Archive for July 12th, 2007|Daily archive page

Sometimes Think-Tanks Should Rethink

The right-wing think-tank, The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, has put up a study showing the relationship between longevity and “medical innovation” defined as the overall age of drugs being prescribed.

Siting a study prepared by Frank R. Lichtenberg from Columbia University and the National Bureau of Economic Research, the study shows that, surprise, new drugs do increase life expectancy.

Lichtenberg then set out to examine why this “longevity increase gap” exists by measuring the impact of several factors that researchers agree could affect life expectancy. He found that, although some obvious suspects—obesity, smoking, and the incidence of HIV/AIDS—played a role, the most important factor was “medical innovation.”

Specifically, Lichtenberg found that longevity increased the most in those states where access to newer drugs—measured by mean “vintage” (FDA approval year)—in Medicaid and Medicare programs has increased the most. In fact, about two-thirds of the potential increase in longevity—the longevity increase that would have occurred if obesity, income, and other factors had not changed—is attributable to the use of newer drugs. According to his calculations, for every year increase in drug vintage there is about a two-month gain in life expectancy. These represent important findings given the fact that the costs of prescription drugs continue to receive a great deal of attention in the ongoing debate over health-care policy, while their benefits are often overlooked.

Lichtenberg also estimated impacts on productivity and per-capita medical expenditure. He concluded that states adopting medical innovations more rapidly had faster labor productivity growth, conditional on income growth and other factors, perhaps due to reduced absenteeism from chronic medical ailments. He also found that states that use newer drugs did not experience above-average increases in overall medical expenditure, which contradicts the common perception that advances in medical technology inevitably result in increased health-care spending.

I would expect this to be a bit of propaganda attempting to show that big pharma isn’t the global evil everyone seems to think it is. Pharma companies are good and only have your best interests (and sex lives) at heart. Profits? Banish the thought!
But hey, since the graphics the institute put up were a bit dull, I thought I’d go in and do a little paint by numbers.

The paper has two main tables. The first shows the states ranked by life expectancy. I simply colored the chart according to the way the states voted in the 2004 presidential election.

US States Ranked By Life Expectancy

The second table shows increase life expectancy. Here the coloring was a little easier.

US States Ranked by Increase In Life Expectancy

Interestingly, as far as I can tell the measurement being used is the vintage of drugs supplied by Medicare and Medicaid. Strange that there would seem to be that big a difference in how federal programs are being operated at the state and local level. Perhaps all those who decry the evils of Medicare shouldn’t look at the evil heartless Federal Government and spend more time looking a little closer to home at how the federal guidelines are implemented.

But it would also seem to me, that those think-tanks fighting the good fight for Republican values shouldn’t use studies showing how much better life is in Democratic states.

I guess I think they should have rethought their article.

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Fighting Them There

In what can only be considered a mistimed release, an interim report on the progress of the surge will be coming out today. (I mean, couldn’t they wait until tomorrow afternoon? Rove seems to be losing his grip.)

The coverage in the various national papers is not encouraging. While the majority of the Benchmarks the administration set for the surge have stalled or failed, the While House will point to satisfactory progress in 8 of 18 points. Reference the handy, dandy chart provided by the New York Times.

This, and Bush’s collapsing popularity, will make it even more difficult for Republicans to continue to back any policy in Iraq except a precipitate withdrawal. I suspect the “fight them there, so we don’t fight them here” mantra will be droned across the right wing media and blogs this weekend.

As it has already been noted, in an effort to increase public support for the war, the President, the administration and the media have shifted from saying “insurgents” to using the term Al Quaeda to describe as the American opponents in Iraq. According a McClatchy article, Al Quaeda, the “insurgents”, the bad guys, the “them” also included a large number of civilians in 2006.

U.S. soldiers have killed or wounded 429 Iraqi civilians at checkpoints or near patrols and convoys during the past year, according to military statistics compiled in Iraq and obtained by McClatchy Newspapers.

he statistics are the first official accounting of civilian shootings since the war began, and while they seem small compared with the thousands who’ve died in Iraq’s violence, they show the difficulty that the U.S. has in fulfilling its vow to protect civilians.

The numbers cover what the military calls escalation-of-force incidents, in which American troops fire at civilians who’ve come too close or have approached checkpoints too quickly. In the months since U.S. commanders have dispatched more troops to the field — ostensibly to secure Iraqi communities — the number of Iraqis killed and injured in such incidents has spiked, the statistics show.

Pentagon officials have declined repeatedly to reveal the numbers of civilian deaths and injuries caused by American troops. The escalation-of-force statistics, however, were part of a recent briefing given to Army Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of coalition forces in Iraq. A person familiar with the briefing provided the statistics to McClatchy.

And Bush wonders why Americans are war weary? I somehow don’t think it has much to do with terminology. I wonder what the right wing would say if the American military killed 430 innocent American civilians?

Oh! Darn – I remember. That’s why we don’t fight them here.

Wooly Cutbacks

While I don’t think I’ve mentioned it here, I’ve long been a sheep fan. I also like the idea of researchers trying to find alternatives to pesticides which are often made from oil or oil derivatives.

That’s why today’s fluff in the Chicago Tribune made my heart hop higher – it combines sheep, pesticides and wine in one wild and wooly weed-a-thon.

Call them mutton mowers. University researchers are training sheep to clean up vineyard weeds but stay off the grapes.

Enthusiastic and unpicky eaters, sheep are already being used in some vineyards as a green alternative to tractors. They don’t use gasoline and keep down weeds — a necessary task to deter pests and keep vines healthy — sans herbicides.

Unfortunately, sheep will chew up thousands of dollars worth of grapes if left to their own devices.

That’s why University of California, Davis researcher Morgan Doran and his colleagues are experimenting with aversion therapy and other techniques to turn sheep into better field hands.

For those looking to expand the franchise will find that others have preceded them. According to the article Wooly Weeders, a Colorado based company uses lambs and *gasp* sheepdogs to keep those pesky weeds down and the sheep peaceful.

I, for one, am counting on this technology to help reduce global warming and improve sheep-human relations.

Because we all know that the sheep are really an alien race simply biding their time until a UFO comes and takes them home. But you knew that right?