Friday, May 31, 2013

Snapshot -- Part of the Syrian Conflict

 Edward Dark is the pseudonym of someone living in Aleppo, one of the oldest cities in the Middle East. This video is a glimpse of the barbaric behavior of some extremists fighting with the "opposition" or "rebels" aiming to destroy the Assad regime.

Google translate at You Tube:
Published on May 29, 2013
Association for the protection of Syrian archaeology
جمعية حماية الآثار السورية . Tell Abyad, village de 'Ain Arous : destruction du Meqam (mausolée) soufi du "Prophète Abraham" à l'aide d'un bulldozer et de mines par des Salafistes dans la province de Raqqah.
Tell Abyad, village of 'Ain Arous: Destruction of the Sufi Meqam (mausoleum) of the "Prophet Abraham" by Salafists using a bulldozer and mines in the province of Raqqah.
تل ابيض - قرية عين عروس : هدم مزار صوفي "مقام النبي ابراهيم" بواسطة بلدوزر والغام من قبل جماعة سلفية في محافظة الرقة 16. 05. 2013

Dr. Davis, Brick City and Austerity -- A Book Review

Disclosure: This is a book review with an agenda. The book, Living and Dying in Brick City by Dr. Sampson Davis, is another exhibit in the ongoing saga of an American underclass, specifically in the African American community. And the agenda is that of an old guy in retirement who has watched the wealth gap between rich and poor in America yawn wider than ever in living memory. Sampson Davis is one of the rare flowers that sometimes flourish and bloom in a thicket of weeds.


Readers familiar with the challenges described in this book will nod in agreement as Dr. Davis unfolds a taxonomy of problems faced by life at the margins of society. From substance abuse and gang activity to medical problems -- chronic or acute, seen or unseen -- he brings each to light with insights only possible for someone who has been there and done that. This guy knows what he's talking about. He has a way of "telling it like it is" but treats his subjects and readers with respect.  This book does more than paint a big picture. Each chapter focuses on some specific subject in a way making it come alive for the reader, ending with a summary of how to respond, remediate or possibly avoid the problem altogether. 

Chapter titles offer a clue in each case to the underlying problem being addressed. "Love Hurts" is about domestic violence. "Baby Love" covers contraception from the rhythm method to surgical sterilization, ending with a list of adoption agencies specializing in African American Adoptions. "No Air" describes the horrors of asthma and underscores the medical complications of smoking. And so it goes, an unrelenting list of problems he knows from personal experience, both by observing his peers while growing up and as an emergency room physician facing the medical fallout, all too frequently when intervention comes too late. 

Readers not familiar with Dr Davis should buy this book, even if they already know what to expect, for no other reason to support the writer and advance what is for him more of a mission than a quest to make big bucks as a writer. Buying his book is a good way for any who care about improving life for the working poor to be supportive of his work and spreading the word. 

Having said that, I cannot now ignore a story from yesterday's New York Times that stands in sharp relief to stories in this book. When she passed away two years ago at the age of 104, Huguette Clark left a three hundred million dollar estate. But unlike most rich old people, she had spent the last twenty years of her life as a resident in Beth Israel Medical Center, the very same place where Dr. Davis worked as an ER physician, gathering material for this book. The contrast between the life and death of Mrs. Clark and that of the people described by Dr. Davis is surreal. 

She came to the hospital in 1991 in terrible condition. 
Mrs. Clark, then almost 85, arrived at Beth Israel’s north campus on the Upper East Side on March 26, 1991. She was emaciated and her face was disfigured by skin cancer. She was missing part of her lower lip, which made it hard to eat or drink, according to notes made by Dr. Henry Singman, the admitting doctor who later became her full-time personal physician. 
“The circumstances of her admission were particularly strange: She was swathed in sheets and did not want anyone to see her,” Cynthia L. Cromer, a member of the Beth Israel development, or fund-raising, staff, wrote in a memorandum to “file” on June 7, 1991.
But her condition was stabilized and she was on the road to recovery when, thanks to the influence of her station in life, she escaped the fate of thousands of other ER patients who, lacking funds or insurance, are sent on their way in accordance with EMTALA
She was well enough by then to go home to her spacious apartment at Fifth Avenue and 72nd Street, overlooking Central Park, Ms. Cromer said, but “she asked if she might stay in the hospital longer: she feels comfortable and safe, and her apartment is being renovated.” 
Dr. Singman had told the development office that Mrs. Clark was “quite wealthy and suggested that she might make a gift to the hospital,” Ms. Cromer wrote, adding that she was mulling over “an appropriate cultivation approach.”
She not only remained in the hospital, she made the hospital her new place of residence the last two decades of her life, with hospital staff and resources taking care of her every want in a manner that would make the British aristocracy of Downton Abbey green with envy (except that allowing themselves to admit an impulse as pedestrian as envy would be beneath their station). 
Over the years, the hospital showered her with gifts like classical music CDs, an orchid, birthday balloons and an Easter basket. 
Mrs. Clark sometimes replied in writing. 
In a card dated Nov. 30, 1992, she thanked Dr. Newman “for the most delicious home made Thanksgiving desserts, which I enjoyed very much.” Dr. Newman annotated the file copy, crediting his wife: “5 different homemade pies (chez Seiko)!” 
On Oct. 30, 2000, Mrs. Clark thanked Dr. Newman and his wife “for the delicious chocolates, and the very interesting playing cards from Paris.” 
Earlier that year, Dr. Newman announced that he planned to retire, upsetting Mrs. Clark, according to the documents. 
“She is crazy about him and is also afraid that her position at the hospital might be compromised with him gone,” a development officer wrote. (When Beth Israel’s north campus closed in 2004, Mrs. Clark was moved to the campus on East 16th Street.)
Readers are invited to check out selected passages of Dr. Davis' work at Google Books and follow up with purchasing more than one copy as a gesture of support for his work and mission. My guess is that everyone knows at least two or three people for whom this book would be a welcome gift to read and pass along.

And as you read, reflect on the contrasts between your life and the lives of most readers, the lives Davis describes in his book and the extraordinary lifestyle of the now famous One Percent, typified by the subject of yesterday's Times story. To be clear, this bias and message is not that of Sampson Davis. He's too much a gentleman and professional to let political or social commentary stain his stories. When discussing contraception or unwanted pregnancy, for example, I don't recall even a passing reference to the subject of abortion. And perhaps as a child of Beth Israel Medical Center he is too much a gentleman to say anything that might damage that revenue stream, no matter where it comes from. 

One of the watchwords of our day is austerity, a wonderfully vague term carrying messages of thrift and good stewardship. We have all heard that during the Great Depression nothing was ever wasted, and during the Colonial era scrap fabrics were recycled into quilts and braided rugs. Fables of the grasshopper and the ant as well as New Testament injunctions that "those who do not work cannot eat" underscore the message of justice, industry and the importance of work. Against this background are harsh criticisms of the Welfare State and government programs doling out food stamps and other benefits to undeserving beneficiaries, many of whom are too lazy to work. Along with this message is the inevitable reference to government debts, spending money we don't have or printing money which creates shrinking value. A false conclusion, that austerity is a proper response to debt, follows the same argument that starvation is the best remedy for obesity.

Discussions of minimum wage laws, forgotten in times of prosperity, get attention at times like this when unemployment rises. The same tired old arguments are trotted out about how higher wages are inflationary and eliminate jobs -- all of which have plenty of popular support but little or nothing in the way of economic good sense. Wages go down when unemployment increase because the law of supply and demand works exactly the same whether the supply is widgets or jobs. People without work, however, are different from widgets. When that supply increases those at the bottom of the scale are trapped in an ever-decreasing feedback loop driving wages lower at every turn. Minimum wage laws at times like this are the only social safety net for workers at the bottom of the scale.

These are my thoughts as I finished reading Living and Dying in Brick City. I did not read it rapidly. I took my time knowing that I would be writing a review, having received a complimentary copy. After the first two or three chapters I realized that to make the report relevant I would need more to make it stand out from others in a similar vein. Yesterday's account of the late Mrs. Clark occurred just as I was finished reading. I hope to have connected a couple of dots without being overly preachy.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Non-profit Hospital Management 101

Many thanks, Julia!  I would not have found this juicy read without your Twitter message.

Read this whole piece, everybody, and reflect on the implications of "non-profit."  
Hint: it has to do with taxes. 

Hospital Caring for an Heiress Pressed Her to Give Lavishly
By Anemona Hartocollis
Published: May 29, 2013

For the last 20 years of her life, Huguette Clark, a wealthy and reclusive copper heiress, lived in a Manhattan hospital room, shades drawn, door closed. She played with dolls, watched cartoons and followed the Bush v. Gore hanging chad debacle. (She favored Gore.) 
Mrs. Clark, seen in 1930, lived the last two decades of her life at Beth Israel Medical Center and gave it $4 million.

Distant relatives of Mrs. Clark have accused the hospital, including its chief executive, of coercing her into her donations.

Within months of her arrival, the hospital, Beth Israel Medical Center, went after her for an all-out fund-raising campaign. They researched her family history, had officials visit her often in her room and plied her with gifts. The effort, described in court documents, quickly extended to the hospital’s chief executive and even his mother, who watched the Smurfs with Mrs. Clark and talked to her about making a will. After Mrs. Clark donated a Manet to Beth Israel, but it sold for less than expected, the chief executive wrote an e-mail joking that Mrs. Clark “didn’t take the bait and offer a half dozen more.” 
That note from July 6, 2001, was among scores of hospital documents filed on Wednesday in Manhattan Surrogate’s Court as part of a battle over Mrs. Clark’s $300 million estate with her distant relatives. She died in 2011 at age 104. 
The case is scheduled for trial in September, but until then, the documents provide a rare look at the inner workings of a nonprofit hospital’s fund-raising operation — one that, as the relatives see it, coerced a woman who did not need constant medical care to give it a piece of her large fortune. In one of the e-mails, which were turned over to the relatives’ lawyer under a judge’s direction, a hospital fund-raising employee wondered whether Beth Israel’s legal department would approve of Mrs. Clark’s residency there. 
Admitted in 1991, Mrs. Clark ended up staying until her death, giving the hospital at least $4 million in donations, not counting millions more she paid just to live there and a $1 million bequest in her final, contested will, according to court papers. 
“What this is about is not just a will contest, it’s about the accountability of professionals,” John Morken, the lawyer for the relatives, 20 grand and great-grand half-nieces and half-nephews, said.

As an exercise in self-discipline I am not making any sarcastic comments here. JB

Morning Twitter Messages -- May 30

When Vali Nasr sez look at something I always look. He's one of the sharpest knives in the drawer.
This article cautions the US not to keep too many eggs in the Sunni basket as the balance of power between Sunnis and Shiites continues to shift. The writers of this piece, incidentally, have also earned their chops. 
Now that Iran is being weakened by the slow-motion collapse of Bashar al Assad’s Alawite regime, a chaotic Syria will likely become — even more so — the fulcrum of a power struggle between Iran and the Sunni Arab world for years to come, preventing either side from being able to dominate the region. 
Cold wars are tolerable precisely because they are cold. And a new cold war in the Middle East, assuming sectarian violence can be kept down at a reasonable level, will be something that policymakers in Washington may see as being in the American interest. A region balanced at least has the possibility to be a region at relative peace, with a Shiite bastion composed of Tehran and Baghdad facing off against a belt of Sunni revivalism stretching from Egypt to Anbar in western Iraq. It is for this reason that Barack Obama’s administration should not be in favor of a zero-sum result in Syria.
Jim Culleny is poetry editor at 3Quarks Daily but this ain't poetry by any stretch of the imagination. 

Gina Rinehart Calls For Sterilization of The Poor
May. 28, 2013

Conservative billionaire Gina Rinehart called for the sterilization of the poor today, arguing that the only way to alleviate poverty is to stop the "underclasses" from multiplying. 
In a video uploaded to her official YouTube account, the Australian mining heiress said that income inequality is caused by differences in intelligence, and eugenics is the only answer. 
"Our nation [Australia, thankfully] faces a grave economic crisis as the combination of a strong Australian dollar and falling commodity prices sap our ability to compete globally," she explained. "The only logical solution to this crisis is to strengthen the quality of our most precious resource: human capital. 
"I believe that any couple making less than $100,000 a year should be forcibly sterilized through a vasectomy or fallopian tubal ligation. Those earning more than $100,000 a year should be encouraged to have as many as 10 or 12 children. 
"Only by eliminating waste and focusing on our brightest, most efficient workers can we hope to see off our rivals in the emerging world."

Wonder if they will have separately designated water fountains and restrooms as well.

Mona is one of my favorite people. And she does have a huge mop of hair.

Camels in Dubai
Camel latte, camel cheese, camel muffins and more ways to eat camel

Penelope Walsh visits Dubai’s first and only camel dairy farm, Camelicious, for a lesson in camels, their milk and a taste test of the end result 
A camel meat burger, or ride in the desert on safari, are just some of the ways camels are put to use in modern day Dubai. The most modern, however, is the current proliferation of camel milk now seen on menus across the city. From cappuccinos to ice creams to cheeses, the vast majority of camel milk products on the market are made using the milk from Dubai-based camel farm and dairy factory, Camelicious.
Located in Umm Nahad on the road to Al Ain, Camelicious operates as a farm, where the camels are tended and milked and a dairy factory, where fresh and flavoured milk, cheese and laban are produced and bottled, with the products having first hit consumer shelves in August 2007. Camelicious also operates as a one of a kind research centre, studying the use and care of camels for dairy purposes, as well as the health benefits of camel milk for potential pharmaceutical use. 
From Camelicious has sprung two further sister projects. Al Nassma, which is named after the Arabic word for the gentle desert breeze, is the first company to create chocolate made with camel milk. The Majlis Café, located in the atmospheric Souk area of Dubai Mall, sells a classic menu of cakes, sandwiches, coffees and even three-tiered afternoon menus, where nearly everything is made with a hint of camel milk, be it a pain au chocolat, or the bread used to make savoury sandwiches. 
Now, the concept is growing. Dubai has recently been given trade approval by the European Union to export camel milk to the region, which primarily effects Camelicious as the only potential exporter in the Emirate. With 3,000 camels at the farm at present, Camelicious tells us the aim is to increase numbers by 10,000 in the next two years. Also in the pipeline is a new Camelicious range of flavoured labnah, and a second branch of The Majlis Café, located on Beach Road, both to launch in summer. 
When we visit we are faced with some of Camelicious’ 3,000 camels, our first reaction is surprise at how characterful and unique in appearance they are. The animals are fed a diet of hay, with occasional carrots as a treat, which we see them greedily relish. Chief veterinarian Dr Judit Juhasz, who is charged with their care, tells us they are ‘lovely animals’ and is evidently very fond of them. We are also surprised by how sweetly charming the camels seem to be, despite being traditionally branded stubborn and ill-tempered. 
However, the biggest revelation is that camel dairy farming is an innovative process, with little previous heritage in the UAE. According to Kirsten Lange, director of communications from Camelicious, for the bedouin, ‘camel milk was not part of the daily diet.’ It was only available, she explains, to breeders, who drank the milk raw and unpasteurised ‘straight from the camel’. ‘Camels were mostly used for transportation, leather and meat, but camel milk was not used for making cheese, as there was no process of conserving cheese in the desert.’ 
It has consequently been an untapped resource. Camel milk, we learn, is lower in fat than cow’s milk, and higher in vitamins and minerals, containing four times as much vitamin C, and ten times as much iron as cow’s milk. It can be consumed by those who are lactose-intolerant. It is high in lactoferrin, which has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, and high in lanolin, which has soothing properties when applied directly to the skin. Most significantly, in the UAE, where diabetes rates are high, camel milk naturally contains insulin, and studies to date have found that for patients with diabetes two, a regular dose of insulin from drinking camel milk can help regulate the effect of more conventional diabetic medicine. 
In addition to the culinary potential, these properties make camel milk a potential ‘wonder’ ingredient for both the pharmaceutical and beauty industries. In fact, it could potentially revolutionise diabetes treatment in the region. According to Mutasher Al-Badry, deputy general manager at Camelicious, the research centre is already involved in providing camel milk in powder form for use in the pharmaceutical industry, but demand continues to outstrip supply, due to the amount of milk the camels can be expected to produce. 
In production, the milk has to be pasteurised at 75C, which is within the safe, but lower end of the pasteurisation scale, in order not to destroy these health properties through high heat. In addition to fresh milk, the milk is also made into powder. Again, in contrast to the high temperatures usually employed in this process, Camelicious have had to create their own innovative freeze drying technology, which operates at minus 20C, in order to preserve these minerals and vitamins in the milk. 
The camel milk powder is used in the baked goods at The Majlis Café, where liquid camel milk would interfere with the precise composition and consistency needed in pastry preparation, such as cakes and Viennoiserie. ‘There were no existing recipes for these products, so we had to develop them all by experimentation, and it took a lot of time to develop,’ explains Roddy Fok Shan, general manager at The Majlis Café. ‘We had to experiment with fresh milk, and two types of powder, one that looks like a conventional powder, and one that is flaky’. 
The powdered camel milk is also used in the chocolate made by Al Nassma. ‘A few years ago, people thought it would be impossible to make pastries and chocolate out of camel milk,’ Kirsten says. ‘It is the fat content that makes chocolate liquid when heated, but it solidifies once it cools down. We have to use the camel milk as powder in the chocolate, otherwise it won’t become solid.’ The powder is then transported to a chocolate factory in Austria, which is one of the few chocolate producers in the world to create bean to bar chocolate, before returning to Dubai for packaging and sale.

This one's a macroeconomic quagmire. Money quote:
Nothing is quite satisfying. There are a lot of stories playing out, and perhaps there's no good explanation of it all, but it's certainly fascinating to watch the ground moving.
Shorter PA -- We ain't gonna be pimped.

Two of my favorite people -- Chait and Klein.
What's not to like?
The subject is health care costs. No one is talking about it much but the cost of healthcare is no longer out of control escalating.
The link is to a Bloomberg site, by the way, and Klein gets beat up pretty bad in the comments thread.
The healthcare cost curve is finally "bending" whatever that means.
The curve is bending, but we don’t really know why, and we don’t know if it’ll stay bent. [...] Does the Affordable Care Act deserve any of the credit? There are two answers: The first is “maybe a bit.” The second, “who cares?” [...] can argue that the Affordable Care Act is contributing to lower costs now. But there’s a stronger case that it will do so in coming years. If hospitals let readmission rates rise, they’re going to take a financial hit. If employers begin offering pricier insurance coverage, they’ll pay a hefty excise tax. If Medicare spending rises too much, the Independent Payment Advisory Board will have fast-track authority to reduce it. And some of the law’s more exciting cost-control experiments -- including accountable care organizations, bundled payments, medical homes and value-based purchasing -- are only just beginning to come online. That’s why it doesn’t really matter if Obamacare is responsible for the recent bend of the cost curve. What matters is that it will make it easier to keep the curve bending down in the future.
This post is already too long so I'm stopping here. 
Thanks for reading.  

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

No Polite Way To Say This -- Republicans Lie More Than Democrats

Study: Media Fact-Checker Says Republicans Lie More
A leading media fact-checking organization rates Republicans as less trustworthy than Democrats, according to a new study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA) at George Mason University. The study finds that has rated Republican claims as false three times as often as Democratic claims during President Obama’s second term. Republicans continue to get worse marks in recent weeks, despite controversies over Obama administration statements on Benghazi, the IRS and the AP.
According to CMPA President Dr Robert Lichter, “While Republicans see a credibility gap in the Obama administration, PolitiFact rates Republicans as the less credible party.”

The study examined 100 statements involving factual claims by Democrats (46 claims) and Republicans (54 claims), which were fact-checked by during the four month period from the start of President Obama’s second term on January 20 through May 22, 2013.

Major findings:
  • PolitiFact rated 32% of Republican claims as “false” or “pants on fire,” compared to 11% of Democratic claims – a 3 to 1 margin. 
  • Conversely, Politifact rated 22% of Democratic claims as “entirely true” compared to 11% of Republican claims – a 2 to 1 margin. 
  • A majority of Democratic statements (54%) were rated as mostly or entirely true, compared to only 18% of Republican statements. 
  • Conversely, a majority of Republican statements (52%) were rated as mostly or entirely false, compared to only 24% of Democratic statements. 
  • Despite controversies over Obama administration statements regarding Benghazi, the IRS and the Associated Press, Republicans have continued to fare worse than Democrats, with 60% of their claims rated as false so far this month (May 1 – May 22), compared to 29% of Democratic statements – a 2 to 1 margin.
This study’s findings are similar to those of a previous CMPA study, which found that PolitiFact gave more negative ratings to the Romney campaign than the Obama campaign during the 2012 presidential election campaign.

American Prison Torture -- A Short Reading List

Located in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood, the Uptown People's Law Center is a neighborhood non-profit legal services organization specializing in prisoners' rights, Social Security disability and public benefits, and tenants' rights and eviction defense.

This emotional revealing letter was published a few days ago, written by the Law Center’s prisoner rights program coordinator, Brian Nelson, describing how even though he was released from prison over 2 years ago, he continues to be tortured by the system.
Today a client came into the Uptown People’s Law Center seeking advice about problems with the Illinois’ Murder registry. I looked up the client on the Illinois State Police murder registry and it listed him as being non-compliant. As I was talking to the client I looked up my own name in the registry and it also listed me as being non-compliant. This shocked me because I went in on January 3, 2013 and registered. The fear that I felt in my stomach that there could be a warrant out for me or that I could be arrested and charged for not registering when I did register sent me into a shaking, nervous panic.
As soon as the client left the office, I called the Illinois State Police to find out what was going on with my own registry. I was informed that they did in fact have me listed as not compliant. I then called the local police department where I registered and explained the problem. After numerous minutes of being on hold, I spoke to a detective who found all of my paper work and tried to calm me. He called the Illinois State Police and advised me that everything was being cleared up. I called the State Police to follow up and I was told it was being cleared up. 
Sadly, I sit here right now shaking as I write this. I am so scared that I can’t calm down. I immediately notified everyone at work and created several files with copies of the updated registry forms I filed out with local police on January 3, 2013. I can not explain to someone the fear that is in me as I sit here crying because someone else’s mistake could have put me back into that gray box, that prison cell. Someone didn’t file the paperwork correctly and all I can see right now is a cell and feel all the years I spent in solitary confinement beating me down right now. If I would have been pulled over for a minor traffic ticket I would have been arrested and charged with failing to register. They would have put hand cuffs on me and put me back in a box. 
What scares me is this can happen again! I was lucky I caught this and I was able to correct it. If I didn’t, there would of been a warrant placed on me. And for what? For following the law because I HAVE registered! What about the other men that have sat in a cage for days before this is corrected? This makes no sense at all. 
The most terrible part is the torture I am enduring as I write this, I see that gray box and I feel the affects of solitary confinement. I am crying and can’t stop shaking.
What happened to this man should not happen anywhere. But as a citizen I am ashamed that it not only happened in America but it happens far more often than most people imagine. I'm tired of repeating the same messages so here is a list of readings for anyone who is interested. 

►The Rise of Prison-Industrial Complex  (This link is fifteen years old. The situation has only gotten worse.)
  • In the last 3 decades - prison industrial complex had been developed in the US-- confluence of special interests that has given prison construction in the United States a seemingly unstoppable momentum.
  • Since 1991 the rate of violent crime in the United States has fallen by about 20 percent, while the number of people in prison or jail has risen by 50 percent. 
  • Increase because of imprisonment of people who have committed nonviolent offenses. Instead of community service, fines, or drug treatment - to a prison term, by far the most expensive form of punishment.
  • politicians, both liberal and conservative, who have used the fear of crime to gain votes; 
  • impoverished rural areas where prisons have become a cornerstone of economic development; 
  • private companies tap into $35 billion a year spending on prisons.
  • Spending on corrections since 1980s increased 5 times; there are more than 1000 vendors that sell corrections paraphernalia;
  • The growth projected 5-10% annually;
  • Private prisons keep 90,000 prisoners from 27 states
  • "Bed brokers," rent a cell facilities ($20 to $60 a day with $2.50-5.50 commission per man-day); trucking prisoners hundreds of miles through the country - threat to public order; escapes;
  • Wackenhut Corrections, second largest private-prison company has ravenous $1 billion a year;
  • U.S. Corrections Corporation - the largest private-prison company wants to buy and run all state of Taxes’ prisons; globalization of the private-prison business: British private-prison company, Securicor, operates two facilities in Florida; 
  • Wackenhut Corrections is now under contract to operate prison in England; three prisons in Australia; and a prison in Scotland. It is actively seeking prison contracts in South Africa.
  • 1 pay phone in prison generates $15,000 a year; MCI installs phones for free;
  • Government officials whose fiefdoms have expanded along with the inmate population.

The United States holds tens of thousands of inmates in long-term solitary confinement. Is this torture?  By Atul Gawande
Prolonged isolation was used sparingly, if at all, by most American prisons for almost a century. Our first supermax—our first institution specifically designed for mass solitary confinement—was not established until 1983, in Marion, Illinois. In 1995, a federal court reviewing California’s first supermax admitted that the conditions “hover on the edge of what is humanly tolerable for those with normal resilience.” But it did not rule them to be unconstitutionally cruel or unusual, except in cases of mental illness. The prison’s supermax conditions, the court stated, did not pose “a sufficiently high risk to all inmates of incurring a serious mental illness.” In other words, there could be no legal objection to its routine use, given that the isolation didn’t make everyone crazy. The ruling seemed to fit the public mood. By the end of the nineteen-nineties, some sixty supermax institutions had opened across the country. And new solitary-confinement units were established within nearly all of our ordinary maximum-security prisons. 
The number of prisoners in these facilities has since risen to extraordinary levels. America now holds at least twenty-five thousand inmates in isolation in supermax prisons. An additional fifty to eighty thousand are kept in restrictive segregation units, many of them in isolation, too, although the government does not release these figures. By 1999, the practice had grown to the point that Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Nebraska, Nevada, Rhode Island, and Virginia kept between five and eight per cent of their prison population in isolation, and, by 2003, New York had joined them as well. Mississippi alone held eighteen hundred prisoners in supermax—twelve per cent of its prisoners over all. At the same time, other states had just a tiny fraction of their inmates in solitary confinement. In 1999, for example, Indiana had eighty-five supermax beds; Georgia had only ten. Neither of these two states can be described as being soft on crime.


This graph was published a few hours after I put this post together. 
Very timely. 

From the Article:
Is there hope? I think so. Drug policy has improved during the Obama years. The president and his key drug policy advisers have largely abandoned the harsh war-on-drugs rhetoric of previous administrations. The number of incarcerated drug offenders has declined for the first time in decades. On the demand side, health reform will greatly expand access to substance abuse treatment. Drug markets are less violent than they used to be, too, which creates greater political space for less punitive policies.

I’m especially heartened that conservative groups such as “Right on Crime” are asking anew whether we really need to incarcerate so many people, for such long periods,because they participated on the supply-side of the drug economy. There is interest, across the political spectrum, in violence-reduction policing strategies, such as those promoted by David Kennedy and Mark Kleiman, that offer more discriminating approaches to police illicit drug markets.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Melting Middle Class

Obit For The Syrian Revolution

Edward Dark is a pseudonym for a Syrian currently residing in Aleppo. He tweets at @edwardedark.

How We Lost The Syrian Revolution
By: Edward Dark for Al-Monitor 
Posted on May 28.
So what went wrong? Or to be more accurate, where did we go wrong? How did a once inspirational and noble popular uprising calling for freedom and basic human rights degenerate into an orgy of bloodthirsty sectarian violence, with depravity unfit for even animals? Was it inevitable and wholly unavoidable, or did it not have to be this way? 
The simple answer to the above question is the miscalculation (or was it planned?) of Syrians taking up arms against their regime, a ruthless military dictatorship held together by nepotism and clan and sectarian loyalties for 40 years of absolute power. Former US ambassador to Syria Robert Ford specifically warned about this in his infamous visit to Hama in the summer of 2011 just as the city was in the grip of massive anti-regime protests and before it was stormed by the Syrian army. That warning fell on deaf ears, whether by design or accident, and we have only ourselves to blame. Western and global inaction or not, we are solely responsible for our broken nation at the end of the day. 
Nietzsche once said, "Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.” That has proved to be very prophetic in the Syrian scenario. Away from the all the agendas, whitewashing, propaganda, and outright lies of the global media stations, what we saw on the ground when the rebel fighters entered Aleppo was a far different reality. It hit home hard. It was a shock, especially to those of us who had supported and believed in the uprising all along. It was the ultimate betrayal. 
To us, a rebel fighting against tyranny doesn’t commit the same sort of crimes as the regime he’s supposed to be fighting against. He doesn’t loot the homes, businesses and communities of the people he’s supposed to be fighting for. Yet, as the weeks went by in Aleppo, it became increasingly clear that this was exactly what was happening. 
Rebels would systematically loot the neighborhoods they entered. They had very little regard for the lives and property of the people, and would even kidnap for ransom and execute anyone they pleased with little recourse to any form of judicial process. They would deliberately vandalize and destroy ancient and historical landmarks and icons of the city. They would strip factories and industrial zones bare, even down to the electrical wiring, hauling their loot of expensive industrial machinery and infrastructure off across the border to Turkey to be sold at a fraction of its price. Shopping malls were emptied, warehouses, too. They stole the grain in storage silos, creating a crisis and a sharp rise in staple food costs. They would incessantly shell residential civilian neighborhoods under regime control with mortars, rocket fire and car bombs, causing death and injury to countless innocent people, their snipers routinely killing in cold blood unsuspecting passersby. As a consequence, tens of thousands became destitute and homeless in this once bustling, thriving and rich commercial metropolis. 
But why was this so? Why were they doing it? It became apparent soon enough, that it was simply a case of us versus them. They were the underprivileged rural class who took up arms and stormed the city, and they were out for revenge against the perceived injustices of years past. Their motivation wasn’t like ours, it was not to seek freedom, democracy or justice for the entire nation, it was simply unbridled hatred and vengeance for themselves. 
Extremist and sectarian in nature, they made no secret that they thought us city folk in Aleppo, all of us, regime stooges and sympathizers, and that our lives and property were forfeit as far as they were concerned. Rebel profiteer warlords soon became household names, their penchant for looting and spreading terror among the populace inducing far more bitterness and bile than what was felt against the regime and its forces. Add to that terrible fray, the extremist Islamists and their open association with Al-Qaeda and their horrific plans for the future of our nation, and you can guess what the atmosphere over here felt like: a stifling primordial fear, a mixture of terror and despair. 
So who was “us,” and why did we feel that we were any different or better? Well, by “us” I mean, and at the risk of sounding rather elitist, the civil grassroots opposition movement in Aleppo, who for months were organizing peaceful protests and handing out aid at considerable danger and risk to our own lives. “We” truly believed in the higher ideals of social and political change, and tried to emulate them. We tried to model ourselves on the civil rights movement of the US in the 1960s, Mandela’s struggle against apartheid, and the teachings of Gandhi: precisely what similar civil movements in other Arab Spring countries such as Tunisia and Egypt had done before.

For “us,” a revolution was a slow, deliberate and committed struggle for change. Like water drops repeatedly beating down on a boulder, eventually we would break it. But for “them,” well, their idea of change was throwing a ton of TNT at that boulder and having it, and everything around it, blown to smithereens. ” We,” well, we mostly came from the educated urban middle class of the city. We came from all walks of life, all sects and all areas, and we didn’t care. 
We never asked where that guy or girl was from or what they worshiped. Each one of us gave and contributed what we could, in the capacity we could. The leader of our group was a young Christian lawyer, a very active and dedicated young woman. The rest of the volunteers in our group were a microcosm of Syrian society; veiled girls, Shiite boys, rich kids and poor working class all working together for ideals we strongly shared and believed in. 
Over the course of our activist work, some of our group were jailed and injured, one was even killed. That is why it never hit home so hard, and never have I felt as sad as when, shortly after Aleppo was raided by the rebels, I received messages from some of those people I used to work with. One said, “How could we have been so stupid? We were betrayed!” and another said, “Tell your children someday that we once had a beautiful country, but we destroyed it because of our ignorance and hatred." 
It was around about that time that I gave up on the revolution, such as it had become, and saw that the only way to Syria’s salvation was through reconciliation and a renunciation of violence. Many felt this way, too. Unfortunately, that is not a view shared by the warmongers and power brokers who still think that more Syrian blood should be spilled to appease the insatiable appetites of their sordid aspirations. 
Even as activists, intellectuals, businessmen, doctors and skilled professionals fled the city in droves, others remained and still tried to organize civil action in the form of providing aid and relief work to the countless thousands of families that were now internally displaced inside their own city in desperate conditions. But it was clear that it was becoming futile. Everything had changed; it would never be the same again. 
This is what it has come down to in Syria: It’s us versus them everywhere you go. Opposition versus regime, secular versus Islamist, Sunni versus Shiite, peaceful versus armed, city versus rural, and in all of that cacophony the voice of reason is sure to be drowned out. Whatever is left of Syria at the end will be carved out between the wolves and vultures that fought over its bleeding and dying corpse, leaving us, the Syrian people to pick up the shattered pieces of our nation and our futures. 
Do we have recourse to blame anyone but ourselves for this? Was this our destiny, or the cruel machinations of evil men? Perhaps a future generation of Syrians will be able to answer that question.

A Twitter Lesson In Civility

Those not familiar with the Twitterverse may find this post too arcane to follow. But believe me when I say this is far more than a random spray of Tweets. 
This is a conversation between two very insightful people which gets joined by a couple of outsiders, one of whom turns out to be an ass and gets blocked. 
I happened to be at the right place at the right time to capture these messages before they vanished into the quagmire of Twitter archives, a swamp of cultural DNA which -- if mankind doesn't self-destruct before then -- will engage cyber-archeologists and anthropologists in the distant future for many careers.   


HCR -- Fighting Flu Virus With UV Technology

UV Technologies Bold Prediction on H7N9 in China Comes True, New Cases End Without Aid of Flu Vaccine
May 23, 2013

UV Technologies, LLC has been test marketing UV-Aid for over two years in the US with promising results. UV Technologies has a flawless record with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) since accreditation in February of 2011. UV-Aid has over 5,000 fans on facebook counting many testimonials pointing to the effectiveness of UV-Aid. 
UV-Aid technology is based on the process of photo-oxidation, the natural response of the human body to daylight. The light emitted by the UV-Aid is shined into the nose, mouth, and ear cavities to stimulate the body’s first line of defense against air-borne diseases. Through the process of photo-oxidation, the melanin and superoxide dismutase (SOD) in skin produces hydrogen peroxide when exposed to UV-Aid light. Hydrogen peroxide is a known safe and effective antiviral agent. Once the hydrogen peroxide has performed its task of killing germs, the body breaks it down into harmless products of water and oxygen.

Monday, May 27, 2013

An Arizona Yankee in King Bashar's Court

This is irresistable. The plot line to Twain's Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court seems perfect. The novel is a satirical comedy that looks at 6th-Century England and its medieval culture through the eyes of Hank Morgan, a 19th-century resident of Hartford, Connecticut, who, after a blow to the head, awakens to find himself inexplicably transported back in time to early medieval England at the time of the legendary King Arthur. The fictional Mr. Morgan, who had an image of that time that had been colored over the years by romantic myths, takes on the task of analyzing the problems and sharing his knowledge from 1300 years in the future to modernize, Americanize, and improve the lives of the people.

Exclusive: John McCain Slips Across Border Into Syria, Meets With Rebels
May 27, 2013 12:36 PM EDT

The leaders of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army told the senator they want the U.S. to provide arms, a no-fly zone, and strikes on Hezbollah. Josh Rogin reports.

Sen. John McCain Monday became the highest-ranking U.S. official to enter Syria since the bloody civil war there began over two years ago, The Daily Beast has learned.

McCain, one of the fiercest critics of the Obama administration’s Syria policy made the unannounced visit across the Turkey-Syria border with Gen. Salem Idris, the leader of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army. He stayed in the country for several hours before returning to Turkey. Both in Syria and Turkey, McCain and Idris met with assembled leaders of Free Syrian Army units that traveled from around the country to see the U.S. senator. Inside those meetings, rebel leaders called on the United States to step up its support to the Syrian armed opposition and provide them with heavy weapons, a no-fly zone, and airstrikes on the Syrian regime and the forces of Hezbollah, which is increasing active in Syria.

Idris praised the McCain visit and criticized the Obama administration’s Syria policy in an exclusive interview Monday with The Daily Beast.

“The visit of Senator McCain to Syria is very important and very useful especially at this time,” he said. “We need American help to have change on the ground; we are now in a very critical situation.”

Fighting across Syria has increased in recent weeks, with new regime offensives in several key areas, such as Damascus and the strategic border town of Qusayr. Thousands of soldiers serving Hezbollah—the Lebanon-based and Iran- and Syria-backed stateless army—have joined the fight in support of the regime, as the civil war there has threatened to ignite a region-wide conflagration and amid new reports of chemical weapons attacks by forces loyal to embattled president Bashar al-Assad this week that might cross President Obama’s “red line” for the conflict.

McCain’s visit came as the Obama administration is once again considering an increase of support to the Syrian opposition, while at the same time pushing the opposition council to negotiate with the regime at an international conference in Geneva in early June.

“What we want from the U.S. government is to take the decision to support the Syrian revolution with weapons and ammunition, anti-tank missiles and anti-aircraft weapons,” Idris said. “Of course we want a no-fly zone and we ask for strategic strikes against Hezbollah both inside Lebanon and inside Syria.” 
[More at the link.] 

The First Memorial Day Was Observed by Former Slaves

Political correctness might push an unpopular idea. 
Or it might be used to conceal an unpopular reality. 
The origin of Memorial Day is an example of the latter.
This does not tell the origin of the phrase "white-washing" but the term fits perfectly. 

By Ben Becker
What we now know as Memorial Day began as “Decoration Day” in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. Civil War. It was a tradition initiated by former slaves to celebrate emancipation and commemorate those who died for that cause. 
These days, Memorial Day is arranged as a day “without politics”—a general patriotic celebration of all soldiers and veterans, regardless of the nature of the wars in which they participated. This is the opposite of how the day emerged, with explicitly partisan motivations, to celebrate those who fought for justice and liberation. 
The concept that the population must “remember the sacrifice” of U.S. service members, without a critical reflection on the wars themselves, did not emerge by accident. It came about in the Jim Crow period as the Northern and Southern ruling classes sought to reunite the country around apolitical mourning, which required erasing the “divisive” issues of slavery and Black citizenship. These issues had been at the heart of the struggles of the Civil War and Reconstruction. 
To truly honor Memorial Day means putting the politics back in. It means reviving the visions of emancipation and liberation that animated the first Decoration Days. It means celebrating those who have fought for justice, while exposing the cruel manipulation of hundreds of thousands of U.S. service members who have been sent to fight and die in wars for conquest and empire.

As the U.S. Civil War came to a close in April 1865, Union troops entered the city of Charleston, S.C., where four years prior the war had begun. While white residents had largely fled the city, Black residents of Charleston remained to celebrate and welcome the troops, who included the TwentyFirst Colored Infantry. Their celebration on May 1, 1865, the first “Decoration Day,” later became Memorial Day. 
Yale University historian David Blight retold the story: 
During the final year of the war, the Confederates had converted the planters’ horse track, the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club, into an outdoor prison. Union soldiers were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of exposure and disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand. Some 28 black workmen went to the site, re-buried the Union dead properly, and built a high fence around the cemetery. They whitewashed the fence and built an archway over an entrance on which they inscribed the words, “Martyrs of the Race Course.”

Then, black Charlestonians in cooperation with white missionaries and teachers, staged an unforgettable parade of 10,000 people on the slaveholders’ race course. The symbolic power of the low-country planter aristocracy’s horse track (where they had displayed their wealth, leisure, and influence) was not lost on the freed people. A New York Tribune correspondent witnessed the event, describing “a procession of friends and mourners as South Carolina and the United States never saw before.” 
At 9 a.m. on May 1, the procession stepped off led by 3,000 black schoolchildren carrying armloads of roses and singing “John Brown’s Body.” The children were followed by several hundred black women with baskets of flowers, wreaths and crosses. 
Then came black men marching in cadence, followed by contingents of Union infantry and other black and white citizens. As many as possible gathered in the cemetery enclosure; a childrens’ choir sang “We’ll Rally around the Flag,” the “Star-Spangled Banner,” and several spirituals before several black ministers read from scripture.

Morning Twitter Messages -- May 27 (Memorial Day)

I'm not an expert but when a French newspaper publishes a report in English I wonder who the intended audience may be. I have read other accounts of chemical attacks that mention foaming at the mouth and other effects in addition to mortality rates, none of which I noticed in this article. And what about hazmat suits and other protective equipment for those caring for the victims?  As I said, I'm not an expert but I'm also not persuaded that this account is what it appears to be. And if it is, who can say with proof where the "chemical agent" originated? Sorry, but this fails the old smell test. JB

This Lebanese columnist sez...
Although Syria has served in this position for years, Syrian-Iranian relations cannot be described as a bed of roses. When looking into relations, Syria and Iran don't have an identical ideology or identity, in other words the alliance between the two states lacks an ideological dimension. Syria is a secular Arab state, while Iran is a religious non-Arab state.

There is indeed an ideological conflict between the Arab nationalism ideology of Syria's secular ruling Baath party and Iran's pan-Islamist policies. From time to time, relations have also faced an “alliance dilemma.” For instance, Iran was not happy with Syria's good relations with Turkey after the two neighbors signed the Adana agreement in 1998 and also was discomforted by Damascus's participation in the Gulf War as a part of the Western bloc. On the other side, Syria was uneasy over Iran's assertive policies towards the West and Israel.

Yes, some events tested the relationship between the two countries; however, the strong and close ties between Tehran and Damascus are based on geopolitics and pragmatism rather than the ideology. Sectarian politics is not geostrategic issue but it becomes geostrategic when a country uses it to achieve vital goals. For Iran, Syria was a counterforce in the region.

Iran is a country that is quite knowledgeable in playing the games of the Middle East. For Iran, rather than characters, structures are important. Yes, in order to maintain the status quo in Syria, despite growing international pressure, Iran has stood by its ally since the beginning of the crisis, providing all means of support. However, I should say that Assad is not indispensable for a country like Iran.

This interesting video description appears at the YouTube site:
The following is the last report journalist Yara Abbas sent today May 27, 2013 from Qussayr countryside in Homs countryside before she was assassinated by Obama's freedom fighters on her way back in a breaking news, news, cnn news, news bloopers, flash news

Syrian female reporter Yara Abbas killed in Homs
Country's information ministry says TV correspondent was covering clashes near the Lebanese border
James Legge
Monday 27 May 2013

Yara Abbas was reportedly killed
near Qusair, in Syria
Syrian rebels have killed a TV correspondent who was covering clashes near the border with Lebanon, according to the Syrian information ministry.

Officials said Yara Abbas, a prominent female war reporter for state-owned Al-Ikhbariyah TV, was attacked near the military air base of Dabaa in the central province of Homs. 
Dabaa air base is near the town of Qusair, which has been under attack by government forces and members of Lebanon's Hezbollah group since last week. Dozens of rebels, troops and gunmen have been killed in the heavy fighting. 
Several journalists covering both sides of Syria's conflict have been killed since the crisis began in March 2011. 
Syria's civil war, now in its third year, is thought to have killed more than 70,000 and displaced more than one million. It is fought between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and rebels, mostly from the disparate Free Syrian Army. 
The conflict has spilled periodically across the ceasefire line and Syria's borders with Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey, threatening to engulf the region.


It's way past time when this should have already happened. This story from Ma'an News Agency reads about the same as the NY Times story. 
But the comments left at the end are very revealing. 
Kerry: Palestinian economic plan looks to inject $4 billion
AL SHUNAH, Jordan (AFP) -- US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday an economic plan to revive the ailing Palestinian economy is expected to produce around $4 billion dollars in investment. 
"We are looking to mobilize some $4 billion of investment" in tourism construction, Kerry told the closing session of the World Economic Forum, held in the Jordanian town of Al Shunah on the shores of the Dead Sea. 
Kerry said business experts had been working to make the project "real, tangible and shovel-ready".He added the preliminary results of their analysis were "stunning" and showed the plan would "dramatically" bring life to the economy. 
"These experts believe we will increase the Palestinian GDP by as much as 50 percent over three years. The most optimistic estimates foresee enough new jobs to cut unemployment by two-thirds to eight percent down from 21 percent and to increase the median wage by 40 percent," said the top US diplomat. 
Since taking up the baton this year in the long-elusive search for Middle East peace, Kerry has refused to divulge publicly the details of how he intends to bridge the bitter differences between Israel and the Palestinians. 
But he has entrusted Quartet Middle East peace envoy Tony Blair with the task of drawing up an economic plan to attract tourism and private sector investment into the West Bank and breathe fresh hope into the area. 
Blair has already been working with Coca-Cola chief executive Muhtar Kent on ways of attracting investment into the depressed West Bank.
Blair "is shaping what I believe could be a ground-breaking plan... that will transform the fortunes of a future Palestinian state," said Kerry. "It is a plan for the Palestinian economy that is bigger, bolder and more ambitious than anything proposed since Oslo," he added in reference to the 1993 peace accords. 
The West Bank had seen moderate growth in recent years only to be set back by Israeli and Western moves to stall aid following the Palestinian bid for upgraded UN status. 
Kerry said home construction can produce more than 100,000 jobs over the next three years, urging the private and public sectors to cooperate."The public and private sectors alike have a responsibility to meet the demands of this moment and one can't do it without the other. We need you at the table. We need a new model for how we are going to bring order and open up the possibilities. We need to partner with the private sector because it's clear most governments don't have the money."

► When Mr billionaire Kerry says "Palestinian economy" he means only the PA & WEST BANK!Nothing for Gazan,E.Jerus,or diaspora PALS!Better still Kerry,just END THE US tax-payer-funded OCCUPATION & change the Gaza POW camp & W/Bank,E.Jerusalem shrinking enclaved BANTUSTANS into 1 CONTIGUOUS Palestinian national state.Does such "ground-breaking" include handing back Palestinian "ground","broken" by Israel,since 1967? NOTHING trumps real"Equal Justice Under Law"thru INTERNATIONAL COURTS(ICC/ICJ)!!!

►I hope the price of the $4bn is not "temperary borders". Investments are nice , but we need FREEDOM and then rest will come . A free Palestine will attract $100bn without Tony & Co.

►THis will come to nothing. Kerry is a windbag. He wont be investing his own money - or his wife's money - that is for sure.
Private sector is not interested. Nobody will invest in a Palestinian ecnomy where the prime minister was kicked out because he wanted to end corruption and run the government with transparent accounting.

►When Mr. Kerry talking about the Palestinian economy, who is he talking about. The Palestinians in Gaza that is control by Hamas that is label by the US as a terrorist organization?. A little hypocrisy in his statement. He could have stayed home and save a lot of US taxpayer money.

►It's all a publicity stunt from US. Main issue here is an independant Palestinian state along 1967 borders. Once free from Israel cruches, Palestinians are more than capable to generate their own income compared to now when settlers destroy olive trees and other infra structure. Mr. Abbas is right in not accepting temporary borders. With Israel, temporary will beecome permanent and will come up excuses upon excuses as to why borders can't become permanent. ISRAELI GOVT ARE LIARS.



Dexter Filkins
It’s official: the war in Syria has spread to Lebanon. In an extraordinary speech Saturday, Hassan Nasrallah, the bearded and bespectacled leader of the Lebanese militant group, Hezbollah, promised an all-out effort to keep the murderous regime of Bashar al-Assad in power in Syria. “It’s our battle, and we are up to it,” Nasrallah said in a televised address. The war, he said, had entered “a completely new phase.” 
This is a terrifying development; the beginning of a regional war. Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed armed group, has been fighting inside Syria for months, something I detailed in an article on the group in February. But Hezbollah was intervening in Syria covertly, in large part because it feared a backlash at home. Month after month, Nasrallah denied that his men were fighting for the dictator across the border. When Hezbollah fighters were killed in Syria, they were memorialized in bizarre funerals back in Lebanon, in which the causes of death were not mentioned. In public, Nasrallah maintained that Hezbollah was the same thing it always had been: an armed group dedicated to protecting Lebanon from the depredations of Israel. In a speech in October, he said: “As of now, we have not fought alongside the regime.” As more and more Hezbollah fighters died inside Syria, that lie could no longer be sustained. The truth is out.

On Saturday, by declaring his undying loyalty to the Assad regime, Nasrallah has signalled an escalation in Hezbollah’s involvement. Nasrallah is now personally committed to the survival of Assad’s regime, no matter how murderous it becomes. His logic involves naked self-interest: Syria provides Hezbollah with its crucial link to the regime in Iran, Hezbollah’s creator and benefactor. Without Assad, Hezbollah might not be able to survive. 
~~~~  [...]  ~~~~ 
Hezbollah isn’t the only group that has been intervening in the Syrian civil war. Since the Syrian conflict began, Lebanese Sunnis have been slipping across the border to support the rebels, but in a mostly unorganized, haphazard way. The Syrian rebels themselves have promised to avenge Hezbollah’s activities by taking the fight into Lebanon. The most dramatic example of the Syrian civil war’s effect on Lebanese politics came in March, when Prime Minister Najib Mikati resigned. Mikati, a Sunni, was in a coalition with Hezbollah. It doesn’t take much to see how difficult it is in Lebanon today for a Sunni politician to work with Hezbollah, whose fighters are killing Sunnis across the border. 
What comes next? So far, the peace in Lebanon has mostly held, in no small way because memories of the civil war there are still fresh. But as Hezbollah commits itself more deeply to the Syrian war, the more difficult it will be to contain the violence in Lebanon itself. It’s not difficult to imagine Lebanon slipping into a new civil war of its own. 
Since the Syrian revolt began more than two years ago, President Obama has stayed mostly out, even as Assad’s regime has become more indiscriminate in its use of violence. (The United States has provided non-lethal aid to the rebels, but has not intervened militarily.) In essence, the President has reasoned that the war in Syria is too complicated for the United States to have much influence. 
Perhaps Obama is right. But it’s also true that the White House’s reluctance to act has allowed the war in Syria to run off on its own horrendous course. And now, as Hezbollah escalates inside Syria, it might be too late to stop the war from spreading beyond its borders.