Friday, July 31, 2009

Rush: Docs shouldn't say the 'd-word' to old people

Rush can't stop himself. He can't stop trying to scare old people, not even when a Republican physician calls in and tells him that simply talking with old people about their end-of-life options, if they want to, is a good thing.

Rush himself is probably planning to live forever. He's probably given $ millions to quacks who will cryogenically freeze him in a metal tube until the cure for fatness or stupidity is discovered, then they'll re-animate him. (The sci-fi irony will be that, in the future, there really will be One World Government that meets everybody's needs; there won't be any war or hunger, no more rich and poor; and so Rush will re-awaken to find himself in Hell on Earth). Or Rush is going to have his head preserved in a bell jar like in Futurama, so that he can go on running his mouth for centuries…. But no matter what, Rush doesn't want to talk to his doctor about what happens if he gets really sick or just plain old. He doesn't want to actually talk about d-d-d-death. Yuck. No way. Mortality is for other people, not for him. Jeez, what a typical spoiled, self-absorbed Baby Booomer he is.

July 30, 2009 | The Rush Limbaugh Show

CALLER: I am a physician and I practice geriatric medicine and I wanted to make a comment on this-every-five-year conversation on advanced care planning. First of all, I'll say that I hope this health care reform bill does not pass. In fact, I'd love to get rid of Medicare altogether. But I think this-every-five-year discussion is actually a good idea. It's something that I do with my patients often, have discussions about who their health care power of attorney should be, their advanced care plan, but I cannot reimburse Medicare for doing that. Medicare won't pay me for that, and so this is actually one piece of the legislation I think is a good idea.

RUSH: Well, if you think it's a good idea, and you want to have death care discussion with your patients and they wish to consent to death care discussions with you, then that's fine. If you want to run your practice that way and your patients are cool with it. But I will be damned if it's going to be become federally mandated law that the government hires a bunch of counselors that has these death care -- as you call it, death care -- discussions, "end-of-life discussions." Really what those discussions are, when you call it "death care" or "end of life," it's "end of care." That's what the counselors are preparing these people for: end of care, 'cause they're getting old and it isn't going to be worth of investment. It's right in the House bill!

Markets rally to 2009 highs; Obama not to blame

Just remember: these gains for the DOW, S&P 500, and NASDAQ, plus lower than expected unemployment, do not mean Obama is doing a good job.  They do not mean the stimulus is working.  The stimulus, after 4 months, has already failed.  

Only if the markets fall are we allowed to give Obama credit.  That's the way it works.  Got it straight?  Good. 

Wall Street rallies as investors saw signs of stabilization on the labor front. Dow closes at highest level this year. 
By Alexandra Twin
July 30, 2009 |

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Instant TV classic: 'Goldman Sachs Are Scum'

Max Keiser wastes no time to make his point. He bursts out of his corner in Round 1 like Butterbean, all haymakers and head butts:

"Well, Goldman Sachs are scum. I mean that's the bottom line. They basically have co-opted the, uh, U.S. government, they have co-opted the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve functionality, they've co-opted the Obama Administration. Barack Obama, you know, dances to Goldman Sachs' tune. And [...] you just remember Hank Paulson held Congress hostage, took 'em in the back room and said, 'Give us $750 billion [or] we're gonna crash this market.' He's an arsonist. He's an outlaw. And yet he's given praise."

Now this is must-watch TV! Care for a big dollop of irony on your freedom fries? Then watch this politically correct, effete Arab-Frenchy business professor actually defending scummy U.S. bank Goldman Sachs against independent financial analyst Max Keiser, who says that GS should be thrown in jail for stealing, should be taking to the Hague for "financial terrorism." Keiser actually called Osama bin Laden a "pussycat" compared to "financial terrorists" Paulson and Geithner!

And when the Frenchy professor praises GS's recent $3.5 billion reported profits for providing value to shareholders, Keiser loses it: "But they were given $3.5 billion from the taxpayers of America!!! You call that a profit?! They didn't make 'em, they stole 'em! If I stole $1,000 from a bank, would you say I made $1,000 profit?!!"

You won't hear unfiltered truth like this on American TV for almost 14 uninterrupted minutes. That's an eternity in corporate television. Relish this. This is what media freedom looks like. Courtesy of France 24.

By the way, Keiser guarantees another world banking crisis in 6-9 months.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Wednesday, July 29, 2009 debunks Obama 'birther' conspiracy

I hesitate to even send this, because I don't want to debate the authenticity of Obama's Hawaii birth certificate, I really don't. But chances are, if you are a Republican, that you either entertain the possibility of this "Manchurian Candidate"-type conspiracy, (which must have started years or even decades ago) or else you know several Republicans who do.

Just let this analysis end all the "birther" conspriacy theories:

Anyway, even without this, just keep in mind how deep this conspiracy would have to go: Obama would have to have at least one entire Hawaii state bureaucratic agency in his pocket for years on end covering up for him. Without a single whistleblower. Not a single Republican who could "expose" the "truth" of the conspiracy. Including the Republican governor of Hawaii.

Take off your tin foil hat and scratch your head over that.

Krugman: A health care 'market' is impossible

Listen up, all you Repubs, Libertarians, Friedmanites, and sundry! Getting a triple bypass is not like getting your car's oil changed at Jiffy Lube!

By Paul Krugman
July 25, 2009 | New York Times blog

Judging both from comments on this blog and from some of my mail, a significant number of Americans believe that the answer to our health care problems — indeed, the only answer — is to rely on the free market. Quite a few seem to believe that this view reflects the lessons of economic theory.

Not so. One of the most influential economic papers of the postwar era was Kenneth Arrow's Uncertainty and the welfare economics of health care, which demonstrated — decisively, I and many others believe — that health care can't be marketed like bread or TVs. Let me offer my own version of Arrow's argument.

There are two strongly distinctive aspects of health care. One is that you don't know when or whether you'll need care — but if you do, the care can be extremely expensive. The big bucks are in triple coronary bypass surgery, not routine visits to the doctor's office; and very, very few people can afford to pay major medical costs out of pocket.

This tells you right away that health care can't be sold like bread. It must be largely paid for by some kind of insurance. And this in turn means that someone other than the patient ends up making decisions about what to buy. Consumer choice is nonsense when it comes to health care. And you can't just trust insurance companies either — they're not in business for their health, or yours.

This problem is made worse by the fact that actually paying for your health care is a loss from an insurers' point of view — they actually refer to it as "medical costs." This means both that insurers try to deny as many claims as possible, and that they try to avoid covering people who are actually likely to need care. Both of these strategies use a lot of resources, which is why private insurance has much higher administrative costs than single-payer systems. And since there's a widespread sense that our fellow citizens should get the care we need — not everyone agrees, but most do — this means that private insurance basically spends a lot of money on socially destructive activities.

The second thing about health care is that it's complicated, and you can't rely on experience or comparison shopping. ("I hear they've got a real deal on stents over at St. Mary's!") That's why doctors are supposed to follow an ethical code, why we expect more from them than from bakers or grocery store owners.

You could rely on a health maintenance organization to make the hard choices and do the cost management, and to some extent we do. But HMOs have been highly limited in their ability to achieve cost-effectiveness because people don't trust them — they're profit-making institutions, and your treatment is their cost.

Between those two factors, health care just doesn't work as a standard market story.

All of this doesn't necessarily mean that socialized medicine, or even single-payer, is the only way to go. There are a number of successful health-care systems, at least as measured by pretty good care much cheaper than here, and they are quite different from each other. There are, however, no examples of successful health care based on the principles of the free market, for one simple reason: in health care, the free market just doesn't work. And people who say that the market is the answer are flying in the face of both theory and overwhelming evidence.

The Management Myth

I stumbled onto this article and found Stewart's analysis to be extremely, uncomfortably, compelling. I've given you the topic, now talk amongst yourselves. Remember the 4 C's: Communication, Communication, Communication!

The Management Myth

By Matthew Stewart

June 2006 | The Atlantic

Most of management theory is inane, writes our correspondent, the founder of a consulting firm. If you want to succeed in business, don't get an M.B.A. Study philosophy instead


Prager: 10 Questions on 'ObamaCare'

Here are some pretty good answers, I reckon:

#1 The Blue-Dog Democrats have already proposed a way to tackle rising and unequal Medicare and Medicaid costs with the help of industry experts:

Anyway, I won't stand for Prager's cute demand that we solve the problems with supplemental health provision for the aged (Medicare) before we figure out how to provide affordable access for everybody else.

#2 assumes that people will go out of their way to avoid buying affordable medical insurance. The experience of other countries does not support this assumption. In fact, the real potential drawback of mandatory health insurance is that people will overuse it. However, compared to our current insurance system, which keeps a wide open gate to all kinds of specialists and expensive tests, with only a small co-pay, I would say we are already overusing medical care.

#3 I suppose he's referring (blithely) to emergency rooms. This is no way to run a health care system or control costs. ERs are extremely expensive. Regular, preventive medicine is cheaper and ensures better health outcomes.

#4 Does Prager think there is moral justification for having private insurance companies ration care? Because they do already, right now. Insurers have entire departments specialized in "recission," which is a euphemism for finding pretexts to deny insured patients the care they are entitled to, in order to cut the insurer's costs.

I'm glad Prager mentioned morality. We sometimes forget that health care is not and cannot be a "business" in the normal economic sense, because it has an inherent moral and ethical imperative: medical professionals take an oath acknowledging their ethical obligation to treat the sick. The tricky part is how to reconcile their ethical obligation with market forces and the profit motive. How moral is it for us, as a nation, to tolerate vastly inequitable standards of care and health outcomes for the country's have's and have not's? Health care is literally a life and death matter. It is not straight economics.

#5 It's not accurate to say that drug development is an American enterprise. I work in the industry for a U.S. company in E. Europe. Clinical trials happen all over the world, with increasing frequency in E. Europe, Latin America, and India. Outsourcing of drug development is the future, just as outsourcing in so many other industries is occurring. It would be more accurate to say that Big Pharma's most lucrative market is the United States, for the reason that Americans are willing (but decreasingly less able) to pay for expensive drugs. In essence, U.S. patients, by overpaying for the blockbuster drugs while they're "hot," subsidize drug development for the entire world. But I'm not sure we should call that a "plus" of the current system.

There is a lot of waste in Big Pharma and the drug development process could be streamlined. The hugeprofits in the U.S. of the blockbuster drugs cover up a lot of inefficiency in the pharma industry.

#6 I frankly don't care if private health insurance companies survive, but... They could make money by providing supplemental insurance, or insurance for care not covered by gov't health insurance -- like expensive diagnostic tests, cosmetic surgery, home nursing care, whatever.

#7 is a false assumption. Look now at how doctors and hospitals offer deep discounts for payment in cash at the time of treatment. This is because private insurers can take up to 120 days to pay. Meanwhile, the doctor has loads of paperwork and a big back office to do it all. With one single (or major) payer, doctors and hospitals will get paid faster. Anyway, the incomes of doctors in Canada and W. Europe are as big or bigger than U.S. doctors. Interestingly, in the U.S. there are now discount agencies -- not insurance companies -- which encourage you to join for a monthly fee, and then negotiate discounts for you with doctors and hospitals. The catch is that you still have to pay in cash at the time of service. And probably you could negotiate the same discounts for yourself, if you cared to haggle and promise payment in cash. But you see a whole business has sprung up because of the slowness of insurance payments. Time is money and cash is king.

#8 Is another false assumption not supported by the facts. As the Dallas Morning News reported back in April, Texas amended its constitution in 2003 to cap medical malpractice payouts, and yet health costs in Texas have continued to rise. The article also points out that a study on damages caps and overall health costs in 27 states and found no significant effect on costs or so-called "defensive" medicine:

As the article asks, we ought to be very sure about the cost-benefit trade-off before we limit our right to seek legal redress of grievances. Indeed, Milton Friedman of all people said that gov't safety and consumer protection regulation was not necessary because people could always sue for justice in the courts. There is no gov't regulator of medical malpractice in the U.S.

#9 Let's see the entire, final bill before we critique the costs. Anyway, that $1 trillion for the Senate proposal would be spread over 10 years, or $100 billion per year. By comparison, we have spent over $500 billion in Iraq & Afghanistan over 6 years, and will have to pay up to $3 trillion all told. Roughly speaking, we can trade an Iraq war for health coverage for nearly every American. Even if that is the cost, we should consider it. What I have not seen an analysis of, is how much substitution spending would this bill take off of consumers' backs? Anyway, to get a grip on runaway costs, I encourage you to look at this economic comparison, showing that America already does suffer "excess spending" on private health care, and that that "excess" is not because of our ageing population, or better health outcomes:

#10 No, Obama is right, we spend way more (see the link above) but that our higher spending is not linked to better quality or outcomes. The WHO rates France as having the best health care in the world. Cuba has the world's best survival rate for breast cancer, and it is an impoverished Third-World victim of embargo. Health care stats are all over the place. We should be wary of quoting them selectively.

By Dennis Prager

July 28, 2009 |

1. President Barack Obama repeatedly tells us that one reason national health care is needed is that we can no longer afford to pay for Medicare and Medicaid. But if Medicare and Medicaid are fiscally insolvent and gradually bankrupting our society, why is a government takeover of medical care for the rest of society a good idea? What large-scale government program has not eventually spiraled out of control, let alone stayed within its projected budget? Why should anyone believe that nationalizing health care would create the first major government program to "pay for itself," let alone get smaller rather than larger over time? Why not simply see how the Democrats can reform Medicare and Medicaid before nationalizing much of the rest of health care?

2. President Obama reiterated this past week that "no insurance company will be allowed to deny you coverage because of a pre-existing medical condition." This is an oft-repeated goal of the president's and the Democrats' health care plan. But if any individual can buy health insurance at any time, why would anyone buy health insurance while healthy? Why would I not simply wait until I got sick or injured to buy the insurance? If auto insurance were purchasable once one got into an accident, why would anyone purchase auto insurance before an accident? Will the Democrats next demand that life insurance companies sell life insurance to the terminally ill? The whole point of insurance is that the healthy buy it and thereby provide the funds to pay for the sick. Demanding that insurance companies provide insurance to everyone at any time spells the end of the concept of insurance. And if the answer is that the government will now make it illegal not to buy insurance, how will that be enforced? How will the government check on 300 million people?

3. Why do supporters of nationalized medicine so often substitute the word "care" for the word "insurance?" it is patently untrue that millions of Americans do not receive health care. Millions of Americans do not have health insurance but virtually every American (and non-American on American soil) receives health care.

4. No one denies that in order to come close to staying within its budget health care will be rationed. But what is the moral justification of having the state decide what medical care to ration?

5. According to Dr. David Gratzer, health care specialist at the Manhattan Institute, "While 20 years ago pharmaceuticals were largely developed in Europe, European price controls made drug development an American enterprise. Fifteen of the 20 top-selling drugs worldwide this year were birthed in the United States." Given how many lives -- in America and throughout the world – American pharmaceutical companies save, and given how expensive it is to develop any new drug, will the price controls on drugs envisaged in the Democrats' bill improve or impair Americans' health?

6. Do you really believe that private insurance could survive a "public option"? Or is this really a cover for the ideal of single-payer medical care? How could a private insurance company survive a "public option" given that private companies have to show a profit and government agencies do not have to – and given that a private enterprise must raise its own money to be solvent and a government option has access to others' money -- i.e., taxes?

7. Why will hospitals, doctors, and pharmaceutical companies do nearly as superb a job as they now do if their reimbursement from the government will be severely cut? Haven't the laws of human behavior and common sense been repealed here in arguing that while doctors, hospitals and drug companies will make significantly less money they will continue to provide the same level of uniquely excellent care?

8. Given how many needless procedures are ordered to avoid medical lawsuits and how much money doctors spend on medical malpractice insurance, shouldn't any meaningful "reform" of health care provide some remedy for frivolous malpractice lawsuits?

9. Given how weak the U.S. economy is, given how weak the U.S. dollar is, and given how much in debt the U.S. is in, why would anyone seek to have the U.S. spend another trillion dollars? Even if all the other questions here had legitimate answers, wouldn't the state of the U.S. economy alone argue against national health care at this time?

10. Contrary to the assertion of President Obama -- "we spend much more on health care than any other nation but aren't any healthier for it" -- we are healthier. We wait far less time for procedures and surgeries. Our life expectancy with virtually any major disease is longer. And if you do not count deaths from violent crime and automobile accidents, we also have the longest life expectancy. Do you think a government takeover of American medicine will enable this medical excellence to continue?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Spitzer on MSNBC: The Fed is a Ponzi scheme

This bit on MSNBC's Morning Meeting show starts with a very nice, simple, prop-aided explanation of the U.S. banking and financial crisis.

What follows is overdue analysis and criticism of the Fed and Ben Bernanke.

Sure, Spitzer slept with hookers, but he asked all the right questions here about the $12 trillion the Fed has pledged to risky U.S. banks. "This begs and cries out for hard examination.... This is a Ponzi scheme, this is an inside job," said Spitzer.

Then host Dylan Ratigan responded: "I feel as if America has suffered the greatest theft and coverup ever... Where banks created a pile of garbage that they paid themselves billions themselves billions of dollars in personal compensation and then stuck the trillions of dollars of garbage with the American taxpayer. That to me is stealing."

Watch this video!

Then tell your Congressmen that you support Rep. Ron Paul's bill to audit the Fed! Just follow the link to Paul's site and type in your ZIP code:

Forbes: ObamaCare on End-Of-Life

Although the article's title is a misleading -- since it wasn't even Obama's bill that first proposed Medicare reimbursements for end-of-life counseling services, and since the bill says nothing about end-of-life treatment -- conservative Forbes basically sets the record straight:

"In fact, the bill says nothing about death with dignity or any other code words for euthanasia. It also does not make these [optional] counseling sessions [with one's personal physician every 5 years] in any way mandatory--it just says that Medicare will start reimbursing for them."

So let that be the end of these silly, fatuous "Soylent Green" and "Logan's Run" sci-fi horror comparisons by pundits on the Right.

ObamaCare Dives Into End-Of-Life Debate
Medicare spends $100 billion annually on patients' final year of life. What the new bill says--and doesn't say--about treatment of the dying.

By David Whelan
July 24, 2009 |

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Rush: Obama wants old people to die

Read below what your nutty Republican neighbors and relatives are listening to.

You know, Rush & Co. are successfully getting their right-wing base terribly scared and angry and riled up, but they're going to lose. They're going to lose bad, sooner or later. Know why? Because there is a health care crisis in America, and people are seeing their insurance premiums go up 10-30% per year (if they're lucky enough to be insured), and they're not morons. People are going to realize, if they haven't already, that the status quo is failing them. They are not going to see those insurance bills, those medical bills, and keep believing that old saw that the United States has the best health care in the world.

And then they're going to recall that the GOP has proposed no substantive health reform for the past 8 years to fix our broken system. And as soon as somebody does come along, the GOP tries to kill reform. That's what the American people are gonna remember: the Republicans in Congress were obstructionist do-nothings and scare-mongers, the lot of them.

The Rush Limbaugh Show
July 24, 2009


CALLER: Rush, you know what I really believe? I believe they're trying to get rid of the old people so they can insure the illegal aliens for their voting base.

RUSH: Well, you know, we can guess what they're doing. I mean there are a number of theories. Let's just take your proposition and discuss it hypothetically. They want to get rid of the old people. It's fairly clear from looking at details in their plan that they are not going to provide lifesaving health care for people with certain diseases at a certain age because of cost. Now, from that can we project that they want old people to die? Well, let's hypothetically say, yeah, they want old people to die. Then, okay, why? Well, I can think of two reasons. A, it would free up a whole lot of money to spend buying votes elsewhere. Secondly, it would save a whole lot on Social Security. And if they are looking to save money to spend it elsewhere in society in cultivating younger people to become wards of the state, then it all makes sense. So now the question becomes, okay, we've discussed this hypothetically, and I guarantee you people listening to this radio show and you and me discussing, "This is not America, what do you mean, killing people?" This is Soylent Green, this is Logan's Run? What are we talking about here? People don't want to believe this.

CALLER: I do believe it.

RUSH: I did too, I totally believe it. It's in the bills. The motivation is what we're speculating about, but Obama himself said on national television, when asked a question about a healthy 100-year-old woman getting a pacemaker, he said, no, you know, really, give her a pain pill.

Sodomy keeps us safe?

We really ought to broadcast this to the terrorists -- and the unfortunate Arab-Muslims mistaken for terrorists -- of the world, that flashlights and splintery broomsticks await them. Oh, and they'll have to drink our pee, too.

Who ever thought this getting down to their level thing in order to defeat them would be so much kinky fun?

Hey, we're still the USA, we're still the good guys, so if we're pissing down people's throats, it's for all the right reasons.

And if these kinds of tough tactics enrage peaceful Arabs and Muslims enough to drive them into the terrorists' ranks, well... A $500 billion annual Pentagon budget can buy an elongated enhanced interrogation device (aka, a broomstick) for every last Muslim on Earth. Yeah, baby! USA! USA!

Never mind the waterboarding, here's the sodomy

By Allan Uthman
July 2009 | The BEAST

Thursday, July 23, 2009

NYT: How wind can break

All you wind hatas will love this article. I thought this particular paragraph was interesting:

"The cost and hassle of transporting the huge, heavy turbines has led to interest in manufacturing turbines in the United States, rather than in Europe. Last year 24 states opened, expanded or announced turbine manufacturing plants, according to the American Wind Energy Association. By value, about half of turbine parts are now manufactured in the United States, said Mr. Dunlop of the wind association."

See, the free market wants to break into wind!

Slow, Costly and Often Dangerous Road to Wind Power

By Kate Galbraith

July 22, 2009 | New York Times

Thursday, July 16, 2009

'Government Sachs'

This is Taibbi Lite: Scheer gets the main points across without Taibbi's vitriol and potty mouth... although though those greedy, unscrupulous, securities-fraud-committing #$!%ers at Goldman Sachs deserve a lot of both. Right after being bailed out by you and me, Goldman posted record quarterly profits. WTF is going on?!

'Government Sachs' Strikes Gold…Again

By Robert Scheer

July 16, 2009 |

Connect the dots: Goldman Sachs made $3.44 billion in profit this past quarter, while the U.S deficit topped $1 trillion for the first time in the nation's history and appeared to be headed toward doubling that figure before the budget year is out. Since most of the increase in the federal deficit is due to bailing out the banks and salvaging the greater economy they helped destroy, why is the top investment bank doing so well?

Well, because that was the plan, as devised by Bush Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, a former CEO of Goldman Sachs. Remember that Lehman Brothers, Goldman's competitor, was allowed to go bankrupt. The Paulson crowd wouldn't let Lehman change its status to that of a bank holding company and thus qualify for federal funds; soon afterward, Goldman was granted just such a deal, worth a quick $10 billion. Much is now made of Goldman paying back part of its bailout money, but forgotten is the $12.9 billion that Goldman got as its cut of the $180 billion AIG payoff. That is money that will not be paid back.

Goldman is considered a very smart bank because it was early in reducing its exposure to the mortgage derivatives that in large part caused the meltdown. However, it had done much to expand the market and continued to sell suspect derivatives to unwary buyers as sound investments, even as Goldman divested. The firm still holds $1.85 billion in real estate and lost $499 million in the previous quarter on bad loans, but made up for it by playing the vulture role and issuing high-interest debt to governments and companies made desperate by the recession that the financial gimmicks of the banks brought on in the first place.

And Goldman was not just another bank. Before Paulson ran the Treasury Department, another former Goldman head, Robert Rubin, pushed through the repeal of the Glass-Steagall controls on banking activity. While some now play down the significance of this radical deregulation, not so Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd C. Blankfein—at least not back in June 2007, when the markets were still doing well. "If you take an historical perspective," Blankfein told The New York Times by way of explaining his company's spectacular success at the time, "we've come full circle, because that is exactly what the Rothschilds or J.P. Morgan the banker were doing in their heyday. What caused an aberration was the Glass-Steagall Act."

That 1933 act was repealed in a law signed by President Bill Clinton at Rubin's urging, and in the following eight years Goldman Sachs recorded a 265 percent growth in its balance sheet. "Back then," The Wall Street Journal reports, "Goldman was churning out profits by trading credit derivatives, speculating on currencies and oil and placing big bets [on] the roaring stock market."

Big bets made in a casino designed by Goldman, which now makes money off loans to the victims. High on the list of victims are state governments that have to turn to Goldman for money because the federal government that saved the banks won't do the same for the states, which have watched their tax bases shrink because of the banking meltdown. As the WSJ noted, "issuing debt to ailing governments" is now a growth industry for Goldman.

Why didn't the federal government just lend the money to the states? Why was all the money thrown at Wall Street instead of needy homeowners or struggling school systems? Because the federal government works for Goldman and not for us. Indeed, when it comes to the banking bailout, Goldman Sachs is the government.

So much so that last fall The New York Times ran a story, headlined "The Guys From `Government Sachs,' " that stated: "Goldman's presence in the [Treasury] department and around the federal response to the financial bailout is so ubiquitous that other bankers and competitors have given the star-studded firm a new nickname: Government Sachs."

One of those stars was Stephen Friedman, another former head of Goldman. Friedman was both a director of the company and chairman of the New York Federal Reserve Bank when he helped work out the details of the Wall Street bailout. The president of the N.Y. Fed at the time, Timothy Geithner, now secretary of the treasury, requested a conflict-of-interest waiver that allowed Friedman to buy more Goldman Sachs stock, and Friedman ended up with 98,600 shares. At market close on Tuesday that was worth $14,756,476. That's nothing – three years ago, the 50 top Goldman execs made $20 million each, and this year could be better.

They're not hurting.

U.S.-Israel deal: Palestinian state in exchange for attack on Iran?

See, Israel is perfectly capable of defending itself – and its neighbors – against Iran. Why is the U.S. getting involved?

This terms of this rumored deal between the West and Israel imply that the real impediment to a Palestinian state is Israel: It will happen whenever Israel allows it to happen. Actually, this means it will happen whenever the U.S. pressures Israel to allow it to happen. Hence, the U.S. is the real impediment to the formation of a Palestinian state: It will happen whenever we want it to happen.

I'm not so sure I buy it though. The sides in this deal could be reversed: Israel would use America's "permission" to attack Iran as a face-saving reason to back down to the Palestinians; and the U.S. would use Israel as a proxy to attack its enemy Iran. Israel is probably happy to attack Iran, too, but they wouldn't dare do so on their own without U.S. diplomatic cover in the UN Security Council.

Israeli navy in Suez Canal prepares for potential attack on Iran

By Sheera Frenkel

July 16, 2009 | The Times Online

Two Israeli missile class warships have sailed through the Suez Canal ten days after a submarine capable of launching a nuclear missile strike, in preparation for a possible attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.

The deployment into the Red Sea, confirmed by Israeli officials, was a clear signal that Israel was able to put its strike force within range of Iran at short notice. It came before long-range exercises by the Israeli air force in America later this month and the test of a missile defence shield at a US missile range in the Pacific Ocean.

Israel has strengthened ties with Arab nations who also fear a nuclear-armed Iran. In particular, relations with Egypt have grown increasingly strong this year over the "shared mutual distrust of Iran", according to one Israeli diplomat. Israeli naval vessels would likely pass through the Suez Canal for an Iranian strike.

"This is preparation that should be taken seriously. Israel is investing time in preparing itself for the complexity of an attack on Iran. These manoeuvres are a message to Iran that Israel will follow up on its threats," an Israeli defence official said.

It is believed that Israel's missile-equipped submarines, and its fleet of advanced aircraft, could be used to strike at in excess of a dozen nuclear-related targets more than 800 miles from Israel.

Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the Egyptian Foreign Minister, said that his Government explicitly allowed passage of Israeli vessels, and an Israeli admiral said that the drills were "run regularly with the full co-operation of the Egyptians."

Two Israeli Saar class missile boats and a Dolphin class submarine have passed through Suez. Israel has six Dolphin-class submarines, three of which are widely believed to carry nuclear missiles.

Israel will also soon test an Arrow interceptor missile on a US missile range in the Pacific Ocean. The system is designed to defend Israel from ballistic missile attacks by Iran and Syria. Lieutenant-General Patrick O'Reilly, the director of the Pentagon's Missile Defence Agency, said that Israel would test against a target with a range of more than 630 miles (1,000km) — too long for previous Arrow test sites in the eastern Mediterranean.

The Israeli air force, meanwhile, will send F16C fighter jets to participate in exercises at Nellis Air Force base in Nevada this month. Israeli C130 Hercules transport aircraft will also compete in the Rodeo 2009 competition at McChord Air Force base in Washington.

"It is not by chance that Israel is drilling long-range manoeuvres in a public way. This is not a secret operation. This is something that has been published and which will showcase Israel's abilities," said an Israeli defence official.

He added that in the past, Israel had run a number of covert long-range drills. A year ago, Israeli jets flew over Greece in one such drill, while in May, reports surfaced that Israeli air force aircraft were staging exercises over Gibraltar. An Israeli attack on a weapons convoy in Sudan bound for militants in the Gaza Strip earlier this year was also seen as a rehearsal for hitting moving convoys.

The exercises come at a time when Western diplomats are offering support for an Israeli strike on Iran in return for Israeli concessions on the formation of a Palestinian state.

If agreed it would make an Israeli strike on Iran realistic "within the year" said one British official.

Diplomats said that Israel had offered concessions on settlement policy, Palestinian land claims and issues with neighboring Arab states, to facilitate a possible strike on Iran.

"Israel has chosen to place the Iranian threat over its settlements," said a senior European diplomat.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

MBA programs 'stacking the deck'?

I find this trend of business school admissions committees' putting more weight on a student's ajudged post-MBA employability ass-backwards. It reinforces the stereotype that the "best" b-schools are obsessed solely with their rankings, which are largely a function of graudates' post-MBA salary and job placement statistics. This phenomenon isn't new, but it sounds like more than ever, in this tough economic envioronment where employment stats at even the best schools are slipping, that b-school adcoms are trying to "stack the deck" before matriculation to show how "they" made these students into highly employable, highly paid recruits.

As one reader noted in a forum, the success of the top U.S. b-schools is a "no-brainer:" they select the cream of the crop of dynamic, already successful students with great work experience, and then they present these students to the best companies. Voila! Great placement and starting salary figures for the school. But this trend calls into doubt what is the real value added by a b-school? Is their only value simply in playing match maker between students and companies?

It just goes to show that going to a top b-school is just a game -- albeit a very expensive game -- where students pay to play with the most desirable employers. And surely the top recruits realize it. I wonder what kind of cynicism this arrangement breeds in these future business leaders?

The big losers in all this are the career switchers, typically those with a liberal arts or non-business background, who may not compare as well, employment-wise, on Day 1 of class to the candidates who already have a track record of success in business, but who do bring new insights to the classroom, and fresh ideas and experiences to the business world. All b-schools pay lip service to diversity in their marketing materials, but according to this article, diversity is a "would like to have" and not a "must have" for b-schools. Likewise, admission of international students, who are usually at a disadantage when it comes to U.S. employment, is probably also at risk.

As more prospective U.S. MBA students who don't fit the mold for a top-20 full-time program catch onto this game, they are going to demand other, less expensive "pay-to-play" options -- like a one-year MBA, which is becoming the norm in Europe, or distance/online MBAs -- which yield a better ROI for them personally (not for the school).

The New Criterion for MBA Admissions

Amid a tight MBA labor market, B-school admissions decisions increasingly hinge on applicants' ability to land a job upon graduation

By Anne VanderMey

July 9, 2009 |


Monday, July 13, 2009

Taibbi: Goldman Sachs is a bubble machine

I don't think this is the whole article, but in addition to long excerpts are videos of Taibbi and others talking about Goldman and the financial crisis.

For a scanned version of the RS article, go to Zero Hedge, or here.

The Great American Bubble Machine

Matt Taibbi on how Goldman Sachs has engineered every major market manipulation since the Great Depression

By Matt Taibbi

July 2, 2009 | Rolling Stone

Friday, July 10, 2009

Stiglitz: The true cost of 2 wars

Adding up the true costs of two wars

By Joseph Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilmes 

July 7, 2009 | Madison Capital Times 

Last week the U.S. "stood down" in Iraq, finalizing the pullout of 140,000 troops from Iraqi cities and towns -- the first step on the long path home. After more than six years, most Americans are war-weary, even though a smaller percentage of us have been involved in the actual fighting than in any major conflict in U.S. history. 

But not so fast. The conflict that began in 2003 is far from over for us, and the next chapter -- confronting a Taliban that reasserted itself in Afghanistan while the U.S. was sidetracked in Iraq -- will be expensive and bloody. The death toll for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan reached 5,000 in June. An additional 80,000 Americans have been wounded or injured since the war in Iraq began. More than 300,000 of our troops have required medical treatment, and Army statistics show that more than 17 percent of our returning soldiers suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Meanwhile, in Iraq, even though most of the population has long told pollsters they can't wait for U.S. forces to leave, U.S. officials have said we are likely to station 50,000 troops at military bases in the country for the foreseeable future. This is because the situation in Iraq is highly precarious.

Moreover, the U.S. barely has begun to face the enormous financial bill for the war. By our accounting, the U.S. has already spent $1 trillion on operations and related defense spending, with more to come -- and it will cost perhaps $2 trillion more to repay the war debt, replenish military equipment and provide care and treatment for U.S. veterans back home. Many of the wounded will require indefinite care for brain and spinal injuries. Disability payments are ramping up and will grow higher for decades. The stress of extended, multiple tours to Iraq means that a whole generation of U.S. military men and women may now be suffering from long-term mental health issues. The suicide rate in the Army is at its highest level since record-keeping began. 

This wartime spending undoubtedly has been a major contributor to our present economic collapse. The U.S. has waged an expensive war as if it required little or no economic sacrifice, funding the conflict by massive borrowing. As we've observed in the past, you can't spend $3 trillion on a reckless foreign war and not feel the pain at home. 

Burned by the difficulties in Iraq, our political leaders have no illusions about the length and difficulty of the challenge facing us in Afghanistan. But in other respects we seem set to repeat the same mistakes that we made in Iraq. The president has just signed yet another "emergency" supplemental appropriations measure ($80 billion) to fund continuing operations in Iraq and expansion into Afghanistan. This means that for the 30th time since 2001, war spending has been rushed through the budget process without serious scrutiny

Obstacles continue to beset returning veterans too. Despite an increase in the Department of Veterans Affairs budget, the backlog of disability claims has reached its highest level. 

Early this year, President Barack Obama committed 20,000 troops to a "surge" in Afghanistan. That, combined with a large, ongoing presence in Iraq and continued reliance on private contractors for virtually every aspect of military support, remains a recipe for staggering out-of-control expenditures. Surely we can draw some lessons from the Iraq debacle and set aside money to care for our veterans, crack down on fraud and profiteering, and account for the true costs of the war in the budget so the American taxpayer can see what we are paying for. 

Linda J. Bilmes of Harvard University is a former assistant secretary of Commerce. Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University is a winner of the Nobel Prize in economics and a former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors. They are the co-authors of "The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict."

Can you spot a socialist?

When asked directly, Jeb Bush answered "I don't know" if Obama is a socialist. "Define socialism for me," he asked his CNN interviewer.

It's odd that a leader from a party that uses the words "socialist" and "socialism" on a daily basis to describe the opposition can't tell a socialist when he sees one. Methinks Jeb lacks the courage of his convictions.

Indeed, I get e-mails all the time from conservatives claiming Obama is a closet socialist. They have no doubt whatsoever. And right-wing radio jocks and FOX bloviators use these two words on the air as often as "um" and "er," and almost as often as "Ronald Reagan."

Maybe we can teach Jeb (and ourselves) something today. Let's see how 3 of the most popular online dictionaries define socialism:

URL:"1. a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.2. procedure or practice in accordance with this theory.3. (in Marxist theory) the stage following capitalism in the transition of a society to communism, characterized by the imperfect implementation of collectivist principles."
URL:"1. Any of various theories or systems of social organization in which the means of producing and distributing goods is owned collectively or by a centralized government that often plans and controls the economy.2. The stage in Marxist-Leninist theory intermediate between capitalism and communism, in which collective ownership of the economy under the dictatorship of the proletariat has not yet been successfully achieved."
From Merriam-Webster's online dictionary:
URL:"1: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods2 a: a system of society or group living in which there is no private property b: a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state3: a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done"
Clearly, all these definitions are in substantive agreement on what socialism is.
Now look at how defines socialism:
URL:"[9] The definition of socialism, then, may be said to be a formal economic system in whichsociety exerts considerable control over the nation's wealth and property in the pursuit of social justice. "Considerable control" may or may not entail public ownership, while "social justice" usually depends upon the whims of a bureaucratic elite. Generally speaking, a market-based economy is antithetical to socialist principles, and some form of benevolent planning is advocated."[10] Of course, such a definition of socialism is exceedingly vague, but the pursuit of "fairness"—the ultimate goal of socialism—is necessarily vague, given that each of humanity's several billion individuals has a unique view of what 'fairness' entails." [Emphasis mine]

See what's happening here? Conservatives are distorting the definition of socialism to sound a lot like liberalism. (Since we all know conservatives don't give a toot about social justice or fairness.) Conservatives are claiming that any definition of socialism is "exceedingly vague," despite the fact that we have several examples of socialist economic systems in the former Soviet bloc to enlighten us, if we're in any doubt what a socialistic country actually looks like. In fact, try asking somebody who lived in one of these formerly socialist states if America, or the Democratic party, comes anywhere close to being socialist. You would probably get a confused/disbelieving stare in reply.

If you agree with Rush Limbaugh that "words mean things," and you are creeped out by Orwellian definition-creep, then educate yourself and don't abuse or misuse our English language. Don't call anybody to the left of Joe Lieberman a "socialist." You're only making your friends dumber, and yourself look stupid.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Macroeconomics caused American Revolution?

This was written last year but it's apropos July 4th....

I'm more inclined to believe in the economic/social theory for the start of the American Revolution, rather than it being caused by a fortuitious gathering of ideologically kindred philosophers. There are very few examples of "ideas that changed the world," but there many examples of men with big ideas who took full advantage of their present circumstances.

Recent history further sways me towards the former view. Think about it. If we take only what our "leaders" have written about the reasons for what they did, we will inevitably get a distorted view of recent U.S. history. (Think: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon , or My Life by Bill Clinton.) It is only through tough independent journalism and careful academic research that we uncover the true motives behind the "movers and shakers." I don't see why we should be too trusting of our Founding Fathers' historical spin on things. They weren't gods among men, only men. And politicians at that, many of them.

On the other hand, American public figures back then weren't so acutely concerned with their legacy, or what the press thought of them. Most of them truly looked down on the common man, and didn't care what he thought.

By Tim Arango
November 29, 2008 | New York Times

Oh, Canada health care myths!

Better late than never to post this, eh! This will make you smarter, not dumber.

Debunking Canadian Health Care Myths

By Rhonda Hackett

June 7, 2009 | The Denver Post

As a Canadian living in the United States for the past 17 years, I am frequently asked by Americans and Canadians alike to declare one health care system as the better one.

Often I'll avoid answering, regardless of the questioner's nationality. To choose one or the other system usually translates into a heated discussion of each one's merits, pitfalls, and an intense recitation of commonly cited statistical comparisons of the two systems.

Because if the only way we compared the two systems was with statistics, there is a clear victor. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to dispute the fact that Canada spends less money on health care to get better outcomes.

Yet, the debate rages on. Indeed, it has reached a fever pitch since President Barack Obama took office, with Americans either dreading or hoping for the dawn of a single-payer health care system. Opponents of such a system cite Canada as the best example of what not to do, while proponents laud that very same Canadian system as the answer to all of America's health care problems. Frankly, both sides often get things wrong when trotting out Canada to further their respective arguments.

As America comes to grips with the reality that changes are desperately needed within its health care infrastructure, it might prove useful to first debunk some myths about the Canadian system.

Myth: Taxes in Canada are extremely high, mostly because of national health care.

In actuality, taxes are nearly equal on both sides of the border. Overall, Canada's taxes are slightly higher than those in the U.S. However, Canadians are afforded many benefits for their tax dollars, even beyond health care (e.g., tax credits, family allowance, cheaper higher education), so the end result is a wash. At the end of the day, the average after-tax income of Canadian workers is equal to about 82 percent of their gross pay. In the U.S., that average is 81.9 percent.

Myth: Canada's health care system is a cumbersome bureaucracy.

The U.S. has the most bureaucratic health care system in the world. More than 31 percent of every dollar spent on health care in the U.S. goes to paperwork, overhead, CEO salaries, profits, etc. The provincial single-payer system in Canada operates with just a 1 percent overhead. Think about it. It is not necessary to spend a huge amount of money to decide who gets care and who doesn't when everybody is covered.

Myth: The Canadian system is significantly more expensive than that of the U.S.

Ten percent of Canada's GDP is spent on health care for 100 percent of the population. The U.S. spends 17 percent of its GDP but 15 percent of its population has no coverage whatsoever and millions of others have inadequate coverage. In essence, the U.S. system is considerably more expensive than Canada's. Part of the reason for this is uninsured and underinsured people in the U.S. still get sick and eventually seek care. People who cannot afford care wait until advanced stages of an illness to see a doctor and then do so through emergency rooms, which cost considerably more than primary care services.

What the American taxpayer may not realize is that such care costs about $45 billion per year, and someone has to pay it. This is why insurance premiums increase every year for insured patients while co-pays and deductibles also rise rapidly.

Myth: Canada's government decides who gets health care and when they get it.

While HMOs and other private medical insurers in the U.S. do indeed make such decisions, the only people in Canada to do so are physicians. In Canada, the government has absolutely no say in who gets care or how they get it. Medical decisions are left entirely up to doctors, as they should be.

There are no requirements for pre-authorization whatsoever. If your family doctor says you need an MRI, you get one. In the U.S., if an insurance administrator says you are not getting an MRI, you don't get one no matter what your doctor thinks - unless, of course, you have the money to cover the cost.

Myth: There are long waits for care, which compromise access to care.

There are no waits for urgent or primary care in Canada. There are reasonable waits for most specialists' care, and much longer waits for elective surgery. Yes, there are those instances where a patient can wait up to a month for radiation therapy for breast cancer or prostate cancer, for example. However, the wait has nothing to do with money per se, but everything to do with the lack of radiation therapists. Despite such waits, however, it is noteworthy that Canada boasts lower incident and mortality rates than the U.S. for all cancers combined, according to the U.S. Cancer Statistics Working Group and the Canadian Cancer Society. Moreover, fewer Canadians (11.3 percent) than Americans (14.4 percent) admit unmet health care needs.

Myth: Canadians are paying out of pocket to come to the U.S. for medical care.

Most patients who come from Canada to the U.S. for health care are those whose costs are covered by the Canadian governments. If a Canadian goes outside of the country to get services that are deemed medically necessary, not experimental, and are not available at home for whatever reason (e.g., shortage or absence of high tech medical equipment; a longer wait for service than is medically prudent; or lack of physician expertise), the provincial government where you live fully funds your care. Those patients who do come to the U.S. for care and pay out of pocket are those who perceive their care to be more urgent than it likely is.

Myth: Canada is a socialized health care system in which the government runs hospitals and where doctors work for the government.

Princeton University health economist Uwe Reinhardt says single-payer systems are not "socialized medicine" but "social insurance" systems because doctors work in the private sector while their pay comes from a public source. Most physicians in Canada are self-employed. They are not employees of the government nor are they accountable to the government. Doctors are accountable to their patients only. More than 90 percent of physicians in Canada are paid on a fee-for-service basis. Claims are submitted to a single provincial health care plan for reimbursement, whereas in the U.S., claims are submitted to a multitude of insurance providers. Moreover, Canadian hospitals are controlled by private boards and/or regional health authorities rather than being part of or run by the government.

Myth: There aren't enough doctors in Canada.

From a purely statistical standpoint, there are enough physicians in Canada to meet the health care needs of its people. But most doctors practice in large urban areas, leaving rural areas with bona fide shortages. This situation is no different than that being experienced in the U.S. Simply training and employing more doctors is not likely to have any significant impact on this specific problem. Whatever issues there are with having an adequate number of doctors in any one geographical area, they have nothing to do with the single-payer system.

And these are just some of the myths about the Canadian health care system. While emulating the Canadian system will likely not fix U.S. health care, it probably isn't the big bad "socialist" bogeyman it has been made out to be.

It is not a perfect system, but it has its merits. For people like my 55-year-old Aunt Betty, who has been waiting for 14 months for knee-replacement surgery due to a long history of arthritis, it is the superior system. Her $35,000-plus surgery is finally scheduled for next month. She has been in pain, and her quality of life has been compromised. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Aunt Betty - who lives on a fixed income and could never afford private health insurance, much less the cost of the surgery and requisite follow-up care - will soon sport a new, high-tech knee. Waiting 14 months for the procedure is easy when the alternative is living in pain for the rest of your life.

Rhonda Hackett of Castle Rock, Colorado is a clinical psychologist.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Israel and S. Arabia are using us

So why should the United States get all bent out of shape over Iran's nuclear program, which can't possibly touch us, when the two biggest powers in the region, Israel and Saudi Arabia, are ready and able to take care of their "Iran problem" themselves? All they want is America's diplomatic cover. They want us to do all the international jaw-flapping and finger-wagging for them, and then let us take all the heat for them from the UN and NATO, after they've carried out a preventive first strike on Iran. Now that's what I call a lose-win. Gee, thanks, guys.