Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Quick update - "peace' walls

The May 6th, 2008 blog entry 'Peace Walls' noted that "... ten years after the signing of the Good Friday agreement that brought peace to the area, these walls remain. Some want them taken down, but many do not. In fact new “peace walls” (as they are called here) continue to be erected…", while the July 28th, 2008 entry 'More about walls' took President Obama to task for foolishly claiming "... Not only have walls come down in Berlin, but they have come down in Belfast, where Protestant and Catholic found a way to live together..."

A recent article, 'Belfast, divided in the name of peace', notes this phenomenon and provides an update:

"... Alexandra Park in north Belfast is a gently sloping expanse of green that looks, at first glance, like any other small, well-tended public park in any other British city. It has winding paths, tall trees, a pond and, down towards its lower end, a pleasantly leafy area that could easily be turned into a nature walk for local children. To reach it, though, you have to pass though a newly created gate in a 3m-high, reinforced corrugated steel fence that bisects the park.

On a overcast afternoon last November, the park is all but deserted save for myself, Antonio Olmos, the
Observer photographer, and a solitary figure with a large dog we glimpse though the open gate. Then, as if on cue, a council van arrives and two workers jump out. It is 3pm and they are here to close the gate in the fence. As they do so, Alexandra Park once again becomes two separate parks: one Catholic, the other Protestant...

According to a report published by the
Belfast Interface Project, there are now 99 interfaces – or peace walls – in Belfast. Some walls date from the early years of the Troubles, when sectarian tit-for-tat killings and violence were a regular occurrence on the strife-torn streets of Belfast. An estimated one-third, though, have gone up since the IRA and Protestant paramilitary ceasefire in 1994. Many existing walls have been made longer and higher in recent years..."

Random charts - healthcare design

Source: Healthcare Industry And Design Trends

Sunday, January 29, 2012


According to the Washington Post, France agrees to two decades of support in Afghanistan, despite attack on its troops. Reading the article the only date referenced with respect to France's involvement comes in the sentence "... French troops will continue to train their Afghan counterparts well beyond 2014..." We also learn that "... Britain’s partnership agreement, which will last through 2022..." and "... Italy’s agreement, which also focuses on the country’s economy and security forces, was described as “long-term past 2014” in a statement from Karzai’s office.."

OK, so the British agreement actually does appear to go out another decade, and I supposed you could called it two decades if you count backwards to 2011... However, France agreeing to "two decades" of support doesn't seem quite supported by the body of the article (as opposed to its headline).

Random charts - Europe & U.S.

Source: L'impact de la crise sur l'emploi

Source: Businomics

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Random chart - Twitter SOTU?

Source: "My Message is Simple": Obama's SOTU Written at 8th Grade Level for Third Straight Year.

"For the third consecutive State of the Union Address, Barack Obama spoke in clear, plain terms. And for the third straight Address, the President's speech was written at an eighth-grade level. In Obama's own words: "My message is simple." But was it too simplistic?

A Smart Politics study of the 70 orally delivered State of the Union Addresses since 1934 finds the text of Obama's 2012 speech to have tallied the third lowest score on the Flesch-Kincaid readability test, at an 8.4 grade level..."

Friday, January 27, 2012

Four years!

Four years ago this blogger started this blog and posted a January 27th, 2008 entry related to the death of Benazir Bhutto... Not much more to say than what was said at the 3rd anniversary.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Random charts - alternative medicine

Source: 2010 Complementary and Alternative Medicine Survey of Hospitals

"... The purpose of thissurvey was to garner in-depth information about the types of CAM programs and services being offered by hospitals, including their program costs, revenue, staffing, reimbursement and other business strategies related to their efforts in integrating complementary and alternative medicine therapies into the hospital setting..."

Monday, January 23, 2012

Random chart - US tax rates

Source: Romney’s Tax Returns and Effective Tax Rates of the Rich

From 2009 (latest available from the IRS), "... The table also shows the average, or effective, tax rate that taxpayers in each income group pay. For the entire universe of American taxpayers, the average tax rate is 11 percent of our AGI. The highest average tax rate paid by anyone earning under $100,000 is 8 percent. That shows the power of the sundry tax credits available to the "middle-class..."

Sunday, January 22, 2012

No joy!

Source: Lessons from Medicare's Demonstration Projects on Disease Management, Care Coordination, and Value-Based Payment

Over several years Medicare has tried two broad categories of demonstration projects to improve care and to see if it is possible to reduce health care expenses. The two categories are 'disease management and care coordination' projects to attempt to improve the care of beneficiaries with chronic illnesses, and 'value-based payment' projects that attempt to incentivize health care providers to improve the quality and efficiency of care, as opposed to fee for service type payments...

The report linked to above provides the results of these demonstration projects (as analyzed by the CBO)... The main conclusions:

  • "... most programs have not reduced Medicare spending...", and,
  • "Demonstrations aimed at reducing spending and increasing quality of care face significant challenges in overcoming the incentives inherent in Medicare’s fee-for-service payment system... The results of those Medicare demonstrations suggest that substantial changes to payment and delivery systems will probably be necessary for programs involving disease management and care coordination or value-based payment to significantly reduce spending and either maintain or improve the quality of care provided to patients."

Random picture

Source: 'Get Back on Board, Signora Merkel!'

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Diagnosis: Muddled thinking

An earlier post, 'Help on the way?', had noted that Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota was among the worthy Senators who "... pop up in the news every time a drug shortage occurs and hits the newspapers..." Well, it's either for publicity, to be seen doing something about a national problem, or because she cares about this subject and has developed some sort of expertise regarding this thorny problem...

Her earlier efforts in this regard - S296, the 'Preserving Access to Life-Saving Medications Act' - seemed to this blogger to not be a very useful... For example, the 'advance notification' of planned down times doesn't really address any of the root causes of drug shortages; rather than partnering with manufacturers to develop a multi-faceted approach to addressing the multiple causes of drug shortages, she seems to prefer an adversarial and punitive approach (warning drug companies that they have to do X or face civil monetary penalties, etc. ); etc.

OK, so her efforts perhaps are not because of the former (i.e just leveraging the problem for free publicity), it could just be an early effort/attempt to begin addressing the problem.

However, reading Klobuchar Warns Drug Makers Over Tactics That Limit Supplies, it appears that she is now conflating two issues that have no relation to one another i.e. "pay to delay" and drug shortages. The former is a practice that Klobuchar, correctly, is against. This blogger is in agreement. However, while "pay to delay" has an adverse financial impact on consumers by delaying price decreases to legend drugs (by delaying the increased competition by generics), it has practically nothing to do with drug shortages. Data on the causes of drug shortages (e.g. from the FDA) do not assign any meaningful number of shortages to issues related to "pay for delay."

Throw this in, and now this blogger is inclined to believe she hasn't taken the time to delve into this issue, that she is not really serious about, and perhaps the free publicity is the draw...

Previous blog entries on drug shortages:
Polarization? - Dec 2nd, 2011
Help on the way? - Jul 31st, 2011
Random charts - Apr 6th, 2011
The why's of drug shortages - Mar 3oth, 2011

Final note: The article also includes this: "... Pay-for-delay tactics can aggravate overall drug shortages, said Stephen Schondelmeyer, an expert in pharmaceutical economics at the University of Minnesota. If generic drugmakers know they can reap multimillion-dollar settlements for trying to replicate top brand-name drugs, they'll feel no urgency to invest in needed but low-profit medications, he said..." I'm not sure who this "expert" is, but if this is an exact quote (see bolded), then it makes no sense whatsoever!

Great quotes

WHEREAS, Israel has been granted her lands under and through the oldest recorded deed as reported in the Old Testament, a tome of scripture held sacred and reverenced by Jew and Christian, alike, as the acts and words of God; and,

WHEREAS, as the Grantor of said lands, God stated to the Jewish people in the Old Testament; in Leviticus, Chapter 20, Verse 24: “Ye shall inherit their land, and I will give it unto you to possess it, a land that floweth with milk and honey”; and,

WHEREAS, God has never rescinded his grant of said lands; and,

WHEREAS, along with the grant of said lands to the Jewish people, God provided for the non-Jewish residents of the land in commanding that governance must be in one law for all without drawing distinction between Jewish and non-Jewish citizens, as contained in Leviticus 24:22, and,

WHEREAS, the Nation of Israel declared its independent control and governance of said lands on May 14, 1948, with the goal of re-establishing their God-given lands as a homeland for the Jewish people; and,

WHEREAS, the United States of America, having been the first country to recognize Israel as an independent nation and as Israel’s principal Mideast ally, has enjoyed a close and mutually beneficial relationship with Israel and her people; and,

WHEREAS, indeed, Israel is the United States of America’s greatest friend in the Mideast; and,

WHEREAS, the roots of Israel and the roots of the United States of America are so intertwined that it is difficult to separate one from the other under the word and protection of almighty God; and,

WHEREAS, there are those in the Middle East who have sought to destroy Israel from its inception as a nation; and,

WHEREAS, those same enemies of Israel also seek to destroy the United States of America; and,

WHEREAS, the United States of America and the nation of Israel have enjoyed cordial and mutually beneficial relations since 1948, a friendship that should continues to strengthen with each passing year.

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, by the Republican Nation Committee that the committee by this resolution commends the nation of Israel for its relations with the United States of America.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the members of this body support Israel in their natural and God-given right of self-governance and self-defense upon their own lands, recognizing that Israel is neither an attacking force nor an occupier of the lands of others; and that peace can be afforded the region only through a united Israel governed under one law for all people.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that a copy of this resolution be forwarded to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and Senate Leadership and each of the legislatures of the states within the United States of America with the request and recommendation of this body that a similar resolution to that stated herein be proposed within their respective bodies.

- Republican National Committee, via GOP Officially Endorses One-State Solution


"... Already fending off questions about his vast personal wealth, Romney is facing additional scrutiny this week thanks to reports that he has as much as $8 million invested in funds listed in the Cayman Islands. Though Romney does still pay U.S. taxes on his income from these funds, the Cayman address offers some benefits over domestically registration, such as higher management fees and greater foreign interest -- benefits that cost the U.S. federal government billions of dollars per year.."

- FP Passport, see And then there were four. Hmm, so we are to believe that Romney invests his money in funds in the Cayman Islands because they charge higher fees? Something not quite right here...

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Random picture

Source: Officials: 3 killed, scores missing after cruise ship runs aground off Italy

Random charts - healthcare spend

Source: Accounting for the cost of U.S. health care: Pre-reform trends and the impact of the recession

Excellent, detailed, McKinsey report that "... sheds light on the underlying dynamics and trends shaping the health care industry in this period of rapid change and uncertainty..." A must read...

Random charts - demogrqaphic trends

Source: Dusk, Dawn, and High Noon: Demographic Trends Forecast Next Phases for China, India, and the United States.

A look at "... the demographic futures and related economic prospects facing China, India, and the United States over the next several decades..." With the caveat that "... demographics are not destiny...", this study examines the demographics changes/trends through 2050, and from them derives some possibilities:
  • "... Alone among the world’s large affluent nations, the United States will see modest increases in its working-age population through 2050; meanwhile, the working-age populations of Europe and Japan are projected to fall steeply through 2050. These demographic and economic trends alone may mean the United States will be the predominant global power for at least the next half-century. If anything, the United States could become even more dominant in the alliances it leads..."
  • "... Right now, as of 2012, China is entering an era in which its rapidly aging population could constrain its economic growth. India, in contrast, will enjoy a substantial demographic advantage until around 2030, when the ratio of working-age Indians to dependents will likely be at its highest..."
Read the RAND article for much more...

Monday, January 2, 2012

Random charts - electric grid

Source: “Impacts of Severe Space Weather on the Electric Grid,” JASON report.

Their findings? "... We agree that the U.S. electric grid remains vulnerable but are not convinced that Kappenman’s worst-case scenario [26] is plausible, i.e. that a severe solar storm will probably destroy up to 300 EHV trans-formers, leaving as many as 130 million people without power for years while replacement transformers are manufactured and installed."

Their recommendations? "... Mitigation should be undertaken as soon as possible to reduce the vulnerability of the U.S. grid. The cost appears modest compared to just the economic impact of a single storm, e.g.$8B in August 2003... A rigorous and fully transparent risk analysis should be done of the U.S. grid. It should begin with analyzing Kappenman’s worst-case scenario while protecting his proprietary methods and proceed to a full-up simulation along the lines envisioned by [1]. National policy should not be based on methods not fully available to the government..."

Mental health break

From 'The ascent of Alex Honnold' (video)

From 'Ueli Steck speed solo Eiger record' (video)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Random chart - U.S. unemployment

Source: Calculated Risk

Random chart - U.S. budget deficits

Source: How the Deficit Got This Big

Great quotes

"... President Obama — himself holds heinous views on a slew of critical issues and himself has done heinous things with the power he has been vested. He has slaughtered civilians — Muslim children by the dozens — not once or twice, but continuously in numerous nations with drones, cluster bombs and other forms of attack. He has sought to overturn a global ban on cluster bombs. He has institutionalized the power of Presidents — in secret and with no checks — to target American citizens for assassination-by-CIA, far from any battlefield. He has waged an unprecedented war against whistleblowers, the protection of which was once a liberal shibboleth. He rendered permanently irrelevant the War Powers Resolution, a crown jewel in the list of post-Vietnam liberal accomplishments, and thus enshrined the power of Presidents to wage war even in the face of a Congressional vote against it. His obsession with secrecy is so extreme that it has become darkly laughable in its manifestations, and he even worked to amend the Freedom of Information Act (another crown jewel of liberal legislative successes) when compliance became inconvenient.

He has entrenched for a generation the once-reviled, once-radical Bush/Cheney Terrorism powers of indefinite detention, military commissions, and the state secret privilege as a weapon to immunize political leaders from the rule of law. He has shielded Bush era criminals from every last form of accountability. He has vigorously prosecuted the cruel and supremely racist War on Drugs, including those parts he vowed during the campaign to relinquish — a war which devastates minority communities and encages and converts into felons huge numbers of minority youth for no good reason. He has empowered thieving bankers through the Wall Street bailout, Fed secrecy, efforts to shield mortgage defrauders from prosecution, and the appointment of an endless roster of former Goldman, Sachs executives and lobbyists. He’s brought the nation to a full-on Cold War and a covert hot war with Iran, on the brink of far greater hostilities. He has made the U.S. as subservient as ever to the destructive agenda of the right-wing Israeli government. His support for some of the Arab world’s most repressive regimes is as strong as ever..."

- Glenn Greenwald, Progressives and the Ron Paul fallacies