Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Lin Ostrom succumbs to pancreatic cancer.  Perhaps most telling of her wide-ranging impact is the fact of the 14-and-counting different people I saw post about her on Facebook on Tuesday, they represented at least seven different disciplines. Though perhaps just as tellingly, I didn't see a single economist make mention of her death. (Given the uproar — and often sexist contempt — in certain sectors of the economic discipline when she was awarded the Nobel a few years back, no one should find this to be surprising.)

I had the good fortune of meeting Lin a number of times over the past several years, and while many are focusing on her immense academic impact (and justly so), I'm glad to see that there are nearly as many who have focused on her incredibly generous character. Two ASU folks, Marco Janssen and Michael Schoon, both of whom were greatly influenced by Lin, share their thoughts on Lin Ostrom the human being.

Decades of research demonstrate that a variety of overlapping policies at city, subnational, national, and international levels is more likely to succeed than are single, overarching binding agreements. Such an evolutionary approach to policy provides essential safety nets should one or more policies fail.


Sustainability at local and national levels must add up to global sustainability. This idea must form the bedrock of national economies and constitute the fabric of our societies. The goal now must be to build sustainability into the DNA of our globally interconnected society. Time is the natural resource in shortest supply, which is why the Rio summit must galvanize the world. What we need are universal sustainable development goals on issues such as energy, food security, sanitation, urban planning, and poverty eradication, while reducing inequality within the planet’s limits.


Setting goals can overcome inertia, but everyone must have a stake in establishing them: countries, states, cities, organizations, companies, and people everywhere. Success will hinge on developing many overlapping policies to achieve the goals. We have a decade to act before the economic cost of current viable solutions becomes too high. Without action, we risk catastrophic and perhaps irreversible changes to our life-support system. Our primary goal must be to take planetary responsibility for this risk, rather than placing in jeopardy the welfare of future generations.”
In a short interview a few years ago with Yes! Magazine, she pithily captured some of the most fundamental insights of her work — this should be required reading for those who aren't especially familiar with her important contributions.

One of Ostrom's last big contributions was her work part of the Planet Under Pressure conference held in London earlier this spring, a large focus of which was on planetary boundaries. Simon Lewis argues we must be careful and thoughtful in thinking about planetary boundaries:
[The planetary] boundaries concept has two important flaws, and using it uncritically could unwittingly undermine Rio's twin goals of environmental stewardship and ensuring a good life for everyone.

The first flaw, from a human-welfare perspective, is that not all of the identified parameters are true thresholds that, once passed, can be recovered to move back to Holocene-like conditions. Some parameters are fixed limits, not boundaries. Take disruption of the phosphorus cycle: this is represented in the planetary boundaries concept as the quantity of phosphates flowing into the oceans from crop-fertilizer run-off, which can cause algal blooms and an oxygen deficit for marine life. Framed in this way — 'don't destroy the marine environment' — the boundary makes sense. But more serious for humanity is that phosphorus is a key plant nutrient. Fertilizer is produced from rock phosphate, which forms on geological time scales. When it is gone, it is gone. This does not represent a threshold boundary: it is a depletion-limit. Humanity cannot use more rock phosphate than there is.

This distinction between thresholds (which we can breach), and fixed limits (which we cannot) may seem academic, but it has important policy implications. To highlight a boundary on phosphate pollution, for example, would drive investment in technology to combat the impact on marine environments, but do nothing to stop the running down of rock-phosphate supplies. To emphasize the depletion limit would shift the focus to technology to use and re-use phosphorus to safeguard stocks.

Similarly, at the Planet Under Pressure conference in London in March, US scientist Steven Running proposed a new planetary boundary: terrestrial net primary productivity (NPP), or more simply, plant growth. Despite massive agricultural expansion in the past century, global NPP has not dramatically increased. It is a ceiling limit. Thus, the allocation of NPP to benefit biodiversity or food, fibre, fodder and fuel for humans is essentially a zero-sum activity. Yet Rockström's published planetary boundary suggests that we could expand croplands by 400 million hectares before reaching the threshold — something that would seriously harm biodiversity.

The second weakness relates to scale. True threshold boundaries come in two types. Some are unambiguously global, such as climate change, which is driven by well-mixed greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Others, such as nitrogen pollution, are global only if local problems are widely replicated. Even if nitrogen-fertilizer run-off is cleaned up in China's Yangtze River, it has no direct impact on nitrogen pollution in Nigeria's Niger Delta. These are regional problems, but in aggregate can be of global significance. The planetary boundaries concept does note that whereas climate change, ocean acidification and stratospheric ozone depletion are 'systemic processes', the rest are 'aggregate processes'. However, each published safe threshold is based on a single global number, and will probably be treated accordingly.

A global focus on nine boundaries could spread political will thinly — and it is already weak. There is no need for all the world's countries to enter protracted legal discussions on aggregate boundaries: those affected by regional problems should work among themselves to solve them. Global negotiations should focus on managing the clear global planetary boundaries of climate change and ocean acidification, as well as biodiversity loss, which has global drivers.

The concept of planetary boundaries and avoiding dangerous thresholds is important but limited. Furthermore, a narrow focus on maintaining Holocene-like conditions risks side-lining key problems such as the 'plastic soup' of particulate waste that stretches across the Pacific Ocean. This does not fit the boundaries model, because there was no plastic during the pre-industrial Holocene. A simple transfer of a neat scientific idea into the policy arena could cause as many problems for policy-makers as it solves.

As the world heads into the second United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio later this month, the collective failure to fulfil those initial pledges is all too evident. Countries have increased the rhetoric and their political commitments, but there is little to show for 20 years of work, apart from an impressive bureaucratic machine that has been set to indefinite idle. On urgent environmental issues, the world has perfected the art of incremental negotiation and redefined circular motion. Meanwhile, as documented elsewhere in this issue, pressure on the planet continues to build, greenhouse-gas emissions are still rising and species are still disappearing.

In short, development continues apace, as it must and should in order to lift the world's poorest out of poverty, but it is hardly sustainable. The goal of stabilizing greenhouse-gas emissions seems just as daunting today as it did two decades ago, and people continue to devour the world's remaining wild habitat at an alarming pace.


Despite progress on some issues — ozone loss, for example — the disconnect between science and politics seems to be growing, not shrinking. The accumulating evidence screams that the consequences of inaction could be dire. As each day passes, the problems become more expensive to solve and the number of available options decreases. New clean-energy technologies could make all the difference to climate, but many governments in the industrialized world are investing less money in clean energy now than they were just a few years ago.

In 1992, Nature warned against thinking that a single summit could eradicate poverty and redistribute wealth while setting specific limits on greenhouse gases. The expectations for Rio+20 are so low that almost any agreement or affirmation would qualify as a success. The fact is that politicians know what needs to be done, and countries committed to doing it 20 years ago; what is missing is political leadership and solutions that are cheap, scalable and politically viable. For the second time, the world has a chance to craft a workable agenda, but the elusive key to success lies in finding a way to overturn the widespread reluctance to make the necessary investments in time, money and intellect to get the job done.

Alex Steffen offers some thoughts on Twitter about historical and future emissions:

I shared a link to the Food Chain Workers Alliance's report on the treatment of workers in the food system yesterday, but it's nice to see Mark Bittman — as influential a voice as there is in contemporary food politics — write it up, as well. Far too many in the foodie/locavore/ethical eating communities ignore labor and, generally speaking, any humans in the food system other than consumers; a truly comprehensive look at a just, equitable, sustainable food system must consider how the workers in the system are treated:
Many people in the nascent food movement and in the broader “foodie” set know our farmers’ (and their kids’) names and what their animals eat. We practically worship chefs, and the damage done to land, air and water by high-tech ag is — correctly — a constant concern.

Yet though you can’t be a card-carrying foodie if you don’t know the provenance of your heirloom tomato, you apparently can be one if you don’t know how the members of your wait staff are treated. We don’t seem to mind or even notice that our servers might be making $2.13 an hour. That tip you debate increasing to 20 percent might be the difference in making the rent.

It’s true that a bit of attention has been paid to farmworkers — with some good results — and occasionally you read about the horrors of life in a slaughterhouse. But despite our obsession with food, the worker is an afterthought.

The Hands That Feed Us, and the work being done on the ground by groups like ROC-U — which contributed to the report and helped create the Food Chain Workers Alliance in 2008 — may signal the beginning of a change.

Take that $2.13 figure, the federal minimum wage for tipped workers. Legally, tips should cover the difference between that and the federal minimum wage, now a whopping $7.25. If they don’t, employers are obligated to make up the difference. But that doesn’t always happen, leaving millions of servers — 70 percent of whom are women — taking home far less than the minimum wage.

Which brings us to the happily almost-forgotten Herman Cain. What’s called the “tipped minimum wage” — that $2.13 — once increased in proportion to the regular minimum wage. But in 1996, the year Cain took over as head of the National Restaurant Association (NRA), he struck a deal with President Bill Clinton and his fellow Democrats. In exchange for an increase in the regular minimum wage, the tipped minimum wage was de-coupled. The result: despite regular increases in the regular minimum wage, the tipped minimum wage hasn’t changed since 1991.

Other disheartening facts: Around one in eight jobs in the food industry provides a wage greater than 150 percent of the regional poverty level. More than three-quarters of the workers surveyed don’t receive health insurance from their employers. (Fifty-eight percent don’t have it at all; national health care, anyone?) More than half have worked while sick or suffered injuries or health problems on the job, and more than a third reported some form of wage theft in the previous week. Not year: week.

There are societal considerations as well as moral ones: Food workers use public assistance programs (including, ironically, SNAP or food stamps), at higher rates than the rest of the United States work force. And not surprisingly, more than a third of workers use the emergency room for primary care, and 80 percent of them were unable to pay for it. These are tabs we all pick up.
Ten years after the publication of Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, which along with Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma, helped to kickstart today's foodie culture, it's a shame that labor issues — something that Schlosser explored in great depth — are given such scant attention. Those who decry the supposed power of Big Labor should take a look at the exploitation of the many million cogs in the machine chewed up and spat out each year and explain why it is that they believe labor has too much power in this country.

It’s time to start thinking about the unthinkable. Speaking of which, Christopher Mims does some good and interesting thinking in this post.

He frames things this way: The Earth has a certain amount of biological productivity, based on the energy it receives from the sun. Insofar as we degrade or destroy bits of that natural life-support system, we have to reconstitute its “ecosystem services” some other way, mainly through technology. Unfortunately, the Earth is better than us at creating a system in which humans can thrive; biology, after all, is just extremely advanced technology, in comparison to which our machines are clumsy and wasteful. Replacing ecosystem services with technological services — replacing freshwater with desalinized water, say — will exhaust an increasingly large portion of our inventive capacity, time, and work.

Here’s how Mims puts it:
In a hundred years, the biggest industries will all be devoted to the cybernetic enhancement of the planet itself. Whatever limbs we sever now, whatever critical systems we wreck, are going to have to be replaced. Imagining that they might even be upgraded underestimates the unfathomable parallel processing power of 4 billion years of evolution on this planet, which is essentially a vast computer for determining the optimal solution to the problem of resource allocation. So no, I don’t think we’re going to do better.
We might survive in a such a world, might even materially prosper (there are always underground colonies!), but it’s worth asking whether a fully cybernetic world is one we ought to choose. Is our own survival and material prosperity all we care about? Or is biodiversity worth something in its own right?

I guess if I differ with Mims anywhere it’s that I’m not quite so fatalistic, at least on even-numbered days. Like him, I think we’re clever enough to avoid a complete collapse of human population and wealth. But I also think we’re clever enough to at least envision a world in which we slow our degradation of ecosystem services, avoid global tipping points, and develop technology that is regenerative, working with nature, like nature, rather than clumsily trying to replace it.

What stands in the way of that vision is not lack of ingenuity or technology. It is myopia and tribalism. For most of our evolutionary history, it was small bands, maybe dozens, to whom we extended our trust and concern. In the Anthropocene, we’ve seen examples of tribal loyalty to city-states and nation-states, to races and religions, but only very rarely to humanity as such, much less to the entire biosphere. We are not accustomed or well-suited to thinking of “life on Earth” as the appropriate scope for fellow-feeling.

There’s no way we can rewire the human brain in the short time we have left to act. But we can cybernetically enhance our collective cognition and decisionmaking with information technology; we can reform our laws and governments; we can teach our children better. The first step is simply to take responsibility, to recognize that there is no longer any Other. There’s no them — no foreigners, no outsiders, no exogenous threats, no enemies. There’s only us, the crew of Spaceship Earth, hurtling through space, alone.
Arguments against the individual mandate used to be batshit crazy. They still are, but batshit crazy is now respectable GOP discourse:
The changing perception of the individual mandate is an example of one of the most important features of American constitutional law -- the movement of constitutional claims from "off the wall" to "on the wall." Off-the-wall arguments are those most well-trained lawyers think are clearly wrong; on-the-wall arguments, by contrast, are arguments that are at least plausible, and therefore may become law, especially if brought before judges likely to be sympathetic to them. The history of American constitutional development, in large part, has been the history of formerly crazy arguments moving from off the wall to on the wall, and then being adopted by courts. In the process, people who remember the days when these arguments were unthinkable gape in amazement; they can't believe what hit them.

American history is full of examples, ranging from the idea that governments can't engage in sex discrimination to the view that the Second Amendment protects an individual right of self-defense to the notion that states can't make homosexual sodomy illegal. In fact, this month the First Circuit Court of Appeals struck down section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, a bill supported by politicians from both parties only 16 years ago and signed into law by President Bill Clinton. The First Circuit's decision is only one sign among many that a federal constitutional right of gays to marry is no longer unthinkable.

But how do constitutional arguments like the challenge to the individual mandate move from off the wall to on the wall? Law, and especially constitutional law, is grounded in judgments by legal professionals about what is reasonable: these judgments include what legal professionals think is obviously correct, clearly wrong, or is a matter of dispute on which reasonable minds can disagree. But what people think is reasonable depends in part on what they think that other people think. Arguments move from off the wall to on the wall because people and institutions are willing to put their reputations on the line and state that an argument formerly thought beyond the pale is not crazy at all, but is actually a pretty good legal argument. Moreover, it matters greatly who vouches for the argument -- whether they are well-respected, powerful and influential, and how they are situated in institutions with professional authority or in institutions like politics or the media that shape public opinion. The Obama Justice Department has now officially taken the view that discrimination against homosexuals should be subjected to close judicial scrutiny, and the president has recently declared himself in favor of legalizing same-sex marriages. Together these announcements give enormous momentum to the decades-long struggle for constitutional rights for gays and lesbians.


[T]he single most important factor in making the mandate opponents' constitutional claims plausible was strong support by the Republican Party, including its politicians, its affiliated lawyers, and its affiliated media. The unconstitutionality of the mandate quickly became virtually the official position of the Republican Party. As Republicans sought to prevent passage of the Affordable Care Act, Republican politicians who had previously supported an individual mandate now denounced it as the most egregious assault on the Constitution in recent memory, and the measure was enacted without a single Republican vote in either House. After the bill passed, over 20 Republican governors and state attorneys general joined together to challenge the mandate in federal court. It also didn't hurt that constitutional opposition to the mandate was good politics; it attracted the energy of Tea Party voters, which in turn helped the Republicans regain control of the House of Representatives in the 2010 elections.

Strong political party support also affects the treatment of constitutional claims by the media, and media organizations also play important roles in moving constitutional arguments from off the wall to on the wall. Once a major political party insists that a controversial piece of legislation is unconstitutional, the media is likely to take the argument seriously -- especially media with strong links to the party and its political fortunes. Conservative media, including Fox News, the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, conservative talk radio, and the right wing of the blogosphere, helped publicize and lend additional authority to the arguments against the mandate. Meanwhile, conservative lawyers and intellectuals continuously restated and refined their arguments in the blogosphere, influencing other legal professionals and ordinary citizens in ways that were not possible before the Internet.

Mainstream media unaffiliated with the Republican Party were required by conventions of journalistic objectivity to cover the debate, and routinely quote opinions from both sides. Continuous reporting on the challenge as a viable controversy helped ensure that the unconstitutionality of the mandate would be widely viewed as an issue on which reasonable minds could disagree.


Was there a magic moment when the challenge to the mandate moved from off the wall to on the wall? There are many possible candidates. But the most important ingredient was the overwhelming support of the Republican Party and its associated institutions for the challenge. In the United States, parties are a central driver of constitutional change, both through the constitutional claims they get behind and through the judges they help appoint to hear those claims. Will yet another formerly off-the-wall argument become embedded in our nation's fundamental law? We'll soon find out.

Big Pharma buys itself favorable results in the peer-reviewed literature:
Drug companies occasionally conduct post-marketing studies to collect data on the safety and efficacy of drugs in the real world, after they’ve been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “However,” writes the anonymous author in the British Medical Journal, “some of the [post-marketing] studies I worked on were not designed to determine the overall risk:benefit balance of the drug in the general population. They were designed to support and disseminate a marketing message.”

Promotion enters into the picture as the company recruits doctors to enroll their patients into the study – a job for which they’re paid. The company tells doctors about the qualities of their drug, and the doctor relays that information to their patients.

According to the whistleblower, the results of these studies were often dubious. “We occasionally resorted to ‘playing’ with the data that had originally failed to show the expected result,” he says. “This was done by altering the statistical method until any statistical significance was found.” He adds that the company sometimes omitted negative results and played down harmful side effects. After all, post-marketing studies don’t face the scrutiny that pre-approval studies do.

The United States government has never acknowledged any error in detaining Mr. Boumediene, though a federal judge ordered his release, for lack of evidence, in 2008. The government did not appeal, a Defense Department spokesman noted, though he declined to answer further questions about Mr. Boumediene’s case. A State Department representative declined to discuss the case as well, except to point to a Justice Department statement announcing Mr. Boumediene’s transfer to France, in 2009.

More than a decade has passed since his arrest in Bosnia, since American operatives shackled his feet and hands, dropped a black bag over his head and flew him to Guantánamo. Since his release three years ago, Mr. Boumediene, an Algerian by birth, has lived anonymously in the south of France, quietly enraged but determined to start anew and to resist the pull of that anger.

He calls Guantánamo a “black hole.” Islam carried him through, he says. In truth, though, he still cannot escape it, and is still racked by questions. “I think back over everything in my life, all the stages, who my friends were, who I did this or that with, who I had a simple coffee with,” Mr. Boumediene said. “I do not know, even now, why I was at Guantánamo.”

THERE were early accusations of a plot to bomb the American Embassy in Sarajevo; he lived in that city with his family, working for the Red Crescent, the Muslim branch of the Red Cross. President George W. Bush hailed his arrest in a State of the Union address on Jan. 29, 2002.

In time, those accusations disappeared, Mr. Boumediene says, replaced by questions about his work with Muslim aid groups and suggestions that those groups financed Islamic terrorism. According to a classified detainee assessment from April 2008, published by WikiLeaks, investigators believed that he was a member of Al Qaeda and the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria. Those charges, too, later vanished.

In a landmark case that bears Mr. Boumediene’s name, the Supreme Court in 2008 affirmed the right of Guantánamo detainees to challenge their imprisonment in court. Mr. Boumediene petitioned for his release.

In court, the government’s sole claim was that Mr. Boumediene had intended to travel to Afghanistan to take up arms against the United States. A federal judge rejected that charge as unsubstantiated, noting that it had come from a single unnamed informer. Mr. Boumediene arrived in France on May 15, 2009, the first of two non-French former detainees to settle here.

Mr. Boumediene retreated into himself at Guantánamo, he says. He speaks little of his past now; with few exceptions, his neighbors know him only as a husband and a father. He lives with the wife and two daughters from whom he was once taken, and a son born here two years ago. More than vengeance, or even justice, he wants a return to normalcy.

He lives at the whim of the French state, though. France has permitted Mr. Boumediene to settle in public housing in Nice, where his wife has family, but he is not a French citizen, nor has he been granted asylum or permanent residence. His Algerian and Bosnian passports, misplaced by the American authorities, have not been reissued, leaving him effectively stateless.

Money comes in a monthly transfer to his French bank account. He does not know who, exactly, pays it. (The terms of his release have not been made public or revealed even to him.) He has been seeking work for years.


“He has no hate for the American people,” she said, though Mr. Bush is another matter. Mr. Boumediene has been disappointed too by President Obama, who pledged to close Guantánamo but has not done so.

Sure Jeb Bush is sort-of calling out the GOP for being absolutely batshit crazy, but as Amanda Marcotte reminds us, what he's really doing is placing the blame on liberals; don't believe his bullshit:
This is the sort of thing that more liberal-leaning media loves to highlight for its neener-neener quality, which I don't have a problem with per se. It is relevant to note that even many Republicans are alarmed at the right wing bent of their party. But one needs to be careful to look at these stories critically, especially when considering ludicrous arguments like suggesting that Reagan was anything but a right wing radical who laid the groundwork for decades of racism-tinged fighting over what should be non-controversial social safety net programs. Also, Bush's only real intention here is to blame Obama:
"His first year could have been a year of enormous accomplishment had he focused on things where there was more common ground," he said, arguing that Obama had made a "purely political calculation" to run a sharply partisan administration.
The problem with that comment is it's a pure, unadulterated lie. Obama didn't run a sharply partisan administration, but instead spent his first years in office dicking around trying to get Republican votes on various bills, working under the false assumption that Republicans give a flying fuck about this country and can be coaxed into supporting bills that prevent its destruction. It's only really been the last year that the administration gave up running to the press with the reach-across-the-aisle rhetoric to admit what anyone paying attention has seen since day one, which is that Republicans will fight Obama on anything, but especially on any idea that they believe would do the country good. They want to burn the country to the ground so they can blame him for it, full stop. No other motivations are in play. That's why, when Obama takes an idea Republicans came up with that actually seemed mildly pro-save-America, they fought him on those, too. Bush is just pulling the same old victim-blaming trick of claiming that reactionary extremism is the fault of progressives for having the nerve to ask for things, much less get them, no matter how mild. He should be paid no mind, and certainly not rewarded from this left for this nonsense.

Racial disparities in the burden posed by toxic flame retardants.

It's all about differential exposure.

And low exposures may be enough to cause adverse health impacts.

Fire retardants are in your food.

Thanks to the recent Chicago Tribune series, more attention is being paid to toxic flame retardants.

Rising temperatures and reduced river flows make electricity production vulnerable to climate change. The NYTimes adds more.

Conflict on interest questions and potential bias color the response to a supposedly independent new report on fracking.

The arrogance of scientists when the interact with arrogant members of Congress.

The ArtPlace partnership announces the recipients of some big grants intended to help build sustainable communities in a thoughtfully holistic manner.

$150k of ArtPlace money goes to our neighborhood!

Redevelopment in Denver that considers community voices and equity concerns.

Millions of new jobs from a green economy.

Romney is no moderate on energy policy, he's your standard batshit crazy Republican.

The Philadelphia experiment to end food deserts.

“The number of chickens produced  annually in the United States has increased by more than 1,400 percent since 1950 while the number of farms producing those birds has dropped by 98 percent” and other disturbing facts about factory farming and chickens.

The impact of Chipotle on the antibiotic-free meat market.

Overfishing and trophic cascades in a Cape Cod salt marsh.

Trees don't like noise pollution.

The biodiverse city.

Ecotourism to the most disturbed of environments: “Just because a place is polluted does not mean it is not interesting or fun to visit, or not worth caring about. People still live in these places, he reminds us, and nature persists.”

Pushing for sustainable forestry in Borneo.

“Wildlife-friendly farming” is great for rare species.

The FDA turns a blind eye towards science.

More wildfires in the west. Thanks, climate change!

Climate change, Arctic melt, and geopolitical implications.

The Clean Water Act turns 40.

For some strange reason, people in Wyoming don't want to drink nasty fracking-polluted water.

There's a better way to pay for DC's clean water. As Lin Ostrom would remind us, the scale of governance needs to match the scale of the resource being managed; that's not necessarily the case here: “Current fragmented efforts do not match the scale of the problem. Water may not be constrained by boundaries, but communities and utilities are. They have no authority beyond their own borders or narrow rate bases, yet they must address water issues that span multiple states and stem from multiple causes, including agricultural runoff, sewage, and storm water runoff and erosion.”

Water in Seattle in far more expensive than water in area's endowed with far less of the resource.

Water conservation in Oklahoma.

Is the news on clean water as good as the claims make it out to be?

Blood diamonds have an environmental toll, as well.

Greening the soda can.

When intuition conflicts with reality.

RealClimate offers a primer on sea-level rise.

Your annual physical exam and the battery of tests that may accompany it? Probably unnecessary.

Urging doctors to do less: “It is time for us to own up to our shortcomings in cancer screening, and we must start by acknowledging a hard fact: Doctors sometimes don’t know best. We are terrific at inventing new tests that can be performed on people. But we have been less good at figuring out which people should have them.

Eliminating unnecessary testing, waste, and other inefficiencies means not only better care, but cheaper healthcare.

Patients' voices aren't a large part of medical decisions.

Waiting for healthcare with the uninsured.

While cutbacks affect the insured, as well.

Discounts on medical treatment for the uninsured. Trust me, it's not really that great.

The consequences of striking down the ACA.

In an effort to further codify efforts to deprive women control over their bodies, the NRO argues that whatever women do it's probably abortion and should be illegal.

Welfare is bad when it goes to those poor people who don't make campaign contributions; welfare is wonderful when it goes to the plutocrats who own our political system.

Public goods are apparently a category error, according to the new GOP dogma that only recognizes value in that which is derived from or created by the private sector and labels public goods as inefficient shuffling around of other resources.

Are economists capable of learning from their mistakes?

At least 2,000 wrongful convictions that we know of in the past two decades.

The politics behind support for the welfare state.

Greenwald: Sullivan and other cheerleaders of government overreach are making the wrong consequentialist argument; if anything, it's the constant warmongering and killings of countless Muslims that will lead to another 9/11.

The president can do whatever he wants, the war on leaks, and the ever-expanding security state.

Assigning proper responsibility: Bush, not Obama, warrants more blame for our economic woes.

The triumph of drone warfare and an assassin president.

On fairness and equality in our political debates.

Where's racial gentrification occurring?

Cities must refuse to be held hostage by sports teams.

Questions regarding Columbia University's ties to JPMorgan.

Academic freedom under fire at UC-Davis.

It's not sugars that make heirloom tomatoes taste sweeter, it's the volatile organic compounds that modern-day breeding techniques have eliminated from the dominant hybrid tomatoes.

Play with the Census' American Community Survey data, in a very cool interactive graphic from the NYTimes.

Watching the transit of Venus.

The geography of the American prison-industrial complex.

Travel guidebooks as a window into how foreign visitors view the US. (h/t Patrice)

Acceptance of gay teammates among NFL stars.

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Van Morrison (h/t Wifey): “I have long stopped asking what it is about listening to Van Morrison that I find so satisfying. Yes, it is the quality of his voice, now deepened and resonant with age, the unforced musicality and the yearning emotional intensity. But what is important is that I still love the music. As he says in a song celebrating the glories of an English summer, "It ain't why, it just is".

Some 40 years later, Ziggy  is still brilliant. (h/t Wifey)

Revisiting MBV. (h/t Wifey)

The legacy of Nudie Cohn and those beautiful suits. (h/t Wifey)

Elliott Carter turns 103.

NPR Music's top albums of 2012, so far.

And NPR Music's top tunes of the year so far.

Reggie Watts shows us how to do a real cover version.

Heather's Happy Link Of The Day: Now That's What I Call Two Princes:

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