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June 30, 2003

Some good stuff to read

Liberal African-American Wapo columnist William Raspberry thinking outside the box about American racism, affirmative action and the causes of black academic under-achievement.

An excellent piece on the need for "regime change" in the Brooklyn Democratic party as a result of recent cash-for-judgeships scandal by legendary journalist Jack Newfield in the NY Sun.   (If you haven't already done so, sign up for their free, four week online trial subscription.)

Interesting reporting on the fiscal and political train wreck that is California under the hapless governorship of Gray Davis by the WaPo's Rene Sanchez.

June 30, 2003 at 10:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 29, 2003

Dems shot selves in foot with McCain-Feingold

Yesterday's WaPo had an interesting article reporting on a new study released by the Center for Responsive Politics analyzing donations during the 2002 campaign cycle.   The upshot?   Republicans receive a lot more of the smaller individual donations permitted under McCain-Feingold than do the Dems.   Conversely, the Dems do better than the Repubs in now-banned $100k and up donations.   So much for the party of "the little guys".

Money Raised by Each Party at DIfferent Donation Levels: 2002  Center for Responsive Politics

June 29, 2003 at 01:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Anti-Israeli bias at Oxford

Today's UK Telegraph reports on the case of an Israeli grad student being denied a place in an Oxford University research lab because he had "served in the Israeli Army".   Appalling.

The Professor who wrote this email, Andrew Wilkie, the Nuffield professor of pathology and a fellow of Pembroke College, has apologized unreservedly and admitted that he made "a mistake".   I believe his apology is sincere, but his original action is emblematic of a larger bias issue among UK academics.

As a graduate student from NYC studying at Oxford during the early 1980s, I was shocked to hear students making openly anti-semitic comments.   Growing up here in "Hymietown" (as Rev. Jesse Jackson affectionately calls it), I had never seen open discrimination against Jews before.   I'm afraid this ignoble tradition lives on in the UK, even amongst the presumably enlightened intellectual elites.

Send an email to Ms. Joanne Bowley, Pembroke College's development manager, telling her what you think about this incident.

You might also try to email the new Chancellor of Oxford University, Chris Patten via his day job as Commissioner of External Relations for the European Union.   Alternatively, you might try to reach Patten via an email to Ms. Helen Carasso, Oxford University's Director of Public Relations.

June 29, 2003 at 01:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

June 27, 2003

"I'd like to make a statue in gold of President Bush"

... says the man with no ear in Nasiriya.   Facts get in the way of a good column for Nick Kristof, but at least he is intellectually honest enough to admit it.

June 27, 2003 at 09:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 24, 2003

Time for a truth in headlines act?

Busy people often scan newspaper headlines to get a sense of what's going on, without bothering to read the full details in the articles.   Unfortunately, this practice can be extremely misleading, especially if the newspaper in question happens to be the NY Times.   Let me cite a couple of recent examples.

Yesterday morning, the following article appeared in the Metro section of the NYT:

Lawmakers Vote to Limit Hospital Malpractice Costs


In the dying hours of this year's legislative session, New York State lawmakers approved changes to an arcane law that, after years on the books, was blamed for threatening a malpractice insurance crisis for hospitals this year.

On Friday, the State Senate and Assembly, in an agreement with Gov. George E. Pataki, passed a bill altering the law, responding not only to hospitals' complaints, but also to a rare plea from the state's highest court. In April, a reluctant but unanimous Court of Appeals upheld a $140 million judgment against New York Presbyterian Hospital, but in an unusual departure from their customary detachment, the judges disparaged the result and the law that produced it, and asked the Legislature to consider changing the statute.

Sounds like a modest attempt at tort-reform, doesn't it?   But when you slog your way through the rest of the article to get to the eighth paragraph, you see that the change in law was really more of a technical correction, rather than an attempt to "limit malpractice costs."
Until 1985, malpractice judgments in New York were awarded as lump sums, even if they were meant to cover many years of care, prompting hospitals and insurers to complain that it was an undue burden on them to pay, up front, for what was, in some cases, decades' worth of anticipated medical needs.

In 1985, a law was passed that changed the system to one of "structured judgments" for large malpractice awards. A jury determined the damages, year by year for the life of the award. The judge then determined what the average annual payment would be, set that as the first year's payment, and then increased it by 4 percent per year, an adjustment seen by many lawmakers as compensating for inflation...

... The main problem with the malpractice law, as insurance companies and hospitals came to see it, was that there was nothing in the law to prevent a jury from applying its own inflation adjustment to an award, or to stop plaintiffs' lawyers from encouraging juries to do so. That would greatly inflate the final judgment, and the longer the duration, the more skewed the result.

In other words, under the old law, the jury was told to estimate "damages" to be awarded to the plaintiff for each year out into the future.   Typically, they were given no guidance by the judge in this process, and the plaintiffs lawyer could make whatever claims they wanted to during the trial.   After the jury awards what it believes is a just settlement (putting aside the question of how they equipped from either a data or an analytical perspective to do so), the law mandates that the judge subsequently increases the initial payment to equal the average annual payment over the life of the plaintiff, and then further adjusts that for inflation.   Screwy, eh?

But it gets better, under the new law, this business of allowing the juries to adjust for inflation and then mandating an additional upward inflation adjustment is done away with. But the new law throws in some juicy benefits for our friends in the plaintiffs bar:

... the amended law also accelerates payments to plaintiffs in several ways. It provides that 35 percent of long-term medical costs be paid in an initial lump sum, where none were previously. The new law allows up to $500,000 in damages for pain and suffering to be awarded as a lump sum, rather than the old limit of $250,000. And any pain and suffering awards beyond the lump sum will be paid over 8 years, rather than 10.

Under the 1985 law, a plaintiff could outlive an award. If a jury projected a 10-year life expectancy, the money ran out after 10 years, even if the injured patient, still in need of expensive care, lived for 20 years. The amended law guarantees that payments for medical costs will continue as long as the patient lives.

Funny how the law decided that 35% of the settlement should be paid up-front.   It must be purely a coincidence that the contingency fees for plaintiffs attorneys in malpractice cases average around 35% of the total damages awarded.

My suggestion for a more accurate headline and lead paragraph?   Lawmakers fix malpractice loophole, rollback other reforms

* * *

Here's another example from last Saturday's Times:

Albany Extends Landlord Power Over Rent Curbs


ALBANY, June 20 — Senate Republicans forced through a measure today that would allow landlords to take thousands more New York City apartments off rent regulation in the next eight years, outmaneuvering Democrats who had sought to prevent a further erosion in rent protections for tenants in a million units.

A stunning night of political power plays in the Capitol ended with the State Legislature's renewal of the expiring rent laws in a way that strengthened the power of landlords to charge market rents for more of their apartments and left intact rules that have led to the deregulation of thousands of units.

Wow!  Sounds like those dastardly Republicans rammed through a bill that really gave a lot to those landlords at the expense of the poor tenants.   The reality?   The law passed, as near as I can tell, just renewed the existing rent control regulations for another eight years.   In fact, that was the conclusion reached by another article published by the NYT the following day.   The real story was the failure of Assembly Majority Leader Shelly Silver's efforts to rollback the modest reforms enacted in 1997.

My suggestion for a more accurate and less-biased headline? Lawmakers agree to extend current rent laws

* * *

I guess I had foolishly hoped that this kind of liberal slant to the NYT's news pages would have been reduced with the departure of Messrs. Howell and Boyd.   I should have known better.

June 24, 2003 at 02:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Woman of Steel

"She has a figure no less fine than that of supermodel Naomi Campbell, and is more intelligent than 'Iron Lady' Margaret Thatcher. She is Dr. Condoleezza Rice, the national security advisor with the most influence over the American presidency since 'dear Henry Kissinger,' also called 'The American Metternich' after the shrewd, famous German politician."
Check out this Palestinian columnist's piece on National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, as translated by MEMRI.

June 24, 2003 at 08:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 23, 2003

The repo man crashed in that missing 727?

Rand Simberg has an interesting post on the possible fate of that 727 missing from the airfield in Angola.   (Hat tip to the inimitable Instapundit.)

June 23, 2003 at 02:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 22, 2003

Did we finally get the bastard?

The UK Guardian's Jason Burke is reporting that US troops are testing human remains from a Hellfire missile strike on a convoy in Western Iraq near the Syrian border.   Saddam Hussein and possibly one of his sons were believed to be in the convoy, based upon satellite phone intercepts.   No confirmation from military sources, as yet.

June 22, 2003 at 01:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 20, 2003

Second guessing the rescue of private Jessica

Nick Kristof has done some good reporting and bad opining (as usual) in his column in today's NYT on the subject of Pfc. Jessica Lynch and her dramatic rescue.

On the plus side, he appears to have done solid reporting on the ground in Nasiriya regarding what really happened with Jessica at the hospital.   While the Iraqi civilian doctors and hospital staff appear to have treated her with kindness and humanity, unidentified Iraqi military officers were apparently planning to kill her and try to blame her death on American atrocities.   He also confirmed that on March 28th, an unidentified American POW, in handcuffs, and only slightly injured, was executed by the Saddam Fedayeen.   (Interestingly, this last detail was mentioned briefly in his column and then fleshed out in Nick's "NY Times on the Web Forum".   Is a modified - and moderated - form of blogging coming to the NYT?)

On the negative side, he couldn't resist getting in a cheap dig at the Administration for hyping the "Rescuing Private Jessica" story for cheap PR:

My guess is that "Saving Private Lynch" was a complex tale vastly oversimplified by officials, partly because of genuine ambiguities and partly because they wanted a good story to build political support for the war — a repetition of the exaggerations over W.M.D. We weren't quite lied to, but facts were subordinated to politics, and truth was treated as an endlessly stretchable fabric.

The Iraqis misused our prisoners for their propaganda purposes, and it hurts to find out that some American officials were misusing Private Lynch the same way.

As I recall, and as a quick search of the archives confirms (though I am too cheap to pay for Lexis/Nexis), the original stories told about the capture and rescue were highly qualified by all official military spokesmen. For example, read this account of the capture from WaPo, published on April 3rd.   While the article is luridly titled "She Was Fighting to the Death", in the middle of the piece it includes this disclaimer:
Several officials cautioned that the precise sequence of events is still being determined, and that further information will emerge as Lynch is debriefed. Reports thus far are based on battlefield intelligence, they said, which comes from monitored communications and from Iraqi sources in Nasiriyah whose reliability has yet to be assessed. Pentagon officials said they had heard "rumors" of Lynch's heroics but had no confirmation.
So, was the military hyping her for PR?   You be the judge.

SImilarly, this account of the rescue, also from WaPo and printed on April 6th, describes the rescue in heroic terms, but does not appear to diverge in any substantive way from the tale Kristof relates.   Here is Kristof's version:

"I met the Americans at the hospital entrance," said Dr. Hussein Salih, adding that Mr. Abdulrazak then led the Americans to Private Lynch. The staff members all said that there was no resistance, and that they welcomed the Americans.
Here is Major General Renuart's version, as recounted in the WaPo piece:
Before midnight Tuesday, they put the plan in motion. Marine Task Force Charlie launched a diversionary attack elsewhere in Nasiriyah to draw Iraqi militiamen into a fight some distance from the hospital. Other Marines ferried the commandos by helicopter and vehicles to the hospital complex, U.S. military officials said, as Iraqi fighters fired from surrounding buildings.

When the Americans entered the building, they persuaded a doctor to take them upstairs to Lynch's room. There, they found the scared and badly injured soldier. She "seemed to be in a fair amount of pain," Renuart said.

An Army Ranger doctor examined her and prepared her for evacuation. The commandos strapped her to a stretcher. Then they whisked her down the stairwell, out the door and into a waiting helicopter.

While "Iraqi fighters firing from surrounding buildings" might make it sound like the rescuers were being attacked, it could also just be referring to the diversionary attack.   In any event, the official version goes on to stay that the some of the rescuers stayed behind at the hospital to locate and dig up the remains of dead American soldiers, which presumably they would not be able to do if they were under attack.

So is Kristof being fair in complaining that "some American officials were misusing Private Lynch" for propaganda purposes?   I don't think so.

June 20, 2003 at 01:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Maybe Galloway was framed?

The Christian Science Monitor today published what is, in effect, a retraction of its April 25th story alleging that British Labor Party MP George Galloway was on Saddam's payroll:

On April 25, 2003, this newspaper ran a story about documents obtained in Iraq that alleged Saddam Hussein's regime had paid a British member of Parliament, George Galloway, $10 million over 11 years to promote its interests in the West.

An extensive Monitor investigation has subsequently determined that the six papers detailed in the April 25 piece are, in fact, almost certainly forgeries.

The article goes on to quote Monitor editor Paul Van Slambrouck saying that the Monitor is "convinced the documents are bogus" and apologizing to Galloway and their readers.

The most interesting part of the Monitor piece was their detailed description of the steps they took to verify the bona fides of the documents in question.   Apparently they consulted with a number of experts on Arabic language, Iraqi government documents, and forensic document analysis before concluding that the documents are probably phony.   While they didn't come right out and say it, it appears that former Iraqi General Salah Abdel Rasool was out to make a quick buck and ginned up the documents.   He was pretty smart about it, too, since he didn't sell them to reporters, but rather gave them for free with an agreement that his "neighbor" would be paid $800 to translate the documents.   The forgeries, if they are forgeries, were also pretty thorough.   Only ink dating (which is apparently more of an art than a science) suggested that the documents are forgeries.

However, Galloway is not out of the woods as yet.   The UK Telegraph, which broke the story alleging Galloway's treachery on April 22nd, obtained its documents from a different source.   While Galloway has continuously maintained his innocence and threatened legal action against the Telegraph and other papers reporting these allegations, he did admit just this week that he was in Baghdad on the day mentioned in the Telegraph's alleged Iraqi document.

As of this morning, The Telegraph appears to be standing by its story.

June 20, 2003 at 10:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack