Thursday, January 3, 2008

Clearing the backlog

These are items accumulated over the past week or so. Each is worth a look.

Think that the famous "surge" in Iraq actually accomplished something? Look at some facts instead of all the rhetoric.

Apparently there really is no limit to Dick Cheney's arrogance.

How is the economy doing? The subprime mess is garnering all the attention, but consider that Americans are falling behind on their credit card payments at an alarming rate, sending delinquencies and defaults surging by double-digit percentages in the last year and prompting warnings of worse to come.

On a related note, a good part of our mortgage problem lies in Americans' apparently insatiable demands for a house a lot bigger than they need--or can afford.

Speaking of which, car loans aren't what they used to be: people are slipping into a perpetual cycle of automobile debt that experts think could lead to a new credit crunch extending from dealerships to driveways and all the way to Wall Street.

David Broder, possibly the most useless political commentator in the known universe, exemplifies everything that's wrong about the upcoming "centrist committee" gathering; as Digby points out in an incisive, "must-read" analysis, this is not just a harmless case of the bland leading the bland: it's a backdoor move by the right wing to pre-empt anticipated Democratic progress. Glenn Greenwald vigorously agrees, and Paul Krugman has similar thoughts. Don't fall for Michael Bloomberg's BS--he is simply Rudy Giuliani with more money.

When are the media going to stop whining about how the media are promoting nuts and violence by giving the violent nuts their 15 minutes of fame and instead just deny them that fame? But then, I guess, they'd be out of media things to whine about.

Start 2008 with painful laughter: The Bush administration's dumbest legal arguments of the year. Then move on to the whoppers of 2007.

Did the Blackhawk security horrors in Iraq sneak up on us? Not on your tintype! The U.S. government disregarded numerous warnings over the past two years about the risks of using Blackwater Worldwide and other private security firms in Iraq, expanding their presence even after a series of shooting incidents showed that the firms were operating with little regulation or oversight.

Daily Giuliania: the Giuliani campaign is marked by what his aides acknowledge are missteps, sharp shifts in strategy, and evidence that reports about his personal life have hurt his national standing.

Mike Huckabee is the classic stopped watch with the time right once a day, and that "moment" is his radical tax-revision plan. You can tell it's a pretty good idea by the way the mainstream media are dissing it: saying the sales-tax percentage required would exceed Huckabee's talking number while ignoring the fact that it doesn't matter what the number is because the entire basis is revenue neutrality (total taxation in dollars doesn't change). Slice and dice it as one will, the cost doesn't change, just the way it's collected. Mind, my opinion is that his version of the idea has some nontrivial defects in its proposed implementation, but what's happening is that because Huckabee is a kook, the plan--which is not original with him--is being labelled as kooky. Too bad. Maybe if he holds on for a while in his candidacy, it may get a closer look by analysts other than the sorts at The New York Times.

Global warming is not about to become a disaster: it has already begun to be a disaster.

Whatever became of what we now laughingly refer to as "personal responsibility"?

By his own admission, Mr. Pyle willingly made every decision that led to his financial problems. He gave away large sums to people he thought were friends, and then, in need of money, sold his house at a deep discount to the first person who offered to buy it.

Even so, he claims in a lawsuit that he should be compensated for some of his losses for a simple reason: he is old, and should not bear the full responsibility for his choices.

In the last few years, thousands of older Americans like Mr. Pyle have filed suits against companies and salespeople who have promoted dubious offers and schemes. These suits are unusual because the victims typically do not say they were intimidated or lied to, and they concede they freely made what turned out to be unwise decisions.

But because the plaintiffs are older, they argue, they should be less accountable for their mistakes.
Um, if you're rational enough to say "gimme my money back", why weren't you rational enough to not screw with it in the first place? If you're unable to manage your affairs, and realize it, shouldn't you put them in some responsible party's hands?

If you just loved Election 2000, wait till you see what's in store for 2008. Election officials hate to admit how vulnerable their voting systems are to errors and vote theft--but vulnerable they indeed are. In December alone, top election officials in Ohio and Colorado declared that widely used voting equipment is unfit for elections.

Mind, even besides the mechanical problems, in this nation we use the worst election system possible; maybe it's time for a change in that.

A new, worrisome survey raises doubts about physicians' willingness to meet their medical and societal responsibilities, showing a disturbing reluctance among doctors to
report incompetent colleagues or serious mistakes by their peers.

Speaking of doctors, Consumers International says that pharmaceutical companies exert an undue influence on doctors' prescribing habits in the developing world.

In case you hadn't noticed, the recently passed AMT ("Alternative Minimum Tax") "relief" bill doesn't include a way to make up for the lost revenue--$51 billion for the one-year reprieve, an amount roughly equal to the annual budgets of the Departments of Energy, Justice, and Interior. To make up the shortfall, the government plans to borrow the money, which will have to be paid back later with interest, either by raising taxes or reducing government services. That's at best bait and switch, or at worst gross negligence.

Grading Disparities Peeve Parents we are told--so why is there so much resistance to standardized tests?

A view from outside the asylum is often informative; The Economist (Britain) says 2008 is going to be the Democrats' year.

A little saga:
Craig Backer of Caliente, near Bakersfield, suffered headaches for five years and eventually lost hearing in his left ear. Although the former Marine visited a Veterans Affairs hospital half a dozen times, doctors told him his condition was temporary and never performed advanced screening tests, according to his family.

Last spring, Backer began having problems with his vision and returned for a battery of exams. Doctors discovered that he had a large brain tumor and scheduled surgery days later. It was successful, but Backer remains in the hospital and can't talk. He is also learning how to swallow again, and the left side of his face droops. Doctors say they don't know if he will improve.

His wife, Jeriah, wants to sue but the case is subject to California's malpractice cap. Six lawyers have turned her down. One told her that because her husband didn't earn a large income
as a mechanic, the case wasn't feasible. "We're living a nightmare," she said.
Ah, but the caps are fiscally prudent. Isn't that what's important?

Recently the the Office for Human Research Protections shut down an immensely valuable health program--one which over 18 months had saved more than 1,500 lives and nearly $200 million--on the amazing ground that by not first obtaining written patient consent, the program violated medical standards. And all the "program" consisted of was a simple five-step checklist designed to prevent certain hospital infections--for example, reminding doctors to make sure that before putting large intravenous lines into patients, they actually wash their hands and don a sterile gown and gloves. Dangerous stuff, that: gotta stop it right now! Your tax dollars at work.

Vandals--apparently underage and drunk--trashed a historic landmark, a former home of poet Robert Frost. This is truly Vandalism; what do you suppose will happen to this pack of gallows-bait when they're identified and charged? Anything that will materially alter their behavior patterns? Not bloody likely.

Not news, but worth remembering: Democrats and Republicans live in separate moral and intellectual universes.

And here's yet more non-news that is nonetheless important news: governments around the world are increasingly invading the privacy of citizens with surveillance, identification systems, and archiving of private data.

Fortunately, there is always some interesting and pleasing news from science, if only one looks in the right places.

Regrettably, there is always political pressure on those trying to do good science.

Well, there was a lot more, but Blogger ate it, and--being a fool--I hadn't saved my original sources. But there's still plenty of food for thought here.

Happy digestion.

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