Mystery Saturday

This is a very strange story.  I’m not saying I believe it as I have no idea how the pool of people was identified or how large it is, but it is curious if the pool is relatively small.  I’m a mystery nut though.  This would make a great “Pelican Brief” type of story if anyone has writing aspirations.

The Mysterious Deaths of Nine Gulf Oil Spill Whistleblowers

In the past year, nine vocal critics or potential whistleblowers of the Gulf oil spill all died in extremely mysterious ways. [Ed note: two others are also included here: one missing, one jailed.] Their deaths could be strange, unrelated coincidences. Or they could have been killed as part of a conspiracy to silence those who were speaking out against the worst oil spill in American history.


I’d love to hear what Mike thinks of the story below.

Two more men with HIV now virus-free. Is this a cure?

Two men unlucky enough to get both HIV and cancer have been seemingly cleared of the virus, raising hope that science may yet find a way to cure for the infection that causes AIDS, 30 years into the epidemic.

The researchers are cautious in declaring the two men cured, but more than two years after receiving bone marrow transplants, HIV can’t be detected anywhere in their bodies. These two new cases are reminiscent of the so-called “Berlin patient,” the only person known to have been cured of infection from the human immunodeficiency virus.


And if you’re interested in this sort of thing here’s a story from Africa.

Signs Found of Mysterious Neanderthal ‘Sister Species’

Newly discovered bits of “foreign DNA” in modern Africans indicate that a mysterious “sister species” may have walked the earth with Neanderthals and humans, according to scientists. The DNA doesn’t resemble DNA from any modern-day humans, nor from Neanderthals, whose DNA sometimes shows up in modern-day Europeans. “We’re calling this a Neanderthal sibling species in Africa,” said Joshua Akey of the University of Washington. He believes human interbreeding occurred with the mystery species 20,000 to 50,000 years ago when Neanderthals were waning in Europe, and modern humans were beginning to spread out from Africa, reports the Washington Post.

38 Responses

  1. lms,

    That HIV link is pretty cool. I’m not sure that bone marrow transplantation is an economically viable means of curing people with HIV, but, at least in these two cases, it seemed to have worked.

    The “Berlin patient” is an interesting story too. He also got a bone marrow transplant for leukemia, except that the transplanted hematopoetic stem cells lack the HIV co-receptor. So, he’s essentially “HIV-free”, though I have heard that he may have low levels of detectable virus still circulating.

    Maybe some day, it will be feasible to take the bone marrow out of HIV patients, clear out the virus, knock out the co-receptor genetically, then put the cells back in. That would be an interesting experiment to do.


  2. Mike

    I see you’re already thinking about a way to make it happen. It’s too bad that bone marrow is so difficult to match. I thought it was interesting though. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to virtually wipe out another virus?


  3. So, since I’m not interested in hanging out here by myself I’ll check in manana to see if anyone’s around. It takes effort to keep this place open and I haven’t been the best at it lately, but I hope the rest of you haven’t given up.


  4. Just busy, lulu; I, for one, just got done mowing the backyard since the temp finally dropped below 90; I was going to do it this morning after I got back from my run, but I fell asleep on the sofa and when I woke up from my nap it was just too blazing hot to do anything other than read. Tomorrow is hiking with Daisy up in the mountains, but I’ll try to check in in the evening.


  5. Been following the sister species story a bit.

    Seems very unlikly that what we thought we knew about early hominid history even 50 years ago will still be valid even 20 years from now


  6. This story:

    “Political leaders in Greece have agreed on most of the austerity measures demanded by its creditors and are now eyeing pension and wage cuts to find the final 1.5 billion euros of savings still needed, a source close to the talks said on Sunday”

    Is my lead for the tip of the iceberg post about US public pension funds.

    Even in their public acknowledgements they are receiving well below their projected annualized rates of return:

    “Public funds stick to aggressive targets”

    It should also be clear from reading the story that many of them have been lying about their actual return numbers for years.

    “NARSA reports that funds have achieved a median annualised investment return over a 20 and 25-year period of 8.5 per cent as of June 30 this year.
    Over five and 10-year periods this median return is 4.7 per cent and 5.7 per cent respectively.
    This year the funds surveyed achieved a median return of 21.6 per cent.”

    According to that article which I have no reason to doubt, the average fund is about 50% invested in equities, yet their returns as listed are far, far above that of the S&P 500

    “The annualized return for the S&P 500 Index (and its precursor S&P 90 Index) between 1926 and 2010 was 9.87% and the 5-year annualized return through the end of 2010 was 2.29%, an improvement over the 0.42% return over the 5-year period that ended in 2009. The 10-year annualized return through 2010 was a paltry 1.41%, a small improvement over the pathetic -0.95% recorded in the 10-year period ending in 2009.”

    Is it POSSIBLE that they have doubled or in some cases tripled the rate of return on the S&P by investing outside equities, . . .yes.

    Is it LIKELY that they have done so on a consistent basis . . . No.

    However as Warren Buffett says, you don’t know who isn’t wearing a bathing suit until the tide goes out.

    The tide is about to go out, really out, at an increasing rate:

    “Many Workers in Public Sector Retiring Sooner”

    File this away as the scandal of the second half of this decade at the latest.


  7. this also points out that single payer is an inevitability, because the below Federal level public sector has a demographic health care funding time bomb on their hands that is far worse than that of the nation as a whole


  8. Does PBGT cover governmental entities? I didn’t think it did.


  9. no it doesn’t


  10. I don’t get the same sense of doom you do from that first piece John. It’s a scary thought to contemplate however. I read a story yesterday that there is some sort of mystery fund in CA’s Parks and Rec department, in the millions of dollars. So now the state has issued an audit of all departments. Surely, there are auditors of the various pension funds who keep track of these numbers. I’m sure they’re quite low over the past four or five years but wouldn’t they be closer to target again now?

    What is PBGT?


  11. I do agree re single payer. We were at a retirement party last weekend for our daughter-in-law’s father who was an elementary school principal and so a lot of the people there were public workers. The few I knew and spoke to were very curious about our insurance costs for some reason so I told them what we pay now and many were literally shocked. And then when I told them how much our cost sharing of actual health events were this year they were even more shocked. I got the feeling they’re scared. Single payer it will be, sooner or later, but inevitably I think.


  12. Michi, just saw your comment from last night. I wasn’t trying to blame anyone, other than myself really, as I haven’t been around much lately. Just hoping everyone is still interested I guess. I do agree we all seem busier in the summer. Things have finally settled down around here, and my “feva” (as my hubby likes to call it) is gone, lol, so I hope to participate more frequently.

    However, I am out for awhile to make my zucchini relish this morning before the temperature climbs, then a swim.

    Happy Sunday all.


  13. lms:

    I am very suspicious of public accouting, knowing how budgets are balanced in these places. Look no further than the late lamented Arthur Andersen for the answer to the question how could they be cooking the books?


  14. PBGT is actually PBGC Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp that is a semi-public Federal entity that serves as an insurer for private sector pensions.


  15. LMS, one of the drivers of the government participation in the GM Bankruptcy was the potential liability of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Trust. The USA, as it does with FDIC and bank deposits, stands behind most private pension plans as a guarantor. Making the UAW take over the pension at GM was worth leaving the union at the table and worth the injection of operating capital by the USA and Canada, because the pension plan was a time bomb that would have exploded instantly. At least, that was my understanding at the time.


  16. mark

    Currently GM’s pension obligations are about half of their market cap a level usually only achieved in the airline industry. Less understood however is that the majority of GM employees are outside the US (about 2/3) and so are a large but not well documented percentage of their pension obligations.

    From a public relations standpoint I get the need to save GM in 2009, but it was a truly awful deal they negotiated and GM is an American company in nameplate only.


  17. one last thought the PBGC is responsible only for a percentage of the company’s obligations not the listed figure

    “This report provides background and analysis of the premiums charged by the Pension Benefit
    Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), which is a government-owned corporation that was created in
    1974 to protect the retirement income of participants in private-sector, defined benefit (DB)
    pension plans. When a company terminates a DB pension plan that does not have enough assets
    to pay 100% of the promised benefits, PBGC pays, in accordance with statute and up to a
    maximum yearly dollar amount, the benefits to participants in the terminated plan. In FY2011,
    873,000 individuals received $5.5 billion in benefit payments from PBGC. An additional 628,000
    workers will receive benefits when they retire.”

    Click to access R42521.pdf


  18. is it me or is there little left of substantive discussion on PL anymore?

    I try to start issue related pieces, as do jnc and a few others, but it seems to immediately go back to Republicans are Nazis and Democrats are Communists

    fiona has become a really really dreadful mirror image of carlos, spending all day posting pieces about hating Republicans or links to easily disproven conspiratorial allegations.


  19. “lmsinca, on July 28, 2012 at 7:38 pm said:

    So, since I’m not interested in hanging out here by myself I’ll check in manana to see if anyone’s around. It takes effort to keep this place open and I haven’t been the best at it lately, but I hope the rest of you haven’t given up.”

    I haven’t given up, but summer weekends are often busy for me and not as much time at the computer. I do check in for the morning report every day.

    Links will continue to be posted as I find them.


  20. “bannedagain5446, on July 29, 2012 at 9:07 am said:

    is it me or is there little left of substantive discussion on PL anymore? ”

    It ebbs and flows. In my time there, it’s been worse before (remember Rain Forest?), and those issues, plus the technical problems with the Post’s commenting system were the specific reason ATiM was formed.

    Lacking a compelling piece of news to focus conversation around, it pretty much degenerates back to a discussion of how Obama is a socialist and/or how the Republican party is racist.


  21. lms

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful to virtually wipe out another virus?

    Two viruses are in the bag already — smallpox and rinderpest (ungulate virus related to measles). We are thisclose to wiping out polio, but I think politics and religion are going to get the best of us in this arena. The three remaining countries where polio is endemic are Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria. Strong anti-Western feelings in parts of those countries aren’t helping with vaccination efforts (Helmand, FATA, northern Nigeria). The next on the list is supposed to be measles. The problem with measles is that it is a live attenuated virus vaccine, which is difficult to transport in sub-Saharan Africa because it needs to be kept refrigerated.

    HIV isn’t going to go away any time soon though — no vaccine and the “cures” are prohibitively expensive. But GWB’s PEPFAR initiative is doing wonders in Africa. That may end up being his crowning achievement regardless of which side of the aisle you are on.


  22. Mike

    I actually had both measles and mumps when I was a kid, wouldn’t wish either one on anybody. My generation was the first to get the polio vaccine, thank God for that, a terrible disease. I wish someone could explain to me why some parents don’t vaccinate their children.

    I appreciate Bush’s work in Africa on HIV also and agree it may be his most universally recognized accomplishment. I knew people who died of Aids years ago so thank goodness we’ve made progress at least. Do you think there will be a cancer vaccine before one for HIV?


  23. john/banned

    I’ve been commenting on the PL again occasionally, but I always see who’s around first. Sometimes it goes better than others depending on the crowd.


  24. Steve Pearlstein channels some ATiM posters:

    “Let’s shatter the myth on Glass-Steagall
    By Steven Pearlstein, Published: July 28

    You can blame Aaron Sorkin for this column.

    I was watching “The Newsroom” last week, the latest hit show by the producer and screenwriter, when the brainy-but-beautiful economics correspondent for the fictional cable news network was explaining to her gutsy-but-impulsive executive producer how the world’s financial system recently came to the brink of collapse.

    “So after the Great Depression, Congress wanted to put a firewall between the [banks and the] investment banks. They wanted to make sure that Wall Street could melt to the ground and the commercial banks wouldn’t be touched. They passed a law, the Glass-Steagall Act. Now you could be Gordon Gekko [tycoon in the movie “Wall Street] or George Bailey [small-town banker in the movie classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life”], but you couldn’t be both.”

    Then, explains the brainy-but-beautiful correspondent, Ronald Reagan launched a two-decade push toward deregulation, which culminates in the repeal of Glass-Steagall in 1999. Suddenly, Gordon Gekko could make risky bets with George Bailey’s deposits, and the rest, as they say, is history.

    It was vintage Sorkin: eloquent, fast-paced dialogue that perfectly channels the liberal political/cultural zeitgeist, transforming what appears to be a complex story into a simple morality play.

    The only thing is, it’s not true — not even close.”


  25. The Plum Line has been plagued by a lot of drive-by commentators who post really ridiculous vicious things. But it is still an oasis in comparison to the average in-print news story. That African DNA story is just a sea of pinked comments from waves of astoundingly ignorant comments.


  26. Sorry yello, I never look at the comments on stories like that, as a matter of fact the only other place I read comments on a regular basis is at Naked Capitalism and occasionally the Plumline, depending on who’s around.


  27. jnc:

    Can’t you see it though somehow with a young Jmmy Stewart in some pivotal role?

    Why can’t everything be complex. Why should the world be this eay to figure out?


  28. This has nothing to do with anything other than I wish I would have waited until tomorrow to open this envelope. We got our renewal papers Friday on our medical insurance and I just took a look at them…………………..yikes. It went up another $90 each so now we’ll be paying $890 a month for each of us, $21,360 per year. That’s not even the worst though, they’ve discontinued our plan so for more money we get a worse one. $45 co-pay, $5000 deductible each and 45% of hospitalization. And if I’m reading it right, even though my husband turns 65 in April and will qualify for medicare we can’t start with their secondary insurance ($500/mo) for him until the following November when we renew again. A person could go broke around here. An 11% increase for worse insurance.


  29. lms,
    That sounds horrible.You are the case study in why small businesses need health care exchanges. I better make sure my wife with the cushy public school benefits never kicks me to the curb.


  30. “lmsinca, on July 29, 2012 at 7:51 pm said:

    This has nothing to do with anything other than I wish I would have waited until tomorrow to open this envelope.”

    I wouldn’t say that at all. I find it to be a useful real world data point to inform what are otherwise abstract discussions on health insurance reform.

    You guys are in California, correct?


  31. Lulu, that is simply awful.

    You could cancel and self insure for $21K$26K, provided you are willing to fly to Mumbai for a big deal, like cancer. Stay lucky ’til April and all the self insurance is for you.

    Supposedly CA is working on exchanges right now. Please look into it!


  32. Out of curiosity Lulu, have you ever used an insurance broker to solicit competitive bids?


  33. lms,

    Do you think there will be a cancer vaccine before one for HIV?

    The cancer vaccines and HIV vaccines that have been tried seem to have equal eficacy (i.e., none). Well, except for Gardisil, which is tremendous against cervical cancer due to human papilloma virus.

    I guess it depends on your endpoint. Most cancer drugs merely extend life for a few months, so I’ll bet that soon there will be a cancer vaccine that can do at least that little bit. Complete regression of cancer is probably a pipe dream for now though. Plus, there are lots of different types of cancer, so we’ll need lots of different types of cancer vaccines. My money would be on an HIV vaccine coming first — but then again, I’m biased because I’m a virologist (who previously worked on cancer immunology).


  34. Mornin’ all,

    I don’t know what it’s like in other states but here in CA the rates across insurance companies for small group insurance (2-20 employees) are essentially identical, there is no competition whatsoever. We used a broker for years but they don’t actually save you any money, it’s just a matter of saving time if you’re the one doing the research, like me. Our broker’s office pissed me off a few years ago so I quit using them and do it myself now.

    One thing I’ve learned over the last few years is that you can beat yourself up looking for the best deal and end up back at square one. This will be our best if not only deal at this price. The only way we could save a little money is if we switched to a local access HMO and since I tried that one year and ended up with a doctor no one’s ever heard of in a filthy industrial park we went back to the straight HMO and our own doctors. This is the highest deductible HMO and there won’t be anything else no matter how many insurance companies I try. I suppose I should be happy they’re not able to cancel our insurance as we both had medical events this year that would probably land us in the pre-existing conditions category forever now, assuming just our age didn’t do it or we could afford anything on the individual market.

    Mark, we can’t go to Mumbai as we have to be around to work in order to pay whatever bills we incur from any illness. We’ve ended up spending about $10K out of pocket so far this year and luckily one or both of us was able to work while being sick or injured.

    It’s a big mess but we will carry on as usual and keep hoping for good health or at least not worse health and continue working to pay the damn bill. We’re not really ready to retire anyway………………………….at least that’s what we keep telling ourselves. 😉


  35. Yikes Mark.

    We live in Riverside County. My doctor is the only “doctor” working at the office I go to and I heard them say one day while I was waiting in her office that she wasn’t taking any new patients. If you call now as a new patient you see a PA. My husband hasn’t actually seen a doctor in years except for the orthopedist who fixed his broken leg this year or in the emergency room. His “doctor” is a PA. Same medical group, different office. The medical school at UCR has been a long time in the works but is finally on track to open next year but it will take years to get these new docs out the door and working, as the article indicates.

    The specialist I’ve been seeing since I got sick again has horrendous waits in his office, I’ve only been three times but the last time I waited almost two hours and one of the tests he wanted is taking over eight weeks to complete. Two weeks for approval and six due to scheduling difficulties. I still haven’t had it yet but luckily I’m better so it’s no big deal, I hope.

    And yet, we can’t just let people suffer without affordable health care or abuse the emergency rooms for routine care, I don’t think. We’ve spent a little too much time in emergency rooms this year and I could tell you some crazy stories I’ve overheard while lying in a bed and listening to the reasons people are there or the times the staff shows up to secure a payment. It’s really bad.


  36. Riverside and the physician shortage was featured in this NYT article.

    NoVAH – see my comment an hour ago!

    Mark – It was so good I had to make it again

    At least I didn’t read it twice…………love, lulu

    if you had, it would have been like the current system. unnecessary tests.

    Or doing the right tests but coming up with the wrong diagnosis.


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