Monday, May 11, 2009
(The Intelligence Daily) -- A strange feeling of déjà vu arises while listening to the administration sell further U.S. military intervention in Pakistan (our Predator drones are already there).
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen claimed in late March that Pakistan's intelligence service has "close links with al Qaeda and the Taliban network." In fact, Mullen warned, the Pakistani intelligence service, ISI, is "offering logistical support to them (the Taliban)."
In early April, veteran foreign policy icon and special advisor to the president on Afghanistan and South Asia, Richard Holbrook, let us know what this meant. There is a fundamental difference between the Pakistan conflict and the Viet Nam war, he argued. Pakistan has nuclear weapons. Holbrook went on to say this:
"And the people who are in this area who we are fighting either pose a direct threat, having committed 9/11, having done Mumbai, having killed (Benazir) Bhutto, and they have publicly said they are going to do more of the same. That is: al Qaeda of course and their allies the Taliban." Richard Holbrooke, May 5, 2009 (Repeating April 19, 2009 statement)
On May 9, General David Petraeus supported his superiors as he announced that Pakistan was now "the world headquarters for the al Qaeda senior leadership."
There is even talk in the U.S. media that Pakistan is at risk of becoming a failed state controlled by Muslim extremists. Using Holbrooke's logic, the U.S. would then be faced with a nation of 170 million Hell bent on more 911's, Mumbai massacres, and nuclear blackmail.
This threat accounts for the use of unmanned drone aircraft to bomb Taliban fighters. The Pakistan's government opposes the unauthorized drone attacks as destabilizing and counterproductive. This is a recent example of U.S. policy that results in majorities of Pakistani's opposing al Qaeda's terrorist goals but, at the same time, favoring the goal of "driving U.S. forces out of their country."
Pakistan has a different take on events.
Fundamentalists in the rural, mountainous regions have sought Muslim law (Sharia) for decades. The largely urban population of Pakistan and its central government oppose this. Armed conflict has ebbed and flowed over time. This issue and conflict is a distant second to Pakistan's overriding focus on its hostile relationship with India. Three major wars with India and an ongoing tension between the nations since Pakistan was formed on August 14, 1947 account for this.
Pakistani fundamentalists in the volatile northwestern provinces gained strength during the 1980's due to their utility in fighting the Soviet occupiers of Afghanistan. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explained this to Congress on April 25, 2009, "Let's remember here… the people we are fighting today we funded them twenty years ago… and we did it because we were locked in a struggle with the Soviet Union."
Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI, worked with the United States to fund religious extremists from Pakistan and elsewhere that were willing to fight the Soviet Union's forces occupying Afghanistan. Billions of dollars were committed to this effort by the United States.
Respected journalist Ahmed Rashid noted that, "CIA chief William Casey committed CIA support to a long-standing ISI initiative to recruit radical Muslims from around the world to come to Pakistan and fight with the Afghan Mujahideen." A prime recruiting area was the sparsely populated, conservative Muslim population in Pakistan's border provinces.
That cooperative effort became old news after September 1, 2001.
by Colin Barras
Anaconda, a giant rubber "snake" that floats offshore and converts wave energy to electricity, is a step closer to commercialisation. An 8-metre long, 1/25th scale version is currently undergoing tests in a large wave tank in Gosport, UK, and a full-size working version could be a reality in five years.
Harnessing the power of waves is an attractive proposition because they are much more energy dense than wind. But wave power remains the poor relation of the renewable energy sector due to the difficulties of cheaply operating machinery in the harsh marine environment. The world's first commercial wave farm only began operating last year, off the northern coast of Portugal.
A variety of other designs are in testing around the world, but none are as unusual as the Anaconda. The rubber snake is filled with freshwater – to help deter sea creatures from setting up a home inside – and sealed at both ends to create a semi-rigid balloon that floats at the sea's surface.
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 11, 2009
Below is a list of health care reform stakeholders who will meet with the President and administration officials today.
George Halvorson, Chairman and CEO of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan
Karen Ignagni, President and CEO of America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP)
Jay Gellert, President and CEO of Health Net Inc.
Thomas Priselac--President & CEO, Cedars-Sinai Health System
Rich Umbdenstock-- President & CEO, American Hospital Association (AHA)
Ken Raske--President,Greater New York Hospital Association
J. James Rohack, M.D.-- President-Elect, American Medical Association (AMA)
Rebecca Patchin, M.D.-- Chair-Elect of the AMA
Rich Deem-- Senior Vice President of the AMA
Medical Device Companies
Michael Mussallem--Chairman & CEO, Edwards Lifesciences
Steve Ubl-- President & CEO, AdvaMed
David Nexon-- Senior Executive Vice President, AdvaMed
Richard Clark--Chairman, President & CEO, Merck
Billy Tauzin—President & CEO, PhRMA
Rick Smith--Senior Vice President, PhRMA
Andy Stern, SEIU
Dennis Rivera, SEIU Health
Nancy-Ann DeParle, Director of the Office of Health Reform
Peter Orszag, Director of the Office of Management and Budget
Larry Summers, Director of the National Economic Council
Kathleen Sebelius, HHS Secretary
After the meeting, the following stakeholders will join President Obama for his remarks:
· George Halverson, Chairman and CEO of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan
J. James Rohack, M.D., President-Elect, American Medical Association
Richard Clark, Chairman, President & CEO, Merck
Michael Mussallem, Chairman & CEO, Edwards Lifesciences
Dennis Rivera, SEIU
Tom Priselac, President and CEO of Cedars- Sinai Health System
Promoted by Rain
As the United States continues down the road of privatizing government services to faith-based organizations, it might be a good idea to review an earlier excursion into this area. Under the administration of Ulysses S. Grant, the United States turned over the administration of Indian reservations to Christian missionary groups.
- Ojibwa's diary :: ::
President Grant inherited a mess with regard to the administration of Indian affairs. The Indian Office (later to become the Bureau of Indian Affairs) was notoriously corrupt and ineffective. As a first step in cleaning up the mess, Grant did two things: (1) he created a Board of Indian Commissioners composed on sincere Christian philanthropists to advise him, and (2) he appointed an Indian, Ely Parker, as Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Parker was the first Indian to hold this position and was the last for nearly a century.
In their initial report, the Board of Indian Commissioners recommended that Christian missions and their schools should be established on every reservation. According to the Commissioners: "The religion of our blessed Savior is believed to be the most effective agent for the civilization of any people."
Following the advice of the Board of Indian Commissioners, President Grant established his Peace Policy in which the administration of services on the Indian reservations where turned over to Christian groups. These services included schools, health care, and the distribution of rations. As a result young Indians were required to attend mission schools which include daily instruction in Christianity. Native religious practices and speaking Indian languages were prohibited. There was absolutely no concern for any possible religious views of Indians.
With regard to the First Amendment guarantees of freedom of religion, it was generally felt that these did not apply to American Indians for two reasons. First, Indians were not citizens nor could they become citizens and therefore the constitution did not apply to them. Second, the United States Indian policy was (and still is) guided by an international legal doctrine known as the Discovery Doctrine which states that a Christian nation has a right to govern a non-Christian nation. According to the Supreme Court in the 1823 McIntosh decision, under the Discovery Doctrine, the United States gave the "gift" of Christianity to Indians in exchange for title to their land.
by kdawson from the what-part-of-stop-do-you-not-understand dept.
By Scott Burns
Call it the Automated Monkey Project. More than 30 years ago, a Richmond, Va.-based company, Media General, started an unusual project. Their Portfolios Without Management was intended as a performance-measuring tool for Wall Street.
Media General programmed a mainframe computer to randomly select thousands of stock portfolios, calculate the performance results and then rank order the portfolios, in percentiles, from the best performer to the hindmost. They automated the old joke about having monkeys pick stocks by throwing darts at the financial page.
The result was embarrassing for professional money managers.
A majority of the randomly selected portfolios delivered higher returns than the pros. Like the earlier studies of institutional portfolios that led to the first institutional index fund, about 70 percent of the automated monkeys beat the pros.
Sometimes the pros did a little better. Sometimes they did a little worse. But the performance gap has existed for more than 40 years of research by multiple researchers. It was part of the 1980s. It was part of the 1990s. And it is alive and well this century.
Today, if you visit the Standard & Poor's website and check its SPIVA (Standard & Poor's Indices Versus Active funds scorecard) page, you'll find a list of reports going back to the third quarter of 2002. That report, in turn, measures performance from the third quarter of 1997.
The SPIVA report corrects performance measures for "survivorship bias"--- the tendency of average trailing returns to be higher than what most investors actually experienced. This happens because the funds with low returns disappear, like early cuts from a football squad.
And what is left? Only the better-performing funds.
Although few in financial services talk about this, one out of every four funds is likely to disappear over a five-year period. As a consequence, the five-year average performance figures are really averages of the "best three out of four" when 5 year performances are discussed. The other funds, like names on Gilbert and Sullivan's Lord High Executioner list, "won't be missed."
Morningstar, now the standard in mutual fund performance reporting, doesn't correct for survivorship bias. Its figures show the relative performance of the surviving funds for any time period. Even so, the Morningstar rankings consistently show that index funds regularly beat the majority of their managed competitors.
What's true for equity funds is true in spades for fixed-income funds. The most recent SPIVA report shows that managed funds in only one of 13 fixed-income categories--- emerging market debt funds--- did better than the appointed index over the trailing five-year period. For the other 12 categories, the managed funds trailed their indexes from 64.7 percent of the time (global income funds) to a whopping 98.39 percent of the time (long-term government funds).
The Texas phrase "ain't worth shooting" comes to mind.
Mix stocks and bonds, and the record is still terrible. Vanguard's Balanced Index fund (ticker: VBALX) has done better than 85, 82, 77, 66 and 75 percent of its managed balanced fund competitors over the last 12 months, 3 years, 5 years, 10 years and 15 years, respectively, while charging investors only 0.19 percent a year.
Its long and dismal history notwithstanding, the mutual fund industry skims off billions of dollars in fees each year. According to a recent Investment Co. Institute study, for instance, 80 percent of all 401(k) plans have average expenses that range from 1.72 down to 0.35 percent. Workers in 403(b) plans often suffer far higher expenses.
Where does this money go?
It goes to feed the managers and the distribution system. It does not go to building more secure retirements for American workers. The difference in fees goes to build houses in the Hamptons, Nantucket, Jackson Hole and a few other spots favored by the very rich.
It doesn't have to be this way.
The future of working people can be solved with a simple step: I call it plan B.
John Boehner (Rep. R-OH):: Obstructionist Republican Clown
Michele Bachmann (Rep. R-MN):: Obstructionist Republican Clown
Bobby Jindal (Gov. R-LA):: Obstructionist Republican Clown
Haley Barbour (Gov. R-MS):: Obstructionist Republican Clown
Michael Steele (Chair R-RNC):: Obstructionist Republican Clown
Mark Sanford (Gov. R-SC):: Obstructionist Republican Clown
All rights reserved
Uploaded on Mar 2, 2009
All rights reserved
Uploaded on Mar 4, 2009
Our pursuit of glory led us away from readers
American journalism is in trouble, and the problem is not just financial. My profession is in distress because for more than a decade it has been chasing the false idols of fame and fortune. While engaged in those pursuits, it forgot its readers and the need to produce a commercial product that appealed to its mass audience, which in turn drew advertisers and thus paid for it all. While most corporate owners were seeking increased earnings, higher stock prices, and bigger salaries, editors and reporters focused more on winning prizes or making television appearances.
Some long-term reporting projects have been undertaken, and multiple-part series published, simply because they might win prizes. Over the past ten years, The Washington Post has won nineteen Pulitzer Prizes. But over that same period, we lost more than 120,000 readers. Why? My answer, unpopular among my colleagues, is that while many of these longer efforts were worthwhile, they took up space and resources that could have been used to give readers a wider selection of stories about what was going on, and that may have directly affected their lives. Readers have limited time to spend on newspapers. The number has been twenty-five minutes, on average, for more than thirty years. In short, we have left behind our readers in our chase after glory.
Editors have paid more attention to what gains them prestige among their journalistic peers than on subjects more related to the everyday lives of readers. For example, education affects everyone, yet I cannot name an outstanding American journalist on this subject. Food is an important subject, yet regular newspaper coverage of agriculture and the products we eat is almost nonexistent unless cases of food poisoning turn up. Did journalists adequately warn of the dangers of subprime mortgages? I don't think so. (CJR's answer to that question is on page 24.)
We have also failed our readers in the way we cover government. The First Amendment not only guaranteed freedom of the press from government interference, it also gave American journalists the opportunity—I believe the responsibility—to find and present facts on issues that require public attention. Our press is not protected in order to merely echo the views of government officials, opposition politicians, and so-called experts. Too often, though, that's what occurs.
One of my basic concerns is that American journalism has turned away from its own hard-won expertise, and at the very time when readers are looking to us to explain the context of what is happening and what will happen next.
Most newspapers and the broadcast media have cut the number of reporters on beats. Meanwhile, young reporters are increasingly shifted from beat to beat, never having enough time to master complex subjects such as health care, public education, or environmental policies. As a result, more of their stories are based not on reportorial expertise, but on pronouncements by government sources or their critics.
Reporters are shifted around in part because of decreasing resources, and in part because within the profession, reporters are encouraged to become editors, editors to become publishers, and publishers of small papers pushed to manage bigger ones. This results in less expertise at the most important level—where reporters gather information.
Meanwhile, we have turned into a public-relations society. Much of the news Americans get each day was created to serve just that purpose—to be the news of the day. Many of our headlines come from events created by public relations—press conferences, speeches, press releases, canned reports, and, worst of all, snappy comments by "spokesmen" or "experts." To serve as a counterpoint, we need reporters with expertise.
Consider the worst of recent examples. I believe the Bush administration sold the March 2003 invasion of Iraq to the American people beginning with a public-relations campaign that started in August 2002. Vice President Dick Cheney kicked it off with a series of speeches on the growing threat from Saddam Hussein, and it continued almost daily, with key members of the administration giving speeches, statements, or press conferences. The result was that the threat from Saddam Hussein—his alleged nuclear weapons, the idea that he would give chemical or biological weapons to terrorists—dominated news coverage right up to the time the first missiles hit Baghdad on March 19, 2003.
Manipulation of the media was taken to its highest form by George W. Bush's administration.
by Marilynn Preston
One big fat reason Americans tend to eat more and weigh more than other citizens of the world is because the media has spoon-fed us so many confusing and contradictory health and nutrition messages over the years.
Eat carbs to lose weight. Avoid carbs to lose weight. Live fat-free. Love olive oil. Never eat fried foods. Enjoy anything in moderation. Avocados are bad for you. Avocados are good for you. And so it goes ... for more years than I can remember … which may or may not involve how many avocados I've eaten in my life.
This kind of mind-numbing back-and-forth — confusing medical statements, contradictory media messages, the latest speculation about the causes and cures of cancer — creates confusion in our brains about what we should eat and how we should live. And it has certainly scrambled our understanding of eggs.
Eggs 'R' Us.
Undisputed, it's where we all came from, and I felt very unnerved, some years ago, when eggs were lowered so drastically in the pecking order of healthy foods. The eating of yolks was linked to high cholesterol. High cholesterol! Oh, no! Most M.D.s — who sadly spend almost no time studying the link between food and health — instantly flipped eggs onto their forbidden foods list. Suddenly, in certain circles, egg-white omelettes were all the rage. Even the most perfectly made cheese souffle fell flat as a heart-healthy dessert.
So here's the latest. It turns out that fresh eggs are a wonderful food. And eggs that emerge from happy and well-fed chickens who run free and listen to Mozart all day, and never have to do taxes or apply to college, are even more wonderful.
One large hard-boiled egg — a level of cooking that anyone with a stove can aspire to — contains only 78 calories. Two of these babies and you're still well under the calorie count of most manufactured nutrition bars.
And calories are only a part of the reason we love eggs and read labels. You also have to pay attention to the amount of protein, fat and sugar in a food, and this is where the egg takes the cake. It gives you 6 grams of protein, 5 grams of total fat (only 2 grams of saturated fat), and a big fat goose egg on sugar. No fructose, glucose or sucrose. And yet, eggs can be so sweet, so satisfying. You almost can't ruin an egg. Hard or soft, hot or cooled, poached or frittatad, eggs have a nutritional profile that hamburgers and processed foods would die for. So crack out that carton soon, and let moderation lead the way. Eggs have been reborn. No yoke.
by – V. Vale, RE/Search founder back in 1977, San Francisco
I particularly hate it when "rebels" die — there are already so few of them/us. Sometimes it seems like virtually everyone you meet these days in the world is a slave to the profit motive/capitalist imperative: "What's the meaning of life?" "To make money!" J.G. Ballard, and another of my relatively recently deceased role models, W.S. Burroughs, both refused to prostitute their writing, and they both refused to shmooze and "network" merely to further their "careers." Both had a hatred of bourgeois hypocrisy and phony politeness, while at the same time being deeply polite and courteous, almost to a fault …
But for now, let us think of ways to publicly mourn one of the greatest thinkers and poets of the past century. By some irony, "The Complete Short Stories of J.G. Ballard" is reportedly soon to be published in the United States, complete with two additional stories not included in the U.K. edition. Short stories, more than novels, may appropriately suit the trend of the increasingly shorter attention span of the human populace, who demand more flash ads, tiny videos and music quotations as they read their two-minute, two-page articles on the Internet. I suggest that for the next month (or year), readers shut out everything else and read ONLY J.G. Ballard novels, short stories, essays, interviews and reviews. Your mind, language, and outlook are guaranteed to be permanently altered…
by Froma Harrop
A camel, the old saying goes, is a horse made by committee. We don't want camel health reform. We don't want Washington lawmakers debating whether it should have one hump or two. We want a horse — a sleek machine that performs with efficiency.
One may prefer that landmark legislation enjoy wide bipartisan support. That's the ideal. But the health-care system has too many moving parts to allow for much ideological tinkering, particularly by those who are not wild about reform to begin with. Better that Democrats go it alone than help create an ungainly beast in the name of compromise.
The Medicare drug benefit was a camel of a program. It mated a liberal proposition — expanding a government entitlement — with a conservative solution — having private insurers dispense the coverage and forbidding the government to negotiate drug prices. The result was a complicated benefit that cost taxpayers a lot more than it had to.
Democrats are now firmly in charge and can push through legislation without a single Republican vote (and even the loss of a few conservative Democrats). All they have to do is use the budget reconciliation process, which lets a bill pass the Senate with a simple majority vote.
Thus, Democrats have the freedom to design an effective program that reaches two essential goals. One is to bring coverage to everyone. The other is to contain spiraling health-care costs while maintaining quality of care. The second goal is much harder to meet than the first. You can't cut medical spending without stepping on a lot of economic interests happy with the way things are.
Controlling costs hinges in large part on a proposal that Republicans and the insurance industry detest. This is the public option, a government-run plan that would compete with the private insurers.
Critics call it a deal-killer. The insurance companies complain that a government alternative would stack the deck against them. Its supporters hold that the public plan would keep the private ones honest.
In hopes of winning over some public-plan skeptics, Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, has proposed to level the playing field by forcing any government-run plan to abide by the rules applicable to private insurers. The government would also have to reimburse doctors and hospitals at higher rates than does Medicare, so there's no beating down of providers on price.
This offer has not appeased the insurance-industry trade group, America's Health Insurance Plans. Its members clearly don't want to compete against an entity that doesn't have to spend billions enriching executives and marketing its wares.
By Frank Ahrens
This morning's news that U.S. unemployment has hit 13.7 million, pushing the rate to 8.9 percent, tells only half the story of this recession.
The total number of Americans who are not working full-time but ought to be is actually about 22 million, or 15.8 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Who are those other 8.3 million Americans? Call them the unofficially unemployed.
As The Ticker points out each time the Bureau releases the monthly unemployment figure, it does not include many out-of-work Americans.
There are many reasons for this.
The bureau, which is under the Labor Department, cannot use unemployment compensation records to count the out-of-work, because they are not reliable or up-to-date enough. The bureau also cannot count every out-of-work person.
Instead, as The Ticker reported here in December: "In the case of the monthly jobs report, the Labor Department contacts 60,000 households to determine the unemployment picture for the entire workforce, which consists of about 154 million Americans."
The problem with this methodology is that it does not include millions of Americans who are not working full-time who ought to be. Those, in the bureau's words, who are "marginally attached to the labor force."
Those numbered an additional 2.1 million Americans in the first quarter of this year, the bureau said. Alarmingly, that number was up 35 percent from the first quarter of 2008.
Of this number, the bureau categorized 717,000 as "discouraged" workers, or those that have simply given up looking for work for any number of reasons. That number was up 70 percent from the first quarter of 2008.
"Discouraged" workers include a disproportionate number of young people, blacks, Hispanics and men, the bureau said.
On top of all of this, add an additional 3.6 million unemployed Americans who say they want a job but have not looked for work in the past 12 months.
The remaining 2.6 million or so officially unemployed Americans include part-time workers who would prefer to have full-time jobs, those who have not looked for work because of illness or transportation reasons and those who believe they have other impediments.
But even though these workers don't count toward the official monthly unemployment number, they are nevertheless a true weight on the economy.
They don't pay payroll tax, or as much of it as they would; they don't contribute to Social Security or other government entitlement entitlements and they don't spend as much.
The 15.8 percent figure is the highest since the bureau began keeping these figures in 1994.