Friday, June 30, 2017

Getting Political Polarization Wrong: A Misplaced Statistical Study

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"I am the King of Reality and don't you media lackeys forget it! If I say the Sun is the Moon, it is!"

Ben Tappin and Ryan McKay in a recent 'Gray Matter' essay in the NY Times, wrote:

"A troubling feature of political disagreement in the United States today is that many issues on which liberals and conservatives hold divergent views are questions not of value but of fact. Is human activity responsible for global warming? Do guns make society safer? Is immigration harmful to the economy? Though undoubtedly complicated, these questions turn on empirical evidence. As new information emerges, we ought to move, however fitfully, toward consensus."

The duo then went on to offer a possible reason:

"But we don’t. Unfortunately, people do not always revise their beliefs in light of new information. On the contrary, they often stubbornly maintain their views. Certain disagreements stay entrenched and polarized."

Then going on to cite the usual culprits like confirmation bias:  the psychological tendency to favor information that confirms our beliefs and to disfavor information that counters them — a tendency manifested in the echo chambers and “filter bubbles” of the online world.

They then advanced this illuminating insight:

"If this explanation is right, then there is a relatively straightforward solution to political polarization: We need to consciously expose ourselves to evidence that challenges our beliefs to compensate for our inclination to discount it."

 "For example, gun-control advocates who believe stricter firearms laws will reduce gun-related homicides usually also want to believe that such laws will reduce gun-related homicides. If those advocates decline to revise their beliefs in the face of evidence to the contrary, it can be hard to tell which bias is at work."

On this basis, Tappin and McKay decided to conduct an "experiment"  to isolate the two biases. Their stated purpose was to see  "whether a reluctance to revise political beliefs was a result of confirmation bias or desirability bias (or both)."   They claimed this experiment "capitalized on the fact that one month before the 2016 presidential election there was a profusion of close polling results concerning Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton."

Incredibly, they insisted their experiment - "asking 900 United States residents which candidate they wanted to win the election, and which candidate they believed was most likely to win" - was materially adequate.   It wasn't. To come to any coherent and relatively firm conclusion I'd argue that they'd needed at least a 10,000 resident sample size, distributed amongst all 50 states, and the individual state samples in proportion to their populations.

On their limited sample basis the respondents fell into two groups:  (1)  those who believed the candidate they wanted to win was also most likely to win and (2) those who believed the candidate they wanted to win was not the candidate most likely to win. Each person in the study then read about recent polling results emphasizing either that Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Trump was more likely to win.
Adding:  "This bias in favor of the desirable evidence emerged irrespective of whether the polls confirmed or disconfirmed peoples’ prior belief about which candidate would win. In other words, we observed a general bias toward the desirable evidence."

From there they argue:"Our study suggests that political belief polarization may emerge because of peoples’ conflicting desires, not their conflicting beliefs per se. This is rather troubling, as it implies that even if we were to escape from our political echo chambers, it wouldn’t help much. Short of changing what people want to believe, we must find other ways to unify our perceptions of reality."

All of which consumes many words to convey very little new information, i.e.  beyond what we already knew. Namely that the pro-Trump camp is entrenched and pre-committed to a false version of news and reality fueled by exposure to questionable sources, like FOX. In fact, no one need do any study given we can conclude a priori that exposure to a source like FOX -  that endlessly pumps out fake news and lies-  is designed to create divergent reality perception. In this sense, there are no "echo chambers",  there is only one: that which is driven to distort reality toward genuine fake news, i.e. that Hillary was part of a "Pizzagate" conspiracy.

 Vastly more informative  (and productive) in assessing the basis of our nation's political polarization was Simon Kuper's recent lengthy article ('Why There'll Never Be A Trump In Today's Europe')  in The Financial Times.  Kuper shows clearly and concisely, without having to resort to any inadequate pseudo-statistics (based on inadequate sample sizes), that our nation's polarization is inextricably tied to two elements: 1) an electoral duopoly party system which fairly breeds polarization, and 2) a divergent media system (and relatively less educated segment drawn to one less informing side) that creates political polarization.

In respect of the first, Kuper points out that the European parliamentary system adopts a coalition building format so that centrist parties are more likely to ascend to power.  In addition, many parties are enabled to compete from the get go, and as we saw in France, a centrist (Emmanuel Marcon) came out on top. While French liberals may have preferred a die hard socialist, they also were smart enough to recognize a Marine Le Pen in power would not advance their cause but rather undermine them, hence by the time the final election transpired, coalescence had occurred around the person most likely to beat her: Macron.

Also note, the French as well as all European elections in general,  make use of the sensible popular vote winner to determine an election outcome, not any archaic carryover - like our electoral college - that could enable a crazy person and authoritarian to gain power. The electoral college was actually first devised to prevent a crazy populist from gaining power but alas degenerated into a rubber stamp, with no oversight - thereby allowing the insane Trump into the highest office.

Kuper's second point and just as cogent as the first, is that the European, UK media is not so split (as the U.S.)  along two disparate axes.   This is so because "both left and right essentially trust the main news media. There is not some faction that is solely invested in a fake news sources to the exclusion of all others."  In other words, in European nations  there is not a significant minority (like in the U.S.) that believes there is a fake news media only "out to make money or discredit others".

As Kuper notes, "most of the UK's tabloid readers also get their news from the BBC", they don't just shut out mainstream news sources like the FOX viewers in the USA.  Most importantly, as Kuper adds: "Most FOX viewers have no such check on falsehood".  In other words, carrying Tappin's and McKay's testing premise inherently to its conclusion: The FOX viewers have absolutely zero inclination to consciously expose themselves to evidence that challenges their beliefs.

Note that by Kuper's reasoning this is entirely asymmetric, as there is nothing that the "other side" (FOX) can offer us (non-FOX news consumers) for news  that remotely  passes objective muster.  Hence, nearly all is straight brainwashing and propaganda designed to mind fuck not enlighten. (See link at the end).

The takeaway is that the existing polarization has nada or little to do with "confirmation bias" or "desirability bias" in poll perceptions, but rather the primary news sources that citizens tap for their information. Nearly 40 percent of our people exclusively get their news and views from spurious sources and THAT is the source of the political animus and polarization.

Until FOX News is brought to heel, or FOX viewing Repubs cease taking its bull pockey to heart, there will be no end to the polarization. And as I wrote in earlier posts, we cannot sustain for long a nation with two separate factions that accept differing realities, beliefs, news, and acceptance of science. That is the path to Civil War.

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Swine -in-Chief's Attack On Mika Brzezinski Shows He Isn't Fit To Clean Porto -Potties

"And you remember this disgusting dude is the president of the United States, and you realize how much he is diminishing the presidency of the United States.  You realize what he is doing is not just acting for Donald Trump, he's acting for all of us.  And he is embarrassing. He is shameful. He is disgusting. 

And about Republicans, I'm really tired of hearing words like 'I'm disappointed',  and 'I wish he wouldn't do it.'  It's time that somebody called him up and said 'Look, you crazy, seventy year old man-baby, stop it! You are now the President of the United States, the Commander-in -Chief. and you need to stop acting like a mean girl because we just won't take it."

CNN commentator Ana Navarro on Trump's tweet attack on Mika Brzezinski

See the rant here:

"It's a sad day when the president spends his time bullying, lying and spewing petty personal attacks instead of doing is job". - MSNBC official statement

So now the pretender to the presidency who acts like the thug he is, has so little incentive to occupy his time and febrile brain he has to resort to a craven personal attack on a morning talk show host, in this case Mika Brzezinski. I happened to have been watching Morning Joe just before the twisted little maggot at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue unleashed his unseemly rants in tweets (which I won't repeat here) confirming this asshole isn't fit to clean porto-potties in NYC,  far less hold the highest office in the land. He's a damned disgrace, and an embarrassment to us all, as well as the laughing stock overseas, e.g. these German cartoons:
Image result for German cartoons of TrumpImage result for German cartoons of Trump

Earlier I'd been watching as Joe Scarborough and Mika did a  nice piece on Politico's story of how Rex Tillerson blew up at a WH aide (now known to be Kushner). And why not? A wizened former CEO of a major company forced to take shit from some 38-year old punk who doesn't know diddly? I'd be jacked up too.  As Joe and Mika both noted, it shed more light on how the Trump bunch just hung Tillerson out to dry without a pot to piss in: no staff, no money for staff, conflicts erupting all the while and no resources to deal with them .... And Tillerson expected to take marching orders from a wet behind the ears, inexperienced imp. 

But Trump's unloading on Mika Brzezinski is par for the course of a glorified real estate swindler who never learned the finer elements of behavior or approached real success on his own. As Mika and Joe put it, "He's jealous of Jeff Bezos' success because he didn't have daddy's money to buy his way in. He got to the top by his own smarts and  acumen to the point he could even produce his own movies and buy his own newspaper - the Washington Post."  So instead of handling the putdown like a man, the despicable little weasel blew a gasket and unleashed vicious tweets - dog whistles to his followers.

Let's also note this is part of Trump's recently renewed crusade against the established media, railing against its "fake news" mandate while everyone with a brain knows it's Trump who's the fake. Hell, he even has to resort to putting fake TIME covers of himself on his assorted properties' walls. How pathetic.  In the case of Trump, as numerous leaks have revealed, we behold a guy unable to settle into the role demanded by the job of President. Many wonder if he even possesses the mental ability to govern - or merely disrupt like a mentally regressed ignoramus.

But not his rube PR puppet, Sara "Huckleberry" Sanders,  who said in the wake:  "this is a president who fights with fire and will not be bullied by liberal media". 

Seriously?  What "fire"? All Ms. Brzezinski did was criticize Trump as all presidents have been criticized from the year dot. What will the simpleton nutcase do next, go after Ana Navarro for her takedown of his actions? Is he that thin-skinned? Then he shouldn't be in the Oval Office, period. "If you can't take the heat" and all that.

"Huckleberry" then went on to double down and defend her asswipe master, saying "when he's attacked he strikes back".  But see, he wasn't "attacked". He was merely criticized as every other President has been since George Washington. It comes with the job and maybe if it's too much for Trump to handle he needs to resign and go back to being a two- bit, New York real estate swindler.

Even Trump's wife, Melania, who claimed she wanted to "campaign against cyber bullying" has been reduced to a shameless hypocrite by this latest incident. When asked about it she tweeted: "When he gets attacked he will punch back 10 time harder", taking a page from Sara Huckleberry's playbook of nonsense, conflating justifiable criticism with an "attack".

But this latest incident may be a new low in disclosing how vile and unpresidential this warped, orange-skinned turd is. Hitherto, I and many others had pegged the nadir as his meeting with Angela Merkel.  He sat next to her like a goddamned spoiled brat,  pouting, like he just had his sippy cup taken away,  and refused to even shake her hand! The epitome of classlessness, and gauche behavior. Commenting on this exhibition, NY Times' Richard Cohen wrote:

"When Donald Trump met Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany earlier this month, he put on one of his most truculent and ignorant performances."

Meanwhile, another commenter (on a NY Times forum)  also wrote:

"Trump's behavior with Merkel was not only disgraceful, it showed the rest of the world what a shallow, ignorant, unprepared, know-nothing he really is. Every American, and especially every Republican who voted for this man, ought to be ashamed and embarrassed. The GOP has besmirched the presidency, harmed our national security and soiled our country's international reputation"

But let's not kid ourselves, this thug in the guise of a president has been pegged accurately early and often, from the time he soiled the Oval Office on January 20th.  Some earlier spot on remarks:

"Trump's own instincts and inclinations (are responsible). A thirst for attention that leads to hyperactivity. He needs to dominate every news cycle which feeds a compulsive tweet habit. It has placed him almost continuously at the center of the national conversation and not always to his benefit".  - Charles Krauthammer (WaPo,  'What Happened to the Honeymoon?, Jan. 12)

"Trump simply can’t resist playground pushback. His tweets gave Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes screed priceless publicity. His mocking Arnold Schwarzenegger for bad “Apprentice” ratings — compared with “the ratings machine, DJT” — made Trump look small and Arnold (almost) sympathetic." Charles Krauthammer ibid.

"Since winning the election, Trump has not moderated his behavior. He still behaves like a brat ..."  - Richard Cohen, WaPo

"Let’s not mumble or whisper about the central issue facing our country: What is this democratic nation to do when the man serving as president of the United States plainly has no business being president of the United States? The Michael Flynn fiasco was the entirely predictable product of the indiscipline, deceit, incompetence and moral indifference that characterize Donald Trump’s approach to leadership. "  E.J. Dionne, The Washington Post, 'Admit It: Trump Is Unfit To Serve'

"Our boy president has surrounded himself by a team that tells him his coat is beautiful - but he's not wearing one. Let's recognize the heartbreak in this ...that we might be faced with a President who is not up to the task of the office he ran for and what do we do with that?" Fmr. Rep. David Jolly (R-FLA)

"President Trump’s mental state is like a train that long ago left freewheeling and iconoclastic, has raced through indulgent, chaotic and unnerving, and is now careening past unhinged, unmoored and unglued." - David Brooks, NY Times  Feb. 17

This deranged imbecile has tried - with outside handlers- to act like he's in command of his senses, but it can't be sustained. Like a small, thin-skinned child somebody's words (often women's)  eventually get to this brash degenerate and he's compelled to react. While diehard Trumpsters may love this sort of reactionary behavior, it doesn't comport with strength especially in a President. What it shows is that any twerp, misfit, or non-political person (without political power) can get under the big man's skin and make him freak out.

In other words, it shows he is hostage to any insult that comes down the pike and from any direction. Whereas, as philosopher Alan Watts notes in his book 'Does It Matter?', the truly strong personality is able to rest content in its own fortress of confidence and doesn't need to react to every slight perceived or misperceived. This person- personality, has enough mental and psychological ballast to contain and blunt pure emotional response. But....a personality arrested at the infantile or anal stage (as Hornstein notes) lacks the resources for resilient impulse control.

Not to be too blunt, but Trump would be better suited  being a cage match brawler - or inflated, self important, chiseling deal maker - than President of the U.S.    Recall the Donald has never really worked at a real job outside of owning his family branding business (who could order anyone to do his bidding) and being a NY real estate weasel who used bankruptcy (of multiple casinos) to make more $$$.   Even in his family biz Ivanka, Jared, Donald Jr. and the others had to keep him occupied with ogling Miss Universe contestants so he didn't get his grubby little mitts in too many family pots and muck them up. They knew then he couldn't be entrusted to do serious work, and yet they let his play acting mock campaign morph into the real thing and then somehow get elected (with the likely help of the Russkies.)

Hell, five days into his presidency the fruits of his massive incompetence were exposed for all to see.  He  even bawled that the job had  turned out to be too much for him to deal with. Too many details, too much stuff to master for an extensive government bureaucracy.  Hence, his penchant for becoming a cable TV and tweet addict. See e.g.

But we don't really need outside quotes to peg Trump to what he is: a basic criminal with reptilian cunning who used his money and lying capacity along with collusion with external forces to get catapulted into an office for which he's totally unqualified.  Who could forget the campaign boast:

I could stand in the middle of fifth avenue and shoot somebody and not lose any voters" - Donald Trump in a 2016 campaign brag.


Let's also not forget this common thug's own enticement of violent behavior at his rallies, where he actually encouraged Trumpies to punch out protestors, and even go after the media.  So no we can't be surprised there's a thug now occupying the presidency who in many ways is no better than Osama bin Laden or an ISIS thug. The only difference is he's Caucasian and had money enough to fool adequate voters in 3 states to win the electoral vote.

As long as Trump is in office there will be no peace or civility in this country, no end to the polarization.  As several Repubs tweeted in response yesterday, this outburst "demeans the office and doesn't help the national dialogue". In fact it sets it back light years. Certainly, progressives will now be more hardened than ever against this ambulatory turd.  The Denver Post's Chuck Plunkett's words from his editorial of February 5 should remain emblazoned in all citizens' minds as they ponder the latest Trump twitter brain expulsion:

"In whatever spider hole in hell they've placed bin Laden, along with all the other petty tyrants of history, all of them must now be laughing. For in the days following 9/11 we grew to despise a thug terrorist who wished to destroy what it meant to be an American. Now, in the days after Inauguration Day, 2017, we find ourselves led by a thug president bent on finishing the job."  - Chuck Plunkett, Editor of The Denver Post, Feb. 5, p. 1D

Don't be surprised by any more antics or venom issuing from President Thug. Just be aware we have a common thug in the Oval office and no amount of gentle pressure or even shame will get him to change to become a decent, self-respecting human, far less a real President with any degree of reserve or dignity. In other words one worthy of respect as opposed to opprobrium and revulsion. What we can do, all who want a return to a nation they can respect, is make sure his ass is hurled out once and for all come November, 2020.
Fool us once, shame on the deceitful thug. Fool us again......well you know the rest!

See also Joe and Mika's  Washington Post opinion column titled, “Donald Trump is not Well.”

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Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Right's PR Lackeys Cry and Lie About Their "Better Care" Baloney

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"I just can't believe this is happenin'! I can't!"

It was amusing  reading the WSJ Op-Ed  pages today to see the rhetorical backflips being done to try to portray the Republicans and the Right as having a poor little misunderstood law. Their "better care reconciliation act"  won't really toss millions off of healthcare! How dare the Dems and their activist base lie like that!

First there was Karl Rove ('Obamacare Health Care Audacity'), aka "turd blossom",   as noisome as ever since outing Valerie Plame (and letting Scooter Libby take the rap) belching about "the Left's new club", i..e. that 23 million will lose insurance if the GOP bill passes, "since only 10 million get coverage through Obamacare exchanges". But he misses the point! Because the Medicaid expansion puts its enrollees technically under the ACA, that means that any loss of Medicaid insurance is also a loss of Obamacare insurance.

Rove also tries to argue cleverly that in any case the Left has "misunderstood" and that no one is ruining Medicaid. It will simply continue to grow at a slower rate.  But see, the devil is in the details.  If that means (and it does) that the growth rate is slower than the rate of medical inflation, then indeed it is taking a "meat axe" to the program as one commentator put it last week. 

Further,  if federal expansion of the program is reduced - say from 72% to 50%,  that does mean states will have to take on the burden and most lack the money, or budget flexibility to do so. Look at Illinois, now facing insolvency, as reported in the WSJ of June 27 (p. A1). Here in Colorado, diminution of Medicaid funding would definitely mean exploding budget deficits and much more stringent qualification requirements which too many low income earners could not meet.

By any reckoning that spells catastrophe, and yeah, deaths - if  medical needs - such as for cancers, kidney disease, diabetes - go unaddressed. And no, it isn't a matter of "choice" as assholes like Rand Paul try to make out. If people lack the money and their health care is set against food or rent, that's a Hobson's choice not  a real one.

So when 'Turd blossom'  goes off on Elizabeth Warren ("the bill uses tax cuts as blood money")  or Hillary ("if Republicans pass this bill they are the death party")  he isn't losing points except for himself Also, when he takes the Center for American Progress to task for its finding that "217,000 Republican - caused deaths will ensue over the next decade"

Rove tries to mock it for its precision, but the Center never claimed it be exact but rather an estimate projected from likely removals of beneficiaries from state Medicaid rolls.

The WSJ Op-Ed (next page) actually tries to outdo Rove for desnity of baloney published per square inch. For example, this chestnut:

"The bill is carefully designed to avoid overreach and would save taxpayers $772 billion compared with what Medicaid would otherwise spend under current law."

But it is in fact exactly that money that Medicaid would need to spend, state by state, to: keep frail oldsters in nursing homes, to keep disabled people in their homes and functional, to keep opiod addicted people in states like Ohio with naxalone, and to keep children in low income homes suffering from leukemias, autism, bone diseases etc. from being warehoused in some rat hole.

That money then, is not just "free up"  money that can be jettisoned like most Reepos would their granny if she cost too much.  Moreover, the "taxpayers" aren't just ordinary Joes like you or me, but the top one percent who'd take home $54,000 a year on average (for $1 m income earners).  In other words, it is the taxpayers who can most afford to part with these ill  gotten gains - if the bill passes.

Then we have this giveaway clue:

"The GOP can't meaningfully ...increase defense spending without fixing Medicaid and replacing Obamacare".

That the GOP wants to use that extra money from defunding Medicaid expansion for defense spending too. $641 b to be exact, for FY 2018.  It doesn't take tons of insght or genius to see that the Goops want to decimate tens of thousands to get their precious bag of silver...for the rich...and for defense. Then they wonder why we refer to them as reptiles

Any party that would rather use $$$ for defense (already we spend more than the next 13 nations, including to operate 800 bases around the world) than on the health security of its people is a nation doomed to fail, to go into massive decline. Especially when it puts tax cuts for the rich above human needs too.

But the bastards are now caught out and no matter how much Bitch McConnell tries to sneak the next iteration under the rug it won't work. We're onto them and him, and the activist resistance is now waiting for the rats....errrr ...reptiles, to show up at their town hall meetings.

Stay tuned.

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The Brutal Collapse Of "King Coal" - Why Trump Can't Deliver On His Job Promises

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A miner labors in one of the last remaining mines in Appalachia

Apart from Trump's hundreds of lies:  malicious, facetious and otherwise, are those that impinge on people's lives - by way of empty promises. Thus, his campaign promise to bring coal jobs back to his Trumpy followers is one of the worst. No doubt tens of thousands of families in Appalachia and beyond are waiting with bated breath for his promise to materialize but they could as well wait for those last remaining veins of residual coal to transmute to gold.  It ain't gonna happen, not in this universe.

We already know how Appalachia has been affected - or should. To briefly recite, its coal and other resources have basically been extirpated - the wealth of the entire region converted to industrial and energy capital for the rest of the U.S. In West Virginia alone, thanks to thinning seams, one third of the coal jobs have been lost and none are coming back. Indeed, the erosion of jobs will continue unabated. The effect has left soaring poverty in its wake, now at 35 % of the population in McDowell County, WVA alone.   As reported in a recent issue of New Republic, most residents lack access to even basic necessities such as health care and transportation, not to mention broad band internet. The region is also at the epicenter of the opioid epidemic.

Less well known is how the collapse of coal has occurred far beyond the confines of Appalachia, across the nation. This has been reported in a recent WSJ article, 'Coal's Decline Goes Beyond Appalachia' (June 20, p. A3). As the piece notes:

"During the past five years, roughly 350 coal-fired generating units shut down across the U.S., ranging from small units at factories to huge power plants,  according to data from the Energy Information Administration.."

Many of the plants, according to the article, "were built in Appalachia and western states but generators built in faraway places like New England have also turned off."

What gives? A lot of it is simple economics, and the matter of the plants becoming too expensive to operate. For example, in Adams County, Ohio Dayton Power & Light basically decided the plants there wouldn't be economically viable beyond mid-2018. Blame the natural gas from the fracking craze if you want, given that this fracked product is much cheaper and easier to access thus explaining why natural gas fired plants have mushroomed all over the nation leaving sola -fired competition in the dust.  Natural gas is also cleaner, although its advocates do tend to play down the methane (greenhouse gas) aspect.

In terms of growth in the energy sector, natural gas last year surpassed coal for the first time in U.S. electricity generation. Specifically, it provided 34 percent of the nation's power vs. 30 percent for coal, according to the EIA. Worse for coal, alternative energy sources such as wind turbine power and solar are making marked gains, also eating into its economic base. As per a recent (July 3)  WSJ 'Business and Investing' report, natural gas, wind and solar currently deliver 44 percent of power in the U.S.

A classic example of incursion cited by the WSJ was in Cassville, WI where two former coal plants were shut down within four months of each other. One was converted completely to biomass production. Alas, because of the coal shutdown the town has lost 55 percent of its tax revenue making it difficult to fund road maintenance or education.

Meanwhile, the Journal notes that "two plants in New Jersey also closed in June, and more coal units are expected to close in places like Tennessee and Michigan".   Carbon County, UT is still smarting from the loss of a coal fired plant two years ago.  And it goes on an on.

All this telegraphs to sensible communities that coal is a growing economic liability and those states, towns that try to depend on it  for financial support will be severely punished as natural gas and alternative sources make ever greater inroads.  This also shows Trump's promise to return coal jobs is bare bollocks. All the trends and energy indicators are diametrically opposed to any increase in coal's market share,  including jobs that are other than temporary. (Usually associated with extraction from deep veins inaccessible by standard mining methods).

Trump is also too stupid to have known or processed that coal companies have already mostly gone to automation to increase remaining mines' productivity and company profit margins. Thus, they've cut mining jobs by nearly  two thirds since 1985 - realizing that natural gas via fracking produces a bigger 'bang for the fuel' buck.   But don't tell Donald Trump that. Each day it seems this turkey occupying the highest office in the land knows less and less about less and less.

Coal's days are basically over as counties, cities turn to less polluting forms with less CO2 spouted. In relation to the latter, from a report released several days ago we now know the excess carbon dioxide scorching the planet rose at the highest rate on record in 2015 and 2016.  This increase threatens to overwhelm the CO2 absorption capacity of the oceans and other 'sinks' and puts us more at risk for the emergence of the runaway Greenhouse effect.

Let us hope less  noxious energy sources soon displace "King Coal" totally from its present (lesser) perch.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

NSA Partly Responsible For Latest Cyber Attack? OF Course!

"The N.S.A. Needs to take a leadership address the plague that they've unleashed." - NY Times, today

Simpletons often see a temporary divergence from endorsing an agency, Bureau or person as a "contradiction" which probably harkens back to the old saw "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds". So because I may have endorsed the NSA as part of the intel community that has exposed Russian hacking in the 2016 election, some may wonder why I'd now want to "attack" the NSA. But this is more in the way of a citizen's "pull yourself up!" mandate than attack.

I am referring, of course, to how the agency enabled and allowed a nasty worm to get loose some five years ago which has since been repurposed by "bad guys"  to attack our nation and others.  The guise is under a "ransomware" mode when the net user's computer turns into a 'brick'  unless he or she coughs up 300 Bitcoin bucks. So yeah, the NSA now bears responsibility - at least partial - for yesterday's global "Petya" attack, as it did last month's "Wannacry" attack. The most recent has one-upped the Wannacry attack in that no "kill switch" has yet been found."

Most would probably not recall the 60 Minutes episode from March 4, 2012, which sheds light on the current attacks.

In that episode, Gen. Michael Hayden (formerly of the NSA) was heard to say:

"We have entered into a new phase of conflict in which we use a cyberweapon to create physical destruction, and in this case, physical destruction in someone else's critical infrastructure. This was a good idea, alright? But I also admit this was a really big idea too. The rest of the world is looking at this and saying, 'Clearly someone has legitimated this kind of activity as acceptable international conduct.' The whole world is watching."

Following on, there appeared Sean McGurk - former head of cyber defense at The Department of Homeland Security, in charge of protecting critical infrastructure in the U.S. - who addressed Hayden's more or less glib patter:

"You can download the actual source code of Stuxnet now and you can repurpose it and repackage it and then, you know, point it back towards wherever it came from."

CBS' Steve Kroft then remarked: "Sounds a little bit like Pandora's box." To which McGurk responded, "Yes!"

McGurk added:

"They opened up the box. They demonstrated the capability. They showed the ability and the desire to do so. And it's not something that can be put back."

Kroft then pressed the issue, asking:

"If somebody in the government had come to you and said, "Look, we're thinking about doing this. What do you think?" What would you have told them?"

To which McGurk didn't hesitate in responding:

"I would have strongly cautioned them against it because of the unintended consequences of releasing such a code."

Kroft then surmised that one such "unintended consequence" is that this same code might be "re-purposed" and used against us. Perhaps against nuclear power plants or the power grid. Again, McGurk responded:"Yes", labeling the possible retributive cyber attack worm, "Son of Stuxnet".

But this was no laughing matter, certainly not five years ago and not now after obvious repurposed cyber attacks using NSA "exploits" have transpired.  As I noted in a post from 5 years ago:

"Because of the hubristic, belligerent and arrogant actions of an enclave of pointy-headed computer geeks at the Puzzle Palace, we're likely all in jeopardy (as we were with the Wall St. quants with the financial meltdown). These sort of reckless actions do not bode well, and although their creators and the guilty agency might argue they were done with the "best intentions" , i.e. to slow down Iranian processing of nuclear fuel, we know the road to Hell is paved with them."

In the case of Stuxnet, its malicious trail commenced in June of 2010, when it was first detected and isolated by a tiny company in Belarus after one of its clients in Iran complained about a software glitch. Subsequently, reports filtered in that Iran's centrifuges were somehow compromised, though they didn't let on that they were aware of the real culprits which I suspected at the time was the NSA, whose cryptological-computer-savvy 'fingerprints' were all over it.

Barely a month later, the FLAME virus was unleashed wreaking some havoc but not as much as Petya did yesterday with its ransomware attack.

An AP Report ('Digital Virus has Nations on Alert') noted at the time:

"Unlike a bullet or a missile fired at an enemy, a cyberweapon that spreads across the internet might circle back to infect computers it was never supposed to target. It's one of the unusual challenges facing the programmers who build such weapons."

According to the same AP report, Russian digital security provider Kaspersky Lab - which first identified the virus - stated that Flame's complexity and functionality 'exceeded those of all other cyber menaces know to date'"

Those words were enough to convince me that, like the Stuxnet worm, FLAME is a creature of the geeks at NSA.  Thus the AP report's ending "Yet FLAME's author remains unknown because there is no information in the code of the virus that would link it to a particular country" merely confirmed its place and source of origin.

In yesterday's manifestation of the latest virus reincarnation (as the 'Petya' ransomware), the origin appeared to be in the Ukraine, where officials reported the country's power grid as well as banks and government offices were affected.    Subsequently, Russia's Rosneft oil company also reported falling victim - but avoided major damage owing to a quick response - as did Danish shipping giant A.P. Moller-Maersk.  According to Anders Rosendahl, a spokesman for the shipping group:

"We're talking about a cyber attack. It has affected all branches of our business, at home and abroad."

The cyber attack rapidly snowballed into a world wide crisis, which also affected U.S. companies, as well as a hospital in Pennsylvania where surgeries had to be cancelled because the computers were down.

The worst aspect of this latest attack? It was "self spreading". That is, it possessed the capability to spread across networks without any human interactions. Such self-propagating software is called by the name "worms" because of the similarity to the way worm infestation diseases spread.  This is exactly the character of the original Stuxnet.

Let's bear in mind in the wake of the recent attacks that both Wannacry and Petya have managed to spread rapidly using break in tools originally created by the National Security Agency. Also, these tools were recently released to the Web. So yes, the NSA bears more than a little responsibility to try to get the cyber plague "evil genie" back into the "bottle."

Some bottle. Any bottle.  And then, think - really hard  and long - before unleashing the next cyber weapon that could boomerang back on the rest of us.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Another GOP Stealth Bill Moves Toward Passage - While We're Distracted By The Senate Health Bill

You have to hand it to the Machiavellian Repukes who love to make legislative moves of a dastardly nature, and now more covertly than ever before.  This is especially true with the cynically named 'Better Care Reconciliation Act. of 2017.'   which has now been scored by the CBO.  Let's also note that  the Director of the Congressional Budget Office is  Keith Hall - a card carrying Republican - not a Dem!  This is important to reference as assorted 'pukes try to blast Hall's report as "inaccurate" or "incomplete".

What the CBO scoring found is that an estimated 22 million Americans would lose their health insurance under the "Better Care" Act the Senate GOP is trying to foist on the country.  Worse, no fewer than 15 million would lose out next year alone. How would this occur, by what processes? As noted on p. 8, the biggest attrition would arrive by massive increase in deductibles for low income people.   Thus, a deductible soaring to $10,000 a year for a low income family would mean they simply wouldn't purchase health insurance, hence they'd be left out in the cold - with the only option to go to ERs.

The other aspect concerns the soaring premiums which the CBO report estimates will spike as much as 74 percent.  While the "individual market" premiums would average about "20 percent lower" this is precisely because these markets would be composed almost entirely of the young and healthy who'd make few annual health visits or exact much cost.  Meanwhile, older Americans - say 64 years of age and earning $56 k/yr. - would see their premiums go to $16,000 year from $4,400 currently under the ACA formula.

The 74 % premium  increase figure outside the individual market is based on an 'apples to apples' comparison between what ACA covered citizens have now and what they'd get under "Trump Care".  To fix ideas, if ACA insured folks (say for a family of 4)  are currently paying a $500 a month premium they'd pay $870 if the GOP "Better Care" scam passes.   This spike would also clear many off health care rolls, which is exactly what the GOP's free market denizens hope for.

Left unreferenced amidst all the distraction with the "Better Care"  bill is how another disastrous GOP stealth regulatory bill is working its way toward manifestation. This "Financial Choice Act" - so called-  would give Trump the automatic power to fire the heads of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Federal Housing Finance Agency.  The former keeps oversight over the behavior of players in the financial market place to ensure they don't screw you, overcharge you for services or unload Ponzi schemes masquerading as proper investments. The latter oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which oversees housing matters to ensure consumers aren't buying bogus mortgages, overpaying in interest or processing charges and generally ensuring that realtors, sellers are abiding by the laws.

This "Financial Choice Act" - unknown to most - also gives congress the power over the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's budget,  which means lawmakers could defund the agency entirely.  In other words, it would literally give Trump and the GOP congress absolute power to wreck consumers' credit and financial stability - by leaving them open to all manner of shyster exploitation with zero protections.  (The CFPB has cracked down on debt collectors, the credit card industry, payday lenders, for profit colleges, banks and mortgage lenders)

For reference, in the past six years the CFPB has provided nearly $12 billion in relief for more than 29 million consumers - many victims of financial or credit card scams. Trump and the GOP may sympathize with the plight of possible future shyster victims, but the bottom line is that they don't want to shell any money out to victims.   Recall here that the CFPB was created out of the Dodd-Frank banking legislation to enforce federal consumer financial laws and protect consumers in the financial marketplace.  The agency's main goals have been to:

- Root out unfair, deceptive or abusive practices by writing appropriate rules, supervising companies and enforcing laws.

- Solicit and respond to consumer complaints.

- Enhance financial education.

- Research consumer experiences for assorted financial products, e.g. annuities.

- Monitor financial markets for new risks to consumers.

All of these have been found to be more than warranted, which is why the CFPB reaped $12 billion in relief for more than 29 million consumers the past six years. Had the assorted financial outfits been adhering to the existing laws the CFPB would not have been needed by all those citizens. The fact that 29 million got screwed shows the need for thorough regulation and an agency to oversee such. That Trump and the Republicans would destroy this agency shows they have no more concern for the financial welfare of their voters than they do for wayward bugs that might invade their vacay homes.

Section 841 of the Financial Choice Act has been particularly noteworthy in its potential to undermine and overturn the interests of investors, especially retirement savers.   Under Sec. 841 the Labiior Department's fiduciary rule would e repealed. To refresh memories, that rule stipulates that anyone handling retirement assets - and gives financial advice to savers - has a duty to work in their clients' best interests and disclose any conflicts where and when they exist.   By Jan. 1, 2018, under the impetus of the GOP's Sec. 841 of the "Financial Choice Act", the fiduciary rule will no longer likely to be enforced.

If your financial planner doesn't inform you of his conflicts, or takes you for a ride by selling you some mutual fund that is front loaded with fees he can make $$$ off of, it's all on you. Added to your new healthcare spiking premiums, welcome to Trump World, Year II.

This elicits the question of what new nightmares await us next year compliments of Trump and his Reptiles.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Otto Warmbier: A Casualty Of Excessive Desire To Join A "Secret Society"?

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The tragic end of Univ. of Virginia student Otto Warmbier merits the maximum sympathy from all reasonable citizens.  Otto, 22. would have graduated in May had he not been taken into N. Korean custody in January.  By all accounts the kid was knock out brilliant including pursuing two majors, commerce and economics. Not exactly astrophysics, but still, any serious double major is worthy of respect.  In addition. he did an exchange at the London School of Economics. His minor was in global sustainability.  The planet definitely could have used more brains like his.

But this elicits the question of why such a brain (also salutatorian at his high school in Wyoming, Ohio) could have allowed his future to be so derailed and terminated by a brainless stunt. Did he not know the North Koreans are merciless and fetishistic about their leaders as well as their  images, to the point of worship? Don't just take my word. See via the link below how the North Koreans practically fall all over themselves in adulating their "dear leader" from a  NatGeo documentary (Inside North Korea):

So touching any images of them  far less appropriating one, would be regarded as intolerable as a Vulgarian going into a Church and urinating on a crucifix. Of course in the latter case there'd likely be few consequences other than social, but in the Hermit Kingdom there are monstrous repercussions and totally out of proportion (to Westerners) sanctions - as Otto later learned.

The U.S. media has emphasized the "sham trial" and  overbearing nature of the punishment: 15 years at hard labor,  for stealing a propaganda poster from a hotel (googling assorted videos will bring it up) but other commentators mainly from the UK, Australia,  have not been so generous. And one Univ. of Delaware prof (Kathy Dettwyler)  even went off on Warmbier,  tying him to the sort of entitled, white frat boy culture that believes it can do anything and get away with it. See e.g.

According to Dettwyler on her FB page:

"These are the same kids who cry about their grades because they didn't think they'd really have to read and study the material to get a good grade. ... His parents ultimately are to blame for his growing up thinking he could get away with whatever he wanted. Maybe in the US, where young, white, rich, clueless white males routinely get away with raping women."

Ouch!  But I suspect there is a less antagonistic explanation, that might have everything to do with the needy "joining" psychology  of too many college kids. Especially those who go ga-ga over joining social organizations like frats and even purported secret  societies on campus. Because such joining has the potential to set them apart as "special" relative to their peers. A similar dynamic was plausibly at work with Timothy Piazza, who so desperately wanted to join a UPENN frat  (Beta Theta Pi) that he trusted his life to his would be frat brothers in an alcohol hazing....and lost.

In connection with this there are two questions that fairly cry out for addressing in the Otto Warmbier case:  1) Did Warmbier take the poster as part of a 'deal' made with an organization, church or fraternal entity?  2) If so, why did he allow himself to be manipulated into such a dangerous act by these groups or group?

Well, the second question almost answers itself, given we already saw how desperately Tim Piazza at UPENN wanted to join his frat, and that wasn't even a "secret" organization.  Thus, the answer inheres in forgoing all caution in the desperate need to join to attain a kind of specialness relative to peers. It is not enough to simply be one of the vast, motley pack at a school, or even a large subset.

The top suspect  in Otto Warmbier's joining yen appears to be the UVA's "Z Society" - which like too many crypto-patriot societies (e.g. 'Skull and Bones' at Yale) seems to breed wannabe spooks in droves as well as would -be elder statesmen.. (John Kerry was a member of Skull and Bones like George Bush Sr., and Woodrow Wilson was a member of the "Z Society").  Whatever the reason, joining such secret outfits appears to feed young egos who might fancy themselves - even at age 20 or 22 - among the future Overclass or global elites.

In the case of  Z Society it's evidently been around at UVA since 1892 and if you asked most of the school's students they've never heard of it. Which is a good testament to the group's covert nature and keeping a low profile. Anyway, the word circulating in the foreign press is that young Otto had a Jones to join the group but they required just one major test of singular bravery. So  one Z-member on learning of Warmbier's side trip to North Korea via the "Young Pioneer's" tour, suggested the poster snatch.

At the secret group's suggestion, and understanding the not yet developed risk -averse regions in the brains of most 21-year olds, it is totally believable Otto would have jumped at the opportunity. For a 70-year old like me -  with major risk averse centers in the neocortex now prominent -  the immediate response to such suggestion would be: "Snatch a North Korean poster? Are you fuckin' nuts? Go to hell!"

 Again in much the same way Timothy Piazza at UPENN  would have jumped at the chance to go through an alcohol quaffing "gauntlet" to join his favorite frat . Little knowing at the time he'd end up falling 15 feet and brain- damaged at the bottom of stairs, though a risk-averse older person would have projected that outcome as a distinct possibility.. Along with the possibility that the "brothers"  might not want to involve themselves as being proactive in an accident, so would just hang around for 12 hours without lifting a finger to phone 911 for help.

There's another possibility:according to Warmbier's statement, he wanted the banner with a political slogan on it as a trophy for "a church member, who was the mother of a friend."   Elaborating, Warmbier said he was offered a used car worth $10,000 by a member of the church.

He said the church member told him the slogan would be hung on its wall as a trophy. He also said he was told that if he was detained and didn't return, $200,000 would be paid to his mother in the form of a charitable donation. Warmbier identified the church as the Friendship United Methodist Church, which is in his hometown of Wyoming, Ohio. 

There is no reason, none,  to dispute this account or believe Otto just made it all up on the spot. Shit like this you just can't make up, and after decades of parsing political BS and PR one develops a sixth sense to discriminate fact from fable.  Warmbier's testimony has the ring of truth and besides he had to know that no skewed story he blabbed would save him now.  And the kicker: Warmbier also  then related to reporters in Pyongyang that he was encouraged to do the deed by the UVA's Z Society which he admitted he was trying to join.  Again, maybe he had visions of becoming some future super star elite luminary or statesman. But that is the effect (and hold) most of these college secret "patriot" societies have on wannabe members. It's far more intoxicating than joining a regular frat for sure. 

The question remains of why he'd allow himself to be manipulated or used by either a church or secret society to commit such a reckless act, and in a dangerous rogue nation where  the protections of his home country would be next to useless. Was he not thinking? Did he not care? Or, did the future image of him as a Z Society member trump any immediate reflection (or refusal to act) geared to risk assessment?

Four years ago, UVA Magazine published a piece giving outsiders insight to the secret societies on campus. In the article, UVA's then-protocol and history officer Alexander "Sandy" Gilliam Jr. is quoted saying "nowadays the two ring societies, Z and IMP, probably represent the true undergraduate leadership of the university.  Evidently, Z prides itself on unpublicized leadership and volunteer opportunities.  Perhaps not the stuff of spookery like Skull and Bones, but replete with that exotic aura of secrecy that lures many white, college males into joining regular frats or others with "secret" rituals.

 In 2012, then student body-president Dan Morrison put it this way to UVA Magazine: "The idea that there's something interwoven beneath the surface of the University's history that makes this a better place is very appealing to a lot of students—that there's more here than meets the eye."

True, but it's always been thus. Since the year dot undergrads across the country have sought specialness in whatever venue and those societies and organizations that promoted it often have had to ration memberships.  At Loyola University, ca. 1964-65, the aura of enchantment and mystery surrounded the fraternity called "BEGGARS".  Word had it that members were preordained to become part of New Orleans' elite society - including associated with Mardi Gras Krewes. Every manjack wanted to be part of the special group but certain secret tests had to be passed. Of course, the very mystery surrounding these "tests" lent even further to the Beggars' mystique and yen for so many to be part of it.

So why not Otto Warmbier with Z Society?  In any event, some formidable impetus or compact had to have  been delivered to push him toward this reckless act. Becoming a select member of Z might well have done it. Think of the mystique surrounding it, i.e. members are allowed to reveal themselves only at graduation by wearing a ring bearing the society symbol. BUT they can never divulge any inner workings.  This harkens back to Loyola's  Beggars fraternity (the school's oldest) with members taking a solemn vow to never reveal the secret handshake. (A handshake defined by such ritualistic aspects that once given only another Beggar can recognize it.)

I still recall two Mississippi first year students across the hall (on the 6th floor of Biever Hall Dorm) insisting they had to, HAD to pledge the Beggars. And....if they didn't make it in, weren't accepted, they could as well just pack up and go back home to Jackson. It wasn't worth staying at Loyola. I'm not saying Warmbier felt the same about Z Society but he could have, explaining why he'd resort to such a risky stunt to try and prove his worth and acceptability.

Wayne Cozart, vice president for development at the UVA Alumni Association, said in a 2010 article published on the university website:

"If members of the group are asked about their membership, they must leave the room rather than answer the question (or lie), a turn of events that is quite interesting to watch," 

Wow! And yet more delicious humbug and aura added!  Again, I don't mean to belabor this but there is a certain  subset of male university student - often an under appreciated type (or who believes he is) - who eats this stuff up. He firmly believes it's his ultimate ticket to future success and the good life.  It is quite plausible Otto was amongst this set. And to get in all he needed to do was to pick off a stupid poster.  What's so hard about that? Well, everything in the cosmos to a risk conscious adult!

Consider the mind-blown look on Otto's visage as he was being processed. It showed that only then did he likely realize the full folly of his actions. Also that a frickin' membership in some stupid secret society wasn't worth what it had cost him - 15 years of his life (then).  The etchings of shocked disbelief spoke to that and also likely led him to ask how he could have possibly taken the stupid bait for a stupid act. (We can argue all day about the North Koreans' laws and punishments, but bear in mind many regimes around the world have such fierce laws, sanctions and even little Barbados can toss a tourist into jail if he's caught wearing camouflage pants.)

Again, many will blame the North Koreans for their over the top draconian laws and punishments, but as one Aussie put it who'd also gone on the Young Pioneer tours: "We knew before we got there what you could do and what you couldn't. Also to stay with the guide and not deviate from the norms set by the tour. Any questions, we'd ask."

So why didn't Warmbier ask? Well, because he had to have known it was a major infraction. Indeed, he claimed a church member even told him that if he was detained 200 grand would be donated to his parents. Even if he made this up it revealed his background knowledge of potential consequences.

The inescapable fact appears to be that Warmbier's yearning to be part of a secret group - never mind it was merely "philanthropic" - cost him his life in the end. Just as much as Timothy Piazza's yearning to be part of a UPENN frat  cost him his life when he accepted their hazing gauntlet to indiscriminately down hard liquors over a short time.

The takeaway for up and coming young college males might be to think several hundred times before accepting a challenge or hazing ritual just to get into some prized organization, secret or other. Hey, it may well work out! But as the Tim Piazza and Otto Warmbier cases prove, it may also invite disaster. Do you really want to make that bet? If you do, be sure you know what the odds are in your favor.

Footnote: Prof. Dettwyler has since been terminated in her employment at Univ. of Delaware. See e.g.

So much, again, for the much vaunted "freedom of speech" in this country.  You can exercise it, but beware of the inevitable repercussions, including losing your job.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Wall Street Journal's Misplaced Malarkey On The Senate "Health Care Advance"

These days words and meanings are everything, and are often deployed with special aplomb to distort and divert inquiring minds from truth. I've already - in previous posts  - noted many historical examples, such as the substitution of the vanilla term "scandal" for actual, multi-layered conspiracies such as Watergate and Iran -Contra. The effect being to divert the historically purposive mind from political conspiracy to well, something "scandalous" - like the Clinton- Monica Lewinsky nonsense. Thus are events riven with historical and political gravitas reduced to gossip-style, forgettable one offs.

Similar word twisting perversion occurred with using the term "death taxes" for estate taxes, the better to spare the wealthy from having to pay their fair share in a democratic, supposedly fair society.  Now, the latest addition to this sordid verbal jui jitsu involves the terms used for the atrocity known as the Senate health care bill which demolishes Obamacare and has cynically been named the  'Better Care Reconciliation Act. of 2017.'

The Wall Street Journal added to this perversion in its editorial yesterday ('The Senate Health Care Advance') by first using the term "Senate" when only the Reepo contingent pushed it through, and second, calling it "health care" when in it is all about tax cuts, and third, using the word "advance" when it is in fact a major regression for 75 million fellow citizens.

There are other aspects of the WSJ editorial I also want to call into question and criticize from a historical, economic and political perspective. Why? Because getting at the true nature of this misbegotten piece of "legislation" requires doing so, at least to the same degree as when I take care to classify solar flares by their x-ray output.   Hence, I cannot in good faith conflate an X-1 flare with an X-9 event, like the WSJ does with its ACA and Medicaid "facts".  But WSJ editorials are not known for being factual but circulating  Rupert Murdock propaganda.

For example:

"The legislation replaces Obamacare's subsidies with tax credits for people who buy insurance on the individual market"

The use of "tax credits" betrays the true intent of this bill as a tax plan, as opposed to a health care bill. Tax credits are the standard conservo solution to genuine fiscal holes, but are really useless gestures. After all, they do absolutely nothing for people in  serious medical distress, say to be able to afford actual, meaningful tresatments. They are little better than a useless dollop or dressing, and as one mother of an autistic child put it in a TIME essay last year, would barely cover $1200 of her $30,000 yearly needs.  But they do create the illusion of offering something, I mean look at the term "credit",  after all.  But in terms of health care which I already noted increases inexorably, it is subsidies that pay the freight, not "tax credits!"!

And subsidies would more than be the solution if this country pared back its defense spending to half the GDP proportion, say to what it was before 9/11.  After all, a nation that outspends the next 13 together in defense can't possibly be "on the ropes"! Only a moron would believe so.  Hence, as former defense analyst Chuck Spinney once put it, let's cut the defense share of GDP  back to 2.4 % to 2.2 %. THEN we can make room for providing subsidies via the original ACA which, let us be clear, was the reincarnation of an original REPUBLICAN health care law (also known as "Romney Care")

"Medicaid was originally meant for poor women, children and the disabled - which Obamacare opened to able-bodied, working age adults above the poverty level".

This takes no account whatsoever that health care access (and needs) must expand as a population increases and economic legislation alters over time.  Point of fact, the population of the U.S. was about half what it is today at the time (1965) Medicaid came onstream. In addition, the poverty level has barely changed since then, remaining far too  statistically "lowballed" for the very purpose of limiting access to benefits.

Now add in the economic forces of globalization - globalized labor markets (and destruction of the U.S. manufacturing sector), and mass corporate downsizing in the 90s, and the case can be made that the original intended beneficiary base of Medicaid was simply way too meager, too small, by 2000. To put it another way, most lower middle and working class citizens - even with jobs - were in essentially the same economic position as "poor women and children" in the late 1960s.  Of course, it is in the Journal's best propaganda and spin interests not to process this.

To fix ideas,  consider the Denver Post article ('4 in 5 Adults Face Poverty At Some Point In Lives', July 29, 2013).   According to the article:

"Although ethnic and racial minorities are more likely to live in poverty, race disparities in the poverty rate have narrowed substantially since the 1970s, census data show.

Economic insecurity among whites also is more pervasive than is shown in government data, engulfing more than 76% of white adults by the time they turn 60, according to a new economic gauge to be published next year in the Oxford University Press."

The Post article further notes that "measured across all races" the risk of economic insecurity rises to 79% or nearly 4 in 5. Pardon me, but this indicates a nation of rising inequality and the degradation of most citizens in terms of their economic welfare. Above all, it shows the need for vastly expanded medical benefits given the deplorable economic inequality ensures most can't afford the health care they need- so must depend on a decent federal government to provide it.  An "entitlement"? Perhaps, but how else will our people get the medical treatments they need and deserve?

"The Senate waits four years instead of three but pegs the (block) grants to inflation with no adjuster."

As former Medicaid administrator Andy Slavitts observed last night ('Last Word') this translates on average to a state cut of 25 percent per individual beneficiary.  This portends serious losses of benefits for most of a state's population especially given no adjuster. But again, this exposes this sham law for what it is, a tax cut plan for the rich as opposed to providing for the most medically disabled and adversely affected among us. Unless states trapped in a zero sum budget scenario compensate - say by taking funds from roads or preschool-  thousands of state citizens will be left to scramble.  The very Darwinian nature of the Repuke bill is here exposed, pitting one segment of citizen interests (and citizens) against all others. In other words, a return to the law of the jungle but in economic warfare form.

"The Senate includes about $100 billion for a stability fund .....and could be used by creative Governors to support insurance markets in states like Maine and Alaska"

In other  words, the Reep Senate bill creates a slush fund that can be used to bribe state Governors (especially in high premium states)  to cooperate with the for -profit sharks to set up costlier protection rackets - passed off as health insurance. (See William Rivers Pitt's sterling analogy at the end of yesterday's  post.) By use of creative accounting the state Governors can then make it appear health exchanges are really working - as they would be under a properly redone ACA- when they're only on temporary support from the limited slush fund. When the slush fund is exhausted the premiums across the board will shoot through the literal roof.

"The Senate wouldn't allow states to apply to relax the community ratings regulation which limits how much premiums can vary among individuals with different health risks."

In other words, if instead of being a  70 y/o Medicare beneficiary with prostate cancer, I was ten years younger and lived in a high premium state (e.g. AK) , insurers could charge me up to five times more in premiums (say $5,000 a month instead of $1,000) precisely because my health risk would be recognized as greater from being diagnosed with prostate cancer. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the end result of this sort of draconian solution would necessarily see fewer men going in for PSA tests, for the very reason they would wish to escape a possible negative diagnosis with adverse consequences to their insurance premiums.  By the same token we'd likely see fewer people going in for colonoscopies as well as skin exams (which I also recently had - with one suspicious mole removed for biopsy).

"Importantly, the Senate bill also repeals all of Obamacare's tax hikes .....including the 3.8 percent surtax on investment income."

Left unsaid is that it was precisely these tax hikes that helped pay for the individual subsidies for the low income citizens with unmet health care needs.  What the Reeps have done is to basically cut out the tax hikes and gut the subsidies, replacing them with "tax credits". So, whereas before a citizen might have had $20,000 to cover the costs of a prostate cancer treatment he will now be lucky to get a chump change $500 tax credit.  This would barely be enough to cover his pain meds and basic tests, far less any kind of real treatment (say focal cryotherapy) Again, all of this exposes the Senate bill as an outright sham, a tax cut bill NOT a health care bill.  For reference  a person with a $1 million annual income would gain $54,000 each year in tax cuts. Almost enough to buy a new Lexus.

The Journal even confirms this tax cut imperative when the editorial states:

"Some Senators pushed to keep the surtax to avoid the tax cuts for the rich label and spend the revenue on something else."

Too late now, assholes, you're busted! We all know this is a damned tax cuts for the rich   Trojan horse being rolled out like a new health plan.  Only a certified halfwit would believe otherwise.

"It's not too much to say that this is a defining moment for whether the GOP can ever reform runaway entitlements. If Republicans, the next stop is single payer."

Then by all means let us hope they fail and miserably!

To summarize, these are the facts not processed in the WSJ's editorial:

1) There are vastly more poor citizens than rich in the U.S. of A.

2) The medical needs of an expanding population with few resources, income to begin with will always grow exponentially in relation to economic budgets for which yearly predictability is sought.

3) At the same time the costs of those medical needs must always expand, never decrease because medical inflation always exceeds other forms.

4) Therefore, by dint of (1)-  (3) it is budget allocations for genuine health care which must always be given priority in a nation that seeks genuine national security. After all, a sick population can never be a secure one, nor - by extension - can the nation they inhabit.

5) Tax cuts even disguised in a health care bill (so called) can never work and have  been proven not to work. They only increase deficits by cutting revenue and make a country less able to come to terms with its long term liabilities. To use economist Paul Krugman's term, they are a "zombie idea" because the Repukes keep bringing them back even after their efficacy has been disproven.

See also:

Friday, June 23, 2017

Fighting Prostate Cancer At -90 C: My Cryo-therapy Experience At UC Health

Image result for brane space, cryotherapy"
3D image shows tumor which was subjected to  three freezing cycles, with temperatures as low as 90 degrees below zero, centigrade.

Almost five years to the day after being diagnosed with stage 1 prostate cancer I found myself Tuesday at the University  Of Colorado  Anschutz Medical  Campus  - Inpatient Bldg. to check in for focal cryotherapy surgery under Dr.  E. David Crawford.  After the requisite  initial processing of insurance  cards, ID and answering prelim questions (Would you like to see a pastor?, Do you have an advanced directive?)  I was checked in to the Urology pre-op station,  and met by a perky  RN I will call 'Greta'.   She took my vitals, then  had me change into  the standard issue gown and yellow  happy socks,  after which  my  belongings were  bagged  (taken away by Janice).  I was then connected  by Greta to an IV after some initial difficulty finding a vein.

As with my earlier experience with the 3D staging biopsy in January, I was first met by rounds of specialists, to  answer   further questions, i.e. What  is the name of the procedure you're having?, When did you last eat and drink?  Do  you have an advanced directive or living will?  Will you accept a blood transfusion if one is needed?  Do you have any allergies?  Do you suffer from sleep  apnea?  Have you had general anesthesia before?

The sole remaining formality was to sign an acknowledgement of risks form, always being told these risks (e.g. fistula) are "relatively low". But, of course, they have to disclose every possible permutation or possible outcome - much like the horrific (possible) side effects of Pharma drugs. Oh, there is also an acknowledgement that no guarantee is made that the treatment will eliminate the cancer. Well, that one's fairly straightforward and no sensible person would expect some magic cure! At least for prostate cancer.

By 7.25 a.m. Dr. Crawford and a  urological resident appeared and asked if I had any last minute questions (I had a few, e.g. 'How long does the catheter stay in?') and then I was wheeled into the OR by an anesthesiology resident. Once there I had to move myself to an adjacent table where an oxygen mask was  affixed to my face and the anesthesiologist (Dr. Erin Tracy) instructed me to breathe deeply.   Within about a minute the slight stinging sensation of fentanyl was noted and then.....lights  out.

When I came to it was nearly 10.30 a.m. in the recovery room, and the attending  nurse - Shannon - asked how  I was feeling.  As in January,  I noted the burning sensation in  the urethra - now the pain arising not only from the insertion of the indwelling (Foley) catheter. - but also  a  cystoscope to locate the bladder position as the freezing needles (cryoprobes) were inserted into the prostate.

Each cryoprobe from 1-3mm in diameter  inserted through the perineum,  used Argon for super cooling to sub-zero temperatures. The effect was to freeze the cells of the tumor creating an "iceball" with colder temperature at the center and warmer at the periphery. However, this difference is eliminated by repeated freezing and thawing cycles.  To protect the urethra a warming catheter remains in place during all the cycles.

To relieve the post -op urethral pain,  Shannon gave me two hydrocodone pills (which UCH calls  "narco)' and the pain subsided but the feeling of grogginess increased.  This was somewhat  different from the  3D biopsy when I came rather quickly out of general anesthesia with little or no hangover.  By contrast, this time I had to ask for a barf bag whereupon I did one or two dry heaves.

By 11.30  when Janice arrived, I was able to eat:  a couple of saltines with some ginger  ale. Janice told me that Dr. Crawford met with her in the main conference room and informed her the procedure went "very well" and  a total of three freezing cycles (at different temperatures) were done, including one at -90 Celsius or - 130 F.  (Cell death occurs at -40 C which is also - 40 F).  This sequence of freezing was why the procedure took longer, and hence the need for more anesthesia.

Only later, once I was dressed, did I realize another source of discomfort was a "scrotal support" that had been appended to me after the procedure. I asked the RN why this had been put on and she explained it was to prevent or inhibit "scrotal edema" - a swelling of the testicles to potential football size that sometimes accompanies insertion of the cryo-probes.  I asked how long I needed to have it on and she replied: "Maybe two to three days". Well, after 2 days I cut if off with a jack knife I brought with me to the hotel.

This morning, barely two hours ago, Janice used a saline syringe given to us by the UC staff to change the pressure inside the catheter to release the bulb and the connection. "Liberation" arrived with immense relief but also lots of blood and clots, much of which was probably associated with the dead cancer tissue that had morphed into the "ice ball".  After drinking quarts of water the urine has gradually begun to return to the usual (straw)  color. The pain has also subsided enough to sit down and write this post - to bring interested readers up to date-  also indicate why no posts appeared the past three days.

Anyway, the takeaway is that now I will have to get PSA tests done at 6 month intervals, and then hopefully, see it dive down to negligible levels in about 12-18 months. Otherwise, another biopsy may be needed. But in any case, I've made it clear no further treatments after this.

The prognosis, however, is very good and by all accounts from Dr. Crawford the tumor ought to be literally terminated as an ice ball that subsequently turns to dead cell slush.

Fortunately, I've not had to pay for any of the treatments, tests, biopsies I've had over the past five years. Ok, I take that back, I had to cough up about $1200 for the HDR Brachytherapy treatment I had at UCSF in 2012. But the total I would have had to pay for all cancer treatments, had I not had Medicare, is estimated to be around $115,000 when the cryo-ablation is factored in. In fact, without Medicare, we'd likely have had to declare bankruptcy.

That brings up the question as to what millions of Americans will now do that this misnamed Senate health care bill ("Better Care Reconciliation Act Of 2017") is ready to pass.   And by the way, let's also cut the crap this is a health care bill. It  is not. It is a revival of the zombie tax cut paradigm that the GOP has turned into an abiding fetish. This despite the fact that NO evidence exists that cutting taxes for the rich or corporations increases economic growth..  That canard was last exposed during the Gee Dumbya Bush reign, but now has been revived by Paul Ryan and Co. Never mind, the Repukes are salivating to cut the critical medical access for tens  of millions to give the richest more gold-lined tubs, yachts, 20,000 sq. ft. vacay homes and blood diamonds that they don't need.

So this vile tax cut bill  - in the words of one commentator - "takes a meat axe to their health care.". That is, to Medicaid, through which $800b would be cut, lowering the bottom on 75 million Americans. What if the males  in that population get a cancer like I have, what can they do? Well, the Repuke bill will ramp up their deductibles, increase co-pays (by an average of 20%)  and limit access, while offering only measly tax credits - if they pass an income test. End result? Most would either have to go bankrupt accessing the treatments needed, or allow the cancer to progress.

For people with disabilities, Medicaid is the primary benefit that allows them to stay in their own homes.  Without it they will be homeless on the streets, hence the reason for their plaintive cries yesterday (in front of Bitch McConnell's office)  to "Save our liberties!"

For lower income folks, the bill amounts to the most massive transfer of resources in history from them to the wealthy for $600b in tax cuts. The low income people will be left with virtually nothing by 2025, or be at the mercy of private insurers. Here in Colorado, Medicaid access will revert back to what it was before the ACA arrived, with draconian qualification measures applied - given the extirpation of Medicaid expansion will leave us with a $750 m. plus deficit. That means a low income mother of 2 kids in 2025 will have to earn no more than $300/ month to qualify to receive Medicaid benefits after this god -awful plan allows only limited block grants to the states. The worst hit will be the underclass disabled and seniors barely making ends meet living in high premium states. Seniors alone will have to cough up 5 times more in premiums thanks to this misbegotten atrocity.

And for a take on the for profit health insurance industry we have these words from  William Rivers Pitt - who wrote in a recent Blog post (on '')- on how they compare to a Mob protection racket:

"The health insurance industry, for the most part, is the Mob painted over with a veneer of legitimacy. They're a protection racket. The Mob got people to pay by offering "protection" for your restaurant or store, and would burn it down if you didn't pay up. With the insurance industry, your body is the store, and as all flesh is inevitably weak, your store will eventually burn down, taking your financial stability with it unless you pay the insurance middleman in full. Nice health you got there, be a shame if something happened to it. That's only if they don't turn down your claim because of a typo on your claim form, which is hardly rare. I had ICU nurses telling me insurance horror stories that made one wistful for the ringing sound of guillotines in the town square.

The problem is the fact that health care in the United States is a for-profit industry, like petroleum speculation or automobile manufacture. It's a few people making a lot of money off of sick people, and after so many years of this being the status quo, they have the political system wired to keep it that way."

Question: If the health insurance lot are analogous to the Mob in a protection racket, what does that make Bitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and the GOP?

Answers?  Inquiring minds want to know.

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