Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for May 25th, 2009

Wimpy cowboys

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Montana seems to be populated by frightened people. Maybe those wide-open plains are scary. Gail Collins has an excellent column on how we need to rethink our mental image of Westerners:

Out of all the problems we have run into in dealing with the giant hairball that is known as the Bush War on Terror, one of the weirdest is the reaction to President Obama’s plan to close down Guantánamo.

In the rank of threats to public safety, putting the Guantánamo inmates in maximum-security prisons in the United States has got to come in way behind, say, making it easy for customers to purchase firearms at gun shows.

But to hear the howls coming from Congress, you’d think the Obama administration was planning to house the prisoners in suburban preschools. “Terrorists. Coming soon to a neighborhood near you,” warned a Republican Web video, which mixed pictures of accused terrorists with road signs in states where the G.O.P. predicted they might be sent. In another production, the occasionally loyal opposition resurrected the infamous “Daisy” countdown ad to show a little girl picking petals off a flower while the president prepares to close Gitmo.

“To bring the worst of the worst terrorists inside the United States would be cause for great danger and regret in the years to come,” snarled Dick Cheney in his “no middle ground” speech. Although really, for the sake of the national mental health, it might be better if we all just ignore the former vice president until he agrees to undergo therapy. Forget I ever mentioned it.

Instead, consider the case of Hardin, Mont., a community of 3,400 people just down the road from the place where Custer made his Last Stand.

Lately, things have not been going any better for Hardin than they did for the general. Unemployment is rife. “You go look at our downtown, there’s many closed businesses … you’ll see drunks laying in the street. It’s not a pretty sight,” the head of the town’s economic development authority told National Public Radio. The town built a $27 million, 464-bed prison under the theory that other parts of the state would pay to have Hardin look after their problem residents. But it’s been empty since it was declared open for business nearly two years ago, and the construction loans are in default.

So, with the town council’s enthusiastic support, Hardin volunteered to take the Guantánamo prisoners.

It’s unlikely that the White House would have accepted the offer, but it was certainly an example of pluck and you’d think everyone would give Hardin three cheers. Instead, Montana’s Democratic senators went ballistic.

“We’re not going to bring Al Qaeda to Big Sky Country — no way, not on my watch,” said Max Baucus.

“If these prisoners need a new place, it’s not going to be anywhere near The Last Best Place,” said Jon Tester.

This shows us two things: …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 May 2009 at 12:29 pm

Muddy thinking

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Senator John Kyl doesn’t think very well. Lee Fang reports in ThinkProgress:

In an interview posted online by the National Review, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) candidly explained how his party would try to deceive the public during the coming health care debate. Kyl said that although Republicans believe in a “free market” approach to health care, to describe it honestly to the “people we have to convince” would not be “persuasive.” Instead, Kyl boasts that he and his colleagues will use the “hollow buzzwords” prescribed by GOP language consultant Frank Luntz:

KYL: We of course believe the free market can provide the incentives for everyone to be covered with good insurance but to talk about it in terms of the free market is not to be persuasive with the people we have to convince. We have to describe this in terms that people really do understand and care about and that is patient-centered. They don’t want to get between themselves and their doctor. They don’t want to have long waiting lines, possibly even denying care that they feel is important. They don’t want to lose insurance they like already. Those are all things we need to address in our alternatives and I think that’s the best way for us to talk about it rather than talking about the free market.

Watch it:

Of course, Kyl is pretending that for-profit insurance companies don’t already stand in between patients and doctors.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 May 2009 at 12:22 pm

Rx and the single payer

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Bill Moyers and Michael Winship have a very interesting article in Salon:

In 2003, a young Illinois state senator named Barack Obama told an AFL-CIO meeting, "I am a proponent of a single-payer universal healthcare program."

Single payer. Universal. That’s health coverage, like Medicare, but for everyone who wants it. Single payer eliminates insurance companies as pricey middlemen. The government pays care providers directly. It’s a system that polls consistently have shown the American people favoring by as much as 2-to-1.

There was only one thing standing in the way, Obama said six years ago: "All of you know we might not get there immediately because first we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate and we have to take back the House."

Fast-forward six years. President Obama has everything he said was needed — Democrats in control of the executive branch and both chambers of Congress. So what’s happened to single payer?

A woman at his town hall meeting in New Mexico last week asked him exactly that. "If I were starting a system from scratch, then I think that the idea of moving towards a single-payer system could very well make sense," the president replied. "That’s the kind of system that you have in most industrialized countries around the world.

"The only problem is that we’re not starting from scratch. We have historically a tradition of employer-based healthcare. And although there are a lot of people who are not satisfied with their healthcare, the truth is, is that the vast majority of people currently get healthcare from their employers and you’ve got this system that’s already in place. We don’t want a huge disruption as we go into healthcare reform where suddenly we’re trying to completely reinvent one-sixth of the economy." [Of course that was true at the time when he was making his promises. – LG]

So the banks were too big to fail and now, apparently, healthcare is too big to fix, at least the way a majority of people indicate they would like it to be fixed, with a single-payer option. President Obama favors a public health plan competing with the medical cartel that he hopes will create a real market that would bring down costs. But single payer has vanished from his radar.

Nor is single payer getting much coverage in the mainstream media. Barely a mention was given to the hundreds of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals who came to Washington last week to protest the absence of official debate over single payer.

Is it the proverbial tree falling in the forest, making a noise that journalists can’t or won’t hear? Could the indifference of the press be because both the president of the United States and Congress have been avoiding single payer like, well, like the plague? As we see so often, government officials set the agenda by what they do and don’t talk about.

Instead, President Obama is looking for consensus, seeking peace among all the parties involved. Except for single-payer advocates…

Continue reading. I sure don’t like this. Single-payer is the most efficient and effective approach. Why not bite the bullet and use it? Answer: too many members of the House and Senate are in the pocket of Big Pharma and Big Insurance.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 May 2009 at 12:19 pm

The Ireland child-abuse scandal

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An informative and moving column on how so many Irish children were abused over a period of almost a century. Read about it.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 May 2009 at 12:14 pm

Cellphones in prison

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I’ve been reading about how gangs and other miscreants continue to do business inside prisons through cellphones that are smuggled in. The obvious step is for prisons to jam cellphone signals, but that doesn’t work except for isolate prisons—see this article. The jamming signal cannot be confined exactly to the prison, so cellphones stop working in the vicinity of the prison—which is not so good.

Still, jamming should work for prisons that are isolated and in the country.

For other prisons, I wonder whether a Faraday cage would work. It wouldn’t be hard to put a mesh barrier around a prison, but since the mesh must be smaller than the electromagnetic signal’s wave-length, and I would bet that cellphone wavelengths are quite short. If so, the mesh approaches a solid plate and becomes impractical for outside exercise areas (though it still should work indoors if the building is simply covered in the mesh). Perhaps some mechanism could detect cellphones as prisoners file into the yard.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 May 2009 at 12:11 pm

Posted in Daily life

Celebrity patient goes off script

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Interesting—some poor marketing schlub will have to take a fall on this.

Source: Gooz News, May 14, 2009

The Wall Street Journal has published a revealing story about one of the seamier sides of the drug industry’s marketing campaigns: paying patients to offer testimonials about their drugs. As health industry observer Merrill Goozner explains, the story came to light because a "celebrity patient" had a "falling out with his corporate sponsor, Bristol-Myers Squibb. Andy Behrman is bipolar, and he earned $10,000 a day or $400,000 in total singing the praises of Abilify (aripiprizole, an atypical antipsychotic drug) to Bristol-Myers’ drug salesmen and physician-consultants. Behrman’s presentations worked off talking points provided by a public relations firm." He was supposed to tell people that the drug had no side effects and not to tell them that he was being paid by the company. "Behrman now claims he suffered serious side effects while on the drug," Goozner notes. He makes these and other charges in a new tell-all book. In response, the company says that he attempted to shake them down for a $7.5 million contract before turning against his former handlers.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 May 2009 at 12:04 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Military law: an example

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Things like this make me exceedingly skeptical of the military commissions. The military doesn’t seem to have a good grasp of the concept of justice, and they’re too quick to do cover-ups instead of pursuing the truth. Richard Oppel reporting for the NY Times:

Capt. Kirk Black, who trains the Afghan police in this impoverished province, developed a practiced skepticism about claims of innocence during a decade as a Baltimore police officer.

But last January, when relatives of an Afghan imprisoned at the Bagram military detention center begged him to look into the case, he agreed to listen. Eventually he became convinced that the detention was a case of mistaken identity and put the family in touch with a lawyer.

Soon, Captain Black was facing a potential legal battle of his own. One of his senior commanders ordered him not to discuss the case, and the military sent an officer to investigate him. He retained military defense counsel.

The Bagram prison — where about 600 people, mostly Afghans, are being held indefinitely and without charges — is a delicate issue for the Obama administration at a time when it is struggling to come up with a plan for detainees in the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, which it intends to close.

The administration has argued that military detainees in Afghanistan may not challenge their detentions in American courts. A federal judge ruled last month that some Bagram detainees captured outside Afghanistan had the constitutional right of habeas corpus, citing a Supreme Court ruling. But the new administration has appealed.

Captain Black’s involvement in the Bagram detainee’s case began in January, while the American officer was attending a meeting of village elders and leaders. He was approached by relatives of an Afghan named Gul Khan, who they said had been snatched by American troops in September and imprisoned at Bagram Air Field, north of Kabul. The military apparently believed Mr. Khan was a Taliban leader named Qari Idris. But local Afghan officials told Captain Black it was a case of mistaken identity. Captain Black, believing that he was fulfilling a policy of the American counterinsurgency by trying to hear out locals with grievances, applied his police training to the evidence he heard.

“Upon speaking to multiple village elders, family members, the police chief and the subgovernor, I am convinced that the individual in question is not the person that the government claims,” he wrote in January to Clive Stafford Smith, a human rights lawyer he had met three years earlier during a posting to Guantánamo. “I am a police officer in the United States, and there is a mass of evidence that this individual does not need to be held.”

Mr. Stafford Smith, who has agreed to represent Gul Khan pro bono through his brother Kala Khan and is filing a writ of habeas corpus in federal court, provided a copy of the correspondence…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 May 2009 at 12:00 pm

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