Tag Archives: Huffington Post

WHAT, ME WORRY?

The man—and I use that word only in its most general sense—pictured above has proven to be startlingly incompetent throughout his life. Yet he constantly brags about his superiority in all manner of things. Sad.

Actor Stephen Fry (yes, I, too, have barely heard of him) was voted the most intelligent person on TV in the U.K according to this article in HuffPo wherein he provides an explanation of why the man pictured above has so many supporters who believe everything he says, even when it is obviously pure twaddle and outright lies.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/stephen-fry-explains-lies_us_591550ebe4b00f308cf4323c

Fry believes a psychological lesson helps explain this effect.

 

For example, researchers found students who were least proficient often overestimated their own abilities.

“The skills they lacked were the same skills required to recognize their incompetence,” Fry said. “The incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.”

That’s now known as the Dunning-Kruger effect.

The Dunning-Kruger effect was developed by psychologists at Cornell. It considers that incompetent people

fail to recognize their own lack of skill

fail to recognize the extent of their inadequacy

fail to accurately gauge skill in others

recognize and acknowledge their own lack of skill only after they are exposed to training for that skill

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect

Both Fry and Wikipedia offer oversimplifications of Dunning-Kruger, but the entire Dunning-Kruger paper can be found here:

http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.64.2655&rep=rep1&type=pdf

We focus on the metacognitive skills of the incompetent to explain, in part, the fact that people seem to be so imperfect in appraising themselves and their abilities.1 Perhaps the best illustration of this tendency is the “above-average effect,” or the tendency of the average person to believe he or she is above average…

That, the man pictured does to the max. Indeed, the Washington Post compiled a litany of such claims last October. Among them

“I understand the tax laws better than almost anyone, which is why I’m the one who can truly fix them,”

“I think nobody knows the system better than I do.” (on government)

“Nobody knows more about trade than me.”

“There’s nobody bigger or better at the military than I am.”

“So a general gets on, sent obviously by Obama, and he said, ‘Mr. Drumpf doesn’t understand. He knows nothing about defense.’ I know more about offense and defense than they will ever understand, believe me. Believe me. Than they will ever understand. Than they will ever understand.”

“Because nobody knows the system better than me. I know the H1B. I know the H2B. Nobody knows it better than me.”

And, of course, there is his constant bragging about his negotiating skills.

He understands the tax laws but insists he can’t release his tax returns because he is under IRS audit. The IRS tells him he can, though whether he is under audit is a private matter.

He “knows the system” but yet many appointed positions remain unfilled that are vital to the workings even he wishes to occur.

As to the military and the generals, he also promised to have a plan to defeat ISIS “within 30 days” Still not done.

http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/promises/trumpometer/promise/1375/develop-plan-defeat-isis-30-days/

And when the Seals mission in Yemen went awry did he take responsibility because he knows the military? Hell no.

On Visas he knows more than anybody? Several federal judges have told him he does not. And that is compounded by his utter lack of understanding of how the federal courts work—or else it reveals that he doesn’t care that federal courts exist, he wants to be a dictator.

On trade he’s an expert? He’s gone from totalling condemning NAFTA to a willingness to renegotiate with Canada and Mexico on some of its terms. All the while he ignores mountains of evidence that NAFTA is not a disaster, but at worst only a lukewarm success for the United States

And negotiating skills? Gee, where were those demonstrated when Republicans were forced to give up ACA repeal and all the program cuts he wanted in order to keep the government financed for the remainder of this fiscal year? He got NOTHING he wanted.

This piece provides a more recent perspective on Dunning-Kruger.

https://arstechnica.com/science/2016/11/revisiting-why-incompetents-think-theyre-awesome/

Unfortunately, in those places ruled by the smug and complacent, a classic paper has become a weapon. The findings of Dunning and Kruger are being reduced to “Stupid people are so stupid that they don’t know they are stupid.” Rather bluntly, Dunning himself said, “The presence of the Dunning-Kruger effect, as it’s been come to be called, is that one should pause to worry about one’s own certainty, not the certainty of others.” And that humorously suggests the Dunning-Kruger effect is now a candidate to become a second Godwin’s law.

Like Dunning, I do not take such a dim view of humanity. In fact, Dunning-Kruger and follow-up papers give us cause for hope. They show that people are not usually irredeemably stupid. You can teach people to accurately self-evaluate—though, in their specific examples, this also involved teaching them the very skill they were trying to evaluate.

(Godwin’s law, incidentally, is the proposition that in any comment thread, if long enough, some comparison to Hitler will emerge.)

But remember the fourth point of D-K

recognize and acknowledge their own lack of skill only after they are exposed to training for that skill

While that may be true, that presupposes that the person demonstrates a desire to cure their lack of skill. In our present case, do not hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

What, ME worry? Damned right I worry.

 

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MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN? THIS ELECTION SEASON I’D SETTLE FOR MEDIOCRITY.

drumpf

 

Earlier today I blew up on Facebook. I called friends who generally share my views stupid and those who don’t stupider. Much of my heartfelt enmity is the result of the rise of Drumpf.

Why do I refer to him as Drumpf? You can thank John Oliver for that.

Immediately after my viewing of this episode I downloaded the Chrome extension that converts Drumpf to Drumpf (I have found I can’t even type the actual name here without it undergoing the transformation) on stories in my browser. It is one small consolation to see this at work in the headlines and stories I see on Slate, Huffington Post, Rolling Stone, and elsewhere, even on sites that lean farther right.

I deplore the lowlghts from all the 2016 campaigns. Our Presidential  electoral process is in the gutter, dragged there by Drumpf who has been joyfully joined there by Marco Rubio  who questions the size of Drumpf’s penis; by Ted Cruz simply being Ted Cruz; by Jeb Bush forced to defend charges of being a mommy’s boy; by Ben Carson, who fell in while sleep walking; by John Kasich, who destroyed any possible claims of being a moderate by defunding Planned Parenthood; and by the millions of presumably sentient human beings who listen to all the crazy talk about immigrants and an out of control government who couldn’t pass a U.S. citizenship/civics test if it were an open book exam and the original Declaration of  Independence and Constitution were splayed in front of them.

Holding them hostage there are David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremicist groups armed to the teeth courtesy of the National Rifle Association, crazed Evangelicals who believe Drumpf somehow possesses better Christian bona fides than the Pope when The Donald is probably more likely to provide a quote from a Smokey Stover comic book than from II Corinthians when asked about his favorite Bible passage.

Let us not forget the Secret Srvice which somehow has improved its training to the point that a reporter who wanders 10 inches outside the designated journalist area at a Drumpf rally is strong armed when only a few months ago intruders inside the White House grounds stole President Obama‘s favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe before being hustled to the requisite nearby mental hospital for observation.

Oh I’m not forgetting the Democrats. Their participation is in somewhat shallower waters near the curb cutouts that allow wheelchair crossing rather than in the middle of the block, but where the H2O is equally putrid. This time it is not so much the candidates themselves…Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton …hurling invectives at each other so much as it is the so-called BernieBros who have been accused of ugly misogynistic characterizations of the other camp while feminist icons Like Gloria Steinem, though using politer language, are equally sexist in how they portray young female Sanders enthusiasts.

And from these nominal Progressives come the enabling threats to withold their vote from the nominee should he or she not be the one they love to death at this moment. Enabling threats because by doing so they will practically guarantee that our next President will have a bulbous red nose, bizarre multi-colored makeup, a fright wig,  and will be making nonsense noises as he struts around the circus ring. Of course all but Drumpf will need to be fitted for this outfit.

Accompanying this flotsam down the gutter where it will eventually empty into the stream that will make the water supply of Flint, Michigan seem utterly pristine by comparison are various pundits, analysts, economic gurus, and the like offering opinions that may be parsley, rosemary, or thyme, but most certainly not sage.

Perhaps the only good that is coming from this is Spotlight. No, not the latest Oscar winning film but the harsh relentless glare focused on the entire Presidential nominating process that places premiums on a candidacy that begins within weeks after the prior election and is fueled by endless speculation, pollmongering profiteers, the need to fill cable TV news with anything but substance, and the proliferation of web sites whose sole purpose is to promulgate lies, denigrate anyone with opinions different from theirs, and disregard anything remotely likely to benefit the America they all profess to love but which they incessantly subject to virtual domestic violence while declaring their fealty between bruising blows.

Super Tuesday is an agglomeration of primaries in states and American Samoa which would be significant just for the sheer numbers of opportunities for voters to express their choices were it not for the media telling us that the issues have been decided by the primaries/caucuses already consigned to history in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina and whch have a combined poulation dwarfed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania whose own 2016 primary is not until April 26, a date by which the names of many former candidates will be not even a memory and which may represent only the merest possibility of ultimate success to the horses (asses) still in the race.

All this makes the Swiftboating of John Kerry in 2004 look more like the highest level of forensic debate by comparison.

Oh, hell. I’ll admit it. I, too have awkwardly stepped off the curb and fallen into the slime. But the murky waters are deep and I really can’t swim so I am about to drown in this torrent I am now a part of.

In splashing around for survival I might occasionally send splurges of nastiness into the open mouths of others, but they were there first voluntarily.

RIGHT TO CARRY= RIGHT TO COMMIT CRIMES?

rtc

Scenes such as the one above have been common the past couple of years with people openly possessing firearms while strolling down the aisle of a store casually tossing cans of French cut green beans, boxes of toothpicks and diapers, some juicy lamb chops, and a silencer into the old shopping cart.

I’m kidding about the toothpicks.

I think this graphic expression of one’s claimed Second Amendment rights is silly at best.

At worst I believe it is a bad example of, and is a potentially dangerous way of evoking such rights while at the same time acting far more manlier than warranted. A false machismo that is meaningless in a world where real men do not need to portray their violent nature nearly so much as they do empathy, compassion, intelligence, and thoughtfulness.

Intuitively those of us less inclined to martiality via cold blue steel share a sense that open carry portends mayhem just around the corner, given the propensity for bar discussions about Elroy Face vs Hoyt Wilhem as the epitome of 1950’s relief pitchers while quaffing a Falstaff Beer in a bar or upset at the fool changing lanes in front of you absent the courtesy of a turn signal  to erupt in more than mere angry words.

Fists result in bloody noses. Guns result in bloody autopsies.

Indeed, while open carry advocates speak of the great traditions and invoke memories of glorious Wild West Lawmen, Wyatt and Doc and the Brothers Earp were enforcing gun control during the famous showdown somewhere in the vicinity of the OK Corral. Tombstone, you see, had adopted an ordinance requiring the surrender of guns while in town to lessen the chances of more humans utilizing its namesake product.

And Wild Bill Hickock could have finished his poker game in peace if not for some miscreant determined to create a special nickname for a hand of Aces and Eights while practicing open carry.

But at that, I was intrigued at the headline Right-To-Carry Gun Laws Linked to Rise In Violent Crimes: Study.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/14/right-to-carry-laws-crime_n_6160414.html

The report, published in September and issued as a National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper last week, adds to a series of studies over the last decade tending to discredit the “more guns, less crime” hypothesis, which argues that right-to-carry laws serve as crime deterrents by allowing ordinary Americans to better protect themselves.

I am a skeptic. I am as doubtful of the tales of purported saving of damsels in distress because an armed stranger untied her from the train tracks while blazing away with his six-shooter as I am that NRA militants are stealing everything in sight during their forays into Target and intimidating possible 911 callers by waving bazookas and flame throwers. And mainly I am a skeptic because, while I believe a statistical correlation may be shown, causality cannot.

Yet the authors of the study, academics employed by Stanford and Johns Hopkins Universities, appear confident in their conclusions. Abhay Aneja, John J. Donahue III, and Alexandrea Zhang summarize their findings in this  abstract.

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2443681

Across the basic seven Index I crime categories, the strongest evidence of a statistically significant effect would be for aggravated assault, with 11 of 28 estimates suggesting that RTC laws increase this crime at the .10 confidence level. An omitted variable bias test on our preferred Table 8a results suggests that our estimated 8 percent increase in aggravated assaults from RTC laws may understate the true harmful impact of RTC laws on aggravated assault, which may explain why this finding is only significant at the .10 level in many of our models. Our analysis of the year-by-year impact of RTC laws also suggests that RTC laws increase aggravated assaults. Our analysis of admittedly imperfect gun aggravated assaults provides suggestive evidence that RTC laws may be associated with large increases in this crime, perhaps increasing such gun assaults by almost 33 percent.

(Note…the download of the total study is 108 pages so I have not read it. I am basing this on the researchers own words in the abstract.)

The language employed here belies the Huffington Post headline as I would interpret this as to suggest that their findings are anything but absolute or even nearly so.They are far more indicative of the need for, if anything, further study. Greater statistical correlation of their assumptions would then help justify further public discourse and policy debate on open carry.

Yet…and yet? Intuition often serves us fairly well. There are many occasions when empirical evidence was unavailable but our gut instincts told us something was just not right and those instincts proved out.

The Wild West became just the West when the guns were put away and women and children and non gunslingers felt safe in public.

That’s not intuition…that’s history.

MASTERS OF OUR DOMAIN

Health care costs in the United States are an ongoing concern. And well they should be. They are the highest in the world, per person, and far outstrip the costs for the same or similar levels of care (or even higher) in our peer nations.

I’ve looked at thse comparative costs previously. https://umoc193.wordpress.com/2012/05/04/our-insane-health-care-costs/

Yet we have millions of Americans who still lack health insurance. While there are some ameliorating factors, these uninsured (and a good number of them are working or in working families) face the highest costs of all for health care, especially when an illness or injury necessitates their hospitalization. Faced with having to pay the costs of their treatment themseves, they frequently accumulate overwhelming debt.

Medical care debt accounts for about 42% of the 1.5 million bankruptcies filed each year. Remarkably, over 75% of those filers had health insurance. But high deductibles and/or copays, uncovered treatments, or coverage limits lead to this debt.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA or just ACA) by its name infers that it is a direct attack on these high medical care costs. I look instead to the intent of the law to provide health care insurance coverage to an additional 30-50 million Americans as its primary purpose.

The law does contain provisions directly related to the actual costs of treatment, but there is no way of actually knowing the total effect of these provisions until the ACA is fully in force in 2014.

Related to the high cost of health care is the high cost of insurance, whether under a group policy for employees or members of affinity groups or individually.

The law, if basic principles of supply and demand and spreading risk over larger numbers apply, should mean lower premiums. In other words, the private insurance companies   will provide the bulk of coverage to this additional customer base. With so many more customers, the total premiums needed to support coverage payments will bring lower premiums per customer.

There is no guarantee, however, that this will occur. Critics of the ACA are fond of pointing out that private insurance premiums have risen significantly since passage of the law. Of course they blame the ACA for this increase while chortling that President Obama promised a reduction of premiums of $2500 per family due to the law.

The Washington Post Fact Checker has looked at these mainly political claims and found them wanting.  http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/post/obamacare-and-rising-health-insurance-premiums/2012/04/01/gIQAJFGZpS_blog.html

In fact the “promise” of Obama that premiums would decrease by $2500 was a projection that premium costs in 2016 would be that much lower than they would have been absent the law, not that there would be a reduction by such amount from current premiums.

The rising costs of Medicare are also thought to be a problem. With people living longer and more seniors reaching eligibilty age, there are some predictions that Medicare costs will be a huge budget buster.

I don’t have data available that would illuminate the exact relationship, but surely Medicare faces budgetary problems due in part to the overall rise in health care costs, not simply its demographic realities.

In February a Time Magazine cover story by Stephen Brill focused on our health care costs and examined them in depth. He presented examples of what patients without insurance pay, what the government pays for Medicare patients, and the charges to private insurers, all for the same procedures, treatments, drugs, medical devices, and hospital stays.

We learned from that article that hospitals maintain what is called a “Charge Master”, essentially the rates billed to whomever pays for a patient’s treatment. If the patient himself pays the bills are extraordinarily high. Private insurers pay far above the costs to hospitals and Medicare patients are billed the least of all.

It came to our attention…if it had not entered our consciousness previously…that “non-profit” hospitals appear to be anything but.

Brill used the information that he discovered to suggest that the extension of Medicare to more, younger people was one way to help address these high costs. Or any single payer system might accomplish the same goal whether through Medicare or not.

Now the governemnt has released data on medical costs in a comprehensive format that provides additional proof that our health care costs, if nothing else, are erratic and wildly disparate from provider to provider with seemingly no rational basis for the differences.

 Huffington Post gives us some examples from wading through the new report and showing how much disparity there is in charges by hospitals within the same geographical area.

The government data base itself is accessible here: https://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Statistics-Trends-and-Reports/Medicare-Provider-Charge-Data/index.html

Here is an example of disparity in cost highlighted in the HuffPo article.

When a patient arrives at Bayonne Hospital Center in New Jersey requiring treatment for the respiratory ailment known as COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, she faces an official price tag of $99,690.

Less than 30 miles away in the Bronx, N.Y., the Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center charges only $7,044 for the same treatment…

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/08/hospital-prices-cost-differences_n_3232678.html?1367985666

There are startling differences in the charges for the same services at the two hospitals in my home town of Morgantown, W.Va., barely a mile apart if that.

For instance the charge for a heart catheterization w/ drug-eluting stent is $48,454 at WVU Hospitals, a teaching hospital connected with the university, while just up over the hill at Monongalia General Hospital (established by the county) the charge is $30,334. That is where I underwent the procedure four years ago.

Meanwhile, at UPMC Presbyterian in Pittsburgh, 75 miles away, the charge is $85,023. Of course that is an even larger teaching hospital than WVU.

Now the charge is not what is paid. The average covered payment at each of the three institutions is $16,974, $10,039,, and $14 870 respectively.

But the difference between what is charged and what is paid merely emphasizes the seemingly voodoo approach to determining the charge in the first place.

If you combine the reportage of Stephen Brill with the bombshell facts emerging from the Government report one is left scratching one’s head in bewilderment. (And if this head-scratching continues, who the hell knows what the charge will be for treating any resultant condition?)

Exploring in detail the factors entailed in setting these prices requires work that exceeds my capabilities here.. But even a cursory examination gives impetus to the notion that the normal so-called free market characteristics of supply and demand, the cost of procuring supplies, transportation, labor costs, etc. are only a small part of the processes entering into the Charge Master.

Now that we have infinitely more information available on medical costs we can enter more intently into the world of policy making and implementation that can more reasonably apply charges that fairly compensate providers while reducing the burdens on those who pay for these services. Ultimately doing so will allow us to make access to health care both more available and more affordable to all Americans.

That does not mean we should expect perfection. It does mean we should expect to be Charge Masters of our Domain.

LET’S RAISE TAXES ON THE RICH

The end of 2012 will bring, absent Congressional action, the end of the Bush tax cuts from 2001 and 2003. President Obama has proposed extending the cuts for all but those with incomes at the highest level.

Republicans have argued that doing so will hurt the economy and are unfair to the rich. This is all rhetorical nonsense driven more by an agenda that favors the rich but is ill-conceived and demonstrably wrong as it pertains to the fiscal health of the United States as a whole.

This rhetoric also carries accusations of class warfare but, as noted in this blog and elsewhere, the rich have been managing fine, thank you. As other segments of the economy have experienced difficulties ranging from budgetary cutbacks at home to utter despair from a plunge into poverty, the rich keep getting richer. There is ample statistical evidence of that.

With a series of charts and graphs courtesy of Huffington Post I will show you what I am talking about

As you can see the claim that tax cuts, at least the Bush cuts in this instance, spur economic growth is simply not true. The economy in terms of employment and GDP growth lagged the general trends since World War II.

One reason for this dichotomy appears to be that the rich benefitted from these cuts far more greatly, proportionately, than did the middle class, the people whose spending stimulates demand which results in the need for business expansion which means jobs growth which means an increasing GDP.

Even if these cuts had generated a salutory effect, which clearly they did not, they also generated the the biggest cause of our budget deficits and increase in the national debt.

Allowing income tax rates to rise for wealthy Americans would not hurt U.S. economic growth much in 2013 if Congress extends expiring tax rates on lower income levels, the Congressional Budget Office said on Thursday.

In a report expected to fuel Democrats’ post-election demands for higher taxes on the rich, the CBO said extending all of the Bush-era tax cuts, along with changes to the Alternative Minimum Tax, would boost U.S. gross domestic product growth by 1.5 percentage points, compared to letting these rates snap back to prior levels.

If the tax rates were extended only for individuals earning less than $200,000 and couples earnings less than $250,000, CBO said growth would rise by 1.25 percent — just a quarter point less than extending all of the cuts. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/08/taxes-on-the-rich_n_2094592.html#slide=1563279

Post-election concerns will be focused on entitlements as a source  of budget savings. I’ve written on the fiscal realities facing Social Security and Medicare and have my own ideas for viable solutions. I will be writing more in the very near future. In the meantime one simple solution presents itself. And that is the proposed reinstatement of the 39.6% top marginal rate on the highest incomes.

In short, the revenue lost from extending the cuts on upper incomes would ensure the solvency of Social Security for 75 years.

Now that’s not to say that other methods should not be employed to achieve this goal. But this fact illustrates that the problem is not insurmountable and that complicated, contrived reforms such as privatization are not necessarily the solutions we should be seeking to implement.

In summary we have evidence that the vaunted effects of lowering taxes on the rich leading to jobs and economic growth did not work with the Bush cuts. Moreover, restoring the highest marginal rate to what it was under Clinton would have minimal negative effect on the economy.

Now the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has previously issued a projection that if the cuts expire as scheduled, together with other legislative imperatives currently in effect, the U.S. will probably fall into recession again with  increased unemployment.

The logic of that is pretty easy to understand. Restoring the highest rate will still leave those affected with over $60,000 net for each $100,000 of EXTRA income above the threshhold. But restoring all the rates will mean much less money in the pockets of most Americans whose average income is below that EXTRA $60,000.

So taking money out of their hands will mean less ability to purchase  goods and services and which spending is the driving force of the economy.

The benefits of taking this one step will aid in reducing the deficit (though spending cuts will still be needed). And frankly the people in that income bracket can well afford this small sacrifice since they have consistently seen greater gains in income and wealth out of proportion to their demographic size for the past three decades.

Protestations be damned. The rich can afford this slightly increased burden and the nation cannot afford not to impose it.

I DREAM OF THINGS THAT NEVER WERE AND ASK WHY NOT?

Those words are famously associated with Robert Francis Kennedy and were repeated by Edward  M. Kennedy for his eulogy of his brother.

In actuality the entire EMK quote goes like this

Some men see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say why not?

which paraphrases Bobby’s words

There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?

which in turn

…paraphrases a line delivered by the Serpent in Shaw’s play Back To Methuselah : “You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?

http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Robert_F._Kennedy

I was reminded of the Bobby Kennedy quote this afternoon after reading two news stories. The first was a follow up to the tale of Paul Ryan virtually forcing his way into a photo op at a soup kitchen in Youngstown, Ohio last week where the patrons were already gone and the place cleaned but Paul and his wife washed pots and pans needlessly while cameras clicked.

That has resulted in backlash for the Romney/Ryan campaign but unfortunately also for the soup kitchen as related here. The essence is that nasty comments have come the kitchen’s way and donations are down. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/18/soup-kitchen-paul-ryan-photo-donor_n_1980541.html

Upon reading I determined to make a small donation myself. Preferring to do so on line and not finding a web site I was certain where any gift of mine would be properly directed, I called a number for the St. Vincent DePaul Society in Youngstown and spoke with Brian Antal, the director, himself. He assured me the group’s Facebook page would be equipped to accept PayPal within a few days at most.

Then, also in HuffPo, there was an article about Shane Bauer, the American hiker imprisoned in Iran for a time as an accused spy. It referenced a piece by Bauer in Mother Jones in which he compared the conditions he endured to the ones extant in many American prisons. Guess what? We win! U-S-A, U-S-A. We mistreat our prisoners worse than the Iranians mistreat theirs. Another victory for American ingenuity and industriousness!

After posting both of these stories on my Facebook wall, with my appropriately cynical brief commentary, I had a sudden revelation. These stories are related as are the “47%”, OWS, class warfare, wealth disparity and redistribution, joblessness, food stamps, and other domestic issues that truly dramatize and crystalize the differences between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney for the election which is now less than three weeks hence.

For Romney looks at these issues and either does not believe they exist or else misapplies blame to the sufferers themselves or to the government, never pausing to consider just how much the craven greed he has exhibited most of his adult life results in these conditions and circumstances that detract from the welfare of the United States as a whole.

No amount of tithing and other gifts to the Mormon Church (not bad in and of themselves) can offset the detructive elements of the lifestyle he has chosen, not represented by numerous houses, multiple Cadillacs, and $70,000 deductions for a horse, but by the desire for fame and wealth above all that make him happy.

His greatest service is not to his family or church but to wealth  and woe be he who has proven incapable of achieving similar wealth or at least independence from the vicissitudes of victimship and reliance on the arrival of the federal check the first of each month.

Now these last three paragraphs are about Romney and do not act as a complete exemption of Obama from any of his failures to properly protect the various constituencies who believed he had their back when he campaigned in 2008. For all the Hope and Change he promised there has too often been little hope and less change in the delivery of his programs. (Which reminds me of an old old joke. “I went to a hotel for a change and a rest. The bellboy got my change.The hotel got the rest.”)

Ironically many of these failures are not manifest in all the petty and farcical attacks on him assaulting our senses of sight and hearing and challenging our capacity for reading comprehension that are evident in right wing TV and radio and their blogosphere, which makes my feeble attempts at truth here resemble the recitation of Mary Had a Little Lamb compared to their constant reading of the Grimm Fairy Tales in a cackling voice designed to render the kiddies scared shitless.

Most of us think of Red State/Blue State solely in terms of presidential elections. Yet other consistencies among each grouping provide a stark picture at their differences beyond voting patterns. This article examines some of these differences between red and blue states and draws the conclusion that the citizens of the latter are ultimately healthier, wealthier and happier than their counterparts.  http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/magazine/108185/blue-states-are-scandinavia-red-states-are-guatemala?page=0%2C0

An abundance of statistical evidence to support this conclusion is offered. My caveat is that I have not personally factchecked the assertions or sources though I am familiar with, and confirm the findings, of some of them based on prior research. But before jumping on the bandwagon for this material and touting it to your opponents, please either do the fact check yourself or repeat this caveat.

What the writer is concerned about is that, should Romney win the race, the governments of the red states will have their narrow-minded notions of social and human justice validated by Romney’s tendency to facilitate even more narrow-minded notions of social and human justice.

Returning to my theme.

I see wealth valued above human dignity

I see imprisonment valued above changing the conditions that lead to it.

I see wealth disparity prevalent and seemingly valued above leveling the playing field.

I see material things and faux charitable efforts valued above truly recognizing the less fortunate and providing them every opportunity for self-sufficiency.

I see global conflicts in which force is valued above diplomacy.

I see ancient biblical texts and ideals of decency valued above the reality that there are good loving people who are no less decent than those who would keep them apart.

I see the exploitation for profit of our home, the Earth, valued above the desire to prevent its despoilation.

I dream of a time when our values change and these eyesores are removed.

I have some expectations that Obama will advance my dream.

I have all expectations that Romney will convert my dream into a nightmare.

LET’S GET THIS SOCIAL SECURITY THING STRAIGHT

Social Security was a topic fairly brushed over during the October 3 Obama-Romney debate. In fact President Obama stated words to the effect that there were no fundamental differences on the issue between him and the challenger.

Well Obama has walked this remark back a bit since then, as well he should have. Sam Stein of the Huffington Post described it as cleanup and noted the Friday blog post by the Obama campaign.

“While President Obama is committed to keeping the promise of guaranteed Social Security benefits for current and future generations, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have supported plans to privatize the program, and have put forward a plan that would slash benefits for current workers,” the blog post read.

The post goes on to highlight “key differences between the president’s and Romney-Ryan’s approach to Social Security.” Among them is a firm opposition, on the president’s part, to any reforms that would privatize the program or “slash benefits for future generations.” Romney, by contrast, has expressed support for optional individual retirement accounts and raising the retirement age.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/06/obama-social-security-debate_n_1945124.html

Now this idea of privatizing Social Security has been floating around the political arena for quite some time, a floating duration made possible only by its bloated notions and excess of body fat.

What is this privatization and what does it mean? Well, it is the proposition that younger workers would be given the option of investing for their future retirement using the same funds that are now their assessment of the payroll tax. The theory is that investing these funds in the usual vehicles available to the gullible…er…savvy investors will enable the money to grow much larger through gains exceeding the relatively puny guaranteed interest for the deducted payroll funds.

By law, the assets of the Social Security programs must be invested in interest-bearing government securities or securities guaranteed by the government. The Trust Funds hold a mix of short-term and long-term government securities. The Trust Funds can hold both regular Treasury securities and special obligation securities issued only to federal trust funds.  Currently, all securities in the Social Security Trust Funds are special obligations.

The rate of interest on special issues is determined by a formula enacted in 1960. The rate is determined at the end of each month and applies to new investments in the following month.

The average of the 12 monthly interest rates for 2010 was 2.760 percent. The effective interest rate (the average rate of return on all investments) for the OASI and DI Trust Funds, combined, was 4.6 percent in 2010. This higher effective rate resulted because the funds hold special-issue bonds acquired in past years when interest rates were higher.

http://ssa-custhelp.ssa.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/404/~/how-social-security-trust-funds-earn-interest

So Social Security funds, and the interest they earn, are backed with a guarantee of the United States government. Please tell me if Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan or any other dealer in stocks, investments, mutual funds, etc. can make a similar guarantee.

It wasn’t so long ago when relatives and friends with 401K’s were bitching out loud about how much their retirement vehicles had lost during the stock market/investment bank crisis/fiasco/criminal thievery that occurred in the last part of the first decade of the new millennium.

Note also that Social Security funds ALWAYS grow, even as the interest rate varies from year to year. They never lose base value. Now who can say that of private funds? So even as the stock market’s Dow, S&P, and NASDAQ indexes have recovered from the recession the losses incurred in the interim will never be regained even if the base value is now the same. Those are still net losses compared to what the SS Trust Fund has done.

Now I’ll readily admit this is an anecdote that may or may not apply to a large segment of private retirement investors. But in a recent comment thread in the Post-Gazette, a commenter opposed to Obama’s re-election cited as one reason that his own 401K had not yet recovered from the losses it sustained during the recession.

Another consideration as to making SS voluntary is the reality that millions of Americans right now, given the oportunity to establish retirement funds, either opt not to at all or woefully underfund them. Additionally, under the rules pertaining to 401K plans either under the law or by the plans themselves, owners of them may borrow from these funds. Some do so under only the most dire circumstances. Others simply want that vacation to Ibiza.

Having government oversight or compulsion applied to these plans is antithetical to the very idea of them in the first instance, but is the only way to ensure that millions of our citizens are not in financial distress when they retire and thus probably looking for government assistance anyways.

Social Security is thrown in with all the other “entitlements” that the 47% of Americans who feel they are “victims” feed off of. I have explained previously why these are not entitlements in the derogatory sense implied by these charges. (Though one does become “entitled” to them by meeting defined criteria…sort of like one becomes entitled to a college diploma by completing all the degree requirements.) https://umoc193.wordpress.com/2011/07/30/they-arent-entitlements/

The major lesson to be learned here is that Social Security was NOT designed to be a primary source of retirement income. Rather it was a lifeline to guard against poverty in old age when, during the Depression, that condition existed for more than half of our senior citizens. Through revisions in the law it became what it is today, an INSURANCE plan, not a retirement one. Repeating what I wrote in my earlier post it is Old Age Survivors and Disability Insurance (OASDI) which designation can be found on payroll stubs and elsewhere.

REPEAT, Social Security is INSURANCE. It ws not meant to replace all other retirement income options or sources. The benefit amount is determined based on the PRIMARY INSURANCE AMOUNT established through lifetime earnings. http://www.ssa.gov/oact/cola/piaformula.html

Some examples of how Social Security acts as insurance.

Old Age

Millions of Americans have either quit working entirely or at least full time and have reached an age where they are eligible to begin realizing benefits from Social Security. Some had retirement plans of some nature so the SS supplements those plans. Others were not able to benefit from such plans for a variety of reasons, most of which were beyond their control.

SURVIVORS

A prime example of this are the benefits that Paul Ryan received when Paul was 16 and his father died. Ryan was able to parlay this money into paying for his college education.

DISABILITY

Many people have disability insurance as part of their private health care package. If, due to illness or injury, they become unable to work, they have at least part of their former income replaced. I did so on two occasions in the 1980’s following knee injuries and subsequent surgery.

There are millions of our citizens who do not have such coverage privately but who have worked and pay into SS. When they become unable to work, they are evaluated and, if certain conditions are met, they are able to withdraw their benefits early…at a discount. I am currently one such beneficiary.

Insurance: coverage by contract whereby one party undertakes to indemnify or guarantee another against loss by a specified contingency or peril. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/insurance

So there are three contingencies or perils that Social Security insures against.

Old Age (Retirement, eliginilty detremine by age)

Survivors (After death of an insured payments to surviving spouses or children with defined criteria)

Disability (A working person can no longer do so due to illness or injury).

Treating Social Security as purely a retirement plan flies in the face of the program’s very name and the nature of the income assistance provided to millions of Americans. Trying to re-purpose it as purely a retirement “scheme” (and I use that term in the most perjorative sense possible) is intended not to benefit the majority of Americans whose lives it touches or will touch but inures mainly for the good of the investment moguls on Wall Street whose reputation for greed, double-dealing, deception, and outright thievery is well-earned.

Do NOT cash in this insurance policy prematurely.

PERSPECTIVES FROM NOT QUITE SO AFAR

Here you can read about the Southernization of the GOP, the unworthy praise for a husband from a loyal wife, and the embrace of institutionalized sexism by that same wife.

Harold Meyerson, editor-at-large for The American Prospect, and a columnist for the Washingtom Post, looks askance at what he contends is the worst of what our Southern states bring to the current political climate. http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/opinion/perspectives/the-old-south-rises-again-white-voters-in-the-gop-want-their-country-back-651104/

Among the highlights…or should I say lowlights…of his observations are:

In its hostility toward minorities, exploitation of racism, antipathy toward government and suspicion of science, today’s Republican Party represents the worst traditions of the South’s dankest backwaters.

or this

…today’s GOP is the negation of Abraham Lincoln’s Republicans.

And Meyerson looks on the economy as both a factor and the epitome of this change:

This transformation of the GOP has also been spurred by the Southernization of the economy. The U.S. economy’s dominant sector is no longer the unionized manufacturing of the Northeast and Midwest, whose leaders included such Republican moderates as George Romney and whose white working-class employees were persuaded by their unions to back Democratic candidates. Instead, the economy is dominated by a mix of the low-wage, nonunion retail and service sectors, and by high finance, which has shown itself fiercely opposed to regulation and taxation, happy to reap and shield its profits abroad at the expense of U.S. workers and willing to invest plenty in a party that does its bidding.

Political spouses and families generally do not make good fodder for criticism as the attacker can be viewed as petty if not vicious. However, Ann Romney gave a well-received speech in her husband’s support Tuesday night that was both factually deficient and offered a glance at the travails of stay-at-home mothers that was more feminist than she may have imagined or intended.

Ryan Grim of HuffPo, reviews Ann’s account of Mitt’s formation of Bain Capital that is at odds with the facts. That opinion is based on what Bill Bain himself told interviewers in a book about Romney that looks at Bain Capital’s origins.

Ann’s words:

“I was there when he and a small group of friends talked about starting a new company. I was there when they struggled and wondered if the whole idea just wasn’t going to work. Mitt’s reaction was to work harder and press on,” she said.

Of course her narrative tracks with Mitt’s own image of the process that he has projected along the campaign trail:

“I left a steady job to join with some friends to start a new business,” Romney said when launching his campaign. “It had been a dream of mine to try and build a business from the ground-up. We started in a small office.”

Ryan Grim characterizes the startup quite differently:

The tale the Romneys are telling, however, is not true. Romney only agreed to run Bain Capital after he had been promised that he could have his old job back if it failed, plus raises he would’ve missed. He was also promised that if it failed, a cover story would be crafted so that he took none of the professional blame.

Romney doesn’t look nearly so bold or entrepreneurial, does he? And again, read on in the piece and Grim excerpts passages from the book that do portray Bill Bain himself as presenting the contrary view.

On the other hand Amanda Marcotte of Slate accuses Ann Romney of embracing sexism to the extent that her speech could be a textbook example for feminists to use in their continuing fight to change attitudes and achieve full equality.

In reciting a litany of the acts that wives and mothers perform Ann Romney

…offered up a description of what feminists call “systemic sexism,” a list of the very injustices feminists have worked, with some success, to eliminate.

Furthermore

Yet, there Ann Romney was, acknowledging that even conservative women know it to be true: Women work harder for less pay and less respect. She described sexism in fairly blunt terms.

On to this conclusion

Ann Romney instead stood up and admitted that sexism is real and that it actually structures women’s lives. Instead of fighting, she empathized, and implied that there is some consolation for women in knowing of their own moral superiority to men. Set aside the fantasy of equality, ladies, she seemed to say. We all know how life really is.

Amanda Marcotte may be correct, but I have no expectations the Republican faithful will see it that way.

VOTE DEMOCRAT IF YOU WANT A HEALTHY ECONOMY

History proves the wisdom of the admonition in my title.

Various statistical sets demonstrate that throughout American history, the economy had fared better under Democratic Presidents and Democratic Congresses.

That is the essence of this article in Huffington Post by Eric Zuesse. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-zuesse/mitt-romney-bain-a-look-a_b_1594319.html

Zuesse examines the lies the GOP promulgates to claim the nation would be better off economically under its watch. The facts easily put the lie to that claim.

For instance he dissects the allegation by Mitt Romney that his tenure at Bain Capital resulted in the creation of over 100,000 jobs. Most analysts have declared this assertion is impossible to track due to the nature of Bain’s involvement which varied from deal to deal.

But Zeusse narrows the focus to jobs created with the success of Staples, the office supplies behemoth. He notes that while Staples was growing, overall employment in the office supplies sector dwindled.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has published throughout the 22-year period from 1990-2012 the number of employees working in this retail segment: They’ve tracked the “Production and Nonsupervisory Employees” in “Office Supplies and Stationery Stores.” This 22-year period fortunately covers virtually all of the direct jobs-impact that actually resulted from Bain’s success in its Staples investment – both the jobs-created and the jobs-lost, from the office-superstore phenomenon that Staples pioneered. These data show that, during this 22-year period, the number of employees in this segment declined by about ten thousand until 1993, then increased 50,000 under Bill Clinton (when 19 million private nonfarm jobs were being added to the nation’s economy, so this sector was adding jobs at only one-quarter the rate the national economy was), then lost 60,000 jobs from 2000-2012. There was a net loss of 13.5% or 18,000 jobs throughout this retail field, during this 22-year period in which Staples was adding jobs continually. In this 22-year period, the entire national economy increased employment 46%; so, Staples’ superstore model was simply decimating employment in its field.

 
Furthermore while during that same period wages grew by 71%, the Consumer Price Index advanced 78% which means that, despite booming productivity, the workers in this field earned less over 22 years.

But there’s still more here: Romney also says that Republicans in power have better economic ideas, and will be better for the economy, than Democrats. What does the actual historical record show, regarding such questions? Have Republicans in power actually improved the economy more, or instead perhaps less, than Democrats in power?

Let’s focus on the stock market, because many people think of that as the Republican Party’s particular economic strength.

It turns out the stock market has consistently realized better gains under Democratic leadership than under Republican stewardship.

Zuesse relies on a number of sources and reports, issued at different times, that are unanimous in their conclusions. Democrats are better for the stock market.

And it’s not just the stock market either.

These and other studies have also found similar differences regarding economic growth, unemployment, average length of unemployment, inflation, federal debt, and other economic indicators. In all cases, during Democratic and Republican presidencies and congresses, the economic trend-lines have been stunningly better when Democrats were in power, than when Republicans were. No finding, anywhere in the social sciences, is more consistent than this finding: the difference is so great, they’re not even close.

Zuesse also chides the Mittster for promoting the notion that only a successful businessman can properly shepherd the nation’s economy from the Oval Office. Then again, Harry S Truman did own a haberdashery.

So remember this as you run the gantlet of Photo ID checkers this November,

To vote for a Democrat is to help the U.S. economy.

HEALTH CARE—BY THE UMOC

Another in my series of looks at 2012 campaign issues.

This one could prove to be the 800 pound gorilla in the room, or it could be a meek little turtledove cowering in the corner.

Guess what? It all hinges on what the Supreme Court does with the Affordable Care Act. Their decision is expected to be handed down by the end of the month.

A) SCOTUS upholds the law. All will be right with the world. What many consider a linchpin of Obama’s first…and possibly last…term the ACA remaining in force will deflate many of the arguments submitted against him. To date the parts of it that have become effective such as children staying on their parents’ insurance till the age of 26 and the partial elimination of the denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions are popular, as are some lesser known provisions.

United Health, one of the country’s major health insurers, has pledged to keep key reforms regardless of what the Court rules.

http://slatest.slate.com/posts/2012/06/11/unitedheath_to_keep_some_parts_of_obama_s_health_care_reform_law_regardless_of_scotus_ruling_.html

Retaining the ACA as is, however, is not a panacea. That law is flawed mainly in respect to not going far enough. There are some features which will lower health care costs—or at least prevent them from rising as fast. But the private insurers are not bound by these cost containment provisions and I expect them to continue raising premiums beyond the rate of inflation.

As the individual mandate is not effective until 2014, it will be some time before the distribution of costs across a wider and healthier demographic relieves the pressure to raise premiums so harshly.

I have read many assessments speculating what SCOTUS will do. Some predicting either a thumbs up or down are preposterous in their reasoning. Based on critical reasoning and Constitutional analysis and history, a validation of the law appears to be in order. But then I never in the world thought the Court would decide a Presidential election or declare fictitious entities to be human.

In spite of unresolved needs for reform, if the law is upheld Mitt Romney will be up the creek without a paddle. Since the law he introduced in Massachusetts obviously served as at least a partial model for the ACA, he will be hard-pressed to still voice opposition to it. It would be no surprise to me if he tried to spin his way into attempting to take credit for it in the same manner that he tried to take credit for the success of the bailout of Detroit though he did nothing but bad mouth the concept initially.

The downside to SCOTUS approval is that Obama will coast on that success until 2013 at the earliest when additional reforms should be proposed and debated much sooner.

B) The law is tossed out or parts are nullified. Will the repudiation of the ACA be catastrophic? Forgive me for being a weasel but…it depends.

If the entire law is thrown out that will be a serious blow not only to Obama’s re-election prospects (a veritable chorus of “I told you sos” translated into votes) but also to passing anything to replace it or addressing reform at all.

Striking down only the individual mandate would still not necessarily be fatal to the law. As I wrote above there are some aspects already in force that have been received favorably.

There will, however, be no gathering momentum to replace and/or amend it in either case. I hate to blame one party for this (Hell, you all know that’s a lie) but the Republicans, smelling blood, are adversely inclined to do anything but laugh at whatever reform bill is submitted by any of them commie Dems.

Yet, the dismantling of the ACA, in whole or in part, will add a great deal of turmoil to the mix. This HuffPo article presents one version of what the negative consequences would be.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/10/health-care-reform-undoin_n_1584331.html

Here are a few examples:

Better Medicare prescription benefits, currently saving hundreds of dollars for older people with high drug costs, would be suspended. Ditto for preventive care with no co-payments, now available to retirees and working families alike.

Partially overturning the law could leave hospitals, insurers and other service providers on the hook for tax increases and spending cuts without the law’s promise of more paying customers to offset losses.

In either event, the work of health care reform is far from completed. The ACA could use severe tweaking to more closely accomplish the goals that a large segment of our medical community and those dealing with health care policy believe are essential.

If that law has to be replaced we can only hope that reasonable minds can work together to create a replacement. But reading down the roster of members of Congress I find there is little justification for such  optimism.

Another facet of health care which is important, but carries its own set of concerns, is Medicare.  While intertwined in the main issue, its own eccentrities demand special treatment and those are more aligned with Social Security.

I hate the term “Entitlements” (and will review why) but that will be  next on my agenda.

In the meantime—STAY HEALTHY—OR ELSE.