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

Vocabulary lessons, add to spellcheck

Motley Fool offers these words and definitions from the Washington Post, which I was not able to find this morning to link.

And now, some of our favorite new fake words (courtesy of The Washington Post):

Cashtration: The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.

Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

Bozone: The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.

Dopeler Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

Ilsm’s definitions are more serious, but the term ‘vocabublarney’ comes to mind when I listen to politicians, and found these funny.

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The Finanial Times has some thoughts on free trade for criminals. Here is part of a presentation at an OECD conference on intellectual property rights:

The international community is losing the war against counterfeiting and piracy, a booming global industry that is increasingly under the control of organised crime, according to senior officials speaking at a conference in Rome.

The anti-piracy conference this week, organised by the the Italian government’s anti-piracy commission, was warned that almost everything was being counterfeited – from fake “Colgate” toothpaste containing harmful bacteria and antifreeze made in Thailand to “Dasani” water poured from the tap in Beijing. More dangerous was the growing market in counterfeit aviation and car parts, and fake drugs.

He told the conference that it had even been extremely difficult to reach an agreement on the definition of counterfeiting. Some law enforcement agencies did not give the issue priority, penalties in the courts were too lenient, and companies – notably in the aviation and luxury goods industry – were reluctant to divulge information on how their products were being copied for fear the publicity would hurt them. And governments did not like the finger of blame pointed at their territory, Mr Dryden said.
“The counterfeiters remain one step ahead,” he said. “It is a war on many fronts… The good guys are a ramshackle army despite the initiatives.”
The OECD report estimated international trade in counterfeit goods at some $200bn or 2 per cent of world trade in 2005. This figure does not include fakes produced for domestic consumption or digital piracy.
“Virtually everything can and probably has been counterfeited and is taking place in virtually every economy,” Mr Dryden said, noting a growing trend in products that are intended to deceive the consumer, such as food and drink and pharmaceuticals.

Bolts that look like high grade steel to hold trucks together. Small things that do not make the news but overall are as important as any of the news making items.

Slaves are one thing we can ignore but these things are household items. What do we do? How does one protect supply lines and figure out the players? Or is it not a problem for world concern? There is also the lack of courts to sue somebody for liability. And do we need a global police that is not ramshackle?

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Today is for Brazil

The Houston Chronicle reports:

Ask Alberto Guimaraes about his vision for Brazil’s state-run oil company Petrobras in the United States, and he has a list ready:
More oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico, more U.S. refining capacity, a bigger role in the domestic biofuels market and possibly even Petrobras-branded gas stations.
It may be just a matter of time before Guimaraes, head of Petrobras’ U.S. arm in Houston, realizes the vision.
The South American oil giant is putting more emphasis than ever on the U.S. as part of an effort to expand its holdings outside Brazil.
Over the next five years, Petrobras plans to invest $4.9 billion in the United States. That’s 10 times the company’s five-year U.S. spending plan a decade ago, and accounts for about a third of what Petrobras will invest outside Brazil from 2008 to 2013.

Most of Petrobras’ upcoming investment is aimed at developing oil fields in deep-water regions of the Gulf of Mexico, where the company has been snapping up acreage in recent years.
In February, the company started producing 20,000 barrels of oil per day at its first deep-water Gulf field, called Cottonwood. By 2013, Petrobras plans to raise output in the Gulf to as much as 150,000 barrels per day, Guimaraes said.
The boost will come largely from the addition of the Cascade and Chinook fields, 180 miles south of the Louisiana coast, where Petrobras expects to begin production by early 2010.
Petrobras, which will be the operator of both fields, owns 50 percent of Cascade and 67 percent of Chinook. Devon Energy, of Oklahoma City, owns the other half of Cascade, while France’s Total owns the rest of Chinook.

In a first for the Gulf, Petrobras will use floating production, storage and offloading, or FPSO, facilities to extract the oil and gas at Cascade and Chinook.
Unlike fixed platforms found in the Gulf today, which can be knocked off base in hurricanes, FPSOs can pull up stakes and move out of harm’s way with short notice. Offshore fields also can be brought online sooner with FPSOs, Guimaraes said.
The technology, a mainstay in Petrobras’ Brazilian operations, could become a model for the rest of the industry in the Gulf.
The company, with partner Astra Holdings, is considering a plan to double the capacity of its 100,000-barrel-per-day U.S. refinery at the Houston Ship Channel. Petrobras owns 50 percent of the facility.

If costs are too high, however, the partners could decide on a less ambitious upgrade that would enable the plant to process heavier crudes, Guimaraes said.
“In my personal view, the only way we could decide not to go for the larger project would be if the costs are really, really much more expensive than the ones that we’ve estimated so far,” Guimaraes said.
Cost estimates for the larger expansion range from $2 billion to $2.4 billion, he said. A final decision on the project is expected by mid-2008.
In coming years, Petrobras aims to keep increasing its U.S. refining capacity, possibly by acquiring other plants, but only if the right opportunities arise, he said.

And Guimaraes said he hopes the company becomes highly involved in biofuels in the U.S.
Brazil is well-known for the development of sugar-cane-based ethanol, which powers many of the cars there. But the U.S. restricts imports of Brazilian ethanol through a 53-cent per gallon tariff.
Guimaraes called for a “phase down” of the tariff, and for the creation of a government and oil industry coalition to study the best ways to incorporate ethanol into U.S. fuels, as well as strategies for ensuring adequate ethanol supplies in the future.
“The ethanol industry in the United States should be a combination of local production, outside exporters bringing to the United States, and eventually an exchange between different markets,” he said. “You have to go in that direction.”

Admittedly this company has a tiny footprint compared to the big guys, but worth watching as the Brazilians work their economy and the global markets.

I think we will find the subsidizing (tariff) of corn as a source for ethanol is unsustainable although currently favored by the candidates. Corn as a source of fuel is for another post. I also wonder if they will provide some sort of real competition for the current monopoly as a spoiler.

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Hillary care and Romney care – Romney deserves credit

The Washington Post has an interesting article on the derivation of health care plans that I was not aware of.

Instead of engaging in a debate on the merits of her proposal, the Republican candidates eagerly rushed to attack it as rampaging big government. It is one more example of why campaigns have left so many Americans disillusioned with the political process.
Romney above all others in the GOP field should have used more caution in the way he responded, given his own admirable record on health care in Massachusetts — a record that he has decided to run away from rather than embrace.
The reason Romney is more vulnerable in the way he responded is that, in broad strokes, what Clinton proposed on Monday bears a striking resemblance to the plan he proposed and then negotiated through the Massachusetts legislature when he was governor. The plan’s passage was one of the most acclaimed achievements of his term in office.
Both plans call for an individual mandate requiring everyone to purchase health insurance. Both feature subsidies to help low income families pay for that insurance. Both create pooling mechanisms to help make insurance more affordable. Both impose a tax on large companies that do not provide health insurance to their workers.
Clinton proposed no new government entities to administer the plan, although her aides acknowledge that some additional people would have to be hired within the existing bureaucratic structure to handle some aspects of it. The Massachusetts plan actually did create a new regulatory agency, although it is a fairly lean and not very costly addition to the state bureaucracy.
There are differences in some details of the two plans — the subsidies available for purchasing health care, the size of the tax on big companies that don’t offer insurance, the scope of the basic benefits package, the tax credits offered to small businesses to provide insurance. But as Jonathan Gruber, an economist at MIT, told me today, the two plans are “very, very similar.”
Gruber advised Romney as governor in the development of the Massachusetts plan and now is a member of a board overseeing its implementation. He said Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards consulted him as they were preparing their proposals this year.
Gruber said what Clinton proposed is far different from the plan that never came to a vote in Congress in 1994. He is dismayed by Romney’s response and what he called “misleading Republican rhetoric” to the Clinton plan.
“Romney deserves the credit for what he did in Massachusetts,” Gruber said. “He provided the intellectual leadership for much of what is going on. He should be basking in his glory and instead he’s running away from it, and I’m very disappointed.”

Who woulda thought? Maybe he is just shy.

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Food responsibility is individual only, like lead paints?

The New England Journal of Medicine printed an article worth reading about possible impacts of childhood obesity. I like the attitude. Here is the last part:

Certainly, we have much to learn about the regulation of body weight. Low-fat diets have yielded disappointing results, and very-low-carbohydrate diets appear to be more effective only in the short term. Novel approaches that focus on the quality rather than the ratio of macronutrients appear promising, and other areas warrant study, including the effects of sleep deprivation, stress, infectious agents, and endocrine-disrupting environmental toxins on weight. Unfortunately, the U.S. government has thus far invested only a fraction of a cent in research for every dollar that obesity costs society. And although broad consensus exists regarding the dietary and lifestyle habits needed to prevent and treat childhood obesity, we lack anything resembling a comprehensive strategy for encouraging children to eat a healthful diet and engage in physical activity. Such a strategy would include legislation that regulates junk-food advertising, provides adequate funding for decent lunches and regular physical activities at school, restructures the farm-subsidies program to favor nutrient-dense rather than calorie-dense produce, and mandates insurance coverage for preventing and treating pediatric obesity.
Parents must take responsibility for their children’s welfare by providing high-quality food, limiting television viewing, and modeling a healthful lifestyle. But why should Mr. and Ms. G.’s efforts to protect their children from life-threatening illness be undermined by massive marketing campaigns from the manufacturers of junk food? Why are their children subjected to the temptation of such food in the school cafeteria and vending machines? Why don’t they have the opportunity to exercise their bodies during the school day? And why must Mr. and Ms. G. fight with their insurance company for reimbursement to cover the costs of their children’s care at the OWL clinic? Fortunately, with the exercise of both personal and social responsibility, we have the power to choose the shape of things to come.

The Heritage foundation claimed poor people are not malnourished because they are fat and should eat beans and rice.
The Farm Bill includes funding for WIC and food stamps as well as big subsidies for corn sugar and other yummy nourishing things, and actually discourages medium and small farmers from thriving.

Add in marketing costs for fast food, that tornado of deception, and pit it against each parent one at a time. So much for the ‘fair food fight and solely each parents concern’ idealogy – what a convenient frame. Another deferred cost from our big corporations and government. My supply of Twinkies has diminishing returns and exploding liabilities. Darn.

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Illegal alien or Economic refugee

Illegal means criminal, and alien feels spooky. Are spooky alien criminals invading the country?

And the The American Immigration Law Foundation tells us the likely reason why not:

The problem of crime in the United States is not ’caused’ or even aggravated by immigrants, regardless of their legal status. This is hardly surprising since immigrants come to the United States to pursue economic and educational opportunities not available in their home countries and to build better lives for themselves and their families. As a result, they have little to gain and much to lose by breaking the law. Undocumented immigrants in particular have even more reason to not run afoul of the law given the risk of deportation that their lack of legal status entails.

This Thanksgiving an illegal saved a American boys life at the cost of deportation.

Cordova was taken into custody by the U.S. Border Patrol and agreed to return to his home in the Mexican state of Sonora without going through formal deportation proceedings.

Cordova came to the border again Tuesday, where officials from both countries held the ceremony in a U.S. Customs and Border Protection building at the Nogales port of entry. His mother, Almalida Soberanes, looked on proudly.

“He did what he had to do,” Soberanes said. “He took care of that little boy and protected him.”

The district director for U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., said Cordova deserved the opportunity to come to America to work and that the congressman plans to introduce legislation that will let him get a special visa. Such legislation rarely passes, but Grijalva aide Ruben Reyes said it was the only way they knew of to show their thanks.

Sounds more like a good neighbor than a criminal. And if the Presidential candidates changed the name, they would have to deal with WTO GATS trade style failures with our neighbors.

And the positive side of spooky aliens goes unnoticed. Who wants to be known as an exploiter of refugees?

The term means nothing as a useful stereotype on which to build policy, and hides the failure of nations doing the trade NAFTA-CAFTA thing. How convenient for all.

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Malingering or science? Part 1

About 1.4 million troops have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pentagon research indicates that:

Up to 28% of combat troops may have been exposed to bomb blasts and suffered at least mild traumatic brain injury.

30% of Iraq and Afghanistan casualties treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center have been diagnosed with mild, moderate or severe traumatic brain injury.

USA Today carries a link to a memo the Armed Forces Epidemilogical Board sent to William Winkenwerder Jr., Assistant Secretary for Health Affairs at the Department of Defense, as regards diagnosis of levels of TBI and reasons for concern in combat and returning home. There is a list of what to look for in terms of symptoms and performance as well as behavior.

Title 38 USC 1110 Basic Entitlement

For disability resulting from person injury suffered or disease
contracted in line of duty, or for aggravation of a preexisting
injury suffered or disease contracted in line of duty, in the
active military, naval, or air service, during a period of war, the United States will pay to any veteran thus disabled and who was
discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable
from the period of service in which said injury or disease was
incurred, or preexisting injury or disease was aggravated,compensation as provided in this subchapter, but no compensation shall be paid if the disability is a result of the veteran’s own willful misconduct or abuse of alcohol or drugs.

The tangles of policy and money allocation, and entrenched viewpoints on the expectation of the diagnosis of malingering, need your thoughtfullness and input to the powers that be.

More will be posted as basic information. The military is trying to develop a blood test for in the field diagnosis based on released proteins from brain damage, and has about 200 stations that have basic scanning devices that feed into a central computer for diagnosis.

Unfortunately the best treatment in support systems (family and buddies) is only just begun.

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Just a business expense and opprtunity cost

Salon reports:

In April 2007, William Winkenwerder Jr. retired from his position as assistant secretary for health affairs at the Department of Defense, where he had been in charge of all military healthcare. On June 1, he went to work for a Wisconsin-based private contractor named Logistics Health Inc., which hired him to serve on its board of directors and “advise and counsel LHI on business development,” according to a company press release. It was a hire that seems to have paid quick dividends.
On June 13, 2007, the Department of Defense began accepting bids for a contract to give soldiers medical and dental exams before they head off to war. Logistics Health was among the companies bidding on the contract, which was worth hundreds of millions of dollars over four years. Before he left the DOD, in addition to running military healthcare, Winkenwerder had also been in charge of the office that wrote the contract.

The revolving door becomes direct access. Opportunity costs become part of procurement procedures and contract writing. I hope the company is efficient and does a good job at a reasonable cost.

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New NIE report

WSJ reports on the news conference and new National Intelligence Estimate.

The new assessment concludes that Iran actually suspended its covert nuclear weapon program in the fall of 2003. That tends to undercut Bush’s recent warnings about the danger of “World War III” if Iran’s nuclear ambitions are realized.

At least the first half-dozen questions were related to the issue, with several reporters bluntly questioning whether Bush has exaggerated the danger from Tehran, especially in recent months. Several also sought to link the flip-flop on Iran intelligence to earlier U.S. intelligence miscues over Iraq. “Can’t you be accused of hyping this threat?” asked NBC’s David Gregory. “And don’t you worry that that undermines U.S. credibility?”

In response, Bush pointed out repeatedly that the new intelligence shows that U.S. diplomatic pressure actually has been working. He added that Iran remains a danger because of its demonstrated desire for a nuclear arsenal, as well as its continuing uranium-enrichment program, which could provide material for constructing a weapon. He also said he’d only been informed about the re-evaluation within the past week. Intelligence officials had told him earlier that there was a new development. But they weren’t being specific until they’d checked it out, Bush said.

The president also took the time to push for the trade bill with Peru as a way to fight terrorism, which is up for a vote today or tomorrow, calling it free trade again, instead of the WTO GATS modeled capital flow and nothing else trade bill. While the presidential candidates are mostly for it, they probably will be absent on the vote.

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PTSD and TBI at home

PBS has a very short description of the effects of PTSD and TBI by several authors that might help in sorting out why the diagnosis is important both for policy, treatment, and moral judgements we as Americans are prone to use to avoid costs of war.

As you stand with other parents watching the kids play soccer, discussing sports or the weather, and your body screams danger. Or a light touch makes you mentally jump a foot into the air as you return the caress. It is a hard tightrope to walk even when you know what is going on. Lack of sleep makes it impossible for some.


Assessments of the many ways in which transitioning from high-stress combat war zones to a peaceful home community environment can be the hardest part of military service. Explaining the difficulties and what can be done to help are psychiatrist and author Jonathan Shay; VA psychiatrist Andrew Pomerantz; retired Navy psychologist Dennis Reeves; Col. Thomas Burke, director for mental health policy for the Dept. of Defense; Vietnam vet and VA counselor Jim Dooley; and Fred Gusman, a director of the VA National Center on PTSD. These excerpts are drawn from their extended FRONTLINE interviews.

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