• They did - at least, they were financially strong in the early 1990s.  But insurance competition is all about low premiums - doctors are not going to willingly go with a higher-premium insurer just because they think the low-cost alternatives are at risk of going bankrupt.  In many states there can be significant moral hazard: if doctors contract with an insurer and the insurer goes out of business, the state can step in to provide coverage for the doctor if the doctor is sued.  

    This protects doctors directly from the mistakes of insurers, and it also protects patients by providing a deep pocket for damages - if the state left the doctor hanging in the wind, any doctor facing a large judgement would probably declare bankruptcy too, leaving the injured patient with no recourse at all.

    The problem is that the insurance company is not held accountable unelss there is gross fraud, and so there is a built-in incentive to keep rates very low while pursuing the highest-risk investments that the state insurance commissioners will allow.  State insurance commissioners are usually "captured" by the insurance industry, so the problems are large.  The result is that accounting norms and risk calculations are poor, and when the markets are sizzling insurers look far "stronger" than they actually are.

  • He can get the votes for it, of course, but the question as always is the political cost.  If tort deform is unpopular, then it won't happen.  They've been able to generate sympathy by having "family doctors" complain about going out of business and skyrocketing premiums.  They've had hospital "walk-outs" across the country, and pointed the finger at the "trial lawyers".

    But the "forced out of business" idiocy has been exposed, and the dropping pressure from premiums will make the doctors look a lot less sympathetic.  I think this issue is about to turn to our favor.

  • Financial penalties to prevent spouses who want divorces from leaving...  Forcing people to stay married...  hmmm....

    Yeah, because when a woman wants to leave her domineering abusive husband, it's really helpful to send her a fat tax bill.  She's just been skimming the public till for too long.  And if she's a stay-at-home, or would have custody of the kids, and can't afford to pay it, then we can deny her the divorce!  That'll teach those marriage-bonus hucksters!  

    Maybe we could help out abused women here - instead of splitting the tax bill 50-50, we'll grant the divorce and make the husband pay it all.  In fact, I bet if we sent the IRS to garnish the husband's wages for back taxes, in addition to spousal and child support, that'd be great!  Estranged ex-husbands are always understanding and rational about such things - they never, for example, hunt down and kill their ex-wives out of revenge or to avoid support payments.  So battered women would have nothing to worry about!

  • comment on a post Feingold over 9 years ago
    I like Feingold.  We need more like him in the Senate.  10 would be a good start.  But good God, haven't we learned a DAMN THING?!?!


  • Senators don't win the Big One.
  • Actually, they are prohibited from being elected to consecutive terms.  He could run again in 2010.
  • Cole actually wrote:
    MEMRI was founded by a retired Israeli colonel from military intelligence, and co-run by Meyrav Wurmser, wife of David Wurmser. David Wurmser is close to the Likud Party in Israel and served in Douglas Feith's Office of Special Plans in the Pentagon, where he helped manufacture the case that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was linked to al-Qaeda.  . . .

    MEMRI is funded to the tune of $60 million a year by someone, and it is a sophisticated anti-Arab propaganda machine. The organization cleverly cherry-picks the vast Arabic press, which serves 300 million people, for the most extreme and objectionable articles and editorials. It carefully does not translate the moderate articles. I have looked at newspapers that ran both tolerant and extremist opinion pieces on the same day, and checked MEMRI, to find that only the extremist one showed up. It would sort of be as though al-Jazeera published translations of Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Jerry Falwell on Islam and the Middle East, but never published opinion pieces on the subject by William Beeman or Dick Bulliet.

    MEMRI is enormously popular with strong Jewish nationalists in the United States . . . the main objection is the selectiveness of the material. MEMRI is one of a number of public relations campaigns essentially on behalf of the far right-wing Likud Party in Israel that tries to shape American perceptions of Muslims and the Middle East in a negative direction.

    Lets look at the "three strikes".

    1.  I think we've agreed that his funding number was incorrect.  As I said, I would be interested to know the origin of his figure.  I doubt it was made up out of thin air or deliberately, but it might have been from another inaccurate source, or a number for another group, or even from shoddy research.  In any case, it would be useful to know why it was wrong.  The statement was false in the sense that it was inaccurate - but mere inaccuracy does not demonstrate deception or malice.

    Moreover, Cole writes today:

    MEMRI Funding

    I have received several emails from people who looked up the funding for MEMRI in the internet guide to charitable organizations, and found that it reported income of a little less than $2 million a year.

    But that is only the United States. MEMRI is an international organization. It has, for instance, a Berlin branch, which has also brandished lawsuit threats.

    Does it have an Israel office? If so, housed where? How much of its work is done offshore? Why did Brian Whitaker find that three of its Washington staff was ex-Israeli military intelligence?

    In fact, MEMRI's website lists several international bureaus, including its main Media Center in Jerusalem, and it largely silent as to whether these other bureaus are independent or are also financed out of the budget for the US 501(c)(3) organization.  $500K to $1 is good money for a Washington lobbying shop; for an international translation service (offices in at least three countries, services in 8 languages!), it seems a bit low.  I'm not sure how many people it would take, but that kind of money isn't going to pay very many translators in Washington or Berlin.  Still, I have no additional information so I would like to see some light shed on the origin of the $60m number, or some information that perhaps MEMRI's US budget does not account for its overseas operations.

    2.  Cole says that when there are moderate and extreme Arab columnists, MEMRI nearly always translates only the extreme columns.  You agree he is cherry-picking.  As Cole states in his response, he is addressing the problem that MEMRI ignores moderate religious voices in the Arab press - and so the fact that it offers translations of secularists is not relevant.  I think those secular translations are somewhat relevant, but still his point that the moderate religious voices are being omitted is important.  

    Much the same happens in the US when conservatives marginilize and ignore moderate Christians, prefering to cast political and social struggle between only a pious extreme Evangelical Christianity and the evil Secular Humanists.  The fact that there is a Christian Left, and that many Catholics are opposed to war and the death penalty is left out.

    3.  Cole did NOT say MEMRI is part of the Likud political party, as his correspondent suggests.  You claim he used "weasel words", but their meaning is not weaseling: MEMRI and Likud party pursue some similar political goals.  MEMRI works to support its agenda, and that agenda is also supported by Likud.  Likud supporters use MEMRI research.  MEMRI was co-founded by the spouse of someone "close" to Likud.  Cole did NOT say that Likud finances MEMRI, that MEMRI has made improper political contrbutions either in Israel or America, the MEMRI acts at the direction of Likud, or vice versa.  Cole at no time stated or implied that MEMRI was "affiliated with the government", "received government funding", or that Col. Carmon was part of the Likud Party.

    So one strike - and the most inconsequential of the three.  And since only one of his statements was false, I'm not sure that MEMRI gets anything out of this other than a reputation for hypersensitivity.

  • "Liars" - where is the evidence of actual knowledge?

    "Shoddy" - I'd have to agree.  While Googling "MEMRI annual budget" turns up a link to a USC journalism report citing a figure of roughly half a million dollars for 1999, that's it.  I'd be interetested in where the $60m figure comes from.

  • U.M. will only defend Prof. Cole to the extent that U.M. is a party to the lawsuit, or to the extent that Cole's blog is an extension of his official duties as a U.M. professor.  I.e., they will cover their ass and nothing more.

    A poster at Brad DeLong's website found MEMRI's tax information (I think) reported revenues of $1.7m.  Far less than $60m, to be sure, but likely more than ten times that of Prof. Cole.  Perhaps neither is David or Goliath, but one of the two has much deeper pockets.

    "pathetic", "caught in several lies", "poor professor Cole", "anti-semites ... to help him"
    Your bias is showing.

  • I'd note the following:
    1.  Cole's comments are generally opinions - for example, "bias" is fundamentally an opinion issue, not factual, so MEMRI can't sue (and win) for that.  More broadly, the blog title says "Thoughts on the Middle East, History, and Religion" and blogs are essentially opinion columns.
    2.  Legally, slander and Libel are spoken and written defamation, respectively.  Proving defamation requires showing that factually inaccurate statements were made that have harmed the victim's reputation or standing in the community.  Indeed
    3.  MEMRI is public - they are a lobbying and media organization.  The thresholds for defamation are much higher for public figures and organizations.  The plaintiff must prove that the defendant had KNOWLEDGE that the statements were false, acted with ACTUAL MALICE, or was NEGLIGENT in making the statements.  These are very high burdens to clear.  Cole states his factual errors were based on an absence of information.  Was he negligent - probably not, especially if he can cite ANY source for the $60m funding figure.  And, of course, there is still the question he raises of whether such an inaccuracy would be defamatory.  Accusing someone of being rich is not defamatory.
    4.  Insults and epithets, like calling Rush Limbaugh "a narrow-minded, fat-assed, pill-popping hypocrite bastard," are generally not actionable for defamation because they are "emotional outbursts" that demonstrate intense dislike but are not taken literally.  Cole could argue that part of his statements regarding MEMRI, even if technically inaccurate (e.g., Rush Limbaugh may not actually have been born out of wedlock), are "emotional outbursts" not intended to be interpreted literally.
    5.  Cole can argue he's just a blogger.  His statements are made in a personal forum, and so cannot be expected to have any great impact on the reputation of MEMRI.  By comparison, he did not make the statements in published print media, in an academic journal, at an academic conference, with the explicit agreement of U.M., or on a major news media website.  As such, the statements do not have the same weight and power that formal published articles have, and so cannot be damaging to reputations.
    6.  Cole's actually at a slight disadvantage because he publically identifies himself as an academic expert on the subject he writes about, so his statements still might have some impact.  Most bloggers, though, are not experts so there's far less reason to think their assertions would be damaging to the character of a potential plaintiff.

    Are you still a concerned blogger?  
    • Check your facts.  
    • Have a source for them. (any reasonable source - as long as you can say "the statement was not knowlingly false and I didn't just make it up; see -- I got the facts from here... ")
    • Don't be "actually malicious".
    • Alter to your template to insert: "I think that..." at the start of every post.
    • Include a footer with a disclaimer that all statements are opinions of the author and are not intended to harm any reputation or defame any individual, organization, or other entity.
    • Donate to the ACLU.
    • Spread the word to your fellow bloggers - if bloggers in general are careful with their statements, the credibility of the blogosphere will make it easier to defend bloggers.
  • comment on a post Juan Cole Threatened With Lawsuit By Lobbying Group over 9 years ago
    Prof. Cole is intelligent and well-versed with such idiocy, and is unlikely to back down. He also has the resouces of the Univ. of Michigan to draw upon if MEMRI were so foolish as to join UM as a party to the lawsuit. So Prof. Cole is not going to be lightly SLAPPed away.

    Other bloggers may not be so fortunate. However, there are many internet, free speech, and civil rights groups that may be happy to assist bloggers against this sort of suit, like the EFF and the ACLU. If these suits become common, resources and legal research to defeat them will spread quickly, even across partisan lines. Blogs devoted to beating (and avoiding) SLAPP suits will pop up or be more widely read. Enterprising law students or attorneys might consider offering advice on such topics a good way to build readership!

    Most complaints will be so frivolous that a boilerplate answer and Motion for Dismissal / Motion for Summary Judgment / Demurrer or similar pleading could be downloaded from the web, relevant facts cut-'n-pasted in, copies of relevant blog posts and documents attached as exhibits along with a pre-fab appendix describing blogs and internet media for the benefit of state and federal trial courts who may be unfamiliar with the blogosphere, and filed by the blogger with perhaps no financial burden. It would take some time, but then bloggers have time. Otherwise, they wouldn't blog.

  • Thanks - I had not seen those plots before.  My response to Bob's column last week was written before he released these additional correlations.

    This indicates that, indeed, the Elections Supervisors in Franklin County have some explaining to do.

  • comment on a post Why There Were Long Lines in Columbus over 9 years ago
    Here's what I posted at Daily Kos in response to this argument:

    Bob needs to do some more homework.  Or at least the diary should reflect more of the truth, as opposed to posting only an incendiary and one-sided account.

    Franklin County has been growing VERY fast over the last four years, but did not purchase any new machines.  That is because the State initially decided to acquire new electronic LCD touch-screen machines state-wide but then changed that decision earlier in 2004 because of concerns over security.  With no new machines, Franklin County officials had to use the same number of machines for more voters.

    Of course, like any city, most of the growth in population was NOT in the central city of Columbus, but in the surrounding suburbs.  Although machines were shuffled between some precincts, the longest waits were NOT in the inner city precincts -- including neighborhoods with the heaviest concentrations of minorities (East Side), students (OSU Campus), and homosexuals(German Village, Short North -- or old suburbs located INSIDE the beltway, but actually in the newer suburbs OUTSIDE the beltway.

    Moreover, the City of Columbus itself, unlike Cincinnati and Cleveland, is a much larger city in both square miles and population, and still aggressively expaninding its city limits.  Technically, it is the 15th largest in the US by population, larger than Clv and Cinti, though its total metro area population is smaller than both.   It extends well beyond the outer-beltway in nearly all directions, and crosses into at least two adjoining counties; many City of Columbus suburban precincts may have been no more than empty fields in 2000.  It does NOT surprise me that 29% of Columbus precincts had fewer machines this year, because of the changing demographics of the city.

    The real problem was the decision by Sec of St Blackwell (R) not to purchase any new machines this year.  That meant Columbus was going to be screwed no matter what happened.

    Another poster there, Bonobo, noted that the numbers the Dispatch relied on were for votes-per-machine, but that since the machines busy all day long, they reached their maximum number of votes.  The votes-per-machine were slightly lower in poorer neighborhoods because those voters are generally less educated and less familiar with the issues/machines, and so therefore more likely to take longer in the voting booth.

    However, it is still true that Franklin County is growing rapidly and, because of decisions made at the state-wide level, it acquired no new voting machines since 2000 although its population grew considerably.  That population growth required that machines be re-allocated from precincts with constant population (and hence a smaller share of the total county population) to precincts with rapidly growing population.  By and large, in Franklin County the population is growing fastest in the suburbs.  

    Thus, given the failure to get new machines, it is FAIR that urban precincts in the City of Columbus lose machines to faster growing suburban precincts.  Until we see some statistics about machines-per-registered-voter-per-precinct, there's too many questions left unanswerd.

  • on a comment on Abandoning Gun Control over 9 years ago
    You'll get no argument about this from me: community policing strategies will do more to reduce urban gun-related homicides than gun control could ever hope.

    I suspect the culture of 'honor' among poor groups - rural, urban, north and south - is a big part of the higher rates of homicide.  Men in poverty or of limited means with little expectation of rewarding employment or success are more sensitive to perceived slights to their honor, especially from the women around them.  That's a universal human condition.  It sucks, but there it is.  Those men are more likely to get angry and violent when faced with the loss of a job, a romantic rejection, or an argument with a neighbor, bar patron, or motorist.  

    When those men have guns, their violence is more likely to turn lethal.

  • on a comment on Abandoning Gun Control over 9 years ago
    You probably own a car and drive it daily.  Your risk of dying in an auto accident is thus probably pretty close to the national average, although that depends on the type of car, your age and driving habits, and the number of miles you drive.  While you can reduce your risk somewhat, every time you get in a car you are taking a risk.  Because of our car-dependent economy and culture the vast majority of Americans CANNOT avoid that risk.

    The variation in risk for dying from a firearm must be much greater than that for dying from a car, because the risk factors for automobile deaths are distributed much more evenly through the population, while risk factors for firearm deaths are more concentrated in specific sub-populations.

    Do you own a gun?  If not, you are not a likely candidate for a firearm suicide.  Bam! - the relevant number of deaths drops to 15 - 20K, and probably lower because many accidental gun deaths involve gun owners (either from their own guns, or in hunting accidents at the hands of other gun owners), as do many firearm homicides.  

    Do you do drugs?  Do you sell them?  Do you associate with people who do so?  If not, the likelihood of being the victim of a firearm homicide also drops considerably.

    Do you play with guns in a juvenile and dangerous fashion?  Do you clean guns without checking if a round is chambered?  Do you forget to set your safety?  Do you hunt without wearing orange caps and vests?  Are you an idiot?  Perhaps there are simple things you can change to reduce your risk of dying in a firearms accident.

    So even if you live in a southern city with lots of gun-owners, where everyone you know has a gun, including your unstable co-workers and your new girlfriend's ex-boyfriend, you can STILL reduce your risk of death to less than a third that of dying in an auto accident.  (Especially if you keep an eye open at work and ditch the girlfriend. -- :) )

    Unlike cars, you don't have to own a gun, and you don't have to associate with drugs and drug dealers - so you CAN avoid nearly all the risks from firearms.


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