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

Fair hearings of any kind are due

Morris D. Davis is the former chief prosecutor for the Office of Military Commissions. The opinions expressed are his own and do not represent the views of the Department of Defense or the Department of the Air Force.

The Military Commissions Act provides a foundation for fair trials, but some changes are clearly necessary. I was confident in full, fair and open trials when Gen. Altenburg was the convening authority and Brig. Gen. Tom Hemingway was his legal advisor. Collectively, they spent nearly 65 years in active duty, and they were committed to ensuring the integrity of military law. They acted on principle rather than politics. The first step, if these truly are military commissions and not merely a political smoke screen, is to take control out of the hands of political appointees like Haynes and Crawford and give it back to the military. The president first authorized military commissions in November 2001, more than six years ago, and the lack of progress is obvious. Only one war-crime case has been completed. It is time for the political appointees who created this quagmire to let go. Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham have said that how we treat the enemy says more about us than it does about him. If we want these military commissions to say anything good about us, it’s time to take the politics out of military commissions, give the military control over the process and make the proceedings open and transparent.

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Thinking or testing

This blog on research digest of pysychology noted the following research report from Scotland on schools and how to learn.

Teaching children the art of collaborative philosophical inquiry brings them persistent, long-term cognitive benefits, according to psychologists in Scotland.

Keith Topping and Steve Trickey first reported the short-term benefits of using Thinking through Philosophy” with children in an earlier study.

One hundred and five children in the penultimate year of primary school (aged approximately ten years) were given one hour per week of philosophical-inquiry based lessons for 16 months. Compared with 72 control children, the philosophy children showed significant improvements on tests of their verbal, numerical and spatial abilities at the end of the 16-month period relative to their baseline performance before the study.

Now Topping and Trickey have tested the cognitive abilities of the children two years after that earlier study finished, by which time the children were nearly at the end of their second year of secondary school. The children hadn’t had any further philosophy-based lessons but the benefits of their early experience of philosophy persisted. The 71 philosophy-taught children who the researchers were able to track down showed the same cognitive test scores as they had done two years earlier. By contrast, 44 control children actually showed a trend towards a deterioration in their inferior scores from two years earlier.

The philosophy-based lessons encouraged a community approach to ‘inquiry’ in the classroom, with children sharing their views on Socratic questions posed by the teacher. The children’s cognitive abilities were tested using the ‘Cognitive Abilities Test’, a measure which has been found to predict children’s performance on external school examinations.

“Follow-up studies of thinking skills interventions are very rare in the literature, so this finding is an important contribution,” the researchers said.

Topping, K.J. & Trickey, S. (2007). Collaborative philosophical inquiry for school-children: Cognitive gains at 2-year follow-up. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 77, 787-796.

In MA upwards of three weeks of time can be directly devoted to taking the MCAS exams each year as part of measuring a school systems performance and improvements. It has turned into a high stakes game of competition to prove superiority among school systems, especially affecting real estate values. The exams are also used to measure individual achievement by parents at times, but are not designed to do this.

One of the teachers for my kids in elementary school in second grade was superb, but recieved only respect with no monetary compensation for her excellence. Her flair for innovation and individualization was grounded in solid andd well thought out curriculums. After ‘retiring’ she made the cover of Time Magazine as Teacher of the Year for her efforts in mentoring teachers.

There are countless examples of such behavior, and requires a lot of extra time to maintain. Some today that I am familiar with maintain private blogs with exciting content and presentation, but there is no way to compensate them in general.
Others simply put in a lot of time after school in such things as debate, theater, choral music.

Baseline testing is a valid activity, but does seem to be overblown as a way of educating kids. Baseline testing needs some sort of perspective placed upon the incentive structure. What is our goal?

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Early returns from Iowa

NYT updated 10:19 PM ET
Republicans Vote %
Huckabee 30,852 34%
Romney 22,973 25
Thompson 12,289 14
McCain 12,109 13
Paul 8,995 10
Giuliani 3,246 4
Others 394 0
76% reporting

Democrats Vote %
Obama 879 37%
Edwards 704 30
Clinton 693 29
Richardson 50 2
Biden 22 1
Dodd 1 0
Others 3 0
95% reporting

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Controlling spending through price

Tufts Health HMO, rated best in the US by US News, just sent a note that included changes in co-payments on procedures.

Co-pays go from $25 to $600 for Cat scans, MRI scans, pet scans, breast biopsies (which can consist of removal of a cysts with a BIG needle), colonoscopies and other procedures. Where the procedure happens (office, clinic, or hospital) can determine the co-pay for the exact same procedure.

Brand name drugs will be removed from a tiered system of pricing to one that includes only generic drugs, in that the price of the brand name will be the co-pay plus the difference in cost to Tufts Health Care between the two drugs. Currently for a drug such as Wellbutrin, the generic co-pay is $15 and the brand name co-pay is $45. The new policy aims to double the brand name cost at least from examples on the website to $90 per month cost with this example.

The current cost of a family policy is about $1300 per month with the drug benefit above, or about $15,600 per year. Throw in one colonoscopy (recommended every 5 years but per person, not per family) and a cat scan for a heart, brain or chest, plus say one Wellbutrin and celexa standard dose for a post trauma and depression complication at $180 per month (remember my work), and that can come to over $19,000 per year. Breathtaking concept for most.

The generic versus brand name drug issue will be for another post. However, this is a process using pricing as the incentive to curb spending. Yet ‘best practice’ as stated by the medical community can be quite expensive in the real world, and the underregulated world of generics demands caution in my mind.

Update: Replaced unregulated with underregulated.

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Little things that count in standards of opportunity

PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases Issue Image Vol. 1(3) December 2007 (Public Library of Science)

Shown are 1,659 adult Schistosoma mansoni worms obtained by live surgical perfusion of an 18-year-old patient. In this issue of PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, Daniel G. Colley and W. Evan Secor present an agenda for schistosomiasis research (see Colley et al., e32) and ask readers to add comments and discussions to their article, so that “the agenda will serve as one focal point for interactive interchange among the schistosomiasis community, and thus provide a foundation for true collaborations within and across the spectrum of research.”

Image Credit: Daniel G. Colley

Yahoo News lead me to this article in the peer reviewed professional magazine Neglected Tropical Diseases section.

Dr. Hotez says “And yet we have a devastating parasitic disease burden among the American poor, right under our nose,” Hotez said.
He noted a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, presented in November, found that almost 14 percent of the U.S. population is infected with Toxocara roundworms, which dogs and cats can pass to people.

“Urban playgrounds in the United States have recently been shown to be a particularly rich source of Toxocara eggs and inner-city children are at high risk of acquiring the infection,” Hotez wrote, adding that this might be partly behind the rise in asthma cases in the country. Up to 23 percent of urban black children may be infected, he said.

“Because of its possible links to asthma, it would be important to determine whether covert toxocariasis is a basis for the rise of asthma among inner-city children in the northeastern United States,” he added.

“Cysticercosis is another very serious parasitic worm infection … caused by the tapeworm Taenia solium, that results in seizures and other neurological manifestations,” Hotez wrote.

He said up to 2,000 new cases of neurological disease caused by tapeworms are diagnosed every year in the United States. More than 2 percent of adult Latinos may be infected, and with 35 million Hispanics in the United States, this could add up to tens of thousands of cases, Hotez said.

Also subsequently to this article that addresses the issues in WTO GATS agreements ignoring biomedical consequences of engineering projects, and especially water and sanitation standards. Comorbidity becomes a household word.

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Trolls spend a lot of time online

I am new at this part of the forum as part of Angry Bear. Please let me know if I have the basics correct. Knowing how much time posting takes, I am amazed at the quantity of time necessary to troll.

1. A classic troll is trying to make us believe that he is a genuine skeptic with no hidden agenda. He is divisive and argumentative with need-to-be-right attitude, “searching for the truth”, flaming discussion, and sometimes insulting people or provoking people to insult him. Troll is usually an expert in reusing the same words of its opponents and in turning it against them.

2. While sometimes, he may sound like a stupid, uninformed, ignorant poster, do not be deceived! Most trolls are highly intelligent people trying to hide behind a mask of stupidity and/or ignorance! They usually have an agenda.

3. Trolls are utterly impervious to criticism (constructive or otherwise). You cannot negotiate with them; you cannot cause them to feel shame or compassion; you cannot reason with them. They cannot be made to feel remorse. For some reason, trolls do not feel they are bound by the rules of courtesy or social responsibility.

4. When trolls are ignored they step up their attacks, desperately seeking the attention they crave. Their messages become obnoxious, and they post ever more of them. Alternatively, they may protest that their right to free speech is being curtailed.

5. When a troll attacks a message board, he generally posts a lot of messages. Even if his messages are not particularly inflammatory, they can be so numerous that they drown out the regular conversations (this is known as ‘flooding’). Needless to say, no one person’s opinions can be allowed to monopolize a channel.

6. Trolling is a form of harassment that can take over a discussion. Well meaning defenders can create chaos by responding to trolls. The best response is to ignore it.(?)The ultimate response to the ‘free speech’ argument is this: while we may have the right to say more or less whatever we want, we do not have the right to say it wherever we want.

Then the question becomes how to deal with a troll who is trolling under our bridge.

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Another viewpoint on the economy

The UK Telegraph has an interesting set of charts regarding issuance of bonds and such.

Glance at the more or less healthy stock markets in New York, London, and Frankfurt, and you might never know that this debate is raging. Hopes that Middle Eastern and Asian wealth funds will plug every hole lifts spirits.
Glance at the debt markets and you hear a different tale. Not a single junk bond has been issued in Europe since August. Every attempt failed.
Europe’s corporate bond issuance fell 66pc in the third quarter to $396bn (BIS data). Emerging market bonds plummeted 75pc.
“The kind of upheaval observed in the international money markets over the past few months has never been witnessed in history,” says Thomas Jordan, a Swiss central bank governor.
“The sub-prime mortgage crisis hit a vital nerve of the international financial system,” he says.
The market for asset-backed commercial paper – where Europe’s lenders from IKB to the German Doctors and Dentists borrowed through Irish-based “conduits” to play US housing debt – has shrunk for 18 weeks in a row. It has shed $404bn or 36pc. As lenders refuse to roll over credit, banks must take these wrecks back on their books. There lies the rub.
Professor Spencer says capital ratios have fallen far below the 8 per cent minimum under Basel rules. “If they can’t raise capital, they will have to shrink balance sheets,” he said.

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It Can’t Happen Here.

J Edgar Hoover, former FBI Director

Sinclair Lewis wrote a book with the ironic title It Can’t Happen Here. (hat tip to Bruce Webb from comments here).

There is a strain of thought in American politics that prefers to consider the Constitution as an impediment. Another example comes to mind from this new information about a man with a familiar name, and it is not Prescott Bush.

The NYT reports:

A newly declassified document shows that J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, had a plan to suspend habeas corpus and imprison some 12,000 Americans he suspected of disloyalty.

Hoover sent his plan to the White House on July 7, 1950, 12 days after the Korean War began. It envisioned putting suspect Americans in military prisons.

Hoover wanted President Harry S. Truman to proclaim the mass arrests necessary to “protect the country against treason, espionage and sabotage.” The F.B.I would “apprehend all individuals potentially dangerous” to national security, Hoover’s proposal said. The arrests would be carried out under “a master warrant attached to a list of names” provided by the bureau.

The names were part of an index that Hoover had been compiling for years. “The index now contains approximately twelve thousand individuals, of which approximately ninety-seven per cent are citizens of the United States,” he wrote.

“In order to make effective these apprehensions, the proclamation suspends the Writ of Habeas Corpus,” it said.

Habeas corpus, the right to seek relief from illegal detention, has been a fundamental principle of law for seven centuries. The Bush administration’s decision to hold suspects for years at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has made habeas corpus a contentious issue for Congress and the Supreme Court today.

Some have argued that habeaus corpus can be suspended for a certain category of prisoner, with no effort to establish the accuracy of the charges, even if one can find out what the charge is. JAG has come under heavy pressure to relent on insistence for using military or civilian rules instead of a nebulous indefinite confinement.
Rule of law trumps convenience in my mind, and is the patriots duty to defend.

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