Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Beer is Back on my Menu

After my bariatric surgery, I couldn't tolerate beer at all.  But recently, I've been "tinkering" with drinking a little beer here and there to see how it sits.  And I've been feeling pretty good about the whole thing now.  I'm able to drink a beer now and again and that's awesome.  Our visit to the Sprecher Brewery last Sunday introduced me to a new favorite: Sprecher Russian Imperial Stout.  It's totally awesome.  Thick and creamy and wonderful.  I love it.  And I'm glad I can again enjoy a bottle of bubbly once in awhile.

Kim Simac: Kawnstitushional Skawler

"Mama always said, stupid is as stupid does..." (h/t Cognitive Dissonance and Blogging Blue)

Here's some edumakation for you, Kim (and that profoundly ignorant woman with you in the video):
  1. "God" is not in the Constitution. Anywhere. Go look it up.  The word "Creator" isn't in there either (it's in the Declaration of Independence) The words"Jesus," "Allah," "Buddha," or "Krishna" don't appear in there either.
  2. Please see "Establishment Clause" on Wikipedia: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."  That's the part that says church and state are to be kept apart.  See how that works? No law establishing religion (including the brand of ignorant fundamentalist claptrap to which you clearly adhere) but that you have the right to practice whatever ignorant, fundamentalist cult-of-stupidity you choose to worship.  Thomas Jefferson re-affirmed this in a letter, too.
  3. "In God We Trust" was not adopted as the official motto of The United States until 1956 (although it did appear on coins as early as 1864).  It did not appear on paper money until 1957.
Please open a book once in awhile (other than the bible), and for heaven's sake, turn off Fox News and read the f'ing Constitution!  You clearly know nothing about the document or the men who wrote it.

So Much for the Bush Ownership Society

Remember this?
President Bush is poised to pursue an aggressive "ownership society" agenda of Social Security privatization, new tax breaks for savings and investment and additional incentives for homeownership as cornerstones of his second-term economic initiatives.
Didn't really work out, did it?
Abandoned Houses in Detroit
Now there's data to prove it.
If 2010 headship rates and homeownership rates for each age group had been the same as in 1990, the US homeownership rate would have been 66.7% instead of 65.1%. If 2010 headship rates and homeownership rates had been the same as in 2000, the US homeownership rate would have been 67.3%!

In fact, the aggregate data suggest that in 2010 the homeownership for most age groups was probably below 1990 rates!!!

Last week’s report, then, was clearly the BIGGEST STORY ON US HOMEOWNERSHIP in many, many years.
Of course there was complete radio silence from the "liberal" media on this key metric.

Government Regulations (unlike loud pipes) SAVE LIVES!

From The Economic Policy Institute

Some have argued that America's shift away from manufacturing has driven most of this downward trend.  Not true.
This achievement does not result from the economy’s shift away from manufacturing, though indeed, we have far fewer manufacturing jobs today than in the 1980s. Surprisingly, manufacturing is not especially dangerous: the fatality rate in mining as of 2009 is about nine times higher, in construction it is four times higher, and even the service sector has a higher fatality rate of 2.9 deaths per 100,000 compared with 2.5 in manufacturing.
And lest we forget, most of what OSHA enforces was a direct result of the work of unions.  From Wikipedia:
Here are some of the changes in industrial safety regulation brought about by OSHA:
  1. Guards on all moving parts - By 1970, there were guards to prevent inadvertent contact with most moving parts that were accessible in the normal course of operation. With OSHA, use of guards was expanded to cover essentially all parts where contact is possible.
  2. Permissible exposure limits (PEL) - Maximum concentrations of chemicals stipulated by regulation for chemicals and dusts. They cover around 600 chemicals. Most are based on standards issued by other organizations in 1968 or before.
  3. Personal protective equipment (PPE) - broader use of respirators, gloves, coveralls, and other protective equipment when handling hazardous chemicals; goggles, face shields, ear protection in typical industrial environments
  4. Lockout/tagout - In the 1980s, requirements for locking out energy sources (securing them in an "off" condition) when performing repairs or maintenance
  5. Confined space - In the 1990s, specific requirements for air sampling and use of a "buddy system" when working inside tanks, manholes, pits, bins, and similar enclosed areas
  6. Hazard Communication (HazCom) - Also known as the "Right to Know" standard, was issued as 29CFR1910.1200 on November 25, 1983 (48 FR 53280), requires developing and communicating information on the hazards of chemical products used in the workplace.
  7. Process Safety Management (PSM) - Issued in 1992 as 29CFR1910.119 in an attempt to reduce large scale industrial accidents. Although enforcement of the standard has been spotty, its principles have long been widely accepted by the petrochemical industry.
  8. Bloodborne Pathogens (BBP)- In 1990, OSHA issued a standard designed to prevent health care (and other) workers from being exposed to bloodborne pathogens such as hepatitis B and HIV. (Note: I personally worked with an epidemiologist who was a key driver in this regulation. We estimated conservatively that updates to needle handling procedures reduced HIV exposure among healthcare workers by 90%)
  9. Excavations and Trenches - OSHA regulations[8] specify that trenches and excavations wherein workers are working 5 feet or more down must be provided with safeguards in addition to proper sloping and storage of excavated material in order to prevent collapses/cave-ins.[9]
  10. Exposure to asbestos - OSHA has established requirements in 29 CFR 1910.1001 for occupational exposure to asbestos. These requirements apply to most workplaces - most notably excepted is construction work. "Construction work" means work for construction, alteration and/or repair including painting and decorating. Occupational exposure requirements for asbestos in construction work can be found in 29 CFR 1926.1101.

American's Increasing Reliance on Food Stamps

Interactive Map Version

Physicians Changing Attitudes toward National Health Insurance

Data from the Annals of Internal Medicine

Sodexo Update

Protests continue against food service giant Sodexo.  Organizers of the protests say that Sodexo continues to supress worker's rights to organize and fails to pay their workers a living wage or provide adequate benefits.  Sodexo has a long history of this kind of underpayment and labor supression.
Last year, a Human Rights Watch report on Sodexo found “violations of workers’ freedom of association.” The report found that managers used intimidation tactics, including threats that workers could be replaced if they went on strike for better wages and working conditions. “Despite claims of adherence to international standards on workers’ freedom of association, Sodexo has launched aggressive campaigns against some of its U.S. employees’ efforts to form unions and bargain collectively,” the report says. “In some instances, Sodexo has crossed the line to anti-union behavior unlawful under both U.S. law and international standards." For instance, in 2003, after a union drive but before the vote, Sodexo had "threat-filled, captive-audience meetings" and fired workers for union activity, the report says. Two years later Sodexo settled a lawsuit with that union and reinstated and awarded back pay to four employees.
The NLRB is also paying attention to Sodexo's labor practices.
While 15 percent of the company’s employees are unionized, a National Labor Relations Board investigation found enough evidence to pursue charges against Sodexo stemming from anti-union activity at Tulane and Loyola Universities last year. The board said Sodexo spied on workers and retaliated against employees for union activity, among other things.
Sodexo has elected to fight back in court and last year filed a lawsuit against the SEIU under the RICO statute (part 1 & part 2 or complete (with OCR text)).  They claim a variety of illegal behavior on the part of SEIU but this looks a lot like a SLAPP suit:
A strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) is a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition.

The typical SLAPP plaintiff does not normally expect to win the lawsuit. The plaintiff's goals are accomplished if the defendant succumbs to fear, intimidation, mounting legal costs or simple exhaustion and abandons the criticism. A SLAPP may also intimidate others from participating in the debate. A SLAPP is often preceded by a legal threat. The difficulty, of course, is that plaintiffs do not present themselves to the Court admitting that their intent is to censor, intimidate or silence their critics. Hence, the difficulty in drafting SLAPP legislation, and in applying it, is to craft an approach which affords an early termination to invalid abusive suits, without denying a legitimate day in court to valid good faith claims.

Apocalypse Now: Greek Edition

Andrew Lilico over at The Telegraph (UK) takes a look at the exciting cascade of events that might transpire were Greece to default on her debts.  Some highlights (or lowlights as the case may be):
  • Every bank in Greece will instantly go insolvent.
  • The Greek government will nationalise every bank in Greece.
  • The Greek government will forbid withdrawals from Greek banks.
  • To prevent Greek depositors from rioting on the streets, Argentina-2002-style (when the Argentinian president had to flee by helicopter from the roof of the presidential palace to evade a mob of such depositors), the Greek government will declare a curfew, perhaps even general martial law.
  • Greece will redenominate all its debts into “New Drachmas” or whatever it calls the new currency (this is a classic ploy of countries defaulting)
  • The New Drachma will devalue by some 30-70 per cent (probably around 50 per cent, though perhaps more), effectively defaulting 0n 50 per cent or more of all Greek euro-denominated debts.
Other countries in the Eurozone will watch carefully as these events transpire.  What they do will depend on what France and Germany do to recapitalize their own banks after the bond collapse.  Spain and Portugal will pay particularly close attention to what happens in Greece.

Then the UK will look to the Eurozone to determine what to do with the Pound.

"May you live in interesting times indeed!"

GOP Zombie Lie #44172: US Corporate Taxes are Crushing Companies

Yes, you know in advance if the GOP are pushing it, it must be a lie. And a big lie at that.  So many GOPers complain that the US corporate tax rate is too high.  Really?  Too high?
Revenue Statistics of O.E.C.D. Member Countries, 2010

US Companies pay effective tax rates of 1.8% of GPD, right up there with Turkey.  Ignoring the effective tax rate and constantly referring to the statutory rate is simply lying about taxes.  But what more can we expect from the Party of Zombie Psychopathy?

On the Virtues of Being an Individual Contributor!

My Previous Role...

Eight months ago, I left a leadership position in Information Technology at GE Healthcare and took a new role as an "individual contributor" on the Enterprise Architecture Team, also within Information Technology.  I had reached my bullshit limit, the tank was full and it was time to figure out how to empty it out.

My former title was Director, Global IT Operations.  My new title is Principal Technologist, Managed Solutions / ASP.  I moved from the management career track to the technical career track, and I've never been happier.  My passion at work is not Powerpoint or meetings or awards or any of that crap.  It's problem solving.  It's helping the business succeed with new opportunities and ideas.  So much of my creativity was stifled by the managerial straitjacket that you're forced to wear, especially in big companies.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The European Central Bank in Trouble?

European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet
The ECB is now burdened with assets that, quite frankly are more akin to liabilities.  In an article in Spiegel International (in English) Matthias Brendel and Christoph Pauly report that private commercial banks in struggling European economies are transferring their risk to the ECB.
Many bad loans have now ended up on [the ECB] balance sheet, including ones that were used to build houses like those in Carriglas and elsewhere. No one knows how much they are worth today -- and apparently no one really wants to know.

Since the beginning of the financial crisis, banks in countries like Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Greece have unloaded risks amounting to several hundred billion euros with central banks. The central banks have distributed large sums to their countries' financial institutions to prevent them from collapsing. They have accepted securities as collateral, many of which are -- to put it mildly -- not particularly valuable.
Ireland is apparently the big problem here.  So much of the debt accrued by the Irish government and various nefarious private investors has yet to be covered by the ECB.
Irresponsible real estate sharks, unscrupulous bankers and populist politicians had ruined the country's finances. It was forced to spend €70 billion to support its banks, even as the government itself was all but bankrupt. In November 2010, the Europeans came to the rescue of the Irish with €85 billion from their joint bailout fund. But Ireland is still far from being rescued.
Meanwhile, the Irish had been busy cranking out toxic asset-backed securities which have little or no value.  But the ECB is forced to prop up these economies to prevent a run on the currency.
No one really knows how high the central bank's risk is in the crisis-ridden countries of Ireland, Portugal, Greece and Spain. But Bundesbank statistics provide an indication of how drastically the situation has changed in Europe. They show that these countries' liabilities to the euro system have risen to €340 billion within about three years. Since the countries are disconnected from the international capital market and domestic savers have only limited confidence in their banks, other European central banks -- most notably the Bundesbank -- are forced to inject more and more money.

Visualizing Unemployment by Region

Interesting chart from the BLS

Happy to see the Midwest is rebounding!

Kevin Drum: Let the Dead Pay for Medicare

What an interesting idea!
...[E]very time you receive medical care you also get a bill. You don't have to pay it, though. It's just there for accounting purposes. When you die, the bill gets paid out of your estate. If your estate is small or nonexistent, you've gotten lots of free medical care. If it's large, you'll pay for it all. If you're somewhere in between, you'll end up paying for part of the care you've received.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The State of those Tea Party ACA Lawsuits

It's been awhile since we've heard anything about the lawsuits seeking to overturn the mandate component of the Affordable Care Act.  Well, it popped up again yesterday with a request from the 4th Circuit panel on the ACA for briefs on some very specific cases based on the Anti-Injunction Act and some very interesting questions.  The Anti-Injunction Act states
no suit for the purpose of restraining the assessment or collection of any tax shall be maintained in any court by any person, whether or not such person is the person against whom such tax was assessed.
So the question at hand, and the one asked by the court is, does the mandate in the ACA constitute a tax?

So we'll hear more this summer about these Tea Party / GOP lawsuits to prevent Americans from getting affordable health insurance.

Fragmentary "Competitive" Private Health Insurance Lowers Quality of Care

In a paper published in January, 2011 entitled Is Fragmented Financing Bad For Your Health?, authors Steven D. Pizer and John A. Gardner ask the question: What is the impact of our fragmentary private health insurance system on health outcomes?

Their outcome-based research examines
hospitalization for ambulatory care sensitive conditions (ACSC hospitalization), which is a widely used and accepted measure that can be constructed easily from administrative data.
ACSC conditions are defined as
those "for which good outpatient care can potentially prevent the need for hospitalization, or for which early intervention can prevent complications or more severe disease"
Examples of ACSC conditions are diabetes (Types I & II), hypertension, COPD, pediatric gastroenteritis,  bacterial pneumonia, UTI, angina, congestive heart failure, and perforated appendix (leading to acute appendicitis).

It is understood in the health community that hospitalizations for these manageable conditions are considered defects in the healthcare system.  And costly defects at that.  Anything that interferes with the treatment of these preventable conditions ends up hurting patients and costing them money.  And that's what fragmentary health insurance does.

Their dataset is made up of veterans who participate in a mix of insurance schemes including the all-inclusive VA system as well as private insurance systems.  Their conclusions are revealing and are applicable to the general population (with some caveats).
[D]oes fragmented financing meaningfully disrupt continuity of care? Our results suggest that fragmented financing increases the risk of coordination failures that result in ACSC hospitalization, so the effect on quality of care is important for individual patients. Beyond this, there is a financial impact as well because potentially avoidable hospitalizations are costly. We can begin to get an idea of the financial cost with some fairly simple calculations. In 1999 and 2000, the average Medicare payment for an ACSC hospitalization in our sample was $5,249. If the average degree of fragmentation in our sample was reduced by one standard deviation, the average six-month probability of ACSC hospitalization would have declined from 4.3% to 3.2%, which translates into $96 per person per year ($48 per six-month period). This is equivalent to a 3% reduction in total Medicare hospital spending per beneficiary in 2000, a financially significant effect, suggesting that fragmented financing has substantial costs that have not previously been considered.
America, wake up and smell the Single Payer before it's too late!

There Ought to be a Law!

Turns out that our elected Representatives make a tidy profit through insider trading on companies and industries that they're expected to regulate according to a paper published in Business and Politics.  The authors, Alan J. Ziobrowski, James W. Boyd, Ping Cheng, and Brigitte J. Ziobrowski found
Consistent with the study of Senatorial trading activity, we find stocks purchased by Representatives also earn significant positive abnormal returns (albeit considerably smaller returns). A portfolio that mimics the purchases of House Members beats the market by 55 basis points per month (approximately 6% annually).
Now 6% might not seem like a lot, but in today's market, that's a significant edge over investors who do not have access to insider information.  But both parties and both houses of congress participate in this practice.
Consistent with Senate results, the trade-weighted House sample exhibits significant positive abnormal returns suggesting a substantial information advantage over ordinary investors. However, as hypothesized, the market-adjusted mean return earned by the House buy sample (55 basis points per month) is substantially smaller than that earned by the Senate sample (85 basis points per month).
The authors suggest that the best approach to tacking this problem is

...a policy requiring more timely and complete reporting of congressional security transactions may be in the public interest. Reporting requirements similar to those imposed on corporate insiders could be appropriate for helping voters evaluate the behavior of their Representatives in terms of the pursuit of personal profit versus obligations to the public interest. Such prompt reporting could also help level the playing field for all investors.

New Data on Spending, Medicare and Medicaid

In a report released today, the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation finds that American's have little stomach for cuts in core social programs (social security, medicare and medicaid) but there is support for cutting defense.
From Kaiser Family Foundation May Chartpack
The public also objects to the Tea Party / GOP plan to convert medicaid to block grants.
From Kaiser Family Foundation May Chartpack
Yet the Tea Party / GOP insist that we leave defense untouched but cut programs that actually benefit Americans.  The report tells an interesting story.

Wow, T-Paw Doubles-Down on the Stupid


Taste the stupid.

Q2 2011 GDP Looking Weak

Bad news from Macroadvisors. Looks like the Q2 GDP numbers are looking very soft.

According to Brad DeLong
That means that it is:
  • Time for Quantitative Easing III...
  • Time for pulling more spending from the future forward into the present, and pushing more taxes from the present back into the future...
  • Time to use Fannie and Freddie to (temporarily) nationalize mortgage finance and fix the ongoing foreclosure crisis...
  • Time for a weaker dollar...
None of which we're likely to get from the Tea Party crowd in charge in Washington. Their Galtian commanders would not approve.

It's the End of the World as we Know It!


Apropos of Nothing

Lady Gaga with Iron Maiden drummer Nicko McBrain
Apparently Lady Gaga is a big Iron Maiden fan. There's hope for humanity yet!
A photo of pop superstar Lady Gaga hanging out with IRON MAIDEN drummer Nicko McBrain last night (Sunday, April 17) backstage at the MAIDEN concert in Tampa, Florida can be seen below. She posted the picture on her Twitter profile with a caption that simply said "Sexy Beast. 666."
And her 666th tweet?  It looked like this...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Momentum Still Behind #WIUnion Activists!!!

A new poll from Public Policy Polling clearly shows the momentum to recall the reactionary Republican Senators and Governor Scott Walker is strong.
[T]here is no question that if he were to be recalled, voters would be squarely behind his Democratic challenger, whether it is Russ Feingold (52-42) or Walker’s 2010 opponent Tom Barrett (50-43).  That mirrors the 52-45 spread when PPP asked voters three months ago who they would vote for if they could do last fall’s gubernatorial election over again.
Walker's popularity in Wisconsin continues to swirl around the bowl prior to his inevitable flushing in January.
Voters have soured even further on Walker’s job performance.  43% approve, and 54% disapprove, down from 46-52 in the previous poll.  Still more Republicans disapprove than Democrats approve, and independents have moved from 45-53 to 40-56.  “The enthusiasm for recalling Scott Walker is still there three months after the height of the protests in Wisconsin,” said Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling.  “He’d be done if the vote was today, it’s just a question of whether that desire to put him out can continue to be sustained in the coming months.” 
Data below the fold.

Third-World Economy Redux: India is now Outsourcing to the United States

You plant corn, you get corn. America's Galtian overlords have long relied on cheap foreign labor to drive operating costs (i.e. working wages) down.  This process created widespread unemployment in American manufacturing in the 1980s and 1990s, and created serious downward wage pressures on IT professionals through the 2000s.  Well payback is a bitch.  Now, low-wage white collar jobs are being brought to the United States by firms in India.  The Daily Mail reports.
Large corporations that have boomed in India amid the country's nimble economy have been drawn to the U.S. where unemployment has soared.

Struggling residents desperate for work are paid between $12 and $14 a hour to be stationed in tiny cubicles for long shifts of telesales work.

Once the employees are established, many are offered the chance to be flown to India themselves - the same tactic Western countries have done in India.
Nothing breeds loyalty like a desperate workforce.  Welcome to the exciting world of global capital where the free flow of money drives global wages down in America.
'The U.S. became the fastest-growing location for us last year. We expect that to continue this year,' Genpact chief executive V.N. 'Tiger' Tyagarajan said.

Playing the Hand that's Dealt

Aces-over-Eights. The GOP dealt the hand, and now they're going to have to play it. The Democrats are holding a Royal Flush and no amount of piggy-like squealing or squirming can change that.  The GOP in general, and Paul Ryan in particular, have proposed to destroy Medicare, the most popular social program ever created and they're going to have to run on that in 2012.  Combined with the ongoing success of the Affordable Care Act, this is going to play out quite nicely for Liberals & Progressives in 2012.

I can't wait.

Third-World Income Distribution: Welcome to America

This is what America has become.  A third-world nation.  I've written before about how the rich get richer in America, but this chart makes it starkly clear.
Chart from the New York Times based on data from The Tax Policy Center 
If you're wondering why the "rich" don't feel very "rich," here's why.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Demographic Study of White Flight from Milwaukee to Waukesha

How did we get here?
One of the questions I've had since moving to Wisconsin is how Waukesha became so darned conservative.  It sits in stark contrast to neighboring Milwaukee county.  In addition, there are literally no African-Americans in Waukesha.

Tim Pawlenty Joins the Batshit Crazy Brigade

The Big Bucket-of-GOP-Crazy!
Just when you thought the GOP "Field-of-Lunacy" couldn't get any more bizarre.... Tim Pawlenty dips into the GOP Batshit Bucket and comes up with this turd in his unnaturally white teeth:
Pawlenty said in his op-ed that “Unionized public employees are making more money, receiving more generous benefits, and enjoying greater job security than the working families forced to pay for it with ever-higher taxes, deficits and debt.”

“How did this happen? Very quietly,” Pawlenty wrote. “The rise of government unions has been like a silent coup, an inside job engineered by self-interested politicians and fueled by campaign contributions.”
First, let's dispense with Pawlenty's first bat-shit-crazy claim that public sector workers "are making more money" than their private sector counterparts.  This is certainly not true in Wisconsin.

Now, on to the mystery of public sector unions and their stealthy invasion of America.  Apparently, Mr. Pawlenty is unaware that AFSCME, a union with 1.6 million members, was founded in 1932 (in Wisconsin, I might add) and has been involved in public-sector organizing for decades.  I marvel at his shocked surprise.  Like a cow on the stun line, Tim is caught entirely off guard as the hammer slams into his forehead.  But Tim, it's hardly a shadow organization.  They're on the web and everything!  Perhaps you should take a look sometime.

If (and this is a very big if) Tim Pawlenty didn't know about AFSCME (American Federation of STATE, County and Municipal Employees), what does that say about his tenure as the chief executive of Minnesota?  Was he asleep during union negotiations? Surprisingly, he must have been aware of AFSCME's existence when, in 2009, he told state employees in Minnesota to take 48 unpaid furlough days.  Maybe he just forgot.

Mr. Pawlenty might also want to review this chart showing the source of soft money and the majority of which comes from big business, not unions.

Tim Pawlenty is just another lying sack of guano vomited forth, in a slick, sticky cloud of santorum from a dying GOP candidate machine.

Stripping Away Derivative Containment

In a move sure to be popular with our Galtian overlords, the GOP is proposing to strip funds from the agency which regulates derivatives.  As I've written earlier, government regulation is the containment chamber for the financial nuclear reactor.  You need that containment to ensure safe operation of a potentially catastrophic system.  The GOP are seeking to take a sledge hammer to that containment and let the beast out.
The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the regulator that’s writing new rules for the derivatives market, faces a 15 percent budget cut under a spending bill circulated by House Republicans.

The CFTC’s budget would fall to $172 million from $202 million under the plan to be considered tomorrow by the agriculture subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. It “provides the necessary resources” for the CFTC to fulfill its duties, Representative Jack Kingston, a Georgia Republican and subcommittee chairman, said in a statement. President Barack Obama had requested $308 million in his 2012 budget proposal.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.  But consider the source.  Representative Jack Kingston (R-Crackerville) has a long history of stupidity.
The plan is “penny-wise and pound-foolish,” Bart Chilton, one of the commission’s three Democrats, said in a statement. “We went to the brink of economic disaster. Congress gave us the directives in Dodd-Frank to ensure that doesn’t happen again, and now there are those who would keep us from having the budget to do the job.”
The GOP just want to burn our nation to the ground and salt the earth when the fires die down.

Manufacturing in the US added 200,000 jobs

Q1 2010 - Q1 2011, the US manufacturing sector added approximately 200,000 new jobs.  This is reasonably good news.

But put in the context of manufacuturing job loss since 2001, it's not much.


The Rapture: Awkward!


A New View on the Greek Crisis: It's a Revenue Problem

Just like in the United States, Greece has a revenue problem, according to Perry G. Mehrling over at New Economic Thinking:
It turns out that the size of the Greek debt, relative to GDP, is not a new thing at all; it dates back to the 1980s when Greece, catching up to its European neighbors, expanded its welfare state. Ever since, Greece has been subject to one stabilization plan after another, but never with any more than temporary success. Given that history it would seem wise, before putting a lot of eggs into yet another stabilization plan basket, to ask why previous plans failed, and to consider alternatives.

The problem is also apparently not the size of the Greek welfare state—which is below the Eurozone average—although efficiency of service delivery (and corruption) is a definite problem; Greeks are not getting good value for money. Rather, the heart of the problem is in the antiquated revenue system that supports that state, which results in a budget shortfall consistently about 10% of GDP. Stathakis claims—perhaps overstating the case somewhat for effect?—that the top 20% of the income distribution in Greece pay no taxes at all. No wonder there is a fiscal crisis.
America feels your pain, Greece. We've got a top tier of earners who don't pay their fair share either.

This is What Republicans Want to Repeal

Taylor Wilhite takes a photo as her mother Amy Wilhite introduces President Barack Obama for remarks on the 90-day anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act, in the East Room of the White House, June 22, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
The Affordable Care Act is working, according to Rick Ungar over at Forbes.  And it's working well.
Recent data provided by the nation’s largest health insurance companies reveals that a provision of the Affordable Care Act – or Obamacare – is bringing big numbers of the uninsured into the health care insurance system.

And they are precisely the uninsured that we want– the young people who tend not to get sick.
 But don't tell that to the Republicans.  Let them run against this successful and well-liked program.
And it gets better.

Because the under 26 crowd tends not to get sick, adding them to the insurance pools helps bring the very balance that was intended by the new law. The more healthy people available to pay for those in the pool who are ill (translation- the older people), the better the system works and the lower our premium charges should go.
And how well is it really working for Americans?
According to a Kaiser survey, there has been a 46% uptick in businesses with less than 10 employees offering health benefits as compared to last year.
By all means, Republicans, here's your winning strategy on a platter. Run against the ACA. Please.

Monday, May 23, 2011

An Unforced Error

Is the Ryan Medicare Medikill plan one giant unforced error for the GOP?  Politico seems to think so.
GOP pollsters, political consultants and House and NRCC staffers vividly reminded leadership that their members were being forced to walk the plank for a piece of quixotic legislation. They described for leadership the horrors that might be visited on the party during the next campaign, comparing it time and again with former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to ram through a cap-and-trade bill despite the risks it posed to Democratic incumbents.

“The tea party itch has definitely not been scratched, so the voices who were saying, ‘Let’s do this in a way that’s politically survivable,’ got drowned out by a kind of panic,” a top GOP consultant involved in the debate said, on condition of anonymity.

“The feeling among leadership was, we have to be true to the people who put us here. We don’t know what to do, but it has to be bold.”

Another GOP insider involved to the process was more morbid: “Jumping off a bridge is bold, too.”

Tweets that Piss Me Off: Teachers Don't Deserve A Defense

Damn this kind of thing pisses me off.  Some wingnut website called United Taxpayers of Wisconsin (a front for something I don't have the interest to research) tweeted the following
Of course there's more to the story (like a whole other side of it, from the teacher in question for instance).  But in wingnutopia it's OK to flush $250MM down an insurance boondogle toilet, but spending money because some parasitic teacher thinks they have the right to defend themselves against an unfair termination of employment? Well fuck that shit.
“In these days in a shortage of cash we’re loath to spend money on lawyers,” said Ellen Lindgren, president of the Middleton-Cross Plains School Board. “On the other hand, we believe the community supports the termination of a teacher who intentionally accesses pornography.”
And if the school district supported termination of a teacher who intentionally accessed atheism sites, would that be OK? Or sites which talk about abortion? Or some other wingnut fear encrusted dog-whistle?  I understand we don't want teachers accessing porn, but is that really grounds for termination?   And if it is, was that clearly stated in school district policies? The teacher's union doesn't think so and they're fighting the district.
Union leaders say the case isn’t about teachers viewing porn on a school computer — an action they agree is wrong. Rather, they argue the discipline for Harris and the others was unjust and not based on clear standards or objective criteria.

A union lawyer, Willie Haus, also alleges the district went after Harris because he was a union leader who had criticized the School Board.
This is just another in a long series of attempts by reactionary wingnuts to trash our public education system at every turn. Well fuck them.

Obama and Geithner Should Just Ignore the Debt Ceiling

"Fuck it, Tim. Just ignore the obstructionist assholes..."
"Yes, Mr. President. Good idea."
I was just wondering what would happen if the Executive Branch simply ignored the debt ceiling and continued to print checks and pay contractors and pay the military and cover Medicare expenses and all that.  What would happen?  Would the checks bounce? Would banks refuse to cash them?  Doubtful.

Bruce Bartlett suggests:
[It's] worth remembering that the debt limit is statutory law, which is trumped by the Constitution which has a little known provision that relates to this issue. Section 4 of the 14th Amendment says, “The validity of the public debt of the United States…shall not be questioned.” This could easily justify the sort of extraordinary presidential action to avoid default that I am suggesting.

The Imperial Walker Stumbles?

Caesar set upon by the Senate
In what he describes as "the most dubious giveaway I've seen since I've been in the legislature," Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend), a Senate veteran of 17 years confronts Governor Walker's $250MM taxpayer funded giveaway to insurance companies.

E tu, Glenn? E tu?

Looking for a New Daddy

So what happens when this intense desire to find sensible Republicans faces the reality of a GOP gone bonkers? The answer is a series of unrequited crushes. Paul Ryan is only the latest figure to be held up as an example of competence and reasonableness despite clear evidence, for anyone willing to see it, that he utterly lacked those qualities. Some of us remember that none other than George W. Bush once got the same treatment.
Who's your Daddy?

How much Taxation is Enough? (HINT: More than we pay now!)

If you're a member of the Tea Party, you believe you're "Taxed Enough Already."

If you're marching in Madison, you might be asking to have your taxes raised!

In either case, there is disagreement over what constitutes an acceptable level of taxation.  If we compare the longitudinal taxation strategies of three nations, The United States, Denmark and Sweden, what will we find?  Clearly, these countries have pursued different strategies of taxation.

The US has maintained a 25% overall taxation level since 1960 but both Sweden and Denmark have

In a new blog post, Lane Kenworthy asks the question
If heavy taxation has harmful economic effects, why have Denmark and Sweden performed similarly to the United States during a period of several decades in which their taxes were much higher than America’s?
Turns out that by most measures, the high-tax nations fare as well as the US, and by some measures, fare better.  The distribution of income and the growth of the P50 population is perhaps the most interesting divergence between the US and the Danes and Swedes.
The truly progressive taxation systems of Sweden and Denmark ensure that nobody is too poor and nobody is too rich.  And everyone gets healthcare.

Contextualizing the Socialist Loss in Spain

One of the polluters of the #WIUnion Twitter stream, @ronnocomot, actually posted something interesting yesterday,

Most of the time, when Tom tweets something, my reaction is to ignore it.  This reference to socialism and it's perceived failure in Spain could just as easily be a throw away, yet something piqued my interest.  There had to be more to this electoral loss than a simple "Socialism is stupid" slam from Tom.  I suspected that in this instance, throwing my #TwitterFoul flag was less for his trollish behavior and more for

Let's have a look-see at Spain and her political and economic landscape, shall we?  Let's see if there's an "Unexpected Conclusion" lurking in the weeds somewhere.

Factors in State-to-State Variability

Over at Overcoming Bias, Robin Hanson reviews a recent thesis by one of his students, Ken Lee, who's dissertation, entitled Essays in Health Economics: Empirical Studies on Determinants of Health, describes a factor analysis of data differentiating the states from one another.
Ken collected 81 features of states, 56 cultural rankings and 25 demographic variables (listed below), and did a factor an analysis on them.
The results were interesting.  Health factors yielded the biggest variance between the states.
(27% of variance): Top five features: “low cancer deaths, low cardiovascular deaths, low smoking rates, low levels of unnecessary medical care, low obesity rates,” Also: “high well-being index, high exercise rates, healthiest, low mortality rates for blacks and whites, higher in education (IQ Rank, Percentage of Graduates, and Smartest), higher in health (Healthiest, Exercise Frequency, and Percentage with No Insurance), and lower in crime rates (Crime Rate and Violent Crime Rate) rankings.”

The deep south (shown, appropriately, in white in the map)  is quite unhealthy.  High rates of obesity and low levels of physical activity.  It's also ruled by Republicans and quite anti-Union and anti-Science.  Is anyone really surprised?