Archive for November 2010
I have had absolutely no energy lately, and I do recall my doctor at one time telling me that my iron was quite low, so perhaps that’s it again. I had a beef steak yesterday and also bought some heavy artillery: beef liver. That should fix it up. And just in case it doesn’t, I picked up a bottle of iron pills at Whole Foods, along with another piece of beef and more usual fare. Oysters will be the next thing to try.
I will call the doctor on Monday and arrange to see him to determine whether iron will really solve anything. But it did seem to me that my diet in recent months might have been a tad low in iron.
Even for the humble among us who try to avoid jingoistic outbursts,some national achievements are so grand that they merit a moment of pride and celebration:
US presence in Afghanistan as long as Soviet slog
The Soviet Union couldn’t win in Afghanistan, and now the United States is about to have something in common with that futile campaign: nine years, 50 days.
On Friday, the U.S.-led coalition will have been fighting in this South Asian country for as long as the Soviets did in their humbling attempt to build up a socialist state.
It seems clear that a similar — or even grander — prize awaits us as the one with which the Soviets were rewarded. I hope nobody thinks that just because we can’t identify who the Taliban leaders are after almost a decade over there that this somehow calls into doubt our ability to magically re-make that nation. Even if it did, it’s vital that we stop the threat of Terrorism, and nothing helps to do that like spending a full decade — and counting — invading, occupying, and bombing Muslim countries.
The good news — beyond our shattering this record and thus showing that we can still kick those Soviets around even after they no longer exist — is that this decade of utter futility hasn’t at all diminished the Government’s appetite for endless war in the Muslim world. By all accounts, the administration its actively debating whether to accelerate its already escalated intervention in Yemen. We’ve dramatically increased our covert actions in countless countries across the Muslim world. And today, former Bush State Department legal adviser John Bellinger III (one of the "moderates" from that era) argues in The Washington Post for a re-writing of the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) — not in order to rescind it after nine years of endless war-fighting, but rather to expand it, on the ground that it . . .
Continue reading. And note this update at the end:
In a New York Times article today on the possibility that many newly elected Tea Party candidates will dare to include military spending in demanded budget cuts and will be similarly hostile to foreign aid — including, most alarmingly for some, to Israel — the following passage appears (h/t Matt Duss):
“One of the first things Congressman Cantor can do is to make sure that his colleagues vote for aid to Israel,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, who also met with Mr. Netanyahu.
In the face of all these economic difficulties, austerity measures, and calls for Endless War, it’s comforting that at least some of America’s representatives in Congress — such as the Good Democrat Chuck Schumer — have their priorities straight.
The governments are VERY eager to shut Wikileaks down for the very obvious reason that governments do NOT want their citizens to know what the government is up to. Why? Because what the governments are doing is very very bad. Reuters reports:
The United States has briefed Britain, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Israel ahead of the expected new release of classified U.S. documents, WikiLeaks said on Thursday, citing local press reports.
The whistle-blowing website said by Twitter that American diplomats briefed government officials of its six allies in advance of the release expected in the next few days.
The next release is expected to include thousands of diplomatic cables reporting corruption allegations against politicians in Russia, Afghanistan and other Central Asian nations, sources familiar with the State Department cables held by WikiLeaks told Reuters on Wednesday.
The allegations are major enough to cause serious embarrassment for foreign governments, the sources said.
Some governments appear to be bracing for the impact of the revelations.
According to the London-based daily al-Hayat, the WikiLeaks release includes documents that show Turkey has helped al-Qaeda in Iraq — and that the United States has supported the PKK, a Kurdish rebel organization that has been waging a separatist war against Turkey since 1984, the Washington Post reported.
The U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv warned the Israeli foreign ministry that some of the cables could concern U.S.-Israel relations, the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz reported, citing a senior Israeli official: http://r.reuters.com/cek37q
WikiLeaks said on its Twitter feed earlier this week that its new release would be seven times larger than the nearly 400,000 Pentagon documents related to the Iraq war which it made public in October…
Trusting Big Business—what a laugh! Take a look:
The U. S. Department of Justice recovered $3 billion for American taxpayers as a result of civil lawsuits brought after whistleblowers came forward to report on pharmaceutical companies’ illegal activities.
The payout is the largest health fraud settlement in U.S. history.
Drug maker Pfizer pled guilty to felony violations of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and was fined $2.3 billion (that’s "billion" with a "b") for aggressively marketing its painkiller Bextra far beyond uses approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Bextra was pulled from the market in 2005 due to safety risks.
AstraZeneca paid $302 million for cajoling doctors into writing prescriptions for unapproved uses of its anti-psychotic drug Seroquel, including urging doctors to use it for treatment of insomnia, anger management and post-traumatic stress disorder.
AstraZeneca also paid kickbacks to doctors as part of the illegal scheme to market the Seroquel for unapproved uses.
The government also recouped $192 million from Novartis and $108 million from the Health Alliance of Greater Cincinnati and its former member-hospital, The Christ Hospital, for misconduct under the health care Anti-Kickback Statute.
Here’s the original post, written by Steve Benen.
Here’s Gerson’s response in the Washington Post.
Gerson is supposed to be a smart guy, but there’s certainly no sign of that in his column. Benen is not brutal, but he does point out the facts, and those are brutal to Gerson (and to the GOP).
He did as good a job writing as he did as president, apparently. Packer’s review in the New Yorker begins:
President George W. Bush prepared for writing his memoirs by reading “Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant.” “The book captures his distinctive voice,” the ex-President writes, in his less distinctive voice. “He uses anecdotes to re-create his experience during the Civil War. I could see why his work had endured.” Grant’s work has endured because, as Matthew Arnold observed, it has “the high merit of saying clearly in the fewest possible words what had to be said, and saying it, frequently, with shrewd and unexpected turns of expression.” Grant marches across the terrain of his life (stopping short of his corrupt failure of a Presidency) with the same relentless and unflinching realism with which he pursued Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. On several occasions, he even accuses himself of “moral cowardice.” Grant never intended to write his memoirs, but in 1884, swindled by his financial partner, broke, and with a death sentence of throat cancer hanging over him, he set out to earn enough money to provide for his future widow. He completed the work a year later, just days before his death, and Julia Dent Grant lived out her life in comfort.
Modern ex-Presidents tend to write memoirs for reasons less heroic than Grant’s. Richard Nixon couldn’t stop producing his, in one form or another, in a quest to revise history’s devastating verdict. Bill Clinton needed the world’s undying attention. Why did George W. Bush write “Decision Points” (Crown; $35)? He tells us on the first page. He wanted to make a contribution to the study of American history, but he also wanted to join the section of advice books featuring leadership tips from successful executives: “I write to give readers a perspective on decision making in a complex environment. Many of the decisions that reach the president’s desk are tough calls, with strong arguments on both sides. Throughout the book, I describe the options I weighed and the principles I followed. I hope this will give you a better sense of why I made the decisions I did. Perhaps it will even prove useful as you make choices in your own life.”
Here is a prediction: “Decision Points” will not endure. Its prose aims for tough-minded simplicity but keeps landing on simpleminded sententiousness. Though Bush credits no collaborator, his memoirs read as if they were written by an admiring sidekick who is familiar with every story Bush ever told but never got to know the President well enough to convey his inner life. Very few of its four hundred and ninety-three pages are not self-serving. Bush, honing his executive skills as part owner of the Texas Rangers, decides to fire his underperforming manager, Bobby Valentine: “I tried to deliver the news in a thoughtful way, and Bobby handled it like a professional. I was grateful when, years later, I heard him say, ‘I voted for George W. Bush, even though he fired me.’ ” At the dramatic height of the book, on the morning of September 11th, “I called Condi from the secure phone in the limo. She told me there had been a third plane crash, this one into the Pentagon. I sat back in my seat and absorbed her words. My thoughts clarified: The first plane could have been an accident. The second was definitely an attack. The third was a declaration of war. My blood was boiling. We were going to find out who did this, and kick their ass.”
The rare moments of candor come at other people’s expense. . .
That’s an example of the famous Eclipse Red Ring razor; lots more info at the link, including better photos. It’s a loaner, so I’ll shave frequently with it for a while.
I did a good prep, enjoying once more the fragrance of Sweet Gale, worked into a fine lather with the Omega Lucretia Borgia artificial badger.
Three passes, very smooth, of the Eclipse with a new Swedish Gillette blade: a fine, close shave with no nicks. And the tiny magnet in the base of the handle does indeed pick up razor blades a treat, very handy.
A splash Klar Seifen Klassik and I’m (finally) good to go.
Florida Woman Dies After Medicaid Program Outsourced To Private Insurers Denies Her Liver Transplant
One of the most destructive practices of private health insurance companies is the practice of denying care to customers for frivolous reasons. Earlier this year, the Department of Health and Human Services started including denial rates on its information section about health insurance companies on HealthCare.gov, in an effort to inform the public about this practice by the industry.
It was this practice of frivolous denials that ended up costing Jacksonville, Florida woman Alisa Wilson her life. For months, Wilson, her family, and the surrounding community had been pleading with her HMO to approve coverage for a liver transplant. Although Wilson was enrolled in the state’s Medicaid program, she was not guaranteed care because she was “forced to join a private plan as part of a Gov. Jeb Bush-era experimental overhaul of the program,” meaning she had to deal with a private, for-profit insurance company to get her care, not a government agency accountable to the public.
Bush’s overhaul made “Florida the first state to allow private companies, not the state, to decide the scope and extent of services to the elderly, the disabled and the poor, half of them children,” the New York Times reported in 2005, as the move was being considered. “[N]o one is proposing changes as far-reaching and fundamental as” Bush, the Times noted.
After “scores of e-mails and…the help of a Florida state legislator,” the HMO, Sunshine State Health, finally gave in and approved coverage for Wilson two weeks ago. Yet her health was too severe for surgery by then. On Friday evening, Wilson passed away:
Alisa Wilson, 37, died Friday at 8:50 p.m. after a lengthy battle with an undisclosed liver disease, said her father, Eric Wilson. “Her liver was gone,” Wilson said. “There was no more left. She needed that transplant two weeks ago.”
About a week and a half ago, attorneys working on Wilson’s behalf said the insurance obstacles had been worked out. By then, however, her health was too shaky to risk going under the knife. “If they did it months ago, my daughter would be alive now,” her father said.
Representatives for Sunshine State and the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, which manages Florida’s Medicaid program, said they couldn’t speak to the specifics of the case, citing privacy laws.
Unfortunately, it has become increasingly common for states to outsource their Medicaid programs to be administered by private health insurance companies that have little accountability to the public compared to public programs like Medicare. A 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation report found that “All states except Alaska and Wyoming have some portion of their Medicaid population enrolled in managed care” — where Medicaid pays out to private organizations like Managed Care Organizations that contract with HMO’s — and “managed care is the dominant care delivery system in most state Medicaid programs. Forty-six states and DC have more than half their enrollees in managed care; in 20 of these states, over 80% of the Medicaid population is enrolled in some form of managed care.”
While the recently passed health care law is doing much to curb some of the worst abuses of the health insurance industry, one of the best ways to help people avoid these practices of the private health insurers is to offer them an alternative like a Medicare-style public health insurance option. As a part of her deficit reduction plan, Rep. Jan Schawkowsky (D-IL) proposed a robust public health insurance plan that would be offered to Americans. Not only would it operate cheaper and not commit the same abuses as the private insurance industry, it could cut the deficit by as much as $10 billion during its first year of implementation alone.
Good post at Transform:
Campaigners are confident that it is now when, not if, marijuana is legalised in the US, with several states likely to vote on legalisation initiatives in 2012, and a Presidential election year that increases turn out of liberal voters likely to vote “yes” in California. Where the largest US state leads, others follow, but the ramifications would be global. Mexican and Colombian politicians have said their countries would follow suit, with a snowball effect all but inevitable.
Colombia’s President Santos has said:
"How does one explain to indigenous people that they are not to grow marijuana at the risk of being thrown into jail, but that in the richest state of the United States, they have legalized its production, sale, and consumption?"
If the architect of the War on Drugs acted in direct contravention of the UN Conventions underpinning prohibition, the unraveling of the current approach to all drugs could be rapid.
But why is legal regulation of marijuana in the California now on the cards, and are the circumstances the same in the UK?
Partly it is the bloody reality of the Drug War’s failure arriving uniquely on America’s Mexican doorstep. Partly it is a generational shift as older voters are replaced by younger ones who lean towards reform – which is also happening in the UK.
But the most important trigger is probably economic. As public spending is slashed to reduce California’s budget deficit, the State Board of Equalisation estimates that legalising and taxing cannabis could raise $1.4 billion dollars, with huge additional savings in reduced enforcement costs. Others have disputed this figure on and the precise number will clearly depend on price controls tax levels and other variables. Regardless, this is an argument that is not going away soon – in the UK as much as the US.
As dust from the Comprehensive Spending Review settles, ministers claim no area of public spending will escape scrutiny. Exploring non criminal justice responses to drug users, or more ambitiously, legally regulated drug production and availability, could dramatically improve outcomes for society, make substantial cost savings, and generate tax revenues. Currently, enforcement aimed at reducing supply costs us £380 million per year, but the Home Office estimates the additional cost of ‘dealing with drug related crime’ is £1.7 billion a year, rising to over £4 billion a year, if costs across the criminal justice system (prisons etc.) are included.
Yet despite these billions, the Government’s own analysis shows we are further than ever from the promised ‘drug free world’. Drugs are cheaper than ever before, use of the most harmful is at record highs, and massive levels of drug motivated crime is fuelling a crisis in the criminal justice system – at a time when the Government plans to reduce prisoner numbers.
Despite this staggering cost ineffectiveness, drug enforcement spending remains protected from public scrutiny within a political bubble of law and order populism. This year alone, reports from the National Audit Office, The Public Accounts Committee and Home Affairs Select Committee have blasted the Home Office for having no meaningful evaluation of the impact of the money spent. In terms of major public spending initiatives, drug policy is unique in this regard. But with widespread concern about public spending cuts, the blank cheque for the drug war may soon be a thing of the past.
Crucially, it is now widely accepted that . . .
Good interview with Brian Jenkins by Patt Morrison in the LA Times:
Back when Brian Michael Jenkins first turned his attention to the topic of terrorism, the term of art was "urban guerrillas." Radicals of the right and the left, and those who imported foreign quarrels to these shores, were setting off dozens of bombs each year in this country, with far more domestic casualties than the nation has seen since 9/11. Now terrorism has a different profile, and Jenkins has an even higher one than he had in those decades past. The former Fulbright scholar and Army Green Beret captain is senior advisor to the president of Rand Corp. and a go-to guy for both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue and beyond, where intelligence — and intelligent analysis — are always at a premium.
You’ve been studying terrorism for decades — and it’s morphed.
In 1972, had I outlined [what] actually occurred in the following 40 years, it would have been dismissed as science fiction.
Now we argue over terminology: Is it a war?
Right after 9/11, I said that we did have to think of this in terms of war. This was an extraordinary attack and the business-as-usual response was not going to be adequate. I also thought that the term "war" was appropriate in that it was going to require a national effort to mobilize the resources and the political will. I had one further reason for arguing that it be war: my own experience in Vietnam. If we were going to send young men and women into battle, we had better [show] national support.
[So] it didn’t disturb me to call it a war until [it] became a much more ambitious undertaking. I was in Washington about a year after 9/11 listening to a State Department official saying "We’re going to take down Hezbollah, Hamas; we’re going to take them all down," and I thought, whoa, we’re signing on to decades of effort here. I think it became conflated with concerns about weapons of mass destruction; it became a framework for the invasion of Iraq, which in my view had very little to do with the campaign against Al Qaeda. But the idea that we were going to battle with an irregular foe worldwide was not inappropriate.
What part of the rhetoric would you tone down now? . . .
I listed two in an earlier post, though now I’ve updated them:
a. At least 100 minutes aerobic exercise is required each week. When I do it and I am losing weight, I tend to think that I have discovered the secret and experiment with not exercising. For another week I will continue to lose, but then it stalls and reverses. There is no escape. Exercise is required. 15 minutes a day will do it (105 minutes a week), but 20 minutes a day seems better and allows for occasionally skipping a day. The goal, though, is daily.
b. At least 20 minutes of resistance training twice a week. The Pilates work currently satisfies this—also, kettlebells, mat exercises, et al. are available.
c. Do not celebrate anything with a big meal. This lesson seems fairly obvious, but I have to learn it over and over because I seem willing to make a fool of myself for food.
d. Eat a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack. The snack is, of course, journaled. The idea is to keep food in your stomach so the body never gets the idea that food is scarce. A piece of fruit is a good snack.
e. No food goes in the mouth except at meals and the two snacks. If it’s not a meal or a journaled snack, it will not go into my mouth. Exception: my unsweetened white tea.
Another thing for which to be thankful tomorrow. James C. McKinley Jr. reports in the NY Times:
A Texas jury Wednesday found Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader and architect of the Republican Party’s 1994 takeover of Congress, guilty in a money-laundering trial involving contributions to political campaigns.
Jurors deliberated for 19 hours before they came back with guilty verdicts against Mr. DeLay on charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
The verdict was the latest chapter in a long legal battle that forced Mr. DeLay to step down. The trial also opened a window on the world of campaign financing in Washington, as jurors heard testimony about large contributions flowing to Mr. DeLay from corporations seeking to influence him and junkets to posh resorts where the congressman would rub shoulders with lobbyists in return for donations.
Mr. DeLay faces up to life in prison on the money laundering charge.
During the three-week trial, the prosecution presented more than 30 witnesses in an effort to prove Mr. DeLay conspired with two associates in 2002 to circumvent a state law against corporate contributions to political campaigns. Since 1903, Texas law has prohibited corporations from giving to candidates directly or indirectly.
Mr. Delay was initially charged with breaking campaign finance law, but prosecutors later switched strategies because it was impossible under the law at the time to accuse someone of conspiring to break campaign finance rules.
Instead, prosecutors used a novel legal theory never before tried in Texas: they argued Mr. DeLay and two of political operatives — John Colyandro and Jim Ellis — had violated the criminal money-laundering law. They were charged with conspiring to funnel $190,000 in corporate donations to state candidates through the Republican National Committee.
The main facts of the case were never in dispute. . .
From time to time I hear people bad-mouth Wikipedia, almost always in a completely uninformed way. They do grasp that anyone can edit/enter an article—but I wonder whether they’ve ever done it.
What they fail to grasp is that (a) many eyes mean many editors—all of whom can make corrections, and (b) the links included with the articles provide external references and (c) it’s absolutely invaluable for casual use.
Example: I was just emailing a guy abroad who’s shipping me a razor, and he mentioned that there’s a 2-day postal strike there, but the package was ready to go. I responded that I couldn’t recall that the US had ever had a postal strike—and then, being a cautious guy, I clicked open Wikipedia, did a search on "US postal strike" and found this article. The article is exactly what I wanted to know and the cost of inaccurate information in the article (if any, which I doubt), so far as I’m concerned, is absolutely zero. Weigh risks, benefits, and use your mind.
Maybe those four years of undergraduate study are really not to master the fundamental minutia of some subject area but instead to master certain essential intellectual skills … oops, almost segued into my director of admissions pitch for the St. John’s program. But, really, the broad liberal arts major, focusing on skills acquisition (reading, writing, talking, listening, thinking, asking questions, answering questions, and so on) seems as good as any and better than most.
If you think you’re going to have to shell out thousands more dollars for an MBA just to get your brilliant business idea off the ground, you’re wrong. As the men and women on this list prove, what you study in college — as an undergraduate or graduate student — may have little to do with your actual career, especially if you’re ambitious enough to go after what you really want and believe in. From Classics and Liberal Arts majors going on to influence media and entertainment companies to engineers ending up in finance, here are 9 brilliant business minds and their totally irrelevant college majors.
- Ted Turner, Classics: TV emperor Ted Turner has been in the business since he was just 24, when he took over his father’s billboard business after he committed suicide. Turner’s dad expressed disapproval of his son’s college education, and wrote him a scathing letter while he was studying at Brown. He wrote, "I am appalled, even horrified, that you have adopted Classics as a major. As a matter of fact, I almost puked on my way home today. I am a practical man, and for the life of me I cannot possibly understand why you should wish to speak Greek," Minnesota Public Radio reported. While Turner may not have ended up translating Greek for a living, he did start the first 24-hour news channel, resurrected many dying TV channels, started Turner Network Television, Turner Classic Movies, and now has a hand in film production, philanthropy, and has even done a little acting.
- . . .
Strange how Obama refuses to show any mercy or compassion in this area. I do not believe that all sentences are just nor that all criminals are equally guilty. George Lardner Jr. writes in the NY Times:
Last February, after long delays, the Justice Department sent President Obama hundreds of recommendations on requested pardons, each one carefully selected for a quick decision under standards for clemency that presidents have followed for decades.
Under these standards, no pardon can be recommended unless a petitioner has been out of prison and law-abiding for at least five years.
Most of the recommendations President Obama received called for a no, but some, according to people who recently left the administration, strongly favored a pardon. Nevertheless, Mr. Obama has yet to judge a single person worthy of his grace.
If by tomorrow he pardons no one but turkeys, President Obama will have the most sluggish record in this area of any American president except George W. Bush. He’ll have outdone George Washington, who granted a pardon after 669 days. And he will also have outlasted Bill Clinton, who took three days longer than Washington to grant his first pardons. If Mr. Obama waits until Christmas Eve, he will make even his immediate predecessor, who waited until Dec. 23, 2002, seem more generous.
Last month, President Obama turned down 605 requests for commutations — from prisoners who wanted their sentences shortened — and 71 for pardons.
It’s difficult to understand why the president has been so unwilling to grant any clemency. As someone who has taught constitutional law, he knows . . .