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Greek Crisis – a guide for the perplexed: Part III – Myths about Greece and the Greek Crisis

June 28, 2015

The following is from an appendix in an upcoming book to be released in the next few days, No Hair Shirts Energy & Climate Policy for Greece. The book discusses  energy and climate policy as a means of advancing a general anti-austerity agenda. It starts with methods of relieving some of the immediate pain. For any non-Greek readers, the book includes an appendix discussing the crisis. This post excerpts the third chapter of that appendix shooting down widespread falsehoods about Greece. You may want to read the first post in this series about the general global and European context of the Greek crisis, and the second summarizing the crisis before preceding.


There are many myths about Greece used to justify EU action, to claim that the Greek people deserve their suffering. As Diane Francis of the Business Financial Post put it in 2011: ” a baseball bat may be what’s needed to fix the never-ending Greek debt mess.”

Myth) The Greek people are lazy.

Fact) The people of Greece, even before the crisis, worked longer hours and had less time off than Germany and most EU nations.

Myth) The Greek people don’t pay taxes.

Fact) The Greek rich, and small business owners evade most taxes. Taxes on wages were always collected. Thus working people in Greece pay all the taxes due, as does much of the middle class. It is only the rich, small shop owners and independent professionals such as doctors and lawyers who manage to evade taxes. Much of the tax evasion consists of moving money out of Greece into France, Germany, the UK and other EU nations. When Syriza suggested the EU help them track down this money, they were laughed at and told that tackling tax evasion is their responsibility.

Myth) Out-of-control Greek pensions need cutting.

Fact) Greek pensions have already been cut by 40%. Further, the high pension to GDP ratio is caused by a number of factors other than pensions being too high

  • Public pensions in Greece are, with trivial exceptions the only pension. Proper comparison of Greek pensions to other nations would have to include private pensions by other nations.
  • There is no unemployment insurance in Greece, and never has been much public welfare (such as food stamps in the USA). Pensions fulfill those functions as well. That has to be considered in comparison to other nations as well.
  • Greek GDP has fallen by 25% since 2008. Normally this far after the start of recession, not only would the recovery have begun, but GDP would be above 2008 levels. Of course if GDP falls, anything that survives becomes a higher percentage of GDP
  • Greece has a higher percentage of retirement age people than most other EU nations.

Myth) Greeks retire at 53.

Fact) Before the crash, 53 was early retirement at half-pension certain civil servants could take – usually in order to move to other jobs without completely losing past pension benefits. Average retirement age in Greece, pre-crash was higher than Germany and higher than OECD average. Early retirement age, post crash has already been raised. Again, early retirement means half-pension.

Greek Crisis – a guide for the perplexed: Part II – The Greek Crisis in Brief

June 27, 2015

The following is from an appendix in an upcoming book to be released in the next few days. No Hair Shirts Energy & Climate Policy for Greece. The book discusses energy and climate policy as a means of battling austerity. It starts with methods to relieve some of the immediate pain. For any non-Greek readers, the book includes an appendix discussing the crisis. This post excerpts the second chapter of that appendix, which  tries to combine concision with accuracy in describing the current Greek crisis. If you don’t know the larger European context you might want to read the first post in this series before preceding.  And don’t forget to read the third excerpt combating widespread falsehoods about Greece and Greeks.  The  second excerpt, covering the current crisis, follows:


The Greek centrist social democratic government of PASOK led by George Papandreou took power from the conservatives in 2009 and discovered that the previous governments had collaborated with corrupt bankers to disguise loans as complex financial derivative investments. This fraud falsified key economic indictors and allowed borrowing money that could never have been paid back, even before the crash. Thus the crash left Greece with a much bigger debt compared to its economy than the rest of Europe.

The EU and international institutions made a deal with PASOK to bail out Greece’s creditors (including those who had been co-conspirators n the fraud, and probably the originators of it) and some of Greece’s top bankers, but not the Greek people. If the EU and done nothing, the debt instruments would have been worthless, and the banks would have collapsed. The EU bought the worthless debt instruments at a discount from their face value. The claim was that in selling at a discount, the banks and bond holders were taking a hit. The truth was, that the banks and bondholders had already taken a hit. The bonds and instruments were worthless. By receiving anything for those bonds they were being bailed out, not (as claimed) “taking a haircut”. As penalty for the fraud that had primarily victimized the Greek people, the Greek health care system was destroyed, their pensions cut, and their education system crippled. Paying back the remaining debt was still impossible, so the EU arranged to lend almost enough to Greece, to make interest payments. Each year, Greece paid out 100% of what they received in loans, and a bit more as debt repayment, leaving zero aid for the Greek people, and less total money for the Greek people each year. As a condition of continuing to pay interest to itself, the Troika constantly added to austerity requirements. This austerity program produced a 25% unemployment rate and a GDP that shrank at a faster rate than that of the United State during the great depression. PASOk fell to the conservative New Democracy party, which implemented worse austerity than occurred under PASOK.

Syriza, a coalition of most parties to the left of PASOK defeated both the right wing New Democracy Party and the centrist “Socialist” PASOK party in January of 2015. It was elected on a platform of raising taxes on the rich and cracking down on widespread tax evasion by the wealthy, lowering taxes on the working class, providing free electricity to those who had their power cut off , restoring pensions, free education, union rights as well as health care. Syriza also promised to end various other EU imposed austerity measures, such as the requirement that Greece maintain a government spending surplus during a depression. It also promised to crack down on the culture of corruption in Greece that crossed party lines and end oligarchic control of institutions that were supposed to be democratic, possibly by replacing those corrupt institutions with new more democratic ones. It cannot carry out much of its program under the intolerable conditions currently imposed on Greece.

Syriza has attempted to negotiate with the Troika that consists of the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund. It has shown willingness to dial back its program, but not enough to suit the Troika. The absurdity of the Troika position in these negotiations can only be conveyed by a skit. :

TROIKA: You have anemia. To cure it you must stay the course: One bowl of gruel a day, and leeches applied to your body twice daily.

Syriza: Come on. An anemic needs to eat more than gruel. PLus, possibly iron infusions, at least an iron supplement.

TROIKA: Pish-posh. I’m the doctor..

Syriza: If I stick to the gruel diet, can I at least have an iron supplement, and stop the leeches?

TROIKA: You will follow the full plan. In fact, cut the gruel to half a bowl a day.

Syriza: how about an iron supplement and fewer leeches?

TROIKA: No. Half a bowl of gruel a day, and twice the leeches! And stay away from iron supplements. Trust Doctor Dracula.

Syriza: Maybe I’d be better off leaving this hospital!

TROIKA: No! Stay here and stick with the plan. If you do, as a compromise, we will let you drink the Kool-Aid.

Greek Crisis – a guide for the perplexed: Part I Global and EU Context

June 27, 2015

The following is from an appendix in an upcoming book to be released in the next few days, No Hair Shirts Energy & Climate Policy for Greece. The book discusses how energy and climate policy can help advance an anti-austerity agenda. It starts with means of relieving some of the immediate pain. For any non-Greek readers, the book includes an appendix discussing the crisis. This post excerpts the first of three short chapters within that appendix, and explains the situation of the EU, which is essential before moving on to discussion of Greece. If you already understand that context you may want to proceed directly to the second post, a concise briefing on the Greek Crisis, and the third post combating widely believed falsehoods about Greece.

  Global and EU Context for the Greek Crisis

For decades, deliberate policy in all rich nations and many poor nations reduced net income to poor workers, prosperous workers and much of the middle class. Cheap loans kept consumption and demand from dropping, thus preventing profits from falling. Even so, additional risk from demand generated by borrowing, rather than income, would have hurt profits by driving up the cost of money to businesses. However, complicated financial instruments concealed how risky many investments were. When, inevitably, some of these investments failed in 2008, larger bubbles were exposed. Cheap financing of consumption, which had substituted for income, dried up. Mortgages, credit cards and other investments in consumer financing fell to their underlying real value. Demand dropped suddenly and the world economy crashed.

In Europe, various treaty provisions for being in the euro made the crash worse; most of EU was forced to cut budgets and increase austerity, which is the worst way to deal with a recession caused by a sudden drop in demand. It was even worse for the poorer nations, which saw a larger percentage drop their total national wealth.

The normal way poor nations would deal with this type of crash would be to devalue their currency. Devaluing currency is a large one time hit to an economy. Real wages and profits drop as the local price of everything rises, especially imports. Goods also become cheaper on the world market, increasing exports. It is a large hit to the standard of living, but a one-time hit. The economy can then begin to recover. Though not a fair way of making this kind of adjustment, it is probably the fairest way possible under capitalism. At least the burden is not 100% on the working class, unlike the alternatives under capitalism. Because wages are effectively cut across the board, unemployment need not rise. Exports of newly cheaper goods make up for some the drop in national demand. Government spending on public works programs can make up for the rest. Part of the solution to a crisis caused by hidden debt bubbles counterfeiting value creation is open, honest debt financing real value creation.

However, as part of a single currency, the euro, the poor nations did not have the option of devaluing their currency. Worse, as part of the treaty provisions they agreed to when joining the euro, they could not engage in large scale public spending, because public debt was not allowed to rise above a fixed percentage of GDP. Nor could they take steps to make exports more attractive or imports less attractive. That would have violated “free trade” provisions. Note, by the way, that Spain had a budget surplus before the crash; in Spain the crash, as in the USA, was largely triggered by a mortgage bubble.

In a large nation, such as the USA, these disadvantages of a single currency are made up for by many responsibilities being national. For example Social Security and guarantees of private pensions are national. Medicare is national. Medicaid is more than 50% national, even higher in poorer states. Private healthcare is highly subsidized via tax deductions. Even social programs that are considered primarily state and local responsibilities in the USA, such as education and local law enforcement, receive modest Federal aid.

In the EU, the European Central Bank (ECB) has the power that goes with a single currency, but the EU upholds none of the usual responsibilities. In fact, the ECB imposes conditions on fulfilling the core responsibility of a central bank, defending bank solvency and preventing bank runs.  Such conditions are comparable to a local fire department refusing to put out a blazing fire consuming a house until the residents commit to weekly church attendance.

Granted Wishes

December 24, 2014

Once upon a time a new continent suddenly rose off the east coast of a great empire After due consideration, the empire responded as it always did to anything new and strange which it could not be absolutely sure was not a threat. It invaded.

The invaders found an unpopulated jungle, teeming with wildlife. Without a labor force to exploit, without valuable minerals, without even large trees or any other natural resources worth exporting, the empire did not really know what to do next. So its soldiers wandered aimlessly through the vast jungle, occasionally capturing and torturing spider monkeys, and sending drones in to destroy herds of wildebeests. There were no insurgents to provoke by these actions, so the invaders found themselves in the unfamiliar situation of not being locked into an escalating cycle of violence.

Occasionally, though, a soldier or contractor would die or be injured through some accident. Then the empire’s Air Force could firebomb a few acres of jungle around the accident site into desert. Oil companies would then, more or less in a reflexive reaction to sand, move into the newly created patch of desert and drill exploratory wells, though there was no particular reason to think any part of this conquest held fossil fuel reserves.

The animals were not quite like those of other lands; they observed and learned. In the face of the very real streak of timidity that lay behind the invaders’ belligerence they tried silence. The lions no longer roared. The elephants no longer trumpeted. They even began to pass wind quietly, lest the sudden explosion of a fart startle a news anchor or government official into launching a new war.

The empire began looking for ways to make the invasion pay for itself. If there were no mineral or fossil resources, perhaps the land itself was suitable for agriculture. But for some reason, no cutting or seed from outside the new continent could grow there. Well perhaps the native plants themselves would have some value? But it turned out that everything that grew in the new land was slightly toxic.

The empire decided that the biomass itself could be valuable – harvested and converted into fuel. By a strange coincidence, a new fungus arose. This fungus was harmless to living plants, but turned disconnected or dead parts of them to compost in a matter of minutes. (And that compost was, of course, toxic to any plants from outside the land.)

The next thought was that the great rivers of the new continent could provide power for the empire’s great industries, even if raw material had to be imported from outside. But something subtle in the water supply corroded turbines, and even the concrete in dams.

Then, almost as if the continent was striking back at attempts to exploit it, the formerly pure water of the new land developed a strange toxicity. Now all potable water had to be imported. Drinking the water, cooking with it, or bathing in it would make people and animals from the outside sicken and eventually die. Again, this only affected outsiders. Native species continued to thrive, immune to whatever the toxin was that lab tests failed to detect, and the most through distillation and treatment processes failed to remove.

The great sums spent occupying this new continent gained the empire quite literally nothing. But for some odd reason the empire could not leave the new land alone. Part of the lure, no doubt, was the big profits large military contractors made, from which they donated a percent or two to various reelection and campaign funds. More important was something the empire sensed rather than knew.

Ever since defeating its greatest adversary decades ago, the empire had gone out of its way to make new enemies. But none of them provided the large, visible sustained long term threat that old defeated adversary had. In the new continent, the empire sensed a potential for an enemy even more powerful than the defeated one. And great empires need great enemies to define themselves against. If the empire could just sufficiently provoke this new power it sensed…

Well….

The Land was patient…

But The Land was not endlessly patient….

In time the empire might see its wish granted….

And more… far more…

Messiahs

December 16, 2014

Elijah tried to save humankind, coming as he always does, as a stranger seeking hospitality. He came as a Mexican refugee into the United States. But he was deported to Mexico; local police turned him over to narco-traffickers who killed him He returned again as a Sudanese refugee fleeing to Israel, but died in Helot of untreated diabetes.

Jesus came back to save humankind. He was born, as he always is, into a family of the poor. This time he was the son of a Detroit taxi driver. But 41 shots tore him apart as an infant when a policeman mistook his pacifier for an Uzi. Jesus came back again in Gaza as a baby girl. But an Israeli air strike upon the hospital where she was born ended her life when she was less than three hours old.

Mohammed tried to return in Afghanistan. But a drone killed him along with his mother, and five brothers and sisters. Mohammed came back again in Pakistan, as a beloved daughter sent to a good local girls’ school. But a bomb set by followers of the prophet who were too righteous to allow education of girls killed her and eight others children attending that school.

Krishna came back as a Muslim street urchin in Mumbai and then as a comic juggler and magician who poked fun at the Bharatiya Janata party. Both times he was torn to pieces by angry Hindu mobs.

Papa Legba was reborn in Haiti – not just inhabiting a follower, one of his horses, but in a proper body all his own. He was shot by UN monitors while leading a protest against the exclusion of Fanmi Lavalas from yet another Haitian election. He tried again, but died of cholera shortly after a second rebirth.

Ahura Mazda was personified as an Iranian theoretical physicist, and assassinated by a joint CIA-Mossad operation on suspicion of working in Iran’s nuclear program. He was personified again as a Yazidi and beheaded by ISIL for being a devil worshiper.

Buddha was assassinated by China after his rebirth in Tibet; he was killed again by an Indian paramilitary group as a suspected Maoist in Madhya.

Raven pulled his old, old trick of giving birth to himself. The ancient trickster became a wood carver in Seattle working on a set of sculptures whose powerful medicine would have changed the world once completed. But Raven was shot to death by a frightened Seattle policeman for possession of a whittling knife while Indian. He was killed again as an infant by an exploding oil train.

Saint Nicholas decided that, along with toys, he would bring the gift of world peace. A NORAD missile left nothing of him and his sled but the stench of burnt reindeer. Being only a demigod, he had no second chance.

Finally thousands of messiahs, all that had had ever been on earth, gathered in the asteroid belt. They grew tipsy on Ambrosia and Soma, and held a drunken council. For the sober council that followed nothing was served except the purest and most bitter drink – the tears of innocents. Both councils agreed; Earth was just too dangerous. “If the people of Earth want a Heaven,” the messiahs decided “let them build it themselves.”

Now it is up to us, the people of this planet, to build our own Republic of Heaven. We live in too tough a neighborhood for any god, saint or demigod to risk entering.

Happy Holidays

Gar W. Lipow

A smartass response after being switched to Medicaid

February 5, 2014

I have retinopathy, which requires Avastin injections – sticking a needle in my eye. I used to have private insurance. Now I have Medicaid. My former surgeon does not take Medicaid, so I had to switch to a new one further away. All my research suggested that he was as skilled as my old surgeon and indeed he turned out to be very skilled indeed – in a way.

When I was treated previously, my doctor used an assistant. That assistant placed an eyelid spreader in my eye so I did not involuntarily blink, then braced my head with both hands so I did not involuntarily move. The doctor then held the needle with one hand and as she stuck it in my eye hit the plunger (or whatever it is called) with the other. Including preparation the doctor had to spend five or ten minutes with me, though a great deal of prep was done before I ever saw the doctor.

With this new doctor the prep before he enters the room is similar to the old one. But when he comes in to do the treatment  he has no assistant with him. He braces my head with one hand and plunges the needle in my eye with the other. Not only does he save the cost of having an assistant with him when he does this, but he only spends a minute or so with me, which means he can treat many more patients in a day.  It definitely takes more skill to perform the treatment with one hand, and since that is what he does I’m grateful that he has as much skill as he does. I’m even more grateful that operating with one hand is the only special skill he uses that the other doctor did not and that there are no efficiency gains to made from plunging the needle in my eye while riding  roller skates, blindfolded.

Happy Columbus Day!

October 12, 2013

Image

A new world is discovered.


Image

The land is empty except for a primitive people whose strange customs need not be respected,


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especially since they failed to establish any right to the rich bounty in this wilderness by laws of our distant capital.


Brave explorers

Congratulations to the brave travelers who settled this unclaimed territory.

If you think you know who used chemical weapons in Syria, you are wrong

September 8, 2013

Full disclosure: I oppose bombing Syria because the US lacks moral standing to play global Sheriff. I also oppose the bombing because, if the US had moral standing and was acting in good faith, the past record suggest our government is not a very good Sheriff.

Although those are the critical points, this post concentrates on the excuse of the day, that we know that the Assad regime used chemical weapons. According to a recent AP story, working (not retired) intelligence sources are not at all sure the the Assad regime was the source of the most recent chemical weapons attack.  Although buried deep in the AP story it notes that ” Some have even talked about the possibility that rebels could have carried out the attack in a callous and calculated attempt to draw the West into the war. That suspicion was not included in the official intelligence report, according to the official who described the report.”  Some members of Congress who have seen the classified summary of the report find it unconvincing. 

One of the key arguments the administration makes that Assad is responsible for the attack is the claim that the rebels don’t have access to chemical weapons. After all, false flag operations are a long standing part of the history of warfare,  so if they have the capability then Assad’s guilt in this regard becomes a lot less certain. (That Assad is a bloody butcher remains absolutely certain.) A Washington Blog Post includes citations of and links to a number of sources (including the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post) showing that the fall of Libya gave a wide variety of groups access to chemical weapons

The same article also shows that on occasion Syrian rebels have captured and held for prolonged periods of time areas that stored Assad’s chemical weapons.  Further, evidence that the rebels are willing use chemical warfare includes this Haaretz report of rebel use of chlorine gas, as well as this Turkish report of rebel smuggling of chemical weapons. Here is the Google translate version of the same article.

So do we know that the rebels were responsible for the attack? There are many articles out there saying so.  For example, the following story from Mint Press (a normally very reliable source). However, there are several problems with this article. One of the main sources, Abu Abdel-Moneim, gives his real name. In a region where a coffee seller was murdered for saying he would not give a free coffee to Mohammed himself.  When the source did not ask for confidentiality didn’t the reporter offer it? Or at least ask why he thought he could survive his name being published.  This is not just a matter of protection of a source. It also goes to the source’s credibility. There should be some explanation in the article as to why the source chose not to be anonymous.

There are other stories too, interviews with retired intelligence officers and so on. They all have one thing in common. They rely on intelligence sources just as the administration’s sources do  – either directly  or indirectly as interviews are done with people who in turn have done interviews.  And just as the administration has incentives to lie, Russian, Iranian and Syrian intelligence have incentives to plant false stories blaming the rebels. And neither your nor I are in a position to tell who is lying and who is telling the truth.  For example, there is a great deal made in various stories of a supposed Egyptian intelligence report that the attack of the 21st was a false flag operation. The problem is that those reporting don’t read Egyptian. Which means they read a translation or had the report described to them. They don’t even know for certain that the report exists, let alone that its contents have been described to them accurately.

If everyone involved were pure rational actors, the rebels are the ones with greater incentive for an attack than Assad, since he has plenty of other means of mass killing available to him which won’t bring the wrath of the US down on him. But past history shows Assad not to be a perfect rational actor. A great many mistakes on his part have brought him to the point of fighting a civil war. So here is the conclusion. The Assad regime may have used chemical weapons. A rogue element within it may have used chemical weapons without permission, for which the regime would still bear responsibility. Or the rebels may have used chemical weapons in a false flag operation. And as of today September 8th 2013, only those responsible know for sure. Everyone else is guessing. If you think you know, you are wrong

No Bombing of Syria

August 31, 2013

The main point about an attack on Syria: it will kill people for no good reason. Syria is densely populated, and even the US administration has admitted that innocent civilians will be part of the death toll. So we are going to kill innocents in order to send a message that killing innocents is wrong? If we want to send a message, I’m pretty sure Assad has email. If you are a US resident, or a US citizen, please call your Senators and Congresscritter to ask them not to approve bombing Syria.

 The entire reason for making this a “limited” punitive strike is that even the US administration admits that long term involvement in Syria can only make things worse for both Syria and the US. The arms the West already gives to the rebel have just prolonged the conflict, made it more bloody, and shifted the balance of power within the opposition from secularists to Al Qaeda. Every escalation from the West is matched by more support for Assad by Russia. Between NATO and Russia, Syria has been turned from bloody brutal dictatorship to an unstable chaotic living hell in which a brutal dictator fights a bloody civil war against brutal would be dictators. Democratic and secular forces are still allowed in the alliance to beg for more support from NATO nations, and do public relations, but in the current war, they will lose no matter who wins, or for that matter if the civil war continues.

 Sometimes there are no good choices. But when that is true, very seldom is bombing the shit out of someone the lesser evil. The US government is not even pretending that bombing Syria will improve the situation of the Syrian people in any way, or weaken the Assad regime. It is supposed to serve as punishment, but will in no meaningful way punish Syrian elites. It will hurt innocents, and carries real risk of the US being draw further in the Syrian civil war. If the US and France and Turkey want to do something permanent for Syria, they could allow long term immigration by Syrian refugees, and provide long term funding to help them settle in. In the long run, they should engage in diplomacy with Iran and Russia to help create an arms embargo to keep additional foreign arms out of Syria. If they don’t want to do either of those things, they could shut up, cause doing nothing beats making things worse.

Another point: even if the Syrian government did use chemical weapons, that does not justify the bombing under international law. The US is a signatory of the UN charter. Under that charter there are only two legal justifications for a military attack. One self-defense against an imminent attack. There have been zero official claims that Syria is about to attack the US. The other is military intervention approved by the UN security council. That has not happened,. Given the Russian veto, that authorization will not happen.

Although use of chemical weapons by Assad would not justify the bombing nor make it anything but counterproductive from a humanitarian viewpoint, it is worth noting that we still do not know that chemical weapons were used by the regime.

The US claims to that there is “no doubt” the Syrian regime used chemical weapons. A complete list of false claims used to justify US military actions would make this already long post unnecessarily longer, but it is worth including a few examples. “Yellow Rain”, a claimed chemical agent used by Vietnam was proven to consist of nothing but bee shit dropped by wild swarms. Claims that Iraq dumped premature babies in Kuwait to steal the incubators that kept them alive, which help mobilize US public opinion for the first Gulf war, proved to be fabrications by a Kuwait public relations firm. The WMDs used as justification for the second Gulf war turned out to have been destroyed by Saddam in 1998.

 The evidence itself is not convincing. First there is the claim of intercepted phone conversations provided by Israel that prove use of chemical agents. Since we have no transcripts and those speaking are not even identified, we are being asked to show a lot of faith in the truthfulness and competence of US and Israeli intelligence agencies. . Even if the conversations exist, how do we know they are not faked? Static filled cell phone or radio conversations are not exactly the hardest kind of evidence to create. If the conversations are real, how do we know they have not been deceptively edited or deceptively translated to make them sound much more damning than they are? Juan Cole has pointed out many cases over the years in which English translations of Iranian or Arab statements were mangled to make official enemies look worse than they were.

 The other evidence is equally unconvincing. What it comes down to is more charges without evidence. Syria engaged in preparations for chemical warfare before the attack? That is the US claim, but it refuses to release actual evidence, or even detailed descriptions of what those preparations were. Also if the preparations were so clear why did the US not warn anybody? If they knew and did not tell, what the hell were they thinking? If they only connected the dots after the attack, maybe it is time that some of the resources devoted to seducing unstable losers into joining Rube Goldberg terrorist plots were devoted to analyzing the information we already rather more thoroughly and more quickly.

 Another reason to be suspicious was the unsuccessful US attempt to stop the UN investigation. The claimed reason was that it was too late. The evidence is volatile and has already dissipated. But a July 27th NY Times article pointed that this is untrue.  According to most experts, Sarin gas and other nerve agents last in soil and clothing for years, and in blood and tissue of the survivors for up to two weeks. So the UN team arrived in plenty of time to perform an investigation. Why oppose it then?  Why is the US anxious to begin bombing before the investigation is complete? The obvious suspicion is that the US is NOT certain that Assad was responsible for the chemical attack, and does not want a real investigation that might find inconvenient evidence. It is worth remembering that the invasion of Iraq terminated a UN inspection that inconveniently was not finding evidence to justify the attack. In the end it was proven that the inspectors failed to find evidence because the WMDs no longer existed.

What is the alternative explanation?

 Well there is a Mint Press story out there that Saudi backed factions were behind the attack. Mint Press is normally pretty reliable, but in this case in seems likely their reporting has gone beyond what the evidence supports. The report itself admits that key facts in the story can’t be confirmed. And this line is something Russia, which backs the current Syrian government has been claiming for years.

 Either of these narratives could be true. Much of the support for both stories come from known liars with strong self-interest in the version they are spreading. Believing either version without waiting for more evidence would be a mistake. Regardless of which version proves true, regardless of whether we ever know the truth, bombing Syria will accomplish nothing. Regardless, bombing Syria will kill innocents in the short run, will likely worsen the viciousness of the Syrian civil war in the medium run, and carries a real of risk drawing the US further into the conflict over the long term.

 

Sources

 

By WILLIAM J. BROAD. August 27, 2013. “Chemical Attack Evidence Lasts Years, Experts Say.” http://mobile.nytimes.com/2013/08/28/science/not-easy-to-hide-a-chemical-attack-experts-say.html

 EXCLUSIVE: Syrians In Ghouta Claim Saudi-Supplied Rebels Behind Chemical Attack  Rebels and local residents in Ghouta accuse Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan of providing chemical weapons to an al-Qaida linked rebel group.

By Dale Gavlak and Yahya Ababneh | August 29, 2013

http://www.mintpressnews.com/witnesses-of-gas-attack-say-saudis-supplied-rebels-with-chemical-weapons/168135/

Wonkblog Post says consumers don’t understand health insurance, shows Wonkblog does not understand health insurance

August 9, 2013

Wonkblog’s coverage of a quiz used to test public knowledge of health insurance shows that Wonkblog does not understand health insurance. Possibly, neither do authors of the article covered. The quiz included questions on four health insurance terms: “Out of Pocked Maximum”, “Coinsurance”, “Copay” and “Deductible”.

The choices offered to define “Coinsurance”:

  1. A specific dollar amount you pay for a specific service
  2. The total amount you are required to pay until you reach your deductible
  3. The percent of the cost of medical services that the insurer pays
  4. The amount your employer contributes to paying for your health premium
  5. I’m not sure

None of the choices correctly define “Coinsurance”. “Coinsurance is the reverse of choice three. The proper answer would  be “The percent of the cost of medical services that the *insured* pays”. Or in line with phrasing in other questions “The percent of the cost of medical services that *you* pay”

I’m hoping that this particular error did not make it through peer review, and that it is simply a typo in the Wonkblog report. That certainly seems the most likely explanation. However, whether the error was in the information Wonkblog was given or made somewhere in the copying or editing process, it should have been spotted. Especially since a correct definition is given in an image of an insurance form at the bottom of the Wonkblog article: “Coinsurance is your share of the costs the allowed amount for the service.”

The Wonkblog post by Sarah Kliff, : “Do you understand health insurance? Most people don’t.” can be found at http://wapo.st/16CBBnQ . I hope at some point it will be corrected if the error was Wonkblog’s. If the error was made in the quiz used in the journal article, I hope that Wonkblog will publish a follow up post.

The refereed article whose lead author is George Loewenstein, “Consumers’ misunderstanding of health insurance” published in the September 2013 issue of The Journal of Health Economics  can be found behind a paywall at http://bit.ly/1bactrT .  A non-paywall version that may or may not stay up can be found at  http://hvrd.me/16FBmIy (pdf). I cannot find actual copies of the quiz, other that the images in the Wonkblog post. I have contacted Dr. Loewenstein and Sarah Kliff, so will fill update this post as soon as it becomes public where the error occurred.