Monthly Archives: May 2014

Cops in Georgia

A county sheriff in Georgia uses a flash bang device instead of a knock on the door to serve an arrest warrant at 3AM, critically injuring a toddler:

http://www.wsbtv.com/videos/news/toddler-critically-burned-during-swat-raid/vCcS6x/

#1, why do we need this military use of force by our domestic police? Under what circumstances is it justified?  Here’s the justification in this instance, the guy that they were after was known to own weapons (wow, this applies to nearly everyone I know):

Hours after a confidential informant said he bought methamphetamine from Wanis Thometheva at a Habersham County home late Tuesday, officers returned to the home to arrest him.

Thometheva, 30, of Cornelia, wasn’t a stranger to them, police say. Terrell said that during a prior arrest on drug charges, investigators discovered Thometheva had weapons, including an AK-47.

“That’s the threat he uses to those who don’t do what he wants,” Terrell said.

#2, how is this kind of home invasion controlled?  How are authorities making sure that this kind of incompetence is discouraged and eliminated?  In this case, IT’S NOT (!!!):

Terrell said he contacted the GBI, but was told no further investigation is needed.

Quotes from Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

 

 

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VA Hospitals and Detroit

So, Obama convened a task force in September 2013.  150 people (including volunteers) surveyed the 377,000 properties in Detroit.  That is, they went around and physically examined each property, and made a determination as to its fitness for use (not blighted, blighted, partial demolition required, or total demolition required seem to be the categories).  They released their report today, 9 months later.  New York Times report here.

As of 2008, the Veterans Health Administration had over 247,000 employees.  There are currently over 572,000 claims in process.  Of that, more than 292,000 have been in process for more than 125 days.  More than 3 million claims were processed in the last 3 fiscal years.  Which would be 750,000 in 9 months.  To be fair, it looks like the VA has 1900 people working on this, not 247,000.

So, the 1,900 VA employees are processing claims at roughly twice the rate as the 150 volunteers who evaluated ALL the real estate of Detroit.

One view of government, as a service providing organization, is that as its operations are made more permanent and people find themselves depending on it for their livelihoods (that is, the service providers and administrators), it becomes less efficient and less able to deliver the services.  So a task force, with no anticipation of being appointed to something else after this, is able to do the job quickly and effectively in Detroit.  And be done and go home, and go back to whatever else they have to do.  Meanwhile, the huge (and guaranteed to be ongoing) VA is just looking more and more incompetent.  And that’s the most generous adjective to use.  And they will just keep on going, and the people there will just keep being employed there.  They probably will need to expand to get caught up, don’t you think?

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Geithner

Tim Geithner.  Why did he write a book?  It’s astonishing.  It’s like a man writing a book justifying why it was ok for him to have an affair.  And then retelling the same stupid lies in the book that he told his wife all that time.  I caught his Daily Show appearance.  (only the on-air part, I wouldn’t waste the additional 3 minutes on the web-only portion of the interview).  It was like watching Colin Powell present the facts about Iraq to the UN.  Almost like he believed the BS himself.  Can’t he just be satisfied with the enormous payoffs he has now started collecting as a Wall Street employee?

Barry Ritholtz to the rescue, once again.  Sir, you are a rock star and a gentleman.  Well, I don’t know that for sure, but I’m making the assumption based on the fact that he never once seems to lose his temper in this terrific post about how wrong and disingenuous Geithner is really being.

I do have a couple of comments/questions about his response, though.  First, he proposes FDIC receivership and bankruptcy for insolvent banks during the financial crisis.  I totally agree.  Those inclined to think government is good at doing stuff might also propose nationalizing the banks, which has been done with some degree of success in other countries (recently in Europe for some smaller banks/countries).   But if we go back to our own existing laws, and the first preferred method, I agree with Barry.  Do what Mr. Tim Private Equity Geithner would do with them now.  Chop them up and sell them.  My question is, when Barry says:

This would have been much more painful short term, but in the long run it would have been healthier for the economy.

what does that really mean?  How much more painful?  Who owned those stocks and bonds, and would have been out the money?  Pension funds? Insurance companies? The other banks?  And this question is pretty clearly one of ignorance, but is he talking just the bank guaranteed bonds, as in a bond issued by and guaranteed by Bank of America, or is he talking about all of the bad paper, meaning all the CDO, MBS, etc. that was issued by them but backed by bad loans they made and that was clearly valueless?  What’s the total that would have been lost, and who would have felt that pain, exactly? When we say the stock would have been wiped out for each of those big holding companies, how much stock was there?  Bank of America’s stock price went down around $300, now it’s at $1166, and current market cap is $155B, so ignoring changes in shares outstanding, at it’s nadir the company had a value of $40B that would have been wiped out.  Since these companies had lost so much value already, it might not have been that overwhelming for them to go to zero at that point.  I don’t know the answers to that, but I don’t think they are trivial.  He probably does the math in his book.

I think all his other points are pretty much common sense (to us cheated spouses, I mean, taxpayers).

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Glenn Greenwald, No Place to Hide

This review from Conor Friedersdorf really says it all.     As you read it, recall General Dunlavey’s assessment that Keith Alexander is an honorable man (summary of Dunlavey lecture here).  And I agree with Mr. Friedersdorf, this NSA slide is telling:

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Carbon tax

Why do people decide to get on team D or team R?  Even more puzzling, what makes them stay there, on either side?  I would guess getting there is a lot like religion, but staying?  I don’t understand.

Team D, represented here by ClimateProgress, was shocked, I tell you, shocked, to discover that self described team R members would prefer to see carbon taxed rather than earnings or corporations.  That is, they would be in favor of tax policy that would tend to punish activities that currently cause damage that is not being included in their cost rather than productive activities that we really should be encouraging.

This also suggests that not all team R members are climate change deniers, or at the very least can recognize carbon externalities.

The debate was in front of a largely conservative audience, and yet:

At the conclusion of the debate, a straw poll was taken and approximately 80% of the audience indicated they favored taxing carbon emissions in return for a dollar-for-dollar tax swap on something else (FICA taxes, corporate income taxes, etc.).

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Maybe not so much fracking?

I hope this is true.  The sooner we can disengage from fossil fuels and move toward renewables, the better.  For our environment and for our health.  It is certain to happen, the only question is when.  This ridiculously slanted piece is from the Guardian.  I don’t agree with its tone (it reads like propaganda, not news) but I hope that the data being shared is accurate.

EIA (US Energy Information Administration) officials told the Los Angeles Times that previous estimates of recoverable oil in the Monterey shale reserves in California of about 15.4 billion barrels were vastly overstated. The revised estimate, they said, will slash this amount by 96% to a puny 600 million barrels of oil.

 

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Gut microbes and obesity, part 2

Part 1 from last November.

June Waller at Scientific American has somehow posted this from the future (dated June 1, 2014).  This article discusses research that shows not only are obese people missing bacteria from their guts that thin people have, they are missing a huge variety of them.  They used more mouse tests.  The part that is encouraging is that they actually made the mice obese and then thin by eliminating and then reintroducing the microbes!  Hooray!

To demonstrate cause and effect, Gordon and his colleagues conducted an elegant series of experiments with so-called humanized mice, published last September in Science. First, they raised genetically identical baby rodents in a germ-free environment so that their bodies would be free of any bacteria. Then they populated their guts with intestinal microbes collected from obese women and their lean twin sisters (three pairs of fraternal female twins and one set of identical twins were used in the studies). The mice ate the same diet in equal amounts, yet the animals that received bacteria from an obese twin grew heavier and had more body fat than mice with microbes from a thin twin. As expected, the fat mice also had a less diverse community of microbes in the gut.

Gordon’s team then repeated the experiment with one small twist: after giving the baby mice microbes from their respective twins, they moved the animals into a shared cage. This time both groups remained lean. Studies showed that the mice carrying microbes from the obese human had picked up some of their lean roommates’ gut bacteria—especially varieties of Bacteroidetes—probably by consuming their feces, a typical, if unappealing, mouse behavior. To further prove the point, the researchers transferred 54 varieties of bacteria from some lean mice to those with the obese-type community of germs and found that the animals that had been destined to become obese developed a healthy weight instead. Transferring just 39 strains did not do the trick. “Taken together, these experiments provide pretty compelling proof that there is a cause-and-effect relationship and that it was possible to prevent the development of obesity,” Gordon says.

There are also some experiments showing how antibiotics are killing off the good bacteria, and then that causes obesity:

A new appreciation for the impact of gut microbes on body weight has intensified concerns about the profligate use of antibiotics in children. Blaser has shown that when young mice are given low doses of antibiotics, similar to what farmers give livestock, they develop about 15 percent more body fat than mice that are not given such drugs. Antibiotics may annihilate some of the bacteria that help us maintain a healthy body weight. “Antibiotics are like a fire in the forest,” Dominguez-Bello says. “The baby is forming a forest. If you have a fire in a forest that is new, you get extinction.” When Laurie Cox, a graduate student in Blaser’s laboratory, combined a high-fat diet with the antibiotics, the mice became obese. “There’s a synergy,” Blaser explains. He notes that antibiotic use varies greatly from state to state in the U.S., as does the prevalence of obesity, and intriguingly, the two maps line up—with both rates highest in parts of the South.

And there are human tests going on now as well, although not formally in the US:

A group in Amsterdam, meanwhile, is investigating whether transferring feces from lean to overweight people will lead to weight loss. U.S. researchers tend to view such “fecal transplants” as imprecise and risky. A more promising approach, says Robert Karp, who oversees National Institutes of Health grants related to obesity and the microbiome, is to identify the precise strains of bacteria associated with leanness, determine their roles and develop treatments accordingly. Gordon has proposed enriching foods with beneficial bacteria and any nutrients needed to establish them in the gut—a science-based version of today’s probiotic yogurts. No one in the field believes that probiotics alone will win the war on obesity, but it seems that, along with exercising and eating right, we need to enlist our inner microbial army.

I don’t know.  The mice experiments kind of make it sound like probiotics alone might go a really long way.  But then the other evidence points to the fact that you have to eat the right food to keep those good bacteria alive.  So the eating right is for them, not you.  “gotta feed the bugs”

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