Friday, March 30, 2007

The Genocide Olympics

Mia Farrow decries corporate sponsorship as well as artistic involvement (e.g. Steven Spielberg) in the 2008 Olympics to be held in Bejing...
"One World, One Dream" is China's slogan for its 2008 Olympics. But there is one nightmare that China shouldn't be allowed to sweep under the rug. That nightmare is Darfur, where more than 400,000 people have been killed and more than two-and-a-half million driven from flaming villages by the Chinese-backed government of Sudan.

That so many corporate sponsors want the world to look away from that atrocity during the games is bad enough. But equally disappointing is the decision of artists like director Steven Spielberg -- who quietly visited China this month as he prepares to help stage the Olympic ceremonies -- to sanitize Beijing's image. Is Mr. Spielberg, who in 1994 founded the Shoah Foundation to record the testimony of survivors of the holocaust, aware that China is bankrolling Darfur's genocide?

China is pouring billions of dollars into Sudan. Beijing purchases an overwhelming majority of Sudan's annual oil exports and state-owned China National Petroleum Corp. -- an official partner of the upcoming Olympic Games -- owns the largest shares in each of Sudan's two major oil consortia. The Sudanese government uses as much as 80% of proceeds from those sales to fund its brutal Janjaweed proxy militia and purchase their instruments of destruction: bombers, assault helicopters, armored vehicles and small arms, most of them of Chinese manufacture. Airstrips constructed and operated by the Chinese have been used to launch bombing campaigns on villages. And China has used its veto power on the U.N. Security Council to repeatedly obstruct efforts by the U.S. and the U.K. to introduce peacekeepers to curtail the slaughter.

Confessions of a Car Salesman

A fascinating expose on the wild, wacky, and tawdry world inside a car dealership by an undercover sleuth. It is worth reading this long article in its entirety...
Confessions of a Car Salesman

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Sustaining the unsustainable

Global investors are worried about many things. Why is America's current-account deficit not one of them?

A few years ago most economists argued that the spectacle of poor countries bankrolling America's deficits was the perverse and unsustainable consequence of American profligacy. Economic theory suggested that capital should flow from rich countries to poor ones, and that America could not increase its foreign borrowing for ever. Empirical studies showed that deficits of more than 5% of GDP caused trouble.

Since then, economists have vied with each other to overturn this orthodoxy. Indeed, rejecting the conventional wisdom is now itself entirely conventional, as Jeffrey Frankel, an economist at Harvard University, has pointed out

They point out that emerging economies have been frantically accumulating real assets, such as assembly lines and office towers, but their generation of financial assets has not kept pace. Thanks to weak property rights, fear of expropriation and poor bankruptcy procedures, many newly rich countries are unable to create enough trustworthy claims on their future incomes. Lacking vehicles for saving at home, the thrifty buy assets abroad instead. In China, Mr Caballero argues, this is done indirectly through the state, which buys foreign securities, such as Treasuries, then issues bonds of its own, which are held by Chinese banks, companies and households.


Feel the passion....

Young Sikh Men Cut Hair, Annoying Elders

Sikh spiritual leaders express dismay at the rapidity with which a new generation of young men are trimming their hair and abandoning the turban, the most conspicuous emblem of the Sikh faith. While there are no hard data, Jaswinder Singh, a lawyer and leader of a “turban pride” movement, estimates that half of India’s Sikh men now forgo the turban, compared with just 10 percent a couple of decades ago.
Since 1699, about two centuries after the founding of the religion, Sikh leaders have prohibited their members from cutting their hair, saying long hair is a symbol of Sikh pride. The turban was conceived to manage the long hair and intended to make Sikhs easily identifiable in a crowd.
In addition, since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Sikhs traveling abroad have complained of being mistaken for turban-wearing Taliban and harassed by airport security guards.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

World’s Cruelty and Pain, Seen in an Unblinking Lens

Glad to see recognition of perhaps the world's best social documentary photographer...If I had chosen another career, doing something similar to Mr. Nachtwey would have been my dream...

It matters not a little that Mr. Nachtwey is such an artful composer of images, that his work, although almost too painful to look at, is so graphic and eloquent. He snaps a picture just at the moment that the arms of rushing, dodging medics trading scalpels and scissors form a perfect zigzag of thrusting lines ending with a nurse pressing a fist into a patient’s head wound — the punctum of the image, to borrow Roland Barthes’s term. The nurse’s gesture has a strangeness that carries something of the quality of grace.
Beauty is a vexed matter in scenes of suffering, cruelty and death. The difference between exploitation and public service comes down to whether the subject of the image aids the ego of the photographer more than the other way around. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Along with bravery and perseverance, Mr. Nachtwey’s pictorial virtue makes him a model war photographer. He doesn’t mix up his priorities. His goal is to bear witness, because somebody must, and his pictures, devised to infuriate and move people to action, are finally about us, and our concern or lack of it, at least as much they are about him and his obvious talents.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Taking our leaders at face value

The qualities that voters think they can discern in a candidate's face have a surprisingly strong influence on how they vote. In fact, if you take the new research at face value, how much voters like (or dislike) a candidate's face is the only thing that will decide who wins or loses.

What matters to voters isn't so much whether a candidate is attractive or not. Instead, voters look for facial cues for personality traits like aggressiveness, intelligence, honesty, friendliness, and competence. The surprising thing isn't that people look for these cues – it's that judgments about a candidate's face all by themselves seem to predict whether he or she will win or lose the election.

The Curse of Oil

The Niger Delta is made up of nine states, 185 local government areas, and a population of 27 million. It has 40 ethnic groups speaking 250 dialects spread across 5,000 to 6,000 communities and covers an area of 27,000 square miles. This makes for one the highest population densities in the world, with annual population growth estimated at 3 percent. About 1,500 of those communities play host to oil company operations of one kind or another. Thousands of miles of pipelines crisscross the mangrove creeks of the Delta, broken up by occasional gas flares that send roaring orange flames into the already hot, humid air. Modern, air-conditioned facilities sit cheek-by-jowl with primitive fishing villages made of mud and straw, surrounded with razor wire and armed guards trained to be on the lookout for local troublemakers. It is, and always has been, a recipe for disaster.

The problem, in a nutshell, is that for fifty years, foreign oil companies have conducted some of the world’s most sophisticated exploration and production operations, using millions of dollars’ worth of imported ultramodern equipment, against a backdrop of Stone Age squalor. They have extracted hundreds of millions of barrels of oil, which have sold on the international market for hundreds of billions of dollars, but the people of the Niger Delta have seen virtually none of the benefits. While successive military regimes have used oil proceeds to buy mansions in Mayfair or build castles in the sand in the faraway capital of Abuja, many in the Delta live as their ancestors would have done hundreds, even thousands of years ago—in hand-built huts of mud and straw. And though the Delta produces 100 percent of the nation’s oil and gas, its people survive with no electricity or clean running water. Seeing a doctor can mean traveling for hours by boat through the creek

Diamonds Move From Blood to Sweat and Tears

It was the first stone he had found in days, and he expected to get little more than a dollar for it. It hardly seemed worth it, he said — after days spent up to his haunches in mud, digging, washing, searching the gravel for diamonds.

But farming had brought no money for clothes or schoolbooks for his two wives and five children. He could find no work as a mason.

“I don’t have choice,” Mr. Kamanda said, standing calf-deep in brown muddy water here at the Bondobush mine, where he works every day. “This is my only hope, really.”

Diamond mining in Sierra Leone is no longer the bloody affair made infamous by the nation’s decade-long civil war, in which diamonds played a starring role.

The conflict — begun by rebels who claimed to be ridding the mines of foreign control — killed 50,000 people, forced millions to flee their homes, destroyed the country’s economy and shocked the world with its images of amputated limbs and drug-addled boy soldiers.

You, Too, Can Be a Banker to the Poor

For those readers who ask me what they can do to help fight poverty, one option is to sit down at your computer and become a microfinancier. That’s what I did recently. From my laptop in New York, I lent $25 each to the owner of a TV repair shop in Afghanistan, a baker in Afghanistan, and a single mother running a clothing shop in the Dominican Republic. I did this through, a Web site that provides information about entrepreneurs in poor countries — their photos, loan proposals and credit history — and allows people to make direct loans to them. So on my arrival here in Afghanistan, I visited my new business partners to see how they were doing.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Official Alerted F.B.I. to Rules Abuse 2 Years Ago, Lawyer Says

As mentioned earlier, Bassem is one of the most honorable individuals I have ever known...

WASHINGTON, March 18 — Almost two years before the Federal Bureau of Investigation publicly admitted this month that it had ignored its own rules when demanding telephone and financial records about private citizens, a top official in that program warned the bureau about widespread lapses, his lawyer said on Sunday.

The official, Bassem Youssef, who is in charge of the bureau’s Communications Analysis Unit, said he discovered frequent legal lapses and raised concerns with superiors soon after he was assigned to the unit in early 2005.

One of the F.B.I.’s few fluent Arabic speakers, Mr. Youssef won the Director of Central Intelligence Award in 1995 for his work infiltrating the Islamic group led by Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who is now serving a life sentence in prison on charges tied to the first bombing of the World Trade Center, in 1993. From 1996 to 2000, Mr. Youssef was the Justice’s Department’s legal attaché to Saudi Arabia, where he won praise for his work with Saudi officials on investigations of the bombing of the Khobar Towers in 1996.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

If Crack Dealers Took Lessons From Walgreens, They Really Would Be Rich

Several weeks ago, I was talking to a physician in Houston, the sort of older gentleman family doctor you don’t see much of anymore. His name is Cyril Wolf. He’s originally from South Africa, but other than that, he struck me as the quintessential American general practitioner of decades past.

’d asked him a variety of questions — what’s changed in recent years in his practice, how managed care has affected him, etc. — when suddenly his eyes fired up, his jaw set tight, and his voice took on a tone of great exasperation. He began to describe a simple but huge problem in his practice: a lot of generic medications are still too expensive for his patients to afford. Many of his patients, he explained, must pay for their drugs out-of-pocket, and yet even the generic drugs at pharmacy chains like Walgreens, Eckerd, and CVS could cost them dearly.

Here are the prices he found at Houston stores for 90 tablets of generic Prozac:

Walgreens: $117

Eckerd: $115

CVS: $115

Sam’s Club: $15

Costco: $12

Those aren’t typos. Walgreens charges $117 for a bottle of the same pills for which Costco charges $12.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Physicians for Clinical Responsibility

Physicians for Clinical Responsibility was formed by a group of retinal surgeons to address the ethical and financial issues related to pharmaceutical industry influence upon medical care choices. Most recently, we have been alarmed by the rapidly escalating cost of drugs, particularly when extremely costly drugs seem to offer no clear advantage over much less expensive medications. Growing health care costs are not financially sustainable, and we are concerned that rising drug costs in particular will seriously impair the ability of our health care system to address essential health care needs of our citizens.

The pharmaceutical industry plays an important role in drug development, but we are concerned about its growing control over academic research, drug regulation and legislation, and medical education, including medical conferences and medical publications. Like all corporations, pharmaceutical companies are dedicated to making money. This is problematic only when there is insufficient counter-balance from institutions designed to protect the public good.

This website has been designed to allow professionals to express views that are not necessarily favorable to the pharmaceutical industry and that have generally received little hearing in drug-company sponsored publications. The essay Avastin vs. Lucentis: Why It Matters exemplifies our core concerns. We welcome comments and submissions via the links above.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Grammy-Nominated Artist Makes Music for Yoga

The sonorous chanting of Indian music has always resonated with me, from my early days of going to a Sikh gurdurara...
Check out the link for some nice sonic samples of such by a Western artist..

Jai Uttal's vast musical interests are reflected in numerous world fusion recordings. For more than 30 years he has traveled around the world performing concerts and leading Kirtan, or Indian chanting.

Stereo Eclipse

A Lunar Eclipse of the sun...from space. Click on the link for a pic and a movie...

"The images have an alien quality," notes Guhathakurta. "It's not just the strange colors of the sun. Look at the size of the Moon; it's very odd." When we observe a lunar transit from Earth, the Moon appears to be the same size as the sun—a coincidence that produces intoxicatingly beautiful solar eclipses. The silhouette STEREO-B saw, on the other hand, was only a fraction of the sun's diameter. "It's like being in the wrong solar system."

The Moon seems small because of STEREO-B's location. The spacecraft circles the sun in an Earth-like orbit, but it lags behind Earth by one million miles. This means STEREO-B is 4.4 times further from the Moon than we are, and so the Moon looks 4.4 times smaller.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Win a Trip, and See a Different World

Cast your eyes above and meet Hidaya Abatemam, whom I met last month in a remote area of southern Ethiopia. She is 6 years old and weighs 17 pounds.

Hidaya was starved nearly to death and may well have suffered permanent mental impairment, helping to trap her — and her own children, if she lives that long — in another generation of poverty.

Yet maybe the more interesting question is not why Hidaya is starving but why the world continues to allow 30,000 children like her to die each day of poverty.

Ultimately what is killing girls like her isn’t precisely malnutrition or malaria, but indifference. And that, in turn, arises from our insularity, our inexperience in traveling and living in poor countries, so that we have difficulty empathizing with people like Hidaya.

I often hear comments from readers like: “It’s tragic over there, but we’ve got our own problems that we have to solve first.” Nobody who has held the hand of a starving African child could be that dismissive.

That lack of firsthand experience abroad also helps explain why we are so awful at foreign policy: we just don’t “get” how our actions will be perceived abroad, so time and again — in Vietnam, China, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Latin America — we end up clumsily empowering our enemies.


Let’s face it: We’re provincial.

That’s one reason that I always exhort college students to take a “gap year” and roam the world, or at least to take a summer or semester abroad — and spend it not in Paris or London, but traveling through Chinese or African villages. Universities should give course credit for such experiences — and offer extra credit for students who catch intestinal worms.

So I’m now putting my company’s money where my mouth is. On Tuesday, in partnership with, The New York Times and I will announce a second annual “win a trip” contest to choose a university student to travel with me on a reporting trip to Africa. And this year, in addition to a student, I’ll choose a schoolteacher — from a middle school or high school — to accompany me as well. We'll probably travel together to Rwanda, Burundi and Congo.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Global Health, China's Pride On Line in Malaria's Clash

Kunming Pharmaceutical Corp. of China makes a potent drug to fight malaria, a disease that kills more than a million people a year. Business is brisk. Yet the World Health Organization calls the sale of the drug a major threat to global health. It is demanding that Kunming and makers of similar pills desist.

It's a dispute that touches on money, national pride and the dilemmas of treating infectious diseases. The WHO says resistance is emerging to the drug, based on the natural substance artemisinin, and in most cases it should only be used in combination with other antimalarial drugs. The leading combination drug is made by Novartis AG of Switzerland.

Kunming and other Chinese drug makers say the WHO is overestimating the risk of resistance -- and underestimating the urgent need for treatments. "This medicine is in huge demand, especially from African countries," says Yu Zelin, Kunming's general director of international trade. The Chinese companies also resent being boxed out of part of a market for a drug Chinese scientists invented.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Wireless Technology Speeds Health Services in Rwanda

Enter Voxiva, a United States company that has built a system that lets health workers send reports by cellphone directly from the field. First deployed five years ago to track disease outbreaks in the Amazon basin, Voxiva’s system is also being used in Indonesia for avian flu reporting and in India in testing of a new drug for leishmaniasis, a disease spread by sand flies.

In Rwanda, the system started being used to track H.I.V./AIDS patients two years ago and now connects 75 percent of the country’s 340 clinics, covering a total of 32,000 patients.

“By identifying individual patients in a central database, we can now follow up on individual patients, even when they change clinics,” Dr. Nyaruhirira said. “The wonderful thing with Rwanda is that mobile phones are everywhere.”

Using mobile phones makes sense across the developing world, said Howard Zucker, assistant director general of health technology and pharmaceuticals at the World Health Organization.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Bargaining Down the Price of that CT Scan

Another letter from the healthcare dialogue referenced below...

Articles like this one miss the point entirely. The amount that doctors and hospitals charge for thier services would appear to make no sense because of its actual irrelevance in the marketplace. In today’s managed care era, doctors and hospitals are told how much they will be reimbursed for their services, an amount which has failed to account for inflation in remaining the same or even declining for years. A physician can charge $500 or $5,000 for a CT scan but 95% of the patients, covered by managed care and medicare, will be watching their third-party payer pay $200 if that. Physicians are not responsible for increased health care costs because frankly they have absolutely no input into what they are compensated for their services - this is done by managed care. The negotiation goes “here’s what we’ll pay the doctor, take it or leave it. But all the patients have already signed up with us.” These “negotiated” fees are often nowhere near the true market value of services (and have absolutely nothing to do with what the charge is for those services) which we’ll never know because medicine is forced to NOT be a part of the capitalist, supply-and-demand economy like everything else is.
When the entire country signs up with managed care and medicare, they ARE telling those third-party providers to “bargain” or negotiate for them, a negotiation that is entirely one-sided. How is it possible that United Health Care last year posted profits of $1.2 billion in the fourth quarter alone and yet six weeks later announced they were CUTTING fees to physicians and continues to raise the premiums they charge? Our country needs to understand that the vast majority of their health care dollars are going into the hands of large corporations and not getting anywhere near actual health care costs. Managed care allegedly did a great job of eliminating all the inefficiencies in the system, but now have become the biggest inefficiency themselves. As a result, instead of people’s health care dollars being put into inproving the quality of care and the way in which care is delivered, updating technologies and improving services, providers are forced to operate on a shoestring budget that prohibits the true possibilities from actually happening.
— Posted by Pete

Project Curbs Malaria in Ugandan Group

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 28 — A simple, inexpensive and surprisingly powerful combination of treatments all but wiped out malaria in a group of H.I.V.-positive children in a study in Uganda, scientists are reporting.

The combination — taking one inexpensive antibiotic pill each day and sleeping under an insecticide-treated mosquito net — reduced the incidence of malaria by 97 percent compared with a control group

Low-Cost Antimalaria Pill Available

This is truly an exciting watershed event in which a big pharma company (from France) will offer an effective anti-malarial at cost for the third world...

Neither version, at either price, will bring Sanofi much profit, “but in terms of symbolism, it means a lot,” Dr. Sebbag said.

A new, cheap, easy-to-take pill to treat malaria is being introduced today, the first product of an innovative partnership between an international drug company and a medical charity.

The medicine, called ASAQ, is a pill combining artemisinin, invented in China using sweet wormwood and hailed as a miracle malaria drug, with amodiaquine, an older drug that still works in many malarial areas.

A treatment will cost less than $1 for adults and less than 50 cents for children. Adults with malaria will take only two pills a day for three days, and the pill will come in three smaller once-a-day sizes for infants, toddlers and youngsters.

In Africa, malaria kills 3,000 babies and children each day, but combination drugs like this are not available for children under 11 pounds, and they require taking a larger number of pills each day, as many as 24 for some adult versions.


Sanofi-Aventis, the world’s fourth-largest drug company, based in Paris, will sell the pill at cost to international health agencies like the W.H.O., Unicef and the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

The rollout of the drug is the result of a two-year partnership between Sanofi and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, a campaign started by the medical charity Doctors Without Borders to find new drugs for tropical diseases.

Doctors Without Borders, better known by its French name, Médecins Sans Frontières, has long been one of the harshest critics of the pharmaceutical industry, charging that it spent billions on drugs like Viagra, Ambien and Prozac for rich countries and almost nothing on diseases killing millions of poor people.

But, recognizing that new drugs would have to come from the industry’s major players, Doctors Without Borders founded the initiative in 2003 and began seeking partnerships. This is the first to come to fruition.

“This was not a love wedding, it was a reasonable wedding,” said Dr. Robert Sebbag, Sanofi’s vice president for access to medicines. “But reasonableness is often more important for a long marriage. They’ve seen we are not nasty people working against poor countries and seeking only profits."

In Mighty Arab Hub, the Poor Are Left to Their Fate

A "Day in the Life" of a denizen of Cairo...The utter lack of faith in government to help much less care about the average citizen, parallels what I have seen in travels throughout much of Africa...It is an unfortunate reality that many people in the world live under government indifference at best and oppression at worst...

“Everything is from God,” said Mr. Mezar, the fisherman, who was speaking practically, not theologically. “There is no such thing as government. The government is one thing, and we are something else. What am I going to get from the government?”
One brick in the foundation of single-party rule has been public resignation. There is no widespread expectation that the authorities will give the common man a voice, and so there is rarely any outrage when they do not. The fisherman, the shepherd and Mr. Fathy all said that the most they could hope for from the government was that it stay out of their lives.

“We hope God keeps the municipality away from us,” Mr. Sayed said as he sat in a wooden chair, surveying his fetid flock of goats and sheep with headlights streaming by.

Such a feeling of separation is one reason that the leadership has been able to clamp down on opposition political activities without incurring widespread public wrath, political analysts say.
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