September 30, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 PM

THE FIX IS IN:

Contest - fix*us - You Are the Solution

As a country, we do pretty well , but we are far from perfect. We've got our share of problems, and we think that you have the answers. Fix*us is a campaign about giving you the platform to weigh in on some of the biggest issues our country is facing. You can read other users' solutions and vote on the opinions you believe in. At the end of the campaign 5 winners will be selected and LiveCitizen will award a total of $5000 to the winner's charities of choice.

Who: You, and anyone you know who is passionate about making a difference!
What: Fix*us Campaign, voicing your opinions, coming up with solutions, and benefitting charities.
When: August 13th - October 31st
Where: www.livecitizen.com/top/fixus 
Why: Because this is OUR country and we don't think that politicians should be the only ones who have a say on how to run it.

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 AM

ATTAINING THE CONSERVATIVE GOAL OF ACCOUNTABILITY:

Medicare fines over hospitals' readmitted patients (RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, 9/29/12, Associated Press)

If you or an elderly relative have been hospitalized recently and noticed extra attention when the time came to be discharged, there's more to it than good customer service.

Starting Monday, Medicare will fine hospitals that have too many patients readmitted within 30 days of discharge due to complications. The penalties are part of a broader push under President Barack Obama's health care law to improve quality while also trying to cut costs. [...]

It adds up to a new way of doing business for hospitals, and they have scrambled to prepare for well over a year. They are working on ways to improve communication with rehabilitation centers and doctors who follow patients after they're released, as well as connecting individually with patients.

"There is a lot of activity at the hospital level to straighten out our internal processes," said Nancy Foster, vice president for quality and safety at the American Hospital Association. "We are also spreading our wings a little and reaching outside the hospital, to the extent that we can, to make sure patients are getting the ongoing treatment they need."

Those of us who get our health insurance through King Arthur Flour (Norwich, VT) also just got a tidy rebate because Cigna failed to cut its bureaucratic costs, Cigna must refund $2.3 million to Vermont customers (Alan Panebaker, June 21, 2012, VT Digger)

Cigna, a major health insurer of large businesses in Vermont, is on the hook for more than $2 million that it must return to its customers in the state under a provision of the federal health care law.

According to numbers released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 4,636 Vermonters will receive a rebate -- averaging out to $807 per family.

The rebate is required under a section of the federal Affordable Care Act which requires insurance companies to spend at least 80 percent (or 85 percent in the large group market which is generally insurance through large employers) on medical care.

If insurance companies do not meet this requirement, they have to refund the portion of the premium that exceeded the 20 or 15 percent limit on things like administrative expenses.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM

SHIELDING INCOMPETENTS IS JUST PROFESSIONAL COURTESY:

High Price of Bad Medicine: One Surgeon Speaks Up (SHARON BEGLEY, 9/30/12, Reuters)

When Dr. Marty Makary was a medical student, staffers at the Boston hospital where he was training had a nickname for one of its most popular surgeons: Dr. Hodad.

"Hodad" is an acronym for "hands of death and destruction": Despite his Ivy League credentials and board certification, the surgeon had an unfortunate tendency to botch operations so badly that patients often suffered life-threatening complications. But he was also one of the surgeons most requested by patients, including celebrities, thanks to his charming bedside manner and their lack of understanding about what caused their post-op problems.
 
Makary, 42, aims to end the professional code of silence that allows colleagues like Dr. Hodad to thrive. Now a cancer surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Makary has just published the book Unaccountable: What Hospitals Won't Tell You and How Transparency Can Revolutionize Health Care.

It outlines the extent to which doctors and hospitals suppress objective data about how patients fare in their hands and argues for clear, publicly accessible statistics to help people make the best choices when it comes to treatment. Hospitals and physicians, he argues, should collect "outcomes data" on everything from how many knee-replacement patients walk without a limp to how many prostatectomy patients become incontinent.

Without that, "patients are walking in blind" every time they choose a hospital, Makary said in an interview. With rare exception they have no way of knowing whether they will receive appropriate care or be one of the 100,000 patients killed or 9 million harmed every year in the United States because of medical mistakes.

One of the frightening realities of medicine is that if you can just manage to get into medical school in the first place you will get to be a doctor.  There is no failing once you're into the group.



Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM

HE WAS WHOEVER YOU NEED HIM TO BE:

In Search of Muhammad : A special review and examination of Robert Spencer's Did Muhammad Exist? (AYMENN JAWAD AL-TAMIMI, 5.25.12, American Spectator)

Without indulging in polemics or pushing a partisan political agenda, the author simply investigates the question of whether we can really trust the traditional Islamic accounts for the life of Muhammad and the supposed early days of Islam during the Arab conquests.

To be sure, serious scholarship on Islamic historiography dates back to the latter half of the 19th century -- with the works of the Belgian Jesuit Henri Lammens and the acclaimed Geschichte des Qorans by Theodor Noldeke, to name just two pioneers of the field -- and Spencer makes no pretense to originality.

Yet a traditional problem with Islamic historiography has been the intended audience: that is, the academic specialist assumed to have extensive background knowledge, rather than the general reader. Thus, Spencer's book serves a useful purpose, for it flows nicely while providing the reader with a firm grounding for delving deeper into the subject. Indeed, the author provides a handy "Further Reading List" (pp. 239-40) for anyone interested in consulting specialist works. Spencer also deserves credit for integrating his sources nicely into his writing, avoiding the practice of simply quoting verbatim large chunks from other authors.

SO WHAT ARE THE MAIN arguments against the historicity of the traditional Islamic accounts of Muhammad's life and the subsequent rise of Islam through the Arab conquests?
To begin with, contemporary non-Muslim sources of the 7th century do not corroborate the canonical story. For example, the Doctrina Jacobi (a document dating to 634-40 CE and probably written by a Christian living in Palestine; p. 20), an account of the Arab conquest of Jerusalem by Sophronius -- the patriarch who is said to have surrendered the city in 637 -- and a letter written in 647 by the patriarch of Seleucia make no reference to the Arab conquerors as Muslims, or show any awareness of a religion called Islam.

The earliest account that can reliably be taken to refer to Muhammad is a chronicle by the Armenian bishop Sebeos, dating either to the 660s or 670s but containing material that sharply diverges from the traditional Islamic accounts: thus he has Muhammad "insisting on the Jews' right to the Holy Land -- even if in the context of claiming that land for the Ishmaelites, acting in conjunction with the Jews" (p. 32).

Only by around 730 CE, nearly one hundred years after Muhammad's death in 632 CE according to the canonical story, do we see an account by John of Damascus make detailed reference to parts of the Qur'an, but even then he does not name the Qur'an or allude to the existence of a complete holy book for those he calls "Hagarians," "Ishmaelites" or "Saracens" (but not Muslims).

Instead, we have reference to Qur'anic chapter titles like "The Women" (this is the fourth Sura of the Qur'an today), implying that he was drawing on fragments of text that were later incorporated into the Qur'an.

Arabic epigraphic evidence from the 7th century similarly fails to validate the canonical account. An inscription attributed to the first Umayyad caliph -- Muawiya -- in 677 or 678 CE makes reference to belief in God but gives no indication of belief in Muhammad as his messenger or the Qur'an as revealed scripture.

On coins from this period, we do find the word "Muhammad" inscribed, but curiously the inscription comes under kingly figures bearing a cross, a symbol of Christianity that is totally antithetical to traditional Islam (pp. 43-4).

Bearing in mind that "Muhammad" can also mean "the chosen/praised one," the coins could well be conveying the idea that the ruler is praised or chosen in God's name (p. 45). 
Alternatively, they could be referring to Jesus -- at a time when the religion of the Arab conquerors was still a vague monotheism -- or a proto-Muhammad figure still very much unlike the man depicted in the traditional accounts of his life. Even the inscriptions on the Dome of the Rock -- completed in 691 CE and often thought to be the first elaborations on traditional Islamic theology -- could be referring to Jesus, explaining how he ("Muhammad") is a mere messenger and not divine as orthodox Christianity held (pp. 56-7).

There was no Mohammed, but if there was he was an intolerant war-mongering pedophile!

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 AM

OUR REPUBLICAN PRESIDENT:

Why I Refuse to Vote for Barack Obama (Conor Friedersdorf, 9/29/12, Atlantic)

I find Obama likable when I see him on TV. He is a caring husband and father, a thoughtful speaker, and possessed of an inspirational biography. On stage, as he smiles into the camera, using words to evoke some of the best sentiments within us, it's hard to believe certain facts about him:   
  
Obama terrorizes innocent Pakistanis on an almost daily basis. The drone war he is waging in North Waziristan isn't "precise" or "surgical" as he would have Americans believe. It kills hundreds of innocents, including children. And for thousands of more innocents who live in the targeted communities, the drone war makes their lives into a nightmare worthy of dystopian novels. People are always afraid. Women cower in their homes. Children are kept out of school. The stress they endure gives them psychiatric disorders. Men are driven crazy by an inability to sleep as drones buzz overhead 24 hours a day, a deadly strike possible at any moment. At worst, this policy creates more terrorists than it kills; at best, America is ruining the lives of thousands of innocent people and killing hundreds of innocents for a small increase in safety from terrorists. It is a cowardly, immoral, and illegal policy, deliberately cloaked in opportunistic secrecy. And Democrats who believe that it is the most moral of all responsible policy alternatives are as misinformed and blinded by partisanship as any conservative ideologue. 

Obama established one of the most reckless precedents imaginable: that any president can secretly order and oversee the extrajudicial killing of American citizens. Obama's kill list transgresses against the Constitution as egregiously as anything George W. Bush ever did. It is as radical an invocation of executive power as anything Dick Cheney championed. The fact that the Democrats rebelled against those men before enthusiastically supporting Obama is hackery every bit as blatant and shameful as anything any talk radio host has done.  

Contrary to his own previously stated understanding of what the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution demand, President Obama committed U.S. forces to war in Libya without Congressional approval, despite the lack of anything like an imminent threat to national security. 

In different ways, each of these transgressions run contrary to candidate Obama's 2008 campaign. 

Heck, if the UR identified as white instead of black Mr. Friedersdorf wouldn't even give the teleprompter-reading Harvard legacy the undeserved credit for biography, thought, and speech. He'd be Mitt.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 AM

THERE'S ONLY ONE SAFE HAVEN:

The Next Panic : Europe's crisis will be followed by a more devastating one, likely beginning in Japan. (PETER BOONE and SIMON JOHNSON, October 2012, Atlantic)

About half of the Japanese government's annual budget now goes to pensions and interest payments. As the government has spent more and more to support its growing elderly population, Japanese savers have willingly financed ever-increasing public-sector debts.

Elderly people hold their savings in the form of cash and bank deposits. The banks, in turn, hold a great deal of government debt. The Bank of Japan (the country's central bank) also buys government bonds--this is how it provides liquid reserves to commercial banks and cash to households. Similarly, Japan's private pension plans--many promising a defined benefit--own a great deal of government bonds, to back their future payments. Few foreigners hold Japanese government debt--95 percent of it is in the hands of locals.

Given Japan's demographic decline, it would make sense to invest national savings abroad, in countries where populations are younger and still growing, and returns on capital are surely higher. These other nations should be able to pay back loans when they are richer and older, supplying some of the funds needed to meet Japan's pension promises and other obligations. This is the strategy that Singapore and Norway, for example, have undertaken in recent decades.

Instead, the Japanese government is using private savings to fund current spending, such as pensions and wage payments. With projected annual budget deficits between 7 and 10 percent of GDP, Japanese savers are essentially tendering their savings in return for newly issued government debt, which is not backed by hard assets. It is backed only by an aging, shrinking population of taxpayers. 

Which is why the main threat to the global economy is the reduction in US debt, at a time when billions of people are becoming increasingly dependent on it.  



Posted by orrinj at 6:42 AM

WELL, HE HAS THIS MUCH RIGHT...:

Who Are the Real Job Creators? (Justin Green, Sep 29, 2012, Daily Beast)

Nick Hanauer demolishes the silliest idea of this election cycle: that of the Randian-inspired, intrepid "job creator" feeling oppressed by the government. 

Great success should be celebrated, but not institutionalized. When we tax working Americans at a higher rate than billionaires, it is bad for business. When we tax the small business more than our largest corporations, it is similarly bad for business. When we give tax breaks to the wealthiest while excluding those in the middle and the bottom, we slow down our economy by slowing down the rate of idea creation, because so many are excluded from the process of solving our nation's problems.

Taxing work and business is bad for the economy.