Wednesday, August 26, 2009

20 Facts about the G-20 Summit

Good day Pittsburghers! That phrase has 20 letters and starts with G. Hmm... know what else is made up of 20 characters and starts with G?? OH!! The G-20! For some unknown reason, the Group of 20 (or G-20) is hosting their annual summit here in Pittsburgh, PA. Like many Pittsburghers, I was coming down from my Super Bowl/Stanley Cup Championship high when I got word that the city would again be in the national press. But I couldn't conceal my WTF-esque attitude toward this new, much more political "win" of ours. Smiles on the faces of city officials hinted to me that this was, in fact, a good thing; but my ignorance on the meaning of G-20 led me to just shun the news all together. Until now... Now that I'm hearing about protests and university closings, and secret service I'm beginning to grow intrigued. Hence, a blog to enlighten us all on the what's what of this surprise summit that we've been so blessed to host this year.

20 facts about the G-20

1. G-20 was initiated in 1999 as an attempted solution to the financial and economical inconsistencies that exist between the global financial leaders (Luxembourg, US, UK, etc.) as well as developing economies. The goal was to collect the financial ministers from 19 countries (and European Central Bank) into a forum that promotes constructive exchange of information. Clever.

2. Discussion topics may include (but are not limited to): crisis-control, combating terrorist financing, reducing abuse of the financial system, estimating the girth of Sidney Crosby's thighs, etc.

3. The organization is led by rotating chair positions. 2009 is chaired by the United Kingdom. Cheeky.

4. The United States has not been offered the chair position yet. Perhaps it's because of our failed economy, I don't know?

5. The G-20 is not to be confused with the G-7, G-22, or G-33. They are separate associations that all just happen to do the same thing.

6. It's been reported that President Obama suggested hosting the summit in Pittsburgh to highlight the city's continuing financial recovery... Is that really your reason, Obama??

7. For the last meeting in London, the Metropolitan Police, the City of London Police and the British Transport Police, as well as over 3,000 extra police officers were called into action to control protest riots.

8. Pittsburgh can handle it.

9. This will be the first "green" political summit, thanks to the David L. Lawrence convention center which is the first certified and largest green convention center in the world.

10. Other venues for the convention are scheduled at Phipps conservatory, the Andy Warhol museum (?? haha), CAPA - Creative and Performing Arts high school, and Rosemont Farm - Teresa Heinz's place.

11. PITT chancellor, Mark Nordenberg, was not invited to attend the summit, despite his damnedest efforts.

12. Protests generally arise from public anger over recession, bankers' pay, loss of jobs, and capitalist mentality. Some people just throw stones over group think. I, personally, think violent acts of protest are neanderthalic and malproductive (both made up words).

13. The G-20 divides into two camps: the trade surplus nations and the trade deficit nations. Both camps agree that global trade imbalances lie at the root of the economic collapse. They encourage increased domestic consumption from countries like China that rely heavily on exports.

14. G-20 MVP may be a tie: some say Brazil with its rising financial status and hotshot President Lula, but others say China because of the ball-vice they have on the US debt. Think Vito vs. Michael Corleone circa Godfather II.

15. Obama's secret service codename is "Renegade". Coincidence that that's the Steeler's fight song??? I THINK NOT!

16. Duquesne, Robert Morris, Point Park, CMU, CCAC all closed for the G-20. University of Pittsburgh is holding strong.

17. Protesters allegedly plan to throw water balloons filled with decomposed roadkill juice, urine, and feces (ok, this may not be a fact - my nasty friend told me this)

18. Dinners will include Primanti's sammiches, pierogies, n'at warshed dahn wit dat der Ahrn City.

19. An event will be held on Sept. 18 at Carnegie Music Hall called: "Challenges for G-20: Is the City of Champions the Black and Gold Standard for Recovery". Sounds pretty sweet.

20. The meeting promises to end with nothing exciting.

Overall, I think that the G-20 is an excellent idea - after all many economic mistakes arise from poor communication. All this jibber jabber about Pittsburgh being a success story of financial regrowth is a bit of a stretch to me, though. NOT because Pittsburgh isn't a success story, NO I BELIEVE IT VERY MUCH IS, however, I don't think it owes its success to a government recovery plan. I think Pittsburgh thrives because of its hard-working, down-and-dirty locals (and the UPMC); and if Obama is looking to make a business plan to translate to other fallen blue-collar economies (like Detroit), it won't be easy.

Further reading:
Official Pittsburgh G-20 site

Action plan from 2008 meeting in Washington

Monday, August 17, 2009

What the health?!

To say that I am politically conscious sounds more like the punch-line to a joke than anywhere near a reality... but I must admit that I am passionate about human rights and equality and have a strong interest in the field of medicine. So the current interest in the government's plan for health reform has crept its way into my field of view, despite my best efforts to avoid it. Let me highlight the 3 quick anecdotes that have led me to forcefully educate myself on this reform:

1. This American Life - July 24th 2009 - In Act 3 of the podcast Ira Glass hosts a story about a woman who fell victim to her health insurance's fine print. After finding out she was in terminal stage for breast cancer and needed an emergency double mastectomy she was also informed that her insurance would no longer provide her coverage. The fine print of her policy, known as rescission, cited that omission of any previous medical condition is grounds for cancellation. When they flagged her for review they found a previous record of something ridiculous like acne treatment and called that an omission that rendered her ineligible for coverage. With no other way of paying for her procedure she was forced into a 4 month lawsuit against the insurance providers, in which time her tumor doubled, so she could finally get coverage. The podcast reported that insurance companies make nearly 300 million dollars through rescission (either when direct fraud is present or when there is no evidence of fraud, just an ambiguous omission, usually by oversight - like the one in the cancer victim's policy). And when 3 insurance CEOs were asked if they would agree to revoke the rescission policy unless there was definitive evidence of fraud, they all said that they would not.
I like Obama's strong statement that no insurance plan "would be able to deny coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions." But he didn't explain how he would force insurance companies to insure people with pre-existing health problems.

2. There is no set price for doctors and their services. This is the fundamental separation criteria between quality health care and accessible health care. Dr. Gupta cited that "We asked the White House specifically about that and we were told no, there is no plan in any of the bills so far to set prices across the board, across the country." On the other hand, the AMA is pissed because they claim that the government's view on the price of health care (Medicare reimbursement costs for example) is outdated and that if a nation-wide health care program develops the doctors won't be able to pay their rent or electricity (watch around the 5:25 mark).
I guess I think that doctors could endure a small pay cut for the overall improvement of the system. However, I do agree with Dr. Nielsen that in order for compliance on behalf of the AMA, considerable attention must be paid to the well being of the doctors and the up-to-date costs for medical practice.

3. It just blows my mind that there are so little health benefits for gay and lesbian couples. Could you imagine not being granted family medical leave from work to spend with your loved one during their final days? Or not being able to collect survivor benefits if, god forbid, your partner passes away leaving you to support yourself and any dependents. It's awful and completely unjust. I, among the millions of LGBT and equality advocates, was relieved when the health benefit revisions were passed for gay federal workers. While it's a huge step for gay rights, it also draws more pressure for overturning the Defense of Marriage Act that is standing in the way of true equality.

So, basically, if there are facets of this bill that have awakened a little sleeping political advocate within you, I encourage you to get the facts. There's so so so much information to sort through but it's out there, waiting for you. You can start here. Let me know if you have anything interesting to add!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Make it Easy

There's alot of information out there in the world and I find that it's extremely difficult to deeply understand or explore a given topic when extraneous tangents are present to steer you away from the point. That's why I am introducing a new segment to my blog called, "Dumb Down". It's purpose is two-fold, by preparing the "dumb down" versions of complex issues I'll be learning what's really going on and also you, my reader, can benefit from the easy to follow, list-view, 101 style of the information.

Today's topic:

TWITTER dumbed down
Disregard this post if you are a twitter pro, or even better, feel free to add your 2 cents. But I must admit, I registered for the site when its popularity grew and since then I've tweeted a handful of times and still feel lost with the concept. So my goal today was to figure out some of the best uses for twitter, how to tweet effectively, and what those crazy @names mean. Enjoy.

So twitter "tweets" are text fashioned messages of max 140 characters that can be sent to "followers" or through open access. What I found interesting is that while twitter is the 3 fastest growing social network, it only has a 40% retention rate.... hmm... guess this how-to blog isn't too pointless after all! My guess is that people ask or "tweet" themselves, "what's the point?"

Some of the best uses for twitter that I have found include:
1. Getting feedback - twitpic a new haircut, or a car you are thinking about buying. Or post a link to an article you found intriguing. The mass of "followers" you have accumulated now have an opportunity to act as your council and supply advice or criticisms. I think alot of times people's arguments with twitter are, "why not just text your friends?" Well in this case, you can get opinions from people outside your direct network without mass-texting or not having contact info.

2. Give warning - if there's a huge traffic issue on the parkway and you know alot of people in your network take that route it could be very beneficial if they knew to take an alternate route. Of course this brings up the "text while driving" issue but let's just sweep that under the rug for now, shall we?

3. News tweets - this is probably the primary reason why I would enjoy "following" a twitter. It's nice to get up-to-the-minute reports on current events. News and celebrity twitters have become very popular as the give people a personal connection with the tweeter. Imagine the feeling that Anderson Cooper just personally texted you to tell you about the latest riot over the health care reform. Sexy.

4. Live twittering - recording your impressions of current art gallery exhibits, or concerts, or a sporting event can be fun and interesting to your followers. But eh, this one doesn't impress me too much.

Overall, I feel like, yea twitter is a cool idea. But my qualms are this: 1) I'm going to forget to tweet when something interesting happens which voids the purpose, and 2) I'm not gonna wanna read my friends dumb tweets so why would they want to read mine? Well regardless, I'm gonna give it a shot when I get my new blackberry ;-). CLICK HERE to follow me on twitter!

Lastly, what's up with these @name things? If I had to guess I would think its like a reference (think pointers in C++ code, all you nerds out there). But I don't know if I'm right. And do you have to type that in on your phone? Where even is the @ sign? Let's find out... I found this little helper on the WSJ blog:

Twitter Glossary
@: At reply. A public tweet directed at a fellow Twitterer, such as @Barack Obama, that shows up in their Twitter stream.
DM: Direct Message. A private message that appears in a Twitter inbox. You can only direct message people who follow you.
RT: Retweet. A tweet that you like so much that you are resending to your followers. Usually includes credit to original tweeter, such as RT @BarackObama, followed by the tweet.
Whale Icon: The iconic blue whale that pops up when Twitter is down. It appeared frequently in Twitter's first year and a half.
#: Hashtag. Used to designate a topic such as #SanDiegoFire so that people can easily search for tweets on a topic. (It is totally unnecessary, though, because a search on a keyword without the # returns the same results).
Nudge: A feature that lets you send a note to a Twitterer encouraging them to tweet more frequently. You can only nudge people who are tweeting from a mobile phone.

You can also use outside applications like Twitpic and TinyURL to add pictures and URLs, respectively, to your tweets.

Side notes to keep in mind:
- "followers" are not like facebook friends. It is not a two way street. Just because you wanna read their tweets doesn't mean that they are interested in yours.
- the best way to gain followers is to tweet more
- no one expects you to read all the tweets that roll in. Just enjoy it as good people watching.

Live long and twitter.

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