Monday, November 18, 2013

The Sad State of The Academy

Neoliberalism is destroying the value of our public universities.
Central to this neoliberal view of higher education in the United States and United Kingdom is a market-driven paradigm that seeks to eliminate tenure, turn the humanities into a job preparation service, and transform most faculty into an army of temporary subaltern labor. For instance, in the United States out of 1.5 million faculty members, 1 million are “adjuncts who are earning, on average, $20,000 a year gross, with no benefits or healthcare, no unemployment insurance when they are out of work.”[11]  The indentured service status of such faculty is put on full display as some colleges have resorted to using “temporary service agencies to do their formal hiring.”[12]
...[M]any of the problems in higher education can be linked to diminished funding, the domination of universities by market mechanisms, the rise of for-profit colleges, the intrusion of the national security state, and the diminished role of faculty in governing the university, all of which both contradict the culture and democratic value of higher education and makes a mockery of the very meaning and mission of the university as a democratic public sphere. 
The picture seems quite bleak.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Behaving Like a Grown-Up

Pundits don't like being wrong, they often don't want to admit being wrong.  Niall Ferguson is a classic case of a public figure unable to admit his analytical errors.  But Niall's arch-nemesis, Paul Krugman, is a great example of what a grown-up does when they're wrong: He admits it and explains how he arrived at his erroneous conclusions.
After all, if you write about current affairs and you’re never wrong, you just aren’t sticking your neck out enough. Stuff happens, and sometimes it’s not the stuff you thought would happen. 
So what do you do then? Do you claim that you never said what you said? Do you lash out at your critics and play victim? Or do you try to figure out what you got wrong and why, and revise your thinking accordingly? 
I’ve been wrong many times over the years, usually on minor things but sometimes on big ones. Before 1998 I didn’t think the liquidity trap was a serious concern; the example of Japan suggested that I was wrong, and I eventually concluded that it was a big concern indeed. In 2003 I thought the US was potentially vulnerable to an Asian-crisis-style loss of confidence; when it didn’t happen I rethought my models, realized that foreign-currency debt was crucial, and changed my view. 
The case of the euro is a bit different: I was very pessimistic about the strategy of austerity and internal devaluation, which I thought would have a terrible cost — and I was completely right about that. I also guessed that this cost would prove politically unsustainable, leading to a crisis for the euro itself; so far, at least, I have been wrong. My economic model worked fine, my implicit political model didn’t; OK, so it goes.

Wise Words from a Wise Man

Those of you who know me know I am not only not religious, I'm rather anti-religious in my views.  That goes doubly for Christianity since, during my lifetime, Christianity in America has morphed from something benign into a tumor that has metastasized onto our civic life.  Worst of all, Christianity's adherents use their faith as a cudgel to beat perceived outsiders (minorities, LGBT citizens, people of minority faiths like muslims) and as a device to enforce the racist white patriarchy.

But now comes a Pope who is saying all the right things and is presenting an original version of Christianity that is all about love, compassion and care for the less fortunate.  I only hope this Papal vaccine can reverse the cancerous Christian tumor that has infested the body politic in America.  These are excerpts of an interview the Pope did with an Italian paper that the Vatican press office is attempting to censor.
The most serious evils currently afflicting the world are unemployment among the young and the solitude in which the elderly are left. The elderly need care and companionship; the young need work and hope. However, they have neither the one nor the other, and the trouble is that they are no longer seeking for them. They have been crushed by the present.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

BOOKS TO READ: The Myth of Ownership: Taxes and Justice

Adding this one to the stack of books to read: The Myth of Ownership: Taxes and Justice by Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel.  The book was reviewed in 2002 in the New York Times Book Review by David Cay Johnston.

Johnston writes,
[Murphy & Nagel] assert that a naïve philosophy of ''everyday libertarianism'' infects American politics with a ''robust and compelling fantasy that we earn our income and the government takes some of it away from us.'' This popular myth ''results in widespread hostility to taxes, and a political advantage to those who campaign against them and attack the I.R.S.'' 
This fantasy grows from the acceptance by all sides in the tax debate that gross, or pretax, incomes are presumptively just and therefore the proper moral base line to begin debate. The authors say pretax incomes are morally insignificant, an idea they confess is hard to sell. They argue that ''individual citizens don't own anything except through laws that are enacted and enforced by the state,'' because without government there would be anarchy, an endless war of all-against-one that would diminish incomes and wealth, not to mention life itself. Thus it is after-tax incomes that people are entitled to own. These ideas will encounter a hostile reception from partisans in the debate of the past quarter-century, in which the prevailing political rhetoric characterizes taxes as sheer waste, an unfair drag on the most productive people and an evil.
Sounds about right.  If not for the state, there would be no enforcement of property rights except through the barrel of a gun.  Anarchy would indeed be the only "rule of law" left.

Would you prefer red or white wine with your subsidized meal?

Supported by your supplemental nutrition tax dollars?
In the face of a hunger crisis in the US exacerbated by Republican cruelty in the form of supplemental nutrition funding cuts, it's important to realize that not all supplemental nutrition funding is being cut.
Let’s remember that the government already subsidizes lots of food. When wealthy executives dine at fancy French restaurants, part of the bill is likely to be deducted from taxes, which amounts to a subsidy from taxpayers. How is it that food subsidies to anemic children are more controversial than food subsidies to executives enjoying coq au vin?

Stacey Keach FTW!

Words Fail Me

And yet I'm still surprised by the hypocrisy of this woman.  Speaking in Canada, vocal opponent of any form of government-sponsored healthcare for Americans, Palin admitted her reliance on Canada's single-payer healthcare system.
The vocal opponent of health-care reform in the U.S. steered largely clear of the topic except to reveal a tidbit about her life growing up not far from Whitehorse. 
"We used to hustle over the border for health care we received in Canada," she said. "And I think now, isn't that ironic?"
Yes, Sarah, it's the very definition of ironic.  Oh, and hypocrisy.  That too.

If anyone deserved to be punched in the throat, it's got to be Sarah Palin.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Obamacare's Upstairs / Downstairs Problem

The BBC program "Upstairs / Downstairs" was a look at ossified class society in Edwardian England.  America's healthcare system recapitulates this "insider / outsider" dichotomy by pitting those with healthcare against those without (or with inadequate).  A recent post at the Economist spells this out nicely.
Obamacare was always going to be a hard sell because it is an attempt to fix an insider-outsider problem. At root, its supporters do not think it right for a country as rich as America to be home to tens of millions of people who do not have health cover, or who have such skimpy insurance that they risk financial ruin if they fall gravely ill. 
But ... Republicans have focused on appeals to today’s insiders: warning them that they will be worse off once Obamacare is in force. Those appeals work, because there is something to them. The future of health care in America inevitably involves more rationing and less consumer choice. Indeed it has to. Whether or not you believe Obamacare has a decent chance of putting health care on a more sustainable footing, something has to give. But it is going to hurt. If Obamacare is going to offer affordable coverage to sicker, poorer people without bankrupting the private insurers, then it will have to stick others with the bill. Some will pay more, some will get less, and lots of young, healthy Americans will have to buy insurance for the first time.
The fear of triage, of "rationing," is a winning argument in the Constituency of Fear.  Rather than couching the argument in the framework of "care for all" a la Medicare, the Obama administration has created the ultimate muddle, mixing insiders and outsiders and pissing everybody off.

A better solution, single-payer, Medicare-for-all, would provide a foundation upon which private insurers could build enhanced coverage akin to the enhancements provided through Medicare Advantage.  Instead we have this ridiculous farce.

Know Your Rights!

These are your rights under the legal framework of conservatism as represented by the Roberts court:
Speech that might well be protected under the First Amendment can now be included in criminal charges and submitted to the jury alongside other evidence of material support [for terrorism]. That is a serious blow to traditional principles of free speech. Although the 1st Circuit did not say so, arguably, coordination could now be inferred just from the nature of the speech and the fact that it was posted online in a forum visited by terrorist-friendly users. 
The real culprit here is not the 1st Circuit but the Supreme Court in the Holder decision. By allowing Congress to outlaw nonviolent speech made within the U.S. by U.S. citizens, it drastically reduced the scope of free speech from the traditional Brandenburg standard.
Once again, conservatism leads the charge in fear over reason, control over freedom and irrationality over rationality.

We'll let The Clash sort this out for us.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

What Rhymes With Derp?

CNBC, that font of misinformation, would like you to know that “Anyone who ran a company with a balance sheet that looked like the U.S. probably wouldn’t have a company anymore.” 
Of course, nobody can run a company with a balance sheet like the US, which is why it’s always a mistake to compare the US government to a corporation, much less a household. The government can pass taxes and print money. You and I can’t.
But wait... it gets better...
Perhaps worse even than CNBC’s balance-sheet boo-boo is this whopper: 
The declining national deficit this year due primarily to sequestration budget cuts has provided some optimism that the problem is becoming more manageable. 
That’s flat false. 
Higher tax receipts accounted for nearly 80 percent of the decline in the deficit. Government spending declined by $84 billion in fiscal year 2013, and sequestration was responsible for about $42 billion of that. 
Tax receipts, meantime, rose $325 billion, accounting for the vast majority of the decline in the deficit. 
CNBC is challenging Fox News for the title of derpiest media outlet.

Obamacare: Wheels within Wheels in a Spiral Array (of EPIC FAIL)

I've written before of the catastrophic awfulness of the Affordable Care Act.  It's the ultimate Rube Goldberg device designed to keep the parasitic private health insurance companies in champagne and caviar.  Now comes yet another "unintended consequence" of this awful law.  

Many poor Americans rely on a network of "safety-net" hospitals.  They are likely to lose access to critical health services as a direct result of Obamacare.  The hospitals which make up this safety-net are losing important funding which reimburses them for uninsured care.
Now, in a perverse twist, many of the poor people who rely on safety-net hospitals like Memorial will be doubly unlucky. A government subsidy, little known outside health policy circles but critical to the hospitals’ survival, is being sharply reduced under the new health law. 
The subsidy, which for years has helped defray the cost of uncompensated and undercompensated care, was cut substantially on the assumption that the hospitals would replace much of the lost income with payments for patients newly covered by Medicaid or private insurance. But now the hospitals in states like Georgia will get neither the new Medicaid patients nor most of the old subsidies, which many say are crucial to the mission of care for the poor. 
“We were so thrilled when the law passed, but it has backfired,” said Lindsay Caulfield, senior vice president for planning and marketing at Grady Health in Atlanta, the largest safety-net hospital in Georgia. 
It is now facing the loss of nearly half of its roughly $100 million in annual subsidies known as disproportionate share hospital payments.
"Perverse twist" indeed.  These safety net hospitals are a necessary piece of healthcare delivery in a country which can't seem to get its healthcare head out of the Republican's ass.  And, because of Obama and the Affordable Care Act these hospitals will be unable to to provide care for the most vulnerable members of our society.

Let's be clear, though.  This isn't entirely Obama's fault.  One of the pieces of this excessively complex legislation was left in the hands of the states: Medicaid expansion.  Various dickweed Republican Governors (including our very own Scott Walker) refused to accept Medicaid expansion dollars and this has compounded the problem of these safety-net hospitals.

But the ultimate responsibility for this lies with Obama who decided, rather than pursue a Democratic healthcare path, decided to adopt a plan put forth by the vile Heritage Foundation in 1989.

So why are we surprised Obamacare is an EPIC FAIL, again?  It came from the fucking Heritage Foundation, the source of EPIC FAIL ideas for over 30 years.

So instead of Medicare for All or some other single-payer scheme, we have this.  A death-spiral of EPIC FAIL.

When you lie down with Heritage dogs, you get Republican fleas.  Well done, Obummer, well done.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Poverty and Health Care Rationing

Because we can't manage to provide adequate healthcare to our own citizens, the less fortunate get to be rationed down to using EMTs for primary care.  At least that's a scheme being proposed by some doctors.
[T]hose who ... practice general medicine are rarely drawn to work in the rural and inner-city areas where people most lack access to medical treatment. 
What’s needed is a strategy to lure people who already live in underserved communities to practice health care there. One clever way of doing that, just proposed by a group of authors writing in the November issue of Health Affairs, is inspired by the successful model of emergency medicine -- that is, give people the level of training that emergency medical technicians and paramedics receive, but aimed at primary rather than emergency care. 
After all, what do EMTs and paramedics do but bring medical skills and equipment to places where doctors and nurses aren’t readily available? In their case, the places are wherever car crashes, heart attacks or other sudden medical catastrophes happen. EMTs and paramedics are also trained relatively quickly and paid relatively modestly, with a mean annual salary of less than $35,000.
The big difference, of course, is that emergent medicine is not the same as primary care.  And at the end of that ambulance ride is an ER stocked with doctors, nurses and technology to help you recover.

Sure, you could train a few EMTs to deal with some chronic primary care issues, but in the end, what do these people do when they need a real doctor?  Go to the ER?

A scheme like this, in the context of a comprehensive socialized healthcare system would be great, but using it as another band-aid to patch up our horribly broken healthcare delivery system is shameful.

Left-Wing Racism: Anti-GMO Liberals and Malthusian Consequences

Thomas Malthus
The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world.
—Malthus T.R. 1798. An essay on the principle of population. Chapter VII, p61
Opposition to Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) foods represents a new form of racism, one that is subtle and very likely unintentional, but racism nonetheless.  And it's a racism that the left-wing seems blind to as they campaign against GMO.

It's a passive racism, predicated on a premise that the Earth's ability to feed people is limited and technologies like GMOs are an immoral answer to the question of starvation.  I suspect if you were to ask this child,

if GMO food is immoral, you might not get the same answer.  And that's not hyperbole.  Children like her, millions of them, are going to rely on GMO foods to improve nutrition and the ability of their poor nations to produce food.  Cut them off, and those millions of children are likely to suffer and many will die.

Golden Rice (on the right) has a distinctly yellow color which comes from the introduction of genes which produce β-carotene 

Take, for instance, The Golden Rice Project.  Golden rice is a genetically modified rice crop to improve the nutrition in people in rice cultures, mostly in Asia.  This variety of rice provide beta-carrotine, an important nutrient often lacking in the diets of impoverished Asians.

Dietary micronutrient deficiencies, such as the lack of vitamin A, iodine, iron or zinc, are a major source of morbidity (increased susceptibility to disease) and mortality worldwide. These deficiencies affect particularly children, impairing their immune system and normal development, causing disease and ultimately death. The best way to avoid micronutrient deficiencies is by way of a varied diet, rich in vegetables, fruits and animal products. 
The second best approach, especially for those who cannot afford a balanced diet, is by way of nutrient-dense staple crops. Sweet potatoes, for example, are available as varieties that are either rich or poor in provitamin A. Those producing and accumulating provitamin A (orange-fleshed sweet potatoes) are called biofortified,* as opposed to the white-fleshed sweet potatoes, which do not accumulate provitamin A. In this case, what needs to be done is to introduce the biofortified varieties to people used to the white-fleshed varieties, as is happening at present in southern Africa by introducing South American varieties of orange-fleshed sweet potatoes. 
Unfortunately, there are no natural provitamin A-containing rice varieties. In rice-based societies, the absence of β-carotene in rice grains manifests itself in a marked incidence of blindness and susceptibility to disease, leading to an increased incidence of premature death of small children, the weakest link in the chain.

Golden rice solves this problem.
Rice produces β-carotene in the leaves but not in the grain, where the biosynthetic pathway is turned off during plant development. In Golden Rice two genes have been inserted into the rice genome by genetic engineering, to restart the carotenoid biosynthetic pathway leading to the production and accumulation of β-carotene in the grains. Both genes are naturally involved in carotene biosynthesis. The difference here is that the reconstructed pathway is not subject to downregulation, as usually happens in the grain.
Since a prototype of Golden Rice was developed in the year 2000, new lines with higher β-carotene content have been generated. The intensity of the golden colour is a visual indicator of the concentration of β-carotene in the endosperm.Our goal is to make sure that people living in rice-based societies get a full complement of provitamin A from their traditional diets. This would apply to countries such as India, Vietnam, Bangladesh. the Philippines, and Indonesia. Golden Rice could still be a valuable complement to children's diets in many countries by contributing to the reduction of clinical and sub-clinical vitamin A deficiency-related diseases.
Vitamin A deficiency can cause blindness but there can be many more consequences as well.
According to the World Health Organization, dietary vitamin A deficiency (VAD) compromises the immune systems of approximately 40 percent of children under the age of five in the developing world, greatly increasing the risk of severe illnesses from common childhood infections, thus causing hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths among them.
White people in white nations (Americans and Europeans mostly) reject GMO food out of some misguided sense of "impurity".  The genetic cross-breeding of species to produce new foodstuffs is "unnatural" or "frankenstein-like."  But when asked for alternatives to managing crop yields in the face of irreversible global warming, they have no real solutions.  When challenged with the ongoing crisis not just in starvation deaths but in rampant malnutrition and the consequent health challenges faced by those without access to a well-stocked local Co-Op, they remain silent.  It disgusts me.

They all seem to share a belief in a magic, organic future where global climate change and the inability of developing nations to feed themselves will be remedied by an ill-defined concept of "sustainable agriculture."  That future will never exist.  It is a white man's fantasy based on the myth that organic food is morally superior to non-organic food.

Let me tell you, to someone starving in Africa or Asia, the only immoral food is the food you don't have access to because some first-world racist white person thinks you shouldn't.

Left-wingers who oppose GMO as a technology are frequently driven by their hatred of Monsanto, the largest GMO producer, and their business practices.  But their conflation of Monsanto with GMO is what's really immoral.  They seek first-world solution to third world problems and they reject science as an appropriate vehicle to drive Matlthus back into the shadows where he belongs.

It's a surrender to the forces of global warming.

It's an irrational fear.

It's the hubris of the wealthy and well-fed.

People on the left, people who, in most cases, recognize the need to support the poor and oppressed have let their hatred of a single corporation, Monsanto, to cloud their better judgement.  They have stumbled into a position of abject racism and Malthusian cruelty in their desire to unseat a bad corporate actor.  Shame on them.

Hate Monsanto if you must, but a rejection of GMO technology condemns millions to starvation, disease and premature death.  That's the real immorality.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Anthropogenic Climate Change Will Drive World Food Shortage

Although I'm sure The Soylent Corporation will figure something out... After all, the "free market" always does.
In a departure from an earlier assessment, the scientists concluded that rising temperatures will have some beneficial effects on crops in some places, but that globally they will make it harder for crops to thrive — perhaps reducing production over all by as much as 2 percent each decade for the rest of this century, compared with what it would be without climate change.