Friday, November 28, 2008

Mumbai nuttiness

The reported Mumbai death tally has risen to 150, including fifteen foreigners... Some of the coverage is chimerical and this blogger wonders about the credulousness of the media that prints some of the more silly and/or fanciful statements. A few random examples include:
  • From 'Highly trained and motivated,' we learn that apparently Indian commandos are trained to resist sleep deprivation and can last a week without problems - "... Sleep deprivation training is sophisticated. Commandos are taught the art of keeping their eyes open for as long as a week without any visible signs of mental fatigue ..." Hah! Other articles have revealed that the terrorists were prepared because they carried packs of almonds to help fight fatigue!
  • Apparently this blogger is off the mark in thinking that firing indiscriminately and throwing grenades does not reveal great sophistication, at least according to an Indian commando, who said "... Not everybody can fire the AK series of weapons; not everybody can throw a grenade like that, it is obvious that they were trained somewhere ..."
  • MSNBC reports that at the Taj, on Friday "... at dusk, Indian forces began launching grenades at the building ..." Huh? Much more likely is the CNN version, that Indian commando were using flash-bang devices...
  • Hemant Karkare, head of the state's Anti-Terrorism Squad was killed during the rampage. According to CNN "... Footage from CNN's sister network, CNN-IBN, showed Karkare donning a helmet and putting a bulletproof vest over his light blue shirt as uniformed police officers with firearms and walkie-talkies surrounded him. It would be the last video taken of Karkare before terrorists shot him three times in the chest near Cama hospital ..." Hmm, something doesn't add up here.
Oh well, I guess there are column-inches and broadcast minutes to fill...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Quick thoughts on Mumbai

Following news coverage on the events in Mumbai this blogger really doesn't 'get' a couple of things. First, many of those providing commentary go on ad nauseam re the sophistication of the attacks, and how they must have been very well-planned and practiced (example)... Huh? How hard could it have been to pick the public targets they chose? To randomly open fire with automatic weapons at everyone while throwing grenades? Apparently the terrorists had also schlepped in, but then never used, a large quantity of RDX high explosive! This doesn't seem very clever or sophisticated... And asking potential victims if they have British or American passports? Doesn't seems like a very useful tactic! Second, were the terrorists really targeting British and Americans? One has to say that if this was a major goal of theirs then they failed rather spectacularly, at least based on the information released thus far re their victims. So far 125 declared dead, of which only six are foreigners (including a Briton, a Japanese, a German, and an Australian, and an Italian). In this blogger's mind both of these assumptions seem very suspect.

Mumbai mayhem

Terrorism strikes India again, in Mumbai, as multiple attacks occurred yesterday. The targets included some locations where foreigners are usually present (the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels, a cafe popular with tourists, etc.) as well as "local" spots such as a movie theater, a train station, hospital, etc. Many casualties are reported...

This blogger happened to tune into a couple of reports of this on television, and was appalled at some of the coverage, which was incredibly shoddy... In the first the news show was reporting on the violence, and the tone of the coverage was of the 'tsk, tsk, isn't this terrible' variety. Then a report came that perhaps British and American tourists were being specifically targeted in the attacks, and suddenly the tone changed radically, to a this is a 'grotesque, unacceptable example of terrorism' type coverage...

A little later this blogger tuned into the middle of the AC360 show on CNN.. (Ed. note: on the air was a guest host and not Anderson Cooper; this blogger didn't catch the name of the guests who were commenting on that section of the program; and while he jotted down a quick few quotes, they may not be one hundred percent accurate!). A guest was in the middle of saying "...India has joined the club of countries facing terrorism that is domestic with an international connection..." Huh? They've "just joined the club"? Hello!

The program and guests then blathered on and on about the United States - this is President-elect Obama's "first test"; what is he going to do?; his team is in close consultation with the Bush team; what might this mean to his Presidency; are the terrorists "sending a message" to Obama; etc., etc.

Listen up! As Doctor Phil might say, "It's not all about you!" This blogger understands that on a U.S. channel the coverage is fairly U.S.-centric. Hell, this blog is pretty U.S.-centric. But why do we have to act as if the US was the first to discover terrorism (on 9/11)? And why does the coverage have to be pitched as if it is all about the United States and our politics? This seems to be the norm...

So, when the bombs went off on the London underground on 7/7/2005, it was portrayed as "Britain's 9/11" and as if terrorism had just reached the U.K. Forget the fact that terrorism and bombs had hit the British for many years (e.g. killing royalty, the Queen's cousin Lord Mountbatten, in 1979; and narrowly missing killing Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet in 1984 - both courtesy of the Provisional IRA). When bombs caused carnage in Spain just ahead of their elections on 3/11/2004, all of a sudden it was "Spain's 9/11" and terrorism had just reached Spain. Forget many years of ETA terrorism and bombings, etc. And now it's India's 9/11 and, like, wow, they've been hit by terrorism too!

From an AC360 blog entry by a CNN correspondent on the scene, "... Both President Bush and President-Elect Barack Obama issued statements, each strongly condemning the attack. Who’s behind this? Local reports say a group named the Deccan Mujahedeen claimed responsibility. Some officials say it bears all the hall marks of Al Qaeda. Mumbai is the mecca for western business men and women, many from America. It’s believed thousands of U.S. citizens own a city that is now under siege..." Huh? Is this implying that the attacks occurred here because of the thousands of U.S. citizens there (incidentally out of a population estimated at nineteen million!)

Wouldn't it be more instructive for their audience if CNN informed them not just of the current events, but also of the associated history stretching back several years - for example, the differences between India and Pakistan that contribute to the situation, of the role of the conflict in Kashmir in exacerbating relations between these two countries, of the inter-communitarian tensions that periodically flare up between Hindus and Muslims, etc., etc. No, that's apparently too much work, much simpler (and narcissistic) to act as if it is all about the United States and if the most important issues raised by this horrific occurrence are related to how a President-elect Obama will respond, if he will be strong, weak, blah blah blah...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

An inconvenient truth...

Georgia: Coming Clean on Saakashvili's war links to reports re the testimony of the former Georgian ambassador to Russia, Erosi Kitsmarishvili, before a Georgian parliamentary commission looking into the dispute between those two countries. Inconveniently for Saakashvili he departed from the party line that the Russians were the complete aggressors...

More of interest to this blogger was the name of the parliamentary commission tasked with looking into what happened... It is the "Temporary Commission to Study Russia’s Military Aggression and Other Actions Undertaken with the Aim to Infringe Georgia’s Territorial Integrity." Heh, no wonder his testimony was poorly received!

Previous posts:

Georgia update.. - November 22nd
Georgia - September 7th
Immediate Response - August 25th
Georgia (updated) - August 15th
Two-edged sword (South Ossetia) - August 11th
Boundary issues - August 9th

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Congrats...

To the 2008 winners of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award - Cargill Corn Milling North America, Wayzata, MN in the manufacturing category; Poudre Valley Health System, Fort Collins, CO. in the health care category; and the Iredell-Statesville Schools, Statesville, N.C. in the education category....

Monday, November 24, 2008

Oh wow


"a consensus exists ... that we need a big stimulus package that will jolt the economy back into shape and is focused on the two point five million jobs that I intend to create during the first part of my administration..."

- President-elect Obama, while introducing his economic team fifty seven days before assuming office.

That's a hell of a jolt! By the way, why do politicians seem to think that they create ANY jobs at all (beyond adding staffers)?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Light, then run...


October 28th this year they celebrated the beginning of Diwali across India, the festival of lights... The part this blogger remembers the most was the fireworks... Not rockets, fountains, etc., though there were some of those. What was most memorable were the amazing number of firecrackers set off...

Some folks in the neighborhood would show off their wealth (and piety?) by putting on some ostentatious displays - many, many dozens of packs of the very large firecrackers were strung together (e.g. see at left) to form a continuous carpet of firecrackers fifty feet or longer along the street, and then set off. The din was always incredible and went on continuously for a good five to ten minutes. The air would stink of sulphur, and the next day the detritus covered the streets like confetti... It was so loud that each year on the appropriate date, before dusk began to fall we had to make sure to sedate our dog, otherwise the poor thing would have had a breakdown from all the noise.

Here's a very small example of what this blogger is referring to (video from YouTube)... Think much, much larger firecrackers, and over fifty feet's worth..

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Georgia update...

Getting Past Mythmaking In Georgia in the Washington Post makes some points - in the recent conflict Georgia made the mistake of starting the hostilities; the Russians were ready; Saakashvili is no gift to democracy; and the U.S. should support Georgian democracy but not get too attached to any one person...

Nothing particularly new to anyone with a modicum of sense, or for that matter to anyone who has followed this blog's entries on the subject, viz. Two-edged sword (South Ossetia) - August 11th; Georgia (updated)... - August 15th; Immediate Response?!? - August 25th; Georgia... - September 7th.

Misleading Info

Picture credit: Infowars

Committee on Oversight and Government Reform's September 2008 report: "Misleading Information From the Battlefield: the Tillman and Lynch Episodes." (Ed. note: PDF file)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Piraterie...

Picture credit: NATO

Piraterie: des rançons trop "faciles"? (original in green, with ed. translation)

Les pirates qui multiplient les attaques de bateaux au large des côtes somaliennes et dans le golfe d'Aden auraient obtenu quelque 150 millions de dollars de rançons au cours des douze derniers mois, selon le ministre kenyan des Affaires étrangères.


The pirates that are multiplying their attacks on ships off the Somali coast and in the Gulf of Aden have obtained some 150 millions of dollars in ransom over the course of the last twelve months, according to the Kenyan foreign minister.

Selon ce responsable, ces gains encouragent les pirates à continuer leurs activités dans une zone essentielle pour le trafic maritime international. Des hommes armés somaliens détiennent actuellement un superpétrolier saoudien, le Sirius Star, renfermant dans ses cales 300'000 tonnes de pétrole, et réclament 25 millions de dollars.

According to this minister, these gains are encouraging the pirates to continue their activities in this zone that is essential to international maritime traffic. Armed Somali men currently hold a Saudi tanker, the Sirius Star which holds 300,000 tons of oil in its hold, and are demanding 25 million dollars.

...

Selon le Bureau maritime international (BMI), 94 bateaux ont été attaqués par des pirates somaliens depuis janvier. Trente-huit navires ont été détournés, dont 17 sont toujours aux mains des pirates avec 250 membres d'équipage.

According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), 94 ships have been attackedby the Somali pirates since January. Thirty-eight ships have been seized, of which 17 are still in the pirates' hands along with 250 crew members.

Plusieurs pays ont déjà dépêché des navires de guerre au large de la Somalie pour lutter contre les bandits des mers mais ces derniers, s'appuyant notamment sur leur rapidité d'action, ont multiplié leurs prises avec une facilité déconcertante.

Many countries have already sent naval vessels off the coast of Somalia to fight the these sea-bandits, but they have multiplied their seizures with a deconcerting ease by relying on their rapidity of action.

Par ailleurs, les Etats-Unis ont fait circuler jeudi soir au Conseil de sécurité de l'ONU un projet de résolution visant à renforcer à nouveau l'action internationale contre les pirates somaliens. Ce texte élargira le champ d'autorité de la résolution 1816.

On Thursday the United States circulated a proposed resolution at the United Nations Security Council seeking to reinforce new international action against the Somali pirates. The text of the resolution enlarges the field of authority of resolution 1816.

La résolution 1816, adoptée en juin, invite les Etats en mesure de le faire et possédant des navires de guerre dans la zone maritime du golfe d'Aden à agir contre les pirates en haute mer et les autorise même à pénétrer dans les eaux territoriales somaliennes avec l'accord du gouvernement somalien pour poursuivre des pirates.

Resolution 1816, adopted in June, invites states capable of and posessing naval vessels in the maritime zone of the Gulf of Aden to act against the pirates on the high seas, and authorizes them to penetrate Somali territorial waters (with permission) to pursue the pirates.

Update:

The Freakonomics blog's 'Spreading the pirate booty around' reports this year's haul as only USD 30 million....

Blowback?


Somali piracy is of long date, save for a gap during the second half of 2006. This was when the Islamic Courts Union had restored a semblance of normalcy to the country. However they were overthrown by Ethiopia with the support of the United States....

E-mail update...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Piracy RIP (resources in place)


Hmm, this blogger earlier suggested that the Somali piracy issue was a perfect chance for the U.S. to do some naval training exercises... Beyond the naval opportunity, the U.S. has several assets in the immediate neighborhood - air bases in Thumrait and Masirah in Oman, a SIGINT (?) station on the island of Socotra (Yemen), a base in Djibouti, etc. that should be able to assist in any anti-piracy endeavor...

Practice runs

Picture credit: Spiegel Online

"... It is generally thought that from sighting pirates to being boarded takes approximately fifteen minutes. Such a short space of time helps to explain why even with international patrols in the area ships are still captured ..." In the Gulf of Aden pirates, mostly originating from Somalia, ply small motor boats with men armed with AK-47s and RPGs and are harassing vessels traveling that important maritime route.

Over a hundred attacks have happened this year and a number of ships have been seized for ransom (35-40?). Insurance rates for the greater than 16,000 ships that transit that area every year have gone up. Additionally, some shipping lines are considering switching routes from 'Suez Canal - Gulf of Aden' to going around the Cape of Good Hope, thus adding an extra 12-15 days to the journey at USD 20-30 thousand per day. Now that's some amazing leverage!!

Beyond all the strategic and geopolitical issues raised by this situation (see the Chatham House report linked below), this seems to offer an opportunity. Very hard to track, small, lightly-armed motorboats attacking suddenly, and sometimes using swarming attacks?? Great training opportunity for the U.S. Navy, which in the future might face this from the Iranians in the Straits of Hormuz....

Pirates of the Gulf
The pirates of Somalia
Why not storm the ships?
Oil tanker waylaid by pirates
Photo Gallery: Danger on the High Seas
Photo Gallery: The Rise of Somali Pirates
Piracy in Somalia: Threatening Global Trade, Feeding Local Wars

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Nicolas


Une vidéo parodique du chef de l'Etat Nicolas Sarkozy génère un gros buzz sur Internet. Outil de promotion d'un studio musical, le clip de rap égratigne la dérive "m'as-tu vu" et certaines décisions du président de la République.

A parody video of head of state Nicolas Sarkozy is generating a big buzz on the Internet. A promotional tool by a music studio, the rap clip scratches the "have you seen me" drift and certain decisions by the President of the Republic.

Nicolas Bling fait un carton sur le Net ces temps-ci. Nicolas Bling ? C'est le héros d'un clip en 3D réalisé par Sylvain Delmé pour le studio d'éditions musicales Mixus, qui aurait déjà été vu plus de 750 000 fois par les internautes.

Nicolas Bling is a hit on the Net these days. He's the hero of a 3D clip created by Sylvain Delméfor the studio Mixus, which has already been viewed more than 750,000 times.

La suite... The rest...

Bof, not all that funny. These folks need to watch out, or they'll find themselves dragged before a judge, like the poor sucker who was fined a thousand Euros for "causing offense to the presidential function" for his 'Casse-toi, pov'con' placard at an anti-Sarkozy rally, or the manufacturers of a Sarkozy voodo doll sold complete with pins. The latter were sued by Sarkozy for mis-using his image, but the tribunal decided against Sarkozy, saying "... représentation non autorisée de l'image de Nicolas Sarkozy ne constitue ni une atteinte à la dignité humaine, ni une attaque personnelle. Elle s'inscrit dans les limites autorisées de la liberté d'expression et du droit à l'humour ..." (i.e. "... the unauthorized representation of the image of Nicolas Sarkozy does not constitute an attack on his human dignity, nor is it a personal attack. It falls within the authorized limits of freedom of speech and the right to humor...")

Say what?

Joe, Lieberman that is, retained his chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, when Senate Democrats voted 42-13 in favor of this. Sentiment to punish Lieberman ran high after the election as Democrats increased their razor thin majority and no longer needed Lieberman to be the majority party... However this effort suddenly ran out of steam when President-elect Barack Obama's Chief of Staff publicly announced that Obama would not get involved in the issue, while sotto voce Obama signaled to Democratic leaders that he was not in favor of punishing Lieberman...

Say what? Perhaps this blogger's a purist on this, but he doesn't understand why Senate Democrats are making their decision on a purely Senate-related matter based on President-elect Obama's preference. Seems simple - Obama, now executive; Senate, legislative. Granted, it's a small thing, but part of the problem of the past eight years has been an unhealthy deference on the part of the House and Senate towards the Presidency. Once upon a time Senators were zealous in their defense of their prerogatives and independence of action; lately, not so much! Regardless of the fact that they are the same party, the Senators should have ignored President-elect Obama on this issue! (Note: since he had publicly announced that he was neutral and had no position on the matter doing this would not have been any sort of rebuke or falling out...)

A check on change
Leahey speaks out against Lieberman chairmanship
Dean: Keeping Lieberman as chairman is shrewd move
Democrats vote to let Lieberman keep committee chair
With Obama's support, Lieberman stays in caucus
Lieberman: Two Additional Views: A Failure As Chairman; Obama's Poker Face

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Damned if you do...

... and damned if you don't... The Syrians that is. Many Lebanese (especially those of the March 14th persuasion) see the hand of Syria in almost everything that happens. Something negative, the Syrians are at the root of the problem! Something possibly positive, it's a sneaky Syrian manoeuvre of some sort to take advantage of the Lebanese!

So, Syria doesn't have diplomatic relations with Lebanon, hmm, proof positive that they regard Lebanon as a part of Syria (and not an independent country) and want to take over. Syria wants to set up diplomatic relations, hmm, proof positive that they are just trying to interfere (and then take over!). Syria won't coordinate with Lebanon on border security, hmm, proof positive that Syria doesn't recognize Lebanese sovereignty and wants to take over. Syria will coordinate with Lebanon on security, hmm, proof positive that Syria is just trying to interfere (and then take over!)

OK, so it's not in a total vacuum, there is a long history of interference there, and sometimes there really are good reasons to be paranoid (e.g. this), but seeing the evil Syrian boogeyman in everything is a bit much... Given these (and many, many other) examples, this blogger was surprised to see that in a poll published in NOW Lebanon, in answer to the question "Who do you perceive as Lebanon's greatest threat in the region?," only 16% answered Syria!

Government ownership

Strange Maps has #291 Federal Lands in the US, which shows the percentage of land owned by the federal governmet in each state of the union... Very high in the west...

The answer?

This blogger has wondered about PMI for quite some time (see blog entries 'Confused and nowhere to go' from September 24th; 'Repeat question' entry from October 30th; and 'The money PIT' from October 31st), but has not seen any discussion related to it. Finally! An answer, sort of... NPR's Planet Money had an episode the 17th that asked this question of an economist, Hampton Finer, from the New York State Insurance Department. He hemmed, and hawed, and appeared to point to a number of issues re why PMI isn't bailing out the banks, including the following:
  • First he implied that PMI did not cover the banks' entire loss. As this blogger understood it, PMI was supposed to cover the loss suffered by the bank (or lending institution) if it had to repossess the home after default and then foreclose and sell the home, i.e. make the bank whole. This economist implied that there was a cap of some sort (unspecified as to if it was some $$ threshold or a percentage of the home mortgage balance), so apparently as the market has crashed the loss on the foreclosure sale was greater than the coverage and so the banks' recovery rates were lower...
  • Then he pointed out the timing issues i.e. the PMI payment kicks in only after foreclosure sale and the bank has to "carry" the loss for quite some time before seeing the payments...
  • He also implied that the insurers underwriting these programs are in financial difficulties and so the chances that the banks will get the monies due is getting more problematic.
  • Finally, he seemed to suggest that the banks, seeing these insurers getting fat off PMI premiums (when the default/foreclosure rate was low), horned in on the action by taking part of the premiums and part of the risk as well. So, now when the default and foreclosure rates are soaring the banks are reaping what they sowed.
Additionally, in the comments some folks pointed out that some loans were structured to get around PMI requirements (e.g. 80/20 loans, etc.) The episode was most unsatisfactory - Mr. Finer didn't come out and clearly list the issues and answer the question. The interviewer appeared to have prise the information out of him, and many of his statements were qualified and hedged...

Monday, November 17, 2008

Good grief!


“... I have...asked my Judiciary committee staff to prepare legislation to make it a crime to scalp inaugural tickets... This inauguration will be the major civic event of our time, and these tickets are supposed to be free for the people. Nobody should have to pay for their tickets... This legislation is meant to immediately stop the unscrupulous behavior of those who obtain these tickets for free and then seek to profit by selling them, often at dramatically inflated prices. This bill also would target those duping the public with fraudulent tickets or promises of tickets they don’t actually have... This is unconscionable and must not be allowed..."

Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) has introduced a bill that would make it illegal to sell or attempt to sell tickets to the inauguration. The penalty for violations? Fines of up to $100,000 and one year in prison. News reports say that the bill also makes it "... illegal to create fake or forged tickets..."

Hmm, this blogger hadn't realized that creating fake or forged tickets and then selling them to unsuspecting dupes, cheating them out of their money, was currently legal and needed a bill to outlaw! But yes, something definitely needs to be done about people trying to profit!!

Trying to keep inaugural tickets priceless
Feinstein seeks to penalize inauguration scalpers
Feinstein: Inaugural passes not ‘tickets to a football game’

Thirty years later...

Tomorrow, November 18th is the 30th anniversary of the events at the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project in Guyana i.e. "Jonestown." On that day over 900 died in a mass suicide; a Congressman - Leo Ryan (D-CA) - and others were murdered; and the events that occurred led to the term "drinking the Kool-Aid" entering the American lexicon...

Today, nature/the jungle has reclaimed Jones' putative "socialist paradise."

Jonestown Memorial
Jonestown - Wikipedia
Jonestown - Google images
Jonestown - Google video
An anlayisis of Jonestown
Lessons from Jonestown (APA)
30 Years Later, Survivors Remember Jonestown Massacre
Jonestown - The life and death of Peoples' Temple (American Experience)

G20

Picture credit: G20 communique via Wordle

World leaders at the G20 meeting labored mightily... and brought forth a communique! It remains to be seen what measures the various governments will take, and how well they will be able to mitigate the financial pain that is occurring...

G20 Communique
What G20 leaders must do to stabilize our economy and fix the financial system - a collection of essays by leading economists from around the world on what the G20 leaders should do this weekend. Four priorities are identified: nations should act quickly to strengthen and coordinate their firefighting responses; they should immediately reinforce the IMF’s ability to fire-fight the crisis as it spreads to emerging markets and vulnerable developing nations; they should 'above all, do no harm'. Finally, they should start 'thinking outside the box' when it comes to long-run fixes.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Mental health break


Studies of Interest - IV


Provider of audit, finance, consulting, tax, and risk management services, Deloitte has produced 'Industry Compass 2.0' - a framework to look at the forces shaping healthcare. From their web site - this framework:

"... goes beyond traditional industry boundaries to help examine dynamic zones of impact and make sense of complex transformations across six drivers of change. Our Compass map provides a framework for discussing how potential trends and issues might interact over the coming decade and how your organization might respond to or even co-create the future... Industry Compass 2.0 is a visual guide designed to help you think about, plan for and navigate the future in an engaging and constructive way. It supports strategic analysis and planning around the puzzling grid of potential trends and issues confronting life sciences companies, health care providers, health plans and other stakeholders in the coming decade. The major elements of the Compass map – Drivers, Impact Zones, Trends, Signals, Hurdles, Landmarks and Artifacts – provide a framework for discussing how the elements might interact and how your organization might navigate the future ..."

Studies of interest - III

In an ominous sign for U.S. retailers and the economy as a whole, American Research Group, Inc.'s 2008 holiday shopping survey shows that "... Shoppers around the country say they are planning to spend an average of $431 for gifts this holiday season, down from $859 last year... The overall average planned spending is down almost 50% from 2007 and it is the lowest level of planned spending recorded by the American Research Group since 1991 ..."

Hmm, this blogger's household seems to be rather counter-cyclical - paying off all credit cards when others were racking up charges, a home purchase Q1 of 2007, a car purchase this month, plans for robust Christmas spending (mostly on a nice trip), etc., etc.

Studies of interest - II

Picture credit: AmericanaAirFilter

From the American Society for Quality:

"... October 1, 2008, marked a watershed event in the pay for performance movement in healthcare. That is the day when Medicare stopped paying hospitals for care related to so-called “never events”—errors in medical care that are preventable, clearly identifiable, and serious in their consequences for patients. This Quarterly Quality Report offers suggestions for ways that healthcare institutions can prevent such “never events” from happening. The suggestions range from simple, common-sense steps to solutions afforded by modern technologies. It also points out things that patients can do to reduce the likelihood of suffering one of these unfortunate occurrences. The solutions are drawn from a survey of healthcare quality practitioners conducted by ASQ in late August and early September 2008 ..."

Studies of interest - I

Price Waterhouse Cooper issued 'Will You Handle the Curve? Global Automotive Perspectives 2008' In September, as the latest financial meltdown sent U.S. automotive sales plunging, and the Big 3 asking for a piece of the TARP!

The report says "... 2008 is shaping up to be a year marked by profound industrial shifts and strong headwinds for the automotive industry, as global players respond to a fast growing array of financial and regulatory pressures. Such constraints include increasing fuel economy and/or drastic CO2 emissions mandates, rising commodity prices, a weakened US dollar, changing consumer preferences, and liquidity concerns. Nonetheless, tremendous opportunities exist for automakers and suppliers who are prepared to deliver swift and viable solutions to the industry's current transformation ... The ability of Western automakers to strategically position themselves between mature and emerging markets represents a clear challenge in today’s global automotive environment. Achieving a balanced global footprint is particularly critical for the Detroit 3, which must undertake massive domestic market realignment efforts as consumers abandon traditional truck-based vehicles and begin favoring more fuel-efficient car-based autos. In addition to satisfying changing domestic demand, the Detroit automakers’ rationalisation measures must be completed in a period of reduced credit availability and fragile financial outlooks." True in spades!

From the first graph we see that vehicle sales in 'mature' markets (i.e. the "core" EU countries, Japan, and the United States) has been flat for quite some time. Virtually all (volume) growth for the automotive sector has been in the emerging markets, and the need to be competitive in these markets is critical to continued growth of the automakers (the report estimates that four countries - Brazil, Russia, India, and China - will account for 58% of the volume growth through 2015...).

The Congress has already approved USD 25 billion in funds for the Big 3, to help in the development of more 'environmentally-friendly' cars, and the Big 3 are pushing for additional TARP funds to help them through the current crisis. The Democrats appear to mostly be in favor of the idea, and it is very likely that some sort of large assistance package will be forthcoming. Rather than just shoveling a mound of cash into the pockets of the Big 3, perhaps the Congress can/will take a long, hard look at the industry and decide what (if any) the long-term role of the government should be in this area. Otherwise, once through this crisis it is highly likely that the Big 3 will be back at the Congressional pump to be re-primed in a few years! However, this blogger isn't holding his breath in anticipation of them taking a long-term view!

Updated:

Three November 16th opeds in the NYT address this issue. The first, 'How High Gas Prices Can Save the Car Industry,' argues that the Big 3 need help to avoid irreparable harm to the economy, but suggests that this happen by setting a floor to gas prices via tax, the proceeds of which would be used to bail out the automotive giants... The second, 'Have You Driven a Bus or a Train Recently,' argues that strings be attached to the help provided... The third, 'What's Good for G.M. Is Good for the Army' by retired General Wesley Clark, argues that helping the automotive giants is a national security imperative....

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Misc. financial crisis

1. Spiegel asked five Nobel prize winners in economics for advice for the leaders of the G20 summit...

Paul A. Samuelson: The Dynamic Moving Center
Joseph E. Stiglitz: Global Crisis -- Made in America
Edmund S. Phelps: What Has Gone Wrong up until Now
Richard Selten: Regulation of the Financial Market Is Important
Robert E. Lucas: The Recession Is the More Immediate Problem

2. ProPublica puts together a timeline showing AIG's demise...

3. Former Clinton Official Says Democrats, Obama Advisers Share Blame for Market Meltdown - Former SEC Chair Arthur Levitt (1993 - 2001) allows that responsibility for the conditions that led up to the current financial crisis began to be set many years ago, as far back as the Clinton administrations and earlier... "... As the world financial system implodes, Democrats have blamed the Bush administration's lack of regulation for creating the conditions for collapse. But a top Clinton regulator acknowledges that he and his colleagues a decade ago "beat back" regulatory efforts that could have prevented credit markets from becoming so precariously balanced they were “milliseconds” from disaster..."

4. The number of parties seeking to access TARP funds continues to grow... This includes cities (e.g. 'San Jose mayor seeks slice of bailout pie' 'TARP Cities' - Philadelphia, Phoenix and Atlanta ), insurance companies (e.g. '4 insurers seek to buy thrifts for part of bailout'), states and local governments (e.g. 'TARP, CPFF Expansion Called For - States, localities Seek Participation'), the automakers, etc....

5. 'TARP: Banks Give Congress the Right to ^*&*^! Them' warns the banks that by accepting TARP funds they have left themselves open to Congress unilaterally changing the rules governing the loans, since "... the deal is subject to any modification that Congress wants to make. Section 5.3 says that Treasury may unilaterally change the terms of the deal to conform with laws passed by Congress. This is a huge danger ..."

Match 'em up...

Match the world leaders of the G20 - the heads of nineteen of the largest world industrialized countries plus the European Union. Also in attendance, the leaders of The World Bank, IMF, Spain, and the Netherlands...

a - Argentina - President Cristina Kirchner
b - Australia - Prime Minister Kevin Rudd
c - Brazil - President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva
d - Canada - Prime Minister Stephen Harper
e - China - President Hu Jintao
f - France - President Nicolas Sarkozy
g - Germany - Chancellor Angela Merkel
h - India - Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
i - Indonesia - President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
j - Italy - President Silvio Berlusconi
k - Japan - Prime Minister Taro Aso
l - Mexico - President Felipe Calderon
m - Russia - President Dmitri Medvedev
n Saudi Arabia - King Abdallah
o - South Africa - President Kgalema Motlanthe
p - South Korea - President Lee Myung-Bak
q - Turkey - Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
r - United Kingdom - Prime Minister Gordon Brown
s - United States - President George W Bush
t - European Union - José Manuel Barroso (President of the European Commission)

Also present:
u - International Monetary Fund - President Robert Zoellick.
v - World Bank - Dominique Strauss-Kahn (Director General)
v - Spain - Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero
w - Netherlands - Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende
x - ???

Hint, here's a start: 2-e; 9-g; 12-c; 15-h; 19-n; 21-f; 23-p; 25-o...

Friday, November 14, 2008

Happy 60th Charles


Charles Philip Arthur George (Mountbatten-Windsor), Prince of Wales, turned 60 today... Sixty years (and counting, considering that the Queen at 82 is hale and hearty...) waiting for the throne... Ouch.

Prince Charles, une si longue attente...
A 60 ans, le prince Charles attend de succéder à sa mère

Financial crisis & hospitals (updated)

Hospital Construction Trends 1983-2007


Hospital Margins 1991-2006


Hospital Investment Income 1981-2006


Hospital Revenue Sources 1980-2006

Hospital Payment-to-Cost Ratios for different revenue sources


Over the past few years hospitals have been a bright spot in the economy. Although part of the overall national healthcare "crisis," and although some hospitals have been in the red, many other hospitals have been profitable (average margins have been improving since 2001, see graph); have been a source of job growth; and have also been responsible for a mini construction boom... However, with the current financial crisis, pressures are increasing and the omens are not good for hospitals to maintain their financial positions. These pressures are on several fronts:
  • The financial crisis has constricted access to capital and also has increased the cost of capital, hurting hospitals that need copious capital to continue to fund their investments in buildings, plant, and increasingly sophisticated capital equipment.
  • The turmoil and poor performance of the stock markets have hurt on several fronts. First, hospitals' investment income has fallen or become negative. Second, hospital endowments have taken a hit and have seriously shrunk. Third, as the economy weakens many wealthy benefactors are probably dialing back their philanthropic contributions. Fourth, many hospitals still have defined benefit retirement plans... market losses may have adversely effected the funding of these plans, requiring hospitals to use operating cash to shore up the funding of their pension plans.
  • The worsening economy is hurting hospital operating revenues and increasing operating costs on a number of fronts, including:
    • Layoffs swell the ranks of the uninsured, and degrade the abilities of self-pay patients. Employers respond by decreasing their employees' coverage and increasing co-pays. All of these result in increases in hospital unreimbursed expenses and bad debt.
    • Case volumes flatten as elective surgeries and procedures are postponed and put off, thereby reducing hospital revenues (note: often these items have higher margins)
    • People often put off seeking medical care - as a result they often are sicker when they go to the hospital, and often they end up using the hospitals' emergency departments, thus increasing ED usage and increasing hospital costs.
    • Insurance companies increase their scrutiny of hospital billings. This increases the length of time it takes to pay bills, thus hurting hospitals' cash flow. Rejections also increase, also hurting revenues.
    • A large portion (approximately 50% or more, see graph) of hospitals' revenue comes from federal and state governments. As these entities feel the pinch they reduce hospital payments / reimbursements (which already are often below costs, see graph above). This further pinches hospital revenues. Additionally, reimbursements for hospital acquired infections and other "never events" are being eliminated, Medicare is increasing its use of recovery audit contractors, etc., all also leading to decreased reimbursement.
All in all, the current financial crisis is putting additional pressures on the nation's hospitals. Some of the approximately 25% of hospitals that already have negative margins will risk going under, the ones with positive margins will see their margins degraded. Consolidations and mergers will increase as hospitals seek to respond to financial pressures. It is to be devoutly hoped that in their response to the financial pressures they are experiencing themselves, that federal and state governments do not cut so deep that they endanger the viability of the nation's hospitals...

Hospitals with negative margins



Trendwatch 2008
Hospital construction trends, Nov 8 2007

Ed. note: All graphs and charts here from the given links...

Updated November 19th:


Hospitals’ Response to the Current Financial Market from IMA Consulting's Insights makes the same points, albeit much more elegantly. In addition they point out that a worsening balance between revenues and expenses could violate existing bond covenants (from current debt), leading to increased expenses or the need for remediation that negatively impacts the hospitals... The article also suggests what the hospitals can do to reduce expenses.

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