Thursday, September 30, 2010


“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Inscription on the Statue of Liberty

Ezra Klein wrote what might be to some a provocative piece in the Business Section of the September 26th Washington Post. Immigration reform proponents on Capitol Hill seem unable to separate the baby from the bath water. Among his observations: “What shouldn't be politically difficult is forming a consensus around increasing highly skilled immigrants… Because of a 1965 law, our immigration system is based around family unification. More than 65 percent of visas are for purposes of bringing family members to the United States. Only 15 percent are for economic reasons. As Darrell West of the Brookings Institution writes in his book ‘Brain Gain,’ this means that immigrant families, rather than current policymakers, decide who enters the country...That's nuts. Our immigration policy should be primarily oriented around our national goals. And one goal is to have the world's most innovative and dynamic economy…

“Economists separate new workers into two categories: Those who ‘substitute’ for existing labor - we're both construction workers, and the boss can easily swap you out for me - and those who ‘complement’ existing labor - you're a construction engineer, and I'm a construction worker. Immigrants, more so than U.S.-born workers, tend to be in the second category, as the jobs you want to give to someone who doesn't speak English very well and doesn't have many skills are different from the jobs you give to people who are fluent and have more skills.” But Houston, and almost every other city in the United States, we’ve got a problem: we simply aren’t graduating enough scientists, engineers and mathematicians to design the future of the American workplace.

The fact that America’s generating only 60,000 to 70,000 PhD’s annually in mathematics, applied sciences and engineering falls drastically short of our internal needs has dire consequences for all Americans. As we have seen above, a new core focus on science and math needs to be a critical focus for our entire educational system, but until we start rolling out the high-end result of that pressure, the number of hard patents filed in the United States (vs. softer, business method patents that have limited underlying value) is dropping every year, while such patent applications are soaring in places like India and China. We risk losing the technology race that we have always led.

Immigration has been profoundly beneficial to our economic growth. If we just pulled the Asian-born immigrants out of this country, our telecommunications system would coast to a stop, our advancements in all levels of computer science and most forms of engineering would grind to crawl; advances in biotech and medicine would glide to a tiny fraction of current achievements. A January 4, 2007 Duke University study examined engineering and technology start-ups in the United States between 1995 and 2005. More than one in four of these companies were founded by immigrants (most from Asia, particularly India), creating approximately 450,000 jobs and $52 billion in sales in 2005 alone. We wouldn’t be the great nation we are, a technology leader, without them. And in a time of profound unemployment with entire industries being slammed in the face (economic excess may have taken Chrysler and GM into bankruptcy, but old thinking and old idea with a global technology shift played a huge role as well), we need invention and creativity to redesign what Americans will do for the next century.

Klein continues his obvious harangue: “Because when we have the best talent, we have the best innovations. That's how we landed Google, Intel and the atomic bomb. Immigrants are about twice as likely as native-born Americans to start a small business, and they're 30 percent more likely to apply for a patent…. But since 2001, we've gone from offering 195,000 high-skill visas to about 65,000 today. In fact, we let top students come for college or graduate school - and then we don't let them stay. ‘We should staple a green card to PhDs in science and technology,’ West says with a sigh. ‘They'd like to stay here!’”

The fabric of our lives is not a simple, “allow an immigrant and take away an American job”; not only do the right immigrants create new jobs, but even those at the bottom of the economic ladder may actually enhance both our productivity as well as our standard of living: “If you have lots of immigrant laborers willing to build roads, a firm can build more roads and has more need for native workers who can supervise the crews or do the technical work. The effect of all this - which has been demonstrated in multiple studies - is that immigrants raise wages for the average American… But that's only half of their benefit. ‘Living standards are a function of two things,’ says Michael Greenstone, director of the Hamilton Project [which is involved in immigration research and hosting conferences on the subject], ‘ They're a function of our wages and the prices of the goods we purchase.’ And immigrants reduce the prices of those goods. Patricia Cortes, an economist at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business, found that immigrants lowered the prices in ‘immigrant-intensive industries’ such as housekeeping and gardening by about 10 percent. So our wages go up, and the prices of the things we want to buy go down.

“We should remember, though, that the average worker isn't every worker. A study by Harvard economists George Borjas and Lawrence Katzj found that although immigrants raised native wages overall, they slightly hurt the 8 percent of workers without a high school education. A subsequent study by [Giovanni Peri, an economist at the University of California at Davis] found that even unskilled workers saw a benefit from immigrants - but it was much smaller than that of highly skilled workers.” Klein. Americans, increasingly desperate for answers in harsh economic times, appear addicted to slogans and simplistic “one phrase” solutions to complex social and economic issues; life just does not work that way in a modern age. We need to learn to be realistic and practical again, focused on what’s best for all of us and not dependent on theories of life that have no realistic chance of providing us with the future we all desire.

I’m Peter Dekom, and sometimes I think we are going to “slogan” ourselves back into the Stone Age!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Fuse is Lit

Kashmir is India’s Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan all rolled into one. It is a northern state that shares the religious commonality of Islam with bordering Pakistan and has little religiously in common with its own country, mostly Hindu India. Kashmir has served as a rogue community from which Pakistan-supported, anti-Indian terrorists have been trained and nurtured. It is an armed camp, with special laws pretty much exempting Indian national police and military from sufficient accountability in their virtual “shoot to kill” orders to control the rolling series of popular resistance movements and insurrection. Entire sections of cities and towns have had water and power shut off in retaliation for people from those communities who engaged the Indian authorities in stone-throwing and other acts of protest.

For a large number of political heavyweights in the Indian government and a very significant segment of the people, looking at Kashmir has almost always been through the eyes of the exceptionally troubled and often violent relationship between Pakistan and India. Any move to make a concession in Kashmir has been viewed as surrendering or yielding to Pakistan herself; compromise has often been viewed as a sign of weakness, a failure of Indian resolve against a Pakistan that has made war on India, and as recently as late November 2008, seemingly supported a terrorist attack all across India’s largest city, Mumbai, killing scores of people in a series of attacks on buildings throughout the city. Pakistan has openly fomented unrest in Kashmir, going so far as to claim that state as properly her own.

Being a pawn in the battle between these two nuclear nations has put the local people of Kashmir in a horrible position. However, legitimate their protests might be, as long as the central government in Delhi viewed answering those grievances as concessions to their enemy Pakistan, the people have been ignored and remain powerless, angry, bitter and increasingly anti-Indian. The state is crawling with large numbers of Indian troops garrisoned everywhere. Checkpoints abound. Police brutality is the rule; chaos reigns supreme.

Bullets fly all over Kashmir, and the last eighteen months of local unrest have underscored that this is not a Pakistani-Indian issue; it is an almost unstoppable indigenous movement for autonomy. This little excerpt from the September 2nd New York Times shows exactly how bloody this street war has become for the locals (this in Srinagar): “Protesters swarmed into the emergency room with them, struggling with doctors in surgical aprons and masks to force their way into the operating room. Some slipped past, took over [one seemingly neglected patient’s] hospital bed and wheeled it to the X-ray room as they chanted the same slogans that have filled the streets, angry words echoing off the walls and drowning out the wails of grieving friends and relatives… ‘The Kashmir which we have irrigated with our blood — that Kashmir is ours!’ they chanted… The melee was common enough at the hospital, the Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences, where more than 500 patients have come in with bullet wounds, lacerations and bruises in the past three months.” 107 fatalities have been officially recorded over the last 100 days.

In January of 2009, Omar Abdullah of the National Conference Party was elected Chief Minister (like a U.S. governor) of Jammu and Kashmir. A coalition leader, U.K-born Abdullah was the hope for compromise, but his government was ineffective, and he was often berated for spending too much time in New Delhi (where his wife and family live – safely) and not enough time in Kashmir itself. His popularity plummeted to “meaningless.” The Indian government has been forced to turn to an unlikely source – leader of the Liberation Front, a former guerrilla fighter named Yasin Malik – for guidance as Parliament has finally come to the conclusion that the situation in the north i s no longer tenable, for the locals or for India herself.

The September 22nd New York Times: “Unable to quiet the unrest, or even fully understand it, Indian leaders … sent the equivalent of a peace delegation to Kashmir. Members visited a hospital and met with politicians, business leaders and even separatists like Mr. Malik before returning to New Delhi on Tuesday night to confer with the prime minister… [While in Kashmir, the] Indian members of Parliament left their shoes on the floor beneath a wall covered in photographs of slain Kashmiris. The five men sat cross-legged on the floor of the headquarters of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, staring into a throng of television cameras as they delivered a carefully scripted message of reconciliation… ‘We have come to get your counsel,’ said Ram Vilas Paswan, a member of Parliament, turning to … Malik. ‘What is the way out? What is the way to stop the bloodshed?’…

If the delegation’s two-day visit proved anything, it was that the way out of the crisis would be very uncertain, complicated by historic distrust, a rising Kashmiri demand for political independence and seething anger within the younger generation toward the heavy security presence on the ground… Indeed, the delegation, led by India’s home minister and comprising members of Parliament from major political parties, got a firsthand look at the suffocating government curfew that has choked the entire region since the latest cycle of protests and police shootings broke out more than a week ago. When delegation members visited the hospital, they were jeered, according the news reports.”

Hardliners in Delhi do not want to limit the freedom with which police and military are allowed to operate in Kashmir; to them this is still very much a battle with Pakistan. They don’t want any concessions smacking of autonomy to be accorded to this rebellious northern region, but without serious concessions, it appears that the bloodshed can only escalate. This is no longer an issue between Pakistan and India; it is now a matter that must address the needs of the local Kashmiris. The United States, fighting its own wars against terrorism, is caught in this uncomfortable position in the middle, but all of our efforts towards stabilization in the Islamic world depend on a confluence of events, and settling the dispute in Kashmir is one of them.

I’m Peter Dekom, and American interests are constantly subject to events far away over which we have very limited influence.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What a Drag!

In India, which lacks any semblance of social safety net (with almost 1.2 billion people, the cost of such social support systems would be staggering), relies on an age-old practice of sons’ supporting their parents in their old age; daughters are tied to their husbands’ families and do not generate ongoing support (outside of an occasional dowry) to their own parents. So it isn’t strange to see Indian statistics showing 1000 males for every 880 females, an imbalance that is leaving men at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder with great difficulties in finding life partners. These indirect abortion/birth selection figures show the profound bias against female children, whose social status is often second class or worse.

In the Middle East, again, daughters attach to their husband’s families and in ultra-conservative households, do not participate in the outside economic workforce. Second class would be an upgrade for many of these women; sons are the family prize. Prejudice against female offspring persists in China, accelerated by the “one child” policy that the Peoples Republic directed at overpopulation, has shifted birth ratios to 120 males for every 100 females, but trending suggests that as modernization and urbanization accelerate, as more women enter the workforce, younger people no longer harbor the same bias against female children. The global ratio of males to females – estimated at 106/7 to 100 favoring boys – usually evens out at adulthood, since male deaths among younger people are higher among males than females.

This prejudice against female births, more pronounced in lower socio-economic classes particularly in countries with long histories of lower socio-economic value of women, can take some pretty bizarre forms. One particularly weird practice, in that lovely desert oasis of Afghanistan, is parents’ actually having girls, but raising them and dressing them as if they were boys! The practice is so embedded in the Afghan social structure that it has been formalized in the language: “There are no statistics about how many Afghan girls masquerade as boys. But when asked, Afghans of several generations can often tell a story of a female relative, friend, neighbor or co-worker who grew up disguised as a boy. To those who know, these children are often referred to as neither ‘daughter’ nor ‘son’ in conversation, but as ‘bacha posh,’ which literally means ‘dressed up as a boy’ in [the local dialect of] Dari.

“Through dozens of interviews conducted over several months, where many people wanted to remain anonymous or to use only first names for fear of exposing their families, it was possible to trace a practice that has remained mostly obscured to outsiders. Yet it cuts across class, education, ethnicity and geography, and has endured even through Afghanistan’s many wars and governments… Afghan families have many reasons for pretending their girls are boys, including economic need, social pressure to have sons, and in some cases, a superstition that doing so can lead to the birth of a real boy. Lacking a son, the parents decide to make one up, usually by cutting the hair of a daughter and dressing her in typical Afghan men’s clothing. There are no specific legal or religious proscriptions against the practice. In most cases, a return to womanhood takes place when the child enters puberty. The parents almost always make that decision… In a land where sons are more highly valued, since in the tribal culture usually only they can inherit the father’s wealth and pass down a name, families without boys are the objects of pity and contempt.” New York Times (September 21st).

We live in a modern world where such practices seem absurd. We wince at the tribal practice of many in Africa, for example, of female circumcision (a polite word for female genital mutilation to take away the potential for sexual pleasure, a policy to deter infidelity) and simply cannot process that woman can be treated with such utter disdain and cruelty. The Internet, television and facile travel have opened up global social practices for all to see. There is much that needs to be changed on this planet, and even the most basic semblance of human equality is still so alien to billions of people on this planet.

I’m Peter Dekom, and I hope for that dream of global human decency and equality.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Unemployed – Forever

Political transitions and economic upheavals often leave the oldest workers out in the bitter cold. In China, the move to a Chinese view of capitalism left older workers, many of whom fell through the educational cracks when the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) as schools and universities were just shut down in favor of academically-worthless reeducation camps, clinging to the last vestiges of the Iron Rice Bowl (support from a communist state). Marginalized and under educated, they became a lost generation in China’s recovery. As the Soviet Union collapsed, older workers were completely unprepared for the hyper-capitalistic surge of the new plutocracy. They can be seen, often dressed in worn and tattered clothes, traipsing down the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg, heads hung low.

The paucity of jobs, the evaporation of bastions of corporate solidity (and often the pension plans that they promised) in bankruptcies and reorganizations, and the acceleration of new technologies and business models have combined to provide the pain of truth to millions of older workers now squeezed out of the marketplace, unable to sustain this seemingly never-ending economic collapse. The passage of time to these once-skilled workers is often fatal, at least when it comes to the prospects of ever finding work again. While younger people can hold out and will still be skilled and employable even in five years, many older workers fear they have just lost their last job. Many report nightmares and depression as routine today, even among those who still have work.

Indeed, the statistics seems to support this bleak view of their future prospects for employment. The September 20th New York Times: “Of the 14.9 million unemployed, more than 2.2 million are 55 or older. Nearly half of them have been unemployed six months or longer, according to the Labor Department. The unemployment rate in the group — 7.3 percent — is at a record, more than double what it was at the beginning of the latest recession… After other recent downturns, older people who lost jobs fretted about how long it would take to return to the work force and worried that they might never recover their former incomes. But today, because it will take years to absorb the giant pool of unemployed at the economy’s recent pace, many of these older people may simply age out of the labor force before their luck changes.”

With pension savings devastated by the economy and the “house-as-savings-account” theory decimated, so many older workers were forced to consider delaying or forgetting about retirement. Some are able to remain at their current jobs; others are not so lucky: “Being unemployed at any age can be crushing. But older workers suspect their résumés often get shoved aside in favor of those from younger workers. Others discover that their job-seeking skills — as well as some technical skills sought by employers — are rusty after years of working for the same company… Many had in fact anticipated working past conventional retirement ages to gird themselves financially for longer life spans, expensive health care and reduced pension guarantees…

“Older people who lose their jobs take longer to find work. In August, the average time unemployed for those 55 and older was slightly more than 39 weeks, according to the Labor Department, the longest of any age group. That is much worse than in August 1983, also after a deep recession, when someone unemployed in that age group spent an average of 27.5 weeks finding work… At this year’s pace of an average of 82,000 new jobs a month, it will take at least eight more years to create the 8 million positions lost during the recession. And that does not even allow for population growth.” The Times. Taking Social Security early erodes benefits (25% less at age 62 than at age 66), but for many it is the only resort, all this as the system is beginning paying out more than it is taking in.

This segment of society has been an important consumer-base, spending beyond the stereotypes of medicines and senior citizens facilities. They took trips, bought cars and went out to restaurants, shopping merrily along the way. Not only have many curtailed such fantasies, they are no longer even to take of themselves, placing new strains on society and their families in otherwise economically intolerable times. “Forced early retirement imposes an intense financial strain, particularly for those at lower incomes. The recession and its aftermath have already pushed down some older workers. In figures released last week by the Census Bureau, the poverty rate among those 55 to 64 increased to 9.4 percent in 2009, from 8.6 percent in 2007.” The Times. Fear, frustration and anger will find expression in the coming mid-term elections, but there are no miracle cures or simple political expediencies that will stitch the bottom back on to the U.S. economy; deregulating and cutting taxes even more will not improve the job picture, but the deficit will find new pain.

Signs of improvement are slight and long-term; even the Wall Street financial engine is reeling from a summer of under-performance: “Worldwide, the number of stock offerings is down 15 percent from this time last year, while bond issuance is off 25 percent, according to Capital IQ, a research firm. Based on these trends, Ms. Whitney predicts that annual revenue from Wall Street’s main businesses will drop 25 percent, to around $42 billion in 2010, from $56 billion last year.” The workers most likely to feel the cuts are very likely in their later earning years.

I’m Peter Dekom, and this is, and probably will be from here on out, a very different United States of America.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Wanna Buy a Vote?

Eschewing the practice of nice political appointments for big campaign contributors or the over-capitalized candidate vying for office – like eBay billionaire Meg Whitman’s California gubernatorial campaign that has absorbed the highest candidate-financed contribution in U.S. history ($119 million by mid-September) – direct, cash-on-cash (or the economic equivalent) vote-buying has stuck to elections like the proverbial “white on rice.” It’s a practice that began as democracy was born and continues like wildfire to the present day.

The Afghan election on the 18th – a light turnout with threats and violence from the local Taliban making every vote count – pitted 2,500 candidates for 249 parliamentary seats. Voter fraud is so rampant in this pseudo-democracy that there appears almost a rate card for votes. The September 18th New York Times explains: “In northern Kunduz Province, Afghan votes cost $15 each; in eastern Ghazni Province, a vote can be bought for $18. In Kandahar, they sell their rights for as little as $1 a ballot. More commonly, the price seems to hover in the $5 to $6 range, as quoted to New York Times reporters in places like Helmand and Khost Provinces.” $5 is chump change to a mega-corrupt incumbent (as most are) and a fortune to someone living at the edge of survival. Some of the small districts place candidates with as few as 2,500 votes, and once in office, the opportunities to “milk the corruption cow” are the stuff of legends.

Lest we hold our noses in disdain over this Central Asian political machine (that we actually put in place when we invaded), American history is rife with paid voters, all the way back to the time the U.S. was born and even before. (10/21/08) cites Tracy Campbell’s book, Deliver the Vote: A History of Election Fraud, an American Political Tradition—1742-2004: “ ’Election fraud is a crime that usually pays,’ Campbell writes.

“Rampant voter fraud existed in the Colonial era, when voting was generally limited to white, property-owning men. To swing local elections, Campbell writes, corrupt campaigns would arrange for the landless to gain title to property in return for their vote, after which the land would be returned. The purchasing of votes was so popular in Rhode Island that the practice became known as ‘Rhode Islandism.’ Potential voters were also paid in Rhode Island not to cast a ballot. During Colonial times, sheriffs were known to ‘manipulate poll locations, voting times, and voter qualification,’ as well as to ‘simply change election results unilaterally and intimidate various voters.’ … George Washington won his seat in the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1758 by spending 40 pounds on booze for his neighbors.”

Cash(or equivalent)-for-votes was as much of an American tradition as Chicago ward politics and New York’s Tammany Hall in the nineteenth century, but notes that cash and other forms of election fraud continue into our contemporary era: “Campbell essays at length on voter fraud in Kentucky, Missouri, Louisiana, California, Georgia, Texas (where Lyndon Baines Johnson stole a Senate election), Illinois, and other states throughout the 20th century.” As recently as 1987, reports of $200/vote in major elections in Kentucky were common.

Is it human nature? Can election fraud ever be stopped? And is there always a link between buying elections and the officials so elected using their offices to general a significant illicit economic lifestyle? I recall on one of my trips to northern Kenya back in the 1980s one particular Borana tribe having a particularly candid talk with the local chief. He was tall, spoke reasonably good English (he lived in Nairobi for a few years), but wore a tattered cotton tunic, no shoes and his smile flashed the status-reflection of a gold tooth. Cattle and an occasional camel were tended in this village of round grass huts, dust, dirt and baron vistas as far as the eye could see, broken up by a few straggly trees.

I asked him how he became chief, and what follows is the best paraphrase my mind can conjure: “Tradition in this village is for a chief to stand for election by having the villagers in support line up behind the individual seeking office. The chap with the longest line wins.” I pressed for campaign insights, and the tooth flashed in the sun. “Oh,” he went on, “tradition here is for candidates to promise cattle to those willing to cast a favorable vote; there was no other way, but that was too expensive for me. I had an American friend from New York who bought a dozen cheap watches that I used instead of cattle, and let’s just say, it worked.” I looked around, and it was clear that no one in the village was likely to be late for… er… whatever they could be late for.

I’m Peter Dekom, and if you don’t point out the defects, democracy can never work.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Bank Left

Remember when no deposit, no return applied to soft drink bottles? Kind of like those warm and fuzzy Swiss bankers ready to help a drug lord store purloined cash, a less-than-benevolent dictator keep extorted capital drained from his third-world nation mired in survivalist poverty, a terrorist group investing its "contributions" wisely, a Greek magnate simply exporting profits before the government even knows the money's gone, that American securities trader parking all that untraceable cash from illicit insider trading ventures or even that American corporate predator keeping income sheltered from a divorcing spouse. Forget about Nazi gold melted from the teeth of executed Jews; that's old stuff.

As the U.S. Internal Revenue Service pushed Swiss authorities to release some of "those" lists of accounts held by U.S. residents that had been protected under Swiss banking secrecy laws, worried depositors and potential depositors began looking where else to deposit money they really didn't want anyone to know about, especially not creditors, governments or wives. The September 22nd New York Times: "In 2007, the U.S. Justice Department began a criminal investigation of UBS and, later, other Swiss banks for selling private banking services to wealthy Americans that allowed them to evade U.S. taxes… Last year, UBS paid $780 million to settle the charges. It later agreed to lift the veil of Swiss bank secrecy and disclose the names of 4,450 American clients to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. The settlement concerned clients courted on U.S. soil and pertained only to accounts held in Switzerland because it involved a U.S.-Swiss tax treaty."

Well, it seems that the financial mavens who developed their banking skills in Switzerland were able to export that expertise to Asian nations looking to grow the money retained within their borders, nations thinking that Switzerland's loss could be their gain… if only they could get those banking laws to work better than they did in Switzerland. After all, can't capitalism can turn a blind eye to where the money came from if the profits are high enough? "It's only money, folks and if we don't do it somebody else will" goes the logic. Places like Singapore and Hong Kong.

The New York Times explains: "[T]here is a twist in this shift to the East: Many of the banks growing in these low-tax oases have Swiss pedigrees. And their clients are not only Asia’s growing number of millionaires but also wealthy Americans and Europeans who, lawyers say, have been spooked by mounting scrutiny from the tax authorities in their own countries… From UBS, which operates a training center in Singapore from Lord Mountbatten’s former compound, to smaller private banks like Julius Baer, Swiss banks and those with Swiss-based operations are tripping over themselves to expand in the region… 'We have seen a massive uptick in hiring hundreds of private bankers' in Singapore and Hong Kong 'to take the business leaving Switzerland,' said Raymond Baker, the director of Global Financial Integrity, a research institute in Washington. "

Hong Kong and Singapore claim that their laws do not create a haven for criminals, but on a pragmatic side, penetrating those banking systems is well nigh impossible, even for the most dedicated international policing authorities. With over an estimated half trillion dollars migrating out of the Swiss banking system and other European "off-shore" banks (according to Wealth Bulletin), mostly into these Asian markets, it seems those with money to hide believe much more in Asian discretion than in Swiss bankers these days. The Times: "Singapore’s private banking assets grew sixfold, to $300 billion, between 2000 and 2008, according to Calamander Group, an investment boutique. Singapore now has about $500 billion in private banking assets, while Hong Kong has $200 billion, according to the Boston Consulting Group.The cross-border market in Singapore and Hong Kong will swell to about $800 billion in assets by 2012, UBS estimated earlier this year. Two UBS spokeswomen did not respond to further questions over several days on whether the bank sells undeclared banking services to Europeans and other non-Americans through Asia. " How nice to know that our friendly neighborhood terrorists' funds are safe and sound and ready to be used when needed… against us.

I'm Peter Dekom, and some of those secrets can kill you.

I Wanted to Talk About… er… I Forget

As life expectancies grow longer, the costs associated with advanced aging grow exponentially. Wikipedia: "According to the American Diabetes Association, approximately 18.3% (8.6 million) of Americans age 60 and older have diabetes…The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) demonstrated that, in the population over 65 years old, 18% to 20% have diabetes, with 40% having either diabetes or its precursor form of impaired glucose tolerance… For at least 20 years, diabetes rates in North America have been increasing substantially. In 2008 there were about 24 million people with diabetes in the United States alone, from those 5.7 million people remain undiagnosed. Other 57 million people are estimated to have pre-diabetes." Diabetes often leads to heart disease and other life-threatening complications and generates a direct charge to the American medical system estimated at $132 billion a year.

Well, folks, there's another huge and growing charge to our medical system rising in an entirely different arena that should really draw our concern: dementia… not the kind that infects politicians when their lips move… the kind that robs memories and dignity from so many of our senior citizens. I watched my mom, in her final years, slowly drift into Alzheimer's-induced memory loss and concomitant humiliation. Eventually, she had to move into a pretty nice (as far as these "places" can be nice) managed care facility that she had selected earlier in life to cover this possibility. I remember leaving the room for ten minutes and returning; she would look at me as if seeing me for the first time and utter, "Where have you been, I haven't seen you in so long." In the end, her mind ceased to function rather completely.

On September 21st, Alzheimer's Disease International issued The World Alzheimer Report 2010. Their Website ( summarizes the findings:

  • The worldwide costs of dementia will exceed 1% of global GDP in 2010, at US$604 billion.

  • If dementia care were a country, it would be the world's 18th largest economy. If it were a company, it would be the world's largest by annual revenue exceeding Wal-Mart (US$414 billion) and Exxon Mobil (US$311 billion).

  • The number of people with dementia will double by 2030, and more than triple by 2050.

  • The costs of caring for people with dementia are likely to rise even faster than the prevalence - especially in the developing world, as more formal social care systems emerge, and rising incomes lead to higher opportunity costs.

  • Reports from individual countries such as the UK suggest that dementia is one of the costliest illnesses - and yet research and investment is at a far lower level than for other major illnesses.

As folks look at our healthcare system with an eye to dismantling recent legislation – claiming the cost is intolerable – I wonder exactly how we are going to deal with the massive gerontological disaster looming in our future as our population grays with increasing speed. Here are a few more facts from the National Institute on Aging:

· One American turns 50 every 7.5 seconds.

· One in 6 Americans will be 65 or older by the year 2020, with an estimated 75 million by 2010.

· In 1996, the first wave of Baby Boomers turned 50.

· In 2000, nearly 40% of the federal budget was spent on aging-related programs.

· After age 75, most women are widowed and live alone.

· After age 75, most men are married and live with their spouse.

· In nursing homes, 70% of residents are women.

· Roughly 56% of the Older Americans Act budget is spent on nutrition programs for the elderly -- meals on wheels, congregate meal sites, etc. The rates of malnutrition risk among the elderly are estimated at somewhere between 64% and 88%.

· Today, the fastest growing age group in this country is women age 85 and older.

· Seven (7) million over age 65 require help with daily living: feeding, dressing, bathing.

· Social and psychological support is most often provided to elderly parent(s) by middle- aged daughter(s).

Layer in the costs associated with each of the above. Do the math; it's not pretty! And remember, except for the very unlucky who die before they make it to their senior years, each of you are or will be in some part of the above statistical reality!

I'm Peter Dekom, and we have a really big issue looming before us.