Category: Culture

In defense of Yanis Varoufakis


Click for video — With flair and style, Yanis Varoufakis resigns as Greece’ Finance Minister

Mohamed A. El-Erian, Chief Economic Adviser at Allianz and a member of its International Executive Committee, is Chairman of US President Barack Obama’s Global Development Council. He previously served as CEO and co-Chief Investment Officer of PIMCO. He was named one of Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Global Thinkers in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012.

From blaming him for the renewed collapse of the Greek economy to accusing him of illegally plotting Greece’s exit from the eurozone, it has become fashionable to disparage Yanis Varoufakis, the country’s former finance minister. While I have never met or spoken to him, I believe that he is getting a bad rap (and increasingly so). In the process, attention is being diverted away from the issues that are central to Greece’s ability to recover and prosper – whether it stays in the eurozone or decides to leave.

That is why it is important to take note of the ideas that Varoufakis continues to espouse. Greeks and others may fault him for pursuing his agenda with too little politesse while in office. But the essence of that agenda was – and remains – largely correct.

…Greece’s prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, appointed Varoufakis to lead the delicate negotiations with the country’s creditors. His mandate was to recast the relationship in two important ways: render its terms more amenable to economic growth and job creation; and restore balance and dignity to the treatment of Greece by its European partners and the International Monetary Fund.

These objectives reflected Greece’s frustrating and disappointing experience under two previous bailout packages administered by “the institutions” (the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the IMF). In pursuing them, Varoufakis felt empowered by the scale of Syriza’s electoral win and compelled by economic logic to press three issues that many economists believe must be addressed if sustained growth is to be restored: less and more intelligent austerity; structural reforms that better meet social objectives; and debt reduction.

These issues remain as relevant today, with Varoufakis out of government, as they were when he was tirelessly advocating for them during visits to European capitals and in tense late-night negotiations in Brussels.

RTFA to understand the reasoning behind Dr. El-Erian’s defense of Varoufakis. I feel he’s absolutely correct.

The Grand Illusion — choosing excellent American Universities

To understand the failures of the modern American college system — from admissions marketing to graduation rates — you can begin with a notorious university football scandal.

In November 2006, Butch Davis, a high-profile coach with jobs in the N.F.L. and the University of Miami on his résumé, was hired to coach football at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The job offered Mr. Davis a rare opportunity to work for a university that had won dozens of championships in multiple sports while avoiding the scandals and corruption that seemed commonplace at Miami and elsewhere.

But it didn’t take long for Mr. Davis to realize that Chapel Hill’s reputation for sports excellence without compromise was a myth. From 1991 to 2009, the university’s department of African and Afro-American studies ran a huge academic fraud operation. Thousands of students, including regular undergraduates and athletes trying to maintain playing eligibility, enrolled in fake courses in which they didn’t have to attend classes, meet with professors or produce any legitimate academic work.

After the fraud was exposed and both the university chancellor and Mr. Davis lost their jobs, outside investigators discovered that U.N.C. had essentially no system for upholding the academic integrity of courses. “So long as a department was offering a course,” one distinguished professor told the investigators, “it was a legitimate course.”…

Most colleges, presumably, aren’t harboring in-house credit mills. Yet in its underlying design, organizational values and daily operations, North Carolina is no different from most other colleges and universities. These organizations are not coherent academic enterprises with consistent standards of classroom excellence. When it comes to exerting influence over teaching and learning, they’re Easter eggs. They barely exist.

This goes a long way toward explaining why colleges spend so much time and effort creating a sense of tribal solidarity among students and alumni. Think of the chant that Joe Paterno and students cried out together at the height of their university’s pedophilia scandal: “We are! Penn State!” The costumes, rituals and gladiatorial contests with rival colleges are all designed to portray the university as united and indivisible. Newer colleges that lack such deeply rooted identities spend millions of dollars on branding consultants in order to create them.

They do this to paper over uncomfortable truths revealed by their own researchers.

RTFA. Understand “How College Affects Students” concludes – after 848 pages – “The great majority of postsecondary institutions appear to have surprisingly similar net impacts on student growth,” the authors write.

“If there is one thing that characterizes the research on between-college effects on the acquisition of subject matter knowledge and academic skills, it is that in the most internally valid studies, even the statistically significant effects tend to be quite small and often trivial in magnitude.”

Prestigious colleges are those with the most bucks, which, in and of itself, is the driving force in ranking. You get to select the best students then you crank out the slightly better resulting graduates. The rest is sound and fury signifying nothing more than the usual mind-candy-level advertising.

Pick out a college you can afford. Make certain it meets adequate standards – and do the work. Ignore the time wasted on sports rivalries and other gladiatorade pursuits. Graduate and carry on.

Remember knocking on a door and not wondering if you need a bulletproof vest

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An off-duty New Jersey state trooper fired shots at a car with three young men inside as they were trying to drive away from his house after knocking on his door by mistake at night while looking for the house of a friend who lives next door…

The trooper told investigators he suspected the three men were trying to enter his Sparta home, 50 miles northwest of New York City, between 1:30 a.m. and 2 a.m. Sunday, according to the attorney general’s office.

Jesse Barkhorn, 18, who was in the car that night, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that they attended a party earlier and were dropping off one of them at a friend’s house. He said they mistakenly knocked on the door at the house next to their friend’s house. He said they heard a man screaming from inside and they ran back to the car.

They turned around in the cul-de-sac where the home is located and saw the man standing with his weapon pointed at them, Barkhorn said.

“At this point we’re freaking out, ‘It’s a gun. It’s a gun,'” Barkhorn said. “I was like ‘Dude, get out of here.'”

He said the driver accelerated and the man then fired at them. One of the bullets struck the car’s front tire and the driver stopped the car a short distance away.

According to officials, who didn’t release the names of those involved, two 18-year-olds and a 19-year-old went to the wrong house, knocked on the door and fled after a verbal exchange. They got in their car and drove away and the trooper fired three shots with his personal weapon when the car did not stop…

Barkhorn told the AP that after they stopped the car, one of the men fled. He was found by officers hours later.

Barkhorn said all three were taken to the Sparta police department then to state police barracks in Netcong. He said he remained in custody for more than nine hours before being released without being charged.

“It was traumatic. I really have never been in a situation like that,” Barkhorn said. “You don’t really appreciate things until you have a gun pointed at your head. It was really scary.”

Nine hours in state police custody because their cop bubba did the shooting – so it had to be the kids’ fault, right? How long does it take to establish that the cop firing at these kids was the one breaking the law?

Yes, you can be suspicious about someone turning up at your door at 2 in the morning. Maybe even you keep your piece handy if you’re a gun owner. But, if the dudes are obviously hurrying to depart, you needn’t do more than try to get their license number and call it in. You don’t start shooting up the neighborhood.

I’ve been in the same situation – with a young guy showing up at the door who ran out of gas in front of our home. Yes, I had a handgun in my pocket. No need to wave it about or even mention it. And, yes, we hunted up the gas can for our lawnmower and got enough into his car to get him close enough back to civilization to find an all-night gas station and get himself home.

Cripes! Being civilized is really easier than being paranoid.

Researchers find no benefit from chemotherapy at end of life

Chemotherapy near death failed to improve quality of life (QOL) for patients with cancer, even those who otherwise were in good health, a review of end-of-life care showed.

Quality of life near death (QOD) deteriorated in patients who had good performance status when they started chemotherapy. Palliative chemotherapy had no impact on QOL among sicker patients, Holly Prigerson, PhD,…and colleagues reported online in JAMA Oncology.

…”Thus, chemotherapy appears to contribute directly to worse QOD, presumably through adverse and toxic effects that impair the QOL of those who are initially feelling well.”

Organizations that have clinical guidelines addressing end-of-life chemotherapy, such as the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), might need to rethink their recommendations, Prigerson and colleagues added.

Even an accompanying editorial expressing some disagreement…acknowledged that “if an oncologist suspects the death of a patient in the next 6 months, the default should be no active treatment.”…

Three years ago, ASCO’s expert panel for the “Choosing Wisely” campaign identified use of chemotherapy in patients for whom no proven benefit existed as one of the most widespread, wasteful, and unnecessary practices in oncology. ASCO recommends against the use of chemotherapy for patients who have not benefited from prior therapy…

Prigerson and colleagues examined the association among ECOG performance status, chemotherapy, and QOL in the last week of life…They hypothesized that patients with good performance status would have worse QOL if they received additional chemotherapy, and that patients with poor performance status would not have an improvement in quality of life with chemotherapy…

Beyond the data, the study suggests that “equating treatment with hope is inappropriate,” Blanke and Fromme said.

“Even when oncologists communicate clearly about prognosis and are honest about the limitations of treatment, many patients feel immense pressure to continue treatment,” they said. “Patients with end-stage cancer are encouraged by friends and family to keep fighting, but the battle analogy itself can portray the dying patient as a loser and should be discouraged. Costs aside, we fell the last 6 months of life are not best spent in an oncology traetment unit or at home suffering the toxic effects of largely ineffectual therapies for the majority of patients.”

Time to turn away from the greed-centric portion of the medical-industrial complex, folks. Pay attention to the folks who say, as did these researchers, “This is a clarion call…to take the lead in curtailing the use of ineffective therapy and ensuring a focus on palliative care and relief of symptoms throughout the course of illness.

Overdue.

Commercial directors making today’s coolest adverts

The whole commercial makes no mention of brand or models excepting the tiny-print identifiers appearing for a second or two. If you’re in the market for something like this – you already know what you’re looking at!

This is from the Portland, Oregon, crew at Wieden+Kennedy

Wayne McClammy, Hungry Man

McClammy credits meeting Emilio Estevez with kick-starting his career (“If Emilio can direct, I can direct,” he thought), and soon he was making viral comedy hits, many for Jimmy Kimmel. (His short “I’m Fucking Matt Damon,” with Sarah Silverman, notably won an Emmy.) His star-studded reel showcases this broader gift for comedy. Case in point: a growing list of credits for Geico and The Martin Agency that includes the instant goofy-camel classic “Hump Day.”

“Hump Day” alone makes him a star in my skies.

Click here for nine more insane in the membrane-directors leading the world of commercial advertising.

FDA proposes labels listing added sugars — finally

The Food and Drug Administration has proposed that nutrition labels on packaged foods cite the amount of added sugars they contain as a percentage of the recommended daily calorie intake.

The proposal brought immediate criticism from manufacturers of foods and beverages, which claimed blah, blah, blah.

Added sugars are those not found in foods before they are produced and packaged. Federal officials recommend that Americans limit added sugars to just 10 percent of their daily calories.

Last year, for the first time, the F.D.A. proposed that companies list added sugars on nutrition labels, but consumers would have had to do the math themselves to determine the percentage of calories. Under the new proposal, nutritional labels would lay out that figure.

Agency officials determined that 50 grams of added sugars should be the upper dietary limit, or daily value, for adults and children aged 4 and older.

That means “one 16-ounce soda, and that’s it for added sugars for the day,” said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University…

The industry is especially upset over their most recent survey which indicated that consumers would be less likely to buy a product if its nutrition panel listed added sugars.

NSS.

Call for investigation of NRA fraud, political misuse of donations

sensible-gun-laws

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington requested the Internal Revenue Service open an examination into the finances of the National Rifle Association after the group failed to disclose more than $33.5 million it spent on political activity over six years. CREW also called on the Federal Election Commission to audit the NRA’s campaign arm, the NRA Political Victory Fund (NRA-PVF), and its lobbying arm, the NRA Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA), after the group apparently violated federal election law by soliciting donations for the NRA-ILA that went instead to the NRA-PVF.

Between 2008 and 2013, the NRA-ILA, an internal division of the NRA, reported to the FEC and in annual financial statements that it spent more than $33.5 million on political activity. However, for each of those years, the NRA stated on its Form 990 tax return that it did not engage in any political activity at all, and the group did not once file a Schedule C disclosing its political expenditures. This failure to disclose political activity appears to violate federal law and, if it was intentional, could violate several criminal statutes. The NRA blamed the failure to disclose its political activity on a “clerical error” but did not express any intention to amend its Form 990 returns or file Schedule Cs…

The NRA-ILA reported to the FEC nearly $11 million in independent expenditures and member communications expressly advocating election or defeat of candidates for federal office between 2008 and 2013, and disclosed on annual financial statements prepared by an independent auditor spending more than $22.5 million on fundraising and administrative expenses for its political action committee, NRA-PVF, during the same period. All of these expenditures were for political activities that needed to be reported on the organization’s tax filings but were not.

CREW also called on the FEC to audit the NRA-PVF and NRA-ILA because it appears these groups may have solicited donations in violation of federal election law by failing to disclose to donors that their money would be used for political purposes. The NRA also appears to have violated federal election law by soliciting donations from the general public, which it is prohibited from doing as a member organization, and by failing to disclose the employer and/or occupation of its contributors.

It’s always heartwarming to witness rightwing nutball organizations like the NRA ignoring essential transparency requirements while they blather about conspiracies against their pet demento issues. Perish the thought they actually live up to anything approaching ethical standards -0 like any normal business entity.

They set the standard for corruption even higher than Congressional Republicans.

Addicted to soda? You don’t need to be obese to acquire diabetes

Regular consumption of sugary drinks was linked to onset of type 2 diabetes independent of obesity, and fruit juices and no-calorie artificially sweetened drinks didn’t appear to be any healthier, in a new review.

Looking at 17 cohorts and more than 38,000 cases, researchers found that higher consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages was associated with an 18% increase in incidence of type 2 diabetes…per one serving a day. And when they adjusted for obesity, there was still a 13% increase…over those who drank no sugary drinks, found the researchers, who were led by Fumiaki Imamura, PhD, at the University of Cambridge in the UK…

There is indeed a wealth of existing evidence that soft drinks can significantly increase risk of diabetes. But Imamura and colleagues wrote that it wasn’t clear if the risk is present independent of obesity status, and in an email to MedPage Today he wrote that this is what spurred him to do the study.

“We identified a lack of clear evidence to tell if soft drinks elevate the risk of diabetes, regardless of obesity status,” he wrote. “This lack of evidence attracted us, and we thought the evidence would help further the ongoing policy debate.”

The relative risk of diabetes for artificially sweetened beverage consumption was 1.25…in ten studies. Independent of obesity, the number dropped to 1.08…

And for fruit juice, the risk ratio was 1.05…in 13 studies after adjustment and 1.07…independent of obesity.

Imamura said that it’s natural for people to look for alternatives to sugar sweetened beverages. “Diet drink and fruit juice are possible options, though there was no strong summary evidence for each,” he wrote. “We wanted to address the question of the association of consuming each with diabetes before and after accounting for obesity status.” There was some evidence for publication bias in the fruit juice studies.

Nestle added that there wasn’t enough information here to draw definitive conclusions about fruit juice, and that she’d want to see more information about the amounts consumed. “It doesn’t make sense that small amounts of fruit juice would do much of anything (other than providing vitamins),” she wrote. “It’s the large amounts you have to worry about.”…

None of the studies were industry sponsored. “We did not deliberately exclude industry-funded research,” wrote Imamura, but all of the studies that met the criteria were not sponsored by industry. “We wished to see the quality of evidence from government-funded studies and from industry-funded studies, but we could not,” he wrote…

Imamura and his team concluded that soft drinks may contribute to nearly 2 million diabetes cases in the U.S. and the U.K. over 10 years. “But this estimate is under assumption that everyone had the same weight,” he wrote in the email. “If we consider that soft drink consumption contributes to weight gain, the estimate should be higher.”

Keep those fasting glucose levels down, folks. Taste buds aside – and how they’re conditioned by your family and peers – we don’t need a whole boatload of sugar for any reason whatsoever.