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Archive for February 2010

LASIK Carries Unacknowledged Risks

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Failure Magazine has a great report on the risks of LASIK eye surgery:

The estimated $2.5 billion industry has recently come under fire for its failure to acknowledge potential risks. Last spring, the FDA inspected approximately 50 LASIK facilities and found that 17 had “inadequate” systems in place for collecting and transmitting data to the FDA on patients’ reports of post-surgical complications (“adverse events”), which commonly include dry eye, blurry vision, double vision, and problems with glare and starbursts.

In August of last year, Consumer Reports Health released the results of a survey, which found that 55 percent of Americans who’ve had laser vision correction surgery still wear glasses or contacts some of the time. Fifty-three percent experienced at least one side effect within the first four weeks of surgery, and 22 percent of patients still experienced side effects six months after surgery.

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Written by pavanvan

February 28, 2010 at 11:43 pm

Supreme Court Allows Corporations to Donate Anonymously

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The Times reminds us of an unsavory after-effect of the Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United v. FEC case. Under the decision, corporations no longer have to disclose to whom they donate or how much, effectively destroying organizations like Opensecrets.org that attempt to track the influence of money in politics. This is terrible news.

Experts say the ruling, along with a pair of earlier Supreme Court cases, makes it possible for corporations and unions to donate anonymously to nonprofit civic leagues and trade associations. The groups can then use the money to finance the types of political advertisements that were at the heart of last month’s ruling.

Democratic Congressional leaders called the loophole dangerous, and they have proposed legislation that would require nonprofit groups to identify publicly the sources of financing for their political advertisements.

Health Insurance Anti-trust Exemption

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Matt Taibbi has one of the most lucid posts on the recent health-care scandal I’ve seen recently.

You may remember the California Anthem Blue uproar that occurred a week or so ago, wherein they arbitrarily and unilaterally jacked up their prices almost 40%. Taibbi asks the logical question – “Why can’t California customers just switch to another, cheaper provider?” – and then answers it: “Because they have no choice.”

You see, as it turns out, health insurance providers are exempt from anti-trust legislation, which means they can hold veritable monopolies over huge areas and no one can do a thing about it. This was certainly news to me.

Dating back to 1947, what was supposed to be a “temporary” exemption quickly became a permanent loophole in the Sherman Anti-Trust legislation.

As Taibbi says:

This is why insurers (especially insurers with large market shares in small states) are easily able to gouge customers and deny coverage. There’s really no legal mechanism for preventing the firms from getting together and arranging price-fixing and other outrages. In a normal market customers would be able to get better coverage and cheaper rates from a competitor, but insurance is really more like a series of competition-free fiefdoms where the customers can’t go elsewhere for a better deal.

The exemption is known as the McCarran-Ferguson amendment, and so long as it’s still on the books health-care providers will continue to have a monopoly over large swaths of land. This is yet another reason why the “individual mandate” in Obama’s health-care plan is so goddamn offensive. “Reform” is impossible without repealing McCarran-Ferguson. How many of you think that’s likely?

The (Literal) Rape of American Children

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The New York Review of Books gives a harrowing continuation of its series on widespread sexual abuse in our “juvenile detention centers”:

Adults who want to have sex with children sometimes look for jobs that will make it easy. They want authority over kids, but no very onerous supervision; they also want positions that will make them seem more trustworthy than their potential accusers. Such considerations have infamously led quite a few pedophiles to sully the priesthood over the years, but the priesthood isn’t for everyone. For some people, moral authority comes less naturally than blunter, more violent kinds.

Ray Brookins worked for the Texas Youth Commission (TYC), the state’s juvenile detention agency. In October 2003, he was hired as head of security at the West Texas State School in Pyote. Like most TYC facilities, it’s a remote place. The land is flat to the horizon, scattered with slowly bobbing oil derricks, and always windy. It’s a long way from the families of most kids confined there, who tend to be urban and poor; a long way from any social services, or even the police. It must have seemed perfect to Brookins—and also to John Paul Hernandez, who was hired as the school’s principal around the same time. Almost immediately, Brookins started pulling students out of their dorms at night, long after curfew, and bringing them to the administration building. When asked why, he said it was for “cleaning.”

What can one say here? We talk of Bagram in Afghanistan or Guantanamo Bay as “legal black holes”, and we feel content, safe in the knowledge that “real American prisoners” have rights. But who has actually seen the inside of a prison?

Surprisingly many, if the statistic bear witness. The Times reported a couple years ago that upwards of 1 in 100 adults was incarcerated – an astounding figure which no other country, not even China, can boast. In absolute numbers, the United States carries more prisoners than any other country, a fact which fails to awe until one considers that China and India each have triple our population. Much of this has to do with draconian drug laws, wherein a man or woman can be put in jail for years for the horrific crime of carrying around some dried-up plant or a bit of white powder – but much of it also has to do with this “lock ’em and forget ’em” mentality of dealing with crime, as though the primary focus of our “justice system” ought to be punishment, rather than rehabilitation.

More worrying is how this attitude has shifted toward juvenile prisoners. I don’t want to make too many apologies for our incarcerated juveniles, for the truth is that many of them have committed horrible acts, but to treat them simply as miniature adults represents, I think, a grave injustice.

Particularly when they’re raped by their so-called caretakers, as the above article meticulously and painfully details.

Written by pavanvan

February 28, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Greece to Get $41 Billion Bailout

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The Wall Street Journal reports today that Greece will get a $41 Billion “financing” package from Germany and France, who, I hasten to point out, aren’t exactly swimming in liquidity themselves.

The plan seems to be that Germany and France will soak up some of this Greek debt via public markets and state-owned banks, due to a EU bylaw that prohibits member states from owning the debt of other members. What’s astounding to me is that no one is asking Wall Street to pony up any of this cash. They, after all, are almost entirely responsible for this Greek debt crisis, and they made hundreds of millions of dollars watching Greece go down in flames.

Goldman Sachs alone, who was arguably the single biggest catalyst for Greece’s downward spiral, paid out more than $21 Billion in sheer bonuses to its employees. AIG, another  major player in this, paid out more than $100 million. I mean, shouldn’t some of this money go toward cleaning up the mess they caused? The Times printed an excellent series of articles on Wall Street’s complicity in this just one week ago.

Javier Hernandez  even reported that major bank shares swung upward on rumors of a pending EU Bailout to Greece. So they’re blatantly profiting from their crimes. I mean, how is this legal?

Oh yeah, I keep forgetting. The banks own Congress. They make the laws.

Written by pavanvan

February 28, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Quote of the Day

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Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.’

– Douglas Adams

Written by pavanvan

February 28, 2010 at 12:01 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Climate Denial and OJ Simpson

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Bill McKibben has a great analogy in this week’s The Nation that explains the success of our staid climate change deniers:

The campaign against climate science has been enormously clever, and enormously effective. It’s worth trying to understand how they’ve done it. The best analogy, I think, is to the O.J. Simpson trial, an event that’s begun to recede in our collective memory. For those who were conscious in 1995, however, I imagine that just a few names will make it come back to life. Kato Kaelin, anyone? Lance Ito?

The Dream Team of lawyers assembled for Simpson’s defense had a problem: it was pretty clear their guy was guilty. Nicole Brown’s blood was all over his socks, and that was just the beginning. So Johnnie Cochran, Robert Shapiro, Alan Dershowitz, F. Lee Bailey, Robert Kardashian et al. decided to attack the process, arguing that it put Simpson’s guilt in doubt, and doubt, of course, was all they needed. Hence, those days of cross-examination about exactly how Dennis Fung had transported blood samples, or the fact that Los Angeles detective Mark Fuhrman had used racial slurs when talking to a screenwriter in 1986.

If anything, they were actually helped by the mountain of evidence. If a haystack gets big enough, the odds only increase that there will be a few needles hidden inside. Whatever they managed to find, they made the most of: in closing arguments, for instance, Cochran compared Fuhrman to Adolf Hitler and called him “a genocidal racist, a perjurer, America’s worst nightmare, and the personification of evil.” His only real audience was the jury, many of whom had good reason to dislike the Los Angeles Police Department, but the team managed to instill considerable doubt in lots of Americans tuning in on TV as well. That’s what happens when you spend week after week dwelling on the cracks in a case, no matter how small they may be.

Bill McKibben has done some fantastic journalism on this issue, and I highly recommend reading his article in full.

Written by pavanvan

February 27, 2010 at 12:11 pm