Sunday, January 30, 2011

McChrystal calls for "expected" national service

The January 31, 2011 issue of Newsweek, p. 36 in print, has an important op-ed by former US commander if Afghanistan Stanley McChrystal arguing for “expected” (although legally “voluntary”) national service.  It’s titled “Step Up for your Country”, with this (website url) link. A sidebar, detailing some opportunities like Americorps, City Year, Habitat for Humanity, the Peace Corps, and Teach for America, is called "A Call to Pens, Shovels and Hammers".  

At one point, McChrystal says that everyone should have a “service number”.  Maybe that means at all ages, not just young adults.  I still remember my service number when I “enlisted for two years” two weeks before my draft induction date in 1968. It was “RA1937556”.  In those says, there was a saying, “RA all the way”.

McChrystal speaks of “the sense of responsibility essential for us to care for our nation – and for each other.”  Shortly down the pike, he writes “All of us bear an obligation to serve—an obligation that goes beyond paying taxes, voting, or adhering to the law.” (Where does jury duty fit in to this?)   And later, “service is typically doing things that you would not choose to do, but that must be done.”  Emphasis is mine, or perhaps my late father's: It's passive voice, but well said. “It can be rewarding; it can also be difficult, onerous, even dangerous. It cannot rely on short-term volunteers any more than our independence could be won by people Tom Paine termed ‘summer soldiers and sunshine patriots”.   Some gender-related functions come to mind, like volunteer fire departments.

McChrystal speaks of “the sense of responsibility essential for us to care for our nation – and for each other.”  Shortly down the pike, he writes “All of us bear an obligation to serve—an obligation that goes beyond paying taxes, voting, or adhering to the law.” (Where does jury duty fit in to this?)   And later, “service is typically doing things that you would not choose to do, but that must be done.”  Emphasis is mine, or perhaps my late father's: It's passive voice, but well said. “It can be rewarding; it can also be difficult, onerous, even dangerous. It cannot rely on short-term volunteers any more than our independence could be won by people Tom Paine termed ‘summer soldiers and sunshine patriots”.   Some gender-related functions come to mind, like volunteer fire departments.

I used to call this concept “pay your bills, pay your dues”, but that doesn’t quite say it all.  It does link in to our system or moral thinking in a few areas: the idea that many people see “meaning” in obligation and need to see others follow it; the reality that many of us live off the sacrifices of others and don’t see it; the new concerns about sustainability and “generativity”.  But it goes deeper, into fundamental questions about the divide between seeing oneself as an individual and as a “member of the group”, something that public school systems marked pupils on back in the staid 1950s.  It gets into the area of openness to affection where it is needed, and goes beyond the concept of service as we knew it during previous wars (especially Vietnam, during my coming of age).

Indirectly, McChrystal has stated an important reason why overturning “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was so vital.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ohio school district prosecutes,"makes example" of poor mom lying on residency to get her kids into their schools

A mom in Akron, Ohio, Kelley Williams-Bolar, was prosecuted for lying on a school district residency form to get her kids into a better school system. The story (Andrea Canning and Lezeel  Tanglao) on ABC Good Morning America is here.

Another oddity is that she could have sent them there by paying “tuition”.

In Dallas, people would pay more for homes in “far North Dallas” in order to get their kids into the Richardson School District (rather than the DISD).  I noticed this in the 1980s living there; people would move farther away in order to get kids into “better” (and possibly more de-facto-segregated) school districts, drawing employers away from downtown and Oak Lawn into the Richardson and Plano areas. 

Picture: Kipton, Ohio (near Oberlin), 50 miles NW of Akron

Friday, January 21, 2011

Loose talk of allowing states to declare "pseudo bankruptcy" bad for muni bond markets; GOP may say "drop dead", but to retirees?

The New York Times has a harrowing front page story Friday, by Mary Williams Walsh, “A path is sought for states to escape debt burdens; traditional bankruptcy is not an option but versions of it gain support”, link here

As of now, states cannot declare bankruptcy, and they cannot print money; they must remain solvent, but cannot pay with money they don’t have; the federal government can (and just listen to the GOP on this.)

Politicians are afraid to introduce a bill allowing bankruptcy. Merely seeing the bill on Thomas or govtrack would drive down municipal bond markets, which have gone soft since late 2010 over economic uncertainty about tax policy. Even “pseudo bankruptcy” would put retirees and bond investors at the back of the line as creditors. However a concept like “Big Mac” as was used in the 1970s during NYC’s financial crisis (“Ford to City: Drop dead!”) might work.  Back in the 70s, the teachers' union had to relent to avoid a massive default. 

But the issue is challenging to retirees in more than one way: pensions, and the value of traditionally safe tax-free investments.

States could also conceivably lighten their Medicaid nursing home burdens by starting to enforce filial responsibility laws (in 28 states) on adult children. 

Update: Feb. 4

The Washington Times has a followup by Patrice Hill, "GOP Plan would let states go bankrupt; prospects rock bond market", link here.  It's sort of a "Newt Gingrich to California: Drop dead". Bond markets had only just calmed down a little from the same talk about municipalities.  One of my own portfolio (with Suntrust)  has fallen 10% since Dec. 1.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

129000 people under age 65 have pre-existing conditions that could affect them if health care reform were repealed

The Washington Post is reporting Tuesday that 129 million Americans under the age of 65 have pre-existing conditions that could cause them denial in an individual market if the GOP repealed Obamacare, according to an HHS report due today. The story is by Amy Goldstein with link here.  The number is almost half the population in that age range.  Many of these individuals would run into difficulty if they lost current coverage available through the workplace.

There are temporary measures in play right now, including a federal high risk pool and an immediate provision denying insurers the ability to deny coverage to children based on conditions.

The four largest insurers had denied coverage to about 650000 people, according to a report from Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman.

The GOP claims it supports private high risk pools, but waffles on the ability of insurers to charge more or deny coverage to individuals who present “moral hazard” beyond their control.

Some in the GOP still think that the responsibility for medical issues should belong to “extended family”.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Pentagon makes bizarre repayment demand from certain military veteran widows who remarry

The  Pentagon has been demanded repayment of certain benefits to widows of military spouses if they get married again. That sounds like an affront to “family values”.

CNN covered the case of Freda Green in Brookville, FL. The military demanded money back ($41000) after she remarried. The money was a refund of insurance payments, because she supposedly started getting a second benefit after she remarried. Up to 57000 widows are being chased to repay, according to the story. Florida Senator Ben Nelson says fixing the problem will cost $600 million but veterans’ spouses should be respected.

CNN is also reporting on a Pentagon commission on diversity which says that women should be allowed to be deployed fully in combat.  That’s almost true now, as recently women have been able to serve in submarines in limited circumstances.  The commission had also supported repealing “don’t ask don’t tell”.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Shortages in medications become serious; family connections important for healing

It’s getting more difficult for many patients to get lifesaving drugs, especially in the cancer chemotherapy area, because of shortages, according to a story by  Melly Alazraki, in Daily Finance, published by AOL this morning, link here. The problem has always existed with “orphan drugs” (as in the film “Lorenzo’s Oil”) but is making optimal treatment of many problems difficult.  The problem might also be exacerbated by antibiotic resistance.

I would wonder if the problem could exist with surgical parts, also. I was lucky to get a new kind of plate after an acetabular fracture from a convenience store fall in Minneapolis in 1998, with a quick recovery as a result.  Without the special part, I could have been in traction for a long time.

In another medical story, ABC reported that heart patients with spouses fare much better than those who stand alone; social isolation can affect prognosis as much as smoking.  The story (“Does the presence of family and friends help you heal?”) link is here.   Social connection reduces stress hormones for many people, although some people may be self-driven enough that it makes little difference.

Today, the FDA also indicated it would act on the amount of acetaminophen in some prescription drug,

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Closely spaced births associated with autism; anyone can single out anyone else as "mentally ill" in Arizona

Having babies in short time spans may increase the risk that children after the first born (when conceived shortly after a previous birth) may develop autism, especially male children. That’s a story provided by HealthDay reporter Jennifer Goodwin to many outlets, such as Business Week, link here.

It’s easy to imagine how this might influence “pro-natalist” thinking in the culture wars.

There’s something interesting about the HealthDay site ), the idea of “licensing health news”. Their syndicated stories appear on other media sites (not their own) but their site conveys the idea that they “own” the news itself, which is not a valid copyright idea. I’ll probably return to this on my main blog later.

Here’s another public health anomaly coming out of the Arizona tragedy. In Arizona (and not many other states, any other person can complain that a particular individual may be mentally ill. Brigid Schulte had a typical story on p A7 of the Tuesday Washington Post. “Any person in Arizona can petition the court for a psychiatric evaluation solely because a person appears to be mentally ill and doesn’t know it.” The link is here

This sounds dangerous. Anyone who seems odd or unsociable could be targeted for attention from the courts. And psychiatrists are becoming increasingly suspicious of people who “live in their own worlds”. The “lucid dreaming” (or “Inception” syndrome) seems much more relevant to Loughner’s actions than did political vitriol. The dangers (to individual freedom) have shifted a lot in 48 hours.

Arizona is one of four states (the others are Utah, Idaho and Montana) that make a person "guilty but insane" finish a prison sentence after treatment for mental illness.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Arizona incident highlights vitriol in conventional politics and on the asymmetric Web; at the same time, the media's prepared satire continues

First, Carl Hulsie and Kate Zernike have a New York Times story Sunday, reproduced by MSNBC, about the Arizona Incident: “Bloodshed puts new focus on vitriol in politics”, link here

The Pima County sheriff, Clarence W. Dupnik, said “Pretty soon, we’re not going to be able to find reasonable, decent people to serve in public office.” In fact, I remember some personal criticism some years ago about my first “do ask do tell” book: rather than be read, people asked me, why wasn’t I willing to “compete” to run for office?

It’s hard to say where the focus is on the vitriol, whether it’s among politicians and lobbyists, or whether the biggest concern is over asymmetric speech, which I will take up further today on my main blog. Both First and Second Amendment rights, as usually seen by libertarians, come into question; obviously people will ask about the way Loughner obtained his “machinery” (as had been the case with Va. Tech).

One of the most disturbing observations is that Congress doesn’t feel comfortable going back to its agenda. True, I don’t agree with gutting the new health care law, but if that is what is on the House’s plate under its new leadership, that’s what I think it should debate; that’s how our democracy works. What I’m afraid they’ll debate instead is restricting asymmetric speech.

Before the tragedy, a lot of silly stuff was going on in Congress (the 112th) indeed. David Cole has a humorous satire in The Washington Post Jan 6, “The Conservative Constitution of the United States,” printed Sunday Jan. 9 on the Outlook page, link here

Then, James W. Loewen has a piece on p B2 of today’s Post Outlook, “5 myths about why the South seceded,” preparing for the year marking the 150th Anniversary of the start of the War Between the States. True, Abraham Lincoln didn’t go to war directly over slavery; on the other hand, slavery was much more important economically than anyone wants to admit. One may want to watch Kevin Wilmott’s satirical film from IFC (2004), “C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America”, and imagine how the world would be today if the South had won.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Earlier studies linking childhood vaccines to autism said to be fraudulent

The hills are alive today with stories about a 1998 paper linking vaccines to childhood autism. The original paper (by Andrew Wakefield) had been published in the Lancet, a British medical journal which I watched in hardcopy in the 1980s during the early AIDS epidemic (I had a manager who subscribed and gave me copies, which collected in my Dallas condo). This week, the editors of the British Medical Journal wrote that the study had been a fraud.

A typical story is in Time, by Alice Park (link ). The article points to another Time story maintaining “Vaccination rates develop in wealthier kids; the Autism Rumors take a toll”).

Yet, parents believed they were protecting their own, playing family values, by not vaccinating their kids, probably resulting in greater dangers to public health as a whole.

There is controversy as to whether most of the kids had shown signs of autism before vaccination, and perhaps as to how severe disease had to be to count. (Is mild Asperger's worthy of study? It's true it's regarded as part of the Autism spectrum, but some people with Asperger's are very "productive" in personal and economic ways, in their own way.)  It's often very difficult (especially in less "severe" instances) to determine when the first "symptoms" really appeared.

I had certain developmental issues of a mild autistic nature (“Asperger”) and if one looks at my own report cards, teachers give varying accounts of my demanding attention from others, ambiguous as to whether they are for really essential skills or because society wanted to make more exacting social demands.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Federal Reserve proposed interpretation of Credit Card Act could hurt stay-at-home moms

The Federal Reserve, as a result of the Credit Card Accountability and Disclosure Act of 2009, has proposed a rule that would require credit card grantors to consider only a prospective borrower’s own “independent” income, rather than household income, as with a married couple. The Wall Street Journal has a story Dec. 31 by Robin Sidel, “Retailers swipe at credit card plan”, link here.

The rule could make it harder on married spouses who stay at home (as with children). It might also have a effect in certain kinds of eldercare domestic situations.

Here’s another perspective on the Act.

Here’s the text of the Act.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Will gas hit $5 a gallon in 2011 or 2012?

Gasoline prices may reach $5 or $6 a gallon during the latter half of 2012, according a Shell executive. But other pundits say that speculators are already bidding up the price of crude oil, toward $100 a barrel, and that a retreat, similar to what happened on 2008, is likely. But the 2008 crash may have precipitated the yo-yo effect on oil prices and oil company shares, as XOM dropped from the 90’s to the 50s. Right now, XOM is at $73. In 2011 or 2012, hopefully the same negative influence won’t exist.

Threats of solar activity (or even EMP attacks from terrorists) could materialize, but they could precipitate efforts by homeowners and businesses to harden their own electric infrastructure. One irony, one possible strategy could be more use of natural gas, which, however, requires electricity to be used by homeowners “safely”. More homeowners could be encouraged to install solar panels and Bloomberg boxes, but technology needs to be developed to shield the local infrastructure.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

PEPCO has not kept up its infrastructure; is DC especially vulnerable now to future solar storms?

The Washington Post has repeated reported that the problems all of 2010 with Pepco’s power outages are not that we live in a forest (like the Jamestown settlers), but that the infrastructure is old and has not kept up with business expansion. Dominion Power in Virginia is a little better, but still has problems just from equipment failure and “animals on the lines”. Squirrels, like from Pittsburgh.

When I lived in Dallas and Minneapolis, with newer systems, we did not have these kinds of outages. I actually interviewed for a contract mainframe programming job with Texas Utilities in 1988, and once visited the Glen Rose nuclear power plant in 1982.

Heaven help us if we really do experience big coronal mass ejections from solar storms in the future, and haven’t hardened our generating stations. Faraday cages, anyone?

The Washington Post had an editorial Dec. 28 “Penalize Pepco for poor performance”, link here.