Death Books

Sweet Jesus.  We've gone from death panels to death books?  Crikey.

BTW, I just did a Nexis search, and as near as I can tell the pamphlet in question wasn't mentioned a single time between 2006 and last month.  In other words, until it became a political football this week, not one single person thought this issue was important to enough to mention even in passing in any news outlet whatsoever.  The reason, of course, is that before now no one actually thought this was outrageous.  Because it isn't.

MattY points us to a Gillian Tett column in the Financial Times, which ends with this:

If regulators and politicians are to have any hope of building a more effective financial system in future, it is crucial that they start thinking more about power structures, vested interests and social silence. That might sound like an irritatingly abstract or pious plea. However, it has some very practical implications about how policy is formulated. I will seek to flesh out some of those in next week’s column....

This is a surprisingly underdiscussed point, but it's something that's critical to how we think about financial regulation.  If we want regulation to work, the regulatory structures need to be set up so that their institutional power bases push them in the direction we want them pushed.  That's why, for example, I don't like the idea of the Fed gaining more power over consumer regulation: it's institutionally and culturally oriented toward the financial community and macroeconomic management.  Consumer regulation will never be taken seriously there no matter how many laws we write.

I'm not sure if this means that an entirely separate agency needs to be set up or not, but whatever we do has to take account of how power actually works.  Not only does consumer financial regulation need to be in the hands of someone who considers it their prime responsibility, but it needs to have committee support in Congress and some kind of natural constituency with serious political juice and a financial interest in making sure consumer regulation works.  Otherwise it will sink into bureaucratic oblivion.  Suggestions welcome.

Forty-one years after leading his Army unit in the massacre of between 300 to 500 unarmed old men, women, children and babies in the Vietnamese village of My Lai, the former Lieutenant William Calley spoke publicly for the first time about the killings.

"There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened that day in My Lai," he said. "I feel remorse for the Vietnamese who were killed, for their families, for the American soldiers involved and their families. I am very sorry."

Several years ago, pursuing the project I discussed here recently, I managed to reach Calley on the phone. Brusque, but not rude, he made it clear that there would be no interview. He left open the possibility that that could change. If it did, he’d call.

I didn’t expect he’d ever talk to me or any other journalist, so, I was surprised Friday when I read that he had done an interview of sorts – answering questions at his local Kiwanis club and from the lone reporter invited, last Wednesday.

What are we to make of Calley’s contrition?

Happy Blogoversary!

Today is my seventh blogoversary.  Hooray!  We celebrated by having a system crash this morning, which is kind of appropriate in a way.  After seven years, I have yet to work on a truly reliable blogging platform.

But an even more appropriate way to celebrate is by putting up some bonus catblogging.  So here it is: a picture of Inkblot snapped three minutes ago.  If I had a cat-cam set up in my living room, this is what you'd see in real time.  In fact, it's what you'd see most of the time in real time.  And if I had a people-cam set up in my study, you'd see me staring at a glowing screen and typing some words into a box.  Which is also what you'd see most of the time.  In other words, if you substitute "blogging" for "snoozing," I'm an awful lot like a housecat.  Funny how that works.

Crash and Burn

From the Washington Post today:

"Anything with Z seems like there's some slight irreverence about it. So it was as simple as putting Z in front of politics!" explains Republican media consultant John Brabender....With a four-program lineup, Zolitics bills itself as a bipartisan potpourri of "original scripted content, current events with a twist, and reality based shows unlike you have ever seen before."

....It's the place to see, for example, Rick Santorum squire Donna Brazile to a NASCAR race....The NASCAR sojourn is what Santorum has expressed interest in doing for the debut episode of "My America," a show that will pair ideologically divergent bedfellows and allow each to show the other "their America." The show, Zolitics crowed in a press release this week, "just may also become America's favorite buddy story."

....Santorum calls himself "a great fan of Donna's" and looks forward to milling around with the "red-blooded Americans out there" while watching cars go Zoom.

This sounds like possibly the worst idea in the history of western civilization.

Remember Emilio Gutiérrez Soto? He is the Mexican journalist Charles Bowden profiled in "We Bring Fear," the feature story in our July/August drug war issue. The short version is that Emilio was forced to flee the Mexican Army and seek asylum in the U.S., where he was separated from his son and detained by the ICE for 7 months. He literally escaped from the Army by sneaking out the back of a grocery store and hiding out on a friend's farm for 2 days before booking it to the border.

Needless to say, Emilio was unable to bring very much with him and lost nearly all of his possessions. After he was released from the El Paso Processing Center he joined his son in Las Cruces at the home of some kind friends. While he waits for his much-delayed asylum trial he has been unable to sell his home in northern Chihuahua, where the housing market has totally collapsed. To make matters worse he has still not been granted a work permit to legally make money here. This is a talented journalist, a regional bureau chief of the biggest newspaper in Juarez, and he can't even work a menial job to pay for basic necessities like school supplies for his son. He is caught in a limbo between the violence of Mexico and the bureaucratic inhumanity of the U.S.

Molly Molloy, who played a huge part in reporting and translating "We Bring Fear," and other good folks in the Las Cruces community are throwing a fundraising benefit for Emilio tonight. Please think about joining their efforts and sending a check to help alleviate the suffering while Emilio waits for his trial. If you believe in supporting journalism then there is no better way than supporting a journalist in his time of need.

SUGGESTED DONATION: $25

If you cannot attend, but would like to make a donation, please send in care of:
Molly Molloy
New Mexico State University Library
Box 30006 Dept 3475, NMSU
Las Cruces, NM 88003

Debating Fiji Water

To discuss Mother Jones' recent expose of Fiji Water, we gathered the story's muckraking writer, a bottled water industry rep, and an eco-blogger, then turned them loose to debate with readers.

What transpired was a lively discussion about military juntas, the eco-impact of bottled water, censorship, and the bottled water company in the middle of the storm.

Here are a couple exchanges that stood out:

You can't really see it through the shadows, but Domino is viciously attacking some errant blanket trolls on the left.  You can't perceive them, of course, limited as you are to a measly three spacial dimensions, but they were there just moments before this picture was taken.  Honest.  Inkblot, meanwhile, is enjoying a nice summer day in the garden.  And by "enjoying," of course, I mean "napping."

Half-Pint

There's something seriously wrong with America's dairy industry. A thumbnail sketch: California dairy producers committing suicide like rural subsistence farmers in Andrah Pradesh; big-eyed dairy cows packed off to the slaughter house in record numbers; New Yorkers dolling out $6 a gallon, even as raw-milk prices plummet to lows not seen since Jimmy Carter's administration. And in the midst of it all, dairy giant Dean Foods, the country's largest processor of raw milk, is having the best year ever.

What gives? Despite the hold-steady price-per-gallon at Ralph's, wholesale milk prices have plummeted to half of what they were a year ago, and just more than 20 percent what they were at the beginning of 2008. The situation is almost as egregious for consumers as it is for dairy farmers, who continue to abandon the industry or face pumping at a loss.

In New York City—where they have a milk price-gouging hotline!—the price of a gallon ranges from $2.25 to $6 in the same borough, despite traditionally strict, and strictly enforced, retail maximums. Late last year, the agency responsible for capping the price just ...stopped. Meanwhile, California, the country's top dairy-producing state, has completely abandoned its retail price floors for milk.

None of this has helped stanch the flow of dirt cheap raw milk into an already glutted consumer market. Farmers blame the nation's two dairy processing giants, milk co-op Dairy Farmers of America and Dean Foods, which together manage virtually all of the 22.2 billion gallons of milk produced annually in the United States. Dean owns 50 major brands, and farmers who hope to sell under them are obligated to work through the DFA. And, surprise surprise, as milk plunged in value, Dean's profits have soared.

Right now, it's arguable that government ground rules give pharmaceutical companies too little incentive to innovate.  If FDA regs forced them to demonstrate more than just superiority to a sugar pill, drug company incentives might be aligned a little more strongly toward finding genuinely effective new therapies instead of yet another statin or ED pill or a slightly different heartburn formulation.

Or maybe not.  It's an argument worth having.  But the current system is by no means the free market juggernaut conservatives like to pretend it is.  Changing the ground rules might very well increase innovation, not stifle it.