Farewell. The Flying Pig Has Left The Building.

Steve Hynd, August 16, 2012

After four years on the Typepad site, eight years total blogging, Newshoggers is closing it's doors today. We've been coasting the last year or so, with many of us moving on to bigger projects (Hey, Eric!) or simply running out of blogging enthusiasm, and it's time to give the old flying pig a rest.

We've done okay over those eight years, although never being quite PC enough to gain wider acceptance from the partisan "party right or wrong" crowds. We like to think we moved political conversations a little, on the ever-present wish to rush to war with Iran, on the need for a real Left that isn't licking corporatist Dem boots every cycle, on America's foreign misadventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. We like to think we made a small difference while writing under that flying pig banner. We did pretty good for a bunch with no ties to big-party apparatuses or think tanks.

Those eight years of blogging will still exist. Because we're ending this typepad account, we've been archiving the typepad blog here. And the original blogger archive is still here. There will still be new content from the old 'hoggers crew too. Ron writes for The Moderate Voice, I post at The Agonist and Eric Martin's lucid foreign policy thoughts can be read at Democracy Arsenal.

I'd like to thank all our regular commenters, readers and the other bloggers who regularly linked to our posts over the years to agree or disagree. You all made writing for 'hoggers an amazingly fun and stimulating experience.

Thank you very much.

Note: This is an archive copy of Newshoggers. Most of the pictures are gone but the words are all here. There may be some occasional new content, John may do some posts and Ron will cross post some of his contributions to The Moderate Voice so check back.


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Shocking (NOT!)

By Dave Anderson

This is so not shocking, from the Post-Gazette on Allegheny County voters who the state wants to run through ten hoops to allow their votes to count this fall.

Women are nearly twice as likely to be without ID in Allegheny County. Voters in their 20s -- an important subset for Democrats -- are the second-most impacted age group, after those 80 and older. Democrats dominate the list, accounting for 66 percent of all voters suspected to lack ID. (Democrats make up 61 percent of all registered voters in the county.)

And the entire process offends me as a data geek because they are doing name mismatches against voter rolls and PennDot license/registration rolls.  Name mismatches are amazingly unreliable as D. Anderson, D.M. Anderson and David Anderson could all be the same person but will flag as a mismatch.  The law is designed to fail, and the methodology is designed to insure failure.

Saudi Arabia Quiz

By John Ballard

Juan Cole links a list of quizzes, one of the best I have seen. 

Jeffrey Rudolph, a Montreal college professor, was the Quebec representative of the East Timor Alert Network, and presented a paper on its behalf at the United Nations. He was awarded the prestigious Cheryl Rosa Teresa Doran Prize upon graduation from McGill University's faculty of law; has worked as a chartered accountant at one of the world's largest public accounting firms; and, has taught at McGill University. He has prepared widely-distributed quizzes on Israel-Palestine, Iran, Hamas, Terrorism, Saudi Arabia, US Inequality, and the US Christian Right. These quizzes, and a more extensive version of the Hezbollah Quiz, are available at: http://detailedpoliticalquizzes. wordpress. com/

Here are some sample questions from the KSA quiz. Answer key is after the jump. 
Go to the link for the entire quiz.  

2. Who stated the following in 1945?: "I'm sorry, gentlemen, but I have to answer to hundreds of thousands who are anxious for the success of Zionism. I do not have hundreds of thousands of Arabs among my constituents."

4. Why, despite spending billions on military equipment, is the Saudi state unable to defend itself?

8. What event led to Saudi Arabia and other Arab oil-producing countries imposing an oil embargo on the US and Europe in the early 1970s?

11. Jihadi manuals, used by the mujahideen in Afghanistan and elsewhere, were produced in the early 1980s by which country?

15. How many Wahhabi suicide bombers had there been before 1980? 

 21. What is the Shia population of the oil-rich Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia? 

2. Who stated the following in 1945?: "I'm sorry, gentlemen, but I have to answer to hundreds of thousands who are anxious for the success of Zionism. I do not have hundreds of thousands of Arabs among my constituents."

-Harry Truman: President of the United States, 1945-1953. 

4. Why, despite spending billions on military equipment, is the Saudi state unable to defend itself?

-"Even after Saudi oil was fully nationalized in 1980, Washington's politico-military elite maintained their pledge to defend the existing Saudi regime and its state whatever the cost. Why...could the Saudi state not defend itself? The answer was because the Saud clan, living in permanent fear, was haunted by the spectre of the radical nationalists who had seized power in Egypt in 1952 and in Iraq six years later. The Sauds kept the size of the national army and air force to the barest minimum to minimize the risk of a coup d'�t. Many of the armaments they have purchased to please the West lie rusting peacefully in desert warehouses. For a decade and a half in the late 1970s and '80s, the Pakistan army, paid for by the Saudi treasury, sent in large contingents to protect the Saudi royal family in case of internal upheavals. Then, after the first Gulf War, the American military arrived."

8. What event led to Saudi Arabia and other Arab oil-producing countries imposing an oil embargo on the US and Europe in the early 1970s?

-In 1973, "[K]ing Faisal of Saudi Arabia announced a boycott on his kingdom's oil sales to the United States. Enraged by President Richard Nixon's military support for Israel in the October War against Egypt and Syria, the Saudi king had hoped to compel some dramatic change in U.S. policy. Yet as the Arab oil boycott caused the price of oil on the world market to multiply nearly five times, it was back home, inside the Kingdom, that the truly dramatic changes would occur. ... After centuries of hibernation and a few recent decades of only gradual change, Saudi Arabia was suddenly turned on its head. Foreign money brought foreign ways-the good, the bad, and, in the eyes of many Saudis, the very definitely ugly. Women started appearing on TV... [The] pure world [of the pious] was under threat." "[A]ll over the Arab world in the 1970s...Muslims worked out their different responses to the material and spiritual inroads of the West. Those who opted for back-to-basics called themselves Salafi..." (Robert Lacey; Inside The Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia; Viking; Toronto: 2009; pp. 3-4 and 9.)

-"Led by Saudi Arabia, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) imposed a general rise in oil prices and an oil embargo on major oil consumers who were either supporters of Israel or allies of its supporters. The embargo was theoretically aimed at forcing Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories and recognize the rights of the Palestinian people. In reality...[Saudi Arabia] negotiate[d] exceptions with practically every nation...affected...but not before...giving them a taste of the power the Arabs could wield if they chose."

11. Jihadi manuals, used by the mujahideen in Afghanistan and elsewhere, were produced in the early 1980s by which country?

-The United States of America. "In the twilight of the Cold War, the United States spent millions of dollars to supply Afghan schoolchildren with textbooks filled with violent images and militant Islamic teachings, part of covert attempts to spur resistance to the Soviet occupation. The primers, which were filled with talk of jihad and featured drawings of guns, bullets, soldiers and mines, have served since then as the Afghan school system's core curriculum. Even the Taliban used the American-produced books... [The U.S. is] now...wrestling with the unintended consequences of its successful strategy of stirring Islamic fervor to fight communism. What seemed like a good idea in the context of the Cold War is being criticized by humanitarian workers as a crude tool that steeped a generation in violence. ... Published in the dominant Afghan languages of Dari and Pashtu, the textbooks were developed in the early 1980s...[at] the University of Nebraska-Omaha...Today, the books remain widely available in schools and shops, to the chagrin of international aid workers. 'The pictures [in] the texts are horrendous to school students...' One page from the texts of that period shows a resistance fighter with a bandolier and a Kalashnikov slung from his shoulder. The soldier's head is missing. Above the soldier is a verse from the Koran. Below is a Pashtu tribute to the mujaheddin, who are described as obedient to Allah. Such men will sacrifice their wealth and life itself to impose Islamic law on the government, the text says."

15. How many Wahhabi suicide bombers had there been before 1980?

-None. "There were no Wahhabi suicide bombers until after the Reagan administration launched its struggle, with the help of the mujahideen, against the Soviets in Afghanistan, and there is no warrant in Wahhabism for suicide, or it would not have taken 150 years for it to occur to a Wahhabi fighter to sacrifice himself in that way. It is wrong to tar all the members of a religious tradition with the brush of terrorism based on the actions of a small number of persons among them."

21. What is the Shia population of the oil-rich Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia?

Approximately 915,000 (of a total population of the EasternProvince of 3,400,000). Shias have suffered discrimination and are disproportionately poor in Saudi Arabia. Needless to say, Iran, especially following its Revolution, tried to incite "its fellow Shias" against the ruling Saudi regime. However, Shia have proved loyal to the Kingdom while radical Sunnis committed terror against the regime. "[L]ike a lot of minorities in [Saudi Arabia, Shias recognize]...they would get a better deal from the Saudi monarchy than they would from any nonroyal government. ... How could the Shia expect anything but oppression from the Wahhabis?"

Peasants With Pitchforks (AR15s)

Commentary By Ron Beasley

Billionaire Jeff Greene is getting a little nervous:

Greene gazes across the bay at the multi-million-dollar houses peeking from behind the trees. I assume he's quietly contemplating acquiring even more of the shoreline, but then he says something surprising. "If somebody wanted to go after a rich person," he observes, "they have got their pick of the litter out here."

I've heard that some members of the 1% are building bolt holes - a secure place we they can hide out in times of trouble.  Greene does not say he has but he's worried about the situation.

"This is my fear, and it's a real, legitimate fear," Greene says, revving up the engine. "You have this huge, huge class of people who are impoverished. If we keep doing what we're doing, we will build a class of poor people that will take over this country, and the country will not look like what it does today. It will be a different economy, rights, all that stuff will be different."


 This whole idea of American exceptionalism, that we're the greatest, when people don't have health insurance, don't have housing," he says,

This is not new.  FDR's New Deal was supported and in fact designed by the very rich because they feared the same thing a revolution or at the very least a disruption.

In My Mother's Arms

Posted by John Ballard

I got the link from Issandr El Amrani's blog.

This is a documentary. It's about three-quarers of an hour. It does not have a happy ending.
Anyone who supports war needs to take time to watch this film.

In Sadr City, Baghdad, 32 football-crazy boys live, eat, study and sleep together in a rented two-bedroom house which functions as an unofficial orphanage.

The orphanage receives no government or NGO support. It exists only because of the dedication and energy of Husham and his small team of helpers who felt they had to do something - anything - to tackle a problem that threatens to undermine Iraqi society.

The children who are Sunni, Shia, Kurdish and Turkuman are representative faces of contemporary Iraq, and their lives sum up one of the deepest issues facing Iraqi society today.

The boys are just a handful of the five million children, who according to Iraqi government figures, have been left parentless in successive waves of violence since 2003.

Husham and his workers spend their days trying to cope with the practical and psychological fallout from the trauma that has shattered Iraq in the past decade.

Young Saif lost both his parents in a bomb blast and it has taken a great toll on him. He feels alone in the world and fights with everyone and anyone.

And there is also a new threat: the landlord of the house wants to sell the property, leaving the boys and their carers with nowhere to go.

Filmed over the course of several months, In My mother's Arms presents an astonishing portrait of life in the orphanage. The children laugh, squabble and cry together and take uncertain steps on the road back to a normal future. And Husham and his colleagues face up to the ongoing struggle to support the boys under their care with humour, resilience and unwavering determination.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Edward Hugh on the Euro/EZ Crisis du Jour

by John Ballard

As a Nouriel Roubini fan I check the weekly newsletter to see if there is anything new. It's like following sports news, the stock market numbers or the weather. If something really important is about to happen (or, as is sometimes the case, it already did and it's too late to duck the flying shit) the rest of the media will let us know. You can tell it's been a slow news day when something like this comes along.

According to Wikipedia, Kabuki is a classical Japanese dance-drama known for the stylization of its plot and for the elaborate make-up worn by the key performers. This definition seems to fit the drama in an interminable number of acts currently being acted out on the European stage by some of the continent's leading central bank players.

It all started last Thursday when, as surely everyone but my blind and deaf uncle must know by now, Mario Draghi made what is widely thought to have been an important speech. We will do whatever it takes, as long as it is in the mandate, he is reported as saying. And since stopping anything which is life threatening to the Euro dead in its tracks forms part of the mandate under any conceivable interpretation, the ECB now have the widest possible brief within which to circumscribe their actions. The only limitation is that it should be enough, just enough, and no more. As Mario Draghi said, "believe me, it will be enough".

But then on Friday dark clouds started to loom on the horizon, as the Bundesbank waded into the fray, making a statement which seems to have been intended to say "now just hold on a minute there!" As the Irish Independent put it in a headline "The Bundesbank Pushes Against ECB's Draghi Attempt To Save The Eurozone.

Yikes! That sounds dangerous. Someone wants to save the Euro, and with it the entire planet, and someone else wants to stop him from doing so. Assuming we are not in James Bond territory here, how can that be?

Well, that's why I say "seem", since digging into the situation a bit, I found it very hard to identify an original source for the statements that were being attributed to that most venerable of German institutions. Certainly there was no trace of anything on the central bank website.

Well, as Ludwig Wittgenstein used to say, when you seem to hit bedrock, and even if the blade is a bit bent, don't let your spade be turned. Just keep on digging. So I did.

What I found was a Reuters correspondent who claimed to have been told by a bank spokesman that "The Bundesbank regards central bank purchases of sovereign debt as monetary financing of governments, from which the ECB is prohibited by European law".

"The mechanism of bond purchases is problematic", the spokesman apparently added, "because it sets the wrong incentives." On the other hand the possibility of the EFSF bailout buying government bonds was reportedly viewed as "less problematic".

But then I moved on to Dow Jones News Wires, where I got the weird feeling their journalist had had exactly the same conversation with just the very same Bundesbank spokesman. "Germany's central bank remains opposed to further government bond purchases by the European Central Bank, but isn't against using the euro-zone's temporary rescue fund doing so to drive down soaring sovereign borrowing costs", the writer claimed to have been told by a Bundesbank spokesman. Odd, I thought that two separate journalists had rung up the bank independently only to have had the exact same conversation.

In order to try and clarify matters - remember markets next week have to decide what the next chapter in the Euro Debt Crisis is going to be, so it isn't simply pedantic to want to get this one right - I did what every well trained economist does in cases of an emergency - I went back to the original story that caught my eye in the Financial Times, where to my horror I found there was no mention of any presumed conversation with any bank spokesman whatsoever. The FT simply informed the world majestically that "The Bundesbank says....." which was followed by a wording not that different to the ones to be found in Reuters and Dow Jones Newswires. Then I went to the Daily Telegraph, and found they followed the FT in simply asserting that the Bundesbank says blah blah blah. But where, I am asking myself, do they say it?

Why does this matter? Well, maybe this IS being pedantic, but I don't think we should start accepting that the Bundesbank (or anyone else) thinks "something or other" simply because the FT says they do, much as I love the paper and its charming corps of staff. Even if we are told "an anonymous source from the Bundesbank who under no circumstances wanted to be identified publically" said x, this can help us evaluate the significance of x. If we are told nothing, then frankly I for one don't know where to start.

Thankfully, Bloomberg finally came to my rescue. They owned up to what had actually happened:

"A spokesman for the Frankfurt-based central bank said in a statement read over the phone earlier today that there haven't been any changes in its position on bond purchases".

So there we have it, a case of sex (or rather policymaking) over the phone. What journalists were presenting us with was an official pre-prepared Bundesbank statement, which was read out to any journalist who was sufficiently interested to ring them up. So this is something the German central bank wanted to go out. It was a way of influencing the situation by applying the law of least effort.

Having understood that (which was the hard part) I have then spent the rest of the weekend wondering what it might mean. But to find out what my conclusions were you'll need to read the full blog post.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sunday Finds

By John Ballard

Yes, I know. The weekend's about over so there's not much time left for reading. Long reads should be linked on Friday or Saturday. Oh, well, somebody may be on vacation this week or have some down time, so here are a few from The News Less Traveled...

?The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic
This story falls into the man-bites-dog category. It's old news for those of us who have been talking about it for the last several years. (Al Gore's book, Earth in the Balance (1992), may have been the political kiss of death for global warming. I still have the copy I used to discredit the blizzard of viral emails misquoting what he said then.)  
Anyway, Richard Muller, one of the leading climate change deniers -- funded by none other than the Koch brothers -- had a come to Jesus moment and is now the latest of convert to an opposite view of climate change. 

CALL me a converted skeptic. Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I'm now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.

My total turnaround, in such a short time, is the result of careful and objective analysis by the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, which I founded with my daughter Elizabeth. Our results show that the average temperature of the earth's land has risen by two and a half degrees Fahrenheit over the past 250 years, including an increase of one and a half degrees over the most recent 50 years. Moreover, it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases.

?The truth about the Fast and Furious scandal
Investigative reporter Katherine Eban has a forensic look at the now-infamous Fast and Furious scandal and comes away with a pile of exculpatory information which will furnish new ammunition for political types to hurl back and forth.
This is a long read. I plead guilty to not reading the whole piece in detail. It's like slogging around in a cesspool without safety gear. It's ugly, stinks and will leave you feeling dirty if you don't wash it off when you finish.
Two snips stuck in my head. Each is self-explanatory.

Some call it the "parade of ants"; others the "river of iron." The Mexican government has estimated that 2,000 weapons are smuggled daily from the U.S. into Mexico. The ATF is hobbled in its effort to stop this flow. No federal statute outlaws firearms trafficking within the U.S., so agents must build cases using a patchwork of often toothless laws. For six years, due to Beltway politics, the bureau has gone without permanent leadership, neutered in its fight for funding and authority. The National Rifle Association has so successfully opposed a comprehensive electronic database of gun sales that the ATF's congressional appropriation explicitly prohibits establishing one.


Voth was a logical thinker. He lived by advice he received from an early mentor in law enforcement: "There's what you think. There's what you know. There's what you can prove. And the first two don't count."

?In Death, Farida Afridi Will Continue to Save and Better Lives
I don't recall how I came across Josh Shahryar but he's one of the people I follow on Twitter. He's very light on Twitter, sometimes almost a clown, but there he has a serious side that occasionally breaks through. I know from his messages that he reads voluminously, and I almost missed his link to this piece he wrote. 

If time is limited, this is recommended reading -- clear, important and not too long. 

In 2010, a study paid for by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, analyzed 915 censuses from 1970 to 2009 from 175 countries, looking at data on education, economic growth, H.I.V. infection rates and child deaths. What they found is a testament to the importance of Farida's work. Statistical models show that:

For every year of extra education women received, death rate for children under 5 dropped by nearly 10%, estimating that nearly 4.2 million fewer children had died in 2009 compared to 1970 because women of child-bearing age were more educated. In 1970, women in developing countries between the ages of 18-22 on average had received two years of schooling - compared to almost seven years in 2009.

In the long term, the effects are far more dramatic. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) deems education for women critical:

"...educational achievements of women can have ripple effects within the family and across generations. Investing in girls' education is one of the most effective ways to reduce poverty... Girls who have been educated are likely to marry later and to have smaller and healthier families... Education helps girls and women to know their rights and to gain confidence to claim them... The education of parents is linked to their children's educational attainment, the mother's education is usually more influential than the father's. An educated mother's greater influence in household negotiations may allow her to secure more resources for her children... " (emphasis mine).

It's somehow cathartic to think that the children of the men who are responsible for Farida's death might some day get to live longer, receive an education and manage to get out of the poverty that plagues the region. It's actually comforting to think that those children might grow up to use education they have received thanks to their mothers' role in promoting education inside their own families - education they received thanks to organizations like SAWERA. Education that some day might help forge an alliance between women and men in the region to foster equality so maybe the women of FATA won't have to live their lives as indentured servants.

?A Twist on Posthumous Baptisms Leaves Jews Miffed at Mormon Rite
This NY Times article will help explain this otherwise unexplained Twitter message from a satirical account which is NOT that of Mitt Romney.

?Civics lesson from Justice O'Connor: Obama's health-care remarks 'unusual'
Finally, this is a fun excerpt from another clown show that is Washington. 

Grassley: "Could judicial independence be threatened when, after a pending case is briefed or argued, the president publicly misstates the process of judicial review and claims that the court's legitimacy, and a particular justice's legacy, will be tainted unless the court decides the case as the president wants?"

O'Connor replied that such actions by the president during a pending Supreme Court case would be "unusual."

Grassley: "And judicial independence is certainly weakened if justices give in to those attacks, rather than decide based on the Constitution, or appear to do so."

O'Connor: "I'm sure many things go through the mind of a justice in a pending case when a tough issue must be decided."

She added that a justice could learn new details that would shift the tentative outcome. "You can continue to learn until you have signed on to a particular decision," she said.

Several senators attempted to draw favorable comments from O'Connor on proposals to televise US Supreme Court proceedings. Grassley announced that he strongly favors such televised access and is aware that several justices strongly oppose it.

"Would you like me to speak on it?" O'Connor offered.

"Only if you speak in favor it it," Grassley replied.

"Then I'll keep my mouth shut," the former justice said with a laugh.

Justice O'Connor served for 25 years on the high court. She was the first woman on the court, and since her retirement in 2006 has been active in promoting a resurgence in civics education.

Sandra Day O'Connor, promoting civics education, illustrates here the New Testament principle mentioned by Jesus when he admonished his followers not to be casting pearls before swine

Saturday, July 28, 2012

From the Frying Pan Into the Fire

By John Ballard

As the Massachusetts Yankee sez good riddance to King Arthur's court and ventures today into another lion's den, he enters a world-class diplomatic mine field. When I look at Mitt Romney's stable of advisors I will not be shocked if he keeps stepping into one pile of fresh protocol poop after another as he visits Israel. He would be well-advised to keep his time there as short and sweet as he can manage. 

Here is a short reading list covering a few of the subjects into which he may experience yet another self-inflicted faux pas. These topics that are diplomatically radioactive, covering US-Israeli politics, Hezbollah, Palestinians, Jordan and the Olympics.

?Why is the Western left so obsessed with Israel?
American Jews have been at the core of civil rights and other movements associated with the Left. But Israel's treatment of Palestinians, both in the occupied territores and in Israel itself, has put the Left in a conflicted position. 

The reason for the left's difficulty in defending its Israel obsession lies in the embarrassment of leftists to admit who, in the overwhelming majority of cases, they are - white, middle-class members of the First World's educated elite. They number among the haves. As leftists (or progressives, liberals or social democrats), what they hate more than anything else is seeing the strong bully the weak - but the worst, by far, is when the bully comes from among their peers, the strong on a global scale - the Western-dominated, economically-advanced world. Then the left - the college students, professors, activists, writers, artists and other politically engaged people - have a personal stake in the injustice they're seeing. When Syrians are bullying Syrians, or Sudanese are bullying South Sudanese, they don't.

Israelis may not be as white as people think, but they are as Western as you get in the Middle East, and they are without doubt the haves against the Palestinians' have-nots, while the occupation is without doubt a case of the strong bullying the weak. After nearly a half-century of this, how can any Western left-winger, how can any American liberal or European social democrat, not be incensed at what this country is doing?

Study question: Does Mitt Romney have a clue about this nuance or has he drunk so much of Neocon Koolade it may never enter his mind?

Extra points: Define Limosine Liberal and Neoconservative in twenty-five words or less without mentioning Jews. 

?Syrian revolution leaves the Party of God in search of a Plan B
This excellent summary of challenges facing Hezbollah from The National is packed with good reading. Too much for a pr�s, and certainly too much for anyone trying to fake knowing about it from crib notes.

Six years after Hizbollah's "divine victory", Lebanese Shia are revisiting this occasion with bitterness and fear. Some feel that Hizbollah's support for the Syrian regime has created a conflict between the community and the Syrian people. While others, who still buy into the Party of God's rhetoric that Syrian president Bashar Al Assad is significant for the resistance, are also worried that Hizbollah is shooting itself in the foot, or leading the Shia in Lebanon to a new catastrophe. Meanwhile, Hizbollah seems to be getting ready to fight on more than one front, none of which will lead to a happy ending.

Study questions: Does Mitt Romney even know that the name Hezbollah means Party of God? Or that there is a difference (putting it mildly) between Shiite and Sunni Muslims? That Hezbollah is a Shiite Proxy? That Syria's Assad is Alawite? That Alawites are Shia? Or that Hezbollah is basically in charge of running Southern Lebanon to Israel's North?

?'Separate and Unequal' is unacceptable to Palestinians
Just as the complexities of Hezbollah and it's entanglement with Assad cannot be reduced to a few sound bites, the complexities of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict make rocket science look like an old Mister Wizard replay. 

In introducing a 166-page report in December 2010, "Separate and Unequal: Israel's Discriminatory Treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories," Carroll Bogert, deputy executive director for external relations at Human Rights Watch, stated, "Palestinians face systematic discrimination merely because of their race, ethnicity, and national origin, depriving them of electricity, water, schools, and access to roads, while nearby Jewish settlers enjoy all of these state-provided benefits. While Israeli settlements flourish, Palestinians under Israeli control live in a time warp - not just separate, not just unequal, but sometimes even pushed off their lands and out of their homes."

Study questions: What position, if any, does Romney have regarding Palestinians in the West Bank? What about Gaza? Does he know the difference? Does he know that Hamas and Fatah are not the same? Does he even know what Fatah is? And most interesting of all -- does he have a clue that there there are also Israeli citizens of Palestinian origin, born and reared as Israeli citizens, who are living testimony to official discriminatory maltreatment?

?Do Jordanians want reform or revolution?
Jordan, Israel's neighbor to the East, is of two countries in the neighborhood to have made official diplomatic peace with Israel. Again, the complexities of Middle East politics are enough to make even the bravest of diplomats want to pass the buck rather than open their mouths. Just mentioning the existence of Jordan is enough to be misunderstood. 

The truth is that Jordan's royal rulers have tended to use the country's politicians and bureaucrats to deflect attention from their own failings; the four Hashemite kings have changed prime ministers almost 70 times since the establishment of modern Jordan in 1921 and the current king, Abdullah, has appointed 10 different prime ministers since coming to power in 1999 - three of them in the past 12 months alone. As I asked Mohammed Halaikah, a former deputy prime minister under Abdullah: Is there something wrong with every single Jordanian premier or perhaps something wrong with the king himself?

I was surprised, in fact, to find criticism of King Abdullah, and his wife, the glamorous Queen Rania, commonplace in Amman, the country's capital - despite the fact that insulting the king is punishable by three years in prison. Abdullah, however, lacks the charisma and charm of his late father, Hussein; many Jordanians may continue to harbour a nationalist and Islamic attachment to their Hashemite ruling family but plenty of others, for example, openly mock the Western-educated monarch's poor command of Arabic. Rania, who is of Palestinian descent, is particularly unpopular with the East Bankers and her lavish lifestyle and extravagant spending has prompted ominous comparisons with Marie Antoinette.

Study question: Will Mitt Romney dare mention Jordan? Or have his advisers wisely told him not to utter the name or make any reference to that place? It's even touchy to mention "West Bank" since it begs the question "West of what?" (That would be the Jordan River, which once ran through the Palestinian settlements that were IN Jordan, now referred to as the West Bank.)

?Israeli Arab Olympic hopeful thrown in at the deep end
This Haaretz article is two months old and I don't know whether or not Jowan Qupty is still on the Israeli Olympic swim team, (I think he is...)  but if he is he will be the first Palestinian Israeli to be represented at the Olympic games. 

The 22-year-old set the best time of any Israeli this year in the 100-meter breaststroke, and was positive he would join the 4x100 meter medley relay (together with Nimrod Shapira Bar-Or in freestyle, Guy Barnea or Yonatan Kopelev in backstroke and Alon Mandel in butterfly ). But then the ISA decided to name Imri Ganiel as the breaststroke swimmer. Ganiel has, indeed, passed the 50-meter breaststroke criterion for the European Championships in Debrecen that start tomorrow, but his time in the longer distance is slower than Qupty's. When the case was brought to the ISA's tribunal it ruled that both swimmers will travel to Hungary, and whoever swims the faster 100-meter heat will join the medley relay team.

Despite the saga being formally settled, Qupty is still raging at the ISA's behavior, and at its chairman, Noam Zvi.

"Everybody believes I'm a victim of racism, but I want to believe this isn't the case," he says. "I was caught in a political struggle. Zvi and my coach founded Hapoel Jerusalem, and then fell out. Zvi became the association's chairman and he helps Hapoel Jerusalem as much as he can. Whoever belongs to our team, 'Jerusalem United,' suffers because we're allegedly the opposition. I've heard similar stories before, so I'm not really that surprised."

Study questions: Does Mitt Romney realize that 2012 is the first time Palestine has been recognized as a participant in the Olympics? That the Olympics with which he so proudly claims solidarity by including Palestine has done something that world diplomacy has thus far failed to do? Does he even care?


Friday, July 27, 2012

The Porter Report: Israel, the Bulgaria Bombings and Iran

Posted by John Ballard

Newshoggers friend and occasional contributor Gareth Porter looks at the recent targeted bombing of an Israeli tourist but in Bulgaria and other matters.

The Real News Network is a member-supported, global online video news network. Launched in 2007 by Paul Jay.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

HCR -- The Four Ways We Die

By John Ballard

One factor of America's extraordinarily high medical costs is our belief that dying is optional. Your death is inevitable, of course, but mine is not. I and those I love simply don't have to die. I'm being sarcastic, of course, but there is not a reader who doesn't get what I mean.

The dramatic change in the causes of death by Dr. Stephen Schempff describes how the advances of science and the art of healing during the last century have changed how we view death.

Most of us will not have the opportunity to just die of "old age" or to simply fall to sleep one night never to wake again. Most often, we develop an illness which causes our death. These have changed markedly over the years. For the pioneers, accidents, infections, childbirth were times and causes of great likelihood of death. A century ago, infections were the leading causes of death. Today, we will probably survive much longer than our ancestors but it is more likely we will die of heart disease, cancer or stroke. This is a dramatic change in the causes of death that has occurred over the years and with it is an equally dramatic change in the factors that predispose to those deaths.

The New England Journal of Medicine, arguably the most influential medical journal of our times, is celebrating its 200th year of publication with some special articles. A recent one called "The Burden of Disease and The Changing Task of Medicine" by Jones, Podolsky and Greene looked at the changes in causes of death from 1812 to today. The changes are not really surprising but worth contemplating. [Excellent graphs at the link.]

In 1812 the city of Boston recorded 992 deaths of which the greatest number by far were due to "consumption." Various other fevers combined were the next most common. Cancer killed five and sudden death (heart attacks?) took 25.


As our population rapidly ages there will be increasing numbers of the chronic diseases that come with aging such as visual and hearing dysfunction, mobility problems, arthritis and Alzheimer's. And as society persists in eating a non-nutritious diet and too much of it, avoiding exercise, having chronic stress and (20%) smoking there will be literal epidemics of obesity, hypertension, coronary artery disease, stroke, chronic lung and kidney disease and cancer. Just as sanitation and vaccines made a huge impact on the diseases of a century ago, so too could aggressive preventive measures to assure health and wellness make a difference in this century.

What is evident is that the causes of death have switched from acute illnesses to chronic illnesses. And we know from insurance companies that chronic illnesses consume about 70-85% of claims paid. What is less well appreciated is that our medical care delivery system was established over the years to deal with acute illness and for one provider to care for one patient. In this regard, think of the internist who treats a pneumonia with an antibiotic or the surgeon who cures a patient by removing the appendix. But patients with complex chronic illnesses need not one doctor but a multi-specialist team to give the best possible care. And the team needs to be well coordinated, probably by the primary care physician or in the case of some situations by a specialist. In both circumstances the coordinator directs - orchestrates - the entire team to offer the patient the highest quality at the least expense. This is a change in how care is delivered that needs to fully occur as illnesses have increasingly become chronic, complex, life long, difficult to manage and expensive to treat.

This TEDx talk by Peter Saul summarizes the four ways we die out in plain, if uncomfortable detail.
I got the graph above showing the four main categories of causes of death from one of the power point slides in his talk.  They are

  1. Sudden Death

  2. Terminal Illnesses

  3. Organ Failure

  4. Frailty

 I may change my mind, but given a choice I would choose #1 or #2. Option #3 can be manageable in many cases but #4 definitely is the worst. Living longer doesn't mean a longer youth. Longevity means a longer old age.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Empty Platitudes - Romney At The VFW Convention

Commentary By Ron Beasley

The Romneybot spoke to the crowd at the VFW convention today.  More empty platitudes and criticism of Obama. It reminds mey of my favorite lines from the 1923 novel, by one of the best wordsmiths Aldous Huxley, Antic Hay, where the main character finds himself "floundering in a quagmire of hypocritical platitudes" - that's Romney's life story.   Daniel Larison:

It was mostly a pastiche of the usual baseless complaints and a handful of bad policy ideas. Remarkably, Romney chose this venue to revisit his Venezuela alarmism and the worn-out criticism of Obama's response to the Green movement protests. These are two of the most discredited objections he could have repeated. On a more substantive note, he said that he would demand that Iran cease all enrichment, which is a demand designed to be rejected by the Iranians. That re-confirms that he has no interest in pursuing a negotiated solution.

I listened to the speech and the thing that struck me was while there was applause it was subdued. Larison again:

Judging from the applause he received during the speech, the convention audience was similarly underwhelmed by a lot of what he had to say. The applause that he did receive was polite, but not especially enthusiastic. Romney delivered the entire speech in that strained, almost incredulous-sounding tone he uses when he wants to convey emotion.

This is how I saw it too.  Obama got a better reception.  Perhaps it's because Romney always comes off as phony or maybe even the VFW is tired of endless war which is the neocon line Romney is pushing.

Romney is taking off on his foreign tour to prove his foreign policy skills.  I predict it will be a disaster.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Mitt Romney - Avoiding the Issues

Commentary By Ron Beasley

Mitt Romney is off on an international tour to prove  his foreign policy credentials.  Of course in Romney fashion he's avoiding most of the real international issues,  

Mitt Romney travels abroad this week to polish his presidential resume. But since Romney will avoid confronting head-on the vicious sovereign debt crisis in Europe that already appears to have engulfed the American economy, the trip may seem more like a vacation.

He does not want to bring attention to the Euro crisis because in doing so would be an admission that the Euro Crisis is responsible for the problems with the US economy.

But Romney will largely steer clear of the debacle that has contributed to sluggish job growth for the past three months in the United States and a 3.72 percent drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average since May. 

Instead, his itinerary takes him to the United Kingdom and Poland, two countries that because of their currencies-the pound and the zloty-are somewhat removed from the crisis. For a presidential hopeful stumping on his business expertise, it is potentially a squandered opening.

"Candidates do this to show they're ready for the presidential stage, but if you're not talking about the number one issue, it begs the question of what you're doing there," said Jim Kessler, senior vice president for policy at the think tank Third Way.

To enforce his neocon credential he is going to Israel.  That may not work out so well as the Israeli government has no desire to get involved in US domestic politics at least overtly.  

Romney is also avoiding Afghanistan.  He must be hawkish to please the neocons but he reads the polls and a majority of Americans want us out of that quagmire yesterday.  

This road show is ill advised and Romney has nothing to gain and everyting to lose.  So I say go for it Mitt!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Quote Of The Day

Commentary By Ron Beasley
The quote of the day comes from former Reagan cabinet member and former Republican Bruce Bartlett.
It stands to reason that if cuts in defense spending cost jobs, then cuts in nondefense spending also cost jobs. And if spending cuts cost jobs, then spending increases must be able to create them.

HCR -- Deinstitutionalization (with Addendum)

By John Ballard

A San Diego woman identifying herself as the mother of Colorado theater shooting suspect James Holmes told a news crew Friday morning that authorities "have the person," ABC news reports.

The woman, who said her name was Arlene, had awoken unaware of the news of the shooting and had not been contacted by authorities. She immediately expressed concern that her son may have been involved.

"You have the right person," the mother said, speaking on instinct. "I need to call the police. I need to fly out to Colorado."

This snippet among the first hours of yesterday's reports of Colorado's latest mass killing spree says more than any of the other reports. 

?ADDENDUM: Arlene Holmes now states (Monday, July 23)  that when she spoke to the reporter she was not implicating her son but was identifying herself as the correct person they were trying to reach. 
Like so many early reports and speculations, this may or may not have any bearing on the final outcome of this tragic course of events. That said, I am leaving the rest of this post as is. Just as the link to a story about Jesse Jackson, Jr. is not about him, this post is not about James Holmes.

This post is about the problems and tragedies of deinstitutionalization.

It should be noted that at least one individual, a man making arrangements for a training class, directed that James Holmes not be admitted because of his behavior and a "bizarre" message on his voice mail greeting.  

I have previously blogged about the problems precipitated by the unfortunate, misguided Sixties trend of deinstitutionaliztion here and here. I refer readers to those posts from January, 2011 for background reading. My personal first awareness of the problem is at the first link. A repeated screed from the second will end this post.

Readers are smart enough to follow the next links and connect the dots. As usual, I won't insult anyone by stating what is obvious.

?A National Disorder
What the Jesse Jackson, Jr., case suggests about mental illness in America.

==>  [This is NOT about Jesse Jackson, Jr.  If you think it is you need to clear your head, take a deep breath and start over.]  <==

...Jackson is likely getting some of the best possible care. If he entered a facility on or around the start of his leave June 10, then he has been in treatment for a month-practically an eternity in today's health care environment. While you still encounter jokes in movies and television about "committing" someone for life, that has been exceedingly rare for some time, thanks to the deinstitutionalization movement. That movement was favored both by politicians like Ronald Reagan, who saw it as a cost-cutting measure, and by advocates for those who suffer from mental illness, who believed that community-based treatment could be more effective and more humane.

In recent years, cash-strapped states have continued to cut funds for psychiatric patients' care. In February, for instance, Alabama announced plans to shutter most of its facilities by the spring of 2013. Last fall, Vermont officials struggled to find beds for 51 very ill patients after their hospital was left unusable after flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene. Jackson's home state of Illinois reduced general funds for mental health by 31.7 percent-or more than $113 million-between 2009 and 2011, according to a report by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.

The result: On average, hospitalizations for the mentally ill last just 7.5 days. And this isn't entirely a bad thing. It's not fun to be in a psychiatric facility, whether as a visitor or a patient. The idea is to get people stable so they can return quickly to society. But that isn't always enough time. Jackson, it would appear, has the unusual benefit of recovering at the speed his doctors deem necessary, rather than being limited by insurance companies or state resources.

There is much more at the link, including some personal remarks by the journalist who wrote the piece. Read it all. In this conversations there is no need to make anyone's opinions out of order. 

?Treatment Advocacy Center Study Shows State Hospital Bed Numbers Plunge to 1850 Levels Patients, Jails, Emergency Rooms and Public Safety Are Affected

If the dateline is correct -- July 19, 2012, 6:00 a.m. EDT --  this prescient article appeared literally a few hours before yet another tragedy which was about to unfold in Colorado. 

The number of public hospital beds for people in acute psychiatric crisis plunged in 2010 to levels not seen since 1850, exerting profound impacts on patients, law enforcement, jails, hospitals and public safety, according to a new study released today by the Treatment Advocacy Center. "No Room at the Inn: Trends and Consequences of Closing Public Psychiatric Hospitals" reports that state hospital bed numbers dropped 14% from 2005 to 2010, falling to 43,318 beds nationwide. This compares with 50,509 beds in 2005 and 558,922 in 1955, the peak year of psychiatric hospitalization before the trend known as "deinstitutionalization" began.

The Treatment Advocacy Center called for a moratorium on further public hospital bed closures until a sufficient number of psychiatric beds for acutely and/or chronically ill individuals is available, either in state hospitals or community facilities.

"The elimination of hospital beds for people who are psychotic or otherwise acutely or chronically disabled by severe mental illness endangers them and society at large," said Doris A. Fuller, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center and a co-author of the study.

"These closures are creating enormous strains on law enforcement, jails, prisons and hospital ERs, where acutely ill people are essentially 're-institutionalized'-or left to live on the streets," she said. "Wherever they are, they exist in an alternate reality that deprives them of the ability to participate in life as they could with treatment."

?When My Crazy Father Actually Lost His Mind

This is the most readable and heart-breaking of the links I have listed. I urge the reader to take time to read the whole thing. Something about a personal account gives a human dimension to otherwise clinical-sounding discussions. You always know when someone has skin in the game. 

Until the late 19th century, mentally ill people were locked in prisons or left to wander the streets. Reformers, seeking a more humane response, created a vast system of state-run psychiatric hospitals. By the 1960s, however, the overcrowded, often disturbing conditions in those facilities had come to light. At the same time, new psychiatric medicines were being developed, all of which gave rise to a new reform effort. Deinstitutionalization, the systematic closure of state psychiatric hospitals, was codified by the Community Mental Health Centers Act of 1963 and supported by patients' rights laws secured state by state. Chief among those laws were strict new standards: only people who posed an imminent danger to themselves or someone else could be committed to a psychiatric hospital or treated against their will. By treating the rest in the least-restrictive settings possible, the thinking went, we would protect the civil liberties of the mentally ill and hasten their recoveries. Surely community life was better for mental health than a cold, unfeeling institution.

But in the decades since, the sickest patients have begun turning up in jails and homeless shelters with a frequency that mirrors that of the late 1800s. "We're protecting civil liberties at the expense of health and safety," says Doris A. Fuller, the executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit group that lobbies for broader involuntary commitment standards. "Deinstitutionalization has gone way too far." According to Fuller's group, there was one public psychiatric bed for every 300 Americans in 1955; by 2012, that number was one for every 7,000. That's less than a third of what is needed, the organization asserts. The recession has made matters worse: since late 2008, more than $1.5 billion has been cut from state mental health budgets across the country. In the past two years alone, 12 state hospitals with a total of nearly 4,000 beds have either closed or are in danger of closing.

Already patients in crisis can spend several days in an emergency room waiting for a psychiatric bed to become available. In New Jersey, it can take as long as five days; in Vermont - where, as Bloomberg News recently reported, there are virtually no state psychiatric beds left - severely mentally ill patients have been handcuffed to emergency-room beds. For lack of other options, many patients who clearly meet the imminent-danger standard are released. "The lack of resources has triggered a devolution of the standard," says Robert Davison, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Essex County, a nonprofit group that connects patients to services in northern New Jersey. "Twenty years ago, 'imminent danger' meant what most people think it means. But now there's this systemic push to divert people away from inpatient care, no matter how sick they are, because we know there's no place to send them."

When I asked Davison for specific examples, he rattled several off the top of his head. A man who was convinced that aliens were on the roof and that bugs were coming out of the walls and who would not sit on furniture but only lie on the floor was not committable. Neither was the man who refused medication and mutilated his own testicles. Nor the woman who wouldn't eat because she believed the C.I.A. was trying to poison her. "It is unbelievable the condition of people who are found not to meet the standard," Davison says.

?Media exploits Colorado shooting to push gun control

This piece is nakedly partisan. Feeding off the Twitter feeds and vacuous early remarks of talking heads and reporters filling air time with speculations, Anthony Martin (Conservative examiner) joined the fray with the term "mainstream" media," an epethet almost never used by us subversive types from the OWS ranks. He does, however, get a core message right when he cites the background of deinstitutionalization. 

...America has a problem lurking under the surface with which it had just as soon not deal -- millions of mentally ill who are no longer required to be in treatment facilities, mainly due to the national lobby for the rights of the mentally ill, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI).

During the 1970s NAMI began pushing for the release of mentally ill patients from hospitals, claiming that their rights had been violated. Beginning with the administration of President Jimmy Carter and continuing throughout the 1980s and 90s, mental hospitals all across the country were forced gradually to release most if not all of their patients. These patients had been deemed by physicians and the courts to be mentally unfit for society. A large number of these persons were commonly known as "criminally insane" in that they had committed acts of violence.

This process was known at the time as "deinstitutionalization" and resulted in mass homelessness during the 1980s.

This reporter witnessed this scenario first hand while in clinical training for mental health chaplaincy. The hospital that provided the training was forced to meet with NAMI on a monthly basis to discuss issues of patients' rights. Physicians, nurses, and other hospital personnel told this reporter at the time that NAMI had been singularly responsible for the release of hundreds of patients through the years.

Prior to the mass release of patients in the 1970s, the hospital at one time had served over 2,000 patients. By the time this reporter began training at the facility, that number had plummeted to a mere 300 patients. [This observation, incidentally, exactly reflects my own experience as I reported in the second link above of this post. JB]

With the advent of a new generation of psychotropic medications, such persons are more easily controlled. But the medications are also capable of masking deep and pervasive illness lurking just under the surface. And it is also well known among healthcare professionals in the field that such patients will often stop taking their medications unless someone is around to make sure they do so.

And without close, daily supervision such as one would find in a mental hospital, no one is there to monitor the management of medications for such persons.

That said, he tosses a few more barbs at Piers Morgan, Mayor Bloomberg and Brian Ross for their presumed advocacy of better gun control, and plugging a couple more non-sequiturs before signing off. 


I don't know how many "isolated incidents" of crazy people blowing up and staging mass killings it will take to wake up enough people to address the problem. But I feel confident in predicting that before 2011 is over the headlines will once again be screaming aboout another tragedy like the one in Tucson. [This was written in the aftermath of the Gabby Gifford shooting. I was wrong about headlines in 2011, perhaps because as time passes we become more numb to the numbers.]  The targets may or may not be elected representatives, or children, or random strangers, or co-workers...there is no way to know in advance where, when and how a crazy person will explode.

But several realities about crazy people have been apparent for years.

  • Crazy people can legally buy and use firearms. That crap about "When guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns" is plainly wrong, as this most recent example illustrates.

  • Community mental health resources and aftercare are not preventing crazy people from killing others.

  • Deinstitutionalization, which started about forty years ago, is as much a failure as the so-called War on Drugs.  It is time for a reality check for both.

  • Everyone I know has personal knowledge of somebody who is crazy. Not eccentric or strange or aloner or with special needs, but out and out card-carrying crazy. Most crazy people are harmless but a relatively small minority are dangerous and are candidates for civil commitment. There are not enough professionals to prevent these crazy people from killing others so it is the responsibility of everyone to take seriously the responsibility to protect themselves and those they care about against the harm that will result if crazy people are not managed properly.

  • In the same way that society has learned to confront overt racism, smoking and drunk driving, it is time for a movement to raise the awareness and responsibility of everyone to be more alert to potentially crazy people who need professional attention. Yes, we still have racists, smokers and drunks among us, but those qualities are no longer as acceptable as they were just a few years ago. It's time for ordinary folks to wake up to the dangers of crazy people. As in the case of child abductions and the dangers of fire, there are not enough professionals to fight the problem without help from the public. 

And anyone who thinks this is not about healthcare reform needs to go back and read the memo again.



Friday, July 20, 2012

Margin Call

Commentary By Ron Beasley

I watched the movie Margin Call tonight. It is a fictional account of what went on at Lehman Brothers when it collapsed.

A respected financial company is downsizing and one of the victims is the risk management division head, who was working on a major analysis just when he was let go. His protégé completes the study late into the night and then frantically calls his colleagues in about the company's financial disaster he has discovered. What follows is a long night of panicked double checking and double dealing as the senior management prepare to do whatever it takes to mitigate the debacle to come even as the handful of conscientious comrades find themselves dragged along into the unethical abyss.

The problem of course was the mortgage backed securities that tranched good loans with really bad ones.  It took time to put these together so the company became very over leveraged.  The old risk management models no longer worked as the risk management head and his protégé discovered.  The CEO described these "assets"  as bags of odorous excrement.  Lehman went down but the government could not let anyone else go down so we got TARP.  Of course the problem is that the banks are still sitting on billions of dollars of bags of odorous excrement and at some point they will hit the proverbial fan.

Wall Street was attracting people from many disciplines at this time.  The protégé  that discovered this problem had a PhD in rocket propulsion - he really was a rocket scientist.  When asked how he found his way to Wall Street he answered it payed a lot better and it's all about numbers and numbers are numbers.

Universal Health Care Comment

By John Ballard

The health care reform beat is making me tired. Same old stuff all the time. 
But this was left in a comment thread at The Health Care Blog and it's worth keeping. Readers can check out the post, of course, but most readers here are already on the same side of the issue. But this comment is broader than the content of the post and deserves more prominence than it will receive lost in a bunch of other comments.

Probably the only way to really understand another country is to live there. Everything you say squares with what a friend who has lived in Canada for many years tells me. Another friend, who lived in France for a number of years, told similar stories about care there. My step-son and his wife had their first baby in Germany. Great, patient-centered care in a hospital that didn't look like a resort, but provided excellent care.

My friend who lived in France said that there health care system is so good because "The French feel that nothing is too good for another Frenchman."
Unfortunately, Americans do not feel that way about each other.

This helps explain America's poor being caught in a cycle of poverty. We don't put the money into public education that would help many people break out of the cycle. Our classrooms are too crowded, particularly in schools located in low-income areas. A high student-teacher ratio means that students who learn at different rates don't get the attention they need.

When it comes to special ed, children with emotional problems (anxiety, rage, ADD) are thrown into special ed classes with children who are mentally retarded. The angry children bully the retarded children.

Often, the schools themselves are old, dirty and crumbling. Windows that don't open haven't been washed in years. Even in NYC, (where school lasts until the end of June) many classrooms don't have air-conditioning.

Imagine trying to learn (or teach) in a stifling 94 degree classroom packed with 26 sweaty bodies?

Visit public schools in Canada, or France, and you will see the difference.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Romney Bashing at The American Conservative

Commentary By Ron Beasley

What amazes me is some of the most effective Romney bashing is going on at The American Conservative magazine. Daniel Larison has been bashing his foreign policy with some help by social conservative Rod Dreher. And todayJames Pinkerton and Noah Millman are blasting his economic policy.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

HCR -- Two Links -- End of Life and Tissue/Organ Donors

By John Ballard

For my little audience of readers following health care reform, today I came across three excellent links.
The first two are brief public radio features about organ and tissue donation.
I am well-informed, but I learned new information from both.

?Little Regulation Poses Problems Tracking Tissue (Seven minutes)

?Calculating The Value Of Human Tissue Donation (Thirteen minurtes)

These features by Joseph Shapiro and Sandra Bartlett are both excellent. The second and longer of the two shows a dark side of a horrendously profitable business having as much to do with generating business profits as delivering of health care.

"When you die, you don't need your skin anymore. But that 6-year-old burn victim, lying in the hospital, could really use it," says Truitt. "Your heart valves can go to a father of four who's having some serious heart issues and without those valves could die. By giving what you no longer need, you're still helping and in a way, you're kind of still living on."

Still, while that may sound like he's endorsing tissue donation, this one-time industry insider no longer feels that way - at least, for now.

"I've struggled with that decision for many years now, and the answer is no: I will not donate my tissues," he says. "Tissue donation, at the base level, at what I described of helping somebody else live a better life is a phenomenal thing. But unfortunately, just as easy as your tissues can go to something like that, they can also go to penile implants, for example."

The human tissue industry is full of contradictions like that. Tissue can save or better someone's life, but sometimes it will go to plump up lips and smooth wrinkles.

It starts with an act of generosity. Families, like the Truitts, donate bodies. But that altruism can turn to profit. Tissue companies - by the industry's own estimates - make more than $1 billion a year.

It's estimated that the tissue off of a single body can generate revenues of $80,000 or more.

Tissue grafts help 50 times more people than the number who receive organ donations, and yet it's a little known and lightly regulated business.

?This morning's Washington Journal dedicated a forty-minute segment to Health Care Costs, a rich and informative discussion with thoughtful callers interacting with C-CPAN host Steve and Amanda Bennett, a Newsweek contributor whose book, The Cost of Hope, has just been published. This is a totally engaging and informative contribution to the C-SPAN Video Library.

There is no way to summarize this program, but as viewers listen to the discussion they need to let the COSTS of health care never leave their consciousness. Costs are not the main subject but this program underscores better than anything I can say how and why the most expensive part of health care in America is concentrated in the last weeks and months of life. At one point, for example, she mentions that her late husband had received seventy-six CT scans. Words fail me when I try to coment on that.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Book Review - The Trust

Commentary By Ron Beasley

It's not easy writing a review for a mystery novel and The Trust by Norb Vonnegut is no exception. I can't say too much without being a spoiler but I'll try.

Successful investment manager Grove O'Rourke receives a mysterious call from his wealthy mentor, Palmer Kincaid and suspects something is wrong. The next day Kincaid's body washes ashore an apparent accidental drowning victim. O'Rourke is contacted by Kincaid's daughter to get the family's financial affairs in order. He suddenly finds himself in charge of Palmer Kincaid's charitable organization, The Palmetto Foundation. One of the first issues involves The Catholic Fund and a mysterious priest, Father Frederick Ricardo. The Catholic Fund has given 65 million dollars to the Palmetto Foundation and Father Ricardo now wants to dictate where that money goes. O'Rourke is suspicious and that is only reinforced by attorney Biscuit Hughes who has discovered that The Catholic Fund is the owner of a Sex Superstore in Fayettville, North Carolina. At the same time O'Rourke's investment firm in New York is being taken over Morgan Stanley and the FBI is asking questions about him.  O'Rourke himself is contacted by the FBI but agent Torres has lots of questions but few answers.  Then Palmer Kincaid's widow is kidnapped and O'Rourke is forced to join forces with agent Torres to save her.

If you like mysteries this is a great read that includes murder, a kidnapping and financial shenanigans. It is often hard to separate the good guys from the bad ones.


I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Two for the Road

By John Ballard

Mondays are typically not very interesting news days. Sunday's talking heads already had their time in the spotlight and the week's red meat is still being packaged. But today I came across two links worth checking out. Both are from the NY Times. Reader comments make them into very long reads, but both are substantive and not to be skipped. 

?Policy and the Personal is Krugman's column. Mark Thoma sez it's worth reading and he's correct. This week's focus on Romney's business backstory is more than old-fashioned political nit-picking. As Krugman points out it goes to the core issue of this presidential campaign, the rich versus everybody else. 

Thus the entirely true charge that Mr. Romney wants to slash historically low tax rates on the rich even further dovetails perfectly with his own record of extraordinary tax avoidance - so extraordinary that he's evidently afraid to let voters see his tax returns from before 2010. The equally true charge that he's pushing policies that would benefit the rich at the expense of ordinary working Americans meshes with Bain's record of earning big profits even when workers suffered - a record so stark that Mr. Romney is attempting to distance himself from part of it by insisting that he had nothing to do with Bain's operations after 1999, even though the company continued to list him as C.E.O. and sole owner until 2002. And so on.

The point is that talking about Mr. Romney's personal history isn't a diversion from substantive policy discussion. On the contrary, in a political and media environment strongly biased against substance, talking about Bain and offshore accounts is the only way to bring the real policy issues into focus. And we should applaud, not condemn, the Obama campaign for standing up to the tut-tutters.

?Vast F.D.A. Effort Tracked E-Mails of Its Scientists was picked up at The Agonist. (Good catch, Steve.) Again, the reader comments may be more stimulating reading than the article. 

This is how Big Brother regards whistle-blowers, whoever they are. And anybody who doesn't think whistle-blowers are important needs to do more reading about the back-story of the scandal at Penn State. 

[I'm in trouble for time this morning or I would post a tickler or two. I thought a part-time job in retirement would be good for me, but it's cutting in on my reading and blogging time. I may need to quit work altogether and spend the rest of my life hunched over a keyboard. But I know if I let myself do that it would ultimately shorten my life. So I keep going...]

Taibbi on Crooked Banks

By John Ballard

One of this weekend's long reads for me was Matt Taibbi's piecd in Rolling Stone, The Scam Wall Street Learned From the Mafia How America's biggest banks took part in a nationwide bid-rigging conspiracy - until they were caught on tape.  This is not only long, it's also dry. And in the end, after wanting with all your imagination to see some real justice done to at least a couple of high-profile figures, it concludes anti-climactically with a few slaps on the wrist for a handful of mid-level crooks that got caught. I mention this from the start in order to let anyone know in advance not to get their hopes up as they slog through the mess.  At the same time, I urge anybody who has the time to read it completely. In about seven and a half thousand words. Taibbi does as well as anyone to make a muddy picture as understandable as possible.

The subject, simply said, is bid-rigging. And the bids have nothing to do with actual work or productivity. They are concerned instead with accounting and investments. There is an old scam from banking called salami slicing  It's such an obvious and old scheme that banks long ago took measures making it obsolete. But in the early days of banking it worked like this...

An example of salami slicing, also known as penny shaving, is the fraudulent practice of stealing money repeatedly in extremely small quantities, usually by taking advantage of rounding to the nearest cent (or other monetary unit) in financial transactions. It would be done by always rounding down, and putting the fractions of a cent into another account. The idea is to make the change small enough that any single transaction will go undetected.

A bank employee with a dummy account simply diverts all the uneven cents into that account to which that person has access. As you read, just remember that is the basic model of the scam.

The "simple fraud" Waszmer described centered around public borrowing. Say your town wants to build a new elementary school. So it goes to Wall Street, which issues a bond in your town's name to raise $100 million, attracting cash from investors all over the globe. Once Wall Street raises all that money, it dumps it in a tax-exempt account, which your town then uses to pay builders, plumbers, the chalkboard company and whoever else winds up working on the project.

But here's the catch: Most towns, when they raise all that money, don't spend it all at once. Often it takes years to complete a construction project, and the last contractor isn't paid until long after the original bond is issued. While that unspent money is sitting in the town's account, local officials go looking for a financial company on Wall Street to invest it for them.

To do that, officials hire a middleman firm known as a broker to set up a public auction and invite banks to compete for the town's business. For the $100 million you borrowed on your elementary school bond, Bank A might offer you 5 percent interest. Bank B goes further and offers 5.25 percent. But Bank C, the winner of the auction, offers 5.5 percent.

In most cases, towns and cities, called issuers, are legally required to submit their bonds to a competitive auction of at least three banks, called providers. The scam Wall Street cooked up to beat this fair-market system was to devise phony auctions. Instead of submitting competitive bids and letting the highest rate win, providers like Chase, Bank of America and GE secretly divvied up the business of all the different cities and towns that came to Wall Street to borrow money. One company would be allowed to "win" the bid on an elementary school, the second would be handed a hospital, the third a hockey rink, and so on.

How did they rig the auctions? Simple: By bribing the auctioneers, those middlemen brokers hired to ensure the town got the best possible interest rate the market could offer. Instead of holding honest auctions in which none of the parties knew the size of one another's bids, the broker would tell the pre-arranged "winner" what the other two bids were, allowing the bank to lower its offer and come in with an interest rate just high enough to "beat" its supposed competitors. This simple but effective cheat - telling the winner what its rivals had bid - was called giving them a "last look." The winning bank would then reward the broker by providing it with kickbacks disguised as "fees" for swap deals that the brokers weren't even involved in.

The end result of this (at least) decade-long conspiracy was that towns and cities systematically lost, while banks and brokers won big. By shaving tiny fractions of a percent off their winning bids, the banks pocketed fantastic sums over the life of these multimillion-dollar bond deals. Lowering a bid by just one-100th of a percent, called a basis point, could cheat a town out of tens of thousands of dollars it would otherwise have earned on its bond deposits.

That doesn't sound like much. But when added to the other fractions of a percent stolen from basically every other town in America on every other bond issued by Wall Street in the past 10 to 15 years, it starts to turn into an enormous sum of money. In short, this was like the scam in Office Space, multiplied by a factor of about 10 gazillion: Banks stole pennies at a time from towns all over America, only they did it a few hundred bazillion times.

Images[1]The is the basic scam. The drama of Tabbi's article is the result of an actual trial that took place in which real characters were identified and brought to trial and judged by a jury.

To grasp the full insanity of these revelations, one must step back and consider all this information together: the bribes, yes, but also the industrywide, anti-competitive bid-rigging scheme. It turns into a kind of unbroken Möbius strip of corruption - the banks pay middlemen to rig auctions, the middlemen bribe politicians to win business, then the politicians choose the middlemen to run the auctions, leading right back to the banks bribing the middlemen to rig the bids.

Yes, all the characters were real. This is not fiction.

That should be enough to whet the appetite for anyone who has the time and curiosity to read the whole piece.
I recommend it highly.