Saturday, November 22, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is less than a week away. After Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, I fly out to Singapore and then Langkawi for a ten-day break at a beach resort / spa there. I know that given the current global financial situation, it may seem stupid, but I’ve done stupid things before.

Just wanted to make a few comments about having watched the global financial / economic crisis unfold. The first thing is about the Bush bail out. In his administration’s typical fashion, meaning that everything they’ve touched has turned to shit and criminal, the entire bail out is a joke and it’s not working. This has undoubtedly been the most inept presidential administration I have witnessed in my lifetime. They can’t accomplish anything worthwhile. Can we make it until 20 January?

It’s all so obvious that those in charge just don’t get it. The government used the people’s money to bail AIG out and AIG used some of the money for luxury trips for their staff. The three CEOs of the Big Three automakers flew to beg money from the government in three separate private jets. Then you see the typical Republican talking points about labor costs and labor unions being one of the root causes of the automakers troubles. These are people of the lowest order. The scum of the worst of American politics.

Should the government help save the automakers or not? I honestly don’t know.

Read these for more.

The Simple Arithmetic of Hank Paulson’s Financial Disaster by David Fiderer

You Got Screwed, CEOs Made A Fortune by Jonathan Tasini

We’ve Been Down This Road Before: A Great Depression Quiz by Jacob Savage

Bailout or Bust: How to Save the Big Three From Themselves by Titus Levi

Below is the full text of an article about my hometown. Huntington, WV was named the unhealthiest city in the US. Thanks to David Lebo for sending me the link.

W. Virginia town shrugs at being fattest city
Huntington characterized as obese, toothless and poor in recent report
The Associated Press
updated 7:02 p.m. ET Nov. 17, 2008

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - As a portly woman plodded ahead of him on the sidewalk, the obese mayor of America's fattest and unhealthiest city explained why health is not a big local issue.

"It doesn't come up," said David Felinton, 5-foot-9 and 233 pounds, as he walked toward City Hall one recent morning. "We've got a lot of economic challenges here in Huntington. That's usually the focus."

Huntington's economy has withered, its poverty rate is worse than the national average, and vagrants haunt a downtown riverfront park. But this city's financial woes are not nearly as bad as its health.

Nearly half the adults in Huntington's five-county metropolitan area are obese — an astounding percentage, far bigger than the national average in a country with a well-known weight problem.

Huntington leads in a half-dozen other illness measures, too, including heart disease and diabetes. It's even tops in the percentage of elderly people who have lost all their teeth (half of them have).

It's a sad situation, and a potential harbinger of what will happen to other U.S. communities, said Ken Thorpe, an Emory University health policy professor who is working with West Virginia officials on health reform legislation.

"They may be at the very top, but obesity and diabetes trends are very similar" in many other communities, particularly in the South, Thorpe said.
Huntington's health problems, cited in a U.S. health report, are a terrible distinction for the city, but the locals barely talk about it. Many don't even know how poorly the city ranks.

Culture and history are at least part of the problem, health officials say.
This city on the Ohio River is surrounded by Appalachia's thinly populated hills. It has long been a blue-collar, white-skinned community — overwhelmingly people of English, Irish and German ancestry.

For decades, Huntington thrived with the coal mines to its south, as barges, trucks and trains loaded with the black fuel continually chugged into and past the city. There were plenty of manufacturing jobs in the chemical industry and in glassworks, steel and locomotive parts. Nearly 90,000 people lived in the city in 1950.
The traditional diet was heavy with fried foods, salt, gravy, sauces, and fattier meats — dense with calories burnt off through manual labor. Obesity was not a worry then. Workplace injuries were.

Heart disease, little exercise

But as the coal industry modernized and the economy changed, manufacturing jobs left. The city's population is now fewer than 50,000, and chronic diseases — many of them connected to obesity — seem much more common.

Shari Wiley is a nurse at St. Mary's Regional Heart Institute in Huntington. She runs a program that identifies heavy school children and tries to teach them better eating and exercise habits. The effort began because of an alarming trend.

"A lot of the patients we were seeing were getting heart attacks in their 30s. They were requiring open heart surgery in their 30s. And we were concerned because it used to be you wouldn't see heart patients come in until they were in their 50s," Wiley said.

Huntington is essentially tied with a few other metropolitan areas for proportion of people who don't exercise (31 percent), have heart disease (22 percent) and diabetes (13 percent). The smoking rate is pretty high, too, although not the worst.
However, the Huntington area is a clear-cut leader in dental problems, with nearly half the people age 65 and older saying they have lost all their natural teeth. And no other city comes close to Huntington's adult obesity rate, according to the report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based on data from 2006.

Perhaps fittingly, hospitals are now Huntington's largest employers. Another is Marshall University, home of the "Thundering Herd" football team depicted in the 2006 film "We Are Marshall" which dominates local sports conversations.
People 'can't afford to get healthy'

The river runs along the edge of town, but it's not a focal point. Marshall and one of the city's remaining factories sit to the east with several blocks of hotels and office buildings farther west. A new complex called Pullman Square — which includes a movie theater and a Starbucks — is trying to become a retail and dining center and illustrates a transition to a service economy.

The area's unemployment rate was about 5 percent in September, actually a bit better than the 6.1 percent national average that month. But often the jobs are not high-paying. Many workers lack health insurance, and corporate wellness programs — common at large national companies — are rare.

Poverty hovers, with the area rate at 19 percent, much higher than the national average. In the hilly coal fields to the South, people still live in houses or trailers with drooping, battered roofs. They stare hard at any stranger in a new car. In Huntington and its outskirts, many people think of exercise and healthy eating as luxuries.

The economy needs to pick up "so people can afford to get healthy," said Ronnie Adkins, 67, a retired policeman, as he sat one recent morning on the smoking porch of the Jolly Pirate Donuts shop on U.S. 60.

Doughnut shops don't help either, of course. But breakfast pastry shops aren't the most common outlets for fatty food. Pizza joints are. They are seemingly on every block in some parts of the city. The Huntington phone book lists more pizza places (nearly 200) than the entire state of West Virginia has gyms and health clubs (149).
Hot dog places also abound, with the city hosting an annual hot dog festival every summer. "I've never seen so many places that are hot dog oriented. I guess it's a cultural thing. Appalachian," said Mayor Felinton, who grew up in Maryland and moved to Huntington to attend Marshall University and stayed put.

Fast food has become a staple, with many residents convinced they can't afford to buy healthier foods, said Keri Kennedy, manager of the state health department's Office of Healthy Lifestyles.

Kennedy said she had just seen a commercial that presented "The KFC $10 Challenge." The fried-chicken chain placed a family in a grocery store and challenged them to put together a dinner for $10 or less that was comparable to KFC's seven-piece, $9.99 value meal.

"This is what we're up against," said Kennedy, noting it's an extremely persuasive ad for a low-income family that is accustomed to fried foods. "I don't know what you do to counter that."

Lack of exercise is another concern. During a warm and sunny autumn week in Huntington — the kind of weather that would bring out small armies of joggers in some cities — it was unusual to see a runner or bicyclist. The exercise that does occur is mostly confined to a local YMCA, at campus recreation facilities at Marshall, or at Ritter Park in a tony neighborhood south of downtown.

Some attribute the problem to crumbling sidewalks in the city and a lack of walkways along busy rural roads. Others blame it on lack of motivation, as well as a cultural attitude that never included exercise for health.

There's a connection between education and lack of exercise, too, said Dr. Thomas Dannals, a Huntington family physician.

"The undereducated don't know the value of it. They don't have the drive for it. There's a reason you're successful, you've got drive. The same is true for exercise," said Dannals.

Dannals has been trying to change cultural attitudes. The local newspaper has called him "an exercise evangelist" for founding the city's triathlon, marathon and other projects designed to make exercise popular and fun. He's also spearheading a riverfront exercise trail project, called the Paul Ambrose Trail for Health (PATH).
Ambrose was a Huntington physician who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, jet that crashed into the Pentagon. Just before he died, he had been working on a U.S. Surgeon General report on obesity, and was on the plane that morning to attend an adolescent obesity conference in Los Angeles.

Few smoking restrictions

But the PATH project, first proposed more than a year ago, has yet to win the necessary funding. The lack of support is not surprising: Dannals can't even get a company to sponsor the Huntington marathon.

Local politicians tend to be equally tepid about improving health, said Dr. Harry Tweel, director of the Cabell-Huntington Health Department.

Smoking — a common sin in West Virginia — has been hard to control, Tweel said. When the health department tried to restrict smoking in local bars and restaurants, a group of local businesses fought it all the way to the state Supreme Court. (The restrictions were upheld in 2003.) Even hospitals have fought smoking restrictions in the past, Tweel said.

Other communities have taken more ambitious steps to control the amount of fat in local restaurant food. In July, the Los Angeles City Council placed a moratorium on new fast food restaurants in an impoverished area of the city with above-average rates of obesity. In 2006, New York City became the first U.S. city to ban artificial trans fats in restaurant foods. Other cities are considering similar measures.

Forget it, Tweel said. Not in Huntington.

"You're mentioning areas (of the country) that are well beyond this local region in accepting that kind of change," said Tweel.

"People here have an attitude of 'You're not going to tell me what I can eat.' The cultural attitude is 'My parents ate that and my grandparents ate that,"' he said.
Mayor Felinton echoed Tweel. Felinton had stomach surgery last year to help him lose weight and has been walking to work about three days a week. He has shed nearly 80 pounds and became sort of a local poster boy for weight loss. But in the midst of a re-election campaign last month, he said he had no plans to plunge into a fight over fat in restaurants.

"We want as much business as we can have here," said Felinton, who lost his recent re-election bid and leaves office in January. "As many restaurants as you have, it kind of enhances the livability. Maybe not the health."

Unusually obese place

To be fair, most people in Huntington don't seem to be aware of how poorly their city looks in national health statistics.

The latest numbers came from the CDC report, released in August, but little-publicized. It was based on survey data from 2006, comparing about 150 metropolitan areas. The Huntington area includes five counties — two in West Virginia, two in Kentucky and one in Ohio.

Of the 40 Huntington-area residents interviewed for this story, many had heard something about West Virginia being one of the unhealthiest states. But only one — Tweel — knew about the latest report showing how bad Huntington compared with other metro areas.

Some doctors, on hearing the statistics, noted the Huntington area is not in such bad shape by West Virginia standards. A recent state study found that health problems are significantly worse in the more rural coal counties to the south. But those places didn't show up in the CDC report, because they were too small.
Still, Huntington is an unusually obese place, said Dr. John Walden, chairman of the family and community health department at Marshall University's medical school.
Walden is a third generation physician in the area, but he's also traveled extensively around the world. He says it's always a little jolting coming home and realizing how obese his hometown is compared to the rest of the world.
"I don't know that I've ever been in a place where I've seen so many overweight people," he said.


Well, to all my family and all my American friends, Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Ready for Vacation, But Before I Go

I’m 54 years old and have been working as an expat for almost all of my last 22 years. From the years I worked in the United States I have managed to become eligible for a very minimal amount of social security. The bulk of my retirement is mine to create. Over these last few months I’ve seen my retirement investments decline at a disturbing pace. That’s why despite all the vital issues facing the world, I find myself reading and obsessing on the various economic crises rushing through the world.

Here’s a fairly gloomy article I read the other day from a writer at Forbes.

The Worst is Not Behind Us by Nouriel Roubini,

Here are links to two blogs which offer essential information on the current situations.

The Bonddad blog is especially helpful in understanding the situation. He offers a lot of graphs but goes to great lengths to explain what the information is and what it means.

"The Shock Doctrine" by Naomi Klein is a very good book to read about the recent past economic policies and the meaning of “disaster capitalism”,

One of the most important crises which is getting drowned out by the economic crises is that of Israel and Palestine. With Nazi-style Bibi Nethanyahu looking poised to become the new leader of Israel, the time has come for the world to understand that Israel is not going to fix this holocaust-like problem they’ve created in Palestine. In the end Israel will destroy itself through its actions towards the Palestinians. We can’t allow that to happen. The Nazi Holocaust was a vile and criminal attempt to destroy a people of historic proportions. For the children of the Holocaust and all other Jews, there must be a safe, peaceful homeland for them. Israel is that homeland. That they are electing bad governments, stealing other people’s land, imprisoning innocent people among other things is destroying their country.

The world is going to have to adopt the South African model to solve this crisis. I know how distasteful it is to even consider, but it’s something that must be done. The countries of the world have done everything necessary to acknowledge the atrocities done to Jews. We can’t go back and change it. It’s done. Now, the world leaders must find the courage to put the sanctions and boycotts on Israel necessary to end these crimes against humanity in Palestine and to save Israel from itself.

There is also a very insightful and eye-opening book written by an Israeli historian regarding the founding of the state of Israel and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and the use of terrorism used to found the state of Israel. The book is called The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Ilan Pappe. Read it because it’s an important tool for understanding this situation.

America, in a typically pandering and hypocritical fashion, considers itself a friend of Israel. It is not. It is an enabler. Friends shouldn’t let friends ethnic cleanse other people’s lands. Friends shouldn’t let friends barricade and embargo a small strip of overpopulated land creating hunger and disease on the ground. Friends shouldn’t let friends bomb and attack defenseless people. Below is the text of an article written by an Israeli journalist about this very point.

Gideon Levy / Let's hope Obama won't be a 'friend of Israel' By Gideon Levy Tags: occupation, Israel News

The march of parochialism started right away. The tears of excitement invoked by U.S. president-elect Barack Obama's wonderful speech had not yet dried, and back here people were already delving into the only real question they could think to ask: Is this good or bad for Israel? One after another, the analysts and politicians got up - all of them representing one single school of thought, of course ¬ and began prophesizing.

They spoke with the caution that the situation required, gritting their teeth as though their mouths were full of pebbles, trying to soothe all the fears and concerns. They searched and found signs in Obama: The promising appointment of the Israeli ex-patriots' son, whose father belonged to the Irgun, and maybe also Dennis Ross and Dan Kurtzer and Martin Indyk, who may, God willing, be included in the new administration.

But in the background, a dark cloud hovered above. Careful, danger. The black man, who had associated with Palestinian expats, who speaks of human rights, who favors diplomacy over war, who even wants to engage Iran in dialogue, who will allocate more funding for America's social needs than to weapons exports. He may not be the sort of "friend of Israel" that we have come to love in Washington, the kind of friend we have grown accustomed to.

What's the panic all about? The truth needs to be said: At the base of all of these fears is the angst that this president will push Israel to end the occupation and move toward peace.

Well, maybe Obama will not be a "friend of Israel." May the great change he is promising not omit his country's Mideast policy. May Obama herald not only a new America, but also a new Middle East.

When we say that someone is a "friend of Israel" we mean a friend of the occupation, a believer in Israel's self-armament, a fan of its language of strength and a supporter of all its regional delusions. When we say someone is a "friend of Israel" we mean someone who will give Israel a carte blanche for any violent adventure it desires, for rejecting peace and for building in the territories.

Israel's greatest friend in the White House, outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush, was someone like that. There is no other country where this man, who brought a string of disasters down upon his own nation and the world, would receive any degree of prestige and respect. Only in Israel.

Only in Israel does the prime minister place George Bush's portrait in his den, in his private home. Only in Israel does the prime minister travel to visit him in the White House.

That's because Bush was a friend of Israel. Israel's greatest friend. Bush let it embark on an unnecessary war in Lebanon. He did not prevent the construction of a single outpost. He may have encouraged Israel, in secret, to bomb Iran. He did not pressure Israel to move ahead with peace talks, he even held up negotiations with Syria, and he did not reproach Israel for its policy of targeted killings.

Bush also supported the siege on Gaza and participated in the boycott of Hamas, which was elected in a democratic election initiated by his own administration.

That's just how we like U.S. presidents. They give us a green light to do as we please. They fund, equip and arm us, and sit tight. Such is the classic friend of Israel, a friend who is an enemy, and enemy of peace and an enemy to Israel.

Let us now hope that Obama will not be like them. That he will reveal himself to be a true friend of Israel. That he will put his whole weight behind a deep American involvement in the Middle East, that he will try to solve the Iranian issue through negotiation - the only effective means. That he will help end the siege on Gaza and the boycott of Hamas, that he will push Israel and Syria to make peace, that he will spur Israel and the Palestinians to reach a settlement.

We should hope Obama will help Israel help itself, because that is how friendship is measured. That he will criticize its policy when he must, because that, too, is a test of true friendship.

Let him use his clout to end the occupation and dismantle the settlement project. Let him remember that human and civil rights also apply to the Palestinians, not only to black Americans. And apropos world peace, he needs to start with peace in the Middle East, home to the most dangerous of conflicts, which has been threatening the world for a century now, and is feeding international terrorism.

A true friend of Israel needs to remember that Israel may be "the only democracy in the Middle East," but not in its own backyard. That next to Sderot, which he visited, is Gaza. That "common values" must not include a cruel occupation. That friendship does not mean blind and automatic support.

Let him speak with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, as often as he can and with whomever is willing to talk. And let him do it before the next war, not after it. Let him remember that he has the power to do all that.

Changing the Middle East was in the power of each and every U.S. president, who could have pressured Israel and put an end to the occupation. Most of them kept their hands off as if it were a hot potato, all in the name of a wonderful friendship.

So bring us an American president who is not another dreadful "friend of Israel," an Obama who won't blindly follow the positions of the Jewish lobby and the Israeli government. You did promise change, did you not?

Now for something completely different. Despite the economic meltdown, Jack is taking a much needed vacation in early December. Below are the links to the Malaysian island where I’m going and the resort where I’m going to stay. I need the break.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Day After

The Day After

For the first time in eight long, hideous, embarrassing, humiliating years spent as an American living abroad, I can say today that I feel good about my country. It’s a good feeling.

I was not an early supporter of Barack Obama. I was a Hillary supporter. There was one simple reason. I didn’t trust that Hillary would always do the right thing, but I was sure that at least she would restore competency to government and some degree of respect for the country. I don’t believe Barack can walk on water or that he has all the answers or even most of the answers. I just know that he’s not a stupid, arrogant criminal who will push the US further down the path of self-destruction.

We’re in trouble. America is in trouble. The world is in trouble. George W. Bush, his entire administration, the Republican Party, the neo-conservatives and most American churches are to blame. They are responsible for bringing America and the world to this crisis point. To right itself, America must bring these people to justice. America needs to convene a truth and reconciliation committee to cleanse itself of the shame and blight of the last eight years. Blame for the failure of September 11th, blame for the failure of the war in Afghanistan, blame for the shameless failure of government after Hurricane Katrina and blame for the illegal lies that led to the thousands of death in Iraq for no justifiable reason must be assigned to those responsible and they must be punished. THEY MUST BE HELD RESPONSIBLE AND PUNISHED!! Why are there no American leaders pushing for this judgment? What are they afraid of? Who do they think they are protecting? Why aren’t the people in the streets screaming and shouting for justice from the debacle of the last eight years? Are you afraid it will look bad on your resumes?

George W. Bush, his administration and the Republican Party have done more to destroy America than any of our enemies ever could. From the first days of the Bush presidency when a military submarine joyride for his supporters surfaced and sunk a boat killing several Japanese high school kids to the ignorance and arrogance that enabled the 9/11 attacks on America to the disaster of Katrina to the lies and incompetence of the Iraq war to the near-collapse of America’s economy and financial system, America has been ruled for the last eight years by a gang of white-collar criminals. Justice is necessary.

There is a fresh breeze today, a hope that America can right itself. I only hope it’s possible. That’s it’s not too late. Before America can move forward there must be perp walks. America needs to see George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and others marched in orange jumpsuits into a courtroom to face justice for the crimes they have committed. They have committed crimes. There’s no doubt and they need to be brought to justice. They should lose the wealth they’ve gathered from the wars and disasters they helped create and they should end out their years in a prison cell.