Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Economics drives doctors to hospitals, away from GOP

Well, well, well, it looks like the Walmartization of medicine is driving individual medical practices the way of the mom & pop shop. Meanwhile, now that doctors are basically corporate employees instead of individual proprietors, they are abandoning the GOP and joining the Democrats on issues like universal insurance, liability caps, patients' rights, etc.

Will the same conservatives who cheer on Walmart and the death of Main Street businesses as the inevitable victory of market forces now complain about the death of private medical practices, because market forces are hurting the GOP's political fortunes?

By Gardiner Harris
May 30, 2011 | New York Times

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Taibbi: Feds should prosecute Goldman Sachs

If Goldman Sachs hadn't given so much damn money to Obama and everybody else in DC, we might get a federal prosecution case out of this, at the very least for perjury during Goldman exec's' Congressional testimony. As Taibbi describes, a Congressional panel has laid the prosecution's case in the government's lap.

Here's the meat of it:

"[Goldman Sachs mortgage chief] Sparks followed up that [December 14, 2006] meeting [about lowering Goldman's exposure to mortgage loans] with a seven-point memo laying out how to unload the bank's mortgages. Entry No. 2 is particularly noteworthy. 'Distribute as much as possible on bonds created from new loan securitizations,' Sparks wrote, 'and clean previous positions.' In other words, the bank needed to find suckers to buy as much of its risky inventory as possible. Goldman was like a car dealership that realized it had a whole lot full of cars with faulty brakes. Instead of announcing a recall, it surged ahead with a two-fold plan to make a fortune: first, by dumping the dangerous products on other people, and second, by taking out life insurance against the fools who bought the deadly cars.

"The day he received the Sparks memo, Viniar seconded the plan in a gleeful cheerleading e-mail. 'Let's be aggressive distributing things,' he wrote, 'because there will be very good opportunities as the markets [go] into what is likely to be even greater distress, and we want to be in a position to take advantage of them.' Translation: Let's find as many suckers as we can as fast as we can, because we'll only make more money as more and more shit hits the fan.

"By February 2007, two months after the Sparks memo, Goldman had gone from betting $6 billion on mortgages to betting $10 billion against them — a shift of $16 billion. Even CEO Lloyd 'I'm doing God's work' Blankfein wondered aloud about the bank's progress in "cleaning" its crap. 'Could/should we have cleaned up these books before,' Blankfein wrote in one e-mail, 'and are we doing enough right now to sell off cats and dogs in other books throughout the division?'"

Shorting the mortgage market was/is not a crime, but Goldman misled its clients to buy these crap mortgage-backed assets while Goldman itself was making massive bets against them. Broker-dealers like Goldman are required by the SEC to disclose "material adverse facts" to their clients which includes among other things Goldman's "adverse interests" in selling off these bad assets.

A Senate committee has laid out the evidence. Now the Justice Department should bring criminal charges
By Matt Taibbi
May 11, 2011 | Rolling Stone

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

India outsourcing outsourced jobs back to Americans

First we outsourced our call-center jobs to India. Now Indian firms are "cross-sourcing" some of those jobs back to Americans.

Sure, they still abuse America's H1-B visa system, bringing in as many as 30,000 indentured servants to the U.S. per year to earn below-minimum wage, but, thanks to demands in India for higher wages, at least some of those low-paying jobs are coming back to America!

Ronil Hira, a public policy professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, said Indian workers make up more than 90 percent of most outsourcing companies' U.S. head counts. He and other critics argue that many of these workers are not more highly skilled than Americans, they simply work for less. "It's harming American workers," he said. "It's taking away their job opportunities, bringing down their wages and harming their working conditions."

To paraphrase Thomas Friedman, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." Score another one for flat-earth globalism!

CIA's letter to McCain downplays torture's role in finding Bin Laden

A private letter sent from CIA head Leon Panetta to Senator John McCain destroys the claim that torture ("enhanced interrogation") provided key intelligence on Bin Laden's whereabouts in Pakistan. A copy of this letter was leaked to journalist Greg Sargent and its authenticity was later confirmed by CIA spokesperson Marie Harf.

Wrote Panetta to McCain:

"Nearly 10 years of intensive intelligence work led the CIA to conclude that Bin Ladin was likely hiding at the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. There was no one "essential and indispensible" key piece of information that led us to this conclusion. Rather, the intelligence picture was developed via painstaking collection and analysis. Multiple streams of intelligence — including from detainees, but also from multiple other sources — led CIA analysts to conclude that Bin Ladin was at this compound. Some of the detainees who provided useful information about the facilitator/courier's role had been subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques. Whether those techniques were the "only timely and effective way" to obtain such information is a matter of debate and cannot be established definitively. What is definitive is that that information was only a part of multiple streams of intelligence that led us to Bin Ladin.

"Let me further point out that we first learned about the facilitator/courier's nom de guerre from a detainee not in CIA custody in 2002. It is also important to note that some detainees who were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques attempted to provide false or misleading information about the facilitator/courier. These attempts to falsify the facilitator/courier's role were alerting.

"In the end, no detainee in CIA custody revealed the facilitator/courier's full true name or specific whereabouts. This information was discovered through other intelligence means."

On separate but related note, we as a country ought to decide if our safety requires and merits throwing hundreds of people in prison without charges, access to a lawyer or their families, and torturing them for years whether they were originally guilty of anything or not. (Most people involved admit that most detainees at G'itmo were rounded up because they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.)

Let's keep in mind that many Mideast countries like Egypt, Iran and Syria have followed similar practices to ensure their "safety" from "terrorists." The definition of terrorist depends on who is in power. Do those in power deserve extra-legal or illegal means to fight those whom they label terrorists? And do we trust them to use those means wisely? If we're discussing countries like Iran or Syria, the answer is certainly, "No, we don't trust them."

So why do we trust our military and intelligence services with such power? What gives them -- and ultimately, us -- the right? Because we're the "good guys"? Do good guys torture others? People like Sen. John McCain, who was a victim of torture, states clearly that good guys do not practice torture. This is a moral and ethical issue as much as it is a security issue. So I return to the original question: Is our personal security (or in most cases, our peace of mind, since we're not really at risk from terrorism) so precious that it requires imprisoning and torturing possibly innocent people for years if not decades?

By Greg Sargent
May 16, 2011 | The Plum Line - Washington Post

Monday, May 23, 2011

IMD global economic competitiveness rankings 2011

This ranking by IMD business school's world competitiveness rankings are not as authoritative as the World Economic Forum's annual rating, but still, here it is, with the USA in second place in the world in 2011, between Hong Kong and Singapore.

Once again two Euro-socialist countries are in the top 5, and two more semi-socialist states in the top 10:

KY approves $40 M tax rebate for 'Ark' biblical theme park

You know, if the only thing holding back state investment are the projects' projected cash flows, then I propose that the Bluegrass State becomes the leader in money-making religious tourism, by financing Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Wiccan, and Jewish-themed resorts and attractions, too.

(In fairness, you could say this will also be a Jewish and Muslim theme park because they believe in the Noah's Ark myth as well. Although, something makes me believe there won't be a flood -- pardon the pun -- of Muslims and Jews....)

By Kate Auletta
May 19, 2011 | AOL News

Things are about to get Biblical in Kentucky. On Thursday, the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority gave final approval to grant $40 million in tax rebates to build a biblical theme park called "The Ark Encounter."

The controversial museum, backed in part by Mike Zovath, a co-founder of the Answers in Genesis ministry which previously built Kentucky's 70,00 square-foot Creation Museum, got the funding after months of back and forth over the legitimacy of a religious attraction being funded by a state government.

No matter, the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority voted unanimously to grant more than $40 million in tax rebates for the project, which is scheduled to cost $172 million (visitors to the Ark's website see a "donate here" tab).

Zovath told the Associated Press: "This was the last real hurdle for us as far as I'm concerned." Zovath's purpose, he claims, is to dispel doubts about the biblical event.

The project will include a replica of the Tower of Babel, lecture halls, shops, theaters and, of course, a petting zoo (will there be 2 of every animal?) and live shows. ABC News reported in December, when plans were first announced, that the ark will be taller than a 3-story building, the deck longer than 35 tennis courts, and would be big enough to fit 600 train cars inside.

A consultant who reviewed the proposal for the state's Tourism board said that the project will probably draw 1.4 million visitors per year. That's what Governor Steve Beshear is aiming for, at least. He hopes the park will employ some 600 to 700 people and will bring in $250 million in the first year alone. For those who are counting, the Creation Museum has drawn more than 1 million visitors since it opened over 3 years ago.

But Americans United for Separation of Church and State have something else to say. The company's executive director, Barry W. Lynn, told the AP that Kentucky "should not be promoting the spread of fundamentalist Christianity or any other religious viewpoint. Let these folks build their fundamentalist Disneyland without government help." He added: "This misguided project deserves to sink." (Get it?)

Zovath's response: "The more they try to paint us in a bad light, the more opportunities we have to explain the project."

CDC on preparing for zombie apocalypse

This blog post at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tried to answer every American's main concern: "How do I prepare for a zombie apocalypse?" It was so popular the traffic took down the entire blog.

There are also less likely disasters like a flood, tornado or earthquake when zombie-preparedness measures could serve you well, I guess.

According to the CDC, these are your Key Supplies:

> Water;
> Food (Twinkies?);
> Medications;
> Tools and Supplies;
> Clothing and Bedding;
> Important documents (you might need your passport to flee the zombie hoard; or, your original birth certificate to be authorized to become the 1st President of the new zombie-free state "Birtherstan"); and
> First Aid supplies (useless if you are bitten).

But the CDC totally forgot:

> "Guns. Lots of guns."
> LOADS of ammunition;
> Various hand-held weapons;
> Seeds for a garden in your home fortress;
> Lime and other materials for a latrine in your home fortress;
> Gasoline, batteries, generator;
> Signal flares to attract the Army, if they're not dead yet;
> Construction materials for fortifying and repairing your home fortress;
> Books and board games to fight deadly boredom during the weeks and months barricaded in your home fortress;
> etc.

Actually, the list of survival needs is so long that, if you haven't started preparing yet, chances are it's already too late for you....

The CDC also says you should have an Emergency Plan, including:

> The types of emergencies possible in your area. (Zombies, duh);
> A designated meeting place for your family to regroup;
> Your emergency contacts... or just a list of people to call and say goodbye to as zombies are breaking down your doors and windows;
> Your evacuation route. (See "Birtherstan" above. Located one valley over from Galt's Gulch).

BTW, if you watch the series "The Walking Dead" then you know the CDC, headquartered in Atlanta, wasn't any good at stopping the zombie apocalypse. Let's hope they do a better job in real life!

By Ali S. Khan.
May 16, 2011 | CDC Public Health Matters Blog

Monday, May 16, 2011

More U.S. millionaires is good news, right?

Superficially, a projected rise in the number of U.S. (and global) millionaire households seems like good news. It's upward mobility and the American Dream, right?


Deloitte estimates that the wealth of U.S. millionaire households will rise 223 percent by 2020 to $87 trillion. Meanwhile, more than half of U.S. workers currently earn $25,000 per year or less; unemployment is at 9 percent; and annual GDP growth is between 2 and 3 percent. And let's not forget how we lost $19.4 trillion (in 2010 dollars) in U.S. household wealth from June 2007 to March 2009; since then and partially thanks to the stimulus, we have regained $6.6 trillion of that.

The real upshot? More of our shrinking pie of wealth will be owned by fewer people.

Deloitte Center for Financial Services
May 2011

Could cell phones bee a real buzzkill?

There have been lots of hypotheses for the cause of global bee Colony Collapse Disorder, including parasites, viruses, and pesticides. Why is this disorder so alarming? Because honeybees pollinate about 70 percent of the 100 or so crops that humans use for food.

This new explanation -- radio waves from cell phones causing bees to abandon their hives -- is even scarier because we really can't imagine life without mobile phones. If it's indeed true, then what can we do?

It just goes to show that humans are an active part of the ecosystem whether we like it or not. Our actions and technologies can have drastic unforeseen consequences which boomerang back on us....

By Andrew Couts
May 13, 2011 | Yahoo! News

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Krugman: USG is a 'giant insurance company with an army'

Seniors, Guns and Money
By Paul Krugman
May 12, 2011 | New York Times

This has to be one of the funniest political stories of recent weeks: On Tuesday, 42 freshmen Republican members of Congress sent a letter urging President Obama to stop Democrats from engaging in "Mediscare" tactics — that is, to stop saying that the Republican budget plan released early last month, which would end Medicare as we know it, is a plan to end Medicare as we know it.

Now, you may recall that the people who signed that letter got their current jobs largely by engaging in "Mediscare" tactics of their own. And bear in mind that what Democrats are saying now is entirely true, while what Republicans were saying last year was completely false. Death panels!

Well, it's time, said the signatories, to "wipe the slate clean." How very convenient — and how very pathetic.

Anyway, the truth is that older Americans really should fear Republican budget ideas — and not just because of that plan to dismantle Medicare. Given the realities of the federal budget, a party insisting that tax increases of any kind are off the table — as John Boehner, the speaker of the House, says they are — is, necessarily, a party demanding savage cuts in programs that serve older Americans.

To explain why, let me answer a rhetorical question posed by Professor John Taylor of Stanford University in a recent op-ed article in The Wall Street Journal. He asked, "If government agencies and programs functioned with 19% to 20% of G.D.P. in 2007" — that is, just before the Great Recession — "why is it so hard for them to function with that percentage in 2021?"

Mr. Taylor thought he was making the case for not increasing spending. But if you know anything about the federal budget, you know that there's a very good answer to his question — an answer that clearly demonstrates just how extremist that no-tax-increase pledge really is. For here's the quick-and-dirty summary of what the federal government does: It's a giant insurance company, mainly serving older people, that also has an army.

The great bulk of federal spending that isn't either defense-related or interest on the debt goes to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The first two programs specifically serve seniors. And while Medicaid is often thought of as a poverty program, these days it's largely about providing nursing care, with about two-thirds of its spending now going to the elderly and/or disabled. By my rough count, in 2007, seniors accounted, one way or another, for about half of federal spending.

And in case you hadn't noticed, there will soon be a lot more seniors around because the baby boomers have started reaching retirement age.

Here are the numbers: In 2007, there were 20.9 Americans 65 and older for every 100 Americans between the ages of 20 and 64 — that is, the people of normal working age who essentially provide the tax base that supports federal spending. The Social Security Administration expects that number to rise to 27.5 by 2020, and 31.7 by 2025. That's a lot more people relying on federal social insurance programs.

Nor is demography the whole story. Over the long term, health care spending has consistently grown faster than the economy, raising the costs of Medicare and Medicaid as a share of G.D.P. Cost-control measures — the very kind of measures Republicans demonized last year, with their cries of death panels — can help slow the rise, but few experts believe that we can avoid some "excess cost growth" over the next decade.

Between an aging population and rising health costs, then, preserving anything like the programs for seniors we now have will require a significant increase in spending on these programs as a percentage of G.D.P. And unless we offset that rise with drastic cuts in defense spending — which Republicans, needless to say, oppose — this means a substantial rise in overall spending, which we can afford only if taxes rise.

So when people like Mr. Boehner reject out of hand any increase in taxes, they are, in effect, declaring that they won't preserve programs benefiting older Americans in anything like their current form. It's just a matter of arithmetic.

Which brings me back to those Republican freshmen. Last year, older voters, who split their vote almost evenly between the parties in 2008, swung overwhelmingly to the G.O.P., as Republicans posed successfully as defenders of Medicare. Now Democrats are pointing out that the G.O.P., far from defending Medicare, is actually trying to dismantle the program. So you can see why those Republican freshmen are nervous.

But the Democrats aren't engaging in scare tactics, they're simply telling the truth. Policy details aside, the G.O.P.'s rigid anti-tax position also makes it, necessarily, the enemy of the senior-oriented programs that account for much of federal spending. And that's something voters ought to know.

USA! USA! Jobs to return from China in 2015

Gee, whaddya know? Globalization works! Manufacturing jobs are gonna come back to the USA from China in 2015! Don't I feel silly being a Nervous Nelly!

'Course, they're not going to be the same as the jobs our parents had. Winning the race to the bottom has consequences. They'll be low-paying, no-benefit, non-union, at-will employment, but hey, at least we we'll make something in the USA besides hamburgers, pizzas, subs, calzones, tacos, wraps, donuts, brewed coffee and sodas.

Made In The USA, Again
Manufacturing Is Expected to Return to America as China's Rising Labor Costs Erase Most Savings from Offshoring

May 5, 2011 | Boston Consulting Group

URL: http://www.bcg.com/media/pressreleasedetails.aspx?id=tcm:12-75973

Moore: Final thoughts on bin Laden's execution

This is worth reading. It also gives the lie to those who say Moore is just a cheerleader for Democrats or Obama. He's principled and he's his own man:
I would like the evildoers to be forced to stand trial in front of that world. I know a lot of people see no need for a trial for these bad guys (just hang 'em from the nearest tree!), and think trials are for sissies. 'They're guilty, off with their heads!' Well, you see, that is the exact description of the Taliban/al Qaeda/Nazi justice system. I don't like their system. I like ours. And I don't want to be like them. In fact, the reason I like a good trial is that I like to show these bastards this is how it's done in a free country that believes in civilized justice. It's good for the rest of the world to see that, too. Sets a good example.
The other thing a trial does is, it establishes a very public and permanent historic record of the crimes against humanity.

Cities putting tax squeeze on nonprofits

Here, here! If these big, fat non-profits with their hefty overheads and bloated CEO salaries benefit from gov't services, then let them dish out like everybody else.

Cash-Strapped Cities Put The Squeeze On Nonprofits

By Tovia Smith
May 14, 2011 | NPR

URL: http://www.npr.org/136278740

M. Moore (not him, the WNBA star): Labor deserves fair pay

This is one of the best summaries of fair pay and the role of unions which I have read, and it's from a female basketball player of all people. I am not a fan of the WNBA or any other women's sport that I can think of, but... when she's right, she's right.

And although she didn't say it I will: college athletes who make $ millions for their schools deserve some kind of monetary compensation, even if it's deferred or held in trust, not just a "free education."

WNBA's Maya Moore Speaks about Pay, Labor and Going Pro (EXCLUSIVE)

By Laura Gottesdiener
May 12, 2011 | Huffington Post


Professional sports, like any business, seek to maximize profits. As always, there are an infinite number of ways to cut costs and increase profits, yet, as always, it's labor that takes the cut. Whether you're in Wisconsin, the NFL or the NBA, labor gets the (sharp) spikey end of the stick.

Whether you're a player in the WNBA or NFL or a farm worker, the fundamental issue is the same: Workers want to be paid fairly for their labors. I want to be paid fairly for my work. Because so many of the salaries in professional sports are higher than the average working American's, athletes are seen as out of touch and prima donnas when our unions ask for more. But when we are painted as greedy and mercenary, as with any message, we must look behind the curtain at who is controlling that perception.

Owners have made players "the bad guys." This isn't taxpayer money. It's discretionary money that individuals choose to spend to come and watch players play and be entertained. It's not as if better salaries and benefits take money out of our schools. The only thing players' wages affect is owners' bottom line. Like agricultural workers, our jobs are arduous and have long-term effects on our bodies. Like agricultural workers, not every athlete is getting rich off his or her labor: Some MLS soccer players take make $32,000 a year. I have colleagues in the WNBA making $36,570.

Some of us do make a lot -- and those are the names you hear touted in newspapers and on TV -- but many athletes will labor in obscurity until they are no longer strong enough, fast enough, young enough to keep up. The average pro-athlete is as disposable to management as the average farm worker. Yes, we get paid better and for that, there is no lack of gratitude, but the fundamental unfairness still stings.

The question to ask -- across all these labor disputes -- is: How much of the profits of their labor do laborers deserve to earn? Unsurprisingly, owners and laborers fall on different sides of this issue, and I find myself empathizing with any union that seeks safer, healthier and fairer working conditions for its members. I realize that as a player in the WNBA, I am among the most privileged union members and that my working conditions are enviable. I am grateful for that. But just because I'm blessed doesn't mean that I can forget the plight of my fellow laborers, hardworking athletes and non-athletes alike.

The labor negotiations between players and owners, between unions and management, is a negotiation going on across the country and across the world. The specifics are different, but the argument is the same. We, laborers, believe we deserve a fair share of the profits that are made off of our efforts.

I hope, as negotiations continue to unfold between players' unions and management, that those watching will connect what is happening in pro sports to what is happening across the country. As the economy contracts and profits shrink, there appears an organized and systematic attack against labor, whether the attack is against auto workers or basketball players. The size of the salary may be different but the principle is the same: everyone deserves to be paid a fair percentage of the profits that are made off our labor.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Simon Johnson: Big battle over 'small' debit card fees

The convenience of using your debit card is not free. The average transaction fee to the merchant from your bank is 44 cents. The Fed estimates that in 2009 these fees totaled $15.7 billion. Of course, this cost gets passed on to us consumers.

Meanwhile, banks' average cost of servicing debit card transactions with merchants is 4 cents. So, on average they make 40 cents or 1,000% gross profit on each transaction!

Democrat Sen. Dick Durbin has proposed that the Fed require banks to lower debit-card fees to a level closer to the actual cost of transactions. The so-called Durbin amendment gives a specific exclusion for small or community banks with under $10 billion in assets, so that the Fed's new price-setting power won't inadvertently favor big banks with economies of scale which can more easily lower their fees than small and community banks.

But of course others in Congress are trying to protect the TBTF banks' fee scam. They say they are trying to protect consumers and smaller banks.

Who will win?

Since nobody is paying attention or seems to care, I put my 44 cents on the big banks.

The takeaways for smart consumers seems to be: use a small local bank; and use cash. Help yourself and others out by leaving your credit and debit cards at home.

By Simon Johnson
May 12, 2011 | New York Times

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Report: Healthcare more expensive, but not due to ObamaCare

By Julie Rovner
May 11, 2011 | NPR

OK, health care is expensive. And the costs keep going up.

But the latest report from the green-eyeshade experts at Milliman does include a few surprises about what is — and isn't — driving those costs higher.

First, a tidbit that sort of passes for good news. Last year, health costs rose by 7.3 percent, which is the slowest rate of increase in more than a decade. By comparison, though, the Consumer Price Index rose only about 1.5 percent last year.
Now the bad news: Even at that relatively slow rate, the overall increase in the amount of money required to cover a typical family of four in a preferred provider organization was $1,319 in 2011 — the highest figure in the more than 50 years Milliman has been doing this study.

Who paid the freight? Employers kicked in just under half, or $641, with employees paying the rest either in the form of higher premiums or larger cost-sharing.

And here's a little more bad news. Since 2002, the total cost to American families for their health care has more than doubled to $19,393 from $9,235.

So what's driving the increases? Here's a hint: It's not the new federal health law.

"At the most basic level, healthcare costs are determined by the quantity of services provided at a given cost," says the report. "To the extent that healthcare reform affects healthcare utilization and/or unit costs, it will contribute to future healthcare cost trends. Ultimately it is the change in the underlying cost of care that matters."

In other words, if the law works as intended, costs could go down. If not, they won't. But the law hasn't had much effect yet.

So what is making a difference? Outpatient care, it turns out.

For three straight years, outpatient care has led all other categories of care in cost increases. Ninety percent of the increase is in more types of care being delivered in outpatient settings. "Unit costs are increasing both because the same services have increased in price and also because new, more expensive services continue to emerge," the report says.

Hospitals costs were the second biggest driver of last year's increase (largely because hospital care is so expensive), followed by physician care, drug costs, and other types of care, such as durable medical equipment and home health care.

You can make some dent in your costs by moving to a different part of the country, according to Milliman. For example, if you live in Miami, New York City, or Chicago, you're paying higher-than-average prices for your health care. You might consider relocating to Phoenix, Atlanta, or Seattle, where prices are somewhat lower than average.

A move might become even more appealing starting in 2018, when the new law begins imposing a 40 percent tax on "high cost" health plans. Unless of course, costs actually start to come down by then.

Bloomberg: GOP's Boehner in economic fantasy land

The most powerful Republican lives in an economic fantasy land which even private business rejects. Sad. Even sadder that so many believe him because they prefer fantasy over reality.

By James Rowley and Mike Dorning
May 11, 2011 | Bloomberg

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

New McJobs for a new McEconomy

It looks like in the future our U.S. economy will consist of all former middle-class workers serving each other cokes and burgers....

By Andy Kroll
May 9, 2011 | Mother Jones

Think of it as a parable for these grim economic times. On April 19th, McDonald's launched its first-ever national hiring day, signing up 62,000 new workers at stores throughout the country. For some context, that's more jobs created by one company in a single day than the net job creation of the entire U.S. economy in 2009. And if that boggles the mind, consider how many workers applied to local McDonald's franchises that day and left empty-handed: 938,000 of them. With a 6.2% acceptance rate in its spring hiring blitz, McDonald's was more selective than the Princeton, Stanford, or Yale University admission offices.

It shouldn't be surprising that a million souls flocked to McDonald's hoping for a steady paycheck, when nearly 14 million Americans are out of work and nearly a million more are too discouraged even to look for a job. At this point, it apparently made no difference to them that the fast-food industry pays some of the lowest wages around: on average, $8.89 an hour, or barely half the $15.95 hourly average across all American industries.

On an annual basis, the average fast-food worker takes home $20,800, less than half the national average of $43,400. McDonald's appears to pay even worse, at least with its newest hires.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Torture may have delayed Bin Laden's discovery

Yeah, but torturing your enemies for years feels good. As a nation we need revenge on our enemies, especially if they're inconsiderate enough not to wear uniforms and wave a country's flag.

Anyway, waterboarding somebody more than 100 times in 2 weeks is not torture -- neocon Christopher Hitchens did it once, after all, and he was just fine -- it's "enhanced interrogation." These hippy-pacifist journos just don't get it....

Conservative Reason.com: The myth of nuclear power

Gee, I can't believe I missed this article. And I can't believe my free-market-loving rightwing friends didn't forward it to me. Oh well. Anyhoo, this article gives the lie to those who say we should put our faith -- and our investment dollars -- into nuclear power.

I don't agree completely with de Rugy's analysis. For example, taking the 60-odd years of nuclear power as a reliable data set for the entire future safety of nuclear power is just poor risk management. Harmful radioactive materials last thousands of years! (This is taking the rightwing "don't pass the debt onto your grandchildren" argument into extreme "don't pass the waste onto your great-great-great-great-great...grandchildren" territory). According to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, "At this time there are no facilities for permanent disposal of high-level radioactive waste." High-level radioactive waste has a half-life of 24,000 years.

Her article also fails to mention the scary reality that U.S. nuclear regulators are in the pocket of the heavily subsidized nuclear industry -- that worst-of-all-worlds nexus of corporatist democracy -- whose fleet of aging plants is coming up for re-licensing, so our safety cannot be guaranteed. And although she correctly points out that there is no such thing as a "private" nuclear industry, her analysis ignores the fact that all sources of energy, including oil, are heavily subsidized, whether it's necessary or not.

Also, she makes sure to draw the distinction between electricity generation and fuels, which is true as far as it goes, but let's take the U.S. interstate highway system, for instance: it is a sunk cost (not considering the need for constant repairs) in economic terms, but without it our devotion to gas-guzzling cars would make no economic sense. So it's dishonest and wrong to analyze our current energy situation but refuse to ask, "How did we get here?"
She also ignores the fact that the U.S. spends hundreds of $ billions protecting market access to fossil fuels, especially petroleum. With wind and solar there's nothing to protect and nothing to restrict: it's there for everybody. Finally, her analysis ignores that plug-in electric cars are now a reality, not science fiction, so if we can switch to renewable sources of electricity production, then the dichotomy of electricity- vs. fuel-producing technologies would largely disappear.

There are other problems with de Rugy's analysis but I want you to actually read it and appreciate its merits, my pro-nuke comrades, so I won't say any more.

P.S. -- I respect Germany more all the time. After the Fukushima disaster, Germans revolted democratically at the ballot box to reject unequivocally a nuclear future for their country, and -- can you believe it? -- Germany's government actually listened, and pledged to shut down all nuclear power plants by 2022 at the latest, and increase Germany's share of renewable energy consumption to 35 percent in 2020, 50 percent in 2030, 65 percent in 2040, and more than 80 percent in 2050. Since they're Germans and not at given to silliness they will almost certainly succeed. As in the health care field, we Americans don't have to be innovators, we can simply borrow the best policy ideas from other countries and implement them to our benefit; but alas, we are oh-so "exceptional," to our detriment.

The Truth About Nuclear Power
Separating economic myth from economic fact

By Veronique de Rugy
March 25, 2011 | Reason.com

URL: http://reason.com/archives/2011/03/25/the-truth-about-nuclear-power

Analysis: Taxed Not Enough Already?

"Taxed Enough Already?" Maybe not enough, historically speaking. Aw, but who cares about that? It's all about ME! Me and the Founding Fathers who were untaxed, free, devout geniuses... with slaves. Why can't we go back to the good old days? Not the good old days of the '40s or '50s and the "Greatest Generation" when men were men and women were women and nuclear families did pretty much everything for themselves, but back to the good old days of the 19th century when the gubument took in almost no taxes and provided almost no services! Then we would be free! Ah, this Medicare, this public education -- it chafes, it burns, it burdens! Cast it off! And don't forget that all the rich self-made moral geniuses (those descriptors are redundant: we can just call them "rich") might at any time go Galt and shrug off us "moochers" to wallow and starve in our poor misery. We'd better cut their taxes to zero so they'll stick around and hire us for not-quite-Mexican-immigrant wages!

U.S. tax burden at lowest level since '58

By Dennis Cauchon
May 6, 2011 | USA TODAY

Americans are paying the smallest share of their income for taxes since 1958, a reflection of tax cuts and a weak economy, a USA TODAY analysis finds.

The total tax burden — for all federal, state and local taxes — dropped to 23.6% of income in the first quarter, according to Bureau of Economic Analysis data.

By contrast, individuals spent roughly 27% of income on taxes in the 1970s, 1980s and the 1990s — a rate that would mean $500 billion of extra taxes annually today, one-third of the estimated $1.5 trillion federal deficit this year.

The analysis comes as President Obama and Congress debate whether to cut federal spending, raise taxes or both.

The latest dip in the tax burden came from a Social Security tax cut included in a December budget deal between Democrats and Republicans. It will reduce taxes $100 billion this year.

"We have a 1950s level of taxation and a 21st-century-sized government," says Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a deficit-reduction advocacy group.

The fall in taxes is almost entirely caused by a weak economy rather than lower rates, says Curtis Dubay of the conservative Heritage Foundation. "It's easy to draw the wrong conclusion," he says.

Federal, state and local government spending hit a $5.6 trillion annual rate in the first quarter. That's the highest ever but, as a share of the economy, slightly below last year.

USA TODAY examined the full range of taxes that individuals pay to all levels of government. That includes income taxes for Medicare, property taxes for schools and gas taxes for roads.

At the national average, a person with an income of $100,000 would pay $23,600 in taxes today vs. $28,700 in 2000 and $27,300 in 1990.

The recession of 2001 and tax cuts championed by President Bush started a decade-long trend of taxing less income. The 2007-09 recession and new tax cuts in Obama's stimulus effort accelerated the change.

The one-year Social Security tax cut reduces the worker's rate from 6.2% to 4.2% — or $2,000 a year on a $100,000 income.

That has boosted the economy short-term, says Chris Christopher, an economist at the IHS consulting firm. "It's helping absorb the cost of higher gas and food prices," he says.

Other findings:

Taxes per person. Individuals paid taxes at an annual rate of $10,549 per person in the first quarter — about the same as individuals have paid since 1990 when adjusted for inflation. Incomes have grown; tax payments haven't.

Spending per person. Government spent at an annual rate of $18,086 per person in the first quarter. That's up from $13,552 in 2001, adjusted for inflation. The difference between individual taxes and spending comes from corporate taxes, user fees and borrowing.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

GOP's Cantor: Health rationing OK if by done private sector

So gee, it turns out that "rationing" is just another way of saying that we can't have everything we want.

As I've pointed out many times before, private insurance's main job is to ration care. They give you a whole list of what's covered and what isn't. That's rationing. But when the government does it -- it's godless socialism!

By Julian Pecquet
May 3, 2011 | The Hill

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Tuesday that private healthcare plans ration care for profit but that consumers should be free to buy whatever coverage they can afford rather than depend on government rationing.

In remarks to the College of American Pathologists, Cantor warned that Democrats' healthcare reform law mandates benefits that are too generous and will bankrupt the country as the government ends up having to offer ever increasing subsidies. That can only lead to government rationing, he said.

"That doesn't mean those kinds of decisions aren't being made now by the private sector," Cantor added, "because they are."

The solution advanced by Republicans is to increase private-sector competition, by allowing health plans to sell their coverage across state lines, for example. Most experts say that's unlikely to significantly drive down America's record-high healthcare costs, however, and risks leaving in place the current problems of uninsured and underinsured patients that the healthcare reform law attempted to address in the first place.

Cantor appeared to go further than Republicans have in the past by acknowledging that not all patients are certain to get optimal healthcare under a system of private insurance.

"I think that the fundamental nature of our system of third-party payer is the problem," he said. Patients, he added, too often are left with "no decision about what they want and what they can afford."

Later, Cantor said Republicans want a safety net for people who can't afford care but that "we're not for everyone having the same outcome guaranteed."

ExxonMobil: 'No tengo dinero para los impuestos, Senor!'

According to the analysis by de Blasio's office, ExxonMobil, Bank of America, General Electric (GE), Chevron and Boeing had combined profits of $77.16 billion in 2010 but paid $0 in current federal income taxes in 2009. [...] At the same time, these companies gave a combined $7.86 million in political contributions during the 2010 election cycle -- a 7 percent jump over their 2008 political spending.

This is like the flip side of that conservative caveat which says that the day when the citizens of a democracy realize they can vote themselves a trough to feed from, that democracy is dead. Except that hasn't happened yet in any democracy, unless you want to argue that "citizens" includes only soldiers and senior citizens. Indeed, America's spending problem is really an old people and guns problem: Defense, Medicare and Social Security.

In fact, in a bought-and-paid-for political representative democracy like ours, this flip side is a much greater danger, since folks on "welfare" either don't vote or can't afford big political contributions.

Namely, that danger is that corporations, realizing they can lobby themselves nearly unlimited tax breaks, incentives, and subsidies from the public trough that only their shareholders' heirs will have to pay for partially while current shareholders enjoy the benefits completely, and further realizing that they can spread the cost of all their economic externalities and fuck-ups to you and me and perpetuity (Exhibit A: Wall Street bailouts. Exhibit B: BP oil spill) -- anywhere but to their income statements -- and in return throw back a pittance of the proceeds to politicians' campaigns and families, thereby bankrupt our treasury and pillage our public goods.

By Amanda Terkel
May 3, 2011 | Huffington Post

Study: Pundits suck at prognosticating

Coincidentally, I recently mentioned Cal Thomas (whom I almost never mention because he's so ridiculous), aka Just For Men's #1 customer. It turns out he is the worst prognosticator among U.S. pundits. I say "coincidentally" and not "ironically," as the term irony is commonly used inappropriately, because this is not a revelation, this is confirmation.

On the winning end of the score board was everybody's favorite bearded liberal economist, Paul Krugman. If you're shocked by that then maybe you read too much of Cal Thomas, George Will, and other low-scoring losers.

BTW, I think I understand now John McLaughlin's habit of forcing his guest panel, including himself, always to make predictions: it's his snarky way of letting viewers see just how stupid most pundits are.

By Jason Linkins
May 3, 2011 | Huffington Post

German bank seizes 'sleazy bank' headlines for a day

"MortgageIT, a subsidiary of Germany's largest lender, egregiously violated federal rules that came with government backing on more than 39,000 mortgages worth more than $5 billion since 1999, according to the lawsuit filed in Manhattan federal court."

Finally we can stop talking about sleazy Wall Street banks, and start talking about sleazy German banks!

You know, we shouldn't prejudge, because people are people -- Americans are the same as people all over the world. And big banks are big banks -- they're all sleazy and want to cheat American borrowers and taxpayers. (Especially when the USG makes it so darn easy for them to be so sleazy!) Can I get an "Amen!"

By Shahien Nasiripour
May 3, 2011 | Huffington Post

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Bush Asst. SecEd: No Child Left Behind destroyed public education

Former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch was once an early advocate of No Child Left Behind, school vouchers and charter schools. In 2005, she wrote, "We should thank President George W. Bush and Congress for passing the No Child Left Behind Act. ... All this attention and focus is paying off for younger students, who are reading and solving mathematics problems better than their parents' generation." But four years later, Ravitch changed her mind. "I came to the conclusion ... that No Child Left Behind has turned into a timetable for the destruction of American public education," she tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "I had never imagined that the test would someday be turned into a blunt instrument to close schools — or to say whether teachers are good teachers or not — because I always knew children's test scores are far more complicated than the way they're being received today."

Ravitch: Standardized Testing Undermines Teaching

April 28, 2011 | NPR

URL: http://www.npr.org/135142895

Rep. Ron Paul debates 'Obama' on FOXMustache -- DWTF?!

This stunt was pretty weak. I never had any respect for John Stossel, but I lost a lot of respect for Ron Paul today, with whom I disagree but at least he "keeps it real" compared to other Republicans whose worldview is hopelessly muddled & self-contradictory.

John Stossel Moderates A "Debate" Between Rep. Ron Paul And ... An Obama Impersonator
April 28, 2011 | Media Matters

URL: http://mediamatters.org/mmtv/201104280046