Monday, October 31, 2011

MIDDLE EAST - U.S. Gulf Plans

"U.S. Planning Troop Buildup in Gulf After Exit From Iraq" by THOM SHANKER and STEVEN LEE MYERS, New York Times 10/29/2011


The Obama administration plans to bolster the American military presence in the Persian Gulf after it withdraws the remaining troops from Iraq this year, according to officials and diplomats. That repositioning could include new combat forces in Kuwait able to respond to a collapse of security in Iraq or a military confrontation with Iran.

The plans, under discussion for months, gained new urgency after President Obama’s announcement this month that the last American soldiers would be brought home from Iraq by the end of December. Ending the eight-year war was a central pledge of his presidential campaign, but American military officers and diplomats, as well as officials of several countries in the region, worry that the withdrawal could leave instability or worse in its wake.

After unsuccessfully pressing both the Obama administration and the Iraqi government to permit as many as 20,000 American troops to remain in Iraq beyond 2011, the Pentagon is now drawing up an alternative.

In addition to negotiations over maintaining a ground combat presence in Kuwait, the United States is considering sending more naval warships through international waters in the region.

With an eye on the threat of a belligerent Iran, the administration is also seeking to expand military ties with the six nations in the Gulf Cooperation Council — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. While the United States has close bilateral military relationships with each, the administration and the military are trying to foster a new “security architecture” for the Persian Gulf that would integrate air and naval patrols and missile defense.

The size of the standby American combat force to be based in Kuwait remains the subject of negotiations, with an answer expected in coming days. Officers at the Central Command headquarters here declined to discuss specifics of the proposals, but it was clear that successful deployment plans from past decades could be incorporated into plans for a post-Iraq footprint in the region.

ALABAMA - How Workers, Farmers, and Businesses Deal With New Immigration Law

"For Undocumented Workers, It's Not-so-Sweet Home Alabama" PBS Newshour 10/28/2011


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): Next, how workers, farmers and businesses in Alabama are dealing with a new immigration law that's attracting national attention.

NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solman visited the state and filed this story, part of his ongoing reporting on Making Sense of financial news.

Another excerpt

PAUL SOLMAN: But Keith Smith says the global market sets price, not farmers.

KEITH SMITH, sweet potato farmer: If we pay more, it eventually puts us out of business is what's going to happen. And you're going to end up with food supplies, instead of coming from America, they're going to be coming from Mexico, from Chile, from Honduras, where they're not really regulated like we are.

PAUL SOLMAN: Moreover, the farmers insist, most Americans just can't or won't do farm work. When Smith's immigrants fled, he hired locals to help harvest his sweet potatoes.

KEITH SMITH: I probably had three or four out of 50 that is really worth anything, as far as being a good worker. It's just a lot of it is, is, they're not skilled and they don't know how to do what we're doing, and they ain't durable enough.

PAUL SOLMAN: They aren't durable enough?

KEITH SMITH: They ain't durable enough, because they're not used to doing that kind of stuff. They come out and work two to three hours and: Whew. I have had it. I can't take this anymore.

PAUL SOLMAN: Come the fall, some 40 workers usually pick Smith's sweet potatoes. He's down to 15, many of whom live nearby.

This was Melinda Martinez's (ph) fourth day on the job.

WOMAN: And I had to go home yesterday. I couldn't handle it. It's backbreaking.

PAUL SOLMAN: Martinez couldn't keep pace. At 40 cents per bucket, she made $30 for the day, compared to $75 and up for a practiced picker.

PAUL SOLMAN: Martinez couldn't keep pace. At 40 cents per bucket, she made $30 for the day, compared to $75 and up for a practiced picker.

WOMAN: It ain't really worth the gas I'm spending to get here.

PAUL SOLMAN: Jerry Spencer has been ferrying unemployed workers from Birmingham, an hour away. Most last a day or two.

JERRY SPENCER, Grow Alabama: City workers are unprepared physically, mentally and in training. And I'm seeing some good hardworking people coming out of the cities that may stick with it, but -- but you can bet, as the economy gets better, they find a job in the city, that's where they're going.

Take special note of the comment "If we pay more, it eventually puts us out of business is what's going to happen. And you're going to end up with food supplies, instead of coming from America."

That's what the politicians do NOT understand. Pay workers more = higher prices at the market for Americans. This WILL drive the markets to look elsewhere to lower their costs. As for jobs outside agriculture, how many people do you know that actually make a good living at the same jobs immigrants take today?

ECONOMY - Sigh of Relief on Wall Street, but Not in the Job Market

"Wall Street Completes Best Month in More Than a Decade" (Part-1) PBS Newshour Transcript 10/28/2011

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): World markets settled back to normal today, as jubilation over Europe's debt deal subsided some.

On Wall Street, trading was unusually quiet. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 22 points to close at 12,231. The NASDAQ fell a point to close at 2,737. But it was still the market's best month in a long time, and it came amid tentative indications of economic progress.

The markets may not have moved much today, but the closing bell brought good tidings for much of October. The Dow rose nearly 12 percent, its best monthly showing since 1987. The NASDAQ was up 13 percent, the most since 2002. And the S&P 500 also gained 13 percent, its best October since 1974.

The figures were boosted by Thursday's news of the European bailout deal. It's designed to keep Greece from defaulting, while preventing the financial crisis from spreading across the eurozone. Investors also took heart from hopeful signs that a double-dip recession might not be in the offing after all.

The U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 2.5 percent in the third quarter, and consumer spending jumped six-tenths of a percent in September. The numbers were better than expected, but there were also reminders that the recovery is still relatively weak.

The world's biggest appliance maker, Whirlpool, announced today it's cutting 5,000 jobs. That's about 10 percent of its work force in North America and Europe. It cited weak demand and higher costs for materials. Meanwhile, there were also questions about just how the new European debt deal will work and who will pay for expanded bailout efforts.

The head of Europe's rescue fund visited Beijing today, hoping to entice the Chinese to invest in the multibillion-dollar plan. He dismissed suggestions that China might demand political concessions in return.

KLAUS REGLING, European Financial Stability Facility: There's no special deal. It's the normal conditions. We publish those conditions on our website. And there is no -- nothing special. They find this an interesting investment.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In turn, the Chinese vice foreign minister signaled her country's willingness to help.

FU YING, Chinese vice foreign minister (through translator): We do not think that Europe will just collapse. We hope that, by fighting this crisis, the mutual understanding and trust between China and Europe can be enhanced, and the cooperation between us can be deepened. We hope that this crisis can be an opportunity for all of us to make progress.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Investors and political leaders around the world will be hoping the same, and they will be waiting for next week's report on U.S. unemployment in October, plus the Federal Reserve's latest outlook.

"U.S. Corporations 'in Good Financial Shape,' but Still Reluctant to Hire" (Part-2)
PBS Newshour 10/28/2011


I noted the following comments in Part-2.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But one keeps hearing that businesses are still -- there is still this air of uncertainty hanging over everything, and that businesses are holding back. So how do you square that with what some of these numbers show?

NEIL IRWIN, The Washington Post: Yes, what's happening is, businesses, they're buying enough equipment and they're hiring enough employees to keep up with demand they already see.

What they're not doing is investing in the future. They're not expanding their capacity. They're not building a new factory and hiring 1,000 new workers to staff it.

Instead, they're only doing what they absolutely have to, to fulfill the demand they're seeing from their consumers. So, as long as that's the case, we won't see rapid growth. We will see this kind of 2 percent to 3 percent growth that is really treading water, rather than growing rapidly.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what about consumers? What are they buying?

NEIL IRWIN: What they are not buying is a lot of big-ticket items. So, auto sales, we saw with Whirlpool, appliance sales, these big-ticket durable goods have not really risen the way you would have hoped them to. That said, people have cut back so much that there is not the room to cut that you might expect.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And is it possible to say which one of these, or is it both, that is the main driver for growth? Is it mostly the investment? Is it the consumers or what?

NEIL IRWIN: Look, consumers are weighed down by a lot of things. They have huge household debts, mortgages they're paying off. People are underwater on their mortgages. And that's what is holding back consumers. Consumer spending is rising fairly slowly.

The corporate sector is actually in good financial shape. They have lots of money on their balance sheets. They have access to the debt markets. They can borrow money when they need to. Debt levels are fairly modest. So this growth out of the corporate sector, that's one of our best hopes going forward for this expansion to continue.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But how healthy, Neil Irwin, can this recovery be if companies, if businesses are still not hiring people in a big way?

NEIL IRWIN: Well, ultimately, it will never feel like a recovery until that changes. And what we saw this week is companies are expanding, but only as much as they absolutely have to. They're still reluctant to bring on employees.

We saw very weak job growth the last few months. Unless that changes, this will not feel like a recovery to a lot of Americans. This will not feel like a place where we have a low unemployment rate and the conditions we all want to see.

This is a chicken-or-the-egg scenario. Consumers cannot afford to buy big-ticket durable goods, manufacturers do not see an expanding market for their goods, the result is they do not hire more workers.

But, as I have been reading in many economic articles, the U.S. has a fundamental problem. We came to expect the booming economy that we had for decades. The post-WW2 economy of big production and lots of jobs. Problem, that is no longer the economic truth we live under today.

Today's economic truth is that the good-old-days are NOT coming back.

Some old jobs are gone for good due to technology, the jobs being replaced. New jobs are requiring a different skill-set and many workers have yet to acquire them, and there is a shortage of younger workers that do have the needed skill-sets. Then the high production of the past is likely to not return to the same level we had in the past. Whatever happens, it will take a long time.

Finally, our politicians (Republicans, Democrats, liberal, conservative) are making false premisses. Either because they are caught-up in the same old WW2 economic model or for political gain (win the next election no matter what).


"Europe Tries to Lure Chinese Cash to Back Rescue of Euro" by LIZ ALDERMAN and DAVID BARBOZA, New York Times 10/28/2011


A day after European leaders unveiled their latest plan to save the euro, top officials opened talks with China in an effort to lure tens of billions of dollars in additional cash, giving China perhaps its biggest opportunity yet to exercise financial clout in the Western world.

China is expected to demand significant concessions, including financial guarantees and limits on what Beijing sees as discriminatory trade policies, in exchange for any investment in Europe’s emergency stability fund. The head of the rescue fund, Klaus Regling, got a cautious reply from Chinese officials Friday during a visit to Beijing, where he said he did not expect to reach an investment deal with China anytime soon.

A senior Chinese official, Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao, said China — like the rest of the world — was still waiting for the Europeans to deliver crucial details on how the rescue fund, the European Financial Stability Facility, would operate and be profitable before deciding on whether to participate.

That Europe would turn so openly to China to help stabilize the debt crisis shows how quickly the Chinese economic juggernaut has risen on the world stage. Indeed, if China comes to Europe’s aid, it will signal a new international order, with China beginning to rival the role long played by the United States as the world’s pivotal financial power.

“This would be a tectonic shift,” said Pieter P. Bottelier, an expert on China who teaches at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. “It would be so important economically and politically.”

Arvind Subramanian, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, said Europe’s appeal was another sign that China was already a dominant global power.

“China’s power is more imminent, broader in scope and greater in magnitude than anyone imagines,” he said. “For instance, China’s currency is already having a negative effect not just on the U.S. and Europe, but on everyone else, too. And the rest of the world can’t do anything about it. If that’s not dominance, what is?”

Friday, October 28, 2011

EUROPE - Dept-Deal Global Market Surge

"Global Markets Surge on News of European Debt Deal" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 10/27/2011

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): Stocks rallied around the world today, after news of a debt crisis deal in Europe.

European exchanges were up as much as 6 percent. And on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average soared 339 points, nearly 3 percent, to close at 12,208. The NASDAQ rose nearly 88 points to close at 2,738.

Investors everywhere were carried forward by the long-awaited announcements from Brussels. It was the diplomatic version of an all-nighter, and leaders of the 17 eurozone nations emerged early this morning declaring success.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is head of Europe's largest economy.

ANGELA MERKEL, German chancellor (through translator): I do believe that we were able to live up to expectations, that we did the right thing for the eurozone, and this brings us one step further along the road toward a good and sensible solution.

I always said that we wouldn't be able to do this overnight, but this now brings us to stability and a stable currency union.

JEFFREY BROWN: Greece's huge debts, along with shaky economies in Portugal, Italy and Spain, have all contributed to fears that the euro system could collapse, and trigger a new global recession.

The agreement has three main components. First, European banks will take a so-called haircut, voluntarily writing off 50 percent of what they're owed by Greece. That comes to some $139 billion.

The leaders also asked that banks recapitalize by adding nearly $150 billion to their reserves. The goal is to insulate them from potential defaults by national governments. And the agreement seeks to increase the eurozone bailout fund to $1.4 trillion, more than double its current size.

There was little detail, though, on how all of that would be accomplished. But French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the plan addressed one of his primary concerns:

NICOLAS SARKOZY, French president (through translator): As France has been asking from the beginning, we have excluded the possibility of a Greek default. The private sector has written off half of the debt that it holds.

JEFFREY BROWN: The new framework was of particular relief to Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, whose country has been teetering on the brink of default, despite $150 billion in rescue loans.

GEORGE PAPANDREOU, Greek prime minister (through translator): I think we managed to escape from this trap. The fact that we are still here today is a big achievement for the Greek people. So today I think we can close a chapter on the past, and I think that now we will start with all our strength to begin work for a new future for our country.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, in Washington today, President Obama called the agreement an important first step.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We have seen that the message that they are going to deal with this in a serious way has calmed markets all around the world. It will help lay the predicate for long-term economic growth, not only in Europe, but around the world. The key now is to make sure that it is implemented fully and decisively. And I have great confidence in the European leadership to make that happen.

JEFFREY BROWN: But not everyone in Europe shared the optimism. There were warnings in Greece, where austerity measures have already triggered sometimes violent protests.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS, University of Athens: There's absolutely nothing in the package that was agreed that gives us even a modicum of hope that anything along the lines of -- along developmental lines is happening.

JEFFREY BROWN: Concerns also linger for Italy, the continent's third largest economy. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been under pressure to deal with his country's heavy indebtedness. And Berlusconi did, in fact, present a hastily constructed package of reforms last night in Brussels.

SILVIO BERLUSCONI, Italian prime minister (through translator): The guarantee is that if we don't respect our commitments, we won't be credible anymore. They are commitments and we have assumed responsibility for them, and Italy will this time again respect its commitments, as it always has.

JEFFREY BROWN: Still, there are questions about Berlusconi's ability to implement his plan. And, today, Italy's largest trade union vowed to fight it.

"Will Europe's Debt Deal Calm Fears of Prolonged Recessions?" (Part-2)
PBS Newshour 10/27/2011

MILITARY - Woman Combat Photographer's Story

"A Life Under Fire: Combat Photographer Captures, Carries Wounds of War" PBS Newshour 10/27/2011


TOM BEARDEN (Newshour): Combat photographers have been documenting the terror, the violence and the boredom of war ever since the invention of photography. America's 21st century conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are no different.

These pictures were taken by Air Force Sgt. Stacy Pearsall. She is one of a very small number women to have been admitted to the elite ranks of combat photographers.

WORLD - Population 7,000,000,000

"World Population to Hit Milestone With Birth of 7 Billionth Person" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 10/27/2011

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): Next, a milestone for planet Earth.

On Monday, the world's population will officially reach 7 billion. What does that mean for people and planet?

We begin with this report from Lawrence McGinty of Independent Television News.

LAWRENCE MCGINTY: Zachariah Kahn (ph) came into the world at the Rosie Hospital in Cambridge. Around the world, three other babies were born in the same second.

First, the figures. It took all of human history up to 1804 for the world's population to reach 1 billion. But the next billion came only 100 years later, in 1927. And after that, the rate of growth accelerated, 3 billion in 1959, 4 billion 1974, 5 billion 1987, 6 billion 1999, and now 7 billion. We're adding a billion population every 12 years.

Population growth will not be even around the world. In Africa, for example, the current population of 1 billion will increase to 3.6 billion by the end of the century. But, in Asia, yes, population will increase from its current 4.2 billion to 5.2 billion by 2050, but by the end of the century, it will fall to 4.6 billion.

SIR JOHN BEDDINGTON, government scientific adviser: If you go just two decades ahead, all the trends are indicating that we are going to need to be producing something like 40 percent more food, 40 percent more available freshwater, and actually about 50 percent more energy. And, remember, that's clean energy.

LAWRENCE MCGINTY: Famine in Africa shows how hard feeding the population will be. There's enough food in the world to go around, but almost a billion people are undernourished.

Water consumption worldwide has tripled in the last 50 years. And by 2020, half the world's population will live in areas of high water stress. Clean energy also a tall order -- meeting demand in the last decade raised the carbon emissions linked to global warming by 25 percent.

And if all these can be tackled, the world will face a new problem, increasing numbers of elderly people our societies must support.

"World's Population Teeters on the Edge of 7 Billion: Now What?" (Part-2)
PBS Newshour 10/27/2011

Thursday, October 27, 2011

EDUCATION - San Diego School District, Insolvency

"San Diego Unified School District Discusses Risk of Insolvency" by R. Stickney, NBC San Diego 10/26/2011

Parents, teachers and students sitting in on a packed meeting of the San Diego Unified School District got a "big picture" look at the financial crisis facing the state's second largest school district.

While some parents were there to argue against school closures and against cuts to transportation, the bulk of the meeting involved the future of the district.

Financial adviser Ron Bennett painted a grim picture because California's economy is growing at a much slower rate than hoped.

After five years of cuts, school leaders say that no amount of layoffs or cutbacks could make up for the projected $118 million gap in state funding this year.

Proposition 98 requires that a minimum portion of the state's budget goes to schools but that amount varies from year to year, depending on what the state has to work with.

With the state still in the thick of its financial problems, Bennett told the board the district will be making cuts every year until this economic crisis is over.

And the word insolvency and a possible takeover by the state are now being talked about as real possibilities.

The state of California cannot allow a school district to go belly up. So to help the board and the public realize the financial situation facing the district, Bennett walked through the steps of bankruptcy.

According to our partners at voiceofsandiego, the County Board of Education would step in first to help the district then the state can send in a team to advise. The state may have to loan money to the district and a state official would manage that money and decisions affecting the district and its schools, meaning the board and the superintendent would no longer have any official duties.

“Isn’t it ironic, that if the state simply funded you at the level that you were funded in 2007-8 or simply stopped cutting you or if the miracle occurs and you get back up to the line where Prop 98 is, you’re adding millions of dollars to your budget," Bennett said.

“Instead with the threats of cuts, the state creates the situation for you but the state has an obligation to step in if you get too close to the brink,” he said.

Board members say they can save an estimated $5 million a year if they close 10 to15 schools.

Key upcoming dates for the district are a meeting Nov. 29 to discuss possible closings and a meeting Dec. 13 to vote on recommended cuts including closures or the sale of other assets.

LIBYA - End to NATO Mandate

"U.N. ends mandate for NATO mission in Libya" by the CNN Wire Staff, CNN International 10/27/2011

The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously Thursday to end military operations in Libya.

The council adopted a resolution that rescinded its mandate for military intervention in Libya, effectively canceling the NATO mission there as of Monday.

Libya's interim leaders declared their nation liberated last Sunday after the capture and death of deposed dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

"Today, in a sense we are completing a sequence which was started by the vote of Resolution 1973 when the international community decided to act to prevent Gadhafi from slaughtering his own people," said Gerard Araud, the French ambassador to the United Nations. "During the seven months that have followed, we have seen dramatic events where the Libyan people have succeeded to free themselves with the support of NATO."

In March, the council adopted Resolution 1973, which imposed a no-fly zone in the country's airspace and authorized member states "to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in the country ... while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory."

There were no opposing votes on the 15-member council, but China, Russia, Germany, India and Brazil abstained. Germany said it was concerned about a protracted military conflict.

The resolution became the basis for NATO's airstrikes in the North African nation.

In ending the mandate Thursday, the Security Council expressed concern at the proliferation of arms in Libya and said it intends to address that issue further. The resolution also expressed "grave concern about continuing reports of reprisals, arbitrary detentions, wrongful imprisonment and extrajudicial executions."

Last week, U.S. Admiral James Stavridis, commander of NATO's military forces, recommended that NATO wrap up its mission in Libya by October 31. NATO ministers gave preliminary approval to that plan.

But U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said this week that Libya's National Transitional Council wanted NATO to stick around until it could establish governance.

However, Libyan Deputy Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi told the 15-member council Wednesday that the Libyan people were looking forward to ending the NATO mission.

While Libyans were grateful for the international community's support, he said, such measures felt like an infringement of Libya's sovereignty.

UNIONS - Very Changed Auto Industry

"UAW President Bob King on New Contracts: Top Priority Was Creating Jobs" PBS Newshour 10/26/2011


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): Now, a new contract for autoworkers, but a continuing struggle for the future.

Today, Chrysler's workers became the last of the big three companies to ratify a new four-year labor contract. These are the first new contracts since Chrysler and GM nearly went under two years ago, and they reflect a very changed industry.

Among the common elements: giving up annual pay raises in favor of bonuses and profit-sharing for workers; some new jobs added and the opening of several plants by the automakers, and new caps on the percentage of entry-level workers. In the industry's growing two-tiered salary system, such workers are paid lower hourly wages, similar to foreign automakers.

Officials of the United Auto Workers fought hard to get members to ratify the contracts after several major plants voted against the deals.

EDUCATION - Student Loan Relief, Helpful?

"Obama's Student Loan Relief Plan: How Helpful Would it Be?" PBS Newshour 10/26/2011


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: So we live in a time when over the next decade 60 percent of new jobs will require more than a high school diploma. And other countries are hustling to out-educate us today so they can out-compete us tomorrow.

GWEN IFILL (Newshour): It was the latest in a series of executive actions the president is taking to bypass the congressional roadblock that has stymied his larger jobs bill.

Soaring college costs have become a key concern. The College Board reported today that average in-state tuition and fees at four-year public colleges are up 8 percent this year. That makes the cost of a full course load, upward of $8,000, more expensive than ever -- 36 million Americans owe on student loans, a burden which now surpasses credit card debt.

For more on the latest effort to address the problem of college debt, we turn to Jeff Selingo, vice president and editorial director of The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Anya Kamenetz, who has written widely on the subject, including the book "Generation Debt."

Jeff Selingo, we heard 36 million people are paying college debt. This plan that the president put forward today would affect 1.6 million. How much of a difference would it make?

AMERICA - Economic Inequality, Part-6 (Inequality Not Bad?!)

"Does U.S. Economic Inequality Have a Good Side?" PBS Newshour 10/26/2011

(Series Part-1, Part-2, Part-3, Part-4, Part-5)


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): Now to our own continuing series on inequality.

A new analysis from the Congressional Budget Office supports the idea that income inequality has grown considerably over the past few decades. The report found that household income grew by 275 percent between 1979 and 2007 for the wealthiest 1 percent of the population. For the rest of the top fifth of the country, it grew by 65 percent. By contrast, the bottom fifth of the population saw its income grow by just 18 percent.

The NewsHour's economics correspondent, Paul Solman, has been exploring the consequences of those trends in previous stories he has done in his series. Tonight, he gets a contrarian view, suggesting inequality in a free market system may not be as bad as advertised.

It's part of his ongoing reporting on Making Sense of financial news.

PAUL SOLMAN: Richard Epstein, welcome.

RICHARD EPSTEIN, New York University School of Law: Thank you for having me.

PAUL SOLMAN: What's good about inequality?

RICHARD EPSTEIN: What's good about inequality is if, in fact, it turns out that inequality creates an incentive for people to produce and to create wealth, it's a wonderful force for innovation. So let's just go and take somebody like Bill Gates again or any entrepreneur.

Guy earns $50 billion, right? How much consumer welfare has he created by selling products? We can estimate the amount of gains to purchases, because everybody who buys one of his products or one of Steve Jobs' products, in effect, values it more than he receives.

The social gain from inequality to consumers of those goods probably dwarfs the entrepreneurial gain by a factor of 10-1 or 20-1.

COMMENTS: Can you believe this.... (wait, no, I'll be nice)

Let me start with his reference to Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. He is a law professor so he can be somewhat forgiving for NOT understanding the incentive (his pet word) for these people. They are techies, their incentive is just the ideas they came up with NOT making money. They did make money as a consequence of their ideas, which is not the same as being their incentive.

To put is in another way, they did not start with "I want to be rich, I need a way to do that." They started with "I can do that better," then worked at it.

Then there's...

PAUL SOLMAN: You mean to tell me that you don't think the top 1 percent of Americans don't have a disproportionate impact on the political process?

RICHARD EPSTEIN: No, of course they have a disproportionate impact, but that doesn't mean that they control it. They also ought to have it.

The last thing you would want to do in any kind of sensible society is to have a set of rules in which one man/one vote dictates over every issue.

Where did this "professor" get his education? Isn't "one man/one vote the core of a democratic society?

Then, looking at the numbers stated in the lead-in, a 4x and 15x income disparity is good? In a society that is supposed to be based on equal opportunity? With the income disparity we have today (and growing) the opportunities for the 99% of us are becoming less.

.....sorry, I'm tired of being nice about this guy. HE'S AN IDIOT!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

RELIGION - An Example of True Freedom of Religion

"Calif. University Introduces First U.S. Multi-Faith School of Theology" PBS Newshour 10/25/2011


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): Next a graduate university in California that brings Christians, Jews and Muslims together in the same classrooms to educate leaders for churches, synagogues and mosques.

Special correspondent Saul Gonzalez has the story.

A version of his report aired recently on the PBS program "Religion & Ethics Newsweekly."

SAUL GONZALEZ: With Korean-American drummers leading a line of professors, a new experiment in American religious education began this fall.

This was the opening of Southern California's Claremont Lincoln University, which describes itself as America's first inter-religious school of theology, one that will train pastors, rabbis and eventually Muslim imams, all on one campus.

The school's philosophy was captured in the opening remarks of Muslim-American religious scholar Najeeba Syeed-Miller, a professor at Claremont Lincoln.

NAJEEBA SYEED-MILLER, Claremont Lincoln University: The diversity of humankind is not a curse from God. It is a sign of God's creation, and the beauty of humanity is in our very differences.

MEDIA - Our Kids Becoming TV Zombies? Maybe

"Kids Increasingly Staring at Glowing Screens, Study Finds" PBS Newshour 10/25/2011


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): And finally tonight, in a media-saturated society, how much time are our youngest children spending in front of their screens?

Pediatricians have long warned of the risks of exposing young children to too much television and other electronic devices. A new study suggests such warnings are having little effect. The study, released today by Common Sense Media, surveyed nearly 1,400 parents.

Among it findings, nearly half of all kids under age 2 watch televisions or DVDs for up to two hours daily. And one in three children under age 2 has a TV in his or her bedroom.

The study also chronicles the increasing rise in the use of computers and interactive phones, tablets and other digital devices by children. For example, 12 percent of 2 to 4 year-olds use a computer every day. And half of all children under age 8 have access to a mobile device.

At the same time, the study posits a growing new kind of digital divide, a so-called app gap of parents who download new media apps for their children to use. Only 14 percent of lower-income families have done so, compared to 47 percent of upper-income parents.

The study comes just one week after the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a report saying television watching has no educational value for very young children.

More excerpts

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, let me ask you, Dr. Brown. Your study of -- your research suggests there is really no educational value at all for children under 2. What exactly are the risks or problems that you see?

DR. ARI BROWN, American Academy of Pediatrics: Well, there are three concerns that have come up in the literature, the first one being language skills.

And so children who are watching televised programs under the age of 2 have fewer vocabulary words than their peers who aren't watching these programs. We don't know why, though. One question we raise, though, is that because parents are actually talking less to their children, is there less talk time because the program is on?

And we know that kids need that talking time for their language skills to develop. So that's the first issue. The second issue is its impact on sleep. And so, with a third kids under age 3 with a TV in their bedroom and a third of parents admitting they use TV as a sleep aid, there's some real concern here, because we know that TV is not calming.

In fact, it increases bedtime resistance and it reduces the quality of sleep. So kids are getting less quality and quantity of sleep, which is really important for their growing bodies and their growing brains.

And the third issue is that is this time placed in front of a TV or a television program on any screen displacing more valuable time spent in unstructured, unplugged play? Because we know that...


JEFFREY BROWN: I'm sorry. Go ahead.


We know that that unstructured play helps a child with problem-solving skills and using their imagination and creativity. And that just can't be approximated with watching a passive form of programming on a screen.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, Jim Steyer, what about this issue of the newer forms of interactive devices? Because I can imagine many parents would say, now, these are useful, right? Kids are learning from a lot of these things.

JAMES STEYER, Common Sense Media: Well, I think they can be. And I think it depends on the device and the age of child and the choice of content.

But I agree with Dr. Brown basically about under the age of 2. There's just no proof that anyone's going to learn anything, and it will be a passive babysitter. That's basically it.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, so take us up...

JAMES STEYER: As you get older, like 5-8, there's no question. The number-one category of iPhone apps now is for preschoolers. So clearly the market is responding to the idea that you can create educational interactive content.

The issue, though, is, is making good choices there, if you're a parent or you're an educator who wants to use it. And so as kids get older, they can be exposed to screen time. They can use these devices in moderation. I think that's what the pediatricians are telling us, is you just can't do it five or six hours a day.

I think you're going to still have the options -- issues of brain development and you are still going to have the saturation effect, where kids are just plunked down in front of device. But the new interactive media has great potential. The issue now as a society is for us to make sure that all kids have access to that, not just wealthier kids.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, speaking of that, Dr. Brown, what do you make of the digital divide or an app gap? Do you see it growing as well?

DR. ARI BROWN: Well, I certainly know that in some public school systems, there is a real emphasis on technology.

My son when he was in kindergarten knew how to do a PowerPoint presentation. And now in high school, all of the kids have gotten iPads to use during the year. So my school emphasizes that. And I hope that all schools will, because, you're right, the technology is important and an educational tool, and we want to make it available to every child.

JEFFREY BROWN: Where do you see it, Jim Steyer?

JAMES STEYER: I think that's right.

Look, this is a huge issue, Jeff. This is where the world is going. You could talk to Arne Duncan, who you have on this show frequently. This is where education is going.

The key, though, is smart choices by parents and smart choices by schools. Dr. Brown said that her kid got an iPad. My two children who are in high school also got given iPads this year. The iPad is going to replace the backpack. You think of your own children. They walk with all the books in the backpack. No more.

So it's being loaded on to a device. The key though is that we make this available to all children and also that we really look for educational content. We are going to actually at Common Sense next year launch an educational rating system which is going to rate apps to see if they're actually educational, because everybody and their mom is developing software now, claiming that they can teach you math or science or geography.

So part of the next generation of what we're seeing in this study is going to be, what is educational content? In the old days, "Sesame Street" was the gold standard, here on PBS, obviously.


JAMES STEYER: And what we're seeing now is, it's going to be on your iPad or your cell phone. And the issue is, will quality software be made that truly educates kids? But you are still going to have the limits issue. You can't just plunk the kid in front of a device or a screen for five hours, and think that's going to be healthy for them. It won't be.

ASIA - Southeast Asian Flooding

"Bangkok Becomes 'Sandbag City' as Residents Brace for Floods" PBS Newshour 10/25/2011


MARGARET WARNER (Newshour): Don Muang Airport was more river port today as floodwaters broke through protective barriers around the Thai capital's main domestic air hub.

MAN: Well, all the flights for today are canceled because apparently the water is coming here.

MARGARET WARNER: Bangkok's other airport, serving mainly international flights, remained open.

But Don Muang also faced a flood of people. It has become a refuge for thousands displaced, some under government edict, by the flooding. Today, officials ordered some to be moved to ease crowding. One displaced woman was near wit's end.

MALEE NIKHOMTHAT, Thailand (through translator): Because the authorities have ordered us to leave, we have to leave, as they cannot let us stay here. I don't have any money, so I have to leave this center. But this is really upsetting. So many people have come to this evacuation center and there is not enough food for everybody.

MARGARET WARNER: More than 350 people have died in Thailand over three months of monsoon and typhoon borne rain that have swamped much of Southeast Asia.

One-third of Thailand's provinces have been inundated, affecting millions of people. Bangkok, a city of nine million, remains largely dry. But the Chao Phraya River, which flows through the city, has flooded seven northern districts.

And anxiety is rising with the floodwaters. The airport closure was the latest blow to the Thai government's efforts to save the city from being swamped. The agency it created to manage the crisis, housed at Don Muang Airport, is now in danger itself of being submerged.

On Monday, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra sought to calm nervous Thais and investors who've seen large swathes of Thailand's industrial zones flooded.

HEALTH - HPV Vaccine for Boys?

"Boys, Young Men Should Get HPV Vaccine, CDC Panel Says" PBS Newshour 10/25/2011


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): Five years ago, health officials first recommended the HPV vaccine be given to girls and young women to protect against the human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted disease that's a major cause of cervical cancer.

It's been available to boys for the past two years to guard against other medical problems associated with sexual activity. But, today, for the first time, a federal advisory panel said that boys age 11 or 12 should routinely get the vaccine.

We get an explanation and update from Rob Stein, health and science reporter for The Washington Post.

Welcome back.

ROB STEIN, The Washington Post: Hi. Nice to be here.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, why is the committee saying it's time to turn from a suggestion into a recommendation?


Well, the vaccine was approved in 2009 for boys. And at that point, they didn't recommend that it become part of the routine vaccinations that all boys get as part of going in for their well baby visits or their childhood visits. But in the last few years, there's been enough data that has accumulated where the committee now feels like it makes sense to recommend that, like girls, all boys that are 11 and 12 get -- routinely get the vaccine.

LIBYA - Story of Gadhafi Ends

"Story of Gadhafi Ends With an Anonymous Grave in the Desert" PBS Newshour Transcript 10/25/2011

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): Next tonight, a secret burial for a leader who performed in the international spotlight for 42 years.

Bill Neely of Independent Television News reports from Tripoli.

BILL NEELY: Once, Colonel Gadhafi might have hoped for a state funeral. Instead, Libya's new leaders say, some prayers were said. Then he was taken to a secret location and, with just a few witnesses sworn to silence, he was put in an anonymous grave in the desert.

To convince Libyans he was gone for good, the empty meat locker where he'd been on public display for four days -- but the manner of his killing and burial has given Libya's leaders a headache.

COLONEL AHMED BANI, Libyan military spokesman: We win. The tyrant lost.

BILL NEELY: They are triumphant, defending his secret burial, promising an investigation into his killing.

COLONEL AHMED BANI: We are not afraid of the truth, so we will show the people, the whole world, no?

BILL NEELY: On the streets, celebrations at the news that Gadhafi is dead and buried.

MAN: Dead. He stay dead. That's it.

BILL NEELY: And it's better to bury him in secret?

MAN: Or drop him in the sea, yes.

WOMAN: I don't care.

BILL NEELY: You don't care how he was buried?

WOMAN: No, no.

BILL NEELY: Or where he was buried?

WOMAN: No, no, no, no, no. I don't care.

BILL NEELY: Only one man disagreed.

MAN: Very bad.

BILL NEELY: Very bad?

MAN: Very bad. Moammar Gadhafi, good man.

BILL NEELY: This government minister says Gadhafi's killing and burial was better than he deserved.

FAUZY ABU KATAF, Libyan deputy defense minister: We should throw him in the sea, like bin Laden, for example.

BILL NEELY: With Gadhafi dead and buried, fighters have been handing back their weapons, hundreds here, though millions were handed out by Gadhafi or looted from stores.

The war may be over, but Libya is awash with weapons.

Abdel Bassat Hossein (ph) is saying goodbye to his commander after fighting Gadhafi's men for months. He was an oil engineer who'd never fired a gun before. He's glad Gadhafi's now dead, and he's going home.

MAN: Yes, I don't need to carry weapon anymore.

BILL NEELY: The war is over?

MAN: The war is over. We -- we fight it for the freedom, and now we are free. We freed our -- our country.

BILL NEELY: How many people do you really think will give their guns back?

MAN: I think the Libyan people will -- will surprise the world.

BILL NEELY: The student fighters guarding Gadhafi's compound say they will soon give up their weapons, too. Many, of course, will not. But with Gadhafi dead and his compound a house of ghosts, the dark past, like their old leader, is being buried.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

PAKISTAN - Diplomatic Understatement

"Clinton Eyes Patching up Rocky U.S.-Pakistani Relations" PBS Newshour 10/24/2011


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. Secretary of State: It is no secret that our relationship of late has not been an easy one.

MARGARET WARNER (Newshour): Diplomatic understatement from America's top diplomat, Friday in Islamabad.

The secretary of state was in Pakistan's capital to press one of America's most vital and mercurial allies in the fight against militants who are still wreaking havoc in Afghanistan, as the U.S. begins drawing down its forces there.

Washington is fuming over Pakistan providing safe haven and otherwise aiding extremists, like the Haqqani militant network and the Afghan Taliban.

On her way, Mrs. Clinton stopped Thursday in Kabul and with Afghan President Hamid Karzai by her side warned that Pakistan could not let the current situation continue without paying a price.

TURKEY - Earthquake 10/24/2011

"In Turkey 'There Are Lives to Be Saved and No Time to Waste' After Earthquake" PBS Newshour Transcript 10/24/2011

GWEN IFILL (Newshour): A desperate search was under way in Turkey today, one day after a powerful earthquake killed at least 279 people. The quake devastated the cities of Ercis and Van in eastern Turkey. Some 1,300 people were injured, and dozens more were trapped in the wreckage.

We have a report from John Ray of Independent Television News.

JOHN RAY: There are lives to be saved and no time to waste, a young boy terrified, buried under a mountain of masonry. "Be patient," his rescuers plead. He has no choice but to wait. Close by, there are bodies. His parents' fate is unknown.

As daylight dawned, rescuers redoubled their efforts, pulling the lucky to be living from the ruins of homes and offices. Hundreds are still trapped. As the hours pass, hopes fade.

They have been digging here now for more than 24 hours through the chill of the nights and through the dust of the day. So far, they have pulled two survivors from this rubble.

But as evening falls a second time, increasingly, this is becoming a search for bodies. This woman's daughter and grandchild are somewhere underneath the concrete. There are many others here, praying for the best, preparing for the worst.

Close by, another body, the ruins too precarious to disturb it -- the fear, they will collapse utterly. The work of rescue teams can seem agonizingly slow. To rush is to risk further disaster. This was a huge quake, even by the standards of a nation where they are all too common.

At first, it was survivors left to fend for themselves, using bare hands and brute strength to tackle the rubble. But the Turkish prime minister, touring an overcrowded hospital, says the worst of the disaster has yet to unfold, as rescuers reach remote villages.

There have been scores of aftershocks. Tonight, tens of thousands are huddled around fires, sleeping outdoors despite the cold -- the fear, another strong quake will bring further tragedy to a region and to lives already in ruins.

ARAB WORLD - Possibilities and Transitions

"As Democratic Tunisia and New Libya Emerge, No End in Sight to Syrian Uprising" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 10/24/2011


GWEN IFILL (Newshour): And we turn to the shifting political winds in the Arab world and what the future holds when and if the immediate upheaval subsides. We begin with a recap of the news from Libya, Tunisia and Syria.

A warning: What you are about to see contains some disturbing images.

From Libya today came word the public will no longer be allowed to view the battered corpse of Moammar Gadhafi, as hundreds have lined up to do since Friday.

FAWZI EL-FAKIH, Libya: The terrorist is gone. The regime is gone. Now we have to look for a new future. I just came here to see and make sure that he is finished, and every piece of my body knows that he is gone, finished, is gone, finished now.

"What Political Models Might Shape the New Libya, Tunisia?" (Part-2)
PBS Newshour 10/24/2011

More Excerpts from Part-1

GWEN IFILL: In neighboring Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab spring, the moderate Islamic party Ennahda appeared to have won Sunday's election for a national assembly. Turnout was nearly 90 percent in the country's first truly democratic vote, and Tunisians reveled in it.
DIA TREKI, Resident of Tunisia (through translator): There is nothing stronger than the feeling of voting. I passed my exams, I had children, but I have never felt anything like that in all my 40 years. To decide the future of your country, there is nothing better than that.

Now if Americans could be that dedicated to voting we would have a better political climate. Dia Treki is absolutly correct, "To decide the future of your country, there is nothing better than that."

POLITICS - Health Insurance Premiums, Falsehoods

"FactChecking Health Insurance Premiums" by Lori Robertson, 10/24/2011


Republicans exaggerate an increase caused by the new law. But Obama promised lower premiums.


Health insurance premiums for employer-sponsored family plans jumped a startling 9 percent from 2010 to 2011, and Republicans have blamed the federal health care law. But they exaggerate. The law — the bulk of which has yet to be implemented — has caused only about a 1 percent to 3 percent increase in premiums, according to several independent experts. The rest of the 9 percent rise is due to rising health care costs, as usual.

Furthermore, the increase caused by the law is a result of the increased benefits it requires, a factor Republicans generally ignore. So far, insurance companies have been required to do the following:
  • Cover preventive care without copays or deductibles.

  • Allow adult children to stay on parents’ policies until age 26.

  • Increase annual coverage limits.

  • Cover children without regard for preexisting conditions.

On the other hand, the fact that the law caused any increase at all cast more doubt on Obama’s promise that the law “could save families $2,500 in the coming years.” We’ve been calling that claim into question for several years now. The plain fact is that — so far — the law has caused an increase in premiums, though not so large an increase as some Republicans claim.


The potential impact of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on insurance premiums has been a source of dubious claims since the legislation was being debated. Republicans said premiums would go up; President Barack Obama said they would go down – compared with what they’d normally be without the law. The Congressional Budget Office said they wouldn’t change much at all, at least for those on employer-sponsored plans. The individual market, where individuals buy their own policies, would see an increase, though many of those plans would also be purchased with the help of subsidies.

But the truth is that it remains to be seen how the law will affect health care costs and insurance premiums in the long run. We’re now starting to see the impact of early provisions of the law – free preventive care, a phasing out of annual coverage limits and other requirements – which are now in place. The bulk of the law – the individual mandate, insurance exchanges, subsidies – comes later, in 2014.

We looked at the premium issue last fall when some insurance carriers in a few states announced double-digit hikes for plans on the individual market and Republicans quickly blamed the health care law. Insurance companies, regulators and experts told us the law was responsible for about 1 percent to 3 percent of rate increases in this market. And it’s the same this time around.

This year, in late September, the Kaiser Family Foundation released its annual survey of employer-provided insurance, stating that the average premium cost for family plans had gone up by 9 percent from 2010 to 2011. That’s a big jump from the 3 percent increase the year before. Again, Republicans pounced on this news as a sign of negative effects of the law. And again, experts we consulted — as well as an independent study by a large private research firm — all place the effect on premiums in the range of 1 percent to 3 percent.

The Senate Republican Policy Committee touted the Kaiser survey results on its website and added: “In other words, Obamacare isn’t lowering premiums – in fact, premium increases have accelerated since Obamacare passed last year.” The Republican National Committee, too, said that “the costs of family coverage increased a ‘whopping’ 9 percent for families” under a headline that claimed “Obama’s Past Promises Are Not Adding Up for American Families.” The House Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Republican Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, said that “Obamacare … makes matters worse. The survey released today reveals family premiums have increased by 9 percent.”

But experts we spoke with weren’t too surprised by this year’s findings. They point out that the 3 percent growth from 2009 to 2010 was unusually low. While it’s tough to discern a clear, long-term trend in the growth rates, the annual increase was holding steady at around 5 percent or 5.5 percent from 2007 to 2009. The growth rates had been at 10 percent and higher from 2000 to 2004. (See our chart below, which uses Kaiser’s employer survey numbers.) So, the 3 percent growth rate was “abnormally low,” says John Sheils, senior vice president of The Lewin Group, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group that operates independently of the health care company. He says it “would stand to reason that we’d get a boost” this year, possibly due to recovering losses or catching up on the cost of new equipment. A health policy analyst with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners agreed, saying that it was “not surprising to see it rebound like that.”

Also, that 9 percent increase already had been estimated last fall. Here’s what we said back then:, Nov. 19, 2010: As for the impact on employer-provided policies, economist Gail Wilensky says the surveys she has seen indicate there will be an 8 percent to 9 percent increase in premiums, of which she attributes about 2 percent to 3 percent to the health care law. Wilensky was the head of Medicare during the George H.W. Bush administration and is now a senior fellow at Project HOPE, a health training and humanitarian organization. She cites three factors that she sees as increasing costs: more use of care, higher costs of care, and the provisions of the health care law. Her projections are in line with those of Hewitt Associates, a human resources consulting company, which estimated that there would be an average premium increase of 8.8 percent in 2011 for employer-provided plans, with 1 percent to 2 percent of that attributable to the health care law.

Wilenksy told us recently that the estimate that 2 percent to 3 percent of the increase is due to the law comes from others and that “I don’t know any differently.” She says the “law has a small effect,” but that effect is in one direction: up. “There’s precious little or nothing to slow down or lower spending,” she says.

Last year, Sheils told us an increase of 1 percent to 2 percent because of the law sounded about right. There’s some indication that the free preventive care provision may have led to more follow-up visits, however. There’s “some possibility that those initial estimates were low,” he says. Kenneth Thorpe, professor and chair at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, who worked in the Clinton administration, also told us via email that the law would add 1 percent to 2 percent to premiums “at most.”

Indeed, a 1, 2 or possibly 3 percent increase is emerging as the consensus. Kaiser Family Foundation President and CEO Drew Altman wrote in a column published after the group’s survey came out that the law was responsible for a “modest” 1 percent to 2 percent increase.

Altman, Sept. 27, 2011: Critics of the national health reform law passed in 2010 like to blame everything but the weather on “Obamacare,” but regardless of how you feel about the Affordable Care Act, its effect on premiums this year is modest. Most of the law’s provisions don’t go into effect until 2014. The two biggest changes this year allow young adults up to age 26 to stay on their parents’ insurance policies and require some insurance plans to cover preventive services at no cost to patients. These are popular provisions that provide real benefits, and combined they account for about one to two percentage points of this year’s premium increase.

The Kaiser survey of employers was conducted from January through May 2011. An earlier survey of 26 health plans covering 32 million Americans found that the projected increase due to the health care law was 1.5 percent for 2011; that’s an average for both employer-sponsored and individually purchased plans.

That survey was conducted in September 2010 by Aon Hewitt, a consulting company that came about when the largest insurance brokerage company in the world, Aon Corp., bought Hewitt Associates last year. Hewitt was one of the biggest human resources consulting firms.

The survey found wide variation in the estimated cost increases, depending on the type of plan. “[F]or 2011 health plans reported estimated increases due to PPACA of 4.7% for individual policies, 1.5% for small group plans, and 0.8% for large group plans on a weighted average basis.” That’s because the improved coverage requirements in the law affect plans on the individual market more so than employer-sponsored plans, which would already meet some or most of the law’s requirements.

An Increase Still Isn’t a Decrease

The law may have had a “modest” impact on premiums, but it’s causing them to go up – not down, as the Obama administration has claimed it would. The president campaigned on a promise to “lower premiums by up to $2,500 for a typical family per year,” largely by pushing doctors and hospitals to use electronic medical records. We looked at the claim and the study it was based upon in-depth, and experts told us getting widespread adoption of the technology in Obama’s first, or even second, term was wishful thinking.

Obama repeated a version of that vow during debate over the federal law, saying the legislation plus some effort to reduce costs from labor unions, and insurance, drug and medical industries “could save families $2,500 in the coming years – $2,500 per family.” That time, the administration had determined the savings in national expenditures could total $2 trillion over 10 years, and with a little math, that works out to $2,500 a year for a family of four. That assumes the savings happen, that is, and that every penny saved somehow translates to lower prices, lower taxes or higher wages for families.

It should be noted that Obama is promising to slow the rate of growth of premiums or health care spending, so costs would still rise, but not by as much.

White House Deputy Chief of Staff Nancy-Ann DeParle told ABC News that the law needs to play out before savings materialize. She said “by 2019 we estimate that the average family will save around $2,000.”

It has only been 19 months since the federal health care law was enacted, but so far, there’s little to back up the president’s $2,500 — or even $2,000 — savings claim. And some experts don’t see much down the road, either.

“I wouldn’t attribute most or all of the increase to the health care law,” Wilensky says, “but the notion that there’s anything there that’s going to make life better … is equally implausible.”

As a whole, the law could provide some guidance on new, efficient, delivery systems, Wilensky says, but she thinks it’s “very unlikely” that the law will lead to cost savings.

The provisions that have been enacted so far increase costs — by adding in preventive care coverage, or adding adult children to parents’ policies. Out-of-pocket costs, however, could decrease for some, depending on their use of such provisions. But the impact on families’ bottom lines would vary widely, depending on the plan, what provisions it did or didn’t have before the law, and how much a family used any added benefits.

The Aon Hewitt survey gives a breakdown for what each new provision of the law is projected to do to premium costs, according to the health plans (see Exhibit 11). Elimination of preexisting conditions for those under age 19 has the biggest impact on increasing costs for individual plans. That measure isn’t estimated to have much of an impact on small and large group plans. For large group plans, the biggest impact is the provision requiring dependent coverage to age 26, though some plans reported that the provision would lower costs. Small group plans reported the largest driver of cost-increase would be covering preventive care for free.

A health policy analyst at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners told us more information will be available as insurance carriers start facing a review of any rate increases beyond 10 percent. (Right now, NAIC too says the law has added about 1 percent to 3 percent to premiums. NAIC has a policy of not allowing its staffers to be quoted by name.)

The federal law requires rate increase filings above 10 percent to be reviewed by the state or federal government, as of Sept. 1, for individual and small group markets. The carriers’ justification for the rate hikes will be made public, so there will at least be more information from the insurance companies’ point of view.

Wilensky says that “over time, we are likely to see several things that may make the spending more of a problem. Increasing demand without … increases in supply is a way to induce more inflation, as well as produce shortages in access.” And excise taxes on the health care industry will get passed on to consumers.

The actuaries of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have estimated — and Sheils agrees — that private health insurance spending over the long-term will settle into about a 6 percent increase per year. But, Sheils says, there will be “lots of bumps in the interim” as insurers try to anticipate costs.

CMS’ projections show a big bump in 2014 (when the bulk of the law kicks in) — a 9.4 percent increase in private insurance spending — before its estimates come back down to around 6 percent. The total national health expenditures also spike at 8.3 percent in 2014, and then go down to around 6 percent or 6.5 percent through 2020.

Sheils says uncertainty among actuaries could cause them to raise prices higher than necessary in advance, particularly in 2014 when uninsured individuals begin getting subsidized plans through state-based exchanges. “My concern is actuaries are going to be very cautious,” Sheils says. “They’ll price high, wait to see what the impact is on cost … and if costs are lower … then they can lower the price.” And if that happens, and there’s a high premium increase that year — even an artificial one — we could see fewer healthy people sign up, because they’d rather just pay the penalty. The government also would have to pay more in subsidies.

But Sheils says he tells people to look at the projection for long-term growth — 6 percent, or 6.5 percent. That’s not that different from the increases that occurred several years before the law was passed.

Of course, that raises the question of cost control and whether the law can have any success on that front. For now, what happens to health care spending and premiums in the future is an educated guessing game.

(click for better view)

Monday, October 24, 2011

TUNISIA - Tunisians Cast Votes for the Fist Time

"Tunisians Vote in a Milestone of Arab Change" by DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, New York Times 10/23/2011


Millions of Tunisians cast votes on Sunday for an assembly to draft a constitution and shape a new government, in a burst of pride and hope that after inspiring uprisings across the Arab world, their small country could now lead the way to democracy.

“Tunisians showed the world how to make a peaceful revolution without icons, without ideology, and now we are going to show the world how we can build a real democracy,” said Moncef Marzouki, founder of a liberal political party and a former dissident exile, as he waited for hours in a long line outside a polling place in the coastal town of Sousse. “This will have a real impact in places like Libya and Egypt and Syria, after the fall of its regime,” he added. “The whole Arab world is watching.”

In another first for the region, a moderate Islamic party, Ennahda, is expected to win at least a plurality of seats in the Tunisian assembly. The party’s leaders have vowed to create another kind of new model for the Arab world, one reconciling Islamic principles with Western-style democracy.

Results are expected to be tallied within days. In the meantime, those still struggling through the post-revolutionary uncertainty of places like Libya and Egypt watched Tunisia “with a kind of envy,” said Samer Soliman, a professor at the American University in Cairo and an Egyptian political activist.

Libyans and Egyptians acknowledge that Tunisia was not only the first but also the easiest of the Arab revolutions, because of its relatively small, homogenous, educated population and because of the willingness of the Tunisian military to relinquish power. The success of Tunisia offers inspiration, but perhaps few answers, for Egyptians or Libyans who hope to follow in its footsteps.

Libya’s interim leaders on Sunday proclaimed their revolution a success and laid out an ambitious timetable for the election of their own constituent assembly. But they have yet to solve the problem of unifying the loosely organized brigades of anti-Qaddafi fighters under the control of an interim authority to govern Libya until then, much less lay the groundwork for elections.

And with Egypt a little more than a month away from a vote for a new Parliament, its interim military rulers have so far balked at adopting many of the election procedures that enabled Tunisia’s election to proceed smoothly. Among them are inking voters’ fingers to ensure people vote only once, transparent ballot boxes, a single election day rather than staggered polls, and weeks of voter education before the balloting. Also, in Egypt, the interim military rulers have not agreed to relinquish any of the army’s power over either the next Parliament or a planned constitutional panel.

For Tunisians, though, the scenes at the polls on Sunday — a turnout far above expectations, orderly lines stretching around blocks, satisfied smiles at blue-inked fingers — already seemed to wipe away 10 months of anxiety and protests over the future of the revolution that ousted Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. For the first time in their history, many Tunisians said, they expected an honest count of their ballots to determine the country’s future.

My hearty congratulations to all Tunisians, and good luck.

ANALYSIS - Iraq Withdrawal, Libya, and the Arab Spring

"Shields, Brooks on Iraq Withdrawal, Gadhafi's Demise, Feisty GOP Debate" PBS Newshour Transcript 10/21/2011

Excerpt on withdrawal

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Gentlemen, welcome.

MARK SHIELDS, syndicated columnist: Thank you, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, a lot of international news just in the last few days.

Let's start, David, with Iraq, the announcement today by President Obama. All the troops will be home by the end of the year. Reaction?

DAVID BROOKS, New York Times columnist: Excessive. Imprudent.

It had been widely reported that our military leaders on the ground wanted to keep about 14,000, to 18,000. That had been reported. It's been reported for months that the Iraqi military has some basic gaps, their ability to transport, to do airpower, intelligence, to do training, which the U.S. was helping.

Iraq is still a fragile country. Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution points out that in half the case where there was a civil war, they slide back into civil war. So I think for all those reasons it would have been prudent to keep 14,000, not in combat roles, but in that sort of stabilizing role.

And then the thing that mystifies me, I guess, right now is Denis McDonough, who was on the program earlier, who is a fantastic civil servant, public servant, and a very smart guy, gave a picture of Iran and Iran's influence in Iraq that suggested Iran was weak, and not really...

JUDY WOODRUFF: And isolated.

DAVID BROOKS: And isolated. And yet other people I have spoken to in the government paint a completely opposite picture. So I'm confused about Iran's capacity in general and particularly in Iraq.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Mark, McDonough also said that the generals are on board. I mean...


JUDY WOODRUFF: ... he suggested that the president is doing what the generals agree with.

MARK SHIELDS: He did say that. And until we hear a general say something to the opposite -- it just strikes me, Judy, that we stand in stark contrast between the two countries involved in the headlines this week, Iraq and Libya, I mean, Iraq, where the United States invaded and occupied for nine years, and where there is increasing or undiminished animosity toward the United States and our presence there on the part of the Iraqis, Libya, where there were no American troops on the ground, and where, as of today, there's considerable appreciation.

I mean nothing personal by this, but I have heard a number of people say we have got to be worried about Iran now. And I think it ill becomes those who were the architects and advocates and apologists for the United States' invasion and occupation of Iraq now to raise the flag about Iran being an object of concern.

If that was their paramount consideration, then Saddam Hussein was your guy. He was the guy who kept...

JUDY WOODRUFF: Because he stood up.

MARK SHIELDS: Because he stood up to Iran.

I mean, there was a clear understanding that Iran's influence was going to grow and grow. It has. There's no question about it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you...

DAVID BROOKS: Well, a couple things.

First, warning about Iran is not a neocon fantasy. The Obama administration worries about Iran, the French government, the German government. Iran is a rogue nation the entire world, with the exception of maybe one or two nations, has rallied against.

And so I think that it's not a neocon fantasy that Iran is a very aggressive state. As for what's happened across the Middle East over the last several years, one of the things that's happened -- and to me this is the big thing that's happened -- look at the change. Look in the change in leadership across that region. Gadhafi's gone. Saddam is gone. In Afghanistan, the Taliban is gone. The sclerotic regime in Egypt is gone. Assad is toppling.



And so we have seen this tremendous change. To me that's a big story. Whether it turns out well or ill, we will see, but that is a tremendous change.

MARK SHIELDS: It's a tremendous change, but let's get one thing -- there's a marvelous term in logic, post hoc, not propter hoc. In other words, because something happened after something, it's not because of something.

Saddam Hussein falling was because the United States moved in and occupied and invaded a country that had never posed a threat to the United States, didn't have weapons of mass destruction. The United States didn't play an active role in the Arab spring. And quite miraculous and remarkably was it occurred without us and without our active involvement.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, just to pick up on David's first point, that the U.S. shouldn't be leaving, that the generals were appeared -- were reported to be saying leave more troops there longer, that seems to be what the Republicans picked up on today.

Mitt Romney says it was an astonishing -- I think he said astonish failure to secure an orderly transition. Is that a criticism that's...

MARK SHIELDS: I mean, we have reached a point now where the president gets absolutely unremitting criticisms from Republicans, with the exception of John McCain. I mean, John McCain did salute the president for his leadership for the achievements in Libya.

But other than that, I mean, you can -- whether they opposed the United States involvement in Libya or they supported it -- Mitt Romney was for a no-fly zone and wasn't for a no-fly zone -- you know, he's an interesting man. He's an able man. His credentials on foreign policy are as good as mine on ballet.


DAVID BROOKS: I trust Mark on ballet. I don't know what he's talking about.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me -- because you both have brought Libya into this, we have seen this dramatic story. We just heard Jeff interview the ambassador.

David, is this a victory for the Obama administration or not, what has happened?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think clearly, and a pretty personal victory for the president.

There were a lot of people within the administration, somebody I have great reverence for, Robert Gates, who was then at the Defense Department, didn't want to do it. Many people -- the Europeans just wanted to do a no-fly zone. And the president said, no, we have got to be more aggressive. We have got to use the airpower and drones and everything else much more aggressively, and we have got to do regime change. We have got to use military means to topple the regime.

And he pursued that policy. It took a little longer than he thought, but he pursued it well. He made it so the U.S. wasn't the center of the policy, but Gadhafi and the Libyan regime was the center of policy. And they saw it through. So I think on the whole this has been an extremely well-conducted policy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Does that translate -- excuse me.

Does that translate, Mark, into something that helps him in next year's election?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, it wasn't a flawless policy by any means.

The constitutionality of it I think remains open to question. He bet on the Congress being supine and just ignoring the War Powers Act. And he was right. The Congress was submissive, was docile. It wasn't involved. It took no responsibility. And he went straight ahead. And the widespread use of drones is still open to question.

Was it effective? Yes. But is it a long-term strategy that is going to work well for the United States around the globe? I think that's very much an open question.


MARK SHIELDS: In Libya, yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what about in terms of next year? Does it...

MARK SHIELDS: In terms of next year? Well, it's already worked for the president in terms of the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll Judy, where the president got dismal marks on handling the economy and very mediocre marks on his job rating. By a 2-to-1 margin, voters gave him approval on the -- his handling of terrorism, under which this would follow.

But it doesn't make a difference when it comes to voting next year. It has diminished the liability of the Democrats as the party that is sort of soft on national defense. I don't think that argument can be made in 2012.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And which was something Hillary Clinton went after Obama during the campaign.

Anyway, what do you think? Do you agree with Mark it doesn't matter?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think it may make a difference.

He's had a very good run on foreign policy. And I think that we're going to have foreign policy issues arise in next October, next September. It's unimaginable to me that somehow the Middle East won't come back. The Middle East will come back. And I think he's been pretty strong.

And I think the Republicans field, even Mitt Romney, who is the most plausible candidate, is not exactly a foreign policy -- you don't look to him for foreign policy. And so there's an advantage there. And presidential elections, foreign policy tends to make a difference. Until recently, it was the major issue for president.

And so I'm beginning to think that -- you know, I thought, oh, it's the economy, the economy. I'm beginning to think the foreign policy issue will loom surprisingly large next year.

On the "generals are on board" comment; being retired military, I understand how this statement can be made truthfully. In the military, you freely give your best opinion to The Commander-in-Chief, BUT when he makes a decision you salute and say "yes sir" and carry out your orders, which includes publicly agreeing with the decision.