Friday, August 28, 2015


Grad PLUS is a federal program which gives professional and graduate-school students unlimited access to below-market-rate loans from the government. It's done well since enacted in 2006. Of the government’s $1.1 trillion student loan portfolio, 40 percent of the money is owed by graduate and professional school students — who make up only 16 percent of all student-loan borrowers.

It has been a big seller among law schools. Law-student indebtedness grew from an average of $66,000 for public institutions in the 2005 academic year to $88,000 in 2012. The figures for private law schools were $102,000 in 2005 and $127,000 in 2012. More than half of law students use Grad PLUS. Maybe Grad PLUS has not worked so well here as only about 60 percent of the Class of 2013’s law degrees landed immediate employment.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Medical Funders

I'd never heard of medical funders until I read this article on Reuters. What these funders do is purchase medical bills at a deep discount from physicians, hospitals and others who have provided care to patients involved in personal injury litigation. They may also loan the litigants travel and expense money at a high rate of interest. It can be a lucrative business. When a patient’s lawsuit settles, the medical funder stakes a claim to part of the settlement by placing a lien for the full amount of the surgical bill. The funder’s profit lies in the difference between what it pays the medical provider to buy the bill and what it is able to recover from the patient’s settlement.

It's a pretty good business that has become very good. In the past most funders bought bills owed by uninsured or underinsured patients with slip-and-fall, car accident and workers compensation suits. But now the money is in funding surgeries for patients involved in mass litigation over drugs and medical devices. 

And the really hot area is in operations to remove pelvic implants from women suing device makers. Now there are about 100,000 suits in state and federal courts. The cases so far have gone in favor of the women, who have won multimillion-dollar verdicts in 10 of the 13 suits that have gone to trial against manufacturers since 2012.

You can't manage what you don't measure

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) measures the number of people killed by guns in the U.S. each year. One problem is that it takes a while to publish the numbers; the most recent year for which numbers have been published is 2011. 

It's also a difficult task as agencies do not categorize data in the same way. Gun deaths can include suicides, homicides, accidental firearms discharges, and  legal killings. However, the number does not include county-level deaths because of privacy concerns. And who knows what the number of police shootings are. No one has a number that can be considered complete.

Supposedly, the number of people killed by firearms is greater than those killed in car accidents. Although, we again have a data problem. Deaths by car are as of 2012 and total 33,561; deaths by guns are as of 2011 and total 32,251. Part of the reasoning for this claim is that the number of fatalities on the roads in the United States has been going down for years as fewer young people drive, car safety technology improves, and gas prices climb.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Have a burger

Consumer Reports studied hamburgers, i.e. ground beef which can make us sick , particularly when it’s cooked at rare or medium-rare temperatures under 160° F. The CDC estimates that“Up to 28 percent of Americans eat ground beef that’s raw or undercooked.” 

Some numbers from the article
Between 2003 and 2012, there were almost 80 outbreaks of E. coli O157 due to tainted beef, sickening 1,144 people, putting 316 in the hospital, and killing five. Ground beef was the source of the majority of those outbreaks. 
The CDC thinks that very few cases of food poisoning are actually reported; it thinks only 4% are. Ground beef is more likely to cause food poisoning than basic beef. Bacteria can get on the meat during slaughter or processing. In whole cuts such as steak or roasts, the bacteria tend to stay on the surface, so when you cook them, the outside is likely to get hot enough to kill any bugs. But when beef is ground up, the bacteria get mixed throughout, contaminating all of the meat.

Consumer Reports looked at 458 pounds of beef. They found

  • bacteria that signified fecal contamination (enterococcus and/or nontoxin-producing E. coli), which can cause blood or urinary tract infections. 
  • Almost 20 percent contained C. perfringens, a bacteria that causes almost 1 million cases of food poisoning annually. 
  • Ten percent of the samples had a strain of S. aureus bacteria that can produce a toxin that can make you sick. That toxin can’t be destroyed—even with proper cooking. 
  • Just 1 percent of our samples contained salmonella. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

And now it's a beak

Tieta, a Brazilian toucan, lost part of its beak. Scientists used 3-D printing to create a prosthetic beak. Life for Tieta is back to normal.



Using our money to lobby

Lockheed Martin runs Sandia National Labs for a fee of $2.4 billion a year. The world’s largest defense contractor was worried that the contract would not be renewed. So, naturally, the company hired a lobbyist and used government money to pay for the lobbying.  

The fine is $4.7 million.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Paying banks interest

Okay, most of us do. But the Fed does also. It paid the banks $25.2 billion in interest on reserves from 2008 to 2014. This interest is paid on the money the banks have at the Fed. They are required to have 10 percent of the value of  their loans parked at the Fed. Some have more. The rate is small - .25 percent - but the payment of any interest on funds held at the Fed did not come about until 2006, although the Fed was founded almost 100 years earlier.

Oliver on LGBT

Hearing Colors

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Connecticut River

Today is a day of wonder

The Pinellas County School Board abandoned integration in 2007. Was that the cause of this absolutely devastating article in the Tampa Bay Times.  Here are some excerpts: First a look at the situation in general.

  • At the five schools where the population is mainly African-American children have been shoved, slapped, punched or kicked more than 7,500 times since 2010 — the equivalent of eight times a day, every day, for five years straight.
  • Last year, there were more violent incidents at the five elementary schools than in all of the county’s 17 high schools combined. 
  • Incidents at the schools have more than doubled since 2010, even as other schools in Pinellas saw a drop in violence.
  • For years, district leaders gave the schools the same number of employees to handle eight times the amount of violence faced at other elementary schools. Teachers at the schools describe calling for help in their classrooms only to be ignored because no one was there to respond.
  • Teachers are overwhelmed. Many said they had little training and no idea how to get students under control. More than half the teachers at the schools requested transfers in 2014. Several have been taken away in ambulances after suffering panic attacks or being injured by their students. 
  • Until recently, district officials under-reported serious incidents to a state clearinghouse that tracks dangers in the classroom — an apparent violation of state law that made the schools seem safer than they really were.

And now for some individual examples:

  • At Campbell Park, a second-grader threatened to kill and rape two girls while brandishing a kitchen knife he carried to school in his backpack. 
  • At Fairmount Park, a 9-year-old hit a pair of kindergartners in the head with a souvenir baseball bat. 
  • At Maximo, a group of kindergartners pinned a classmate down on the playground, pulled off her pants and fondled her.
  • At Maximo in 2012, an 11-year-old repeatedly harassed a female classmate, telling her he wanted to have sex with her. Then he threatened to kill them both so they “could be married in hell,” according to a police report. 
  • The next year, at the same school, a 10-year-old was slapped, punched, choked, body-slammed, stomped and kicked in the face in a cafeteria fight over a Lego action figure. 
  • At Campbell Park in 2010, a second-grader took a 6-inch, serrated kitchen knife to school and told classmates he was going to stab a girl in the back because she liked another boy.

Do you believe it or not?

It being a study by Adam Lankford, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Alabama, which will be presented at 110th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association this week. Lankford concludes that although the U.S. only makes up 5 percent of the global population, the country has seen 31 percent of global public mass shootings between 1966 and 2012. He concluded this based on "data from the New York City Police Department's 2012 active shooter report, the FBI's 2014 active shooter report, and multiple international sources." The report does not include gang related crime, drive-by shootings, hostage situations and robberies.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Return to the ideals of Jefferson

William Astore is a retired military officer and also taught at the Air Force Academy. He has some profound things to say about our military and our attitude toward it. His article is based on two quotes from Jefferson that appear on the walls of West Point:
  • "The power of making war often prevents it, and in our case would give efficacy to our desire of peace." 
  • "I hope our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power, the greater it will be." 
Here are some of his concluding remarks:
Can we connect this behavior to the faults of the service academies? Careerism. Parochialism. Technocratic tendencies. Elitism. A focus on image rather than on substance. Lots of busywork and far too much praise for our ascetic warrior-heroes, results be damned. A tendency to close ranks rather than take responsibility. Buck-passing, not bucking the system. The urge to get those golden slots on graduation and the desire for golden parachutes into a lucrative world of corporate boards and consultancies after "retirement," not to speak of those glowing appearances as military experts on major TV and cable networks.
America's military academies are supposed to be educating and developing leaders of character. If they're not doing that, why have them? America's senior military leaders are supposed to be winning wars, not losing them. (Please feel free to name one recent victory by the U.S. military that hasn't been of the Pyrrhic variety.) So why do we idolize them? And why do we fail to hold them accountable?
These are more than rhetorical questions. They cut to the heart of an American culture that celebrates its military cadets as its finest young citizens, a culture that lauds its generals even as they fail to accept responsibility for wars that end not in victory but - well, come to think of it, they just never end.
The way forward: I don't have to point the way because Thomas Jefferson already did. Just read his quotations in the West Point library: we need to become a peace-loving nation again; we need to act as if war were our last resort, not our first impulse; we need to recognize that war is corrosive to democracy and that the more military power is exercised the weaker we grow as a democratic society.
Jefferson's wisdom, enshrined at West Point, shouldn't be entombed there. We need a new generation of cadets - and a few renegade generals of my generation as well - who want to serve us by not going to war, who know that a military is a burden to democracy even when victorious, and especially when it's not. Otherwise, we're in trouble in ways we haven't yet begun to imagine.