Friday, August 31, 2012

Romney's GOP Circus: Some Quick Takeaways.....

Now that the three day GOP dog and pony extravaganza is finished, partially upstaged by Hurricane Isaac, we can examine aspects of the farce. First, the objective was to convert the Mittster into a “human”, i.e. give him a human face – as opposed to the cyborg persona. For this reason, Mitt’s speech writers worked hundreds of hours on his keynote speech and had him practice it for days - even training his facial muscles to evoke the right emotions!

The entire gimmick was to try to lure “undecided voters” into voting for this clown. I mean, give me a break already! If the undecided really want to behold the “real Mitt” they can harken back to the episodes when he slammed a gay kid’s head into the floor at his posh private high school, or directed a blind teacher into a wall at the same school. Think his character changed since then? If so, I have a beachfront home to sell you in Barbados, for a song!

If you don’t want to go back that far, then go back to a half a year or so ago when, during a campaign stop, Mitt unleashed a hysterical outburst (see photo) at a protestor who merely asked why he let so many go at Bain Capital. Unable to countenance such effrontery from an unshaved Occupy guy, Mitt demanded if he didn’t like it he could “move to North Korea”. Really, Mitt? Just because a protestor challenges your bunkum?

Other aspects of this circus didn’t help Mitt much at all. Clint Eastwood - who used to be what Bajans called a “hard seed” actor- now seems to have descended into some kind of Alzheimers' haze resembling Charlon Heston’s after he gave his “pull this rifle from my cold, dead hands” speech. I mean, Clint! Talking to an empty chair? Get your act together there, Rowdy Yates! March thyself into the nearest Alzheimers' Ward! You couldn't have embarrassed your adopted party any more with that sad and sorry sideshow!

Eastwood’s entrance was by surprise, dislocating the convention’s timing last night and delaying the Mittster by a good fifteen minutes. It was definitely a momentum disruptor. Moreover, Eastwood seems to have delivered his anti-Obama spiel ex tempore accusing Obama of being a “lawyer” (Jeez, that’s bad? Ask those wounded, hurting people in Aurora, CO if they’d like to do without them!)

More hilarious, Eastwood went on to say that lawyers “always look carefully at things, make well-reasoned decisions”, and so on. That's bad? How so, again? If this was supposed to be hurting Romney, maybe Clint needs a proper speech writer next time.

Then there was Jeb Bush, the brother of Dumbya who – with Katherine Harris – used Choice point voter rolls to disenfranchise tens of thousands of African American Florida voters so his brother could win Florida in 2000. For those who want to read the sordid details, get hold of Greg Palast’s book, ‘The Best Democracy Money Can Buy', and read Chapter One. People need to see exactly HOW elections get stolen, especially in the lead up to this one on Nov. 6.

Jeb’s main refrain was for Obama to “stop blaming my brother for your own failures on the economy”. Come on, Jeb, you’re supposed to be the smarter brother. The fact is that the financial meltdown which occurred on Bush Jr’s watch rivaled – in financial terms- the destruction and loss of life that transpired from the terror attacks on 9/11 also on his watch. (He ignored a white paper from national security sources head ‘Bin Laden Determined to Attack U.S.’ given him in August.)

We now know, that the 2007-08 financial holocaust was incepted by the unregulated dispersal of over- the- counter (OTC) derivatives called credit default swaps, and was far worse in terms of economic damage than first estimated. While the year after the meltdown (2009) was initially forecast to have about minus 1.5% growth, the actually recession turned out to be nearly twice that, or minus 3.4%. In other words, the devastation left in the wake would take years to correct. Also, given the negative growth, the stimulus should have been twice the size of the one actually passed.

The ensuing devastation, meanwhile, commenced with the collapse of the housing market, but then extended to the credit markets and even bank- to- bank lending (since no bank knew how many credit default swaps its peers held). Because of the market collapse and credit contraction, approaching what could have become a depression, business activity also contracted and more than 14 million people were left without jobs. Many businesses, on account of no bank lending, couldn't even get enough money to sustain day to day operations for a month. ALL this was on Bush!

To make matters worse, the party that now blames Obama for deflecting responsibility (to Bush Jr), was itself responsible for making matters worse by: a) refusing to allocate a large enough stimulus where it could most efficiently work (i.e. to food stamps, unemployment benefit extensions rather than 1/3 being tax cuts) and b) totally blocking all Obama’s legislative Jobs initiatives in order to make him a “one termer”.

Then, having mastered such total obstruction for political gain, Jeb has the outright gall to assert Obama stop blaming his bro. Well, ok, maybe Obama now needs to extend blame to all the obstructionists in the GOP too!

Then there was Staples CEO Tom Stemberg who led the resident troglydytes in a chant “They just don’t get it”. Really? We don’t get that you all are mindlessly cheering for a guy to be prez who shipped off more than 2 million jobs out of country- and cost 1 million others- using his vulture capitalist company? A guy who screams at protestors to “move to North Korea”, and a guy who absolutely refuses to release any tax returns beyond the absolute minimum.. Returns that would show he has no respect for the country he claims to love, since he keeps nearly all his $400 million gains (from complex money shell avoidance schemes) housed in the Caymans and Swiss banks.

And this is a guy you expect us to TRUST?

Stemberg then tried to compare Romney’s “effective business mastery” at Bain, with Solyndra, the solar energy company where he claims $535 million was “wasted” by Obama. But this is false analogy, because Obama was not CEO of Solyndra like Romney was of Bain, so had no control of how Solyndra used the stimulus money it was awarded. Most energy experts in hindsight believe that was a good decision, given our alternative energy needs and dependence on oil, and but for a number of Solyndra missteps it might have turned out differently.

Meanwhile, at Bain, Romney used company buyouts then selling them for a song and releasing millions of workers to make his profits. Is this something to cheer about? Maybe for a doofus like Stemberg. (And btw, after that bullshit, I won’t be buying any more paper, protector sheets, or staples….at Staples. )

Romney was, what can I say? Pathetic. Like Paul Ryan, he talked about college students returning home to live with parents, as if this had nothing to do with his party (obstructing Obama’s jobs legislation) Worse, he concealed the fact his own pro-Ryanesque budget includes increasing college loan interest rates to at least 6% which would keep those kids having to pay off loans almost their whole lives – and staying indefinitely with parents.

But what can you expect from a two-faced lying hypocrite? Hopefully enough people will see through this bullshit façade.

Romney then asked the audience:

“How many days have you woken up thinking something really special was going to happen in America?”

Right! But how could anything special happen when obstructionist assholes, egged on by Tea Bagger morons, refused to pass the legislation that would allow those special things to materialize?

Mitt’s choicest pitch was that he’s a “businessman” and that Obama “took office without the basic qualification most Americans have: He’d never worked in a business.”

But is “business” a be- all and end- all attribute, say that can make one more worthy of being a president? G. Dumbya Bush was a “businessman” too when inserted into office in 2000. Trouble was, he wrecked two businesses: Arbusto Oil (which he had to sell when it was losing) and the forlorn Texas Rangers which Bush also had to ditch after piling up humongous debt.

Meanwhile, Romney’s business experience has been devoted to destroying American jobs, either outsourcing them or simply snuffing them via venture capitalist transactions - like he did to Joe Soptic. Oh…..then taking the enormous profits and stuffing them in offshore tax avoidance locations in the Caymans and Swtizerland.

This guy brags about being a “real American”. But with many more Americans like him we won’t have much of a country left, especially if he gets elected. (Blogger Bud Budowsky has, correctly I believe, referred to this coming election as the country's "last stand" for any more social progress or domestic priorities. If the nation goes nuts or punts to elect Romney -Ryan we're not in for a return of Reaganism, but a return of the "Robber Barons".)

What the GOP Convention proved, if nothing else, is they’re still not ready to be handed any reins of power. Not yet, and not for some time to come. If Americans are foolish enough to hand them power, they will have effectively committed national suicide.

Hopefully people realize that! If we have a reincarnation of Bush II, with that sucking sound accompanying it in terms of lost jobs, more lost wars, exploding deficits, crumbling infrastructure, and burgeoning poor, there may not be another chance to recover....ever. Look for our decline to be permanent and

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Worms in Human Brains: Why The Epidemic?

In parts of the West Indies, it's often seen with people that babble on street corners, or act aberrantly in other ways, stumbling, slurred speech and behavior otherwise mistaken for that of an excess rum drinker. In extreme cases, victims experience violent seizures, become partially blind or lapse into comas. When they arrive at a hospital, if they can, shunts often need to be implanted to relieve cranial pressure - because worm cysts have unleashed so much fluid in the brain.

Parasitic worms, especially which burrow into brains, aren't everyone's cup of tea - but on account of global warming or for whatever reason, they seem to be proliferating and causing an epidemic. Mainly one species, identified as Taenia solium, or the tapeworm. Best known for inhabiting the human intestine, where they can reach a length of 21 feet - and make the victims feel as if they're constantly hungry. Hence, they may consume gargantuan amounts but only to feed the worm or worms.

Less well known is that before the worms become adults they spend time as larvae in large cysts, which may find their way into the brain (see image) and cause a condition known as neurocysticercosis. Lowball estimates suggest 5 million cases of epilepsy arising from this condition, worldwide. The numbers seem to be increasing as the worm -cyst invasion of the human body is increasing. Most of the cases, understandably, are in the less developed world.

The spectrum of possible damage is mind blowing. For example, once having migrated to a brain, the cysts can thrive there for years feeding off the nutrients in the environs. As the cysts grow they can push relentlessly against critical regions of the brain causing a spate of symptoms. Some doctors in the Caribbean believe a number of cases where islanders have run amuck with machetes arose from cyst pressure on the amygdala - the "fear center" of the brain.

In other instances, a cyst can get stuck in a passage way, blocking the flow of cerebro-spinal fluid and lead to a condition called hydrocephalus or water on the brain, along with a dangerously high pressure. The resulting brain hernia can lead to stupor, coma or death.

Even when the body's immune system works to confront the invader cysts the way it should events may not unfold well. The immune system's attack on the resident cysts may then cause the surrounding brain tissue to swell, with inflammation. Worse, a calcified cyst can keep triggering such immune reactions for years.

One forecast by some biologists, is that as global warming ramps up so will the invasion of a host of pests, including parasitic worms, including fluke worms. See, e.g.

We have already beheld the spread of West Nile virus, but dengue fever isn't far behind. The several thousand new cases of worm infestation in U.S. brains now documented may well be the leading edge of a stronger invasion. Who knows how many will end up with cysts in their brains, say after another 1 degree Celsius of warming, virtually fueling a tape worm explosion - mainly in the South.

It is well to be aware of these pests, and also to be alert for the signs of possible quirky behavior in others, who may already have cysts in their brains such as those shown.

Atrazine Crazy! Welcome to Cancer Nation!

One thing about this country is it's nuts about beautifully lush green lawns. Trouble is, you are warned not to recline on them or let kids play on them. Why? Often because atrazine or some other weed killer has been dispersed. People, like me, who have gotten cancer, don't simply believe the rot we brought it on ourselves - say from eating too many of the wrong foods. Often, it's because of all the toxins in our environment.

Most Americans, cocooned as they are from real news and information, would literally shit bricks if they knew the extent to which they were being poionsed by their corporate Overseers. Hey, maybe that's the corporations way to dumb us all down or....maybe thin our numbers! Induce 548,000 cancers a year then make the bozos think it's their foods that are responsible. Don't eat that hot dog! It's got nitrites and you''ll get cancer! (Just move along, never mind that toxic chemical salesman trying to sell atrazine over there).

And atrazine is another horrific carcinogen used in most weedicides. Though people are led to believe the stuff is as innocent as some water lilies...and hey, your kids can still roll around on the lawn after you spray it. Yeah right! Just be sure if you do that you take out special cancer only insurance policies! Nopers, my lawn doesn't look as green and lush as the neighbors'. Weeds, dandelions especially, sprout all over the place. I try to manually keep them under control (carefully removing dandelion "poppers" or seeder -hase balls) but that's about all.

But what I will not do, no matter how much better the lawn would look, is spray some shit with atrazine all over it! At least I can sit down on my lawn or even stretch out, even among the weeds, something two of my neighbors across the street dare not do...if they have a grain of sense!

Atrazine is a synthetic chemical that belongs to the triazine class of herbicides. The technical name is 2-chloro-4-ethylamino-6-isopropyl-1,3,5 triazine. In the U.S. farmers alone apply nearly 65 million pounds of the stuff per year. Yes, most degrades in the environment, but not before it's re-applied and ends up on fruits and veggies at your grocery.

The EPA itself permits up to 3 parts per billion of it, which the toxic industry people will tell you is "low dose and low risk" . What they won't say is that low dose exposure over long times, often leads to high risk. Well, don't take my word. Ask the 14 employees at Sygenta's St. Gabriel, LA plant who developed prostate cancer after ten years' exposure. This was out of 600 total employees, but the rate was still nine times higher than would be expected in the statewide population. (Discover, Feb. 2003, p. 53)

Here's the primary thing to understand about atrazine: It contaminates water even in states that it's not used! Hell, in Switzerland, where it's banned (my Swiss friend Rolf tells me it's listed as a carcinogen) atrazine is present at 1 part per billion even in the Alps. The effect on amphibians is especially pronounced with the ability of the chemical to convert exposed male frogs into females. In terms of human newborns, in the states with the highest use (IL, IN, IA), there is a notable risk of birth defects, including hypospadia in male infants.

What may be remarkable is there aren't more birth defects and cancers pervading the country. But then, who knows? A TIME article barely a year ago did note the appearance of "accidentoplasms" - newly found cancers - uncovered in patients who had MRIs for some other reason. It was estimated by that writer that if all these accidential neoplasms were actually treated the health care budget would explode by nearly a factor of two. Then there is the other fact that most men are harboring prostate cancers, and they don't even know it. How many of these were from exposure to excess levels of atrazine? We don't know, but I guess those guys can be thankful most prostate cancers are slow growing.

The next 'Stand up To Cancer' musical extravaganza and fund raiser is scheduled for September 7th. There will be a huge hue and cry for all of us "to do something" to halt cancer in all its forms. What I will be waiting to see is whether they highlight the toxic chemical industry in any way, shape or form and call for new toxic release inventories. While the current ad banners loudly blare 'Let's END cancer!', that won't be realized until we bring the toxic chemical purveyors to heel.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Parsing the General Welfare Clause

With all the Repugs in high dudgeon railing against Obama and his "socialism" (sic) it is well to re-examine the general welfare clause of the Constitution which they'd prefer to ignore. The Preamble of The Constitution commences:

“We the PEOPLE of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity….”

This passage has been a source of never-ending squabbling over every issue from states’ rights, to the degree of control vis-à-vis the individual vs. the collective or common good.

Much of this, I believe, is unnecessary and merely discloses an inability of current citizens to think or even conceive of the community or the commons. So brainwashed have we become by the screeds of either ‘rugged individualism’ or Social Darwinism.

In this timely blog (coinciding with the Reepos' convention platform which intends to repeal individual rights)  I’d like to show that understanding the clause “promote the general welfare” need not be as difficult or as intractable as some Rightists and Libertarians have made it to be. Once one removes the dross and clutter of misconstrued language its meaning is almost self-evident.

Let’s begin by quickly dispatching some of the more common canards, often circulated by the Right's darlings, like the Tea Baggers. One is that the clause refers only to military defense, or that "no positive social rights inhere in the Constitution". (All rights are ipso facto, "negative",  expressing what gov't may not do).This conveniently excludes any basis for social spending, but is erroneous on inspection. (Albeit convenient for rightists who feel free to run up any deficits they want when they're in power, so long as the tab is for military wars of choice, toys, and tax cuts.)

The reason is that the phrase – “provide for the common defense” is separate from that to “promote the general welfare.” Hence, the two have no commonality in terms of language, unless one supposes the writer was deliberately redundant.

Another common error is to invoke the ‘fallacy of division’ in this case, disputing that “promotion of the general welfare” refers to anything other than the United States as the entity whose ‘welfare’ is being considered. This again is falsified on inspection. Note that the Preamble begins:

We the PEOPLE…”

Not “The United States”. In fact, the United States is itself an artifact of the people’s will and their creation, as elucidated say in 'The Federalist Papers', by James Madison, i.e. comparing the federal system to the solar system.. The Constitution, composed by the “people”, engendered the United States as a new national entity. In the context, therefore, the United States as this manufactured entity and abstraction cannot of itself have a “general welfare”. Only PEOPLE (citizens) can possess or aspire to a general welfare. Not people as disparate individuals, but as a collective or commonality aspiring (in common cause) toward a good.

Prof. Garry Wills (‘A Necessary Evil: A History Of American Distrust of Government’, Simon & Schuster, 1999) further reinforces this point in his chapter ‘Constitutional Myths’(p. 108). He notes that citizens alone possess rights, which neither the states nor the federal government share. Both the latter retain powers and prerogatives, but not rights.

The Ninth Amendment states that “the people retain unenumerated rights.” "The people:"  here refers to flesh and blood citizens, not to a bunch of contractual abstractions (states), or to corporations, as Mitt Romney seems to believe.. As Wills emphasizes and underscores (ibid.):

“The states have no natural rights. Their powers are artificial, not natural – they are things made by contract.”

By extension, the “United States’ may be regarded as the set of all such states (in "the Union", as defined by The Constitution) for which rights are forged by contract. To that extent, its power – as an ensemble of separate states unified in political comity – is also artificial not natural. In this context, as an artificial contractual entity, it cannot possess a “general welfare”.

But neither can separate individuals possess a “general welfare”! Since, to say so is to mix the particular with the general. Clearly then, general welfare and its promotion must refer to something essential to the general collective and its good, which also would contribute to the goals set out in The Constitution.

What are these goals, that we might give at least one example of the general welfare?

One is “the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness”.

What  manner of “general welfare” might be associated with this?

Without a doubt, one form is “health care”. Why? Because the accessibility to health care (of a form that doesn’t bankrupt) implies a prerequisite for the opportunity to pursue “life, liberty and happiness.” Without the potential to access such affordable care, a person – say with a severe back injury or chronic disease – cannot pursue the goal. And assuming s/he can, it will not be a pursuit with achievement at the end, in all probability.

Thus the general welfare is enhanced (“promoted”) by the general health of the PEOPLE who comprise it. By contrast, the general welfare is subverted (“demoted” or undermined) if most of the PEOPLE are permitted to suffer their respective health crises, injuries and diseases without attention.

Can the general welfare clause be invoked to justify an executive mandate for creation of a host of agencies, or large government bureaucracy, committed to something such as “universal health care” say? No it cannot. The clause doesn’t stipulate this at all, only that it is expected there will be attention by government to promotion of the general welfare.

What this means is that the particular means to satisfy the clause’s implementation is left to government. If legislation is approved, it’s permissible. In this case, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is indeed permissible, and the Republican intent to overturn is a red flag warning of their hostility to the general welfare clause, and hence, the Constitution.

They can bark and howl all they want that “rights come from God”, but if they overturn this critical act, they’ll surely show that derelict and ideologically-driven humans have a greater hold on limiting unenumerated, fundamental rights than any deity.

Most controversial, and with which many will disagree, is the citizens' right to privacy. Again, while not explicitly stated in the Constitution as an enumerated right, it can be regarded as an unenumerated right under the Ninth Amendment. Privacy in this case, means the citizen ought to be protected in his own domecile from unwanted snooping, intervention into his affairs and monitoring ---- say by drones using a type of stealth radar technology outside his window. It also means, government ought to have as a priority protecting his name and identity - as opposed to having loose laws that enable them to be commercialized and sold to any snoop that's interested.

The reason no "God" can be the source of human rights, especially the unenumerated, is that only we humans are capable of conceiving them. This also assures us that only humans are capable of taking them away - as the Repugs seem bent on doing with Obama's health care plan.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Can Marijuana Really Turn Kids Into Adult Morons?

An AP report today seemed to jump out, under the banner: "TEEN POT USE LINKED TO IQ DECLINE". with the alarming subtitle: "Data: Marijuana Harms Brain's Development".  Evidently this study carried out on "participants in New Zealand" and under the auspices of lead researcher Madeleine Meyer of Duke University, and co-author Richie Poulton of the University of Otago in New Zealand, discloses that teens who use weed before age 18 have much to worry about. Their brains may then experience a decline into relative  "moron-hood" by adult middle age. Not a good sign!

But is it true? Or should we have some flashing warning lights going off?

First, the basic findings: The New Zealand participants were tested for IQ at age 13 to provide an initial baseline, or reference mark. This age was chosen as likely to be before any marijuana use.  The IQ test was then repeated at the age of 38. The results showed that a notable  (e.g. 8 point) mental decline between the two ages was evident only for those who regularly began smoking pot before 18. In other words, if a kid at 13 had an IQ of 100 (average on most IQ scales, e.g. Stanford -Binet) then at 38 if his IQ had fallen to 92 he'd be within one standard deviation of being labeled "mentally deficient" (Marked at an IQ of 80).  "Moron", technically,  doesn't begin until an IQ below 70, so pardon the title of the blog - used, I admit, to grab attention.

The authors noted this is a significant finding given there are anywhere from 119 million to 224 million users in the world, as of 2010, according to UN reports.

In the U.S. alone, according to surveys (as noted in the AP press report), 23% of high school students admitted to recently smoking pot. And this is likely an under-estimate, since maybe 1 in 3 kids wouldn't admit doing it for any survey - even one promising anonymity. Even if the 23% figure is accurate, it would make pot even more popular than cigarettes.

Of course, the voices of authority chirped up. Lead author Meier warned:

"Parents should understand that their adolsecents are particularly vulnerable."

And from Staci Gruber, of Harvard-affiliated MacLean Hospital in Belmont, MA:

"The idea that marijuana harms the adolescent brain is something we believe is very likely".

She did add, to her credit, that this finding "warrants further investigation". You don't say!

Meanwhile, other innominate "experts" threw in their two cents by adding "the new research is an advance because its methods avoid criticisms of earlier work, which generally did not measure mental performance before marijuana use began."

Okay, it's time to enumerate some other problems I have with this study:

A primary one is that it's been published (according to the AP report) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of  Sciences, a journal from a government agency and we know the feds are currently waging a vigorous battle against the use of medical marijuana in at least 6 states, including California and Colorado. The last straw for may Coloradans, indeed, was a recent ruling by a lower court judge that the federal anti-MJ law may trump Colorado's existing law that permits medical MJ dispensaries. Well, a bad time in the election cycle for THAT ruling!

Beyond that, the NAS is still notorious in the minds of many of us in deep politics because of their "acoustic study" after the original House Select Committee on Assassinations (1978-79) MIT team found a 95% probability for conspiracy in the JFK assassination. But no, the NAS team under Dr. Norman Ramsey entered and attempted to refute the findings of the original Weiss' team. Among the complaints of researcher W. Antony Marsh:

"The NAS did not allow any dialogue with critics to review and challenge such a study. They worked in total secrecy. In fact, they did not even make their raw materials available so that other researchers could try to duplicate their work."

The above is extremely pivotal, since in any bona fide scientific milieu, reproducibility of results is all important. Since the Ramsey analysis - whatever its merits or otherwise - lacks the benefit of confirmation, and hence can't be adopted as any "replacement" conclusion for the original. In my own book, I also go into more details on Ramsey et al's deficiencies. 

Then there is the issue of selection bias. In other words, did the researchers cherry pick their results, to get the desired outcome? There are also dozens of other suspect techniques in statistics which can be employed to nudge conclusions in particular directions, especially if the sample sizes aren't properly taken into account when using a method - whether the chi-squared test, z-test or any others. I could highlight here an example noted in my book, 'The JFK Assassination: The Final Analysis' wherein I point out how the Ramsey team misidentified the nature of a Poisson distribution in their attempted criticisms of the Weisss-Barger study. (I compared their alleged Poisson, with a genuine one published by me in a 1984 paper in Solar Physics.)

One of the most notorious examples of biased statistics was for a paper produced by solar workers Sallie Baliunas and Willie Soon, which attempted to overturn or challenge an earlier IPCC result. In it, critics only later pointed out that the duo's choice of  50-year data periods, increments  was egregious when the IPCC scientists already disclosed anthropogenic engendered warming requires a resolution of at 30 -year levels. In effect, Baliunas and Soon employed what we call a 'selective effects filter' to exclude the data they prefer not to deal with. Or rather, retain only that which serves their agenda and that of their corporate (and right wing) benefactors.  Interested readers can read more of the kerfuffle here

Then there's the point that any one who's ever taught at college level or lower knows that alcohol, as beer or even hard liquor, are more accessible and widely used than marijuana. So why was a parallel study not performed to either: a) exclude that any of the NZ  users were imbibing beer or other alcoholic beverages, or b) assessing the ability of any alcohol use to have similar effects to MJ.

Other factors are also evident since we know "de-myelination" occurs about age 11 (cf. 'Evolution's End', by John Chilton Pearce, pp. 100-101). Pearce observes (p. 101) that at age 11,  "80 percent of the neural mass of the brain disappears", in preparation for new connections to be established. Thus, we end up with the same brain weight as at 18 months. This occurs as all neural structures not myelinated are removed from the scene, a kind of chemical cleaning up.  The loss of mass is, of course, compensated for by greater numbers of new neural connections and hence more efficient brain operation. But Pearce still warns "use it or lose it".

Might it not be possible that some other factor makes it more plausible for teen MJ users to lose the ability for their neurons to re-establish new patterns, to replace what was lost? Have the researchers ruled out all other agents? I mentioned alcohol, but what about others? We know kids in the U.S. are into everything from licking toads' to sniffing cans of mom's hairspray. Have all these been absolutely ruled out?

Finally, a hidden "demon" lurks and threatens to hurl a major spanner into the works. That is, the finding that teen IQ seems to change over time . Did the researchers take this into full account? (It also appears that, apart from teens, IQ can change over time for people of any age.
We need to wait and see what further results are forthcoming and especially if this study's conclusions can be confirmed.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Guest Blog: "2016 Obama's America": A Disgustingly Dishonest Film

BY Mike Ghouse -

Like most of the movies, it is a good, bad and an ugly movie. The film producer Dinesh D’Souza has propounded a preposterous hypothesis of colonialism and its effects on the subjected people. He has made a serious attempt to force-fit Obama into his own projection to prove his theory. I must admit it is a grandiose effort and has a greater appeal for conspiratorial theorists and offers plenty to gossip circles.
The title claims Love Him, Hate Him and you don't know him. I did not see the first part; Love him. If the producer was someone else, it would not have bothered me, but he has claimed to be an intellectual, but in the movie, he lacks the simple intellectual integrity by not presenting another point of view. That is not fair to the Americans. Perhaps he believes everything is acceptable in politics and wars.

It is clearly a propaganda movie, the right wingers among us Republicans will buy anything that is anti-Obama, and they probably swallow D’Souza relentless coaxing Obama’s brother to tell him that Obama did not take care of his family.

However, the Republicans with common sense will see that D’Souza carries his own cultural baggage to have asked that question; for God’s sake Obama was not connected with that family. The Democrats will certainly enjoy the rebuke from Obama’s brother. He tells D’Souza that he is an adult and on his own, Obama has his own issues, and a life to deal with. Perhaps, Obama’s brother is more Republican than D’Souza who was advocating hand outs. I am surprised D’Souza did not edit this out, as it goes against his propaganda.

The good part of the movie is acknowledging in a matter of factly manner that Obama was born in Hawaii, his birth was recorded in the hospital and announced in two news papers. Not only that, he shows him and Obama were born on the same day. Ironically, the movie is a clear slap on the birthers.

It was disgustingly dishonest of D’Souza to show Israeli flag being pulled down while he was interviewing Daniel Pipes. Was he trying to instill fear among Jews, and the Christian Zionists? What about millions of other Israelis and Jews who have an opposite opinion of Israeli occupation? Was D’Souza pandering to the right?

Where on the earth do some of the right wingers get their brains from? They talk as if Obama is the Absolute King and his word is the law of the land. The conspiracy that Obama will turn America in to a socialist nation is ridiculous. Nothing happens without Congress and Senate passing the bills.

Indeed most of the bad acts have happened when all the three branches of government were run by either Republicans or Democrats. As Americans we need to figure out a way to maintain the integrity of our system of checks and balance.

No party should be given overwhelming majority in either house, those men and women become evil with such a majority, a simple majority to Republicans in the house and a simple majority to the Democrats in the senate will keep our nation safe and secure. Whether it is Obama or Romney, they cannot sign the bills into law, until these suckers have debated and agreed to it. I rather them fight than slam dunk the bill with their evil majorities.

Bill Clinton left a chunky budget surplus after Reagan and Bush Sr., had piled up the debts, indeed, it was the Vice-Presidential nominee Senator Lloyd Bentsen who told Bush, that I can make the country look grandeur if I charge everything on credit card without having the sources to pay back.

It was the Junior Bush’s reckless war mongering that got us into trouble; it was Bush who signed a $700 billion bail out to the Wall Streeters to pay bonuses to the CEO’s for failing the banks. Obama inherited the down spiral and fed more to it with this health care over job creation priority.

As a Republican myself, Romney Presidency and a house and senate Republican majority frightens me; he is a ruthless business man and his attitude would be, if you are sick, take care of yourselves, government is not in the business of taking care of you, it is the game of survival of the fittest. May be he is invincible like some of the right wingers, but most Americans are vulnerable one time or the other in their lives.

Did Romney’s huge charitable donations were restricted to Mormons, or were they like Catholic Charities that benefits the whole humanity? Is he there to take care of his buddies or is he there for America?

His effort to appease Netanyahu and his ilk (Not Israel, as Netanyahu does not represent the will of the majority of the people of Israel or Jews around the world) he may give a green signal to Israel to bomb Iran, what Bush did to America, Romney will double it. The average American gets the shaft, while these guys have safe heavens to live on.

Do we want another reckless President or do we want someone who can get Osama Bin Laden with least expense and damage, and talk Iran out of it without sacrificing possibly another 5000 of our men and women on the battle field as a collateral damage, do we want our sons and daughters killed, and for what? Will Romney and Netanyahu will be holocausting Iran, self-destructing Israel, and running a huge deficit and ruining the Average American’s life?

D’Souza wanted to appease the right that Colonialism benefited the subjects, despite the subjects getting legitimately raped.

I keep forgetting that the movie was propaganda and I don’t need to worry about the truth. However, I walked out of the movie grim faced and took me several hours to recover.
By the way, I fall in the category of moderate Republicans to whom America is first and foremost, and not hesitant to be critical of the bad leadership among Republicans.
D’Souza’ movie boomerangs on Republicans; has finally helped me make a decision to go with the least of the two evils; Obama.
I appeal to my fellow Republicans to sanitize ourselves and just have one bloody mouth, than talk from two sides of our body: when we talk about freedom, let’s mean it, and not talk about taking away choices from a woman about her body; when we talk about individual liberties, let’s not rip that right from gay couples marrying each other, and when we talk about freedom of religion, let’s not be sadists in passing laws restricting Muslims to practice their religion. When we talk about bad economy, let’s take some blame for initiating the useless wars.
As I am set out to make a movie about Americans Together, I was cringing, would I be honest enough to tell the truth or would I project my own theories and force fit situations to make my theory look fantastic? I do know that I would not bet on the commerciality of the movie, and compromise the truth.
The movie at best panders to the right wingers who are possibly a vociferous minority trying to dictate the nation. As I was walking out of the theater, I heard fellow Republicans concerned about the bull, and I could not resist jumping and saying, I wish he had presented another side of Obama, they said, yes, we noticed that.

The "Black Death": Not So Nasty After All?

In  a previous blog I considered whether the "Black Death" could strike again, especially in the more developed parts of the world - such as the U.S. I also noted the case of a  a 50-something male in Oregon (monitored with the disease and  then in critical condition).   In addition, some years earlier a couple from New Mexico contracted the plague - evidently from contact with prairie dogs in that state. (This case was highlighted on an episode of 'Discovery Health'). They didn't find out they had it until they went on a Christmas vacation to the Big Apple - where one pathologist finally recognized it. Alas, the poor plauge-infected dude had to have a gangrenous foot lopped off.

But maybe we're getting worked up, or at least I am, for nothing. According to a paper published in the Oct. 27, 2011 issue of Nature, The Black Death or Plague was really no "biggie". Certainly not as fierce, or foreboding as made out to be. For example, recall from the earlier link I cited Sean Martin, the author of 'The Black Death'  (2007), who claimed that the disease was "traditionally thought to be a mixture of bubonic, septicaemic, and pneumonic plague" and he speculates on some unnamed 'third factor' that may have made it even more virulent.

The Nature authors point out that Yersinia pestis, though genetically similar to the modern strain, is confined almost exclusively to rodents and encounter difficulty in transferring from human to human. Moreover, antibiotics and other advances have rendered this disease more amenable to treatments. Still, it remains a  mystery why exactly the ancient strain was so devastating to humans - wiping out nearly half of Europe's population between 1347 and 1351. In a modern era in which we confront new bugs like Avian Flu and five forms of Ebola (one not yet in humans), these are issues that need settling.

Then there is Dengue fever, which infected mosquitoes are being driven ever more northward by climate change-global warming. I contracted Dengue once while in the West Indies, following a one month junket to St. Lucia where we trained new Peace Corps volunteers, and it was like having a bad flu but one in which at least half your bones felt broken.  I escaped a 2nd and worst, a 3rd infection, which likely would have left me with Dengue hemorraghic fever where you bleed almost as bad as from Ebola.

By comparison, West Nile Fever now terrorizing some 46 states, is small pocket change. I sympathize with the residents of Big D, but they better hope Dengue fever never comes their way.

Anyway, an international team investigating Yersinia pestis and having plucked DNA from the remains of plague victims buried in London's East Smithfield cemetary found the medieval microbe had nearly the same genetic code as its modern variant. They found absolutely no evidence that some genetic mutation was unleashed in the 14th century and enhanced the death toll. (This appeared in the same paper published in the Journal Nature, Oct. 27, 2011.)

Their verdict? The massive deaths were most likely a result of the deplorable, unsanitary living conditions peculiar to the time ....what with human waste and garbage left out to breed maggots and rot in the open in streets, along with other refuse. Thus, non-genetic factors reflecting a lower quality of life that made the disease more lethal than it ought to have been - say if it erupted today.   Malnutrition also provided a ready made source of easy infection, given that the victims had already had their immune systems weakened by hunger and terrible living conditions. Hence, they were unable to fight off the ravages of plague.

But again, the other question that remains to be answered is whether such a massive return of the plague might recur IF our living conditions also worsened to make them similar to those of 14th century Europe, say under massive austerity pressure fueled by bond pirates and Neoliberal imps. Contrary to the wishful thinking of many, this isn't as far fetched as they'd like to believe. Assume a Mitt Romney administration entering the scene next year and governing with their proposed massive tax cuts requiring enormous cuts in food stamps (affecting 45 million), Medicaid (affecting nearly 54 million) and other key programs. Imagine also that no infrastructure repair is mandated while Pentagon budgets increase 40%.. Sewer lines break, water mains rupture..What do you suppose might happen? (And btw, let's bear in mind a resistant bacteria are everywhere and neutralzing even the most powerful antibiotics, and global warming is ramping up to the point of causing our power grids to crash.)

Well, increasingly unsanitary living conditions, as sewage ruptures into the streets and in homes from thousands of sewage systems reaching the end of the line, for one. Then add malnourished citizens, hence weakened immune systems, prey to every bug that comes down the pike, and no place to go for treatment with Medicaid sliced and diced.

In other words, the perfect brew for Yersinia pestis if it emerged when such conditions had readed a nadir, say after 3 years of Romney-ism, and especially after he mandates no more antibiotics except for the wealthiest- too big a cost for the nation.

Unlikely? Maybe, but I wouldn't want to test the scenario by voting Romney-Ryan!

The People Have Spoken: But Will the Neoliberal Elites Listen?

"The American economy is no longer based on competition among more or less equal private capitalists. It is now dominated by huge corporations that, contrary to classical economic theory, control demand rather than being responsive to the demands of the market."  - 

D. Stanley Eitzen and Maxine Baca-Zinn, In Conflict and Order, p. 343.

That is the question that must be asked in the wake of an Associated Press- GfK poll on public attitudes toward Social Security, with the primary finding that 53% would rather see taxes increased than benefits cut. Only 36% opt for cutting benefits, by comparison. Well, duh? What would you expect when more than 48% currently rely on Social Security as their sole source of income, and 95% of these people (most infirm, disabled or well over 70)  wouldn't be able to work to make up lost benefits if their lives literally depended on it. So, we can say - according to the time honored cliche - they know what side their bread is buttered on.

In the words of one elder, 77-year old widow Marge Youngs, from Toledo, Ohio ('Poll: Raise Taxes to Save Social Security', Denver Post, today, p. 14A):

"Right now it seems that we're taxed too much, but if that would be the only way to go, I guess I'd have to be for it to preserve it. It's extremely important to me, it's most of my income."

Indeed. But let's first clear up one of Marge's misperceptions: we are NOT "taxed too much". This is imbibing the Repubs' (especially Grover Norquist's) kool aid. As a percentage of GDP taxes are their lowest in nearly 50 years.  Excluding Chile and Mexico, the United States raises less tax revenue, as a share of the economy, than every other industrial country.

THIS is the reality! So, common sense and rational response dictates that raising revenues- taxes would be the primo and foremost solution beyond making cuts which would have devastating effects. In fact, there are good arguments that Social Security benefits ought to be increased. (Especially with a large swatch of retirees not earning squat on interest bearing accounts, and food prices set to soar next year.)

Besides, the simplest solution of all would simply be to expose more of income to payroll tax collection. Currently, only the first $110,000 of income is subjected to the FICA (withholding tax). Obama in 2008 advocated raising the bar to all incomes over $250,000, but even this is chintzy given Social Security's projected shortfalls. The program is facing serious (but not overwhelming, like Medicare) long term problems, most engendered by congress critters pilfering and raiding the program - to the tune of more than $2.56 trillion -plus over the decades, mainly to cravenly hide the actual deficits. (See attached graph.)

The Neoliberal,  lying elites meanwhile want to blame the now retiring millions of Boomers for the Trustees' projection that Social Security will only be able to pay out 75% of benefits by 2033, but they are wrong. The "Boomer" problem was actually solved back in 1983 at the behest of then Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, and agreed to by Ronald Reagan. To that end, the FICA taxes were increased to 6.2%. But the Neoliberal scum would have you believe that this was never done, or as Robert Samuelson once wrote me in a response email when I noted it in a letter sent to him: "That was nearly 30 years ago, look at all the inflation since." Oh yeah? How 'bout instead looking at all the massive thievery from the program the past 11 years? (See bottom green inset table for amounts raided since 2000).

Why do I refer to Neoliberal scum? Because that is what these miscreants are! They peddle the propaganda that "markets" must rule over all and sundry, but as the quote at the top discloses, "free markets" are a myth and have been since the 1920s-30s, or maybe earlier. Never mind, the Neolibs don't want anyone violating their precious Pareto optimality conditions, meaning no one ought to be collecting diddly simply by meeting a certain age requirement or breathing.

Perhaps the best summary take ever on the Neoliberal vermin was penned by Baltimore Sun columnist Jay Bookman more than 15 years ago ('The New World Disorder Evident Here, Abroad')

"The global economy has been constructed  on the premise that government guarantees of security and protection must be avoided at all costs, because they discourage personal initiative. In times of crisis, however, that premise cannot be sustained politically. In times of trouble it is human nature to seek security and protection and to be drawn toward those who promise to provide it. That is how men such as Adolf Hitler, and Vladimir Ilyich Lenin came to power, with disastrous consequences. "

This correctly sums it up, and why the Neoliberal -"pro market god"  Elites will likely ignore the latest poll, as they've ignored others. Thus, look for the Neolibs in both parties to recommend instead adopting a disgusting revision of the COLA, probably in the form of the despicable "chained CPI" which assumes when prices of say bacon go higher, the elderly will turn to Spam, when Spam prices go higher, they will turn to small pieces of beef jerky, and when those latter go higher, well they will turn to cat food. In other words, we call it the "Catfood Progression Indicator" COLA. You "progress" to cheaper and cheaper options as your grocery bills keep increasing.

In terms of who is trusted more to protect Social Security, Obama and Romney poll almost neck and neck with the Mittster getting 44% support and Obama 47%. I suspect Obama is within the measured uncertainty mainly because of his ill-advised "Deficit Commission" which played directly into the Neolibs' disgusting hands and onto the Repuke -Norquist wicket. (Tabbing two Neolib whores, Alan B. Simpson and Ernest Bowles, to head this commission didn't help) Worse, was when Obamanites remotely mentioned using the Chained CPI as a "solution" - confirming many oldsters' worst fears that Obama might not be as protective of Social Security as he'd earlier let on. This has died down for now, but we are still reading of ominous news items that - if re-elected- Obama intends to "cooperate more" with Republicans next year on getting legislation passed. I thought we already proved that's a non-starter, Mr. Prez. I say if you win, use your "political capital" and tell the repups to fuck themselves. Drop the Nice Guy persona already! Keep up the Chicago tough guy shtick. You're gonna need it!

Sadly, too many of the young under-30 sprats have imbibed too much kool aid. One guy named "Jeff Victory" quoted in the D. Post piece blabbed, ignorantly:

"Barack has already shown he's going to give anything free out to everyone he possibly can. I'm going to go with Romney on that one."

Oh yeah? Then you deserve to suck on the shit balls that Romney will serve up and which you will be expected to live on, if you make it to 65 or 69 (if the Rs get their way and increase the age for full benefits). Another thing this moron misses is that Social Security is NOT welfare, it's not "free" - we have paid into it our whole working lives! Maybe we can make excuses that this moron saw the moronic new movie "Obama's America 2016" or some title to that effect. (What I couldn't believe is the report in today's paper that it reached number 8 at the box office with a $6.2 million take. I could not believe that many stupid people were willing to shell out good money to watch propaganda, especially from a Neoliberal hack named Dinesh D'Souza.  Then I realized most had to be Repubs, or Ayn Rand Groupies.

The bottom line is if Obama is re-elected, as he ought to be, he needs to lay out a serious plan to save Social Security and one that doesn't entail using "Republican " solutions! That would not be why we re-elected you, Sir!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Time Cloak: Did Physicists Really Make Events Undetectable?

Sometimes curious papers appear in dry physics journals, whether Physical Review D, or in this case, The Journal of Optics. For the paper in question, the author – one Martin McCall of Imperial College, London, proposed splitting a beam of light into 2 components moving at differing speeds. Let one component have speed v2 and the other v1 and if v2 > v1 then the first component would build a lead on the slower one, thereby opening up a complete gap of darkness between them. In this way, any event occurring (or deliberately inserted) within the gap would be undetectable.

One would basically have a “time cloak”.

McCall went one step further, proposing the re-integration of the two components before the information-bearing total light beam reached an observer. (Keep in mind it is precisely light which makes events visible in time). In such a scenario, there’d be no way to determine or detect the darkness gap ever existed in the first place.

While McCall didn’t construct this device – he estimated 5-10 years to complete- he was correct in that ultimately a team of physicists led by Alexander Gaeta, did develop a device (which he called a “time lens”) that could alter the speed of light for a specific beam. Recall here, again, from my earlier blog that light alters its speed when passing through a material.

When transiting to a higher density medium, the velocity of light slows, and conversely increases in moving from higher density medium to lower. The time lens combined the two processes by intersecting a pre-existing beam of light with a laser just as the former passed through a glass fiber. Gaeta's original objective, however, had nothing to do with time cloaks. It was to slow down a light beam enough to measure rapidly changing phenomena such as in controlled explosions.

It was only after he’d read McCall’s paper he realized he could also use the time lens to speed up one segment of a light beam and slow down the other. Thus motivated, Gaeta and his crack team assembled a network of optical fibers with lasers and time lenses scattered along the route. On one auspicious say in April, 2011, Gaeta happened to send a light beam into one end of an optical fiber, then through his time lens splitting the beam in 2.

As McCall had earlier theorized, when the leading segment surged ahead a “time gap” was created and widened. By the time the split beam had traversed one kilometer (about five eighths of a mile) the time gap reached 15 trillionths of a second. At this maximal gap point the experimenters fired a laser across the conducting fiber, introducing a fiducial mark or marker.

Now, in the scheme of observation in a normal time sequence, when a laser beam impacts a beam of light, its color change indicating a change of frequency. In Gaeta’s team’s case, however, the created darkness gap worked to perfection. By virtue of the laser transiting the darkness gap or time gap the color of the beam remain unchanged, in other words the putative color change event was cloaked.

Now, the most intriguing part of the experiment: after transiting another time lens which had the reverse effect on the light components (i.e. speeding up the slower segment, slowing the faster one) the re-integrated beam reached its end point and with the exact same properties as when it began. Hence, no outside or independent observer would ever have been aware an intercepting laser was fired. THAT event was “cloaked”.

Nonetheless not all physics research venues were impressed. The editors of the journal Nature (to which Gaeta originally submitted his claim) demanded a time gap be created at least three times larger than the one in the experiment, or 45 trillionths of a second. They deemed the experimental value too low (and likely too much within the standard errors) to be worthy of publication.

Not to worry, on borrowing equipment from six other labs, and scouring Cornell’s Physics labs for amplifiers, Gaeta and his team got the time gap up to 40 millionths of a second, and a light sensor in the experiment confirmed the cloaking of the event. Of course, with all that effort and a fine result, Nature finally accepted the paper for publication.

Gaeta’s next goal? Increasing the time cloak to billionths of a second extent, which will require twenty times more power. Is there a possibility to have macro-scale time cloaks (on the order of minutes) for events, say to enable a team of black ops to carry out an assassination and then cloak the event? Doubtful! The power required would likely be larger than all the physics labs and amplifiers on the planet could provide.

Not to worry, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is partially funding time cloak research to see what more can be done in terms of expanding the time gaps.

Stay tuned!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Conservatives Donate More to Charities Than Liberals? So What's the Mystery?

The local Libertarian rag today again makes much ado about nothing with its fatuous editorial entitled ''Conservatives Give More Than the Left' (p. A17) citing endless percentages, stats from The Chronicle Of Philanthropy, and to the final end of bloviating that "10 Republican leaning states" give more to charity than the "ten most left-leaning states" (nine of which went to Obama in 2008).  First place goes to Willard Mitt's Mormon haven of Utah, which is no surprise since much of that "charity" (As a Rachel Maddow report noted some 6 weeks ago) ends up in political coffers, and probably 60% of Mitt's "donations" fund his own campaign. 2nd place went to Washington, D.C. home to "large numbers of Baptists and Catholics" - but the Gazelle fails to note it's also part of the 4th wealthiest region in the U.S. - together with Howard County, Maryland- home of thousands of lobbyists earning over a quarter million each per year.

The "top five" philanthropic states are rounded out by Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee. The Gazelle explains this by being in the Bible Belt and the fact that "Believers are encouraged to give and not just to neighbors".

But therein lies the rub. Unstated is the fact that too many of these religious charitable givers are also hard core individualists who'd rather see their kids get Rickets or be malnourished than take a "handout" from government. (Yet, incredibly, red states with military outposts are quite content to grab as much as they can.)

But that's exactly why pro-government liberals donate less, because they sure as hell don't wish to create even more of an excuse for government to do less and abdicate its own responsibilities, i.e. to "promote the general welfare" - using the tax commons. The reason is that charity alone will never fill the enormous holes created by recession and major economic dysfunction, most of which is endemic to a Darwinian system used by the wealthiest against everyone else. (Based on the Pareto Distribution and Pareto "Optimality")

An article in the Free Inquiry issue of January, 2009, entitled 'The Future of Religion' highlighted the problem. The primary finding is that religious belief and activity (inlcuding charitable giving) is a superficial coping mechanism easily cast aside when the majority in a given society enjoy true (not faux) democratic government, and a secure, comfortable and middle class lifestyle. Those who claim the universality of religion or that it is integral to human nature commit the basic selection effects error, in that they conveniently overlook the data showing broad secularization of western Europe, Anglo-Australia, Canada and other developed nations.

Since the U.S. is a nation which is now seeing that lifestyle eviscerated, because of  globalization (outsourcing of jobs), austerity attacks based on tax cuts (reactionary Keynsianism), and military adventures, then it follows that inequality is mestastasizing, and people are becoming more and more dependent on religion....and religion's purse strings.  In fact, the article shows the primary reason the U.S. is a statistical outlier in religious belief (relative to the European advanced nations) is income inequality (as measured by the Gini coefficient).  This index has seen inequality increase ever since Bush Jr. was handed his presidency, compliments of the five Supremes, in 2000.

Meanwhile the U.S., with its historically lower taxes, fewer public safety nets, and more poor than rich (by more than a 25:1 ratio) displays a greater disparity than any other nation. Moreover, it displays a much greater social pathology. Understanding the basis of this pathology doesn’t take a genius. As anyone with more than air between the ears can see, on examining state by state budget deficits now exploding, in every case “re-balancing” is being done on the backs of the poor, the disabled, the elderly and the homeless. The results are predictable: loss of health care, loss of jobs and loss of overall security, as well as increase in drug use, violent criminality and prostitution.

Believers, especially in the Bible Belt, will then attempt to fill the gap because they accept that: 1) their Bible tells them to do so, and 2) they detest the very thought of the government doing anything for them, or their kin, neighbors. Hence, their charitable giving is believed (falsely) to have kept the government to a minimum. But it hasn't. The truth is there are now 45 million on food stamps,  up 58%  from 2008(according to The Economist, 7/28/12, p.23), and 54 million on Medicaid, up 21% over the same interval (ibid.). The amount of charity that would be needed to leave government out of the picture is actually some twenty five times more than the actual volume of charitable giving!

Hence, Leftists giving more will not alter the landscape or make it more hospitable. What is needed is MORE government assistance, in extending and increasing food stamps support, as well as unemployment insurance ....given that nearly 14 million are still looking for jobs.  Ironically, in spite of this, Americans claim levels of satisfaction and happiness similar to those in the Euro-secular advanced societies. This clearly suggests, as noted by the FI piece, that Americans use religion and their religious (or spiritual) beliefs as a form of self-medication to alleviate the chronic stress attendant on the knavish, neo-Darwinian society they inhabit.  Giving donations for their capitalist oppressed neighbors therefore enhances this feel good sense, despite the fact it simply isn't adequate to the task.

For example, to make charity ends meet and fill the gap in the absence of the government, those rich Catholic and other lobbyists in DC would need to give about 14.9% of their income, not the cited 7.7% Similarly, all the other alleged generous conservo states would need to at least double up on their giving. In the end, with a new recession, even that couldn't be sustained, and we saw how food pantries emptied  their stocks in weeks after the 2008 recession and stock market collapse - and were hard pressed to refill them. 

At least the local rag did get the perspective on us progressives correct:

"Most blue staters are not heartless wretches who want to horde money. Instead they want government to raise taxes and resdistribute the wealth."

Bingo! You got it, Sparky!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Want To Vote Romney-Ryan? Better Have $1 MILLION Saved!

Watching the morning news this morning I almost laughed so hard that my toast nearly was ejected across the room. It appears while "seniors in Florida" don't desire any major changes in Medicare, by something like 64%, the actual polls don't bear this support out. We know Romney and Ryan intend to implement a voucher plan for all those under 55 but these seniors still plan to  vote for that pair by nearly 61% to 39% over Obama. What gives? Are they all suffering from dementia or just slow on the uptake? (One of the analysts on MSNBC observed with great pith and moment that "seniors still haven't connected the Ryan plan with any changes to Medicare")

Of course, many seniors will fall for the selfish meme that "they" - have nothing to fret over if they're in the goodie age bracket of being 55 or over. This is a crass, narcissistic mindset, as I observed before, because by taking such a myopic stance these seniors are spitting on their nieces, nephews and progeny who will be hostage to the Ryan voucher system.

But let me examine the consequences of a Ryan plan in more detail, say for a "marginal" couple (one of slightly different ages).   The real case I will be looking at,  was outlined in an AP story today. Mike, the older O'Malley is 55, and Sharon is 53. As the piece notes:

"Under Ryan's plan, Mike, the older O'Malley would qualify for traditional Medicare in about another decade. Nothing would change for him."

The piece notes that Mike ecstatically replied: "Well, I'm covered."

Yes, indeed, you are. But what of wifey, Sharon? According to the AP piece:

"But Sharon in the new program, would have decisions to make. Whichever way she chooses, eventually she might have to pay more for health insurance than Mike, if costs grow faster than the amount the government provides"

Good! We have a fiducial mark! Now, let's cut the crap and acknowledge that based on the history of medical costs in terms of treatments, premiums, prescription meds the past ten years, the probability of such costs not going up is about the same as space aliens  landing on my lawn tonight and inviting me to go on a jaunt to Zeta Reticuli. In other words, essentially zero.  In fact, medical costs overall have risen at an average annual inflation rate of as high as 14% and as low as maybe 9%. Let us assume a median rate then of about 12.5% for the forseeable future, well into 2040 for the "Ryan plan" seniors like Sharon. (Assuming the Romney-Ryan axis gets in, which believe it or not, one computer model from the Univ. of Colorado has actually forecast. I don't buy it, of course, unless the Dems sit on their butts and don't react to all the nascent GOP voter suppression tactics.)

Right now, seniors on Medicare are advised to have at least $250, 000 or a quarter million saved - to cover just their extra medical costs. These are things the senior must pay which the gov't won't. Let me give a bit of a rundown now for myself. I am paying $4,900 out of pocket a year now, for the Medicare standard premium ($100 a month) and the balance for a Medicare "Plan F" supplement, and the Prescription D drug plan.

Covered in my Plan F so far have been seven sessions prescribed (by my primary doc) for physical therapy (pulled back muscle)  at $180 per session, and a $985 prostate biopsy. Not covered have been expenses for new eyeglasses ($375 - including eye exam) and dental work (new crown) including two dental cleanings, for about $1,500. As people can see this isn't chump change, and don't get to say you will "do without" the dental work, or the glasses! Also not added is $500 for deductibles for Part F and Part D plans. Oh, I also forgot $175 for dermatological exam and about the same for ENT exam and vacuum cleaning of the right ear.

Anyway, the total costs via traditional Medicare come to $5, 900, and if the total is added up - as it would be for voucher recipient who's allotted a fixed amount of money each year: $9, 870.

In other words, if you are awarded a $10,000 voucher - as Sharon is liable to be (I believe the $15,000 is total bunkum given a Ryan-Romney ticket and their doubled down Bush tax cuts will have compiled another $10-15 trillion in deficits by 2023 - even if the Ds get back in in 2016) you will have used up almost all your allottment. And that is based on costs THIS year! In fact, Sharon will not be on it for another twelve years, meaning 2024.

Projecting her annual medical costs by then (from a similar layout of needs such as I had, but excluding the prostate biopsy) we come to $13, 333. And that's just her first year.

Bear in mind also, I am making ginormous and likely totally fantasy -based assumptions. The first is that the actual voucher given her IS really $10,000 and not $7,000 or $6,000 ("Oops! Sorry, folksies, the deficits the last five years have been much bigger than we planned, 'cause of all the Bush tax cuts we extended!")

The second assumption is that she's actually able to obtain a private insurance plan! Bear in mind, for what it's worth, if Romney -Ryan get in and have the benefit of a large enough GOP edge in congress, they plan to kill "Obamacare". That means insurance companies will again have "pre-existing conditions" on the table, and for her own sake, Sharon better not even have one pre-cancerous mole!

More likely, insurance companies will hedge their bets on taking chances by adding a large deductible - similar to the ones I encountered while seeking private plans when I was 63-64. The lowest one I could find was $5,000.

If then this is added to the tab, we come up with $18,333 for Sharon's first year of being on Ryanized vouchers. That means she will have to cough up $8, 333 out of her own pocket. Project that ahead for 30 years, as do most financial planners, and it comes to $249,990. But this isn't factoring in enhanced medical inflation owing to the "Boomer demand effect" (recall the law of supply and demand!) - and bear in mind the demand for medical care will likely explode with all us geezer Boomers also seeking it. I don't think, in such a case, that 15% a year inflation is too much.  Assume then a "steady" medical inflation uptick rate of 15% per year, and you obtain the new total that Sharon will need to save up to cover 30 yrs. of out of pocket expenses as: $1.12 million.

Ok, look, some nabobs and nitpickers will assert this is "exhorbitant", and I do agree- but don't blame me- blame Ryan's voucher system. Nonetheless, it's still a practical estimate since one huge item I've left out (to reinforce that), is the cost she'd have to absorb for any major operations, say like open heart surgery, or hip replacement or whatever.

Right now, under standard Medicare, those major operations are covered up to 80%, meaning the beneficiary pays 20%. So for a major cardiac operation, costing say $750,000 in 2026, Sharon would have to cough up $150,000. BUT, that'd be under traditional Medicare! Under Ryan's voucher system, that wouldn't apply and there'd be no regs to cover patient costs. I suspect a good estimate is the patient contribution would be 40% so she'd have to pay $300,000 for such an operation. If she got breast cancer, and needed a 6-12 week chemo regimen as well as surgery (mastectomy) , the cost would likely come to over $280,000. But in my calculated scenario for out of pocket expenses, I am excluding all such major expenses  Hence, by way of the typical "Fermi problem" while some factors may be over-estimated, others are under-estimated to compensate.

Here's the real kick in the gut, according to Bonnie Burns, a 25-year Medicare couselor in charge of advising people about benefits and quoted in the piece:  The spouse with the Ryan voucher plan will suffer from "health care envy". Well, you don't say, Bonnie! If I had to pay hundreds of thousands for health care more than my spouse I guess I'd be envious too! Question is, why don't today's seniors simply avoid that fate altogether and not vote the Rich Guy ticket?

Bottom line: Sharon better have saved a lot of moola  (just for her medical care) by the time she turns 65 if the Romney-Ryan axis prevails in November! If not, she better hope hubby Mike wins a lotto, or leaves her with the equivalent of a lotto-magnitude life insurance policy....if he croaks before she does.

Now We KNOW Catholic Bishops Are Repug Stooges!

Well, maybe the Catholics ought to maintain more control of their media outlets, because these days there's nothing a media center can broadcast that won't be picked up by a secondary source. And so we have the spectacle of the Eternal Word Television Network  (EWTN) leaked word of Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s forthcoming benediction and appearance at the GOP convention last night in a press release. This is related to  Romney’s exclusive appearance, to be aired tonight, on the program “The World Over.”   Note: EWTN, was founded by the nun Mother Angelica in 1981, and had been recently acquired the National Catholic Register (“America’s most complete and faithful Catholic news source”), which sued the Obama administration in February, charging the contraception mandate "violated its First Amendment rights".

This was not that long after the miscreant Tim Dolan himself proclaimed, concerning the proposed contraception provisions in the Affordable Care Act ('Catholics Hit Rule on contraception', WSJ, Jan. 27)

"It is a literally unconscionable attack on religious freedom"

Don't they ever learn! Bear in mind, "religious freedom" is the last refuge of religious scoundrels, and bullies. They have no more respect for liberty or freedom  than the Nazis had for the Jews at Auschwitz. Indeed, these same asswipes helped to rescue Nazi-SS butchers along ratlines to South American during and after World War II.

For those who may be interested, this site 

- with excerpts from the book 'Blowback: America's recruitment of Nazis, and its disastrous effect on our domestic and foreign policy' by Christopher Simpson, Collier / Macmillan, 1988- is very informative. Particularly in the Vatican's role in smuggling Nazis out of Europe - with U.S. (CIA, actually then, OSS or "Office of Strategic Services') assistance. Also the role of Intermarium is clarified. I do hope people-readers find it ironic that a cabal that helped Nazis and SS butchers escape would proclaim so much moralism now with birth control! Or more accurately, allowing non-Catholic women (mainly workers at Catholic institutions) to access it.

Keep in mind that Roman Catholics are perfectly entitled to mandate the withholding of contraceptive services for their own Catholic members, but may not do so for the general public that has no other alternatives or recourse than to go to a Catholic hospital, or work at some other Catholic institution - say like a school. Hence, if I as an atheist am teaching at such a school, I need to be able to secure these contraceptives for my wife if she should need them. To say I can't based on the fact the school is religious, is an infringement of my rights as a citizen. And certainly, if the Catholic Church is to continue to enjoy tax free status as a religion, it needs to keep its nose out of issues that don't concern it, namely those affecting non-Catholic citizens, irrespective of where they work.

Anyway, the just leaked EWTN news makes it clear that Willard Mitt (the selfsame a-hole who intentionally walked a blind teacher into a door while a preppie) intends to make the same bogus, irrational and unsupportable arguments as the National Catholic Bishops Conference and their lackeys and stooges (the same lot that bullied the nuns belonging to The Leadership Conference of Women Religious.) Thus watch these fools focus on the notion of "attacking religious liberty" and "religious infringement" despite there being no such thing!

What will come out of it, however, is that the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops and their toadies are attached at the hip to the Repukes, the same lot that plan to destroy Medicare for anybody younger than 55, so that they will need at least a million extra bucks saves to partake of health care. (See my next blog).  Also, the same lot that has full intentions to destroy the poor - cutting food stamps, and ripping away Mediaid - so millions of kids will not only suffer malnutrition but outright starve as their frail bodies waste away-  while tens of thousands of rich pigs dine each night on caviar after their rose wine wraps.

These are, remember, the same vile pigs and oafs who moved child molesters around from parish to parish so they wouldn't face justice. And now their victims are still trying to seek justice. Why would either of these odious groups - the USCCB or the Repugs have anyone of integrity backing them? That is a question that remains to be answered. Right now, the only one I can think of is that millions are suffering from "Obama Derangement Syndrome" and perhaps need to ask for some electro-convulsive therapy at the first opportunity.

And certainly before November 6th!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

HDR Radiation Treatments: 2- 3 Weeks Away

Readers following my earlier blogs to do with the progress of the assorted tests, prostate biopsy and end finding of cancer, may be wondering whatever happened to the HDR (high dose rate) brachytherapy treatment - which I assumed I'd have within a week or two. Well, not quite at the particular site chosen for this treatment! Evidently, they are backed up "for months" - based on a phone call yesterday from one of the staff  drs. - but she also offered that the Chief Radiation Oncologist might be able to find a spot for me within 2-3 weeks. (Okay, 2 is probably optimistic.)

She emphasized that, having reviewed the pathology slides (sent to the site from the local urologist) there was "no need for urgency" and sometimes schedules were delayed for months. However, since my wife is already known at this particular site, there is the chance - actually good chance- we can get this taken care of before the month of  September is out.

As some readers may know, I elected to have this (radiation) treatment rather than surgery because I'd read way too many accounts of long term (5-6)  months'  tortuous recoveries and side effects, including having to use catheters, incontinence, erectile dysfunction, dysuria and other problems - usually arising from the surgeons (even robotic) having to cut into key nerves and the urethra then patch it back. (After all they are removing a whole gland here). I wanted instead, a treatment that would free me up from such adverse effects within days or weeks, or eliminate them altogether. Hence, chose HDR monotherapy.  I also elected this over the LDR seed variation for the reasons cited in this abstract.

Basically, it entails - to briefly summarize- first getting a whole bunch of medical interviews and exams done, then immediate preparations (including enemas, etc,....again!) followed by imaging  - which may include Catscans, MRI - and definitely entails introduction of an ultrasound device as the prostate is located and Ir 192 needle placement computed and confirmed. After that's done, based on the model needle projected positions, a small "template" with the needle positions integrated into it, is "sutured" to the perineum.

The first treatment then follows with the 12 or so radioactive needles (enclosed in thin plastic catheters or 'sleeves')  introduced through the template's holes into the prostate. Yeppers, it does or would hurt like holy hell, which is why they give you an epidural  (local ) anesthesia. The treatment lasts 5-10 minutes (after all it is HIGH dose rate, so they can't leave 'em in too long!) and then you go back to your hospital room and wait for the next. Usually within 12 hours. All the time you cannot move about the place, or amble to the bathroom,  so you have to have a Foley catheter inserted.

The same 5-10 min. treatment then follows, and usually - this is enough. You're then discharged once they determine that: a) you can pass urine without the catheter, and b) the urine is clear, no blood.

The chief radiation oncologist will return from vacation on Tuesday, and when he does it's likely we will be able to narrow the time for treatment, or when to expect it. Until then, I will keep the blog rolling!

CBO Report: Presents the U.S. With a Lose-Lose CHOICE!

In one of the Star Trek movies, I believe 'The Wrath of Khan',  a computer-generated simulation test - called the "Kobayashi Maru" -  is given to a budding young Star Fleet cadet. The test ends in disaster with all on board annihilated by Klingons, and it's only afterward the cadet is informed it was really a "no win" situation. In other words, whichever strategy she selected would also have ended up in major loss, including destruction (or boarding) of the Enterprise.

This resonates with an article entitled 'When to Choose is to Lose' which appeared in the Sept./Oct. 2007 Psychology Today (p. 69) noting that in an era of downward driving indicators, i.e. deficits, unemployment for economics, it is essentially impossible to make a single "winning" choice that maximizes gains and minimizes losses. As the author of the piece notes, striving to maximize your choices, only makes sense when they are obvious and few - not otherwise.

This also correlates (and indeed is indirectly based upon) author Barry Schwartz's ('The Paradox of Choice') take on "opportunity costs", "upward counterfactuals" and "downward counterfactuals".  To be brief here, because I want to get on to the just released Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Report, "opportunity costs"  (p. 120) entail the costs involved when we must pass up another option. In other words, the benefits that would have likely accrued with that other option, are passed up and hence interpreted by us as "costs".

According to Schwartz (p. 154) , "upward counterfactuals are imagined states that are better than what actually happened, and downward counterfactuals are imagined states that are worse"

A circumstance for downward counterfactual thinking might be a guy who's done reasonably well for himself - has a decent, fairly good paying, steady job but fancies a better, more responsible position, say higher up. But in an environment of high unemployment, and tight fisted corporate money,  he imagines being flat turned down and moreover told not to expect any such positions in the future - and hence contents himself with his current station.

By contrast, if the guy engages in upward counterfactual thinking he imagines not only getting the higher position but a lot more money, plus perks, to boot.

But what if the guy then doesn't get that job, as his upward counterfactual imagination implodes? Then we can say he will likely be quite depressed at the outcome. As Schwartz notes, it is only in the case of the upward counterfactual thinking where the success is denied that diminishes the guy's sense of achievement. He concludes,  ibid.:

"So generating downward counterfactuals might engender not only a sense of satisfaction, but a sense of gratitude that things didn't turn out worse."

Now, let's flip to the just issued CBO report , the main highlight of which is a projection of only 0.5% growth next year, and 9.1% unemployment, if the "fiscal cliff" isn't avoided. Thus, the CBO warns that unless congress acts, i.e. to approve extending all the tax cuts, including payroll tax cuts - the nation will likely be thrust into a 2013 recession with "2 million jobs lost".

This is the part of the report that the Neoliberal media has played up, as on MSNBC this morning. Not reported, or not emphasized is the other part of the report, which is well summarized in an AP release on it:

"While extending the tax cuts and avoiding the spending cuts (i.e. to the Pentagon via sequestration) would keep the economy stronger over the next two years, continuing those policies would produce annual budget deficits averaging almost $1 trillion for the next decade. That would produce debt totalling nearly $10 trillion for the period- pushing the government's cumulative debt to nearly 90% of the economy by 2022."

The AP release goes on to state that while the "fiscal cliff" (ending the Bush tax cuts, payroll tax cuts) would "cause quick economic damage" it would produce more deficit reduction."

The release goes on to cite a drop from a deficit of $1.1 trillion this year to $641 billion next year.

The point is the CBO report is actually presenting us with a CHOICE, not a simple doom and gloom message. The problem is that it's choice that entails loss, one way or the other. It's like an economic Kobayashi Maru test.  If congress elects to avoid the "fiscal cliff",  which I've already noted as an overblown and over-hyped threat, e.g. see my earlier blog ,  then all will be well for two years, except at the cost of adding a trillion in deficits each of the next 2 years. If on the other hand, congress lets ALL the tax cuts expire (as they should) we at least put a major dent in the deficit and have more downstream revenue with which to work, but at a possible cost of minor recession and 2 million more out of work.  Lose, lose.

Or is it?

I happen to accept, instead of the dire forecasts of the CBO, that allowing the fiscal cliff to manifest will actually be a boon and generate more jobs. This evidence was first cited by authors James Medoff and Andrew Harless, The Indebted Society, 1995, 'Let Them Eat Cake', when they looked at actual data (over decades) and found (p. 87) that "high tax rates are associated with higher productivity growth.  There is a consistent and strong relationship".

The higher productivity growth was also in terms of real job growth, with companies investing in more plant, as well as labor. The benefits cited in the Medoff and Harless analysis were reinforced in the (2010)  Financial Times analysis of the Bush tax cuts, which found - contrary to the mythology spread  - that the years of the Bush tax cuts marked  "the weakest decade in U.S. postwar history for real, non-residential capital investment. Not only were the 2000s by far the weakest period but the tax cuts did not even curtail the secular slowdown in the growth of business structures. Rather the slowdown accelerated to a full decline”

This is pretty glaring and definitive. It shows that congress, by buying into the media and Neoliberal malarkey of a tax-cut based "fiscal cliff" could be engendering a real one that will haunt us for generations, as well as creating mammoth deficits. 

The real conversation then, ought not be about the "fiscal cliff" but about taxes and why they are needed. Excluding Chile and Mexico, the United States raises less tax revenue, as a share of the economy, than every other industrial country. Can we live with this choice? Should we? If we do, it means that other downstream options will have to be severely circumscribed - including social insurance benefits (called "entitlements" by the Neoliberal press.)

Sadly,though the nation’s fiscal challenge has taken center stage in the presidential election campaign, raising more taxes from American families remains stubbornly off the table. It appears Americans - too many- inhabit a deluded landscape where they believe they can have their cake and eat it. Where they can get tax cuts every year, and still not be deprived of full Social Security or Medicare which they "paid into".

In addition, politicians trapped in this low tax memetic environment appear to endlessly pander to voters. President Obama is willing to accept higher taxes on families earning over $250,000 a year. But he is going nowhere near higher taxes on the middle class. And Mitt Romney and his vice-presidential pick, Paul Ryan, are moving decidedly in the opposite direction. Not only do they want to extend indefinitely the tax cuts passed by George W. Bush, but they are also calling for a piñata of additional ones, and would cut social spending in return.

When at last will Americans figure out that their choices cannot be maximized in this economic environment?  There are "opportunity costs" whichever way they go. The best option they have now - in my opinion - is to press politicos to ignore the CBO report in its recesssion forecasts, and let us go over the hellacious and mythical - "fiscal cliff' - if for no other reason to put a dent in the deficits now, so austerity hawks won't use them later to kill social programs!

Yes, this is downward counterfactual thinking, but as author Schwartz observes (ibid.) we ought to be inspired to do more of it, not less. In other words, downward counterfactual thinking induces us to "be grateful for how well we've done this time" or what we have. If we have (currently) fairly decent future Social Security and Medicare benefits why on Earth would we risk them for cheesy tax cuts that only generate mammoth deficits?

The truth, my friends, is "fiscal cliff" or not, the politicians in Washington all know that we face a long-term fiscal crisis. By 2020, 70 million Americans are expected to be on Social Security, up from 45 million in 2000. The ranks on Medicare will swell to 64 million, up from 40 million in 2000. Virtually every economist knows that just maintaining Medicare and Medicaid benefits will require raising taxes on the middle class.
Now it's up to Americans to push policy in the direction of jettisoning ALL the tax cuts.  Tell your politicos and congress critters to ignore the Neoliberal siren calls and do the right fiscal thing for once!