Diplomatic catastrophe

Wikileaks is releasing to the public a quarter of a million classified documents.  This latest batch isn’t so much about atrocities in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  It mainly consists of confidential reports by diplomats that contain unflattering and sometimes snarky comments about world leaders, including important allies.  The reports lack “diplomacy.”  As a result, we have a diplomatic catastrophe on our hands.

For a sampling of what they contain, here is a list of breathless headlines from the Drudge Report.  Go there for links to the articles:

USA RACES TO LIMIT WIKILEAKS DAMAGE…

250,000 State Dept. cables cover Iran, NKorea, Putin… MORE

Reveal: Iran ‘smuggled arms’ to Hezbollah on ambulances…

Reveal: Hillary Clinton ordered diplomats to spy on UN leaders…

Reveal: Iran obtained missiles from NKorea…

What America REALLY thinks of world leaders…

MOST EMBARRASSING, DAMAGING DISCLOSURE IN DECADES…

Clinton Calls Leaks A Global ‘Attack’…

AWKWARD: Clinton heads abroad, will meet world leaders dissed in cables…

Reveal: Saudis repeatedly urge US attack on Iran…

SENATORS: PROSECUTE THE LEAKERS!

NYT EXPLAINS: DECISION TO PUBLISH…

Now Australian police investigate Assange…

France: Leaks threaten democracy…

Rep King: Website leaks are terrorism…

Holder orders criminal investigation…

PALIN: Obama admin’s handling ‘incompetent’…

via DRUDGE REPORT 2011®.

One could make a case for leaking documents that cover up misdeeds.  But it’s hard to imagine what good it would do to leak documents that just embarrass people needlessly.  Diplomats do need to be able to give their superiors candid assessments without worrying that they will show up on the internet and in the world’s newspapers.

Medicare crisis

Part of the new federal  health care plan will be funded by cuts to Medicare, the existing government program that pays for health care for the elderly.  Already, though, an increasing number of doctors are  refusing to take on Medicare patients because the payments are too low.  And starting on January 1 those payments are scheduled to be cut  a whopping 25%.   From The Washington Post:

Want an appointment with kidney specialist Adam Weinstein of Easton, Md.? If you’re a senior covered by Medicare, the wait is eight weeks.

How about a checkup from geriatric specialist Michael Trahos? Expect to see him every six months: The Alexandria-based doctor has been limiting most of his Medicare patients to twice yearly rather than the quarterly checkups he considers ideal for the elderly. Still, at least he’ll see you. Top-ranked primary care doctor Linda Yau is one of three physicians with the District’s Foxhall Internists group who recently announced they will no longer be accepting Medicare patients.

“It’s not easy. But you realize you either do this or you don’t stay in business,” she said.

Doctors across the country describe similar decisions, complaining that they’ve been forced to shift away from Medicare toward higher-paying, privately insured or self-paying patients in response to years of penny-pinching by Congress.

And that’s not even taking into account a long-postponed rate-setting method that is on track to slash Medicare’s payment rates to doctors by 23 percent Dec. 1. Known as the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) and adopted by Congress in 1997, it was intended to keep Medicare spending on doctors in line with the economy’s overall growth rate. But after the SGR formula led to a 4.8 percent cut in doctors’ pay rates in 2002, Congress has chosen to put off the increasingly steep cuts called for by the formula ever since.

This month, the Senate passed its fourth stopgap fix this year – a one-month postponement that expires Jan. 1. The House is likely to follow suit when it reconvenes next week, and physicians have been running print ads, passing out fliers to patients and flooding Capitol Hill with phone calls to persuade Congress to suspend the 25 percent rate cut that the SGR method will require next year.

via Doctors say Medicare cuts forcing them to shift away from elderly.

Does anyone have a solution for this?

How government agencies avoid competitive bidding

Are you an Eskimo from Alaska?  Are you part Eskimo?  Do you know an Eskimo?  (That term, by the way, according to Wikipedia is NOT pejorative when referring to the Alaskan tribes.)  If so, you can start a company and get a government contract without having to compete for it.  Then you can sub-contract the actual work to other companies, pocketing millions for yourself.

That’s one of the ways the federal procurement process avoids having to comply with time-consuming but money-saving laws about taking the lowest bid .  From The Washington Post:

United Solutions and Services, known as US2, had just three employees and several small contracts for janitorial services and other work. It was based in a four-bedroom colonial, where the founder worked out of his living room.

But the firm had one quality the Army prized: It was co-owned by an Alaska native corporation (ANC) and therefore could receive federal contracts of any size without competition, under special set-aside exemptions granted by Congress to help impoverished Alaska natives.

On Sept. 2, 2008, US2 was granted a deal worth as much as $250 million – 3,000 times the $73,000 in revenue the firm claimed the year before. The contract enabled the Army to quickly fund a wide array of projects, including a global campaign to prevent sexual assault and harassment, without seeking outside bids.

US2 could not do the work by itself, though. With the Army’s knowledge, the firm subcontracted the majority of it to more established companies, a Washington Post investigation has found.

Federal rules generally require prime contractors on set-aside deals to perform at least half of the work, something US2 did not do on more than $100 million worth of jobs, according to interviews with Army officials and an analysis of federal procurement data.

via Alaska native status gave tiny, inexperienced firm a $250 million Army contract.

Come, Lord Jesus

It’s Advent!   I love how the Advent hymns, Scripture readings, and sermons focus on all of the different senses of Jesus’s coming to us.  Yes, we look forward to His coming in the events of Christmas.  But we also study the Old Testament prophecies of His coming.  We also contemplate His second coming.  And we also reflect on the way He comes to us personally in the sacraments and in His Word.

Let’s do another sermon compilation.  What insights did you have about Jesus’s coming in the first Sunday of Advent?

In whatever you are going through in your life, may Jesus come to you!

Saying grace

The Religious News Service reports on a study about how many Americans have a prayer of thanksgiving before meals:

These days, 44 percent of Americans report saying grace or a similar blessing almost every day before eating; 46 percent almost never say it, leaving just a statistical sliver in between, Putnam and Campbell report in their recently published book, “American Grace: How Religion Unites and Divides Us.”

“We are hard-pressed to think of many other behaviors that are so common among one half the population and rare among the other half—maybe carrying a purse,” Putnam and Campbell write.

Yet unlike wearing a purse, grace is often a private act: a quiet prayer around a kitchen table, a quick thanks in a crowded restaurant, or a bowed head before a bowl of soup.

“Saying grace is a very personalized form of religious expression,” Campbell said in an interview. “It’s something you do in your home, with your family.”

The privacy of saying grace—it’s not often shouted from rooftops—makes it a better measure of religious commitment than asking people if they go to church, Campbell said. Giving thanks for food isn’t generally said or done to impress the neighbors.

But the private prayer has strong connections to public positions, especially political ones, according to Putnam and Campbell. “Indeed, few things about a person correspond as tightly to partisanship as grace saying,” the scholars write in “American Grace.”

The more often you say grace, the more likely you are to identify with the Republican Party, Putnam and Campbell report. By turns, of course, the less you say grace, the more likely you are to identify with Democrats, the scholars said.

But there is one big exception to the prayer-politics connection. Eighty-five percent of African Americans report saying grace daily, a far higher rate than even Mormons, evangelicals, and mainline Protestants, the runners-up in grace-saying. The rate for evangelicals, for instance, is 58 percent. Yet, blacks remain stalwarts in the Democratic Party.

via Comment on “How, or if, you give thanks speaks volumes”.

Only 58% of evangelicals pray before they eat?  So 42% do not?  That sounds odd.  I wonder in what sense the non-prayers are evangelical.  I also don’t understand the correlation between Republicanism and saying grace.  Aren’t Republicans supposed to be the big money materialists?  Have Democrats really become that secularist?  It doesn’t surprise me that African Americans pray so much. But why do you think all of this is?

By the way, some time ago I sort of complained about the ubiquitous Lutheran table prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest. . . .”  I’m over that.  Now I think it’s a good prayer, and we’ve started to use it.  It’s especially fitting for Advent!

Saying thanks before meals is a good way to cultivate the consciousness of vocation.  In thanking God, as the source of our daily bread, we recognize that He works through the farmers, the bakers, the hands that prepared the meal, and everyone else involved in the vast network of mutual interdependence that is vocation.

Megamind

We went to the movies over Thanksgiving weekend and saw Megamind.   The animated parody of the superhero genre featured a supervillain who finds himself turning good.  It’s actually kind of Augustinian (existence is good, so evil is a privation of being).  It was also quite humorous.  But see it, if at all possible, in the 3-D version.  That technology works remarkably well with these modeled computer animations.  The visuals were spectacular, making better use of the new 3-D possibilities than Avatar, in my opinion.  It’s a movie that will please both children and adults and will corrupt neither.

This makes me want to start going to  movie theaters again, after a rather long hiatus.  Does anyone have any recommendations about the current offerings?


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