T   P   O
The Patient Ox (aka Hénock Gugsa)

G r e e t i n g s !

** TPO **
A personal blog with diverse topicality and multiple interests!

On the menu ... politics, music, poetry, and other good stuff.
There is humor, but there is blunt seriousness here as well!

Parfois, on parle français ici aussi. Je suis un francophile .... Bienvenue à tous!

* Your comments and evaluations are appreciated ! *

Friday, September 30, 2011

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Social Contract - by Paul Krugman

The Social Contract
NY Times Op-Ed Columnist / September 22, 2011

This week President Obama said the obvious: that wealthy Americans, many of whom pay remarkably little in taxes, should bear part of the cost of reducing the long-run budget deficit. And Republicans like Representative Paul Ryan responded with shrieks of “class warfare.”

It was, of course, nothing of the sort. On the contrary, it’s people like Mr. Ryan, who want to exempt the very rich from bearing any of the burden of making our finances sustainable, who are waging class war.

As background, it helps to know what has been happening to incomes over the past three decades. Detailed estimates from the Congressional Budget Office — which only go up to 2005, but the basic picture surely hasn’t changed — show that between 1979 and 2005 the inflation-adjusted income of families in the middle of the income distribution rose 21 percent. That’s growth, but it’s slow, especially compared with the 100 percent rise in median income over a generation after World War II.

Meanwhile, over the same period, the income of the very rich, the top 100th of 1 percent of the income distribution, rose by 480 percent. No, that isn’t a misprint. In 2005 dollars, the average annual income of that group rose from $4.2 million to $24.3 million.

So do the wealthy look to you like the victims of class warfare?

To be fair, there is argument about the extent to which government policy was responsible for the spectacular disparity in income growth. What we know for sure, however, is that policy has consistently tilted to the advantage of the wealthy as opposed to the middle class.

Some of the most important aspects of that tilt involved such things as the sustained attack on organized labor and financial deregulation, which created huge fortunes even as it paved the way for economic disaster. For today, however, let’s focus just on taxes.

The budget office’s numbers show that the federal tax burden has fallen for all income classes, which itself runs counter to the rhetoric you hear from the usual suspects. But that burden has fallen much more, as a percentage of income, for the wealthy. Partly this reflects big cuts in top income tax rates, but, beyond that, there has been a major shift of taxation away from wealth and toward work: tax rates on corporate profits, capital gains and dividends have all fallen, while the payroll tax — the main tax paid by most workers — has gone up.

And one consequence of the shift of taxation away from wealth and toward work is the creation of many situations in which — just as Warren Buffett and Mr. Obama say — people with multimillion-dollar incomes, who typically derive much of that income from capital gains and other sources that face low taxes, end up paying a lower overall tax rate than middle-class workers. And we’re not talking about a few exceptional cases.

According to new estimates by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, one-fourth of those with incomes of more than $1 million a year pay income and payroll tax of 12.6 percent of their income or less, putting their tax burden below that of many in the middle class.

Now, I know how the right will respond to these facts: with misleading statistics and dubious moral claims.

On one side, we have the claim that the rising share of taxes paid by the rich shows that their burden is rising, not falling. To point out the obvious, the rich are paying more taxes because they’re much richer than they used to be. When middle-class incomes barely grow while the incomes of the wealthiest rise by a factor of six, how could the tax share of the rich not go up, even if their tax rate is falling?

On the other side, we have the claim that the rich have the right to keep their money — which misses the point that all of us live in and benefit from being part of a larger society.

Elizabeth Warren, the financial reformer who is now running for the United States Senate in Massachusetts, recently made some eloquent remarks to this effect that are, rightly, getting a lot of attention. “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody,” she declared, pointing out that the rich can only get rich thanks to the “social contract” that provides a decent, functioning society in which they can prosper.

Which brings us back to those cries of “class warfare.”

Republicans claim to be deeply worried by budget deficits. Indeed, Mr. Ryan has called the deficit an “existential threat” to America. Yet they are insisting that the wealthy — who presumably have as much of a stake as everyone else in the nation’s future — should not be called upon to play any role in warding off that existential threat.

Well, that amounts to a demand that a small number of very lucky people be exempted from the social contract that applies to everyone else. And that, in case you’re wondering, is what real class warfare looks like.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Three Hermits - by William Butler Yeats

W B Yeats

The Three Hermits
by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

Three old hermits took the air
By a cold and desolate sea,
First was muttering a prayer,
Second rummaged for a flea;
On a windy stone, the third,
Giddy with his hundredth year,
Sang unnoticed like a bird:
'Though the Door of Death is near
And what waits behind the door,
Three times in a single day
I, though upright on the shore,
Fall asleep when I should pray.'
So the first, but now the second:
'We're but given what we have earned
When all thoughts and deeds are reckoned,
So it's plain to be discerned
That the shades of holy men
Who have failed, being weak of will,
Pass the Door of Birth again,
And are plagued by crowds, until
They've the passion to escape.'
Moaned the other, 'They are thrown
Into some most fearful shape.'
But the second mocked his moan:
'They are not changed to anything,
Having loved God once, but maybe
To a poet or a king
Or a witty lovely lady.'
While he'd rummaged rags and hair,
Caught and cracked his flea, the third,
Giddy with his hundredth year,
Sang unnoticed like a bird. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Alan Simpson ... wonderfully irascible as ever! - by TPO

Senator Alan Simpson's Interview
by Chrystia Freeland of Reuters (06/30/2011)

A lot of ground is covered in this 15-minute interview. But there is never a dull moment with the former Senator from Wyoming ... he cuts through all the political nonsense of Washington and addresses complex topics with clarity and forthright (if almost brute) honesty.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

" ...CEO Hubris" - Jeffrey Sonnenfeld

Bank of America and CEO Hubris
By Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld,
Washington Post, 09/20/2011

In light of Bank of America’s recent woes [brought on by Ken Lewis's leadership], this piece is part of an On Leadership roundtable exploring the root causes of the corporate ‘urge to merge’.

Earlier this month, Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan pledged that the financial behemoth would get smaller even as it continues to choke on the troubled mega-mergers it gobbled up during the financial crisis. Several days later, Tyco’s announcement that it was dissolving its sprawling empire of acquired businesses was met with market enthusiasm. That news came on the heels of corporate break-ups at Sara Lee, Fortune Brands and Kraft; earlier in the year, talk of conglomerate I.T.T. splitting up for good sent the stock soaring 17 percent.

The old Yogi Berra admonition “it’s déjà vu all over again” well fits this recent stream of news about poorly conceived business pile-ups and M&A deals gone bad. It’s hardly the first time we’ve seen the fascination with conglomerates fade, or the “big is always better” philosophy of management proven wrong. But somehow, we’re still re-learning it.

Obviously, prudent growth in complex global markets is necessary. Economies of scale are vital, especially with the need to reach across global markets. But as always, there can be too much of a good thing. As another chapter of the big-is-better era appears to be drawing to a close, it’s important to ask: Just what drives the CEOs who staple these random enterprises together?

Such “serial acquirer” CEOs see their jobs primarily as expanding corporate holdings, rather than managing their companies to produce better products and services. They often see regulators as adversaries and accounting rules as inconvenient barriers to fulfilling their plans. They binge on acquisitions in the name of size, even if they’re not necessarily savvy. Ken Lewis’s purchases while leading Bank of America come to mind.

Serial acquirers seem to run their businesses as if their very complexity will make it hard to hold them immediately accountable. No single financial analyst can track the sort of dizzying array of business lines they venture into, and rapid growth without a focused corporate mission makes it harder to judge the performance of these chief executives by conventional yardsticks. Rather than exhibiting skill in producing new products, offering better services or inspiring employees, these executives are usually judged by investors and analysts by the swelling size of their empires.

What drives such thinking may not be able to be helped. In a decade-old survey of 130 prominent CEOs conducted by the Yale School of Management and the Gallup Organization, respondents were asked whether or not they agreed with the idea that “great leaders are born and not made.” Only 26 percent of respondents said yes.

What’s telling is that when their responses were matched up with their real-life strategies, those who did believe in greatness at birth turned out to be the serial acquirers. They tended to invest less in their existing businesses through expanding factories, developing new products and the like, and were far more likely to prefer growth through acquisitions. On the other hand, those who believed that great leadership is developed through experience were less likely to come from the big-is-better school of thought. In other words, serial acquisition isn’t just a business strategy. It can be a sign of CEO hubris.

Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld is the senior associate dean for executive programs and a professor at the Yale School of Management.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Egghead and Blockheads - by Maureen Dowd

Egghead and Blockheads
Op-Ed Columnist, NY Times

September 17, 2011

THERE are two American archetypes that were sometimes played against each other in old Westerns.

The egghead Eastern lawyer who lacks the skills or stomach for a gunfight is contrasted with the tough Western rancher and ace shot who has no patience for book learnin’.

The duality of America’s creation story was vividly illustrated in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” the 1962 John Ford Western.

Jimmy Stewart is the young attorney who comes West to Shinbone and ends up as a U.S. senator after gaining fame for killing the sadistic outlaw Liberty Valance, played by Lee Marvin. John Wayne is the rancher, a fast-draw Cyrano who hides behind a building and actually shoots Marvin because he knows Stewart is hopeless in a duel. He does it even though they’re in love with the same waitress, who chooses the lawyer because he teaches her to read.

A lifetime later, on the verge of becoming a vice presidential candidate, Stewart confesses the truth to a Shinbone newspaperman, who refuses to print it. “When the legend becomes fact,” the editor says, “print the legend.”

At the cusp of the 2012 race, we have a classic cultural collision between a skinny Eastern egghead lawyer who’s inept in Washington gunfights and a pistol-totin’, lethal-injectin’, square-shouldered cowboy who has no patience for book learnin’.

Rick Perry, from the West Texas town of Paint Creek, is no John Wayne, even though he has a ton of executions notched on his belt. But he wears a pair of cowboy boots with the legend “Liberty” stitched on one. (As in freedom, not Valance.) He plays up the effete-versus-mesquite stereotypes in his second-grade textbook of a manifesto, “Fed Up!”

Trashing Massachusetts, he writes: “They passed state-run health care, they have sanctioned gay marriage, and they elected Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, and Barney Frank repeatedly — even after actually knowing about them and what they believe! Texans, on the other hand, elect folks like me. You know the type, the kind of guy who goes jogging in the morning, packing a Ruger .380 with laser sights and loaded with hollow-point bullets, and shoots a coyote that is threatening his daughter’s dog.”

At a recent campaign event in South Carolina, Perry grinned, “I’m actually for gun control — use both hands.”

Traveling to Lynchburg, Va., to speak to students at Liberty University (as in Falwell, not Valance), Perry made light of his bad grades at Texas A&M.

Studying to be a veterinarian, he stumbled on chemistry and made a D one semester and an F in another. “Four semesters of organic chemistry made a pilot out of me,” said Perry, who went on to join the Air Force.

“His other D’s,” Richard Oppel wrote in The Times, “included courses in the principles of economics, Shakespeare, ‘Feeds & Feeding,’ veterinary anatomy and what appears to be a course called ‘Meats.’ ”

He even got a C in gym.

Perry conceded that he “struggled” with college, and told the 13,000 young people in Lynchburg that in high school, he had graduated “in the top 10 of my graduating class — of 13.”

It’s enough to make you long for W.’s Gentleman’s C’s. At least he was a mediocre student at Yale. Even Newt Gingrich’s pseudo-intellectualism is a relief at this point.

Our education system is going to hell. Average SAT scores are falling, and America is slipping down the list of nations for college completion. And Rick Perry stands up with a smirk to talk to students about how you can get C’s, D’s and F’s and still run for president.

The Texas governor did help his former chief of staff who went to lobby for a pharmaceutical company that donated to Perry, so he at least knows the arithmetic of back scratching.

Perry told the students, “God uses broken people to reach a broken world.” What does that even mean?

The Republicans are now the “How great is it to be stupid?” party. In perpetrating the idea that there’s no intellectual requirement for the office of the presidency, the right wing of the party offers a Farrelly Brothers “Dumb and Dumber” primary in which evolution is avant-garde.

Having grown up with a crush on William F. Buckley Jr. for his sesquipedalian facility, it’s hard for me to watch the right wing of the G.O.P. revel in anti-intellectualism and anti-science cant.

Sarah Palin, who got outraged at a “gotcha” question about what newspapers and magazines she read, is the mother of stupid conservatism. Another “Don’t Know Much About History” Tea Party heroine, Michele Bachmann, seems rather proud of not knowing anything, simply repeating nutty, inflammatory medical claims that somebody in the crowd tells her.

So we’re choosing between the overintellectualized professor and blockheads boasting about their vacuity?

The occupational hazard of democracy is know-nothing voters. It shouldn’t be know-nothing candidates. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

An Imporant News Release - Washington Post

Secret Bases in Ethiopia


The Obama administration is constructing secret bases for counter-terrorism drones in the Horn of Africa and Arabian Peninsula as part of a newly aggressive campaign to attack AL-Qaeda affiliates in Somalia and Yemen, U.S. officials said.

One of the installations is being established in Ethiopia, a U.S. ally in the fight against AL-Shabab, the Somali militant group that controls much of the country. Another base is in the Seychelles, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, where a small fleet of MQ-9 Reaper drones resumed operations this month after an experimental mission demonstrated that the unmanned aircraft could effectively patrol Somali territory.
** TPO says ... Alright. We're seriously going to start kicking some butt now!! **

The President's Do-Over - by Ross Douthat

The President’s Do-Over
NY Times Op-Ed Columnist
Published: September 11, 2011

A week after President Obama took the oath of office, Alice Rivlin, budget chief to President Bill Clinton, testified before a Congress that was about to consider sweeping stimulus legislation. In her remarks, Rivlin voiced her support for a swift and substantial federal intervention to prop up the sagging economy. But she offered lawmakers three warnings as well.

The first warning was about the design of the stimulus. The ideal anti-recession package, Rivlin told Congress, would include aid to state governments, extended unemployment benefits, money for genuinely “shovel ready” projects and a payroll tax holiday. But she urged Congress to resist the temptation to combine these kinds of short-term recession-fighting measures with a larger and more costly investment in energy, education and infrastructure. Trying to rush a long-term spending package through in an atmosphere of crisis, she cautioned, would only guarantee that its contents would be poorly designed, and much of its spending wasted.

The second warning was about setting expectations. Given the nature of the financial crisis and the nasty overhang of debt it left behind, any recovery would probably be slow even with a stimulus bill. Policy makers “should be skeptical of all forecasts,” she told Congress, “and especially conscious of the risk that things may continue to go worse than expected.”

The third warning was about how to handle the problem of deficits, which already shadowed the stimulus debate. “We do not have the luxury of waiting until the economy recovers before taking actions to bring down projected future deficits,” Rivlin said. Instead, she urged Congress to take action “this year” on entitlement spending, and to prioritize Medicare reforms over a more comprehensive health care overhaul.

With these three warnings, Rivlin anticipated everything that the Obama White House and the Democratic Congress would do wrong over the next two years.

First, instead of passing a targeted antirecession package, Congressional Democrats crammed the stimulus bill with spending on everything from Head Start and Pell Grants to high-speed rail and renewable-energy projects. The hope was that the legislation would do more than just kickstart a recovery: It would lay a new foundation for the economy, with an electric car in every garage and a Solyndra solar panel on every roof. The result, predictably, was a bill that looked less like a temporary exercise in crisis management and more like the Democratic Party’s permanent wish list.

Second, instead of emphasizing the severity of the recession, the White House offered sunny — and, as it turned out, wildly mistaken — projections about how swiftly the stimulus would bring down the unemployment rate. Even once it became clear that the recovery wasn’t happening nearly as quickly as promised, the administration stuck to its Pollyannaish script, sending the president and the vice president out on an embarrassing “recovery summer” tour in 2010 and repeatedly projecting economic growth that failed to materialize.

Finally, instead of pivoting from the Recovery Act to deficits and entitlement reform, the Democratic majority spent all of its post-stimulus political capital trying to push both a costly new health care entitlement and a cap-and-trade bill through Congress. Both policies were advertised, intermittently, as deficit reduction, but neither came close to addressing the real long-term drivers of the nation’s debt. And they left Congressional Democrats to campaign for re-election in 2010 as the custodians of record deficits as well as sky-high unemployment.

Now, nearly three years after Rivlin’s warnings went unheeded, President Obama has groped his way to an agenda that looks more like what she originally recommended. His speech to Congress last week suggested that he intends to campaign for re-election on what should have been the blueprint for his first four years in office: a short-term stimulus highlighted by a payroll tax cut, a medium-term push to overhaul the tax code and a plan for long-term entitlement reform.

To Republicans, this agenda holds out the possibility that a second Obama term might feature more opportunities for compromise and common ground. But to voters pondering whether to make that second term happen, it amounts to a request for a presidential do-over — a tacit admission that the White House’s first-term agenda has been less than successful, and a plea for a second chance to get things right.

If the answer to that plea turns out to be “no,” then President Obama’s political epitaph should be taken from the Victorian verse of Dante Gabriel Rossetti:

“Look in my face; my name is Might-have-been; I am also called No-more, Too-late, Farewell.”

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Mule - by Anonymous

The Mule
by Anonymous

Farmer Jake had a nagging wife who made his life miserable. The only real peace that he got was when he was out in the field plowing with his mule.

One day, when Jake was out in the field, his wife brought his lunch to him. Then she stayed while he quietly ate, and she berated him with a constant stream of nagging and complaining. Then suddenly, Jake's old mule kicked up its hind legs and struck the wife in the head, killing her instantly.

At the funeral home, Jake's minister noticed that when the women offered their sympathy to Jake he would nod his head up and down as if saying "yes", but when the men came up and spoke quietly to him, he would shake his head from side to side as if saying "no".

When the wake was over and all the mourners had left, the minister approached Jake and asked, "Why was it that you nodded 'yes' to all the women and shook your head 'no' to all the men?"

"Well," Jake replied, "the women all said how nice she looked, and her dress was so pretty, so I agreed. The men all asked if my mule was for sale."

Friday, September 16, 2011

Les Mendiants de Paris (The Beggars of Paris) - France Soir

Les mendiants indésirables sur les Champs-Elysées
France Soir (Publié le 14 septembre 2011)

Un nouvel arrêté anti-mendicité s’appliquera bientôt sur « la plus belle avenue du monde », où SDF et immigrés roumains convergent de plus en plus nombreux.

Les mendiants sur les Champs-Elysées sont actuellement « chassés » des lieux par les policiers. Le ministre de l’Intérieur voudrait qu’ils soient punis d’une contravention.

Claude Guéant veut s’attaquer au problème de la mendicité sur les Champs-Elysées, en l’interdisant durant toute la période des fêtes de fin d’année, entre 8 et 22 heures L’arrêté aurait dû entrer en vigueur aujourd’hui, mais son lancement a été retardé, sans que ne soit avancée une nouvelle date. En coulisse, le maire de Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, qui n’a pas été consulté au sujet de cet arrêté, s’indigne. « Les Roumains sont clairement visés. C’est d’un cynisme et d’une inefficacité incroyables. Je ne nie pas qu’il y a un problème, mais le gouvernement veut le régler par un simple coup de communication. Plutôt que de chasser les jeunes Roms, il faut les extraire de ces filières, et éradiquer ces réseaux. »

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Common Cold - by Ogden Nash

Common Cold
by Ogden Nash (1902 - 1971)

Go hang yourself, you old M.D.!
You shall not sneer at me.
Pick up your hat and stethoscope,
Go wash your mouth with laundry soap;
I contemplate a joy exquisite
I'm not paying you for your visit.
I did not call you to be told
My malady is a common cold.

By pounding brow and swollen lip;
By fever's hot and scaly grip;
By those two red redundant eyes
That weep like woeful April skies;
By racking snuffle, snort, and sniff;
By handkerchief after handkerchief;
This cold you wave away as naught
Is the damnedest cold man ever caught!

Give ear, you scientific fossil!
Here is the genuine Cold Colossal;
The Cold of which researchers dream,
The Perfect Cold, the Cold Supreme.
This honored system humbly holds
The Super-cold to end all colds;
The Cold Crusading for Democracy;
The Führer of the Streptococcracy.

Bacilli swarm within my portals
Such as were ne'er conceived by mortals,
But bred by scientists wise and hoary
In some Olympic laboratory;
Bacteria as large as mice,
With feet of fire and heads of ice
Who never interrupt for slumber
Their stamping elephantine rumba.

A common cold, gadzooks, forsooth!
Ah, yes. And Lincoln was jostled by Booth;
Don Juan was a budding gallant,
And Shakespeare's plays show signs of talent;
The Arctic winter is fairly coolish,
And your diagnosis is fairly foolish.
Oh what a derision history holds
For the man who belittled the Cold of Colds!

Julia Marcum's Civil War - by Brian D. McKnight

Julia Marcum
Julia Marcum’s Civil War
NY Times Commentary - 09/11/2011

At around two in the morning on Sept. 7, 1861, Confederate soldiers burst into the home of Julia Marcum, intent on killing her father. They “broke the door open with bayonets on their guns and said there was 36 men around who had come to kill” him, she later wrote. The 16-year-old girl lived with her parents and five siblings on a farm in Scott County, Tenn., northwest of Knoxville near the Kentucky border. Like most of their neighbors, the Marcums were strong Unionists. Early in the war Julia’s father, Hiram, made his farm available as a way station for the thousands of Southern men traveling north to join Lincoln’s army, guiding many of them to the border himself.

Because of Scott County’s political uncertainty, Confederate units had quickly moved into the area. In the late summer of 1861, a company of the 11th Tennessee Infantry Regiment camped a mile and a half from the Marcum farm. Hiram Marcum, having heard rumors that his life was in danger and expecting soldiers to visit his home any day, began “laying out” at night, sleeping in the woods or his fields to avoid detection in the case local Confederates came visiting after dark.

When they did come, that night in September, they threatened to “kill all the women and burn us all in the house. We began to holler and scream for help,” Julia recalled. While the rest of the soldiers scattered over the Marcum farm in search of Hiram, one remained behind in the darkened house. Julia’s sister Didama lit a piece of candle to see him more clearly, but now he could see them too, and began to pick “out at us with the bayonet on his gun.” The man then grabbed Julia’s mother by the throat and began choking her. When Didama ran upstairs, the soldier followed and threatened to “cut her throat and burn us all in the house.” Julia and her sister Minerva picked up the only weapons in the house, two axes, and went up after him.

Hearing the screams of his family, Hiram Marcum left his hiding place and headed toward the house. Upstairs, the soldier struck at Julia with his bayonet, but she eluded his blows. Finding the right moment, Julia “ran under the gun and chopped him in the face and breast with the ax,” leaving him cut “to the hollow,” with his chin split open. The man dropped his gun and staggered around the room begging “don’t chop me any more.” When he promised that he would leave the family alone if Julia would allow him to escape, she let down her guard. The soldier then “picked up his gun and struck me with the Bayonet In the fore head and bursted my braines out.” Aside from her dangerous head wound, she lost her left eye and had the third finger on her right hand shot off during the struggle.

Just as Julia fell, Hiram came up the stairs and shot the invader through the shoulder. As the soldier fell, he knocked out the candle. Hiram finished killing him in the dark.

Hearing the commotion inside, the rest of the soldiers had run away, but Hiram feared they would return the next morning. He carried his badly wounded daughter to the downstairs bed, then, kissing his wife and children goodbye, disappeared back into the woods.

Julia’s mother sent one of her sons to look for help from the neighbors. But all of them had heard the screams, and “every man run off and hid” when he heard the boy’s knocks. He finally returned with a woman in tow, who tended to Julia’s wounds. Then, the next morning, the neighbor went to the nearby encampment to report the incident and inform the commander, Capt. George W. Gordon, about the dead Confederate still lying upstairs in the Marcums’ house. Upon meeting with the woman, Gordon led a company of men to the farm. After seeing Julia’s condition, he sent an order for two of his regiment’s physicians to hurry to the wounded girl. Considering the severity of her injuries, few people in the community expected her to live. Within months, however, she had rallied and was recovering nicely.

But that wasn’t the end of the Marcums’ war. With Confederates now camped on the family farm, Julia regularly came into contact with fellow Tennesseans who now considered her the enemy, and she them. Not only had the Southern forces in her part of Tennessee alienated, threatened and physically harmed her family, but Hiram Marcum, frustrated with his inability to protect his family, had gone to Kentucky to join the Federal army. The two sides, Unionist civilians and Confederate soldiers, eyed each other warily. Nevertheless, staying true to their Unionist principles, the family continued to provide food and shelter for men en route to Kentucky.

Julia’s cousin George was one such transient whom sought shelter with the family. Hiding out in the barn, George waited for an opportunity to slip away and continue his trek northward. Then one morning soldiers approached the structure. Fearing they might discover her cousin asleep, Julia, having partially recovered from her wounds, ran to the barn to sound an alarm. When they saw her streaking toward the building, nearby soldiers fired at her; though they missed, they came close enough to “cut a lock of my hair from my head with a bullet.” Awakened by the nearby gunfire, a frantic George ran for freedom, but was immediately shot and severely wounded.

Julia ran to George and implored the soldiers to help her carry him to the house. Instead, they threatened to kill Julia and Didama, who had run to her sister when she heard the shooting. Eventually the soldiers relented; the two girls moved George to the house, where he died within a few hours.

After the death of her cousin, Julia and the rest of the Marcums packed up what remained of their war-ravaged belongings and left Tennessee. For the next several months, they joined the countless other refugee families moving across the borderland. Before they finally settled in Casey County, Ky., where they would remain until 1864, Julia and her sisters frequently appeared in army camps, where they told and retold the story of Julia’s injuries. Hiram never rejoined his family. He had enlisted in the 13th Tennessee Calvary Regiment, a unit composed of pro-Union Tennesseans, but contracted smallpox in Nashville and died in 1864. His wife, Julia’s mother, followed closely behind, dying near the end of the war.

When the Civil War ended, Julia Marcum — 20 years old, parentless, blinded in one eye and missing a finger — moved back to Tennessee, where she became a teacher. She never fully recovered her health; she taught for 12 years before her wounds forced her to retire. One supporter recalled that her disability had escalated to the point that her mind was “seriously impaired” and her “health so completely destroyed that she cannot support herself.”

In 1884, Julia petitioned Congress for a pension, arguing that she had been injured in defense of her country. While she had a legitimate claim to a veteran’s pension based on wartime wounds, she also had a very important advocate in the House of Representatives. After the war her sister Minerva had married Albert Wolford, a brother of Frank Wolford, a member of Congress and a former, controversial colonel of the First Kentucky Cavalry (U.S.A.). During the war, Colonel Wolford had written President Abraham Lincoln a scathing letter denouncing his policies toward Kentucky, especially in regard to the enlisting and arming of black soldiers. By 1864 Lincoln and Wolford’s superiors had had enough, and they forced him out of the army. Returning to civilian life, Wolford won a seat in the Kentucky legislature; in 1882 he won the Congressional seat from Kentucky’s 11th District.

Late in his first congressional term, Wolford, as a member of the Committee of Pensions, brought Julia’s story to the attention of Ohio Representative Benjamin Le Fevre, likewise a war veteran. With his colleague’s assistance, Julia’s case sailed to approval. On Feb. 24, 1885, Julia Marcum became one of only a handful of women to receive a pension because of wounds suffered in combat during the Civil War.


* Brian D. McKnight is an associate professor of history at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise. He is the author of “Confederate Outlaw: Champ Ferguson and the Civil War in Appalachia” and “Contested Borderland: The Civil War in Appalachian Kentucky and Virginia.”

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Water Wars - The Boston Globe

Water Wars
The Boston Globe / Editorial
September 11, 2011

[Tehran Gets All Wet]

Fortunately, social networking sites are causing leaders in Middle Eastern countries some sleepless nights. And if ever an authoritarian regime wanted to look ridiculous, it should follow Iran, whose humorless fundamentalist leaders carried out reprisals against Iranian young people who this summer started a Facebook page for “Water Wars in Tehran.’’

That page attracted 24,500 members with 22 local chapters in cities across the country. Calling on young men and young women to get out their squirt guns and gather for “water wars’’ at nearby swim parks, the social networking sites clearly riled up the powers that be.

Instead of recognizing an innocent, wholesome activity in a country in which 65 percent of its 75 million people are under 30, the Iranian government chose to show its iron fist. It shut down the water parks, shut off the water, arrested and interrogated the leaders, paraded some young people on television, and forced others to confess to wrongdoing.

Now, the government is getting what it asked for. What started out as a movement to cool off on hot days is taking on the air of protest. “Police will deal forcefully with park violators who are threatening the security and peace of our society,’’ declared Tehran police chief Hossein Sajedinia. At the same time, a toy store owner in Tehran reported that sales of squirt guns are on the rise, and other water wars are planned around the country.
© Copyright 2011 Globe Newspaper Company.

Monday, September 12, 2011

"...Feud on Social Security" - New York Times

"...Feud on Social Security"
Article by Michael D. Shear

[A Reader's Comment: Francine of Massachusetts, 09/12/2011]

I had the most disturbing conversation with my mother. She is retired, a rabid Republican and devoted FOX viewer. An otherwise intelligent woman, she is totally irrational on politics. She is concerned that the US is turning 'socialist' and is worried that someone will take away her Social Security. When I point out that it is the party she supports that wants to end Social Security, she tells me Obama is a socialist. When I point out that if he were a socialist the last thing he would do is end Social Security, she tells me he's against workers and if he had his way, everyone would lose their jobs - like the Post Office workers. When I point out that it's the Republican politicians who are against unions and want to privatize government agencies, she says I don't know the truth and should watch FOX because they are the only ones who are showing the truth. She said she doesn't want anyone taking away her Medicare and I ask her how she would pay for her health care with the Republican vouchers. Her response? It wasn't a problem until Obama changed everything. What he changed, she can't say. All she knows is he's a socialist and wants to turn the US into Canada where people die waiting for doctor appointments. When I point out that we all wait for appointments but we all get service in real emergencies, she says if Obama had his way no one would get health care.

And so it goes. She hated Roosevelt and yet she believes that Social Security is great, that the US won WWII because the US is great and none of it had anything to do with Roosevelt. She hated LBJ but loves Medicare. Basically, she hates all Democratic politicians except for their legacies. And she loves all Republican politicians and refuses to believe that they are trying to undermine the very programs she values.

There's no talking to her. She isn't interested in facts. She only listens to FOX. She votes and she isn't alone. It's sad. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Rick Perry by the Book - by Ruth Marcus

Rick Perry, by the book
By Ruth Marcus
Opinion Writer, Washington Post
August 30, 2011

Rick Perry is no George W. Bush.

This is not a compliment.

Perry’s 2010 Tea Party-steeped manifesto, “Fed Up!,” makes George Bush look like George McGovern. Perry has said he wasn’t planning to run for president when he wrote the book, and it shows:

• The Texas governor floats the notion of repealing the 16th Amendment, which authorized the federal income tax. Perry describes the amendment as “the great milestone on the road to serfdom” because it “was the birth of wealth redistribution in the United States.”

Raise your hand if you believe, as Perry suggests, that it is wrong to ask the wealthiest to pay a greater share of their income than the poor.

• He lambastes the 17th Amendment, which instituted direct election of senators, as a misguided “blow to the ability of states to exert influence on the federal government” that “traded structural difficulties and some local corruption for a much larger and dangerous form of corruption.”

Raise your hand if you’d like to give the power to elect senators back to your state legislature.

• Perry laments the New Deal as “the second big step” — the 16th and 17th amendments being the first — “in the march of socialism and .?.?. the key to releasing the remaining constraints on the national government’s power to do whatever it wishes.”

• He specifically targets Social Security for “violently tossing aside any respect for our founding principles of federalism and limited government,” and asserts that “by any measure, Social Security is a failure.”

Not by the measure of the dramatically reduced share of elderly living in poverty. Perry’s description of Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme” was impolitic, but he has a legitimate point about the program’s funding imbalance. The bigger problem is his fundamental hostility to the notion of a federal role in retirement security — or, more broadly, a federal role in much of anything beside national defense.

• As much as he dislikes the New Deal, Perry is even less happy about the Great Society, suggesting that programs such as Medicare are unconstitutional. “From housing to public television, from the environment to art, from education to medical care, from public transportation to food, and beyond, Washington took greater control of powers that were conspicuously missing from Article 1 of the Constitution,” he writes.

Whoa! These are not mainstream Republican views — at least, not any Republican mainstream post-Goldwater and pre-Tea Party. Even Ronald Reagan, who had once criticized Social Security and Medicare, was backing away from those positions by the 1980 presidential campaign.

Reading “Fed Up!,” I had a flashback to scouring the writings of Robert Bork after his 1987 Supreme Court nomination — except that Bork’s most controversial writings were decades, not months, old.

Indeed, Perry’s views on the role of judges may be the most alarming part of “Fed Up!,” given a president’s ability to shape the Supreme Court for decades to come. Perry writes about the current court with venomous disdain.

The court “adheres to the Constitution in appearance only and as a matter of necessity,” he writes, “finding in it or in previous case law the single nugget around which the court can marginally justify its policy choice to keep up the pretense of actually caring one iota about the Constitution in the first place.”

Disagreeing with liberal justices is one thing. Accusing them of not caring about the Constitution is like denouncing the opposing party as unpatriotic — and is equally out of bounds.

Perry’s ideas range from wrongheaded to terrifying: requiring federal judges to stand for reappointment and reconfirmation; and letting Congress override the Supreme Court with a two-thirds vote in both houses. This “risks increased politicization of judicial decisions,” Perry allows, “but also has the benefit of letting the people stop the court from unilaterally deciding policy.”

Some benefit. Imagine what would have happened in the aftermath of Brown v. Board of Education if the Perry rule were in place.

“Not as often discussed, but equally interesting,” Perry muses, “would be a ‘clarifying’ amendment” — for example, to stop the 14th Amendment from being “abused by the court to carry out whatever policy choices it wants to make in the form of judicial activism.” How would Perry clarify such grand phrases as “due process” and “equal protection”? Perry doesn’t say.

The subtitle of Perry’s book is “Our Fight to Save America from Washington.” Reading it summons the image of another, urgent fight: saving America from Rick Perry.

Ed Asner Interview (09/09/2011) - by MPR

Ed Asner

Ed Asner (1929 -)
Ed Asner Interview

by MPR (Minnesota Public Radio)
** Please refresh (F5) page for player **

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Hero Without the Paperwork - by Elissa Ely

A Hero Without the Paperwork
By Elissa Ely
Boston Globe - OpEd (June 1, 2008)

It was a day of minor miseries. There was a new eight-page form that replaced an old one-page form. Two pharmacies called about patients whose medications had run out but could not be renewed without prior authorization. An SSI application required more documentation. We live in a mad land where helping people rests on faxing paperwork.

That night I went to the shelter. I have always thought of it as the last outpost where forms have not taken hold yet. But they had introduced a new form there, too. It involved arrows, decision trees, and subparagraphs. It was dispiriting.

The staff members were in their usual perpetual motion. They work long shifts, turnover is high, and many of them also work second jobs in other shelters, other outposts. The evening supervisor is African and tall as a tree. He wears loose cotton shirts, bone dry in the absence of the African sun, a gold wedding band, a baseball cap. Drunken clients misunderstand his accent, and he has experienced the casual racism of those who, with nothing else to their names, feel entitled to claim the United States as their exclusive property.

The shelter wheels turn smoothly under him. But that night the wheels were falling off. Plumbing had broken in the men's dorm, there was a fight in the dinner line, something was going on with the ventilation, someone was being taken away to detox. The supervisor was running like a madman with his notebook in his hand.

In the middle of the shift, a woman arrived, in tears, but not for psychiatric reasons. She had been living in the shelter a few months, valiantly sober, managing a full-time job. She was slogging through the necessary steps to self-financing and getting an apartment: paycheck, bank account, first and last month's rent.

A few days earlier, she thought she had found a place outside of the shelter to stay while accomplishing all this. She had handed in her notice, returned her locker key, and packed her stuff. This meant giving her bed up to someone else.

But her housing situation fell through. Now she had lost her bed and locker. Without a locker, she had no place to keep her uniform; without a uniform, she could not keep her job; without her job, she could not keep her bank account. Entropy was rising all around her.

We clucked helplessly and passed tissues. The bed belonged to someone else now; the shelter was full. At this hour of the night, other shelters were probably also full. She held up her hands in defeat.

The case manager decided to consult the evening supervisor. There was not much anyone could do - numbers were numbers - but it seemed like a supervisor should know the situation. Besides, productive feelings come from sharing a problem without a solution, even though the feelings are usually illusory. As a former boss once said, never suffer alone, and always kick it upstairs. The case manager left, and we sat in silence, listening to noise from the other side of the door.

There was nothing therapeutic to say.

It took a long time to track the supervisor down. That tall, treelike man was in Heisenbergian motion, disappearing between plumbing repairs and ambulances. At last he was located.

His response was prompt. No problem, he said. He would find a bed for her on the floor. This was an executive decision. He would use his authority and arrange the details.

The whole sobriety-saving, future-saving transaction occurred quickly, efficiently, and without a single fax (though there must have been some form to fill out afterward - if it wasn't recorded, how could it exist?).

Comparisons are irresistible. Paper is self-important and often unhelpful. The supervisor was humble and promptly able to accomplish the necessary. I regret I know nothing of the details of this man's life - what country in Africa he is from, how many children he has, what second or third job he works. I only know he is flesh instead of paginated sheets or self-addressed stamped envelopes, an unsung hero of whom I sing.
Elissa Ely is a psychiatrist.
© Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"What Man May Learn, ..." - by R L Stevenson

What Man May Learn, What Man May Do
by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

WHAT man may learn, what man may do,
Of right or wrong of false or true,
While, skipper-like, his course he steers
Through nine and twenty mingled years,
Half misconceived and half forgot,
So much I know and practise not.

Old are the words of wisdom, old
The counsels of the wise and bold:
To close the ears, to check the tongue,
To keep the pining spirit young;
To act the right, to say the true,
And to be kind whate'er you do.

Thus we across the modern stage
Follow the wise of every age;
And, as oaks grow and rivers run
Unchanged in the unchanging sun,
So the eternal march of man
Goes forth on an eternal plan.


"The New Resentment of the Poor" - The NY Times

The New Resentment of the Poor
The New York Times / Editorial
Published: August 30, 2011

In a decade of frenzied tax-cutting for the rich, the Republican Party just happened to lower tax rates for the poor, as well. Now several of the party’s most prominent presidential candidates and lawmakers want to correct that oversight and raise taxes on the poor and the working class, while protecting the rich, of course.

These Republican leaders, who think nothing of widening tax loopholes for corporations and multimillion-dollar estates, are offended by the idea that people making less than $40,000 might benefit from the progressive tax code. They are infuriated by the earned income tax credit (the pride of Ronald Reagan), which has become the biggest and most effective antipoverty program by giving working families thousands of dollars a year in tax refunds. They scoff at continuing President Obama’s payroll tax cut, which is tilted toward low- and middle-income workers and expires in December.

Until fairly recently, Republicans, at least, have been fairly consistent in their position that tax cuts should benefit everyone. Though the Bush tax cuts were primarily for the rich, they did lower rates for almost all taxpayers, providing a veneer of egalitarianism. Then the recession pushed down incomes severely, many below the minimum income tax level, and the stimulus act lowered that level further with new tax cuts. The number of families not paying income tax has risen from about 30 percent before the recession to about half, and, suddenly, Republicans have a new tool to stoke class resentment.

Representative Michele Bachmann noted recently that 47 percent of Americans do not pay federal income tax; all of them, she said, should pay something because they benefit from parks, roads and national security. (Interesting that she acknowledged government has a purpose.) Gov. Rick Perry, in the announcement of his candidacy, said he was dismayed at the “injustice” that nearly half of Americans do not pay income tax. Jon Huntsman Jr., up to now the most reasonable in the Republican presidential field, said not enough Americans pay tax.

Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, and several senators have made similar arguments, variations of the idea expressed earlier by Senator Dan Coats of Indiana that “everyone needs to have some skin in the game.”

This is factually wrong, economically wrong and morally wrong. First, the facts: a vast majority of Americans have skin in the tax game. Even if they earn too little to qualify for the income tax, they pay payroll taxes (which Republicans want to raise), gasoline excise taxes and state and local taxes. Only 14 percent of households pay neither income nor payroll taxes, according to the Tax Policy Center at the Brookings Institution. The poorest fifth paid an average of 16.3 percent of income in taxes in 2010.

Economically, reducing the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit — which would be required if everyone paid income taxes — makes no sense at a time of high unemployment. The credits, which only go to working people, have always been a strong incentive to work, as even some conservative economists say, and have increased the labor force while reducing the welfare rolls.

The moral argument would have been obvious before this polarized year. Nearly 90 percent of the families that paid no income tax make less than $40,000, most much less. The real problem is that so many Americans are struggling on such a small income, not whether they pay taxes. The two tax credits lifted 7.2 million people out of poverty in 2009, including four million children. At a time when high-income households are paying their lowest share of federal taxes in decades, when corporations frequently avoid paying any tax, it is clear who should bear a larger burden and who should not.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Blame Game - by Scot Lehigh

The Blame Game
Scot Lehigh
The Boston Globe / Op-ED / August 10, 2011

[Not Obama’s fault, but now it’s his problem.]

Nothing gets your attention quite so quickly as a sharp kick in the assets, which is precisely what Americans have received [lately], thanks in large part to the polarized and paralyzed state of national politics. As the millions of average citizens who will depend heavily on a 401(k) for retirement income watch their nest egg scrambled before their very eyes, what may have seemed like a distant Washington charade about debt and deficit has suddenly acquired very real consequences.

To be sure, the stock market sell-off isn’t a reasoned response to the kick-the-can-to-a-committee deficit-reduction deal; if investors really judged the United States less creditworthy, bond prices would have fallen, pushing interest rates up, as buyers demanded more reward for the risk. But even in the face of Standard & Poor’s premature downgrading of US debt, the bond market hasn’t hiccupped. Instead, it’s the stock market that has caught the vapors.

In a rational world, investors, like the more responsible rating agencies, would at least await the results of this latest deficit committee before panicking. In the short term, however, the market operates as much on fear as logic. That was always the danger, of course, and any (supposedly) responsible policymaker should have realized as much.

The mainstream media’s tendency has been to view the problem as yet another partisan standoff, without pinpointing principal blame. But congressional Republicans created this quasi-crisis, first by using what should have been a routine debt-ceiling vote as leverage for budgetary brinksmanship, then by refusing to meet the president in the middle - or, for that matter, anywhere near it.

Certainly if Republicans had been as willing to compromise as Obama, a comprehensive deficit-reduction deal could have been struck, and likely passed. After all, to the dismay of liberal Democrats, Obama was willing to do most of the deficit reduction on the spending side. Further, the ratio of spending reductions to revenue increases he was willing to countenance was larger than those proposed by the various bipartisan deficit-reduction panels and Senate gangs.

Given that, it’s bizarre to watch conservative polemicists try to saddle Obama with the blame for the unconvincing deal, S&P’s downgrade, and the sharp slide in the stock market. That’s as disingenuous as . . . well, as the assertion that Obama is primarily responsible for creating the nation’s fiscal plight.

It’s mostly the president’s problem now, to be sure. But that’s very different from saying it is mostly his fault.

Indeed, the debt-ceiling debacle left Charles Fried, the clear-eyed conservative who served as Ronald Reagan’s solicitor general, praising Obama’s honest, analytical, straightforward style, while faulting his own party for dishonesty and pandering.

Nor are the American people gulled about who is responsible - or rather, irresponsible. Polls show that they, too, see the Republicans as more at fault than Obama - or, for that matter, congressional Democrats - for the failure to reach a comprehensive deal.

That’s not to absolve Obama of all blame. Despite his greater willingness to compromise, he did come late to the issue. And, sadly, it may be that he isn’t skilled or resolute enough to hold his own against unrelenting congressional opponents. But that’s a very different failing from creating the obstinate obstructionism.

Although he took belatedly to the airwaves, the president needs to present his case more clearly, more cogently, and more consistently, the more so because that case is complex. He must lay out why, even as we chart a long-term course toward restrained spending and increased revenues, we need a short-term focus on jobs and the economy.

He hasn’t explained those dual priorities well. Nor has he taken a needed cue from Ronald Reagan, who used to say that when you can’t make congressmen see the light, you can at least make them feel the heat. Obama remains reluctant to dial the rhetorical thermostat up enough even to make a congressman doff his suit coat.

He should, for to succeed, he needs voters to tell their representatives and senators they won’t abide legislators who prefer brinksmanship to compromise. And if he’s searching for an example of why the nation can no longer afford hyper-partisanship? Well, he should simply refer his fellow citizens to the roller-coaster ride their 401(k)s are on.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com.
© Copyright 2011 Globe Newspaper Company.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

If - by e.e. cummings

by e e cummings (1894 - 1962)

If freckles were lovely, and day was night,
And measles were nice and a lie warn't a lie,
Life would be delight,-
But things couldn't go right
For in such a sad plight
I wouldn't be I.

If earth was heaven, and now was hence,
And past was present, and false was true,
There might be some sense
But I'd be in suspense
For on such a pretense
You wouldn't be you.

If fear was plucky, and globes were square,
And dirt was cleanly and tears were glee
Things would seem fair,-
Yet they'd all despair,
For if here was there
We wouldn't be we.

Monday, September 5, 2011

How to be Seventy - Mark Twain

A Hero Returns to the Fray - by The Boston Globe

A hero returns to the fray
The Boston Globe / Editorial
September 1, 2011



YOU DON’T have to be a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize to publicly condemn Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for undermining democracy and dragging Russia backward, but it helps. And you don’t have to be the last head of state of the USSR to point out that Putin’s United Russia Party is reminiscent of the old Soviet Communist Party, but that helps too.

It is an irony of history that Mikhail Gorbachev, the former leader of the totalitarian Soviet Union, is now one of the most eminent critics of authoritarian rule in contemporary Russia. Twenty years ago this summer, Communist hardliners outraged by Gorbachev’s reforms attempted to remove him from power, take control of the Kremlin, and shut down the independent media. But the coup collapsed within days, and by the end of the year the Soviet Union no longer existed.

There were hopes that democracy and freedom would take root in Russia, but the rise of Putin, a former KGB colonel, has dashed them. Under Putin, who was elected president and then evaded term limits by continuing to dominate the government as prime minister, democratic liberties have been suppressed - and so have critics of his regime. The direct election of local governors and members of parliament has been abolished. Opposition parties have been marginalized. Political opponents have been jailed, aggressive journalists have been murdered, and academic freedom has been stifled. Media outlets have been taken over by Kremlin loyalists, and nongovernmental organizations have been severely restricted.

In this ominous environment, Gorbachev’s re-emergence as advocate of political openness and democratic change is deeply welcome.

“Honest elections are needed: single-ballot elections, elections of governors,’’ Gorbachev told interviewers last month. “People must have a feeling that something depends on them.’’ The one-time father of glasnost and perestroika accuses Putin of “dragging the country into the past,’’ and of resembling Stalin in his drive to consolidate power.

Gorbachev is 80 now, and could choose to spend his remaining years in comfort and quiet. That he chooses instead to speak out in support of Russia’s beleaguered reformers attests to his moral authority - authority he first acquired a generation ago, when his determination to end totalitarian rule made “Gorby’’ a hero and changed the course of history.
© Copyright 2011 Globe Newspaper Company.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Thieves and Crooks Everywhere ! ! - by TPO

A government cash machine for crooks
Los Angeles Times
August 28,2011

Last week, a Los Angeles jury convicted a local pastor and his wife of fraudulently claiming $14.2 million from Medicare.

The culprits recruited parishioners to help run fake durable medical equipment companies, and spent the proceeds on expensive cars and other luxuries.

Assistant U.S. Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer said "they treated the Medicare program like a personal till."

Around the country, a never-ending stream of Medicare and Medicaid rip-off stories suggest many people now use these programs as personal tills. In July 2010, authorities exposed and shut down a more organized scheme, charging 94 conspirators from five cities who had stolen $251 million from Medicare.

Three months later, 52 members of an Armenian American organized-crime ring were arrested and charged with $163 million in fraudulent billing.

Scores of reports over the last decade catalog completely implausible Medicare and Medicaid claims paid, apparently without a hiccup, for patients who were dead, imprisoned or deported. A significant number of claims involved prescribing physicians who were long-since dead.

What makes these health care programs so vulnerable to fake billings? It's not the program design. The vulnerability stems from the payment mechanism the government has chosen.

Most Medicare and Medicaid funds are paid out electronically and automatically, in response to electronic claims received from a vast spectrum of providers. Most claims are adjudicated by computers using rule-based systems, with no human intervention at all.

Fraud perpetrators have only to learn the rules; then they can submit thousands of claims electronically and with relative impunity. If they get things wrong, they'll receive helpful computer-generated messages explaining their mistake.

Scammers find it easy to get paid for fabricated claims because the government's systems check for billing correctness but not for truthfulness. The simple rule for getting rich quick through health care fraud is "bill your lies correctly."

In 1995, as electronic claims processing was becoming more widespread, one seasoned Medicaid fraud investigator warned: "Thieves get to steal megabucks at the speed of light, and we get to chase after them in a horse and buggy. No rational businessman would ever invent a system like this."

Nevertheless, the government continues to find such systems attractive, mostly because the processing efficiencies are obvious and tangible.

This problem is not restricted to health care. Federal and state agencies increasingly disburse funds through such "electronic signal in, electronic payment out" (ESI-EPO for short) systems.

The economic stimulus package, for example, included 56 tax provisions worth $288 billion. Ten have already been designated high-risk because of electronic processing.

Submit a qualifying tax return electronically, and if it has been completed correctly, out will come an electronic payment with little or no validation of the supporting evidence.

Payments for the stimulus fund's first-time homebuyer credit were found to have included $9 million to 1,300 prisoners, many serving life sentences when they purportedly bought homes.

More than 10,000 taxpayers received credits for homes also claimed by other taxpayers. One home was claimed 67 times.

The recipe for disaster is now clear. Whatever the nature of the payments -- welfare supports, reimbursements, health claims, tax credits, incentive payments or subsidies -- pay them electronically.

Set up the system with honest claimants in mind. Allow claims to be submitted electronically. Set the administrative budget low enough that the bulk of the claims have to be paid without verification.

To make things really dangerous, add a degree of urgency to the public purpose (as with the stimulus package).

Urgency tends to trump caution and raises policymakers' perception of the "business-acceptable risk." And if it's a really "valuable" program, supporters and officials will be loath to hear any criticism of it, and to discount reports of fraud.

It is no longer sensible to disburse public funds, on trust, through electronic systems. The commensurate risks are enormous and seriously underestimated. Organized-crime groups, prisoners and a host of other criminal entrepreneurs troll government websites looking for programs with these vulnerabilities.

Such systems must now either be fortified with substantial resources for routine validation or, preferably, be phased out altogether through structural reforms.

Fixing these vulnerabilities offers substantial promise for long-term deficit reduction, in a form that both political parties could support. But one important political obstacle remains: finding the courage to admit how serious and pervasive this problem has become.


Prof. Malcolm K. Sparrow of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government is the author of "License to Steal: How Fraud Bleeds America's Health Care System." He wrote this article for the Los Angeles Times.

Synesthetic Perceptions - by Daniel Tammet

"Different Ways of Knowing"
by Daniel Tammet (1979 - )

Friday, September 2, 2011

Listening to Bees - by Maria Karagianis

Listening to Bees
Maria Karagianis
The Boston Globe / Opinion
August 31, 2011



[Amid global bee collapse, one small hive yields lessons]

‘I’M GOING to build a hive and keep bees,’’ my daughter said nonchalantly. It was the spring of 2005, and she was a senior in high school. Beekeeping, and writing a paper about it, would be her senior project. The postmaster called a few days later to say that 38,000 bees - ordered online from Navasota, Texas - had arrived. We should come quickly.

Oh, ugh, I thought to myself.

I knew little then about bees - or about their fragile place in the world. But when our daughter went away to college, the bees stayed. Her science teacher and adviser, Ned Bean, said that if we’d keep the bees on our property, he’d take care of them. An amateur beekeeper, Bean keeps seven hives on various properties in our town.

Recently, for the first time, the beekeeper invited me to don a white suit, long gloves, and helmet with face screen. He put on his own bee suit, fired up his smoker, warned me we had a 90 percent chance of being stung, then motioned to me to tramp across the lawn with him to meet the bees. A frisson of fear gripped me as the beekeeper pried off the top of the hive.

Irritated, buzzing bees swarmed around our heads. They were loud. But my panic soon turned into fascination with the drones and worker bees, with their complexity and industriousness, with the wax and pollen and bits of nectar and honeycomb. And yet there were far fewer bees than there might once have been.

When Bean first started beekeeping in town in 1993, he said he easily harvested 500 pounds of honey a year. Now he’s lucky if he gets any, because hives are dying, and new bee colonies need honey to survive the winter. Most winters, at least half or more die.

Across North America, I’ve read, up to 20 percent of beehives have always died annually. But in November 2006, reports started coming in from around the world of losses ranging from 30 to 90 percent of all commercial bee colonies, with surviving colonies so weakened they might no longer be viable to pollinate or produce honey. According to the National Agriculture Statistics Service, there were 2.4 million honey-producing hives in the United States in 2008 - down from 4.5 million in 1980 and 5.9 million in 1947.

Theories abound about the bee crisis, which is sometimes called “colony collapse disorder.’’ In North America and Europe, scientists and beekeepers believe that the global death of bee colonies has been caused by everything from parasitic mites to climate change and environmental stresses, to malnutrition, pesticides, urbanization, and even electromagnetic radiation from cellphone towers, which some say confuse bees so they can’t find their way home.

So why should we care? Without bees, one-third of US crop species would not be pollinated - almonds, peaches, soybeans, apples, pears, cherries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, watermelons, cantaloupes, cucumbers, and strawberries among them. Today, most commercial agriculture depends on bees shipped in from countries as far away as Australia. This solution has its own risks; migratory beekeeping can spread disease to local bees.

The mysterious global bee crisis not only threatens agriculture worldwide; it’s also a wake-up call to once-clueless suburbanites like myself.

My husband and I no longer use chemicals in the garden, on the trees or lawn. We’ve noticed a burst of gorgeousness every spring with the newly pollinated flowers and flowering trees around our house responding to the bees. We’ve also become ecologically conscious in other ways: We took up vegetable and herb gardening, buy more locally grown food, and stopped using plastic bottles and plastic bags. We compost. I’ve even thought, wildly, about putting a chicken coop on the property and harvesting organic eggs.

Sometimes in winter, lying on the living room couch reading by the fire, I gaze out at the snowy expanse of garden, peer back near the woods to the white wooden hive our daughter built, and actually say a silent prayer the bees will survive until spring.

Ned Bean hopes the bees are finally adapting and becoming more resilient. I hope so, because bees have a lot to teach us. Like canaries in coal mines, bees are warning us. Wake up, I hear them saying.

Maria Karagianis is a writer and social entrepreneur who lives near Boston.
© Copyright 2011 Globe Newspaper Company.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Always Champions, No Matter What - by TPO

USA Champions, 1998
by Flash Back Friday

Republicans Against Science - by Paul Krugman

Republicans Against Science
New York Times / Op-Ed Columnist
August 28, 2011

Jon Huntsman Jr., a former Utah governor and ambassador to China, isn’t a serious contender for the Republican presidential nomination. And that’s too bad, because Mr. Hunstman has been willing to say the unsayable about the G.O.P. — namely, that it is becoming the “anti-science party.” This is an enormously important development. And it should terrify us.
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

To see what Mr. Huntsman means, consider recent statements by the two men who actually are serious contenders for the G.O.P. nomination: Rick Perry and Mitt Romney.

Mr. Perry, the governor of Texas, recently made headlines by dismissing evolution as “just a theory,” one that has “got some gaps in it” — an observation that will come as news to the vast majority of biologists. But what really got people's attention was what he said about climate change: “I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects. And I think we are seeing almost weekly, or even daily, scientists are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change.”

That’s a remarkable statement — or maybe the right adjective is “vile.”

The second part of Mr. Perry’s statement is, as it happens, just false: the scientific consensus about man-made global warming — which includes 97 percent to 98 percent of researchers in the field, according to the National Academy of Sciences — is getting stronger, not weaker, as the evidence for climate change just keeps mounting.

In fact, if you follow climate science at all you know that the main development over the past few years has been growing concern that projections of future climate are underestimating the likely amount of warming. Warnings that we may face civilization-threatening temperature change by the end of the century, once considered outlandish, are now coming out of mainstream research groups.

But never mind that, Mr. Perry suggests; those scientists are just in it for the money, “manipulating data” to create a fake threat. In his book “Fed Up,” he dismissed climate science as a “contrived phony mess that is falling apart.”

I could point out that Mr. Perry is buying into a truly crazy conspiracy theory, which asserts that thousands of scientists all around the world are on the take, with not one willing to break the code of silence. I could also point out that multiple investigations into charges of intellectual malpractice on the part of climate scientists have ended up exonerating the accused researchers of all accusations. But never mind: Mr. Perry and those who think like him know what they want to believe, and their response to anyone who contradicts them is to start a witch hunt.

So how has Mr. Romney, the other leading contender for the G.O.P. nomination, responded to Mr. Perry’s challenge? In trademark fashion: By running away. In the past, Mr. Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, has strongly endorsed the notion that man-made climate change is a real concern. But, last week, he softened that to a statement that he thinks the world is getting hotter, but “I don’t know that” and “I don’t know if it’s mostly caused by humans.” Moral courage!

Of course, we know what’s motivating Mr. Romney’s sudden lack of conviction. According to Public Policy Polling, only 21 percent of Republican voters in Iowa believe in global warming (and only 35 percent believe in evolution). Within the G.O.P., willful ignorance has become a litmus test for candidates, one that Mr. Romney is determined to pass at all costs.

So it’s now highly likely that the presidential candidate of one of our two major political parties will either be a man who believes what he wants to believe, even in the teeth of scientific evidence, or a man who pretends to believe whatever he thinks the party’s base wants him to believe.

And the deepening anti-intellectualism of the political right, both within and beyond the G.O.P., extends far beyond the issue of climate change.

Lately, for example, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page has gone beyond its long-term preference for the economic ideas of “charlatans and cranks” — as one of former President George W. Bush’s chief economic advisers famously put it — to a general denigration of hard thinking about matters economic. Pay no attention to “fancy theories” that conflict with “common sense,” the Journal tells us. Because why should anyone imagine that you need more than gut feelings to analyze things like financial crises and recessions?

Now, we don’t know who will win next year’s presidential election. But the odds are that one of these years the world’s greatest nation will find itself ruled by a party that is aggressively anti-science, indeed anti-knowledge. And, in a time of severe challenges — environmental, economic, and more — that’s a terrifying prospect.