June 19th, 2010


Docs' win on Medicare too late to stop 21% cut

Doctors who receive Medicare payments won a round Friday in their bid for a raise - but first they'll suffer a big cut in their government reimbursements.

The Senate passed a bill Friday rescinding a 21% cut and adding a 2.2% increase for Medicare payments. The bill was passed by unanimous consent after lawmakers found a way to pay for the boost without raising the budget deficit.

The bill now goes back to the House of Representatives, which had previously approved it, because of Senate changes to the measure. A Democratic leadership aide said the House would take up the bill early next week.

But the delay in congressional action came too late to stop the first reduced Medicare payments to doctors from the scheduled 21.3% cut that went into effect June 1.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said that after waiting since May for congressional approval, it can't wait any longer. So it is processing all claims from June 1 up till now.

"This is the largest reduction that the doctors' payment has ever experienced," said centers spokesman Peter Ashkenaz.

With their future payments still uncertain, physicians found little reason to rejoice over the Senate approval.

"It's going to go back to the House now, and it looks like they're not going to be in session until Tuesday afternoon," said Dr. Lori Heim, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

"It's definitely something that physicians are concerned about," said Jack Hoadley, research professor at Georgetown University's Health Policy Institute.

Hoadley said Congress usually makes fixes such as this one retroactive. But, he added, "even if it turns out there's a retroactive fix, there's a real cash issue."

Heim said she knows physicians who "already decided that they could no longer continue to see Medicare patients if the cut went through. There are other physicians that I've heard from who have decided to stop taking Medicare patients."

"This is really outrageous," she added.

The American Medical Association also weighed in.

"Congress is playing Russian roulette with seniors' health care," said AMA President Dr. Cecil B. Wilson. "Congress has finally taken its game of brinkmanship too far, as the steep 21% cut is now in effect and physicians will be forced to make difficult practice changes to keep their practice doors open."

More than 43 million Americans receive medical care through Medicare.


While the real world burns, Facebook thrives

Reuters: Facebook '09 revenue neared $800 million
Alexei Oreskovic

(Reuters) - Facebook's financial performance is stronger than previously believed, as the Internet social network's explosive growth in users and advertisers boosted 2009 revenue to as much as $800 million, according to two sources familiar with the situation.

The company also earned a solid net profit, in the tens of millions of dollars last year, one of the sources said.

That growth in profit and revenue underscores how Facebook is increasingly making money off its 6-year-old service, which ranks as the world's largest Web social network with nearly half a billion users.

That sort of performance is likely to whet the appetites of investors keen for a public share float, despite the company's insistence that an IPO is not a near-term priority.

Palo Alto, California-based Facebook, the booming social networking site dreamed up by Mark Zuckerberg and his buddies in a Harvard dorm room in 2004, is privately held and has released only very limited nuggets of financial information.

The 2009 results are significantly higher than some of the figures that Facebook had suggested earlier in 2009, as well as analysts' estimates that have appeared in various media reports.

Last July, Facebook board member Marc Andreessen told Reuters the company was on track to surpass $500 million in annual revenue for 2009. And in September, Facebook said that it had become free cash flow positive, meaning that the company was generating enough cash to cover its operating expenses as well as its capital spending needs.

Estimates in various media reports had previously pegged the company's 2009 revenue at $550 million to $700 million.

The two sources said revenue in 2009 was in fact $700 million to $800 million.

"They are downplaying their performance," one source said, adding that 2009 revenue was more than double the previous year's total. "There's no upside in getting people's expectations high, it's always better to go low."

If Facebook eventually seeks to go public, unveiling financial figures above expectations could help bolster investor interest.

Facebook declined to comment.

More at the source, which is linked in the title. Speaking of the title, it's modified from one of my catchphrases, which is "While the world burns, Farmville thrives." Believe it or not, Farmville has more active users than Twitter.

Pakistani lawyer petitions for death of Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is being investigated by Pakistani police under a section of the penal code that makes blasphemy against Muhammad punishable by death.

BBC Urdu reports — according to a Google Translation — that Pakistan's Deputy Attorney General has launched a criminal investigation against Zuckerberg and others in response to Facebook hosting a "Draw Muhammad" contest on its site late last month. On May 19, Pakistani authorities blocked access  to Facebook over the contest, and this ban was lifted on May 31 after Facebook removed the page in Pakistan and other countries.

Asked to comment, a Facebook spokeswoman told us the company does not comment on legal matters.

Last month, according to English-language Pakistani newspaper The News International, a Pakistani High Court judge summoned the police after lawyer Muhammad Azhar Siddique filed an application for a First Information Report (FIR), claiming that the owners of Facebook had committed a heinous and serious crime under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code. In essence, an FIR launches a criminal investigation. But no charges have been filed.

According to the paper, Section 295-C of the penal code reads: "Use of derogatory remark etc, in respect of the Holy Prophet, whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable for fine."

So, peace be unto Muhammad. But not unto Mark Zuckerberg.

According to two reports — one at Boxcrack.net, a kind of citizen journalism site run by Privacy International, and another at Pro Pakistani, a Pakistani Telecom and IT news site that lifted the news from BBC Urdu — the Deputy Attorney General has indeed lodged an FIR against Zuckerberg, fellow co-founders Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes, and "Andy", the German woman who initiated the Draw Muhammad contest under a pseudonym.

According to Pro Paskistani, petitioner Muhammad Azhar Sidiqque said he's waiting for the police to contact Interpol about making arrangements for the arrest of Facebook's owners and "Andy". The site also says that the Deputy Attorney General told the High Court that Pakistan’s United Nations representative has asked to escalate the issue in the UN General Assembly.

mr schadenfreude

In chains- Indonesia and mental illness

While we have a long way to go in Australia and other first world countries in understanding mental illness and getting past the stigma that those of us with mental illness live with, spare a thought for the people chained day and night, often for the rest of their lives, in Indonesia.

AT THE entrance of the main building of the Yayasan Galuh rehabilitation centre for the mentally ill, the first thing that hits you is the overwhelming stench. An open sewer borders the structure on three sides and the odour is especially rank in the midday heat. But the fetid smell only hints at the utter wretchedness that awaits inside.

On a dirty white-tiled floor, dissected by two more open sewers, are the patients. Some 50 of them are chained like animals to the supporting beams of the expansive shed, each a portrait of deprivation and misery. A naked man rocks back and forth, picking faeces from the drain, inspecting it and flicking it away. A few metres away, two others squabble over the remnants of a cigarette. Some fidget and fret, contorting their emaciated bodies as much as the shackles will allow. Others lie comatose, their faces dolefully empty.

It is lunch time, so many are eating boiled rice and there is not much chatter. The silence is punctured only by bursts of wailing from a young boy. His name is Santo. He is 12 and the chain that tethers him is twisted tightly around his leg.
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A collection of images that may be distressing to some, so keep that in mind



Report: U.S., Israeli warships cross Suez Canal toward Red Sea

More than twelve United States Naval warships and at least one Israeli ship crossed the Suez Canal towards the Red Sea on Friday, British Arabic Language newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported Saturday.

According to the report, thousands of Egyptian soldiers were deployed along the Suez Canal guarding the ships' passage, which included a U.S. aircraft carrier.

The Suez Canal is a strategic Egyptian waterway which connects between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea.

According to eyewitnesses, the U.S. battleships were the largest to have crossed the Canal in many years, Al-Quds reported.

Egyptian opposition members have criticized the government for cooperating with the U.S. and Israeli forces and allowing the ships' passage through Egyptian territorial waters.

They said they viewed the event as Egyptian participation in an international scandal, and added that the opposition would not sit with its arms crossed while the country allowed a fleet of  U.S. and Israeli military ships to cross.


It looks like the news originated at DEBKAfile so I would take it with a grain of salt, but still watch out for possible developments on this.

Shock as council refuses to endorse gay blood donation

Labour controlled Nottingham City Council made the shocking decision this week to remove references to gay and bisexual men from a motion celebrating World Blood Donor Day.

The motion highlighted discrimination against gay men from donating blood. It also urged the council to lobby the National Blood Service about scrapping the policy.

Councillor Alex Foster, who proposed the motion, told Liberal Conspiracy that the rules on blood donation should be changed to reflect the real risks.
The UK Blood Service is currently reviewing its policy in relation to gay men donating blood. The NHS has already decided that it’s safe for gay men to donate bone marrow and semen, and to carry donor cards, but hasn’t yet made its decision about blood. I thought it was important for the City Council to join a number of voices lobbying the NHS about the signals that discrimination sends.
The story was first highlighted on the Nottingham City Council LOLs blog (also on Twitter).

Alex Foster, a Libdem Councillor, has also written about the proceedings on his blog.
I’ve been tested. I can be more sure than many people that I am HIV negative. I take precautions. I also think that the aforementioned former sex workers are also more likely to have been tested for STIs and know they are clean, so they too should be able to draw on their personal experience and their personal knowledge when it comes to deciding whether they are safe to donate blood.
He said the blood donation discrimination “sent a signal” to people with old fashioned views that “it is OK still to discriminate”.

In the UK, men who have ever had sex with men are excluded from donating blood. However, several developed countries such as Spain, Australia, and New Zealand have alternatives to blanket bans.

Last year the gay rights group Stonewall changed its position after a two year review and called for the UK blood services to apply the same risk assessment to homosexuals as it applies to heterosexuals.

As Richard Bradley told me:
It is ridiculous that a monogomous gay man who has only ever practised safe sex cannot donate blood while promiscuous straight man who never uses a condom and travels to NYC (heterosexual HIV epidemic there) can donate blood.

Liberal Conspiracy

NO! Don't give him the on/off switch...

WASHINGTON -  A new bill introduced in the Senate would give the president the equivalent of an Internet "kill switch" if passed. The concept has some communications companies hoping that legislators would rather kill the bill.

The bill is known as the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act. See the proposed legislation [PDF format] .

CNET , a publication that covers computers and the Internet, reported that the bill would give the president emergency powers to seize control of or shut down portions of the Internet.

Broadband providers, search engines, software firms and other similar companies would be required to "immediately comply with any emergency measure or action developed" by the Department of Homeland Security. Failing to comply would lead to a fine.

CNET stated that primary sponsor Sen. Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Homeland Security committee, introduced the bill on Thursday.

According to the Huffington Post , it would create a new agency within the Department of Homeland Security named the National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications. Any private company reliant on "the Internet, the telephone system or any other component of the U.S. information infrastructure" would be "subject to command" by the agency.

Some would have to share information with the NCCC.

The Escapist Magazine quoted Lieberman as saying the act would let the government "preserve those networks and assets and our country and protect our people."

"For all of its 'user-friendly' allure, the Internet can also be a dangerous place with electronic pipelines that run directly into everything from our personal bank accounts to key infrastructure to government and industrial secrets," the senator said. "Our economic security, national security and public safety are now all at risk from new kinds of enemies - cyber-warriors, cyber-spies, cyber-terrorists and cyber-criminals."

The Huffington Post said that TechAmerica, a technology lobbying group, and other groups are warning of the "potential for absolute power" and "unintended consequences that would result from the legislation's regulatory approach."

ZD Net reported that there is a paragraph in the bill that states the NCCC could not order broadband providers or other companies to "conduct surveillance" of Americans unless there's another way to legally authorize it.


Source 2

Source 2 is opinions. The first source is where info on the bill is. Honestly, I get why they want to do this, security and all that, but the potential for this being abused is far too great.

The guy who asked Helen Thomas about Israel

I asked Helen Thomas about Israel. Her answer revealed more than you think.

By David F. Nesenoff

The day began with security checks. Then to the press room. A glimpse of former president Bill Clinton scurrying by with Vice President Biden. A press conference in the East Room with President Obama. An impromptu interview with the White House's mashgiach, the supervisor of the kosher kitchen preparation. Adam and Daniel were documenting the events for their Jewish teen Web site, ShmoozePOINT.com. I was interviewing people about Israel for a feature on my Web site, RabbiLIVE.com.

I thought that if I could create videos of short anecdotes about Israel -- the food, archeology, history and personal experiences -- they might go viral on the Internet and be a nice promo campaign for the country. I had started the project just a few weeks before.

Even as a rabbi, I did not count on divine intervention.

We were on the White House front lawn when I told the teenagers that approaching us was the most famous reporter in the world -- Helen Thomas, a veteran who had covered presidents from Kennedy to Obama. We stopped her. I told Thomas that the young men were starting out in the press corps and hoped to be reporters. She kindly shared notes about journalism with us. "You'll always keep learning," she said. It was an honor.

Then I asked: "Any comments on Israel? We're asking everybody today." Like saying a password to enter a new, secret place. "Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine," she replied, and "go home" to Poland and Germany. We were in.

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stock | Got My Drink On

PRIDE PotD: June 17, 2010.

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The next Pride photo-spam: Italy, Mexico, and Turkey.

Full/other source galleries:
creepy but cute

More computers, lower test scores?

Source: Children with home computers likely to have lower test scores

DURHAM, N.C. — Around the country and throughout the world, politicians and education activists have sought to eliminate the “digital divide” by guaranteeing universal access to home computers, and in some cases to high-speed Internet service.

However, according to a new study by scholars at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, these efforts would actually widen the achievement gap in math and reading scores. Students in grades five through eight, particularly those from disadvantaged families, tend to post lower scores once these technologies arrive in their home.

Professors Jacob Vigdor and Helen Ladd analyzed responses to computer-use questions included on North Carolina’s mandated End-of-Grade tests (EOGs). Students reported how frequently they use a home computer for schoolwork, watch TV or read for pleasure. The study covers 2000 to 2005, a period when home computers and high-speed Internet access expanded dramatically. By 2005, broadband access was available in almost every zip code in North Carolina, Vigdor said.

The study had several advantages over previous research that suggested similar results, Vigdor said. The sample size was large — numbering more than 150,000 individual students. The data allowed researchers to compare the same children’s reading and math scores before and after they acquired a home computer, and to compare those scores to those of peers who had a home computer by fifth grade and to test scores of students who never acquire a home computer. The negative effects on reading and math scores were “modest but significant,” they found.

“We cut off the study in 2005, so we weren’t getting into the Facebook and Twitter generation,” Vigdor said. “The technology was much more primitive than that. IM (instant messaging) software was popular then, and it’s been one thing after the other since then. Adults may think of computer technology as a productivity tool first and foremost, but the average kid doesn’t share that perception.” Kids in the middle grades are mostly using computers to socialize and play games, Vigdor added, with clear gender divisions between those activities.

Vigdor and Ladd concluded that home computers are put to more productive use in households where parental monitoring is more effective. In disadvantaged households, parents are less likely to monitor children’s computer use and guide children in using computers for educational purposes.

The research suggests that programs to expand home computer access would lead to even wider gaps between test scores of advantaged and disadvantaged students, Vigdor said. Several states have pursued programs to distribute computers to students. For example, Maine funded laptops for every sixth-grader, and Michigan approved a program but then did not fund it.

“Scaling the Digital Divide: Home Computer Technology and Student Achievement” was published online by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The research was funded in part by the William T. Grant Foundation.


Thoughts? I am personally all for greater access, but perhaps we need to rethink how to approach greater access so it is actually beneficial to kids.