Daily Archive: 04/23/2012

Apr 23 2012

How to Safe Guard Social Security: Put People to Work & Expose the Lies

In an article for FDL Action, Jon Walker sites a Gallup Poll that there are 150 million people around the world who would immigrate to the United States:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — About 13% of the world’s adults — or more than 640 million people — say they would like to leave their country permanently. Roughly 150 million of them say they would like to move to the U.S. — giving it the undisputed title as the world’s most desired destination for potential migrants since Gallup started tracking these patterns in 2007.

The relevant worth of the poll, argues Jon,

[..] because the annual Social Security Trust Fund report should be released today. As a result there will likely be much hyperventilating about how the Social Security trust fund is projected to run out of money in roughly 25 years, even though continuing payroll taxes would still be able to fund a high level of Social Security payments given current assumptions.

While the Administrators try hard to make their projections accurate, any very long term projections are inherently going to be somewhat unreliable. Trying to guess how many working Americans there will be and their average incomes in the year 2030 is basically impossible.

While current demographic trends point in one direction, it is completely possible that at some time in the next decade we could adopt policies that would increase the number of working Americans – and the collection of payroll taxes to support Social Security – well above current assumptions.

Richard (RJ) Eskow gives us the headlines that we won’t see:

“Social Security Trust Fund Even Larger Than It Was Last Year”

“Growing Wealth Inequity Will Lead to Social Security Imbalance Later This Century”

“For-Profit Healthcare Poses Threat to Medicare, Federal Deficit, and Overall Economy in Coming Decades”

“Public Consensus Grows For Taxing Wealthy to Restore Long-Term Entitlement Imbalance”

 

He chastises Stephen Ohlemacher at the Associated Press for touting the  standard doom and gloom spin on the state of Social Security and Medicare with this erroneous headline,  “Aging workforce strains Social Security, Medicare”:

Ohlemacher’s article was occasioned by the latest report from the Trustees of the fund that handles Social Security and Medicare, which will be released today. He writes that “both programs (Social Security and Medicare) are on a path to become insolvent in the coming decades, unless Congress acts, according to the trustees.”

Unfortunately the piece provides no context for the use of the term “insolvent,” which most people associate with bankruptcy or running out of funds. As Sarah Kliff explains, nobody is suggesting that either of these programs will ever run out of funds. And when programs have ongoing sources of income, the temporary absence of a surplus isn’t the same as “insolvency” as that term is commonly understood.

In fact the report will clearly state that Social Security’s Trust Fund has grown to $2.7 trillion dollars, and that Social Security will be able to pay all its benefits in full for a quarter of a century. After that, if no changes are made, it will be able to pay 75 percent of scheduled benefits without changes.

Nor is the “aging workforce” the cause for any of today’s concerns, despite the millions of dollars in advocacy money meant to make us believe that it is. We’ve known about the baby boom ever since it ended in the 1960’s, and it was fully addressed in past adjustments to the program. That’s why the program was considered perfectly solvent for the foreseeable future after the Greenspan Commission raised the retirement age and made its other adjustments in the 1980s.

Media Matters points out the how the MSM gives a hand to the “Ponzi” lie ever since Texas Gov. Rick Perry “described the program as a “Ponzi scheme”:

Social Security is not a Ponzi scheme. People who call it a Ponzi scheme are not “wrong but partially right,” they’re not “called wrong by critics” — they’re just wrong.

A Ponzi scheme is a criminal endeavor that involves opaque financial dealings that promise investment returns when none or next to none actually exist. Social Security’s finances are crystal clear, and the interest generated by its trust fund is quite real.

A Ponzi scheme eventually collapses. According to last year’s report, Social Security can continue as it is, paying full benefits for nearly 25 years, and 77 percent of promised benefits thereafter. [..]

The same false attack is likely to continue as long as newspapers insist on publishing “he said-she said” stories alongside conservative columnists intent on undermining Social Security for ideological reasons.

These false attacks are reinforced by much read and respected newspapers and on-line news sites who report comments by Social Security critics without ever challenging the reality if the accusations. Conservative hacks, like Charles Krauthammer of The Washington Post  and syndicated columnist, John Stossel, continue to repeat this lie ad nauseum without correction by the editorial boards of their newspapers. Truth and facts merely get in the way.

As both writers and Media Matters point out, the solution to preserving Social Security and Medicare as we know it, is the increase the number of people in the work force (you know, real jobs), closing the income inequality gap, and either lifting the payroll tax cap or eliminating it altogether making all income subject to the tax. You know simple real solutions, not hand wringing, misleading spin and lies.

Apr 23 2012

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

William K. Black: ‘The Only Winning Move Is Not to Play’-The Insanity of the Regulatory Race to the Bottom

The plot of the movie WarGames (1983) involves a slacker hacker (played by Matthew Broderick) who starts playing the game “Global Thermonuclear War” with Joshua, a Department of Defense (DoD) supercomputer that has been given partial control by DoD of our nuclear forces.  The game prompts Joshua, who has been programmed to win games, to trick DoD into authorizing Joshua to launch an attack on the Soviet Union so that Joshua can win the game.  The hacker and the professor that programmed Joshua realize that the only way to prevent Joshua from attacking is to teach “him” that no one can “win” global thermonuclear war.  The insanity is that the people who created the game “Global Thermonuclear War” thought it could be won.  Joshua races through thousands of scenarios and ends his plan to win the “Global Thermonuclear War” game by attacking the Soviet Union when he realizes that “the only winning move is not to play.”

The JOBS Act is insane on many levels.  It creates an extraordinarily criminogenic environment in which securities fraud will become even more out of control.   One of the forms of insanity is the belief that one can “win” a regulatory “race to the bottom.”  The only winning move is not to play in a regulatory race to the bottom.  The primary rationale for the JOBS Act is the claim that we must win a regulatory race to the bottom with the City of London by adopting even weaker protections for investors from securities fraud than does the United Kingdom (UK).

New York Times Editorial: Rain, Snow, Sleet and Congress

How vital is the United States Postal Service? The Senate is attempting to answer that this week as it debates the service’s obvious need to drastically reform its business model in the age of electronic communication. Postal officials say they must close about 3,700 underused post offices (there are 32,000 nationally) while offering alternative services through local businesses. They also want to consolidate hundreds of regional processing centers and eliminate Saturday mail deliveries.

Lawmakers in both houses, fearful of constituents’ wrath, would prefer to procrastinate as usual. But the quasi-independent service – which receives no revenue from the federal government but is subject to tight oversight from Congress – has set a May 15 deadline to begin making cutbacks if it is to avoid bankruptcy.

Juan Cole: Earth Day Means Nothing If We Don’t Limit Carbon Emissions

The first observance of Earth Day was March 21, 1970. I was 17, and along with other students at Broad Run High School, went out with garbage bags to clean up the side of the road leading to the school. Even then, of course, the world faced much more serious pollution issues than roadside litter. But that problem was one we students could do something about.

Given the magnitude of the challenges the earth now faces, provoked by man-made global climate change as a result of our spewing massive amounts of carbon dioxide and soot into the atmosphere, the problems that were on our minds in 1970 seem in retrospect miniscule. Moreover, the idea that individuals could resolve this problem by taking individual action is a non-starter. It is a collective and infrastructural problem and we have to band together and do something about it through the instrumentality of the government. Unfortunately, our government has mostly been bought by Big Oil, so that the crisis of the environment is also the crisis of American democracy.

Timothy Egan: The Wrath of Grapes

We know from a rare personal admission that Mitt Romney experienced a faint whiff of alcohol, a long, long time ago. “I tasted a beer and tried a cigarette once as a wayward teenager,” he said last November, “and never tried it again.”

No doubt, Romney has friends who own multinational breweries. But he would fail the presidential beer test – that is, whom would you most like to sip suds with – simply because his Mormon faith prohibits drinking alcohol. But then, he would also fail the presidential cookie test, as he showed in another awkward appearance with real people last week.

I’ve always thought the beer buddy threshold was nonsense. Still, it’s worth considering what a White House without a tippling tenant would be like. Sobriety, laudable in many respects, does imply rigidity of thought. The best presidents were open-minded, and generally open to a drink. The nondrinkers, at least over the last century or so, were terrible presidents.

Robert Kuttner: How Europe Could Sink Obama

Forget the potential for an unpleasant October surprise emanating in Iran, Afghanistan, Israel, Pakistan or North Korea. The biggest threat to Barack Obama’s re-election is the economic folly of our good friends in the European Union, who seem determined to snuff our their economic recovery — and ours.

America’s own recovery is making very fragile progress. We don’t know whether the economy will keep generating jobs well in excess of 200,000 a month, as in January and February, or only a bit more than 100,000 a month as in March. But we do know that exports have been one of our economy’s surprising sources of strength, and that Europe is one of America’s biggest customers.

But Europe is even more committed to austerity economics than the United States, and as a result Europe is right on the edge of a double-dip recession.

E. J. Dionne: How to beat Citizens United

We are about to have the worst presidential campaign money can buy. The Supreme Court’s dreadful Citizens United decision (pdf) and a somnolent Federal Election Commission will allow hundreds of millions of dollars from a small number of very wealthy people and interests to inundate our airwaves with often vicious advertisements for which no candidate will be accountable.

One would like to think that the court will eventually admit the folly of its 2010 ruling and reverse it. But we can’t wait that long. And out of this dreary landscape, hope is blossoming in the state of New York. There’s irony here, since New York is where a lot of the big national money is coming from. No matter. The state is considering a campaign finance law that would repair some of the Citizens United damage, and in a way the Supreme Court wouldn’t be able to touch.

Felix Salmon: Let’s not worry about fake online drugs

Roger Bate has a curious op-ed in the NYT today. He’s the lead author on a study which bought 370 drug samples from 41 online pharmacies around the world, and then tested their authenticity. The results? With the exception of Viagra bought from non-verified websites, every single drug was 100% authentic. [..]

Realistically, the US simply doesn’t have a “fake drug menace”. Yes, fake drugs exist, and they’re not all that hard to find if you’re based in, say, Ethiopia. An earlier study by Roger Bate found that 7 of 36 drugs bought by secret shoppers in Ethiopia failed a stringent authenticity test. (On the other hand, 100% of the drugs bought in Turkey were legitimate, and Brazil, Russia, and China all performed very well in the test.) [..]

What we’re faced with here is a tradeoff. On the one hand, there are clear financial benefits to letting Americans and American insurers buy their authentic drugs wherever those drugs are cheapest. On the other hand, there are extremely vague worries that were that to happen, some hypothetical new future drug might fail to make its way to market. Given the massive economic and fiscal costs of healthcare price inflation, it’s surely a no-brainer to go for the option which unambiguously saves money. Especially since, as Bate himself has demonstrated, the drug-safety risks of going down that road are essentially nonexistent.

Apr 23 2012

On This Day In History April 23

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

April 23 is the 113th day of the year (114th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 252 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1564, William Shakespeare born.

According to tradition, the great English dramatist and poet William Shakespeare is born in Stratford-on-Avon on April 23, 1564. It is impossible to be certain the exact day on which he was born, but church records show that he was baptized on April 26, and three days was a customary amount of time to wait before baptizing a newborn. Shakespeare’s date of death is conclusively known, however: it was April 23, 1616. He was 52 years old and had retired to Stratford three years before.

Shakespeare’s father was probably a common tradesman. He became an alderman and bailiff in Stratford-upon-Avon, and Shakespeare was baptized in the town on April 26, 1564. At age 18, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, and the couple had a daughter in 1583 and twins in 1585. Hamnet, Shakespeare’s only son, died 11 years later, and Anne Shakespeare outlived her husband, dying in 1623. Nothing is known of the period between the birth of the twins and Shakespeare’s emergence as a playwright in London in the early 1590s, but unfounded stories have him stealing deer, joining a group of traveling players, becoming a schoolteacher, or serving as a soldier in the Low Countries.

Sometime later, Shakespeare set off for London to become an actor and by 1592 was well established in London’s theatrical world as both a performer and a playwright. The first reference to Shakespeare as a London playwright came in 1592, when a fellow dramatist, Robert Greene, wrote derogatorily of him on his deathbed. His earliest plays, including The Comedy of Errors and The Taming of the Shrew, were written in the early 1590s. Later in the decade, he wrote tragedies such as Romeo and Juliet (1594-1595) and comedies including The Merchant of Venice (1596-1597). His greatest tragedies were written after 1600, including Hamlet (1600-01), Othello (1604-05), King Lear (1605-06), and Macbeth (1605-1606).

Shakespeare died in Stratford-on-Avon on April 23, 1616. Today, nearly 400 years later, his plays are performed and read more often and in more nations than ever before. In a million words written over 20 years, he captured the full range of human emotions and conflicts with a precision that remains sharp today. As his great contemporary

   

Apr 23 2012

Big Announcement from OFA

A big announcement from Obama for America today: The president has decided on the theme song for his 2012 re-election campaign.

Apr 23 2012

Pique the Geek 20120422: The Isotope Effect

The germ of this piece came from an undertaking that I am considering.  That undertaking is to write a post for every chemical element.  The recent successes of my more technical pieces have made me decide to concentrate more on the harder part of science rather than less technical material.

The problem with that is that it would take over two years to cover all of the elements, and in reality even longer because there are topics out there that will surely be more topical.  I am not sure that this is feasible.  Maybe I could look at families, but then that gets way too general.  Any thoughts on how to approach (or even if I should) this huge array of subjects would be appreciated.

In any event, I would start with hydrogen and work my way to heavier elements.  One of the first things that came to mind was the isotope effect, because hydrogen has the largest isotope effect of any element.  Please stay with us!

Apr 23 2012

Can You Fool 99% of the People 100% of the Time?

One of President Obama’s political heroes, Abraham Lincoln famously said, “It is true that you may fool all of the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all of the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”  The question for today’s politicians is, can you fool 99% of the people 100% of the time?  That is, can you create and implement policies that blatantly serve a tiny fraction of the people at the expense of all of the people and get away with it?

As President Obama’s populist rhetoric heats up into campaign mode and important measures of his own and his party’s performance lag, the question arises, will the voters notice amidst all of the rhetoric that the job market is not improving and income inequality is growing?  

Apr 23 2012

Sunday Train: Should Cap&Trade Funds finance the California HSR?

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

One element of the recent California HSR “revised” draft 2012 Business Plan (which we shall call the Other, Other Plan) involves looking to one particular means of finance in addition to general fund bond finance and Federal transport grant funding:

Cap-and-Trade Program Funds

Assembly Bill 32 (Statutes, 2006, Chapter 488) mandates a reduction of statewide greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. In accordance with that law, California will implement a market-based cap-and-trade program. Funds from the program can be used to further the purposes of AB 32, including for development and construction of the high-speed rail system.

This has led to the current controversy in which the California Legislative Analysts Office, the LAO, has argued that the Cap and Trade funds might not be usable for HSR (pdf: p. 8).

One of their points, “Other GHG Reduction Strategies Likely to Be More Cost Effective,” involves a serious and common misframing of the question of the use of funds dedicated to reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions: when reducing GHG emissions in a project that serves multiple purposes, the cost effectiveness of the GHG emissions spending depends on what share of the project funding is represented by that GHG emissions spending.

So more on transport, Green House Gas emissions, and the peculiar analytical weaknesses that crop up whenever the California LAO turns its attention to HSR, over the fold.

Apr 23 2012

Pelt the President with the Pill

[The conversations represented here took place over the last week and are compressed for your reading pleasure. My husband and I are real people and said the things represented here. The rest of the dialogue is provided by intentionally fictionalized characters that are not meant to represent any one person. All sentiments and facts expressed here are genuine to the best of my recollection, but the characters saying them were selected by drawing names from a hat. I, alone, am responsible for this content.]

The Quickening

“They canceled Andrianna’s tubals yesterday,” I inform Steve in the hall outside the conference room. “They didn’t even give her a whole day’s notice so she could talk to her patients before they did it.”

“I got virtually no notice either when they canceled mine on Monday,” he replies.

“Really?” I am shocked by this. I have never heard of a hospital canceling cases so abruptly without involving the surgeon. “Who ordered the cancellations like that?”

“Don’t know. We’re only told the surgery scheduler, but someone gave her the order.”

We enter the conference room to find Norm waiting for us. The other gynecologists filter into the room. Both the hospitals the Sisters of Orange own are represented: the hospital in my town, St. Joseph’s, and the one south of us, Redwood Memorial.

“We had hoped this would blow over but the sisters feel backed into a corner.” Norm starts. “They have no choice but to get tough on this issue.”

“What brought all this on?” Steve asks.

“The edict came down from the new Bishop in Santa Rosa,” Norm says, “but we got targeted when they pulled the diagnosis codes for the hospital. It was obvious we were doing more sterilizations than they were in Southern California.”

“In Southern California you can go down the street from any Catholic institution and run into a secular hospital.” I try to defend us. “The Catholic Church bought almost all the hospitals in this area. For the last six years they’ve been trying to drive the last secular hospital under.”

“Never the less, we were doing a lot of tubals for ‛psychological’ reasons.”

“We were hardly doing a lot of sterilizations,” I say. “Other hospitals preform far more tubals a year. The stigma the Church gives the procedure already curtails many woman from asking for sterilization.”

“So what’s the plan?” Steve says, rescuing the meeting from disintegrating into complaints about the Church.

“Nothing.” Norm states. “This is a game we can’t win. The more public pressure the Catholics face, the more they will dig in. We have to keep quiet and wait. That will take the pressure off the nuns. When you’re approached by the media, and you will be approached, my advise is to refer them to the CMO. That’s what he gets paid for. Don’t talk to the media, or write letters to the editor. Don’t talk to your patients about it. We need to keep the lid on this to stop it from blowing up.”

“Too late. The patients already know.” I inform him. We all know there was an article in the local alternative paper, The Journal. The “real” paper in town, the Times Standard, has been silent on the issue. “I spent half an hour at a Pap smear today with an irate woman who vented the whole time about how this was unreasonable and unfair.”

“I wouldn’t encourage her. And don’t talk to your staff about this either,” Norm says.

“How am I going to do that? I’m taking my patients to Mad River. They all know why I stopped operating at St. Jo’s.”

“What do you say to the patients?” Steve wants to know.

“The truth. I don’t think it’s fair to deny all the women in an entire county a procedure on religious grounds. And the patients agree with me. I have an eighty year old woman who lives as far south in the county as you can go. I told her why I was taking my patients north, but seeing where she lived and considering her age I told her I would make an exception for her and operate on her at St. Jo’s. She told me, ‛Don’t you dare. I don’t want to support that any more than you do.’ This octogenarian wants to drive past the two hospitals the Sisters own to have her surgery at Mad River Hospital.”

“This hospital is facing hard times right now.We’re barely holding on ourselves. We can’t afford to lose any patients. We don’t want to lose patients or doctors.” Norm seems genuinely alarmed.

“Great. Go back to the way it was, and I’ll bring my surgeries back to St. Jo’s.” I feel for Norm, but I will not be moved.

“Look, if they made us take all the hysterectomies to ethics committee, the way they threatened to, then I would do the same thing.” Wendy said. “But it’s just the tubals.”

“The only reason they didn’t is because they found out the insurance companies already reviewed all our hysterectomies and would not pay without an adequate medical diagnosis.” I tell her. “They weren’t being magnanimous. They just didn’t want to duplicate the work.”

“You can’t take your surgeries to Mad River.” Quinn, always the practical one, tells me. “I’ve looked at the labor numbers. St. Jo’s is hemorrhaging money in Obstetrics. The hospital will take the Laborist program away. The only reason you came here was for that program. You don’t want to see it die, do you?”

“I don’t.” Everything he says is true. Medicaid doesn’t even cover the cost of deliveries for most hospitals. The one wing devoted exclusively to women is a loss leader for most hospitals in the nation. Obstetricians get treated like the red-headed-step-children of the family of physicians because we don’t make the hospital any money. Having a Laborist program is a rare luxury. It meant I could sleep through the night for the first time in years, watch a whole movie in a theater, have a conversation with my husband–uninterrupted by the other woman…one with vaginal discharge. I do desperately want to keep that indulgence. “It’s not just about what I want. If they take the Laborist program, there’s little reason for me to be at St. Jo’s at all. I’ll not just take surgery to Mad River, I’ll take my labor patients as well.”

“If we don’t support the hospital it won’t be there to care for us.” Wendy says. “I for one want a hospital here when I retire.”

“Not taking care of the needs of half of the population is not caring for us.” I can feel my control slipping. “If they are unwilling to serve half the population’s health care needs, what are they doing in the business in the first place? They should sell the hospital-preferably back to the community to be run cooperatively.”

“This happens every seven years or so.” Elroy, the oldest member of our tribe, says. “The last time it was a new nun sent to take over the hospital. She had all the tubals canceled too.”

“How did that get resolved?” I ask.

“She died and it got forgotten.”

“So we’re waiting for the Bishop to die? Or just waiting for him to change his mind?” I say with more than a little heat. “The Bishop isn’t the only one with strong feelings on this.”

“The hospital can make it hard for you.” Adrianna has arrived late to the party due to her patients. “Remember Tony? He got in that spat with the hospital and started talking to people-even people in the Foundation. It got back to the Board of Trustees and they dragged him into Medical Executive Committee. Now he has that mark on his record forever.”

I know she is trying to warn me. I’m no stranger to this tactic. Though I have not seen it used at St Jo’s, I’ve seen it used elsewhere to strike fear into doctors. A hospital will use its power to remove incompetent doctors on a doctor who is medically competent but has a disagreement with the hospital. They sacrifice one physician, ending his or her career, to scare the other physicians into compliant silence. There are even courses for hospital administrators instructing them how to do this effectively. I’ve avoided such abuses of power so far, but I’ve seen it used time and again on colleagues.

“Look, it’s not just our patients. I was already scheduled to talk about this subject on a national level. I can’t act like it’s not happening to me on a personal level as well. You see, I’m an editor of this blog…”