Six Degrees of Speculation: March 2008: Archives

March 20, 2008

The River Rafting Of Barack Obama genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

It was only a matter of time before backroom GOP operatives would capitalize on the controversy surrounding the incendiary comments of Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's pastor. A newly launched YouTube video appears to be the first swiftboating salvo in a campaign that is likely to see many more. The video demonstrates the growing impact of the internet as well as the expanding ability to distribute stealth attacks upon one's opponent.

The video is listed on YouTube as being produced by a professional-sounding group called "NHaleMedia," but there is no such entity.

Rather; the incendiary video -- which also includes footage of Malcolm X, the U.S. Olympians who raised their hand in the black power salute and the song "Fight the Power" -- is in part the amateur work of Lee Habeeb.

A former producer of "The Laura Ingraham Show," Habeeb is the director of strategic content at Salem Radio Network, the conservative talk radio powerhouse that airs programs hosted by figures such as Bill Bennett and Hugh Hewitt.

Habeeb declined to reveal the identity of his co-producers, but did say that they are "conservatives who happen to be in the media world" and are not working for any campaign. One, he said, works in film and the other is involved in crafting ads.

I debated whether to include the video in this posting but I decided it was important for Democrats to see what they can expect as we approach the November election. Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised to see some of these efforts backfire. This one is particularly offensive in its attempt to link Senator Obama with numerous negative images and stereotypes.

Those still wondering if the GOP would again use gays and gay marriage as their signature issue need not spend another moment contemplating the question. After watching the video, it should be abundantly clear that race will be the crown jewel in the GOP's armada. Should Obama be the Democratic nominee, I expect the meme to mimic a GOP favorite used to assail gays...the militant homosexual agenda.

In Obama's case, this effective meme will be modified to portray him as secretly promoting "the militant black agenda"...one that denigrates patriotism and seeks to install a Marxist inspired version of socialism. Take a moment to do a Google search with the term "Obama Socialist Marxist agenda". If that doesn't convince you, Google "Obama Marxist Posters" and you'll note the efforts to connect Obama to Che Guevara.

It makes perfect sense for a party that has found fear to be a formidable tool in building its current coalition. Truth be told, it is so effective that many of those who vote GOP do so despite the fact that it is detrimental to their own self-interest. Race appears to be poised to replace (or augment) terrorism and gay marriage as the big bad bogeyman in 2008.

Yes, Senator McCain has suspended a staff member who was found to be distributing the video. Unfortunately, the GOP has refined the tactic of disseminating fear and falsehoods while maintaining the deniability of their candidates. The fact that 13 percent of Americans believe Obama to be a Muslim demonstrates the success of these unsubstantiated smears. One needn't be a sophisticated statistician or an astute tactician to predict that the vast majority of this 13 percent won't be voting for Senator Obama.

On that somber note, the video follows as does my own satirical graphic on "The River Rafting of Barack Obama.

SwiftBoatingBarackObama.jpg

Tagged as: Barack Obama, Che Guevara, GOP, Huckleberry Finn, Jeremiah Wright, John McCain, Lee Habeeb, Marxism, Racism, River Rafting, Socialism, Swiftboating

Daniel DiRito | March 20, 2008 | 1:55 PM | link | Comments (1)
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March 15, 2008

Richard Dawkins: Break The Science Barrier genre: Hip-Gnosis & Six Degrees of Speculation & Video-Philes

Richard Dawkins takes an in depth look at the degree to which science is a part of our daily life and our understandings of the world in which we live. He begins by visiting the portions of the American south where evolution isn't a generally accepted theory. He points to a provision in Alabama that requires all biology text books include a sticker challenging the theory of evolution.

Dawkins goes on to point out that many people fail to understand the basic premise of science and what one can reasonably conclude from the results of the scientific endeavor. He moves forward to discuss some of the recent findings in science that make it a field filled with amazing discoveries.

In part two, Dawkins looks into the growing interest in the paranormal...including psychic abilities and psychic surgery. These are not only scams; in the instance of psychic surgery, the patients are often exposed to even greater risks through unsanitary practices.

Dawkins then speaks with one of the founders of DNA fingerprinting. He explains the risks associated with taking science as certainty...and he offers the hysteria over mad cow disease and poor forensic criminology as examples. He interviews a man who was convicted of a crime based upon inadequate information and a lack of expert testimony. The man subsequently educated himself and discovered the information that would lead to his acquittal.

In part three, Dawkins returns to a discussion of man's origin and the curiosities that lead scientists to ask why. In order to understand the tedious nature of science, he looks at the research on fruit flies and how it may provide important clues into cancer treatment.

The documentary closes with a Dawkins demonstration conducted to explain the number of years man has occupied on the entire continuum of time. In the scheme of things, mankind has only occupied a minute point. Science has provided us with the tools to make that determination.

Break The Science Barrier - Part One (1 of 2)

Break The Science Barrier - Part One (2 of 2)

Break The Science Barrier - Part Two (1 of 2)

Break The Science Barrier - Part Two (2 of 2)

Break The Science Barrier - Part Three (1 of 2)

Break The Science Barrier - Part Three (2 of 2)

Tagged as: Astronomy, Cancer, Creationism, DNA, Evolution, Forensics, Fruit Flies, Mad Cow Disease, Richard Dawkins, Science

Daniel DiRito | March 15, 2008 | 9:40 AM | link | Comments (0)
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March 14, 2008

GWB: The Cash In The Cradle & The Silver Spoon - I'm Gonna Be Like Him genre: Econ-Recon & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

LikeFatherLikeSon.jpg

I try to avoid making unequivocal assertions...but if my instincts are correct, I'm not taking much of a risk in predicting that the calamity that will define this Bush presidency will not be the Iraq war. As with his father's presidency, it will be the economy. Yes, the Iraq war will be factored into the equation that facilitated one of the worst recessions in modern times, but numerous other missteps will receive far more attention.

With the Savings and Loan scandal of the late 80's as my point of comparison, I expect the magnitude of this recession to be much deeper and far more complex. Frankly, the fact that we survived events like the S & L scandal and the tech bubble have only contributed to the lackadaisical policies that have fostered an air of invincibility. This false confidence has resulted in a deadly conflation of economic poisons that will place a strain on our financial fortitude that hasn't been witnessed since the Great Depression.

For months, the Bush administration has sought to convince the American public that the economy is sound. Unfortunately, the hollowness of those assurances expands exponentially with each new report. Today's news is awash with further warnings of economic uncertainty. The President's remarks, in response to the growing storm clouds, simply highlight the mindset that has typified his inclination to ignore information that doesn't comport with his rose colored rhetoric.

Unfortunately, I fear this president suffers the misconception that he can tackle this systemic economic malaise in the same manner he addressed the many miscalculations that have plagued the prosecution of the Iraq war. Sadly, brute force has little relevance when it comes to the economy. As with the troop surge, the attempts by the Federal Reserve to pump more money into the economy in order to prop up flailing financial institutions fails to address the dire dynamics that underly the debacle.

Let's pause to review the observations of others.

From The Wall Street Journal:

It is a very logical progression. Peloton, Carlyle, Focus -- hedge funds and other non-deposit-taking financial institutions (NDFIs) are now being hit by the credit crunch, which had so far been mainly confined to mortgage lenders and the banks.

The Federal Reserve has reacted. Its Term Securities Lending Facility aims to encourage investment banks and prime brokers to lend to NDFIs and so relieve those parts of the credit market it cannot reach with its rate cuts and loans to banks.

So far its liquidity injections have got no further than the banks. Now it hopes to reach higher. Unfortunately, it won't work.

The Fed is like King Canute with a difference -- it is trying to halt an ebbing tide rather than a rising one. Its liquidity injection seems huge at $200 billion (with perhaps more to follow), but it is still only equivalent to one-third of the expected losses in the NDFI sector.

Moreover, the Fed's readiness to accept almost any asset at just below face value as collateral will prevent price discovery. That means the U.S. financial system will remain burdened with uncleansed balance sheets that penalize future lending and economic growth.

Creating a lot of liquidity does not resolve an issue of solvency, which is now the driver of credit contraction. All the Fed will achieve is a dollar that will be further debased and inflation that will be higher. It cannot stop the process of deleveraging and asset price decline.

The credit crisis is unfolding as we expected, but more slowly than anticipated, because of the actions taken by central banks (mainly the Fed) and the U.S. government to allay its effects. The wholesale socialization of credit has meant that government and central bank measures account for 70% of new credit since last summer.

But these policy measures will not prevent asset-price deflation or credit contraction, which are functions of risk appetite and general readiness to maintain current levels of gearing throughout the economy. The non-bank sector has the potential to inflict more damage on the system than banks, because it has a much smaller capital cushion for a much more volatile and risky balance sheet.

Credit contraction translates through the financial system into a reduction in available credit for the non-financial corporate sector, and thus into reduced investment and growth in the real economy. The size of that contraction can be estimated from the leverage ratios of the financial sector and their impact on real GDP growth.

We estimate that nonfinancial corporate debt ultimately will have to shrink by 11%-12%. This will generate a decline of five percentage points of real U.S. GDP growth and push the U.S. into recession. Europe's real GDP growth will contract by two percentage points.

Essentially, the point being made by the author is that the Federal Reserve's efforts to lower interest rates is inadequate to address the fundamental problem - the value of the assets that underly much of the existing debt is in a period of contraction...largely as a result of the collapsing housing industry.

As such, the ability of lenders to lend is limited. They lack the capital needed to make loans; let alone the capital required to support declining equity positions and the increasing default risks that are associated with these loans. Hence, the Fed's efforts to infuse the economy with the capital needed to spur growth isn't going to be sufficient. Even worse, should this contraction lead to lender insolvency, the likelihood of the need for a huge government bail out advances. If this happens, I believe it will be far larger than the one witnessed during the S & L scandal.

From The New York Times:

The Fed's economic power rests on the fact that it's the only institution with the right to add to the "monetary base": pieces of green paper bearing portraits of dead presidents, plus deposits that private banks hold at the Fed and can convert into green paper at will.

When the Fed is worried about the state of the economy, it basically responds by printing more of that green paper, and using it to buy bonds from banks. The banks then use the green paper to make more loans, which causes businesses and households to spend more, and the economy expands.

This process can be almost magical in its effects: a committee in Washington gives some technical instructions to a trading desk in New York, and just like that, the economy creates millions of jobs.

But sometimes the magic doesn't work. And this is one of those times.

Instead of following its usual practice of buying only safe U.S. government debt, the Fed announced this week that it would put $400 billion -- almost half its available funds -- into other stuff, including bonds backed by, yes, home mortgages. The hope is that this will stabilize markets and end the panic.

Officially, the Fed won't be buying mortgage-backed securities outright: it's only accepting them as collateral in return for loans. But it's definitely taking on some mortgage risk. Is this, to some extent, a bailout for banks? Yes.

Still, that's not what has me worried. I'm more concerned that despite the extraordinary scale of Mr. Bernanke's action -- to my knowledge, no advanced-country's central bank has ever exposed itself to this much market risk -- the Fed still won't manage to get a grip on the economy. You see, $400 billion sounds like a lot, but it's still small compared with the problem.

Krugman offers a look into the risks being taken by the Federal Reserve to avert the looming collapse of financial institutions. The fact that the government is taking unprecedented risk signals the seriousness of the situation. The fact that the government has committed half of its available funds to this risk intensive effort suggests that the ultimate solution will require the government to appropriate additional funds...hence the bailout begins. The price tag of the S & L scandal would likely pale in comparison.

The impact to the overall economy could be mind-boggling since it would be apt to affect consumer spending. Falling home values would strip millions of Americans of the bulk of their accumulated wealth which would no doubt restrict their ability and willingness to spend money. The direct correlation of this intertwined cause and effect spiral could have disastrous consequences.

We haven't even factored in the disproportionate numbers of baby boomers moving towards retirement. A worst case scenario could place the financial stability of many of these individuals in jeopardy at a time when the safety net of Social Security is also approaching insolvency.

From CNBC:

The United States has entered a recession that could be "substantially more severe" than recent ones, former National Bureau of Economic Research President Martin Feldstein said Friday.

"The situation is very bad, the situation is getting worse, and the risks are that it could get very bad," Feldstein said in a speech at the Futures Industry Association meeting in Boca Raton, Florida.

"There isn't much traction in monetary policy these days, I'm afraid, because of a lack of liquidity in the credit markets," he said.

The Fed's new credit facility, announced on Tuesday, "can help in a rather small way ... but the underlying risks will remain with the institutions that borrow from the Fed, and this does nothing to change their capital," Feldstein noted.

I simply don't see the mechanism by which this strained liquidity can be alleviated in the near term. Pumping more cash into the system could have short term benefits but the risk to the already tenuous value of the dollar would likely outweigh them. Relying upon the standard bearers...the consumer...to spend us out of this mess seems unlikely. Rarely have prior recessionary periods been accompanied by such significant declines in home values.

Were we to see the emergence of sustained inflation, the picture becomes even more disconcerting. Many of the measures designed to address the liquidity crunch have the potential to do just that. Toss in our trade imbalance, the amount of debt held by the Chinese, and an international shift away from the dollar as the preferred reserve currency and one begins to see the growing alignment of negatives.

The fact that the American image has been tarnished during the current administration makes it difficult to imagine the kind of international cooperation we might have otherwise received during such a slowdown. In fact, don't be surprised if a number of nations stand idly by as the perceived bully endures its comeuppance.

Returning to the Bush legacy, I recall the deteriorating situation faced by his father prior to the 1992 election. When the senior Bush expressed his amazement with the scanning technology found in grocery stores, his appeal and his connection with the average American is thought to have suffered. When the Clinton campaign added, "It's the economy, stupid", the stain became permanent.

The fact that the current president expressed surprise when a member of the press mentioned the prospects of $4.00 per gallon gas seems eerily similar to the last days of his father's presidency...and it may also assist in cementing the economy as his legacy's leading albatross.

George W. Bush's seeming shortage of empathy for the plight of the average American shone through in his mishandling of Katrina, his passage of tax cuts for the wealthiest, his inept energy policy, and his willingness to sink trillions of dollars into the execution of a virtual vendetta in Iraq. These events will forever be tethered to his tenure and his successors are apt to spend years trying to repair the damage done.

They say the writing of one's legacy is rarely finished since the past undoubtedly shapes the future. In the case of George Bush, I suspect he'd be best to hope that his influence on the future be less indelible than his unabashed attempts to color the present.

Gertrude Stein stated that a "rose is a rose is a rose". Ernest Hemmingway responded with "a rose is a rose is an onion". In thinking of the Bush legacy, I'm inclined to argue that a silver spoon may beget rose colored rhetoric...but a silver spoon full of rose petals rarely helps us swallow the thorns. When the bow breaks, the Bush legacy will fall.

Tagged as: Ben Bernanke, Economy, Federal Reserve, GDP, George Bush, Housing Bubble, Interest Rates, Iraq War, Katrina, Liquidity, Monetary Policy, Recession, Savings and Loan Scandal, Subprime Lending, Tax Cuts

Daniel DiRito | March 14, 2008 | 11:44 AM | link | Comments (0)
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March 10, 2008

Eliot Spitzer & WR 104: Lessons In The Life & Death Of Stars genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation & Tongue-In-Cheek

They say it's written in the stars...and today's news seems to have been all about the rise and fall of stars...those that occupy a distant point in space that we can barely fathom...and one that occupies a pivotal political office in the state of New York.

Whether it's a quirky cosmic alignment or a karmic calamity, the death of a star can be menacing...or it can simply be messy . Either way, it is bound to draw some attention. The time it takes a star to explode or implode varies. In the case of the cosmos, it's apt to be millions of year; in the case of Governor Spitzer, it appears to be a matter of days.

Let's have a look at the trajectory of both.

From USA Today:

A beautiful pinwheel in space might one day blast Earth with death rays, scientists now report.

The pinwheel, named WR 104, was discovered eight years ago in the constellation Sagittarius. It rotates in a circle "every eight months, keeping precise time like a jewel in a cosmic clock," Tuthill said.

Both the massive stars in WR 104 will one day explode as supernovae. However, one of the pair is a highly unstable star known as a Wolf-Rayet, the last known stable phase in the life of these massive stars right before a supernova.

"Wolf-Rayet stars are regarded by astronomers as ticking bombs," Tuthill explained. The 'fuse' for this star "is now very short -- to an astronomer -- and it may explode any time within the next few hundred thousand years."

When the Wolf-Rayet goes supernova, "it could emit an intense beam of gamma rays coming our way," Tuthill said. "If such a 'gamma ray burst' happens, we really do not want Earth to be in the way."

Unfortunately for us, gamma ray bursts seem to be shot right along the axis of systems. In essence, if this pinwheel ever releases a gamma ray burst, our planet might be in the firing line.

From The New York Times:

It was after 9 p.m. the night before Valentine's Day when she arrived, a young brunette named Kristen. She was 5-foot-5, 105 pounds. Pretty and petite.

This was at the Mayflower, one of Washington's finer hotels. Her client for the evening had booked Room 871. He was a return customer. The hundreds of dollars he had promised to pay would cover all expenses: the room, the minibar, room service should they order it, the train ticket that had brought her from New York and, naturally, Kristen's time.

A 47-page federal affidavit from an F.B.I. agent investigating a prostitution ring lists the man at the hotel as "Client 9," and includes considerable details about him, the prostitutes and his methods of paying for them. A law enforcement official and another person briefed on the prostitution case have identified Client 9 as Eliot Spitzer, the governor of New York.

So as this day comes to an end, one star has been fully exposed and is almost certain to crash. The other star lurks beyond our view...but it too will one day crash. The former is a spectacle we watch with unflinching amusement; the latter is a hypothetical we've barely begun to consider. The former will end the political life of one politician; the latter may bring an end to us all.

Regardless, the world goes round and round. How's that for an illuminating astrological forecast?

Eliot Spitzer: Hittin' The Sheets Of New York

ElliottSpitzer.jpg

Tagged as: Adultery, Astrology, Astronomy, Cosmos, Death Star, Earth, Elliott Spitzer, Gamma Rays, Humor, New York, Prostitution, Rudy Giuliani, Sex Scandal, Supernova, Wolf-Rayet

Daniel DiRito | March 10, 2008 | 8:46 PM | link | Comments (0)
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March 7, 2008

3:00 AM - I Know What You Said Last Night genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

The nastiness kerfuffle between the Obama and Clinton camps continues to draw the media's attention. The endless words, written on the subject by surreptitious surrogates, are enough to make a political junkie puke. If the victory of one's chosen candidate is the spoils that result from these unyielding tit for tat exchanges (often engineered), I fear I haven't the patience to play the game or the willingness to pay the frustration fee.

If this kind of meaningless minutiae were marketable, we'd have the funds to make the national debt dinky. Unfortunately, most of this back and forth is worthless...which means this tidal wave of one-upmanship does little more than eat bandwidth, contribute to the constant carping, and distract us from real issues of real import to real citizens.

Honestly, if the election is to be decided upon whose campaign crossed the oh so often contrived line of civility, we mustn't really be interested in choosing the most capable candidate. Truth be told, if you follow any individual around long enough, you're going to hear an array of ad hominem attacks. Requiring that our politicians vigilantly exhibit a level of restraint that we routinely trample with nary an ounce of apprehension is a tragedy wrapped in a farce.

Let me be clear. I'm not excusing inappropriate remarks. Those who make them deserve criticism...but the time spent on that criticism shouldn't overshadow all else such that the campaign becomes a proxy war waged by mulish wordsmiths bent upon bolstering the believability of their unabashed bias.

In the end, I suspect the focus on crushing the credibility of the other candidate only contributes to the apathy and animosity that is evidenced in our electorate. On the one hand, we're challenged to decide who is better prepared to answer "the call" at 3:00 AM. On the other, we're forced to listen to so much nuanced name calling by disingenuous disciples that I'm not sure it's worthwhile to spend another moment worrying about a hypothetical Hiroshima.

The following sarcastic graphic demonstrates my disgust with the process as well as my suspicion that the battle isn't about protecting our children; it's about winning an election. Yes, you can call me a cynic...but keep in mind that you might not be able to reach me...I think I've just been disconnected.

3:00 AM: I Know What You Said Last Night

3:00 AM

Tagged as: 2008 Election, 3:00 AM, Barack Obama, Bias, Campaigns, Hillary Clinton, Humor, Partisanship

Daniel DiRito | March 7, 2008 | 6:53 PM | link | Comments (0)
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All About The Onion: 63,000 Jobs & An Economy Without A Core genre: Econ-Recon & Nouveau Thoughts & Six Degrees of Speculation

Onion.jpg

It's difficult to find anything to smile about in the latest jobs report. Despite the assurances from the Bush administration that the economy remains strong, each new report brings evidence that we're in a recession. It looks like the administration is either in denial or simply employing the same "head in the sand" mindset that spent the last five years telling Americans that the situation in Iraq is improving. Despite the president's rosy rhetoric, I choose to believe that the data doesn't lie.

The current economic uncertainty reminds me of a metaphor shared by a friend many years ago. While discussing borderline personality disorder, a psychological condition prone to sociopathic behaviors, she described it as being akin to comparing an apple to an onion. The normal personality is like an apple, in that it has a core; whereas with the onion, you peel away layer after layer to find that no core exists.

It's not a perfect analogy, but it underscores my belief that this latest period of economic expansion has lacked the essential fundamentals to insure economic stability. When one strips away the facade of inflated home values...driven by artificially low interest rates...all that remains is a tenuous economy in the throes of adjusting to the instability and uncertainty of globalization.

The economy shed 63,000 jobs in February, the government said on Friday, the fastest falloff in five years and the strongest evidence yet that the nation is headed toward -- or may already be in -- a recession.

"I haven't seen a job report this recessionary since the last recession," said Jared Bernstein, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington. "This is a picture of a labor market becoming clearly infected by the contagion from the rest of the economy."

The loss in February was the second consecutive monthly decline in the labor market; economists had predicted a slight increase. The government also revised down its estimate for January to a loss of 22,000 jobs -- the first decline in four years -- and cut in half its estimate for job growth in December.

Wages stayed stagnant in February, further depressing the outlook for consumer spending over the next few months. Among rank-and-file workers -- more than 80 percent of the work force -- average pay grew just 0.3 percent to $17.20 an hour. Wages are effectively running flat when adjusted for inflation.

These job losses are only one segment of the current economic downturn. Truth be told, the housing crisis and its impact on financial markets looks to be an unprecedented debacle that has yet to fully unfold. The efforts of the Federal Reserve to reduce interest rates and make huge amounts of capital available to struggling financial institutions is a testament to the severity and complexity of this crisis.

I suspect the powers that be are hesitant to offer a candid assessment for fear it will trigger even more caution on the part of consumers. To a degree, that is prudent. Unfortunately, this snowball is already rolling and I see little reason to offer false assurances that it won't continue to expand. I look for the government to make added admissions in much the same manner found in a criminal investigation...as more evidence is unearthed, the administration will find itself unable to continue with the denials.

Look no further than a comparison to the Saving & Loan scandal of the late 80's to understand how the government will attempt to downplay the gravity of the situation. Sadly, I'm concerned this fiasco may be far more pervasive. While the S&L scandal was primarily isolated to commercial real estate, the current crisis involves residential real estate and millions of homeowners. That alone suggests a greater magnitude; one that will strike a blow to a core source of economic growth...consumer confidence and spending.

I don't want to be an alarmist, but I see a unique and troubling confluence of conditions that have the potential to challenge our existing economic constructs. The growth of multi-national corporations with GDP's that rival those of many nations serves to undermine the assumption that all Americans share similar economic objectives with consistent measures of success. It simply isn't true in this day and age of global investments and the outsourcing it facilitates in order to increase the bottom line. When the goals of a huge corporation no longer comport with the goals of their nation of origin, the established economic models have become outdated and virtually irrelevant.

I realize I'm painting a gloomy picture. At the same time, I'm convinced that the American public must demand an honest assessment and an open dialogue with regard to these dramatic developments. If we allow our politicians to plot the course...in conjunction with their corporate benefactors...we may find ourselves in a conflict with the United Empire of ExxonMobil...a conflict that we can neither overcome or endure.

On that dark note, I think the following video from The Onion captures much of the essence of this shifting economic construct. It made me laugh...but as with all comedy...it also underscores an undeniable truth that requires our consideration.

The Onion: Outsourcing Child Care Overseas

Tagged as: Comedy, Economics, ExxonMobil, Federal Reserve, Foreclosures, GDP, Housing Bubble, Humor, Interest Rates, Jobs, Multi-national Corporations, Recession, Savings & Loan Scandal, The Onion, Unemployment, Wages

Daniel DiRito | March 7, 2008 | 11:22 AM | link | Comments (0)
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March 4, 2008

More On That Alleged Best Health Care In The World - Part III genre: Do Not Resuscitate & Little Red Ribbon-Hood & Six Degrees of Speculation

Syringe And Vial

There is an ongoing battle over health care in the United States. Those opposed to universal health care argue that the implementation of such a plan will result in a decline in the quality of care. Time and again, they cite the reported delays in accessing needed procedures in those countries that provide such care as evidence. They also make anecdotal assertions about the growing number of foreigners who seek medical care in the United States...while ignoring the same indications that more Americans are seeking medical care in other countries.

While there may be legitimate concerns about the implementation of a universal health care system, I've previously written about the fallacies contained in many of these arguments. I've also directed readers to studies that offer a less than stellar assessment of the health care we're currently receiving.

The recent report from Nevada on the mishandling of syringes and vials, which may have resulted in potentially exposing 40,000 patients to Hepatitis C, is further evidence that our system has its share of deficiencies.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- An outbreak of hepatitis C at a Nevada clinic may represent "the tip of an iceberg" of safety problems at clinics around the country, according to the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The city of Las Vegas shut down the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada last Friday after state health officials determined that six patients had contracted hepatitis C because of unsafe practices including clinic staff reusing syringes and vials. Nevada health officials are trying to contact about 40,000 patients who received anesthesia by injection at the clinic between March 2004 and Jan. 11 to urge them to get tested for hepatitis C, hepatitis B and HIV.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., met Monday with CDC head Dr. Julie Gerberding, and on a media conference call after their meeting both strongly condemned practices at the clinic.

Health care accreditors "would consider this a patient safety error that falls into the category of a 'never event,' meaning this should never happen in contemporary health care organizations," said Gerberding.

"Our concern is that this could represent the tip of an iceberg and we need to be much more aggressive about alerting clinicians about how improper this practice is," she said, "but also continuing to invest in our ability to detect these needles in a haystack at the state level so we recognize when there has been a bad practice and patients can be alerted and tested."

Let me attempt to explain exactly what appears to have happened at these clinics. In performing procedures on patients with Hepatitis C, clinicians may have been reusing the syringes used in sedating these infected individuals on other patients...or they were reusing the same syringe a second time on an individual infected with the disease when drawing a sedating medication from a multi-dose vial...which was then used to draw medication to sedate other patients. The bottom line is that the disease could have contaminated either the syringe or the vial containing the sedating medication.

Look, I'm not a doctor or a scientist...but it isn't that difficult to understand that if you put something (a needle connected to a syringe containing a fluid) into a contaminated substance (blood in the tissue of an infected individual in this case), there is a risk that the infected substance can travel into any connected portion of that device (think backwash from a straw or the basic concept of osmotic transfer) or into any container that device may subsequently come into contact with.

So what does this tell us about our health care? Well, according to the representative from the CDC, these clinicians were conducting practices that are NEVER EVER acceptable. In doing so, they were violating a very basic guideline; not some complex concept beyond those capable of rudimentary rational thought. Frankly, if one can't be sedated for a colonoscopy without the risk of contracting Hepatitis C, what hope should we have that a life saving surgical procedure will follow proper protocol?

To be fair, that isn't an argument that affirms the quality of services one might expect under a universal health care system. However, it is a valid criticism of our existing system as well as a rebuttal to those who sing its praises. Truth be told, health care is only as good as the commitment of those who provide it. The argument that universal health care will make the practice of medicine less lucrative may...and I repeat may...have some merit. At the same time, are we to believe that the hippocratic oath is subject to suspension should the bottom line be diminished?

Given the incidence of malpractice and the other previously referenced negative reports on our health care system, it appears that ever increasing profits are no more a predictor of high quality health care than decreased profits would be of lesser quality care. Further, if those in the field of medicine predicate their performance upon profitability, we're all one bad bottom line away from a botched procedure.

Unless and until we restore the word "care" to our health system, it won't actually matter whether it is administered as a result of an open market construct (think 47 million uninsured) or as a function of some degree of universally mandated insurance. The provision of care ought to be a given; not an endless negotiation. It's time we choose to do the right thing. It's a matter of life and death.

Tagged as: Centers for Disease Control, Health Care, Hepatitis C, Hippocratic Oath, Insurance, Malpractice, Mandates, Medicine, Nevada, Poverty, Universal Health Care

Daniel DiRito | March 4, 2008 | 1:50 PM | link | Comments (0)
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