Archive for August 18th, 2009
Another vendor new to me: The Traditional Shaving Company, in the UK. (I believe that it is in fact a traditional-shaving company, not a traditional shaving company—indeed, I don’t know of any traditions concerning shaving companies.) At any rate, if you’re in the UK, it looks like a good resource. Check it out.
Christopher Flavelle has an interesting story in ProPublica:
When President Obama introduced the stimulus plan, he made a bold promise of transparency : “Every American will be able to see how and where we spend taxpayer dollars by going to a new Web site called Recovery.gov .” But like so many noble ideas in government, that may be easier said than done.
The government is moving to make detailed information on the stimulus publicly available. Congress has created an independent agency, led by a respected former inspector general, to collect information from those getting the money and to post it, starting in October. However, interviews by ProPublica suggest differing opinions among key officials over whose job it is to make sure the information is reported correctly. Meanwhile, government watchdogs point to errors that plagued a similar transparency effort last year, and note that companies or organizations that mistakenly misreport how they spend the money face no penalties for doing so — or incentives for getting the numbers right.
All of which raises the question: If the information isn’t accurate, what is the value of transparency?
“It seems like everybody on down the line is counting on the guy below them to get it right,” said Craig Jennings, a policy analyst at OMB Watch , a nonprofit organization that focuses on government accountability.
The Office of Management and Budget  (PDF) says getting the data right is a shared responsibility between itself and the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, the new agency created to build Recovery.gov and post information there. But the board says its hands were tied by Congress, which didn’t give it either the resources or the responsibility to make sure the data coming in is accurate.
The man leading the stimulus transparency campaign is Earl Devaney, a burly former Secret Service agent who served as inspector general at the Department of the Interior from 1999 until early this year. (In May, ProPublica gave Devaney its Investigative Governance Prize  for his report  (PDF) on the department’s Mineral Management Service.) In February, President Obama tapped him to be chairman of the Recovery Board, which is made up of current federal inspectors general.
Nobody suggests that Devaney’s job is easy…
Continue reading. Footnotes at the link.
Kate Hopkins of the Accidental Hedonist has a post well worth reading about various bottled waters. Two quotations in her post (and there are more):
I sat down and sent out a few emails—filling friends in on my visit to the Fiji Water bottling plant, forwarding a story about foreign journalists being kicked off the island. Then my connection died. "It will just be a few minutes," one of the clerks said.
Moments later, a pair of police officers walked in. They headed for a woman at another terminal; I turned to my screen to compose a note about how cops were even showing up in the Internet cafés. Then I saw them coming toward me. "We’re going to take you in for questioning about the emails you’ve been writing," they said.
Nestle came into Florida and managed to pull off quite the coup.
The company got a permit to take water belonging to Floridians — hundreds of millions of gallons a year from a spring in a state park — at no cost to Nestle.
No taxes. No fees. Just a $230 permit to pump water until 2018.
Nestle bottles that water, ships it throughout the Southeast — much of it to Georgia and the Carolinas — and makes millions upon millions of dollars in profits on it.
The state granted Nestle permission to draw so much water against the strong recommendation of the local water management district staff. Because drought conditions were stressing the Madison Blue Spring, the staff said the amount of water drawn on the permit should be cut by more than two-thirds.
So while Florida is in a bitter dispute with its state neighbors over water use, it’s giving its water away to a private company that bottles and ships it to those very same states.
These can serve as two examples of how companies are not concerned about the public good, only about profits. Not the attitude you want in control of your government.
Type 2 diabetes is increasingly common, and my own is currently under good control. But it’s always useful to review valuable tips like these, which The Sister pointed out. (Ignore the ad that first greets you and scroll down.)
The Sister points to this interesting article in Elle, on married couples who maintain separate domiciles. It’s a long list, and it includes yours truly and The Wife. When we married, we enjoyed both our relationship and also having our own space and apartment, so we just continued that arrangement—and a good thing it’s been. Among other things, we have totally different schedules, different ideas of being neat, and she works at home. Moreover, Megs doesn’t like other kitties, and Molly is timid. It’s worked very well for us, as it does for others. It especially works for introverts who require solitude for happiness.
Very good article, well worth reading. I would think that so long as children are at home, it’s less likely to work: it helps a lot to share the burdens of child-rearing. But if no children are involved, it can work very well indeed.
Big businesses are driven by one imperative: increase profits. The public good is not a part of their mission, as it is of the government’s. Big businesses have learned now how easily they can purchase legislation that’s favorable to their mission, and block legislation that’s unfavorable, and as a result Congress has been tilted away from focusing on legislation that increases the public good: their new focus is legislation that increases business profits or at the least does not threaten those profits.
As the trend continues, with the biggest businesses now operating on a global scale and with less fealty to any one country, it could eventually change our country substantially—and I doubt for the better, since the betterment of the country was the old Congressional mission. All great nations must someday fall and fade, and perhaps we see it beginning now in the US, which already is lagging among advanced nations on a variety of important measures.
Bob Herbert takes a close look at this dynamic in his most recent column:
It’s never a contest when the interests of big business are pitted against the public interest. So if we manage to get health care “reform” this time around it will be the kind of reform that benefits the very people who have given us a failed system, and thus made reform so necessary.
Forget about a crackdown on price-gouging drug companies and predatory insurance firms. That’s not happening. With the public pretty well confused about what is going on, we’re headed — at best — toward changes that will result in a lot more people getting covered, but that will not control exploding health care costs and will leave industry leaders feeling like they’ve hit the jackpot.
The hope of a government-run insurance option is all but gone. So there will be no effective alternative for consumers in the market for health coverage, which means no competitive pressure for private insurers to rein in premiums and other charges. (Forget about the nonprofit cooperatives. That’s like sending peewee footballers up against the Super Bowl champs.)
Insurance companies are delighted with the way “reform” is unfolding. Think of it: The government is planning to require most uninsured Americans to buy health coverage. Millions of young and healthy individuals will be herded into the industry’s welcoming arms. This is the population the insurers drool over.
This additional business — a gold mine — will more than offset the cost of important new regulations that, among other things, will prevent insurers from denying coverage to applicants with pre-existing conditions or imposing lifetime limits on benefits. Poor people will …
If more money doesn’t ensure a better education, what does?
A few days ago, J.R. sent me a link to an excellent presentation by Sir Ken Robinson about how today’s schools kill creativity. J.R. also shared a recent post by Peter Bregman which advocates that you aren’t pushing hard enough if your path to success isn’t marked with failures. Then Kay (20 year public education veteran) sent me an email that illuminated a dynamic in education and health care that I had not considered before:
Prior to the 1960s, the American workforce excluded more people than it included, cutting off access to a huge, talent-laden pool of workers. During this time, most women were limited to three professions – nursing, teaching and administrative work. Thus limited, fully half our population’s best and brightest devoted their energy and passion to these three fields. Is it any wonder that wellness improved, schools (and students) in this country were among the best in the world, and companies were well-run?
Imagine that – society actually benefited from discrimination. How ironic!
Since there were more candidates than jobs, employers could hire the cream of the crop at "competitive" rates. Again – how lucky for education, health care, etc.!
Things changed in the 1960s – attitudes began to shift and opportunities began to grow. When presented with alternatives, once again the most talented of this community left their present and moved on to their future; this time to the detriment of education, health care, and business administration.
Like most people, I believe that teachers are the most critical factor in student success.
Standardized curriculum/testing, prioritizing literacy and numeracy, and a lot of the challenges that Sir Ken identified have been around a long time, but until recently the teachers were so good, they overcame these issues and the students learned regardless. What’s more, because of their confidence and ability, teachers were also comfortable pushing limits, allowing their students to push limits, and together achieve great learning, knowing that mistakes and failures pave the way to insight.
In essence, the system wasn’t great prior to the 1960s, but our successes happened in spite of this, and only because
Continue reading. I was graduated from high school in 1957, and on looking back I realize that the power teachers in my small high school were all women.