Archive for the 'General' Category
The latest from Canada shows another non-religious act of killing. Of course the same has been going on in England, but you know that it’s not Terrorism — most probably standard neighborhood beheadings of unknown origin. And of course what went on in Iraq lo those many years ago was similar, whether the beheading or baking of children. And we must note also the workplace violence nature of Hasan’s crimes; hey, it was validated by the Guardian. That’s what we’ve got from the media and establishment of today. (Indeed!)
Paradigms that exist apart from reality break, often badly. Discontinuities emerging in these breaks are often radical. We go back to some thoughts from Thomas Kuhn on this. The US of Utopian sensibilities will probably suffer reversals that we can’t contemplate when the big reversals come. Not a pleasant prospect.
En route to MIA the film Blended was shown. The remarkable things were two: (a) in order to make rather obvious observations about humans in their male and female incarnations, the movie had to torture itself to remain PC enough; (b) what’s up with all the vulgarity and potty mouths on very young children? This film was followed by a bunch of NBC TV shows that we’ve never watched nor heard of. Once again, non-stop vulgarity. (We recently saw a couple of episodes of season one of the Beverly Hillbillies, which were filled with witty and arcane references — e.g., Jane is impressed because Jethro’s education included him being an eatin’ man.) Tempus fugit.
China’s economic growth will slow to about 4 percent annually after 2020 following decades of rapid expansion, according to the Conference Board.
China faces a “deep structural slowdown and broad uncertainty” in the decade ahead, the New York-based research group said in the report yesterday. China’s development model, based on state direction of capital and growth-fixated monetary policy, generated “deep seated” risks and imbalances, it said.
“The course of China’s growth has always harbored the potential for deceleration at least as rapid as its acceleration,” David Hoffman, vice president of the Conference Board’s China Center for Economics and Business in Beijing and a co-author of the report, said in a press release. “We are beginning to see the signs of this transformation take hold.”
China’s government has signaled it will tolerate slower economic growth this year by refraining from broad stimulus. Weighed down by a property slump, China’s gross domestic product probably expanded 7.2 percent in the third quarter, the slowest in more than five years
We’ll have much more to say about this after we have studied the report in question. 4% seems too low. But you know, cooked books of the past may be catching up.
NYT, not the Onion:
It was the first day of orientation, and along the picturesque paths there were cheerful upper-class student leaders providing directions and encouragement. They wore pink T-shirts stamped with this year’s orientation theme: “Free to Explore” — an enticement that could be interpreted myriad ways, perhaps far more than the college intended.
One of those T-shirted helpers was a junior named Timothy Boatwright. Like every other matriculating student at Wellesley, which is just west of Boston, Timothy was raised a girl and checked “female” when he applied. Though he had told his high-school friends that he was transgender, he did not reveal that on his application, in part because his mother helped him with it, and he didn’t want her to know. Besides, he told me, “it seemed awkward to write an application essay for a women’s college on why you were not a woman.” Like many trans students, he chose a women’s college because it seemed safer physically and psychologically.
From the start, Timothy introduced himself as “masculine-of-center genderqueer.” He asked everyone at Wellesley to use male pronouns and the name Timothy, which he’d chosen for himself.
For the most part, everyone respected his request. After all, he wasn’t the only trans student on campus. Some two dozen other matriculating students at Wellesley don’t identify as women. Of those, a half-dozen or so were trans men, people born female who identified as men, some of whom had begun taking testosterone to change their bodies. The rest said they were transgender or genderqueer, rejecting the idea of gender entirely or identifying somewhere between female and male; many, like Timothy, called themselves transmasculine. Though his gender identity differed from that of most of his classmates, he generally felt comfortable at his new school.
Last spring, as a sophomore, Timothy decided to run for a seat on the student-government cabinet, the highest position that an openly trans student had ever sought at Wellesley. The post he sought was multicultural affairs coordinator, or “MAC,” responsible for promoting “a culture of diversity” among students and staff and faculty members. Along with Timothy, three women of color indicated their intent to run for the seat. But when they dropped out for various unrelated reasons before the race really began, he was alone on the ballot. An anonymous lobbying effort began on Facebook, pushing students to vote “abstain.” Enough “abstains” would deny Timothy the minimum number of votes Wellesley required, forcing a new election for the seat and providing an opportunity for other candidates to come forward. The “Campaign to Abstain” argument was simple: Of all the people at a multiethnic women’s college who could hold the school’s “diversity” seat, the least fitting one was a white man.
“It wasn’t about Timothy,” the student behind the Abstain campaign told me. “I thought he’d do a perfectly fine job, but it just felt inappropriate to have a white man there.”
Sadly, the article doesn’t stop at this terrific punchline but goes on for another 7000 words. On a lighter note, here’s an excellent candidate for the next Dean of Students.
Amid Assurances on Ebola, He Is Said to Seethe…Beneath the calming reassurance that he has repeatedly offered during the Ebola crisis, there is a deepening frustration, even anger, with how the government has handled key elements of the response. Those frustrations spilled over when he convened his top aides in the Cabinet room after canceling his schedule on Wednesday. Medical officials were providing information that later turned out to be wrong. Guidance to local health teams was not adequate. It was unclear which Ebola patients belonged in which threat categories.
“It’s not tight,” a visibly angry man said of the response, according to people briefed on the meeting. He told aides they needed to get ahead of events and demanded a more hands-on approach, particularly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “He was not satisfied with the response,” a senior official said.
The difference between the public and private messages illustrates the dilemma he faces on Ebola — and a range of other national security issues — as he tries to galvanize the response to a public health scare while not adding to the sense of panic fueled by 24-hour cable TV and the nonstop Twitter chatter.
On Friday, he took a step to both fix that response and reassure the public, naming Ron Klain, a former aide, to coordinate the government’s efforts on Ebola. The appointment followed his statement Thursday that the job was necessary “just to make sure that we are crossing all the t’s and dotting all the i’s going forward.”
“Part of the challenge is to be assertive, to be in command, and yet not feed a kind of panic that could easily evolve here,” said David, a close adviser in his first term. “It’s not enough to doggedly and persistently push for answers in meetings. You have to be seen doggedly and persistently pushing for answers.”
For two turbulent weeks, officials have sought to balance those imperatives: insisting the dangers to the American public were being overstated in the news media, while also moving quickly to increase the president’s demonstration of action.
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and its arrival in the United States, is the latest in a cascade of crises that have stretched his national security staff thin. As the people scrambled to stop the spread of Ebola beyond a handful of cases, officials were also grappling with an escalating military campaign against the Islamic State, the specter of a new Cold War with Russia over Ukraine, and the virtual disintegration of Yemen, which has been a seedbed for Al Qaeda.
Senior officials said they pushed him to name an Ebola coordinator as a way of easing pressure on the staff at the National Security Council.
At the meeting on Wednesday, officials said, he placed much of the blame on the C.D.C., which provided shifting information about which threat category patients were in, and did not adequately train doctors and nurses at hospitals with Ebola cases on the proper protective procedures.
On Thursday night, in televised remarks, he sought to reassure the public about the dangers from Ebola. But the sense of crisis that emanated from headquarters was in sharp contrast to Sept. 30, when Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian who had traveled to Dallas, tested positive for Ebola. He received a telephone briefing from Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the director of the C.D.C., after which they issued a sanguine statement that concluded: “We have the infrastructure in place to respond safely and effectively.”
In the days that followed, he carried on as usual while his aides gamely added Ebola to their bulging portfolios. On Oct. 1, he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, and later had dinner with friends at the RPM Steakhouse in Chicago, where he had traveled for fund-raisers and to deliver an economic speech.
By early October, as questions about the Dallas hospital’s treatment of Mr. Duncan mounted, federal officials began reassessing their response, even as they continued to express confidence.
C.D.C. officials publicly dismissed the effectiveness of screening for Ebola at airports in the United States. But the secretary of Homeland Security, found a way to make it work over the weekend of Oct. 4. He announced the screening protocol the following Monday.
Even after Mr. Duncan’s death on Oct. 8, officials betrayed little sense of a change in approach. He traveled to California for campaign fund-raising and on his return to Washington, received a briefing from his secretary of health and human services about the announcement that a nurse who treated Mr. Duncan had contracted Ebola.
The business-as-usual sentiment at headquarters changed abruptly, officials said, when it got word early Wednesday that a second nurse in Dallas contracted the disease. The fact that she had traveled on a Frontier Airlines flight despite having a fever added to the concern, officials said.
“This Frontier thing took it out of the abstract thing and to this level where people could identify with and made them scared,” a senior official said. Within hours, aides canceled a planned trip by him to Connecticut and New Jersey. Hours later, Thursday’s trip to Rhode Island and New York City was also scrubbed.
This piece definitively demonstrates that both the watchers and the watchees know nothing. The senior of the 2 NYT reporters has been to a lot of countries but he and his colleague have never done anything in their lives other than observing people who do things. We’re reminded of Hilton Kramer’s critique.
As for the watchees, that’s really scary. Putting ideology aside, we have idiots running things. Any executive would begin analysis of Ebola with (a) lethality; (b) incubation period; (c) ease of transmission; (d) mutability of virus; (d) current track record of containment. From there he’d get to implementing action items at Warp Speed: (1) making drugs that cure it; (2) making vaccines that prevent it; (3) emulating containment strategies that have proven successful.
In the NYT piece above the executives apparently are not consumed with the blindingly obvious action items we outlined, indeed they don’t seem to be thinking about them at all. And the reporters covering all this don’t even know enough to ask relevant questions. Recipe for disaster.
Franklin D. Raines, who resigned as chief executive of Fannie Mae in late 2004 amid revelations of extensive accounting improprieties at the mortgage finance company, has been dismissed from a long-running civil suit brought by Fannie Mae investors hoping to recover damages…the judge continued, evidence submitted by the shareholders showed that Mr. Raines “acted negligently in his role as the company’s chief executive and negligently in his representations about the company’s accounting and earnings management practices”…
The investor lawsuit was filed in 2005 on behalf of approximately one million Fannie Mae shareholders who incurred losses after regulators identified pervasive accounting irregularities at the company. Between 1998 and 2004, government investigators found, senior executives at Fannie had manipulated its results to hit earnings targets and generate $115 million in bonus compensation. The company had to restate its earnings, reducing them by $6.3 billion.
In 2006, the government sued the three former executives, seeking $100 million in fines and $115 million in restitution from bonuses it maintained they had not earned. Without admitting wrongdoing, Mr. Raines, Mr. Howard and Ms. Spencer paid $31.4 million to settle the matter
NBC in 2004:
OFHEO Director Armando Falcon, testifying under oath at the hearing, asserted that Fannie Mae improperly put off booking income to a future reporting period “to create a ’cookie jar’ reserve that it could dip into whenever it best served the interests of senior management.” Those interests included smoothing out volatility in earnings from quarter to quarter and meeting earnings-per-share targets linked to bonuses for executives, Falcon said.
Raines disputed the regulators’ allegation that in one instance in 1998, accounting rules were deliberately violated so that top executives could get full bonuses…Lawmakers have cited his assurances to investors a little over a year ago that Fannie Mae, which finances one of every five home loans in America, had not “undertaken any transactions to distort our true financial condition.”
Raines and Howard have been put on the defensive by a recent government report that criticized Fannie Mae’s “culture and environment” for making “these problems possible.” The Washington-based company, which is the second-largest financial institution in the United States, is also facing a criminal investigation by the Justice Department.
NYT in 2003:
Fannie Mae, the giant mortgage finance company, faces much bigger losses from interest rate swings than it has publicly disclosed, according to computer models used by the company to estimate the value of its assets and debts.
At the end of last year, the models showed that Fannie Mae’s portfolio would have lost $7.5 billion in value if interest rates rose immediately by 1.5 percentage points, internal company documents provided to The New York Times indicated. At that time, the market value of all the assets on Fannie Mae’s books, minus all the company’s debts, was about $15 billion. So it would have lost roughly half its market value from such a sharp increase in interest rates, according to the models. With $923 billion in assets, Fannie Mae is the second-largest financial company in the United States
WSJ, a week after the catastrophic decision in 2008 to let Lehman Brothers fail:
the vast accumulation of toxic mortgage debt that poisoned the global financial system was driven by the aggressive buying of subprime and Alt-A mortgages, and mortgage-backed securities, by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The poor choices of these two government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) — and their sponsors in Washington — are largely to blame for our current mess.
How did we get here? Let’s review: In order to curry congressional support after their accounting scandals in 2003 and 2004, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac committed to increased financing of “affordable housing.” They became the largest buyers of subprime and Alt-A mortgages between 2004 and 2007, with total GSE exposure eventually exceeding $1 trillion. In doing so, they stimulated the growth of the subpar mortgage market and substantially magnified the costs of its collapse…
If Fannie and Freddie wanted subprime or Alt-A loans, the mortgage markets would produce them. By late 2004, Fannie and Freddie very much wanted subprime and Alt-A loans. Their accounting had just been revealed as fraudulent, and they were under pressure from Congress to demonstrate that they deserved their considerable privileges…
If they were not making mortgages cheaper and were creating risks for the taxpayers and the economy, what value were they providing? The answer was their affordable-housing mission. So it was that, beginning in 2004, their portfolios of subprime and Alt-A loans and securities began to grow. Subprime and Alt-A originations in the U.S. rose from less than 8% of all mortgages in 2003 to over 20% in 2006.
During this period the quality of subprime loans also declined, going from fixed rate, long-term amortizing loans to loans with low down payments and low (but adjustable) initial rates, indicating that originators were scraping the bottom of the barrel to find product for buyers like the GSEs.
Why the 2002-2005 timeframe? Politico: From 2002 through 2005, the now-failed mortgage lender Fannie Mae paid…for an O’Melveny team, including Klain, to lobby Congress and the Housing and Urban Development Department on “regulatory issues.”
This is the appearance of action, something for the cameras that has no intrinsic merit, indeed many risks for nothing. This would be real action, but it apparently cuts so deeply against the administration’s culture of micro-control of actions and narratives that it’s literally unthinkable to them. BTW, we know we may be overreacting to the Ebola problem, but so what? There’s little cost to that versus the opposite.
Underreaction has come from the political side and its timid colleagues at CDC and NIH. The young JV team at work no doubt. Arguably some overreaction has come from the army and the marines. You know which side we’re firmly on. However, we’re puzzled with the underreactors, since it’s such a horrible PR strategy to always have to issue corrections every few days. Very puzzling indeed.
Secretary for Preparedness and Response in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)…“I have responsibility for getting the nation prepared for public health emergencies—whether naturally occurring disasters or man-made, as well as for helping it respond and recover,” Lurie said…
“Lurie’s job is to plan for the unthinkable. A global flu pandemic? She has a plan. A bioterror attack? She’s on it. Massive earthquake? Yep. Her responsibilities as assistant secretary span public health, global health, and homeland security.”
much of the focus has been on an experimental cocktail of three monoclonal antibodies known as ZMapp. But the current stockpile is not nearly great enough. Collins, a touch exasperated, said it would be all but impossible to have significant doses available by the end of the calendar year — with a lack of funding once again playing a disruptive role. “Had it not been for other shortages, we might very well by now know that it works and have a large stock of it,” he said.
Bonus fun: the CDC and NIH seem to have money for other critical priorities.
The CDC confirms the patient with the newest case of Ebola was not among the 48 individuals being monitored by the CDC twice daily because she came into contact with Duncan after he was admitted to the hospital and placed in isolation. The patient was considered to be low-risk
Comparing Ebola with Smallpox and Bubonic Plague — the US needs ASAP to appoint a global CEO and team whose sole mission is to kill this bug deadSaturday, October 11th, 2014
Six or seven billion people on the planet is evidence enough that diseases and infections that are both highly lethal and highly contagious are extremely rare. But they do happen.
Smallpox kills a third of the people who get it, but fortunately is most contagious only after the onset of the rash, so it’s potentially somewhat avoidable. The incubation period is 12 days or so. The last naturally occurring case was almost 40 years ago. For safety’s sake, the US keeps enough vaccine around to inoculate the entire population at $3 a pop.
Plague killed about 2/3 of the people who got it, and wiped out about half the population of Europe in the 14th century. It is transmitted by infected fleas and kills most of its victims within 4 days. It is treatable by that old standby Streptomycin and many other prescription drugs that are plentiful and broadly available.
Ebola kills as many as 88% of people who get it, and has an incredibly long incubation period, up to 3 weeks. Its combination of lethality and time-to-severe-symptoms make it potentially deadlier than smallpox and bubonic plague. And yet the US government is fooling around with airport interviews and drug development programs that might generate 100 treatments a month, even though the CDC itself estimates 1.4 million cases in just 2 countries by next year.
The need for private sector leadership on this is obvious, with funding by the government. The potential threat is unprecedented. Put Ben Carson or Bill Gates or ourselves in charge and get out of the way. Yet there is little to no US leadership on this. The really odd thing is that the crew in Washington is obsessed with creating good PR by any means necessary, yet is MIA on this, and in an election season to boot! Announcing and implementing the Ebola Manhattan Project could be just what the doctor ordered for November 4. Yet all we hear is the chirping of crickets.
TIME on ZMapp:
The doses administered to the U.S. aid workers exhausted a nearly nonexistent supply, according to its manufacturer, Mapp Biopharmaceuticals. But that’s not because it takes a long time to manufacture the antibodies that make up the ZMapp cocktail. ZMapp is taking longer to produce in large quantities because one of the three antibodies in the cocktail doesn’t grow well in the plants — which is how ZMapp is produced.
The process involves growing tobacco plants, not in the acres of fields earmarked by tobacco companies for their cigarettes, but in a controlled environment in a greenhouse, for six weeks. Then, the leaves of the plants are injected or infused with a plant bacterium that carries a valuable payload — the genes for the antibodies that can bind to and neutralize the Ebola virus. The plant cells treat the new genes as one of their own, and start making the antibody. It takes about 14g of these antibodies to treat a patient, says Yuri Gleba, CEO of Icon Genetics, the German company that pioneered the platform, and to produce that much requires around 78 tobacco plants and about seven to 10 days.
A team led by Gleba is helping Mapp Biopharmaceuticals to optimize that production and to make the entire process more efficient so it requires fewer plants. “If everything is properly optimized, those plants can be full of that antibody,” he says. (Mapp officials declined to comment for this article on the status of their ZMapp production.)
Why plants? The time it takes to grow a plant is less time than it takes to genetically engineer a mouse or other rodent to produce human antibodies, which is how such products have been made in the past. It’s also less expensive. Plant-based manufacturing represents a promising new way of producing drugs that could cut the time it takes to bring critical medications, such as a flu vaccine during a pandemic, to a large number of people. Researchers have used the technology to develop a vaccine against norovirus, the infection that plagues cruise ships, for example, that is being tested now.
Dozens (hundreds???) of parallel teams in several countries would seem to make urgent sense. More tobacco, more greenhouses, more of everything. US, UK, China, Switzerland, France, Canada, Germany, Sweden, Japan, etc. And this, from GSK: “a vaccine regimen produced ‘durable immunity’ against Ebola, protecting four out of four monkeys for 10 months.” That’s nice but where’s the follow up?
The US has a leadership team that speaks nonstop about the “global community” — mostly in situations where the phrase is nonsensical. Here, it is not, but curiously the usual rhetoric seems to be missing. Question: who serves as CEO of the “global community” on Ebola, where is he, and what is he doing now to coordinate and run this nexus of life-or-death responders? (As would be typical of our DC clown carnival, we suspect that the CEO position is vacant, though the position of bloviator has been filled.)
“By the end of the year, there’s supposed to be 1.4 million people infected with Ebola and 62 percent of them dying, according to the CDC,” Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly said. “That’s horrific. And there is no way we can keep Ebola in West Africa.” If it comes to the Western Hemisphere, many countries have little ability to deal with an outbreak of the disease, the general said. “So, much like West Africa, it will rage for a period of time,” Kelly said.
This is a particularly possible scenario if the disease gets to Haiti or Central America, he said. If the disease gets to countries like Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador, it will cause a panic and people will flee the region, the general said. “If it breaks out, it’s literally, ‘Katie bar the door,’ and there will be mass migration into the United States,” Kelly said. “They will run away from Ebola, or if they suspect they are infected, they will try to get to the United States for treatment”…
Kelly spoke of visiting the border of Costa Rica and Nicaragua with U.S. embassy personnel. At that time, a group of men “were waiting in line to pass into Nicaragua and then on their way north,” he recalled. “The embassy person walked over and asked who they were and they told him they were from Liberia and they had been on the road about a week,” Kelly continued. “They met up with the network in Trinidad and now they were on their way to the United States — illegally, of course.” Those men, he said, “could have made it to New York City and still be within the incubation period for Ebola.”
This is a matter of the utmost seriousness, and it is being handled in an idiotic manner. We’ve made it clear what needs to be done, and it’s not being done. This is not one of those occasions where you hang around, with a tell-all book to follow. If Kelly thinks what is necessary is not being done, he should resign loudly and publicly and bring along some other adults with him.
ZMapp, which is actually a cocktail of three different antibodies, is being developed by Mapp Biopharmaceutical, a tiny San Diego company, with funding from the United States and Canadian governments. The doses used to treat the American aid workers were produced in tobacco leaves at a facility in Owensboro, Ky., that is owned by Reynolds American, the tobacco company. That facility has now resumed production, but the federal official said it was expected to produce only about 10 to 20 treatment courses by the end of the year, and the same amount every month going forward.
So the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, a branch of the Department of Health and Human Services, is considering additional production from Caliber, which is based in Bryan, Tex., and co-operates on projects with Texas A&M University. Caliber also produces proteins, including antibodies, in hydroponically grown tobacco plants but has a larger production capacity than the Kentucky facility.
No official contract has been signed, so plans could still change. But federal officials have visited Caliber regularly. “They are actively engaged, pretty much on a daily basis, working with Caliber and A&M,” Dr. Brett P. Giroir, the chief executive of the Texas A&M Health Science Center, said Wednesday. Executives at Caliber and Mapp declined to comment for this article.
Both Caliber and the Kentucky facility sprang from a project sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which was looking for a way to quickly produce vaccines or therapeutic proteins in the event of an emergency like a flu pandemic.
Now these facilities are likely to get their first big test. “It’s not been tested, live-fire,” the federal official said. “And now we’re doing it.” The system involves infecting tobacco with a genetically engineered virus that contains the instructions to make the antibody. “Every time the virus tries to replicate, it spins out a copy of a monoclonal antibody,” said Charles J. Arntzen, a professor at Arizona State University who has long worked on such systems. The leaves are ground up to extract the antibody.
The federal official said that Caliber and other facilities that will be brought on line could produce 40 to 100 treatment courses per month.
So “Caliber and the Kentucky facility sprang from a project sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which was looking for a way to quickly produce vaccines or therapeutic proteins in the event of an emergency like a flu pandemic.” So even DARPA is part of the clown carnival now?
What on earth is wrong with these people in government bureaucracies? The goal is a maximum of 100 treatments a month for a virus that has killed as many as 88% of those who get it and has an incubation period as long as 3 weeks? This effort needs a real CEO and a lot of money and manpower — fast. As we said: Manhattan Project at Warp Speed, nothing less will do.
Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen said when she and two colleagues recently returned from reporting in Liberia, they got a mixed bag of responses from Customs and Border Protection officers. “We all said we were journalists who had just been in Liberia covering Ebola,” Cohen said. “One of my colleagues was told, ‘Oh, OK, welcome back home, sir’ — and (was) just let in — that was it.” Cohen herself got a different response. “I was told, ‘Wait a minute, I think I got an email about this,’ and the border patrol officer went and consulted with his colleagues,” Cohen said. That officer later told her she should check her system for 21 days. “I said, ‘What should I be checking?’ And he wasn’t sure,” Cohen said. The third colleague merely had his boots checked to see if there was mud on them.