Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

PTSD meta-analysis

Treatment of PTSD 2008 is a comprehensive meta-analysis of studies done for the government on treatments for PTSD. I will have some follow through later this week. The 212 page document is one of the more throrough I have seen, so I mention this for any readers who have time and are curious. No surprises but some great questions.

Propranolol had no research indicating efficacy for combat ptsd.

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a little history from a couple months ago

The NYT has an article that offers some insight in Whitehouse thinking and wishes.

On one side, according to people familiar with the deliberations, is a powerful group of pragmatists, including Henry M. Paulson Jr., the treasury secretary; Joshua B. Bolten, the White House chief of staff; and Ed Gillespie, counselor to Mr. Bush. They argue that the need for a stimulus is urgent, but have expressed concern that the administration may have to scale back its ambitions for permanent tax cuts to get a package through Congress.
On the other side, these people say, are staunch economic conservatives like Keith B. Hennessey, the new director of Mr. Bush’s National Economic Council. They have reservations about the need for an economic rescue package and maintain that if the White House proposes one, it should use the plan as leverage to press lawmakers into making the tax cuts permanent.

As a whole, the economics team has also drawn criticism for overly optimistic economic predictions. At the end of November, on the same day that Ben S. Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, hinted strongly that the Fed would lower interest rates to stave off a downturn in the economy, Mr. Paulson and Mr. Lazear offered a rosier economic forecast for 2008.
Mr. Lazear predicted “solid growth,” and Mr. Paulson said the economy remained “broadly healthy,” while adding, “I expect the expansion to continue.”
On Tuesday, Mr. Lazear defended those predictions, saying they were in keeping with what most economists believed at the time. But he also said that the economic team had known since August, when the housing crisis grew especially acute, that it might have to consider an economic rescue package.

Things seem to change really quickly. Too bad none knew what was coming in order to better plan a stimulus package. [sarcasm off]

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Consumer credit default and spending change

The NYT reports that there is:

Strong evidence is emerging that consumer spending, a bulwark against recession over the last year even as energy prices surged and the housing market sputtered, has begun to slow sharply at every level of the American economy, from the working class to the wealthy.

The abrupt pullback raises the possibility that the country may be experiencing a rare decline in personal consumption, not just a slower rate of growth. Such a decline would be the first since 1991, and it would almost certainly push the entire economy into a recession in the middle of an election year.
There are mounting anecdotal signs that beginning in December Americans cut back significantly on personal consumption, which accounts for 70 percent of the economy.

Citicorp just canceled my credit card for $133 of 60 day overdue. I had switched to e-mail only billing and they became spam. Oops. Given that I had a long and superb track record that earned them money for a long time, I do not like being layed off with the other 7000 employees. So much for loyalty, and so much for a 39 cent stamp and little reminder. My appeal fell on deaf ears.

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Andrew Leonard at Salon takes the savvy and well educated, knowledgeable movers and shakers to task for their whining about free markets and oversight. It reminds me of:

1. Too big to fail, which may be true, but stay with the same management?

2. DolB can sell discounted flowers to all the readership using their on-line names and persona’s, and accept our thanks and promises, but next month no money? It is our fault? Morally, yes, but as a businessman he can yell at us all he wants, but it is his business. So then he can borrow from a guy from Dubai to make things right by letting him in on a percentage of his business. Duh…

3. OldVet’s post on Japan is another marker.

Anyway, is it time to say whatever the stated philosophy was, the real practice has made a mess of the world-wide econonomy? No bailouts by the fed is replaced by soveriegn funds? Are they big enough?

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Best evidence pitfalls

The New England Journal of Medicine reports this abstract about unreported clinical trials of pharmaceutical companies.

Background Evidence-based medicine is valuable to the extent that the evidence base is complete and unbiased. Selective publication of clinical trials — and the outcomes within those trials — can lead to unrealistic estimates of drug effectiveness and alter the apparent risk–benefit ratio.
Methods We obtained reviews from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for studies of 12 antidepressant agents involving 12,564 patients. We conducted a systematic literature search to identify matching publications. For trials that were reported in the literature, we compared the published outcomes with the FDA outcomes. We also compared the effect size derived from the published reports with the effect size derived from the entire FDA data set.
Results Among 74 FDA-registered studies, 31%, accounting for 3449 study participants, were not published. Whether and how the studies were published were associated with the study outcome. A total of 37 studies viewed by the FDA as having positive results were published; 1 study viewed as positive was not published. Studies viewed by the FDA as having negative or questionable results were, with 3 exceptions, either not published (22 studies) or published in a way that, in our opinion, conveyed a positive outcome (11 studies). According to the published literature, it appeared that 94% of the trials conducted were positive. By contrast, the FDA analysis showed that 51% were positive. Separate meta-analyses of the FDA and journal data sets showed that the increase in effect size ranged from 11 to 69% for individual drugs and was 32% overall.
Conclusions We cannot determine whether the bias observed resulted from a failure to submit manuscripts on the part of authors and sponsors, from decisions by journal editors and reviewers not to publish, or both. Selective reporting of clinical trial results may have adverse consequences for researchers, study participants, health care professionals, and patients.

This may be good for sales, but witholding limitations from doctors at least in theory is bad medicine. Of course, there are other difficulties.

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Post flambe

OMB Watch has an article on talk of a stimulus package and what it should not do. Actually, it does propose an idea, but I left that out. To quote:

“During his speech at the Union League Club of Chicago on Jan. 7, Bush reiterated the importance of continuing his current policies to address what he calls recent economic “challenges.” However, he emphasized that new initiatives are unnecessary to address the damage from the housing and financial crises. Bush called for extending his first-term tax cuts, few of which, if any, would have any impact on current economic signals.

Meanwhile, Paulson, in his speech before the New York Society of Security Analysts, Inc., said the administration would consider an economic stimulus package but would not provide any details. This is why some speculated that Bush might announce something during the State of Union address.

It is important that policy makers ignore calls for a repetition of the failed 2001-2003 Bush tax cuts and adhere to sound economic principles as described by Summers and Orszag. Even worse would be calls for extension of those same tax cuts as a short-term solution for current fiscal problems. Permanent tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations would do little to immediately stimulate the economy or direct economic aid to those most affected by an economic slump while ultimately putting a drag on the economy in the long term through sustained budget deficits.

(The views expressed are those of mine alone and should not be attributed to the trustees, officers, or staff of the Brookings Institution or the Tax Policy Center. Much of this talk draws upon joint work with William Gale of Brookings, Robert Greenstein and Richard Kogan of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Robert Rubin of Citigroup, and Allen Sinai of Decision Economics, Inc. I also thank Robert Cumby of Georgetown University, Peter Diamond of MIT, Doug Elmendorf and David Wilcox of the Federal Reserve, Robert Bixby of the Concord Coalition, and Maya MacGuineas of the New America Foundation for helpful discussions.)

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Psycological Kevlar

Psychological Kevlar Act of 2007
introduced by Patrick Kennedy was to help PTSD and brain trauma research expand.

It has come to my attention that the DoD is thinking about using propranolol as a prophylactic to help reduce ptsd symptoms during conflict and after. I had found this articlefrom a wife of a soldier who had killed himself, and who had testified in a Dec. 12, 2007 congressional hearing on suicide among veterans that is apparently on the rise. She has a strong and passionate viewpoint, but that is not for the post.

Propranolol (brand name Inde by Wyeth) is used for a number of diagnosis not related to ptsd. In addition it is used in the psychological Anxiety area as a beta blocker among other uses, for example for rape victims ptsd to help defuse the intensity of the experience in order to work in therapy. Its efficacy is still experimental and not encouraging.

Failing to locate such information, I am wondering if readers may have leads. While an econ blog, many here are also veterans. Thanks. Further information is coming if warranted. I have e-mailed relevant experts that I know.

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Democracy through smart bombs

The Asian Times carries an article and opinion about democratizing the ME.

This week, coinciding with President George W Bush’s two-day trip to Saudi Arabia, the Bush administration is expected to notify Congress about an arms package for Saudi Arabia. The sale is part of an overall package that was announced at the end of July 2007; a series of arms deals worth at least US$20 billion to Saudi Arabia and five other Persian Gulf states, as well as new 10-year military and economic aid packages to Israel and Egypt.

Even by the standard of past arms sales to the Middle East and Persian Gulf, traditionally one of the world’s largest arms-buying regions, these are major arms transfers with the potential to significantly affect the regional strategic balance. One of the more notable aspects is that the Bush administration plans to sell advanced satellite-guided bombs, such as the JDAM, which the United States has never before sold to Saudi Arabia, fighter aircraft upgrades, and new naval vessels to six Gulf Cooperation Council countries, including Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman. Reportedly, the Pentagon asked the Saudis to accept restrictions on the range, size and location of the satellite-guided bombs, including a commitment not to store the weapons at air bases located near Israeli territory.

And unlike some past sales, no conditions are attached. In fact, when Rice visited the Middle East last July, she insisted that the Bush administration had not imposed demands on its allies in exchange for the arms and aid deals. “This isn’t an issue of quid pro quo,” Rice told reporters. “We are working with these states to fight back extremism.” And with no strings attached to the assistance – no democratic reforms, human-rights conditions or peace-making obligations – the arms sales do nothing to change the behavior of the authoritarian regimes in the region.

The article contains more than mentioned here. But if democracy is the goal overall, how does selling systems for large military assist asymetrical warfare. If the Saudis do not use the weapons to create an integrated defense force as mentioned in the article, what do we get out of it in relation to Saudi Arabia and democracy.

If McCain is right and it takes one hundred years, what measure of benefit is even applicable?

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This blog seemed to provide a comprehensive list of technique. The following caught my eye of a couple hundred tacks. Live and learn. I am following CoRev’s lead that flamers are not trolls.

Short Term Versus Long Term:
this is a particular case of the Excluded Middle. For example, “We must deal with crime on the streets before improving the schools.” (But why can’t we do some of both?) Similarly, “We should take the scientific research budget and use it to feed starving children.”
Burden Of Proof:
the claim that whatever has not yet been proved false must be true (or vice versa). Essentially the arguer claims that he should win by default if his opponent can’t make a strong enough case.
There may be three problems here. First, the arguer claims priority, but can he back up that claim? Second, he is impatient with ambiguity, and wants a final answer right away. And third, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”
Argument By Question:
asking your opponent a question which does not have a snappy answer. (Or anyway, no snappy answer that the audience has the background to understand.) Your opponent has a choice: he can look weak or he can look long-winded. For example, “How can scientists expect us to believe that anything as complex as a single living cell could have arisen as a result of random natural processes?”
Actually, pretty well any question has this effect to some extent. It usually takes longer to answer a question than ask it.

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WTO Doha, agriculture, and values

As I re-do templates for eventual updates to the site, I found this graphic on AB from the early days. I did misplace the link, sorry. But it appeared to be a great graphic for several thoughts:

1. The foundering of the Doha agreements was centered around agriculture protection.

2. Our beliefs about values are reflected where the money goes, perhaps. I think all of us agree certain government programs appear to be forever programs. But I would ask what drives it, and what are our values in letting it go on forever. Is it the private/government great divide, or does current mainstream economics as publicly descibed simply side step or cover the issue?

3. Why is the issue described in a so-called neutral frame? Does my auto mechanic tell me where I can go or not? He/she helps to get there, wherever there is, but the philosophy of mechanical service is not the point of auto use for me.

4. Are we being car-jacked, whether liberal and conservative? Without the media labels, how do we frame the issue without using the term class-warfare, which appears to simply close off discussion. If conservative, are you being car-jacked (many here can describe the left of center car-jacking)?

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