August 13, 2012

HCR -- Service robots in nursing homes (Germany)

By John

August 11, 2012

A Paul Ryan Post

By John Ballard

This is my Paul Ryan post. Rather than a string of entries about Paul Ryan, I have decided to just have one and add to it as the days pass.


► 8/11  This list from the Milwaukee paper looks like a good place to start. (Links at the source.) 
As they say, you can't make this stuff up! 

Interest group rankings

  • American Conservative Union: 92% lifetime score (2011) 
  • American Civil Liberties Union: 0% (2011) 
  • The John Birch Society: 70% (2011) 
  • Citizens Against Governmental Waste: 95% (2010) 
  • League of Conservation Voters: 20% lifetime score (2011) 
  • National Journal: Conservative Foreign Policy score: 57% (2011) 
  • National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund, guns rights positions: A (2010) 
  • AFL-CIO, labor positions: 28% (2011) 
  • Alliance for Retired Americans: 6% lifetime score (2011) 
  • NETWORK, a National Catholic Social Justice Lobby: 25% (2012) 
  • Family Research Council, social issues: 90% (2011) 
  • Vietnam Veterans of America: 100% (2011) 
  • National Organization for Women: 13% (2008) 
  • National Federation of Independent Business: 90% (2011) 
Source: Project Vote Smart

►  "One of US Republican VP pick Paul Ryan's favourite pastimes involves shoving his fist down the throats of giant catfish."

Rep. Paul Ryan loves noodling catfish  (June 9)

Ryan said he planned to head to Oklahoma on Sunday and take his children fishing on Lake Texoma, then indulge in another favorite activity in the afternoon: “I’m going to go out with some of my Okie friends, and I’m going to do something that I’ve been doing for a number of years, and that’s called noodling catfish.

“And I want to say something to you Texans — because you understand freedom, you now legally recognize a man’s right to catch a catfish with his own bare hands.”

How Stuff Works...

If you're lucky, a catfish will swim out and, in an attempt to defend its nest or escape, will bite you. Some catfish may just nip at your fingers, but others will clamp onto your entire hand. Although catfish don't have super-sharp teeth, those teeth are plentiful. They curve inward, and noodlers say they feel like coarse sandpaper. The sandpaper feeling alone might not be so bad. But after a catfish clamps down on something, it tends to spin, which can rub your skin raw.

If the fish doesn't clench your hand, you'll need to pull open its mouth to get a good grip. Then, wiggle your fingers to work them into the fish's gill cover, the respiratory area on the sides of the fish's head. Grabbing it by the gills makes it more difficult for the fish to bite you during a struggle. It also helps you hold on a bit tighter. Once you get a firm hold on the fish, pull that prize to the surface. A flathead catfish could weigh anywhere from 20 to 50 pounds (9 to 22.7 kilograms) or more, so this is no small task.

More gory details at the link. Get ready, Mr. Biden. 

►  Widow's peak -- Wikipedia 

Images[1]Images[1]A number of fictional people have a widow's peak. In stories and on film this trait is often associated with a villain; Count Dracula is an example. Eddie Munster – from the television program "The Munsters" – also had this distinctive hairline. Another villain depicted as having widow's peak hair is The Joker from "Batman" comic books and films.Hannibal Lecter is described as having one in the novels that feature his story. Villainous Natasha Fatale from "The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show" has a widow's peak.

Social Security Personal Savings Guarantee and Prosperity Act of 2005
Read. Blink. Read again. Is he serious? #HeadDesk

Th_HeadDesk[1]Roubini: "Gutting Social Security with privatization rather than reforming it sensibly is demented as equity returns have been 0% for the last decade."



Climate Denier, Conspiracy Theorist, Koch Acolyte

A favorite of the Koch brothers, Ryan has accused scientists of engaging in conspiracy to “intentionally mislead the public on the issue of climate change.” He has implied that snow invalidates global warming.

Meet Janna Little Ryan, Who Wants To Be America's Second Lady
She's a former Washington, D.C. lawyer and lobbyist with deep roots in Oklahoma Democratic politics. Her husband, Rep. Paul Ryan, just became Mitt Romney's running mate.

==> This is not a hit piece. It's an excellent survey of Mrs. Ryan's backstory -- respectable educational and professional (if politidcal) roots. 

► 8/12 Paul Ryan: Randian poseur
Salon -- Mitt Romney couldn't have chosen a better example of the fakery at the heart of today's GOP By Joan Walsh

...Paul Ryan represents the fakery at the heart of the Republican project today. It starts with the contradiction that Mr. Free Enterprise has spent his life in the bosom of government, enjoying the added protection of wingnut welfare benefactors like the Koch brothers. If Herman Cain is Charles and David Koch’s “brother from another mother,” as he famously joked, Ryan is the fourth Koch, swaddled in support from Americans for Prosperity and other Koch fronts. The man who wants to make the world safe for swashbuckling, risk-taking capitalists hasn’t spent a day at economic risk in his entire life.

► Less than twenty-four hours after the announcement of the Ryan pick I am thinking about another presidential election offering a famous "Choice, Not an Echo" in 1964. A Google search turned up a delightful link featuring part of Barry Goldwater's website announcing in his own words his decision to run for president against LBJ. As in this year's election the famous book by that title describes "how the liberal 'Rockefeller Republican' wing of the Republican Party had manipulated the Republican Party's choice of nominees in several elections to nominate people like Wendell Willkie and Dwight Eisenhower, and called on conservatives to rally against the liberal wing and offer a true conservative for the nomination."

Does this ring any bells?

I’ve always stood for government that is limited and balanced and against the ever increasing concentrations of authority in Washington. I’ve always stood for individual responsibility and against regimentation. I believe we must now make a choice in this land and not continue drifting endlessly down and down for a time when all of us, our lives, our property, our hopes, and even our prayers will become just cogs in a vast government machine.

AuH2oI was once asked what kind of Republican I was. I replied that I was not a “me-too” Republican. That still holds. I will not change my beliefs to win votes. I will offer a choice, not an echo. This will not be an engagement of personalities. It will be in engagement of principles.

I believe that we can win victory for freedom both at home and abroad. I believe that we can be strong enough and determined enough to win those victories without war. I believe that appeasement and weakness can only bring war. I’ve asked and will continue to ask: Why Not Victory–why not victory for sound, constitutional principles and government–why not victory over the evils of communism?

I’m convinced that in this year 1964 we must face up to our conscience and make a definite choice. We must decide what sort of people we are and what sort of world we want–now and for our children.

My candidacy is pledged to a victory for principle and to presenting an opportunity for the American people to choose. Let there be a choice–right now and in clear, understandable terms. And I ask all of those who feel and believe as I do to join with me in assuring both the choice and the victory.

And choose we did. That year the electorate buried Mr. Conservative in a historic landslide

And wouldn't you know, there at the bottom of the screen, was an advertisement for the Romney-Ryan campaign. 

You can't make this stuff up. 

August 07, 2012

Pussy Riot Report by Julia Ioffe

By John Ballard

297px-Pussy_Riot_by_Igor_Mukhin[1]Julia Ioffe is an American writer living in Russia. Her Twitter messages are a sparkling, delightful stream. Often they are in Russian and I resort to Google Translate to find out what she's saying, but her observations are keen and insightful. This report on the recent trial of Pussy Riot can be read as an extension of their, um... performance art.

Pussy Riot v. Putin: A Front Row Seat at a Russian Dark Comedy

Though Pussy Riot’s goal was to challenge Russian society through performance art, they were soon to discover that Putin’s state insisted on imposing its own distinct political aesthetic. “Of course, the indictment came down on Forgiveness Sunday,” Petr Verzilov said, referring to the fact that the criminal charge coincided with the day that Russian Orthodox believers ask each other’s forgiveness before the beginning of Lent. “The people in the Kremlin are obviously given to small acts of theatricality.”

THIS WAS PERFECTLY clear on the first day of the trial, which kicked off with statements from the defendants, read out by their lawyers. The young women, who sat in a cage of bulletproof glass (known colloquially as “the aquarium”) apologized to the Orthodox believers they had offended; Tolokonnikova called it “an ethical mistake.” Alyokhina, herself an Orthodox believer, apologized but also expressed her dismay at the lack of Christian forgiveness. “I thought the Church loved all its children,” she said in her written statement. “But it turns out it only loves those children who love Putin.”

And that’s where the loftiness ended and reality began to disintegrate. The judge overruled the defense’s motion to call any of its thirty five witnesses at the trial: the reason given was that it was too early, but she ended up rejecting the motion again and again throughout the proceedings. The prosecutor began to mutter his way through the indictment, using phrases like “imitating the Gates of Heaven” and “songs of an insulting, blasphemous nature.” The girls, drifting off in their aquarium, stood accused by the Russian state of being motivated by “religious hatred,” of “demonstratively and cynically putting themselves in opposition to the Orthodox world” and of “trying to devalue centuries of revered and protected dogmas” and “encroaching on the rights and sovereignty of the Russian Orthodox Church.” Somewhere else in there was a statement about how the young women of Pussy Riot had shaken “the spiritual foundations” of the Russian Federation, which, until that point, had given the distinct impression of being a secular state.

Readers owe it to themselves to take a moment to enjoy this entire article. I'm sure the original performance was more exciting, but this report is almost as entertaining. And for Ioffe it's better than the GOP clown show selecting a candidate -- a story that just keeps on giving.  

August 04, 2012

Buh-Bye, Nudger-in-Chief

By John Ballard

Cass Sunstein is leaving his role as administator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, otherwise know as the Regulatory Czar. 

[He] came to Washington to test his theories of human behavior and economic efficiency in the laboratory of the federal government. Now he is departing with a record that left many business interests disappointed and environmental, health and consumer advocates even more unhappy.

Mr. Sunstein, 57, who projected an air of disheveled academic detachment while becoming one of the Obama administration’s most provocative figures, announced Friday that he was leaving government to return to Harvard Law School.

Applying a cost-benefit analysis to his reviews of proposed rules, he said his goal was simply to make the nation’s regulatory system “as sensible as possible.”

His critics saw it differently.

“Cass Sunstein is the most well-connected and smartest guy who’s ever held the job,” said Rena Steinzor, president of the Center for Progressive Reform and a professor at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law. “But he’s also done untold damage.”

Since we haven't heard much about him and he appears to have pissed off allies and opponents alike he must have done a pretty good job. I put together a post about the guy a couple years ago and nothing in his leaving comes as any surprise to me. He and the boss are reported to be long-time friends and the "nudge" approach has been a hallmark of this administration's management style from the start. Except for a few targeted assassinations, most people would agree that kicking ass isn't the president's strong suit. Nudging is not the same as letting others step on you. Think wrestling. Graeco-Roman has an array of straqtegic moves but Sumo takes nudging to an art form. 

Two examples of how nudging works come to mind...

The phrase leading from behind has never before, to my knowledge, been applied to a president or anyone else in a position of leadership. But that phrase has popped up repeatedly over the last two or three years, most prominently regarding Libya

And just yesterday Maggie Mahar put together a great summary of how the impact of PPACA is already being felt and how that "aircraft carrier" is starting to turn. 

The evidence is building: As we move toward making the Affordable Care Act a reality, Medicare spending in slowing, and even in the private sector, for the first time in more than a decade, insurers are focusing on reining in health care costs .

The passage of reform legislation two years ago prompted a change in how both health care providers and payers think about care. The ACA told insurers that they would no longer be able to shun the sick by refusing to cover those suffering from pre-existing conditions. They also won’t be allowed to cap how much ithey will pay out to an desperately ill patient over the course of a year –or a lifetime. Perhaps most importantly, going forward, insurance companies selling policies to individuals and small companies will have to reimburse for all of the “essential benefits” outlined in the ACA–benefits that are not now covered by most policies. This means that, if they hope to stay in business, they will have to find a way to ”manage” the cost of care–but they won’t be able to do it by denying needed care.

That's a subject for another post if I get around to it. (Maggie trimmed this down to a mere 3000+ words.) But the point is that nudging has started a process of long-overdue change. I sensed as much a couple months ago when I posted this

The word unsustainable is more than a political nostrum. The train is leaving the station. The political types with their polls, weathervanes and double-talk will eventually figure out what needs to be done. But improvements to the system are already happening, with or without Obamacare.

That's what I call nudging in action.

August 03, 2012

HCR -- How Doctors Die

John Ballard

This is a recycled post from December, 2011. I got an email notice that someone left yet another comment at The Health Care Blog where it also appeared.  Go there and check out a string of approving comments left by health care professionals. 

Read the whole piece, but here are a couple of snips.

Years ago, Charlie, a highly respected orthopedist and a mentor of mine, found a lump in his stomach. He had a surgeon explore the area, and the diagnosis was pancreatic cancer. This surgeon was one of the best in the country. He had even invented a new procedure for this exact cancer that could triple a patient’s five-year-survival odds—from 5 percent to 15 percent—albeit with a poor quality of life. Charlie was uninterested. He went home the next day, closed his practice, and never set foot in a hospital again. He focused on spending time with family and feeling as good as possible. Several months later, he died at home. He got no chemotherapy, radiation, or surgical treatment. Medicare didn’t spend much on him.


....Many people think of CPR as a reliable lifesaver when, in fact, the results are usually poor. I’ve had hundreds of people brought to me in the emergency room after getting CPR. Exactly one, a healthy man who’d had no heart troubles (for those who want specifics, he had a “tension pneumothorax”), walked out of the hospital. If a patient suffers from severe illness, old age, or a terminal disease, the odds of a good outcome from CPR are infinitesimal, while the odds of suffering are overwhelming. Poor knowledge and misguided expectations lead to a lot of bad decisions.


Several years ago, my older cousin Torch (born at home by the light of a flashlight—or torch) had a seizure that turned out to be the result of lung cancer that had gone to his brain. I arranged for him to see various specialists, and we learned that with aggressive treatment of his condition, including three to five hospital visits a week for chemotherapy, he would live perhaps four months. Ultimately, Torch decided against any treatment and simply took pills for brain swelling. He moved in with me.

We spent the next eight months doing a bunch of things that he enjoyed, having fun together like we hadn’t had in decades. We went to Disneyland, his first time. We’d hang out at home. Torch was a sports nut, and he was very happy to watch sports and eat my cooking. He even gained a bit of weight, eating his favorite foods rather than hospital foods. He had no serious pain, and he remained high-spirited. One day, he didn’t wake up. He spent the next three days in a coma-like sleep and then died. The cost of his medical care for those eight months, for the one drug he was taking, was about $20.

Other links to know about.

The One Slide Project

Engage with Grace

Aging with dignity

Jim Cooper's Story (video)


Dr. Murray participated in a discussion of death and dying at a recent event reported at Zacalo Public Square. (This post is being recycled thanks to Dr. Murray's ongoing participation in events such as this. It's easier for me to keep important links at one place than have them lost in the archives.)

Going Gentler Into That Good Night
A Discussion of How Doctors—And the Rest Of Us—Prepare For the End

At a panel sponsored by the California HealthCare Foundation at MOCA Grand Avenue, experts in healthcare and end-of-life issues let a crowd in on the secrets that doctors—perhaps unknowingly—are keeping from patients and their families.

Dr. Ken Murray, author of “How Doctors Die,” traced Americans’ lack of familiarity with death to the 1950s, when the death industry was commercialized and parlors, where dead people were laid out for wakes, were renamed living rooms. He added that, while medicine has made incredible advances in the past six decades, the way people experience healthcare in television and movies offers a false sense of the power of intervention.

San Jose Mercury News reporter Lisa Krieger, the evening’s moderator and the author of a series of articles about the cost of dying in America today, asked the panelists what two or three things the audience needed to take away from the evening’s conversation.

Judy Citko, the executive director of the Coalition for Compassionate Care of California, said that we should start advance care planning now. If you are 18 or older, you should have an advance directive that includes treatment preferences and values, she said. At the very least, you should name a surrogate to speak for you. This can be tricky—since the people you love may react to your illness differently from you—but the job of the surrogate “is to stand in your shoes,” no matter how emotionally difficult that may be.

What questions, asked Krieger, should a surrogate, or other friends and family members who are making decisions for someone who’s very sick, be asking doctors?

Murray said that the best scenario is to have the patient’s long-term primary care physician—someone he or she trusts—on hand. He also said that it’s less helpful than we think to ask a doctor, “What would you do, or what would you do if it’s your mother?” Physicians are wary of imposing their own value system onto the patient. Instead, asking clear-cut questions and demanding answers is critical.

There is more at the link, including a link to an hour-long video of the conference which is well worth the time for anyone seeking more information. Dr. Murray pointed out, for example, that the modern funeral industry has made death and dying a forbidden topic for most people. Not very long ago caring for someone who died was the responsibility of those who cared for them in life, typically but not always family members. 

The funeral industry even had an effect on architecture -- the vanishing of the parlor. Old movies and plays would have us believe parlors were only used for romantic liaisons, but they also served as a separate room where the deceased were kept prior to the funeral and burial services, and where wakes were observed. Dr. Murray pointed out that "living" rooms which were larger and separate, were not named by accident. 


I have two contributions to add not mentioned above. First, regarding the selection of an agent for medical decisions in the event one is not able to communicate, most sources presume that will only be one person. In a gerontology class I took it was pointed out that it's better to have more than one, perhaps as many as three to five people -- all of whom are informed and listed with their permission and know where your documents are kept. Having more than one agent expedites medical decisions in case whoever is first on the list is not immediately reachable for whatever reason. Instructions should include the list and sequence to follow should the need arise. (I also heard that in Georgia the same person who has legal POA cannot also, for legal reasons, be named agent for medical decisions.)

Second, with increased Internet and social media access nearly everybody has a number of Internet connections, often with individuals or institutions whom they have never met. It's a good idea to make a list of sites and passwords that can be made available to a trusted, competent person willing to follow up as appropriate in each case. Should someone be either dead or in a medical condition that interrupts their Internet access both courtesy and ID security dictates someone should follow up. 



July 31, 2012

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? 

Continue reading "Saudi Arabia Quiz" »

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.

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.

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

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 précis, 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?




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