Health Care in Crisis Part 2 of 5: Needless Costs, Needless Deaths
Viewpoint July 27, 2009
Too many Americans believe modern medicine will prolong their lives when the only thing that is guaranteed is high medical bills
By Ed Wallace
Editor’s Note: This is Part Two of a five-part series on the health-care crisis.
Sandra Bogan and Southwest Airlines (LUV) have enjoyed a long business association. On the airline’s first day of operation in 1971 she served passengers as a flight attendant—and still does: Bogan holds the distinction of being Southwest Flight Attendant No. 1. She was divorced with three children to raise when she met and married soul mate Tom Bogan, a soft drink executive, in the late 1970s. Although Sandra continues to fly, Tom retired to enjoy an active life with their children and grandchildren. As Sandra recalls, Tom was always on the go; even at 82 he gladly hauled the grandkids around to their activities, fully enjoying retirement.
Until March, that is, when he was diagnosed with diabetes—and soon after, with renal failure. In his youth, Tom smoked and drank, but Sandra had terminated those habits 31 years earlier, when they married. In the spring, Tom was set up to perform home dialysis but, as stepson Lance Anderson said: “The decline in his health was unbelievably quick.”
Doctors said Tom Bogan’s best hope to recover any sort of normal life would be a quadruple bypass to unblock his arteries. Without the operation, they warned, he was within months of the end. Fully informed of the risks entailed by his other medical problems, Tom agreed to the operation.
It was performed at Baylor Medical Center in Grapevine, Tex. But while the operation was deemed a success, Tom picked up an infection in the hospital and passed away eight days later. The bills totaled $183,679. In spite of the tragic outcome, Sandra Bogan has nothing but praise for the hospital, the cardiologist, and UnitedHealthcare (UNH).
Near-Absolute Faith in Medicine
Mike Russell’s eclectic life once included owning the Kansas City Business Journal, but he is best known as the creator of the Book of Lists, a business directory sold by many business journals across the U.S. He and business partner Dan Carney, one of the founders of Pizza Hut—now owned by Yum! Brands (YUM)—purchased and operated KGBS 1190 in Dallas until 1995, when they sold the station to Salem Broadcasting. Russell pursued other publishing ventures until earlier this year, when he found himself struggling to catch his breath. Tests showed he needed an aortic valve replacement.
Russell agreed to the operation, assuring his wife and business associates that it was nothing to worry about—a commonplace and routine operation. But something went terribly wrong during the operation that Friday in Kansas City. Two days later, Mike Russell was gone at the age of 69.
Venie Biggers, 73, was a housewife in North Richland Hills, Tex. Husband Bill was an air conditioning repairman. Venie was unique: She had never smoked in her life, nor even had an alcoholic drink, tea, or coffee. Despite this almost Puritanical regimen, Biggers six years ago was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver. Although it cannot be medically proven, her husband believes the problem started back in the 1970s, when Venie was treated for rheumatoid arthritis with injections of gold sodium thiomalate. That treatment is no longer used—possibly because one of the listed side effects of gold injections is liver dysfunction.
Operating with Poor Odds for Comfort
Like Russell, Biggers had started complaining of a lack of energy a few years ago. Although it could have been a symptom of her cirrhosis, her doctors found problems with her aortic valve and recommended its replacement. In June of 2007 she entered Medical City Dallas, but complications followed primary surgery. A second operation was quickly performed to correct leakage around the graft site, but Biggers’ blood ammonia levels spiked and then she suffered several minor strokes. Needless to say, the prognosis was poor. So when neurosurgeons suggested further operations to correct the secondary damage, Bill Biggers made the hardest decision of his married life and said no to the operation. Venie Biggers lapsed into a coma and passed away six weeks later. The bills came in at $854,000.
At first blush one might reasonably question why heart operations would even be attempted on individuals of an advanced age with other serious medical problems. Most would assume that even if the primary operation had been successful, the individual’s other medical issues could bring into question whether they could recover sufficient health to lead a relatively normal, comfortable life.
It might be a mere cost-benefit equation to most people. But when the families tell their stories, one hears the sadness that fills their voices when they speak of the moment that they lost hope that their loved ones could be healed. For these survivors, it was a near-absolute faith in modern medicine that led them to make decisions that ended in tragedy.
Heart Operations: Most “Are at Best Unnecessary”
It is operations such as these that have sent U.S. health-care costs soaring out of control, certainly when compared to those of other industrialized nations. Dr. Ralph Rashbaum, a renowned back specialist with the Texas Back Institute in Plano, frequently speaks on this issue. Rashbaum is a physician who believes surgery should always be the last resort to correct medical problems—often counter to what the public wants to believe. People are convinced that somehow the miracle of modern surgery can cure all ills.
Rashbaum also knows the other key reason why U.S. health-care costs are so outrageously high. Some 80% of all spending on health care goes to only 20% of the public—in the last two years of their lives. Representative Michael Burgess (R-Tex.), a physician, seemed to agree with Rashbaum’s analysis of the problematical costs for health care: “I hope we could use this opportunity to educate patients and families of risks before and after illnesses.”
As for the costs and risks involved in heart operations, Dr. Michael Ozner, author of The Great American Heart Hoax, lays out the problem: “More than 1.5 million Americans undergo angioplasties and coronary bypass surgeries annually in the U.S.” While in many cases these operations save the lives of the patients, he estimates that “70% to 90% of these procedures are at best unnecessary.”
Why does he say that? It’s been proven in numerous authoritative published studies that bypass operations and angioplasty have never been shown either to prolong life or prevent future heart attacks.
That hasn’t been made clear to the public. Americans undergo these operations seven times as often as patients in either Canada or Sweden. When Dr. Ozner lists possible fatal side effects of open-heart surgery, he includes those that took the lives of Bogan, Biggers, and Russell.
Cheaper Alternatives Can Work Better
How could this be such a problem? Dr. Ozner admits that these procedures do save many lives. But for many others, long-accepted medical treatments and lifestyle changes can be equally or more effective in facilitating a patient’s long-term recovery.
It’s partly due to our faulty memories that we can’t accept that not all medical procedures are necessary. We forget that 40 years ago many individuals suffered heart problems, or outright attacks. In the days before stents, bypasses, and angioplasty, the survivors were simply given medicines to alleviate or reverse the problems. My own father lived for 24 years after his heart attack in 1966 and was deemed healthy enough to be returned to flight status in the U.S. Air Force.
Today, America’s moral dilemma lies in the high price of trying to save the unsavable life. Some may cynically suggest that this is only because doctors and hospitals want to increase their incomes, but the vast majority of physicians are far more honorable and dedicated than that. In the three cases listed in this column, each patient was given the opportunity to turn down the operation and was fully informed of the potential risks. All chose to undergo the procedure.
Government Could Invite More Spending
Nor will federalized health care fix the issue of high costs. It will simply transfer them. It won’t correct the inherent financial waste in the system because we cause much of it. When it is our lives—or those of loved ones—on the line, most of us will demand increasingly expensive care, no matter how many studies and statistics show it likely will not be a long-term cure.
As mentioned in the first column of this series, our already broken health-care system will rapidly be devastated as nearly 80 million baby boomers head toward retirement. Aside from the incalculable misery that inadequate health care can cause, the greater danger is that we could divert so much into expanding expensive health care that we could ensure the U.S. economy’s destruction.
Our current standard is to try to save the unsavable at the end of their lives, but that is not the standard in other developed countries. Nor do they debate the consequent moral dilemma. This is likely the primary reason that U.S. health care is in such serious trouble.
Ed Wallace is a recipient of the the Gerald R. Loeb Award for business journalism, given by the G. and R. Loeb Foundation, and is a member of the American Historical Society. His column leads the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s “Sunday Drive” section. He reviews new cars every Friday morning at 7:15 on Fox Four’s Good Day, contributes articles to BusinessWeek Online, and hosts the top-rated talk show Wheels Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on 570 KLIF.
Complete article at:
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Thursday is the anniversary of Medicare’s enactment.
JOHN GEYMAN, email@example.com, (also via Mark Almberg, firstname.lastname@example.org),
Geyman is professor emeritus of family medicine at the University of Washington. He is past president of Physicians for a National Health Program and author of the book “Shredding the Social Contract: The Privatization of Medicare.”
He said today: “Medicare on its 44th birthday is remarkably successful. It’s the one solid rock we have in our disjointed healthcare system. It covers 43 million Americans age 65 and older as well as some 2 million disabled people. It is consistently rated more highly than private insurance in terms of reliability and quality of coverage. It provides a comprehensive set of benefits, free choice of providers and hospitals anywhere in the country, and simplified administration with an overhead of only 3 percent — versus administrative overhead and profit-taking five to nine times larger for private insurers.
“Medicare was passed in 1965 after a fierce political debate even more divisive than the one we’re having now. Those opposed to reform today are saying that a government program will get between you and your doctor. But traditional unprivatized Medicare shows that to be untrue — less bureaucracy than that of the private insurance industry, with its more than 1,300 insurers working hard to cherry pick the market for their maximal revenue by denying claims or even canceling coverage.
“Despite its successes, Medicare is not a perfect program. It would be even more successful were it not for political compromises along the way allowing it to be privatized. A good example is the Medicare legislation of 2003. The problem was soaring prices of prescription drugs. The result has been a bonanza for the drug and insurance industries. The new drug benefit was handed over to the private sector to manage, prices have continued up unabated, the government was prohibited from negotiating lower prices as the Veterans Administration does, and new subsidies were offered to private insurers for Medicare Advantage, private Medicare plans that seek out healthier Medicare beneficiaries.
“The same forces are at work today as healthcare reform proposals make their way through Congress. Under pressure from industry and their lobbyists, the public plan has been watered down to a small and ineffectual option at best, if it ever survives to being enacted. But the strengths of traditional Medicare as a system of social insurance, coupled with a private delivery system, remains a solid foundation upon which to build a better system in this country in terms of access, affordability, quality, efficiency and reliability.”
From: Institute for Public Accuracy
Pat Bagley: … some gummint bureaucrat!!
Lloyd Dangle, Troubletown: … health care that sucks
In error-laden Wash. Post op-ed, Feldstein falsely claims health care plan gives “no protection” to unemployed
In a July 28 Washington Post op-ed, Harvard University economics professor Martin Feldstein advanced several falsehoods, including his claim that President Obama’s health care reform plan provides “no protection if [Americans] lose their current insurance because of unemployment”; his suggestion that a 5.4 percent surtax would be added to everyone in the 35 percent marginal tax bracket; and his claim that Obama supports a British-style health care system in which “the government owns the hospitals and the doctors are salaried.”
BLS: Employee Benefits in the United States
News release, Employee Benefits in the United States – March 2009: “While about 70 percent of workers in private industry had access to employer provided medical care benefits in March 2009, only 25 percent of the lowest wage earner — those with average hourly wages in the lowest 10 percent of all private industry wages — had such access, the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor reported today. By contrast, nearly all workers with hourly wages in the highest 10 percent of all private industry wages had access to medical care benefits. A worker with access to medical care benefits is defined as having an employer-provided medical plan available for use, regardless of the worker’s decision to enroll or participate in the plan. These data are from the National Compensation Survey (NCS), which provides comprehensive measures of occupation earnings, compensation cost trends, and incidence and provisions of employee benefit plans. Farm and private household workers, the self-employed, and Federal government workers are excluded from the survey.” for use, regardless of the worker’s decision to enroll or participate in the plan. These data are from the National Compensation Survey (NCS), which provides comprehensive measures of occupation earnings, compensation cost trends, and incidence and provisions of employee benefit plans. Farm and private household workers, the self-employed, and Federal government workers are excluded from the survey.”
News Analysis July 29, 2009 Oil Prices: Gauging the Speculator Impact
With demand for fuel on the wane, why have prices gone up? Here are some answers about what may be influencing the price of oil
By Chris Kahn, Associated Press
While manufacturers shuttered factories and Americans cut way back on travel, oil prices surged a stunning 124% during a long stretch earlier this year. Gas prices followed, rising nearly a dollar a gallon, with price increases every day for almost two months.
What happened? Shouldn’t fuel get cheaper when there’s less demand for it?
The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) hopes to get some answers this week as it starts a series of public hearings on oil trading. Government economists are suspicious of a flood of money from pension funds, hedge funds, and other speculative investments, though they can’t say for sure how much this affects energy prices.
Here are some questions and answers about who may be influencing oil prices, and why they’re so hard to track.
What is a speculator?
A speculator is loosely defined as anyone who invests in something simply to profit off fluctuations in its market value. With oil, speculators buy and sell contracts for oil barrels (to be delivered later) without any intention of using the oil.
The New York Mercantile Exchange is dominated by this kind of trading. Less than 1% of all futures trading results in someone actually receiving barrels of oil.
Who is a speculator?
They’re hardly the faceless poachers that Congress and trade groups made them out to be last year when oil prices spiked. The speculator could very well be you, and you don’t even know it. Pension funds, mutual funds, and hedge funds are all players in energy commodities.
One of those investors is the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), which provides retirement and health benefits to 1.6 million people.
CalPERS started dipping into energy commodities two years ago with $500 million in commodity investments. As the price of oil started rising in early 2007, CalPERS spokesman Brad W. Pacheco said: “The staff saw it as an opportunity.”
That initial investment increased by $100 million due to the rise in commodity prices.
Others can invest in oil through the stock market by buying shares in the United States Oil Fund (USO) and other exchange-traded funds. USO uses those funds to buy oil contracts, which are 1,000 barrels of oil each. The share price moves with the price of oil. Recently, money has been flowing into these funds at a blistering pace.
Market researcher Morningstar (MORN) estimates that since the beginning of the year, the amount of assets plowed into energy exchange-traded funds (ETFs) doubled to more than $8 billion.
What influence do speculators have on the price of oil?
CFTC Commissioner Bart Chilton said speculators may have helped oil prices soar above $147 a barrel last summer. That belief was fortified this spring when oil prices spiked again, this time with both declining demand and a glut of surplus crude in U.S. inventories.
“Something’s going on in these markets,” Chilton said. “Any high school civics class would tell you the price should be going down.”
But it’s nearly impossible to say how much speculators affect oil prices since the government doesn’t track them very closely.
“A lot of these trades are occurring in markets that we don’t regulate,” Chilton said.
Investors have been moving huge sums of money into oil and other commodities through over-the-counter trades. These are considered “dark” markets because the CFTC hasn’t been empowered to watch them. Anyone can agree to an oil contract on their own without listing it with any market.
The commission is expected to release a report on oil speculation next month. But the report, which has yet to be completed, will not calculate how much speculators are influencing oil prices, Chilton said.
“It’s unquantified to a large extent because we can’t see these markets,” he said.
The government does keep track of some speculative money. An analysis of those records by the Associated Press found speculators have bet consistently that oil prices would go higher since September 2003.
They were especially enthusiastic in the first seven months of 2007, a period in which oil prices went from about $60 to $80 a barrel. CFTC data showed that speculators held “long” positions—a bet that oil prices would rise—equivalent to 15 million barrels of oil in January 2007. By the end of July 2007, their overall holdings were equivalent to more than 170 million barrels.
Some economists say this kind of enthusiasm can boost oil prices the same way an influx of new buyers forced home prices higher a few years ago. But others aren’t so sure.
Francisco Blanch, a commodity strategist with Bank of America Merrill Lynch who has studied the role of speculation in energy, said investors tend to jump on a commodity after it already is starting to get more expensive.
“High prices cause people to invest in commodities,” Blanch said. “On the other hand, we haven’t found that higher investment causes higher prices.”
Why would any of this matter when I fill up my car?
While the jury is still out on the exact role speculators play in commodities markets, regulators and trade groups say their presence is certainly felt at the gas pump.
Speculators buy gasoline contracts, too. And trade groups say that petroleum refiners watch the swings in oil and gas contracts when setting their prices.
If the crude oil contract goes up by $1, “the wholesale prices for gasoline, diesel, and heating oil will most likely go up between 3¢ to 5¢ in five hours,” said Dan Gilligan, president of the Petroleum Marketers Association of America. “It happens that quick.”
A jump in wholesale prices may not immediately affect pump prices, but they eventually force gas station owners to raise their prices, too, Gilligan said. There was evidence of that this spring, when oil prices doubled from February to June. Retail gas prices followed, with the national average rising for 54 consecutive days, cresting at just above $2.69 a gallon on June 21.
Would regulation effectively rein in speculation in oil markets?
Probably not. Crude oil is traded around the world, and while the CFTC may be able to influence the benchmark contract here, it has no jurisdiction over markets in other countries.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy addressed the issue earlier this month, calling for greater transparency and supervision in oil futures markets around the world.
If an international consensus isn’t reached, traders say speculators will simply move to the markets that allow them to continue to place aggressive bets on oil. And that will still affect U.S. gas prices, since most of the country’s petroleum is imported.
“If you start to restrict the market, it’s hard to see what that achieves,” said Morgan Downey, a commodities trader for Standard Chartered Bank (STAN.L). “I think the market is working fine. People don’t like to see the prices, but the market is working fine.”
Complete article at:
This Week in Petroleum (TWIP)
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
This Week in Petroleum (TWIP) has been updated to the EIA website:
The Role of the Mexican Military in the Cartel War
By Stephen Meiners and Fred Burton
July 29, 2009
U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske is in the middle of a four-day visit this week to Mexico, where he is meeting with Mexican government officials to discuss the two countries’ joint approach to Mexico’s ongoing cartel war. In prepared remarks at a July 27 press conference with Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora, Kerlikowske said Washington is focused on reducing drug use in the United States, supporting domestic law enforcement efforts against drug traffickers and working with other countries that serve as production areas or transshipment points for U.S.-bound drugs.
Absent from his remarks was any mention of the U.S. position on the role of the Mexican military in the country’s battle against the drug cartels. Kerlikowske’s visit comes amid a growing debate in Mexico over the role that the country’s armed forces should play in the cartel war. The debate has intensified in recent weeks, as human rights organizations in Mexico and the United States have expressed concern over civil rights abuses by Mexican troops assigned to counternarcotics missions in various parts of the country.
The director of Mexico’s independent National Human Rights Commission, for example, has encouraged the new legislature to re-examine the role of the Mexican military in the country’s cartel war, saying that the current approach is clearly not working. The number of citizen complaints against soldiers has increased over the last few years as the troops have become actively engaged in counternarcotics operations, and the commission director has expressed hope for greater accountability on the part of the armed forces.
Citing similar concerns, and the fact that such citizen complaints are handled by the military justice system — which has reportedly not successfully prosecuted a case in years — the independent U.S.-based Human Rights Watch has sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging her not to certify Mexico’s human rights record to Congress, which would freeze the disbursement of a portion of the funds for the Merida Initiative, a U.S. counternarcotics aid package for Mexico.
More important than any possible funding freeze from Washington, though, is the potential response from the Mexican government. President Felipe Calderon has emphasized that the use of the military is a temporary move and is necessary until the country’s federal police reforms can be completed in 2012. Legislative leaders from both main opposition parties complained last week that Calderon’s approach has unnecessarily weakened the armed forces, while the leader of the Mexican senate — a member of Calderon’s National Action Party — said the legislature will examine the role of the military and seek to balance the needs of the cartel war with the civil rights of the Mexican people. In addition, the president of Mexico’s supreme court has said the court plans to review the appropriateness of military jurisdiction in cases involving citizen complaints against soldiers.
Domestic debate and international criticism of Calderon’s use of the military are not necessarily new. Indeed, Calderon was defending his approach to representatives of the United Nations back in early 2008. However, the renewed debate, combined with recent changes in the Mexican legislature, have set the stage for a general re-examination of the Mexican military’s role in the cartel war. And while it is still unclear exactly where the re-examination will end up, the eventual outcome could drastically change the way the Mexican government fights the cartels.
More than Just Law Enforcement
Since taking office in December 2006, Calderon’s decision to deploy more than 35,000 federal troops in security operations around the country has grabbed headlines. While previous presidents have used the armed forces for counternarcotics operations in isolated cases, the scope and scale of the military’s involvement under Calderon has reached new heights. This approach is due in no small part to the staggering level of corruption among federal police. But primarily, the use of the military is a reflection of the many tasks that must be performed under Calderon’s strategy, which is far more complex than simply putting boots on the ground and requires more than what traditional law enforcement agencies can provide.
This broad range of tasks can be grouped into three categories:
The first involves duties traditionally carried out by the armed forces in Mexico, such as technical intelligence collection and maritime and aerial monitoring and interdiction. These tasks are well-suited to the armed forces, which have the equipment, training and experience to perform them. These are also key requirements in the country’s counternarcotics strategy, considering that Mexico is the primary transshipment point for South American-produced cocaine bound for the United States, the world’s largest market for the drug.
The second category includes traditional civilian law enforcement and judicial duties. Specifically, this includes actions such as making arrests, prosecuting and convicting defendants and imposing punishment. With the exception of the military routinely detaining suspects and then turning them over to law enforcement authorities, the tasks in this second category have remained mainly in the hands of civilian authorities.
The final category is more of a gray area. It involves tasks that overlap between Mexico’s armed forces and law enforcement agencies, and it is the area over the last few years in which the Mexican military has become increasingly involved. It is also the area that has caused the most controversy, primarily due to the fact that it has brought the troops into closer contact with the civilian population.
Some of the most noteworthy tasks in this final “gray” category include:
Drug-crop eradication and meth-lab seizures. In addition to being the main transit point for U.S.-bound cocaine, Mexico is also estimated to be the largest producer of marijuana and methamphetamines consumed in the United States. The U.S. National Drug Intelligence Center estimates that more than 17,000 tons of marijuana were produced in Mexico during 2007, most of which was smuggled into the United States. Similarly, seizures of so-called meth superlabs in Mexico over the last few years — some capable of producing hundreds of tons annually — underscore the scale of meth production in Mexico. The destruction of marijuana crops and meth production facilities is a task that has been shared by both the military and law enforcement under Calderon.
Immigration and customs inspections at points of entry and exit. Thorough inspections of inbound and outbound cargo and people at Mexico’s borders have played a key role in some of the more noteworthy drug seizures during the last few years, including the country’s largest cocaine seizure at the Pacific port of Manzanillo in November 2007. Similar inspections elsewhere have led to significant seizures of weapons and precursor chemicals used in the production of meth. In many cases, the Mexican armed forces have played a role in either stopping or inspecting suspect cargo.
Raids and arrests of high-value cartel targets. Beyond simply stopping the flow of drugs and weapons into and out of Mexico, the federal government has also sought to disrupt the powerful organizations that control the drug trade by arresting drug cartel members. Given the federal police’s reputation for corruption, highly sensitive and risky operations such as the arrest of high-ranking cartel leaders have more often than not been carried out by the military’s elite Special Forces Airmobile Group (GAFE). In most cases, the suspects detained by GAFE units have been quickly handed over to the attorney general’s office, though in some cases military personnel have been accused of holding suspects for longer than necessary in order to extract information themselves.
General public safety and law enforcement. The rise in organized crime-related violence across Mexico over the last few years has been a cause for great concern both within the government and among the population. A central part of the federal government’s effort to curb the violence has been the deployment of military forces to many areas, where the troops conduct such actions as security patrols, traffic stops and raids as well as man highway checkpoints. In some cities, the military has been called upon to assume all public-safety and law-enforcement responsibilities, disarming the local police force while looking for police links to organized crime. Another part of this militarization of law enforcement has involved the appointment of military officers — many of whom resign their commission a day before their appointment — to law enforcement posts such as police chief or public safety consultant.
It is this final trend that has led to most of the concerns and complaints regarding the military’s role in the cartel war. The federal government has been mindful of these concerns from the beginning and has tried to minimize the criticism by involving the federal police as much as possible. But it has been the armed forces that have provided the bulk of the manpower and coordination that federal police agencies — hampered by rampant corruption and a tumultuous reform process — have not been able to muster.
A Victim of its Own Success
The armed forces’ greater effectiveness, rapid deployment capability and early successes in some public security tasks made it inevitable that its role would evolve and expand. The result has been a classic case of mission creep. By the time additional duties were being assigned to the military, its resources had become stretched too thin to be as effective as before. This reality became apparent by early 2008 in public-safety roles, especially when the military was tasked with security operations in cities as large and as violent as Ciudad Juarez.
Even though the Mexican military was not designed or trained for law-enforcement duties or securing urban areas, it had been generally successful in improving the security situation of the smaller cities to which it had been deployed throughout 2007. But by early 2008, when soldiers were first deployed to Ciudad Juarez en masse, it became clear that they simply had too much on their plate. As the city’s security environment deteriorated disastrously during the second half of 2008, the military presence there proved incapable of controlling it, an outcome that has continued even today, despite the unprecedented concentration of forces that are currently in the city.
In addition to the military’s mission failures, it has also struggled with increasing civil rights complaints from citizens. In particular, soldiers have been accused of unauthorized searches and seizures, rough treatment and torture of suspects (which in some cases have included police officers), and improper rules of engagement, which have led several times to civilian deaths when soldiers mistook them for hostile shooters. In many cities, particularly in northern and western Mexico, exasperated residents have staged rallies and marches to protest the military presence in their towns.
While the military has certainly not acted flawlessly in its operations and undoubtedly bears guilt for some offenses, these complaints are not completely reliable records of the military’s performance. For one thing, many cartel enforcers routinely dress in military-style clothing and travel in vehicles painted to resemble military trucks, while many also have military backgrounds and operate using the tactics they were taught. This makes it difficult for residents, during the chaos of a raid, to distinguish between legitimate soldiers and cartel members. More important, however, is the fact that the Mexican drug cartels have been keenly aware of the threat posed to them by the military and of the controversy associated with the military’s involvement in the cartel war. For this reason, the cartels have been eager to exploit this vulnerability by paying residents to protest the military presence and spread reports of military abuses.
As the Mexican congress and supreme court continue the debate over the appropriateness of the military in various roles in the cartel war, it is important to recall what the armed forces have done well. For all its faults and failures, the military remains the most reliable security tool available to the Mexican government. And continued problems with the federal police reforms mean that the military will remain the most reliable and versatile option for the foreseeable future.
Any legislative or judicial effort to withdraw the armed forces from certain tasks will leave the government with fewer options in battling the cartels and, ultimately, in an even more precarious position than it is in now. The loss of such a valuable tool in some areas of the cartel war would force the government to fundamentally alter its strategy in the cartel war, most likely requiring it to scale back its objectives.
Please feel free to distribute this Intelligence Report to friends, or if you repost on a website include a link to Cartel War
Borowitz Report – Obama Names Thursday “Drink A Beer With Someone Who Arrested You Day”
President Touts Healing Power of Beer
In an effort to foster better understanding between police and the people they have recently handcuffed in their own homes, President Barack Obama today named this Thursday “Drink a Beer With Someone Who Arrested You Day.”
Explaining his decision, the President told reporters, “When tempers run a little high, there’s one thing that always helps people think a little more rationally: beer.”
The President said he hoped that his proclamation would result in thousands of friendly get-togethers around the country between police officers and the innocent people they recently arrested.
“I’m hoping, for example, that Mischa Barton will have a tall and foamy with the cops who removed her from her home,” he said, adding, “which, let me be clear, they did not act stupidly in doing.”
For members of minority communities who have not been arrested recently, Mr. Obama had these reassuring words: “The week’s still young.”
•In other news, police in the Michael Jackson case searched Larry King’s house.
•Former NFL star Michael Vick said he had “nothing to do with” the death of the Taco Bell Chihuahua.
•A man sued CNN after recognizing his ass in stock footage about obesity.
August 1, 2009 at 3:30PM
Nantucket – FREE SHOW!
In addition to his appearances at the Nantucket Comedy Festival, Andy will make a joint appearance with his wife Olivia Gentile sponsored by Nantucket Bookworks. Andy will perform a free standup show and interview Olivia about her book LIFE LIST: A Woman’s Quest for the World’s Most Amazing Birds. Andy will take questions about his book, WHO MOVED MY SOAP? The CEO’s Guide to Surviving in Prison: The Bernie Madoff Edition. After the show, Andy and Olivia will sign copies of their books.
Arno’s, 41 Main Street
three thousand words
Jul 30, 2009
Matt Davies: hit it
Gary Varvel: common-sense beer