Saturday, December 31, 2016


I hope I'm wrong, but . . .

I've been re-reading Naomi Klein's 2007 book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. In it, Klein details how for the last three decades powerful disciples of radical-free-market economist Milton Friedman have perfected the art of seizing on chaos, crises and disasters to implement their agendas of deregulation and free trade, privatization and the gutting of the social safety net while those who are impacted or might resist are still reeling and disorganized.

Klein opens the book with an enlightening story about Hurricane Katrina, which struck in August, 2005, killing more than 1200 people and wreaking more than $100 billion in property damage. Even while thousands of its victims were still struggling to survive, Friedman was urging his moneyed and powerful acolytes to seize the moment to advance one of their pet projects--privatizing education. The result was that most of New Orleans' public schools were never re-opened, thousands of teachers lost their jobs, their union and their legal protection, and the entire public education system of New Orleans was the victim of a quick and thorough takeover by voucherized charter schools. And that was only one of the many ways in which the catastrophe was turned into a fantastic profit opportunity for the few while the people of New Orleans were re-victimized.

Interestingly, Republicans are now using New Orleans as a poster child for school privatization nationwide.

Flooding from Hurricane Katrina--What a Great Opportunity!--Credit US Navy
Klein goes on to discuss many other instances of what she calls disaster capitalism, such as the murderous history of Chile under Pinochet; Russia under Yeltsin and Iraq after the 2003 "shock and awe" invasion by the United States under George Bush. Many of these forced transformations took place outside the U.S., but some, such as the surge of the surveillance state following 9/11, happened right here at home.

Shock and Awe: Operation Desert Storm/Credit
On January 20, 2017, all the pieces will be in place for a massive, multi-front assault on the entire public sphere. We will have a president who has a deep authoritarian streak, whose main motives seem to be self enrichment and self aggrandizement, and who has little or no respect for the rule of law; a cabinet filled with billionaire capitalists, a congress dominated by tea partiers and other conservatives drooling to demolish pretty much everything that's been implemented to help ordinary people since the New Deal, and a Supreme Court that will soon be dominated by the right.

How likely do you think is that this energized and empowered collection of conservatives will advance their programs in a studied, thoughtful way, for example consulting with stakeholders--that's all of us--considering implications and alternatives, and negotiating in good faith with the opposition?

It's much more likely--to my mind almost a certainty--that they will launch a simultaneous attack on every front with the most radical versions of their plans. Name an issue or program you care about--the environment, energy, climate change, healthcare, consumer protection, financial regulation, education, labor, immigration, civil rights, reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, surveillance, torture, taxation, separation of church and state, freedom of speech, a free press, voting rights, gun control, Social Security, Medicare, Obamacare, Planned Parenthood, the EPA, NASA--and expect legislation, litigation or presidential fiat to slash it, gut it, kill it or push it as far to the right as can be imagined.

And not one issue or program at a time, but all at once and as soon as possible.

As I wrote in the days after the election:

. . . things appear normal. But in New York and Washington, angry, arrogant men and women are circling like wolves, salivating as their time draws near. For them, life is a zero-sum game that they have won. That makes the rest of us losers, and in their world losers deserve no more than scornWomen and childrenMuslims and Mexicansjournalists and Jews--and who knows who else--beware, because the knives are out.

The newly empowered threaten that undesirables will be registered and tracked, millions deported and the press whipped to heel. People will need to watch what they sayTorture-lovers will be re-empowereddrillersextractors and polluters will run freeclimate and environment be damnedSchools must be privatizedObamacare must go, along with MedicarePlanned Parenthood and women's right to chooseDiscrimination by Christians against the LGBTQ community or others will be legalized along with discrimination against Muslims. NASA will be ordered not to monitor the Earth, but the NSA will monitor us all. The rich will have their tax cuts and sooner or later the deficit hawks will have theirs. We know who will bleed; it will not be the billionaires.

Their goal is a simple one--use shock and awe to overwhelm and rout any resistance in order to radically reshape America. The means to do it are in their hands. And the people who will be in charge after January 20 are not the kind to use power with moderation.

I very much hope I'm wrong, but it sure looks like a deluge to me.

Storm Front Approaching / Credit Jonny Ross
Note (1/7/2017): I was wrong--thinking that the storm would hit after Trump's inauguration on January 20. Media Matters reports that Trump has scheduled his first press conference in months for January 11. His cohorts in the Senate, led by Mitch McConnell, have scheduled six confirmation hearings for the same day. A beautiful example of overloading the opposition, the press and the public. The Office of Federal Ethics points out that the early hearing date has overwhelmed their staff, leaving them with inadequate time for the necessary ethics reviews, made worse in that many of the nominees have not provided financial and other information.

Shock and awe has come home.


For a similar, more detailed analysis of the coming "shock doctrine blitzkreig" by attorney and commentator Miles Mogulescu, click here.

And for an update on how the deluge has progressed in the first 10 days of Trump's reign, read this piece by William Rivers Pitt.

Thursday, December 22, 2016


When hundreds of scientists leave their labs and take to the streets to protest, you can bet that something serious is going on.

Scientists rally for climateSan Francisco, 12/13/16/Credit:
What led hundreds of scientists to rally in the streets of San Francisco on December 13 was the realization that president-elect Trump is filling his cabinet with climate-change deniers and fossil-fuel advocates

For the scientists, the risks of inaction, or worse yet, backward steps with respect to global climate change are simply to great to ignore. Floods, fire, famine, food shortages, forced migration and increased political instability loom if the US and the rest of the world fail to move aggressively away from our current carbon-based economy.

The technology is already available, it's the political will that's lacking. These courageous scientists went way beyond their comfort zone to alert us. Take a look at what they did and why they did it at this link:

Tuesday, December 20, 2016


As I discussed in an earlier post, "Officer Involved Deaths in Black and White," there's an enormous gap between justice as its administered in our courts and "justice" as it is meted out in the thousands of fatal encounters with police that take place in the US every year.

Justice in a court of law / Credit Slater and Zurz
First, a little background about capital punishment.

The US is the only western nation that currently enforces the death penalty. Thirty-two states and the US federal government apply it; 18 states and the District of Columbia do not. There were no legal executions in the US between 1967 and 1977. Since then, more than 1400 convicts have been executed, an average of about 40 people per year (just 20 in 2016, a 25-year low). The death penalty has not been shown to decrease murders or other crimes. The murder rate in non-death-penalty states is consistently lower--30 percent on average--than in death-penalty states. Nonetheless, capital punishment in the US retains strong popular support.

As you would expect, the death penalty is only applied for very serious offenses. These vary from state to state, for example intentional homicide with aggravating circumstances such as rape, multiple victims, or the killing of an on-duty police officer. At the federal level, treason, espionage and large-scale drug trafficking are also capital offenses. The constitutional right to due process guarantees that even after a fair trial, conviction and sentencing, convicts facing death have access to legal appeals that can delay their execution for years--currently an average of more than 14 years.

None of the above is true on the streets:

--Rather that 40 per year, 1000 to 2000 people die in encounters with police every year--25 to 50 times more than are legally executed.

--As multiple notorious cases have shown in recent years, a fatal encounter with police can stem from a broken tail-light, shoplifting, carrying a crucifix, or as minorities have been reporting for years, walking, driving or parking while Black, Hispanic or Native American.

--As a depressing number of videos show, "due process" is often reduced to minutes or even seconds between an officer's first contact with a suspect and a fatal barrage of shots.

--Fatal encounters with police are far from fair with respect to race or ethnicity. A recent study in the American Journal of Public Health analyzed 2,285 "legal intervention deaths" in the US between 2010 and 2014 and found that Blacks, Native Americans and Alaskan Natives were 2.7 times more likely to die in police encounters than Whites, and Hispanics 1.6 times more likely to die.

--The interactions between police and the people they are supposed to serve and protect vary greatly from state to state. Police in New Mexico, with a population just over 2 million, killed 28 people in the first half of 2016. Nevada, with a comparable population, saw just 4 police-related deaths. Arizona has a slightly smaller population than Washington, yet Arizona police killed more than twice as many people. Californians are three times more likely to die in an arrest-related event than New Yorkers. There's something wrong with this picture.

Justice on the street / Credit A Gude
Of course, this does not mean that all or most of those deaths are illegal or illegitimate. Police officers do represent the front line of our system of justice, place their own lives at risk (although not nearly as much as the public believes), and have to deal with many difficult and sometimes dangerous people and situations. University of South Carolina criminologist Geoff Alpert points out that in 98.9 percent of cases, killings by police are found to be justified.

However, justified does not mean necessary or just. The number of police killings places the US at the ragged edge of other developed countries. A few examples:

The US has about 6 times the population of England and Wales. Yet US police killed more people in the first 24 days of 2015 than police in England and Wales over the last 24 years.

The US has about 4 times the population of Germany. US police kill two or three times as many people every week as German police do in a year. Almost twice as many unarmed Black men (19) were killed by US police in 2015 than all the people killed by police in Germany that year (10).

The police in Kern County, California--population 875000--killed 14 people in 2015. That's almost three times as many as were killed that year by police in Germany and the UK combined--total population 145,000,000.

Police in my home town, Albuquerque, New Mexico, killed 28 people between January, 2010 and July, 2014. That's more than twice as many as police killed in Germany during the same time period. Albuquerque has a population of 556,000. Germany has a population of 80,620,000. That means that the citizens of Albuquerque were 300 times more likely to die at the hands of police than the citizens of Germany.

Clearly, there's something different about how US police are trained, governed and see their relationship to the rest of us, compared to police in other countries. You can read a thoughtful expert commentary by criminal justice professor Paul Hirschfield at this URL.

Hirschfield identifies a variety of contributing factors, but emphasizes that police in other developed countries receive significantly more training than in the US, including  much more training in how to manage critical situations--for example dealing with agitated or mentally ill people--without resorting to lethal force.

He also focuses on national and international standards which typically permit lethal force only as a last resort and when absolutely necessary. In the US, standards are far more lax. Most states empower police to use lethal force if they reasonably believe they or someone else is at risk of imminent or grave harm. In the vast majority of cases, review boards, district attorneys, judges and juries give police officers enormous leeway concerning the circumstances or behavior that could have justified their perception of risk, resulting in a lack of accountability. A recent in-depth study by Reuters reveals how police union contracts across the country can shield officers who repeatedly use excessive force or even engage in clearly criminal acts, for example by expunging their records every few years. A recent Pew Research Center survey finds that 72 percent of police officers nationwide agree that badly performing fellow officers are not held accountable.

It's in large part that very low bar to the use of lethal force in the US that leads to the kinds of killings that outrage us all too frequently. Both training and the legal standards for the use of lethal force need to be improved if the police are to be seen not as soldiers on the front line of a war, but as the face of justice in our communities and on the streets.

Monday, December 19, 2016


Women doctors treat differently, save lives

Male and female physicians practice medicine differently. For example, women doctors spend more time with their patients, communicate more, offer more encouragement, and are more likely to adhere to the latest clinical guidelines.

A major new national study shows that those or other differences save lives. The study found that hospitalized elderly patients treated by female rather than male internists were 4 percent less likely to die and 5 percent less likely to be re-hospitalized within 30 days of admission. This was true across a wide range of conditions. And the sicker the patient, the bigger the difference between patient outcomes for female vs. male physicians.

Female physicians practice medicine differently--and more effectively
Credit: Ilmicrofono Oggiono

"The difference in mortality rates surprised us," said Yusuke Tsugawa, a researcher at Harvard University's T. H. Chan School of Public Health and the study's lead author. "The gender of the physician appears to be particularly significant for the sickest patients."

A four or five percent difference in survival rates may not seem like a lot, but since 10,000,000 patients like those in this study are hospitalized in the US every year, the authors estimate that if male physicians performed as well as their female colleagues, 32,000 lives would be saved--more than the number of Americans who die in traffic accidents every year.

The study, published today in the prestigious JAMA Internal Medicine, tracked the outcomes of more than 1.5 million Medicare hospitalizations from 2011 through 2014. All of the patients were 65 years old or older, 40 percent were men, 60 percent women. These were seriously ill patients--within 30 days of being admitted to the hospital, more than 15 percent were re-hospitalized and more than 11 percent died. About one third of patients were treated by female internists or hospitalists, two thirds by male physicians. Although earlier research has identified a number of differences between how female and male physicians practice, this is the first national study to see if those differences impact patient outcomes.

Although this study shows conclusively that the physician's gender does affect the risk that hospitalized elderly patients will die or be re-hospitalized, it does not pin down just what produces those differences.

"There was ample evidence that male and female physicians practice medicine differently," says Ashish Jha, Director of the Harvard Global Health Institute. "Our findings suggest that those differences matter and are important to patient health. We need to understand why female physicians have lower mortality so that all patients can have the best possible outcomes."

In the meantime, an accompanying editorial in the same journal points out that the medical profession needs to take a hard look at the gap in both pay and career advancement between female physicians and their male colleagues.

You can listen to an interview with the authors at this URL.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


According to the Atlas of U.S. Presidential Election Results, as of December 19, 2016--the day the Electoral College votes to elect the new President--Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 2,871,974 votes (and still counting). With just over 137,000,000 votes cast, that means she won the popular vote by more than two percent. Nonetheless, Trump will be sworn in as President (OMG), but to claim that he has a mandate is a travesty.

But because of the Electoral College, it just didn't count/Credit Vox Efx

Remarkably, despite Hillary Clinton's 2.8 million vote lead, more than half of Republicans think Trump won the popular vote, as do 60 percent of Republicans with no college education. Trump clearly has millions of reasons to back up his famous "I love the poorly educated" quote.

As Abraham Lincoln said, "You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time. . . " Trump lives by those words.

Let's hope that Lincoln was also right in concluding, ". . . but you cannot fool all the people all the time."

Sunday, December 11, 2016


Nate Silver's website, isn't just about sports and political polls. It also hosts statistics-based commentaries on a variety of important subjects. A recent post by Ben Casselman entitled "Inequality is Killing the American Dream," is well worth reading.

Casselman presents statistics supporting three main points:

1. The dream that each generation of Americans would do better than the last has been fading since around 1970. At that time, nearly nine out of ten 30 year olds were earning more than their parents had at the same age. By 2014, that was true for less than half of 30 year olds.

2. Another way of documenting the erosion of economic progress is the finding that, adjusted for inflation, the lower half of American wage earners today aren't earning any more, pre-tax, that the same segment of earners did in the 1970s. Zero progress in 45 years.

3. The key factor is not lack of growth in the overall economy, but too much growth in economic inequality. Only the topmost rungs of the economic ladder have stretched, carrying a few to great wealth while leaving most of the population behind.

Getting ahead has become out of reach for many/Graphic credit: Peggy_Marco

Again, the full story is worth reading for anyone who wants to understand what's really happening to America.

Monday, December 05, 2016


Meeting in Paris last year, representatives from 195 nations agreed to work together to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) above the temperature that prevailed before the industrial revolution. Scientists and policy members agreed that global warming beyond that level creates unacceptable levels of risk to the environment and civilization--much like revving your car's engine into the red zone. The Paris Agreement (Accord de Paris) went into effect in November of 2016.

Negotiators celebrate Paris Agreement 4/22/16
Credit: UN

In what should serve as a three-alarm wake-up-call, researchers at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, a prestigious independent intergovernmental organization, reports that Earth hit that 1.5 degree C ceiling for the first time in February of 2016 (see section 10 in the above link).

Global Temperatures 1880 to Present

The researchers are quick to note that the early months of 2016 were exceptionally warm, following a strong El Niño, and that Earth has cooled approximately 0.3 degrees C (0.5 degrees F) since then. However, with the levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere continuing to rise, it's only a matter of time before we don't just bump against the 1.5 degree ceiling, but crash through it.

And not much time. The Berlin-based Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) calculates that under the most optimistic assumptions, we have only 4 years before we lock in more than 1.5 degrees C of warming, and under the most pessimistic assumptions, just one year.

Atmosperic CO2 levels over the last 500,000 years/Credit NASA

"It is salutary that the world touched the 1.5 degree C level less that twenty years after touching the 1 degree C level in the record-breaking year of 1998," says Adrian Simmons, the study's lead author. 

"Salutary" is a polite, understated, British way of saying that if we value Earth's health and our own, we'd better pay attention and take action.

(Note 1/10/17: I hate to be pessimistic, but it's clear from Trump's own statements and his appointees that the US government will be leading a climate-change charge, but in exactly the wrong direction--away from wind and other renewable sources of energy, and back towards coal and other greenhouse-gas belching technologies.)