, someone on my staff said, ‘I can’t tell if you’re a sadist or a masochist.’ ”

Weiner is right about the nature of the vacuum that he smartly stepped in to fill, but there are at least two other proximate causes for it that should be added to his list: the illness and death of Ted Kennedy and the migration of Hillary Clinton out of the Senate and into Foggy Bottom, which deprived the debate of what would have been its two dominant liberal protagonists. For Weiner, Clinton’s absence and its implications carry a personal twist; he is engaged to Huma Abedin, Hillary’s longtime personal aide. “It’s a weird irony that I’m kind of part of the family now and this has become my issue,” Weiner says. “If Hillary had stayed in the Senate, I would never have had this opening.”

Weiner allows that he’s discussed the health-care battle with Clinton; what she’s told him he will not say. But one imagines she approves of the cleverness and chutzpa he’s displayed—especially in drawing an explicit analogy between the public option and Medicare, an equation that not only increases support for the proposal among voters but flushes out the phoniness of the Republican howls against a “government takeover” of health care. And one similarly imagines Madame Secretary’s chagrin at watching the Obama White House pursue a dance-of-the-seven-veils strategy explicitly designed to be the antithesis of the one she employed back in 1993 and 1994.

Weiner’s view of the administration’s approach hasn’t exactly been approving—a point he’s made abundantly and consistently clear over the past months. On the eve of Obama’s September speech before a joint session of Congress, Weiner cracked that “up to now, the messaging from the White House has been done by Sybil … They seem to have a different perspective on this every couple of hours.” And he’s apparently had no change of heart. “The president has been a miserable messenger on this by and large,” he tells me.

Read more: How Anthony Weiner Helped the Public Option Return From the Brink -- New York Magazine

Back From the Death Panel

Such criticisms haven’t gone unnoticed at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, in no small part because Weiner—in a testament to his consistency, lunacy, inability to shut up, or all three—hasn’t shied away from making them directly. Indeed, on a recent flight back to Washington from New York on Air Force One, I’m told by one congressman who witnessed the scene, Weiner got into a testy exchange with Obama over the former’s ideas about how the latter might better prosecute the case for reform. When I ask Weiner about the incident, he refuses to divulge details, but notes that when it was over, the president said to him drily, “I hope you’re enjoying your last trip on Air Force One.” “He was kidding—I think,” adds Weiner.

In truth, Weiner has been on the receiving end of zero complaints from the White House for his potshots. “I see Rahm [Emanuel] at the House gym every morning, and he’s never beefed to me about this once,” Weiner says. “I think he needs this pressure from the left—it serves them. They needed someone to generate the heat of their base to give them the space to be the moderate voice. I’m convinced that if it weren’t me, they’d have to create me.”

Weiner’s theory is self-serving, but it makes a kind of sense. Over the summer, Weiner, by threatening to bottle up a vote on the main House health-care bill in the Energy and Commerce Committee, forced House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to grant him a floor vote this fall on a single-payer plan. Weiner believes in single-payer as a matter of policy—but he also sees the political advantage of putting forward a proposal that will at once satisfy certain elements of the base and create the appearance that the public option is itself a compromise toward the center. And his adamant advocacy of a robust public option itself generates breathing room for the sort of modified version that might win approval in both the House and Senate.

What Weiner has no doubt about now is that the final legislation will include just such a provision—because without it, there simply aren’t the votes in the House to pass a bill. “I think President Obama will put his finger on the scale at some point,” he says. In the end, it’s going to be simpler to corral one or two senators to accept a public option with some modifications than it’s going to be to get a hundred House members off their rebellious screed.

From what Weiner can divine from Emanuel and others in the White House, this kind of brass-tacks calculation—not the policy merits, not even the long-range political ramifications—is all that matters now. Obama’s bizarro, out-of-nowhere acquisition of the Nobel Peace Prize at the end of last week notwithstanding, the president has had a rough few months and badly needs to put a win on the board. And no one is looking to make that any harder than it’s been already.

To illustrate why that means the public option will prevail, Weiner colorfully sketches out his vision of the endgame: “Obama goes to Nancy and says, ‘I’ve decided I’m giving up the public option.’ And she says, ‘Well, dude, I can’t get this done then.’ So then he goes to Harry Reid and says, ‘We’re going with the public option. What do we have to do in Nebraska to get Ben Nelson onboard?’ That’s a much easier conversation.”

Read more: How Anthony Weiner Helped the Public Option Return From the Brink -- New York Magazine

Prevention Magazine: the Seven deadliest foods experts won't eat

I caught this earlier this week in yahoo's portal. These warnings generally steer people in the direction of more expensive choices. The sad truth is that people will often opt for many of these foods.
The real credit goes to:] Liz Vaccariello, Editor-in-Chief, PREVENTION, November 24, 2009, "The 7 foods experts won't eat"
How healthy (or not) certain foods are—for us, for the environment—is a hotly debated topic among experts and consumers alike, and there are no easy answers. But when Prevention talked to the people at the forefront of food safety and asked them one simple question—“What foods do you avoid?”—we got some pretty interesting answers. Although these foods don’t necessarily make up a "banned” list, as you head into the holidays—and all the grocery shopping that comes with it—their answers are, well, food for thought:

20 ways to feed your family for $100 a week.

1. Canned Tomatoes

The expert: Fredrick vom Saal, PhD, an endocrinologist at the University of Missouri who studies bisphenol-A

The problem: The resin linings of tin cans contain bisphenol-A, a synthetic estrogen that has been linked to ailments ranging from reproductive problems to heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Unfortunately, acidity (a prominent characteristic of tomatoes) causes BPA to leach into your food. Studies show that the BPA in most people's body exceeds the amount that suppresses sperm production or causes chromosomal damage to the eggs of animals. "You can get 50 mcg of BPA per liter out of a tomato can, and that's a level that is going to impact people, particularly the young," says vom Saal. "I won't go near canned tomatoes."

The solution: Choose tomatoes in glass bottles (which do not need resin linings), such as the brands Bionaturae and Coluccio. You can also get several types in Tetra Pak boxes, like Trader Joe's and Pomi.

14 worst health mistakes even smart women make.

2. Corn-Fed Beef

The expert: Joel Salatin, co-owner of Polyface Farms and author of half a dozen books on sustainable farming

The problem: Cattle evolved to eat grass, not grains. But farmers today feed their animals corn and soybeans, which fatten up the animals faster for slaughter. More money for cattle farmers (and lower prices at the grocery store) means a lot less nutrition for us. A recent comprehensive study conducted by the USDA and researchers from Clemson University found that compared with corn-fed beef, grass-fed beef is higher in beta-carotene, vitamin E, omega-3s, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), calcium, magnesium, and potassium; lower in inflammatory omega-6s; and lower in saturated fats that have been linked to heart disease. "We need to respect the fact that cows are herbivores, and that does not mean feeding them corn and chicken manure," says Salatin.

The solution: Buy grass-fed beef, which can be found at specialty grocers, farmers' markets, and nationally at Whole Foods. It's usually labeled because it demands a premium, but if you don't see it, ask your butcher.

25 ridiculously healthy foods you should be eating now.

3. Microwave Popcorn

The expert: Olga Naidenko, PhD, a senior scientist for the Environmental Working Group,

The problem: Chemicals, including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), in the lining of the bag, are part of a class of compounds that may be linked to infertility in humans, according to a recent study from UCLA. In animal testing, the chemicals cause liver, testicular, and pancreatic cancer. Studies show that microwaving causes the chemicals to vaporize—and migrate into your popcorn. "They stay in your body for years and accumulate there," says Naidenko, which is why researchers worry that levels in humans could approach the amounts causing cancers in laboratory animals. DuPont and other manufacturers have promised to phase out PFOA by 2015 under a voluntary EPA plan, but millions of bags of popcorn will be sold between now and then.

The solution: Pop natural kernels the old-fashioned way: in a skillet. For flavorings, you can add real butter or dried seasonings, such as dillweed, vegetable flakes, or soup mix.

Your nutritional guide to grocery shopping.

4. Nonorganic Potatoes

The expert: Jeffrey Moyer, chair of the National Organic Standards Board

The problem: Root vegetables absorb herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides that wind up in soil. In the case of potatoes—the nation's most popular vegetable—they're treated with fungicides during the growing season, then sprayed with herbicides to kill off the fibrous vines before harvesting. After they're dug up, the potatoes are treated yet again to prevent them from sprouting. "Try this experiment: Buy a conventional potato in a store, and try to get it to sprout. It won't," says Moyer, who is also farm director of the Rodale Institute (also owned by Rodale Inc., the publisher of Prevention). "I've talked with potato growers who say point-blank they would never eat the potatoes they sell. They have separate plots where they grow potatoes for themselves without all the chemicals."

The solution: Buy organic potatoes. Washing isn't good enough if you're trying to remove chemicals that have been absorbed into the flesh.

14 ways to make veggies less boring.

5. Farmed Salmon

The expert: David Carpenter, MD, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany and publisher of a major study in the journal Science on contamination in fish.

The problem: Nature didn't intend for salmon to be crammed into pens and fed soy, poultry litter, and hydrolyzed chicken feathers. As a result, farmed salmon is lower in vitamin D and higher in contaminants, including carcinogens, PCBs, brominated flame retardants, and pesticides such as dioxin and DDT. According to Carpenter, the most contaminated fish come from Northern Europe, which can be found on American menus. "You can only safely eat one of these salmon dinners every 5 months without increasing your risk of cancer," says Carpenter, whose 2004 fish contamination study got broad media attention. "It's that bad." Preliminary science has also linked DDT to diabetes and obesity, but some nutritionists believe the benefits of omega-3s outweigh the risks. There is also concern about the high level of antibiotics and pesticides used to treat these fish. When you eat farmed salmon, you get dosed with the same drugs and chemicals.

The solution: Switch to wild-caught Alaska salmon. If the package says fresh Atlantic, it's farmed. There are no commercial fisheries left for wild Atlantic salmon.
Delicious and easy fish recipes

6. Milk Produced with Artificial Hormones

The expert: Rick North, project director of the Campaign for Safe Food at the Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility and former CEO of the Oregon division of the American Cancer Society

The problem: Milk producers treat their dairy cattle with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST, as it is also known) to boost milk production. But rBGH also increases udder infections and even pus in the milk. It also leads to higher levels of a hormone called insulin-like growth factor in milk. In people, high levels of IGF-1 may contribute to breast, prostate, and colon cancers. "When the government approved rBGH, it was thought that IGF-1 from milk would be broken down in the human digestive tract," says North. As it turns out, the casein in milk protects most of it, according to several independent studies. "There's not 100% proof that this is increasing cancer in humans," admits North. "However, it's banned in most industrialized countries."

The solution: Check labels for rBGH-free, rBST-free, produced without artificial hormones, or organic milk. These phrases indicate rBGH-free products.
Don’t be fooled by these 11 health food imposters.

7. Conventional Apples

The expert: Mark Kastel, former executive for agribusiness and codirector of the Cornucopia Institute, a farm-policy research group that supports organic foods

The problem: If fall fruits held a "most doused in pesticides contest," apples would win. Why? They are individually grafted (descended from a single tree) so that each variety maintains its distinctive flavor. As such, apples don't develop resistance to pests and are sprayed frequently. The industry maintains that these residues are not harmful. But Kastel counters that it's just common sense to minimize exposure by avoiding the most doused produce, like apples. "Farm workers have higher rates of many cancers," he says. And increasing numbers of studies are starting to link a higher body burden of pesticides (from all sources) with Parkinson's disease.

The solution: Buy organic apples. If you can't afford organic, be sure to wash and peel them first.
How to pay less for organic.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Windows 7 Complaints Begin: installation and program migration can be buggy

Windows 7 Complaints Begin
by David Goldman
Wednesday, December 9, 2009 provided

Users of the new operating system say the upgrading process is buggy. But once the kinks are worked out, customers are liking Windows 7 a lot more than Vista

Microsoft launched Windows 7 in late October to much fanfare. But, just like with previous Windows upgrades, complaints about bugs have already started rolling in.

A whopping 31% of clients have reported problems with upgrading to Windows 7, according to a recent survey of more than 100,000 customers conducted by consumer helpdesk firm iYogi.

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"Most of the problems that customers have with Windows 7 have to do with installation, or application and data migration," said Vishal Dhar, co-founder of iYogi. "These are all fixable problems, but they're annoyances and they're time consuming."

One common gripe, experienced by 9% of installers, is that the half-hour to an hour-long upgrade process gets to the "62% completed" point and then freezes. It's a problem that Microsoft is aware of, and can be fixed by rebooting the computer, going into advanced settings, and typing in a code that instructs the computer to ignore plug-ins.

However, issues didn't stop with the upgrade process. Many users still experienced glitches even after successfully installing Windows 7 on their machines.

Most common among those complaints was that basic "applet" programs, like Mail, Movie Maker and Photo Gallery, were missing. That's because Windows 7 deletes those programs and makes users download them from the Windows Live Essential Web site. IYogi said 26% of their customers were confused about that extra step.

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Others had problems getting their computers to work properly: Eight percent said their DVD drives couldn't be found and 2% couldn't sync their iPhones with Windows 7.

One in seven users also complained that the sleek new "Aero" theme doesn't work. The Aero theme enables users to see through a window to view the desktop or other programs that are open behind it. According to iYogi, most of the 14% of users that have problems with Aero don't have the graphics capabilities on their PCs to handle the program.

Other common complaints included an inability to view file extensions, too many "mini-dumps" (memory images saved on the computer when it crashes), problems with the "Aero snap" feature, changes to custom icons and problems with the new taskbar.

Microsoft (MSFT), which debuted Windows 7 on Oct. 22, did not return requests for comment.

Smoother sailing once it's debugged. Once the bugs from upgrading have been worked out, users have had a relatively hassle-free experience. And those who bought a new computer with Windows 7 preloaded have seen the fewest issues.

"Customers who finally get it up and running love Windows 7," said Dhar. "We haven't had a lot of people calling for usability issues, because it's a much more intuitive interface than Windows XP."

That's not to say that Windows 7 is perfect.

According to Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at Yankee Group, one of the biggest annoyances with the new operating system is that the "ribbon menus" at the top of programs have been redesigned and must be relearned. In previous Windows versions, the menus remained very consistent (File, Edit, View, Insert, etc.), but in Windows 7, they can be wildly different from application to application.

"It took me a long while to figure out how to print," said Kerravala. "Microsoft tried to improve the user interface, but there's a learning curve because it's inconsistent."

Microsoft also did away with many favorite applications like Windows Movie Maker, which is particularly surprising given the propensity of cell phone videos and Flip video camera movies.

But all of the gripes about Windows 7 pale in comparison to the angry complaints about Microsoft's previous Windows iteration, Windows Vista. That version was an outright disaster after it was released in 2007. Vista was plagued by bugs, software incompatibilities, sluggishness and annoying security alerts. The episode nearly destroyed the tech giant's reputation with consumers.

"While there are a few bugs, I haven't seen or heard of any show-stoppers," said Laura DiDio, principal analyst at ITIC. "In fact, just the opposite. Some Vista users can't wait to upgrade. So far, this has been a home run for Microsoft."
Copyrighted, CNNMoney. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Finding software reviews, comparisons, free software

A poster requested where to find the program XRumer 5.0 Palladium. He or she claims that the program is the best choice for putting advertising on the Internet.

I cannot comment one way or the other on that claim. I can suggest these sites for finding comparative reviews --or sole product reviews-- of software. So much software is available in a free format these days. I used one of these sites for finding reviews of free PDF editor programs. My favorite sites among the choices are CNET's site and the "TopTenREVIEWS" site.