August 06, 2012

Romney and Italy

Commentary By Ron Beasley

Mitt Romney didn't go to Italy on his European adventure and there is good reason for that - he wouldn't have been welcomed.

That’s because Bain Capital, under Romney as chief executive officer, made about $1 billion in a leveraged buyout 12 years ago that remains controversial in Italy to this day. Bain was part of a group that bought a telephone-directory company from the Italian government and then sold it about two years later, at the peak of the technology bubble, for about 25 times what it paid.

Bain funneled profits through subsidiaries in Luxembourg, a common corporate strategy for avoiding income taxes in other European countries, according to documents reviewed by Bloomberg News. The buyer, Italy’s biggest telephone company, now has a total market value less than what it paid Bain and other investors for the directory business.

In Italy, the deals have spurred at least three books, separate legal and regulatory probes and newspaper columns alleging investors made a fortune at the expense of Italian taxpayers. Boston-based Bain wasn’t a subject of the inquiries, which didn’t result in any charges.

Romney himself was heavily involved in the deal and probably made about 50 million dollars on the deal. Bain and Romney may have been winners but the Italian government and Italian investors were not.

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.

An Alternate Universe

Commentary By Ron Beasley

It often seems that The Weekly Standard must be published in an alternate universe.  My favorite example is this quote from Bill Kristol:

"There's been a certain amount of pop sociology in America ... that the Shia can't get along with the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq just want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There's almost no evidence of that at all. Iraq's always been very secular." ~Willaim Kristol, April 4th, 2003

And don't forget it was Bill Kristol who was pushing Sarah Palin in 2008.

But Stephen Hayes and Bill Kristol have outdone themselves with their suggestion that Mitt Romney should select Paul Ryan or Marco Rubio as his Vice President.  Paul Ryan is best known for his budget that would throw the elderly and the poor under the bus. His plan is so bad that people refused to believe that it was a real proposal.  He might be a good choice in The Weekly Standard universe but not in this one.

When it comes to Marco Rubio they say this:

An NBC/Wall Street Journal/Telemundo poll released in late July shows Obama with a 67-23 percent advantage over Romney among Hispanics. Last week, a Latino Decisions poll had Obama leading Romney 63-27 percent among Hispanics in five swing states with significant Hispanic populations—Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and Virginia.

That’s worrisome. But the core of the problem is Florida—a must-win state for Romney. According to Latino Decisions, Romney trails Obama among Latino Floridians 53-37. (Even more, among voters who say they’re “certain” to vote for their candidate, Obama leads 49-29.) This kind of margin might well doom Romney. 

In 2010, by contrast, Marco Rubio won 55 percent of Florida Hispanics. Rick Scott, who was probably helped by having Rubio running with him, won 50 percent of the state’s Hispanic voters in his successful bid to become governor. Even in 2008, while losing Florida 51-48, John McCain won 42 percent of the Hispanic vote. In 2004, George W. Bush defeated John Kerry among Hispanics in Florida by 56-44 percent. (Those numbers were no doubt inflated because Bush’s brother Jeb was the popular governor at the time.)

The bottom line: Mitt Romney almost certainly will not win Florida if he wins just 37 percent of the Hispanic vote there. And Mitt Romney almost certainly will not be president if he doesn’t win Florida.

What to do? The Latino Decisions poll offers one possible answer: Pick Marco Rubio as your running mate. Some 31 percent of Florida Hispanics say they are more likely to vote for Romney if Rubio is on the ticket (47 percent say it would make no difference, and just 17 percent say it would make them less likely).

Rubio’s appeal goes well beyond Hispanics and well beyond Florida, of course. At a recent appearance in Nevada on behalf of Romney, Rubio drew nearly 1,000 voters to his former elementary school, with lines out the door. His autobiography, An American Son, spent several weeks near the top of the New York Times bestseller list. A recent survey of Illinois delegates to the Republican convention found that nearly half of them want Romney to pick Rubio.

I will leave it up to Daniel Larison to take this apart.

The supposed value of adding Rubio to the ticket is that he will pull voters into the Republican column that would otherwise not normally be there. Unfortunately, there is no reason to think that Rubio would attract these voters, and there never has been. Most Hispanics nationwide know little or nothing about Rubio, and what they find out about him isn’t likely to appeal to them. The very things that make movement conservative activists and pundits like Rubio are the same things that limit his ability to appeal to voters outside his party. According to Rasmussen back in March, Rubio’s favorability amonglikely Hispanic Floridian voters was 16%, and his unfavorable rating was 64%. Rubio’s fav/unfav ratings among likely independent Floridian voters in the same survey was 36/48%. Among likely moderate Floridian voters, they were 33/50%. Rubio’s appeal in Florida is already limited mostly to other Republicans and conservatives, so why should anyone believe that it would be any different elsewhere?

This is what happens when you live in an echo chamber in NY or DC.  Among the conservative punditry it really is an alternate universe.

August 03, 2012

Rasmussen Polls

Commentary By Ron Beasley was one of the more reliable sources for election prediction in 2008.  They have this to say about Rasmussen:

After the 2010 elections, the New York Times statistics wizard, Nate Silver, analyzed the polls produced by various polling organizations, including Rasmussen Reports, which is the house pollster for Fox News. Silver's analysis covered only polls taken during the final three weeks of the campaign and compared them to the actual election results. For polls taken much earlier, say in June, no one knows what the true sentiment of the electorate was, so there is no way to tell if the polls were accurate or not. Also, any pollster deliberately falsifying the results for partisan advantage would be advised to reduce the bias as the election neared. After all, no one can tell if a June poll is accurate but everyone can tell if a poll released the day before the election is accurate.

Silver analyzed 105 polls released by Rasmussen Reports and its subsidiary, Pulse Opinion Research, for Senate and gubernatorial races in numerous states across the country. The bottom line is that on average, Rasmussen's polls were off by 5.8% with a bias of 3.9% in favor of the Republican candidates.

There is much to criticize about Rasmussen's methods. All polls are conducted within a 4-hour window, the person who answers the phone (even a child) is sampled, phones that are not answered are not called back, and much more. All of Rasmussen's polls are done by computer; live interviewers are never used. However, other firms that do robopolling such as SurveyUSA and PPP get much more accurate results with no bias, so the problem is not the robopolling per se.

Just to look at one methodological issue, if no one answers the phone, Rasmussen picks a different random phone number instead of calling back two, three, four or more times as other pollsters do. Why does this matter? Because 20-somethings (who skew Democratic) are often out, whereas 60-somethings (who skew Republican) are often in. By not being persistent in finally getting through to a randomly chosen phone number, the sample is inherently biased towards Republicans because they are easier to reach. This may not have been intentional but it is understandable if you want to finish your survey in 4 hours. Nevertheless, cutting corners in the name of speed and cost don't improve accuracy.

They give their projections both with and without Rasmussen.  When looking at the electoral college vote there is some but not a lot of difference.  But when you look at Senate races there is.

The projections with Rasmussen is Democrats 50, ties 3 and Republicans 47.

2012 Senate Races 1


This is the Senate map without Rasmussen - Democrats 52, tie 4 and Republicans 44.

Senate 2


Montana and North Dakota actually flip and Virginia goes from Republican  to tie.  

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. 



How Dare The Democrats!

Commentary By Ron Beasley

Doug Mataconis and the right wingers are really upset that Harry Reid and the Democrats are using Karl Rove's play book. 

As if doubling down on his unsupported allegations against Mitt Romneyweren’t bad enough, Harry Reid has taken to repeating those allegations on the floor of the United States Senate:

I don't like this kind of politics but the reality is this has been the MO for the Republican Party since Karl Rove came on the scene.  The only thing that is different  is Harry Reid and the Democrats have discovered  that you can't bring  a knife to a gun fight.

Romney could end this of course by releasing his tax returns but he really can't do that because they are toxic.  I think it's all about the 2009 returns - the year that UBS gave the US 4,000 names and the US offered an amnesty on foreign tax shelters.  Romney knew that not releasing his 2009 taxes would hurt his campaign  but a perk walk would have been worse.

August 02, 2012

41 Years

Commentary By Ron Beasley

No comment required.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


August 01, 2012

Shocking (NOT!)

By Dave Anderson

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

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

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

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" »

Peasants With Pitchforks (AR15s)

Commentary By Ron Beasley

Billionaire Jeff Greene is getting a little nervous:

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

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

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


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

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



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