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April 6, 2007 3:43PM

Federal Stem Cell Funding in the Future?

On Thursday, April 12, two bills dealing with embryonic stem cell funding will come up for votes by the U.S. Senate. The president has promised to veto one of the bills should it come to his desk, but he supports the other. Ironically, the vague language of one of the bills and subsequent confusion in the press regarding the provisions of both bills have made passage of a funding bill more likely.

Here is my summary of what the bills would do: S. 5, which is essentially the same bill as the one passed by the House in January, allows federal funding of a wide range of embryonic stem cell research. S. 30, a “compromise” bill negotiated with the White House, allows federal funding of embryonic stem cell research but of a kind that is essentially worthless.

But that is not how the bills have been described in the press. Two examples follow:

The Washington Times reported this morning:

The White House yesterday signaled support for legislation that provides federal funding for stem-cell research using embryonic cells that have no chance of surviving.

The legislation, authored by Sen. Johnny Isakson, Georgia Republican, seeks a middle ground in the highly charged debate over stem-cell research. His bill skirts moral concerns over using embryonic stem cells while ensuring federal funding for the breakthrough science.

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April 6, 2007 3:15PM

Let’s Just Put Spengler Back on the Bookshelf, Hm?

There are questions about why the British sailors and marines conducted themselves in the way they did during captivity, and the British military will be taking up these questions, no doubt, in the coming days. But some of the declinism baloney on the Right (and Left) has gotten a bit nuts.


Peter Scoblic says let’s just all relax for a moment:

The specter of Western decline is an old conservative and neoconservative trope that wasn’t true during the cold war and is even less applicable now. Great Britain has two active carrier battle groups and spends more on its defenses than all but four countries, lagging significantly behind only the United States and China. It also deploys 16 megatons of nuclear explosives on its Trident submarines. That’s about 1,000 times the power of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. Put it this way: If British leaders woke up one day and decided that Iran should no longer exist, Iran would no longer exist.

Reading some of the commentary on this matter, you’d conclude that Iran was going to regularly start challenging the British Navy as a result of the propaganda victory it scored here. I’m not holding my breath.

April 6, 2007 1:28PM

We’re Not in Kansas Anymore, Toto

The latest installment in the ongoing “welfare for the wealthy” series:


Today’s Washington Post has an excellent front‐​page investigative story on the tens of billions of dollars in federal Department of Agriculture aid that go to projects that, well, aren’t so agricultural.


A snippet:

All told, the USDA has handed out more than $70 billion in grants, loans and loan guarantees since 2001 as part of its sprawling but little‐​known Rural Development program. More than half of that money has gone to metropolitan regions or communities within easy commuting distance of a midsize city, including beach resorts and suburban developments, a Washington Post investigation found.


More than three times as much money went to metropolitan areas with populations of 50,000 or more ($30.3 billion) as to poor or shrinking rural counties ($8.6 billion). Recreational or retirement communities alone got $8.8 billion.


Among the recipients were electric companies awarded almost $1 billion in low‐​interest loans to serve the booming suburbs of Atlanta and Tampa. Beach towns from Cape Cod to New Jersey to Florida collected federal money for water and sewer systems, town halls, and boardwalks. An Internet provider in Houston got $23 million in loans to wire affluent subdivisions, including one that boasts million‐​dollar houses and an equestrian center.

April 6, 2007 11:58AM

Great Moments in Government

In the private sector, there is a bottom‐​line incentive to obtain the best supplies at the cheapest price. In government bureaucracies, by contrast, there is little incentive to be frugal. Instead, the focus is on mindless paperwork and onerous regulation.


The process for obtaining paper towels on Capitol Hill is a good example. Even the Washington Post is unable to resist a tongue‐​in‐​cheek tone in an article about the search:

The office of the Architect of the Capitol, which is responsible for stocking paper towels in bathrooms throughout the Capitol complex, recently released its requirements for paper supplies to potential vendors.


…The specifications, written with the detail only your massive federal bureaucracy could provide, spell out eight requirements for towels fit for the Capitol. Among them: “C‑fold paper towels provided shall have a minimum unfolded width of 10.25 inches, with a permissible variance of plus .25 or minus .50 inches, and maximum length of 14 inches. Each towel shall have a minimum area of 130 square inches. The folded width of each towel shall be 3 inches, with a permissible variance of plus .25 or minus .50 inches. The rate of absorption of paper towel material provided shall not be greater than 20 seconds for the absorption of 0.1 milliliter of water on any representative sample of paper towel as submitted. The color of the paper towel shall be white, with a minimum brightness rating of 70 when measured in accordance with the requirements of test method T‑452 of the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industries. The minimum thickness of 12 single plies of the paper towel material provided shall be 0.070 inch when measured under an applied pressure of 0.5 psig.”


And we won’t even get into the “average bursting strength” requirement of the two‐​ply toilet paper. 

April 6, 2007 10:29AM

The Sound of No ‘Peak’ Story Popping

Last week, in a Capitol Hill press conference featuring congressmen Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.),  the Government Accountability Office unveiled a new report on the looming catastrophe the United States faces from "peak oil." With gas prices up and environmental stories popping in the press, Bartlett, Udall, and the GAO had to be thinking they'd have a hit on their hands.

So, if a GAO report falls on Capitol Hill and the media ignores it, does it count as news?

I can find no coverage of the press conference or the report in either the New York Times or the Washington Post. The only mention of it on either of those papers' websites is in a transcript of an online chat session with Post politics reporter Lois Romano, wherein a reader asks if the Bartlett-Udall press conference will generate buzz.  Romano's response (in essence): What press conference?

In fairness, the report did get a bit of play: the AP moved a short story on it and the WSJ briefed it. But no one is interviewed in either story, and the two pieces have the whiff of being quickly typed up from a press release. In other words, the media decided the report didn't merit any real attention.

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April 6, 2007 10:10AM

Politicians — You Gotta Love ‘Em

Of what other group can it be said that you really can’t trust anything they say? Sure, Mary McCarthy said of Lillian Hellman that “every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.’ ” But she didn’t say that about writers as a group.


Mitt Romney’s newfound deep commitment to social conservatism has drawn lots of skepticism. But now he’s rewriting his life story in the fashion of lifelong Yankees fan Hillary Clinton and coal miners’ boy Joe Biden:

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R) is taking some heat for not packing it.

Campaigning in New Hampshire this week, the candidate for the Republican presidential nomination told an audience that he is a “lifelong hunter,” according to the Associated Press. “I’ve been a hunter pretty much all my life,” the news service reported.


But the campaign now acknowledges that the former governor has been hunting twice in his life — once when he was young and lived on a ranch in Idaho, and more recently on a quail‐​hunting trip in Georgia with GOP donors.

Politicians — you gotta love ‘em.