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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Is This A Warning?

15 million Americans unemployed. 5 million of them 99ers (used up unemployment benefits).
15 million Americans under employed.

That is one-fifth of all adult Americans.

College graduates cannot find jobs.

Income for the entire 90% of the population (you and me) is falling, but the richy riches are getting an increasing share of the income and wealth of the U.S.

The only plan the Republicans have is to cut taxes for the richy riches.

The only plan the Democrats have is to suck their thumbs.

We are on the track to a very bad place! If you would like an advanced look at what could happen, read this real time report from Greece.

Crime casts long shadow over Athens

Greece's debt crisis, shrinking economy and surging unemployment have transformed Athens, once considered one of Europe's safest capitals, into a city of fear.

By Anthee Carassava, Los Angeles Times

May 31, 2011

Reporting from Athens


Manolis Kandaris' wife was in labor and he wanted to get her to a hospital, fast. So he reached for the car keys, fetched the video camera and dashed out to get his clunky Citroen running.

He never made it.

As he sprinted to the car, muggers attacked him about a block from his apartment. And when he resisted their attempts to wrench the camera from him, the 44-year-old pharmaceuticals executive was stabbed to death.

His wife found him lying in a pool of blood as she hobbled to the car with the help of her mother. She was taken to a maternity ward; he was taken to the morgue.

Long prided as one of Europe's safest capitals, this ancient metropolis is cowering in the shadow of harrowing crimes and lawless rampages.

Within 24 hours of the Kandaris killing, a 21-year-old man from Bangladesh was stabbed to death in what police suspect was a revenge killing. The following day, mobs of ultranationalist youths bolted through the center of Athens, battering scores of illegal immigrants. Three days later, masked youths enraged by a police beating firebombed a precinct in downtown Athens, critically injuring two men and a 55-year-old female flower seller.

"It never used to be this way," said Ioannis Makris, president of the Athens police union. "We're seeing a lot of rage as a result of the financial crisis, a lot of desperate people resorting to fistfights, not to mention gunfire and stabbings, for trite causes."

Amid a devastating debt crisis, shrinking economy and surging unemployment, violent crime has soared here, and security experts warn that it may get even worse as Greece sinks deeper into recession.

Armed robberies were at historic lows in the capital in 2007, but the figure had more than doubled in 2009, the onset of the financial crisis, according to police data. Thefts and break-ins jumped from 26,872 recorded cases in 2007 to 47,607 two years later; homicides likewise nearly doubled in the period.

Final statistics for 2010 are not yet available, but news reports and anecdotal evidence suggest that violent crime is gaining dangerous momentum.

"Greek society as a whole is at a breaking point," criminologist Angelos Tsigris said. "Things are going from bad to worse, and crime, which mirrors the state of a society at a given time and moment, will naturally follow that course."

Athens, home to nearly half the country's population of 11 million, is reeling. Although still benefiting from European Union investment infrastructure and its Olympic glow — it hosted the 2004 Summer Games — the once-glamorous capital is fading into money-strapped dishevelment.

Rising tides of illegal immigration are adding to Athenians' sense of malaise. A fairly homogeneous society, Greece has seen its ethnic makeup change dramatically in the last decade. Immigrants, legal and not, now account for as much as 15% of the population, and most of the new arrivals have settled in Athens.

Residents fear the disorder and lawlessness gripping the capital will hamper desperately needed recovery or, worse, incite further violence, including police brutality and vigilantism.

"I'm losing my city," Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis said. "Something has to happen fast.

"It's starting to look like Beirut in the 1970s," he said, referring to a rash of killings in the Lebanese capital that preceded that country's civil war.

A recent wave of public-safety budget cuts hasn't helped.

"Only a third of the 500 motorcycles and police cars are in operation for patrols," said Makris, the police union president. "The rest are in the pits because there's no money to service them. From boots to bulletproof vests, police resources are ailing in Athens."

In an effort to restore confidence, the Greek government recently announced a series of crime-busting measures, including increased street patrols. City hall officials said they had the government's assurance that the new campaign would get top funding priority. The amount, though, remained unclear.

"It all sounds encouraging," Tsigris said. "But at this point, it's like putting a wet rag in the muffler of a rickety car. It'll blow out and rupture other parts of the car in the process."

He and other security experts have long supported a sweeping overhaul of the capital's 17,000-member police force, nearly half of whom are assigned to clerical duties such as ferrying court documents to judges.

Frustrated residents, meanwhile, are taking things into their own hands.

At an impromptu shrine that sprang up at the site of Kandaris' killing, emotions run high. Angry crowds have sealed off the area, shielding mounds of flowers, candles and prayer notes behind a makeshift wall of dumpsters donned with Greek flags.

"Enough!" cried Giorgos Lambrou, head of a newly formed neighborhood watch team. "We're reclaiming our city, and this is the first patch."

Authorities this month announced the arrest of two Afghans in the killing.

"It's a good start. But it'll take much more for us to let up our fight," said construction worker Dimitris Efstathiou, taking up position at the shrine.

"I've been shot at twice, burgled three times and lost my job — and hope — to the crisis," he said. "Would you let up that easy?"

Carassava is a special correspondent.

One GraphYou Should Study Closely

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Elizabeth Warren Redux

Here is another take on Elizabeth Warren's dust up with Congress. Make up your own mind about this event. Personally, I don't have much sympathy for all the incompetents in Congress.

The Polite Way to Say ‘No Way’


THE denizens of Capitol Hill let out a gasp last week when Elizabeth Warren upended the natural order of things by telling a congressman that his time to question her had run out.

Ms. Warren, the Harvard Law professor who has raised the hackles of Republicans as she directs the start-up of a new consumer protection agency, was being grilled by Representative Patrick T. McHenry, a North Carolina Republican, when a dispute erupted over whether they had a deal that she would stay just one hour. Soon, the usual false pleasantries of Washington gave way to a shocking — or, depending on one’s point of view, delightful — breach of decorum.

“Congressman, you are causing problems,” Ms. Warren declared; Mr. McHenry, in not so many words, responded by calling her a liar. The upshot was a city abuzz with tsk-tsking, and in some quarters applause, at a bureaucrat’s brazen violation of a cardinal rule of the Capitol Hill etiquette book: the Congressman Is Always Right.

“She actually said that?” asked Tom C. Korologos, a lobbyist and Washington éminence grise who has counseled countless witnesses, including Supreme Court nominees. “Now, there’s nothing wrong, if they’re going after you in some way, with saying, ‘Congressman, I disagree with your premise.’ But that’s as close as you can come to saying, ‘Hey, dummy, why are you doing this to me?’ ”

Some wondered what Ms. Warren could possibly be thinking. “Anybody who expects to spend only an hour testifying before Congress is, um, crazy,” said John Feehery, a Republican strategist who spent years as a Capitol Hill aide.

Still, one could imagine a silent cheer going up around town, from all those witnesses who have been beaten up, badgered or just plain had their schedules yanked around while doing their civic duty by sitting under hot lights in a wood-paneled hearing room answering questions ad nauseam.

“For generations, there have been witnesses who have been abused by members on both sides, and so you have to think there were some people saying, ‘Atta girl,’ ” said Charlie Cook, the editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

Indeed there were, though given how divisive Ms. Warren has become, her most vocal backers were Democrats. Representative McHenry was flamed on his own Facebook page by Warren supporters who demanded an apology; they also set up a separate Facebook page, titled Where’s the Apology? bearing the congressman’s picture.

“She stood up to a bunch of bullies on the dais,” said Jim Manley, a longtime Democratic adviser to senators. “Rarely if ever has protocol been breached like that. But, having said that, this is a woman whose views have been demonized beyond recognition, so I say, ‘More power to her.’ ”

Ms. Warren had little to lose. Senate Republicans have already said they will not confirm her to run the consumer bureau, so her chances of being nominated by President Obama now stand at slim to none. Yet she is hardly the first person to push back at Congress. Washingtonians well remember the lawyer Brendan Sullivan’s protest — “Well, sir, I’m not a potted plant” — when senators complained about his constant objections to their questions of his client, Lt. Col. Oliver North. And Robert Bork learned the hard way what happens to Supreme Court nominees who give combative answers.

Judge Bork was advised by Mr. Korologos, who says the judge disregarded the most important rule of testifying. “The most important rule,” Mr. Korologos says, “is the 80/20 rule: If they’re talking 80 percent of the time and you’re talking 20 percent, you’re winning. If it’s 60/40, it means you’re arguing, and if it’s 50/50, it means you’ve lost and you’d better throw in the towel.”

Being deferential is also critical, although Donald A. Ritchie, the Senate historian, says academics like Judge Bork and Ms. Warren seem to have the toughest time doing so. “They treat the members sometimes like undergraduates — or even worse, like fellow faculty members,” Mr. Ritchie said.

Congress demands such deference because it is, after all, a coequal branch of government, with oversight authority and control over how the government spends taxpayers’ money. Lawmakers are not shy about reminding witnesses from the executive branch, like Ms. Warren, of this fact. But that does not give them license to run roughshod over witnesses, said Representative John Dingell, the Michigan Democrat whose tenure — 55 years — makes him dean of the House.

Mr. Dingell, who was not at last week’s hearing, said the McHenry-Warren mess could have been avoided if they had reached a clear agreement beforehand on how long she would testify. (An hour, he says, is not long enough.) If a hearing turns nasty, he said, it is the chairman’s job to maintain decorum. Congress, he says, must mind its manners too.

“We are not a paid bunch of bullies,” Mr. Dingell said. “Our job is to get the facts.”

Solving The Medicare Problem

There is no question we have a huge problem with Medicare. We spend 16-18% of our Gross National Product on health care and that amount is growing 6-7% a year. We spend twice as much of our GDP as any other developed country, and ALL of those countries offer universal care.

I think the best place to understand the problem is to begin with T.R. Reid's book, The Healing of America. He describes how health care is provided in a collection of countries, i.e., France, Japan, Germany, the UK, etc. In each country he shows how the system developed within the particular culture of the country. Every one of those countries delivers better health care than we do, with the single exception of serious cancer. I have had first hand experience with three of the countries he covers and I can tell you it was as good as anything in the U.S., and in one case, substantially better.

The thing you will notice is that he interviews a doctor in each country. They are all well off, but not out hugely rich.

With that fact in mind, consider this. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, thirteen of the fifteen highest paid professions in the U.S. are either Medicine or Dentistry. 13 out of 15!!

And there is another serious downside to this financial problem. The average new doctor now has a debt of $155,000 when he/she graduates. That forces them into high paid specialties and creates a serious shortage of primary care doctors. But we need more primary care doctors to take care of any aging population.

Do us both a favor and read The Healing of America. It is a good place to start.

You Could Be Daniel Crow

There are two things deeply wrong with this New York Times story today.

1) They can do all of these invasions of your privacy with out getting a subpena or any other legal protection for you.

2) It is a huge waste of tax payers (yours) money at a time when there is no money to waste. Note the number of pages in Daniel's report.

For Anarchist, Details of Life as F.B.I. Target

AUSTIN, Tex. — A fat sheaf of F.B.I. reports meticulously details the surveillance that counterterrorism agents directed at the one-story house in East Austin. For at least three years, they traced the license plates of cars parked out front, recorded the comings and goings of residents and guests and, in one case, speculated about a suspicious flat object spread out across the driveway.

“The content could not be determined from the street,” an agent observing from his car reported one day in 2005. “It had a large number of multi-colored blocks, with figures and/or lettering,” the report said, and “may be a sign that is to be used in an upcoming protest.”

Actually, the item in question was more mundane.

“It was a quilt,” said Scott Crow, marveling over the papers at the dining table of his ramshackle home, where he lives with his wife, a housemate and a backyard menagerie that includes two goats, a dozen chickens and a turkey. “For a kids’ after-school program.”

Mr. Crow, 44, a self-described anarchist and veteran organizer of anticorporate demonstrations, is among dozens of political activists across the country known to have come under scrutiny from the F.B.I.’s increased counterterrorism operations since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Other targets of bureau surveillance, which has been criticized by civil liberties groups and mildly faulted by the Justice Department’s inspector general, have included antiwar activists in Pittsburgh, animal rights advocates in Virginia and liberal Roman Catholics in Nebraska. When such investigations produce no criminal charges, their methods rarely come to light publicly.

But Mr. Crow, a lanky Texas native who works at a recycling center, is one of several Austin activists who asked the F.B.I. for their files, citing the Freedom of Information Act. The 440 heavily-redacted pages he received, many bearing the rubric “Domestic Terrorism,” provide a revealing window on the efforts of the bureau, backed by other federal, state and local police agencies, to keep an eye on people it deems dangerous.

In the case of Mr. Crow, who has been arrested a dozen times during demonstrations but has never been convicted of anything more serious than trespassing, the bureau wielded an impressive array of tools, the documents show.

The agents watched from their cars for hours at a time — Mr. Crow recalls one regular as “a fat guy in an S.U.V. with the engine running and the air-conditioning on” — and watched gatherings at a bookstore and cafe. For round-the-clock coverage, they attached a video camera to the phone pole across from his house on New York Avenue.

They tracked Mr. Crow’s phone calls and e-mails and combed through his trash, identifying his bank and mortgage companies, which appear to have been served with subpoenas. They visited gun stores where he shopped for a rifle, noting dryly in one document that a vegan animal rights advocate like Mr. Crow made an unlikely hunter. (He says the weapon was for self-defense in a marginal neighborhood.)

They asked the Internal Revenue Service to examine his tax returns, but backed off after an I.R.S. employee suggested that Mr. Crow’s modest earnings would not impress a jury even if his returns were flawed. (He earns $32,000 a year at Ecology Action of Texas, he said.)

They infiltrated political meetings with undercover police officers and informers. Mr. Crow counts five supposed fellow activists who were reporting to the F.B.I.

Mr. Crow seems alternately astonished, angered and flattered by the government’s attention. “I’ve had times of intense paranoia,” he said, especially when he discovered that some trusted allies were actually spies.

“But first, it makes me laugh,” he said. “It’s just a big farce that the government’s created such paper tigers. Al Qaeda and real terrorists are hard to find. We’re easy to find. It’s outrageous that they would spend so much money surveilling civil activists, and anarchists in particular, and equating our actions with Al Qaeda.”

The investigation of political activists is an old story for the F.B.I., most infamously in the Cointel program, which scrutinized and sometimes harassed civil rights and antiwar advocates from the 1950s to the 1970s. Such activities were reined in after they were exposed by the Senate’s Church Committee, and F.B.I. surveillance has been governed by an evolving set of guidelines set by attorneys general since 1976.

But the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 demonstrated the lethal danger of domestic terrorism, and after the Sept. 11 attacks, the F.B.I. vowed never again to overlook terrorists hiding in plain sight. The Qaeda sleeper cells many Americans feared, though, turned out to be rare or nonexistent.

The result, said Michael German, a former F.B.I. agent now at the American Civil Liberties Union, has been a zeal to investigate political activists who pose no realistic threat of terrorism.

“You have a bunch of guys and women all over the country sent out to find terrorism. Fortunately, there isn’t a lot of terrorism in many communities,” Mr. German said. “So they end up pursuing people who are critical of the government.”

Complaints from the A.C.L.U. prompted the Justice Department’s inspector general to assess the F.B.I.’s forays into domestic surveillance. The resulting report last September absolved the bureau of investigating dissenters based purely on their expression of political views. But the inspector general also found skimpy justification for some investigations, uncertainty about whether any federal crime was even plausible in others and a mislabeling of nonviolent civil disobedience as “terrorism.”

Asked about the surveillance of Mr. Crow, an F.B.I. spokesman, Paul E. Bresson, said it would be “inappropriate” to discuss an individual case. But he said that investigations are conducted only after the bureau receives information about possible crimes.

“We do not open investigations based on individuals who exercise the rights afforded to them under the First Amendment,” Mr. Bresson said. “In fact, the Department of Justice and the bureau’s own guidelines for conducting domestic operations strictly forbid such actions.”

It is not hard to understand why Mr. Crow attracted the bureau’s attention. He has deliberately confronted skinheads and Ku Klux Klan members at their gatherings, relishing the resulting scuffles. He claims to have forced corporate executives to move with noisy nighttime protests.

He says he took particular pleasure in a 2003 demonstration for Greenpeace in which activists stormed the headquarters of ExxonMobil in Irving, Tex., to protest its environmental record. Dressed in tiger outfits, protesters carried banners to the roof of the company’s offices, while others wearing business suits arrived in chauffeured Jaguars, forcing frustrated police officers to sort real executives from faux ones.

“It was super fun,” said Mr. Crow, one of the suits, who escaped while 36 other protesters were arrested. “They had ignored us and ignored us. But that one got their attention.”

It got the attention of the F.B.I. as well, evidently, leading to the three-year investigation that focused specifically on Mr. Crow. The surveillance documents show that he also turned up in several other investigations of activism in Texas and beyond, from 2001 to at least 2008.

For an aficionado of civil disobedience, Mr. Crow comes across as more amiable than combative. He dropped out of college, toured with an electronic-rock band and ran a successful Dallas antiques business while dabbling in animal rights advocacy. In 2001, captivated by the philosophy of anarchism, he sold his share of the business and decided to become a full-time activist.

Since then, he has led a half-dozen groups and run an annual training camp for protesters. (The camps invariably attracted police infiltrators who were often not hard to spot. “We had a rule,” he said. “If you were burly, you didn’t belong.”) He also helped to found Common Ground Relief, a network of nonprofit organizations created in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Anarchism was the catchword for an international terrorist movement at the turn of the 20th century. But Mr. Crow, whose e-mail address contains the phrase “quixotic dreaming,” describes anarchism as a kind of locally oriented self-help movement, a variety of “social libertarianism.”

“I don’t like the state,” he said. “I don’t want to overthrow it, but I want to create alternatives to it.”

This kind of talk appears to have baffled some of the agents assigned to watch him, whose reports to F.B.I. bosses occasionally seem petulant. One agent calls “nonviolent direct action,” a phrase in activists’ materials, “an oxymoron.” Another agent comments, oddly, on Mr. Crow and his wife, Ann Harkness, who have been together for 24 years, writing that “outwardly they did not appear to look right for each other.” At a training session, “most attendees dressed like hippies.”

Such comments stand out amid detailed accounts of the banal: mail in the recycling bin included “a number of catalogs from retail outlets such as Neiman Marcus, Ann Taylor and Pottery Barn.”

Mr. Crow said he hoped the airing of such F.B.I. busywork might deter further efforts to keep watch over him. The last documents he has seen mentioning him date from 2008. But the Freedom of Information Act exempts from disclosure any investigations that are still open.

“I still occasionally see people sitting in cars across the street,” he said. “I don’t think they’ve given up.”

Saturday, May 28, 2011

U.S. Citizens Have Rights!!!

The President resumed his role as The Cowardly Lion yesterday. He signed an extension of The Patriot Act, that piece of George Bush garbage that does away habeas corpus for all Americans and lets anyone in the government spy on your financial records and every private document you have.

There is a lot of stuff that the Tea Party is dead wrong about, but on this one they are spot on!

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks during a Tea Party Town Hall meeting in February at the National Press Club in Washington. The freshman lawmaker is being hailed by civil libertarians for putting privacy concerns over the Patriot Act back in the spotlight.

May 27, 2011 | Liz Halloran | National Public Radio

The freshman senator from Kentucky emerged this week as the prominent voice against Patriot Act surveillance provisions. He battled leaders of both parties to consider the impact of the measure on Americans' privacy.

It's been nearly a decade since Congress, in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, hastily approved the USA Patriot Act and its historic expansion of law enforcement and domestic intelligence-gathering powers.

For just as long, civil libertarians have been agitating for legislators to hold a full-blown debate on the sweeping measure, fast-tracked to President George W. Bush's desk just four days after it was raised in Congress.

This week, the Senate failed again to have a robust back-and-forth on expiring provisions of the act that allow wide latitude in surveillance of Americans.

The pressure on the House and Senate, from the White House and others, was to extend the measures — not to question if they infringe too much on civil liberties.

But freshman Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican and Tea Party favorite, raised a ruckus with leaders of both parties over the lack of debate, and forced the issue into the spotlight briefly but potently.

Julian Sanchez of the libertarian Cato Institute has suggested, only half-jokingly, that it would take a "legislative boxing match" to get the press and the public interested in a policy debate over a byzantine intelligence law.

Paul, in taking on Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, and Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, also from Kentucky, provided that fight.

Paul has since been hailed by civil libertarians and privacy activists for reinvigorating the debate over what rights Americans, in the name of counterterrorism, may have sacrificed.

"It is amazing how much he's been able to drive attention to this by breaking the cozy agreement between Republicans who didn't want to revisit the Patriot Act, and Democrats who didn't want to call too much attention to it," says Sanchez, a longtime advocate of Patriot Act reforms.

And though civil liberties activists may not agree with some of Paul's anti-Patriot Act agenda — including his unsuccessful effort to amend the act to restrict national security officials' access to gun records — his passion and Tea Party clout are seen as an asset to those who have long pushed Congress to rein in aspects of the legislation.

Says Laura W. Murphy of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington legislative office: "Rand Paul took a very strong stand — he wasn't in the control of the Republican Party, or the Democratic Party."

"If he didn't feel strongly about the substance of the Patriot Act, it would have been perceived as just another — yawn — procedural dustup," Murphy said. "But you could tell that he felt passionately about this."

She says sees common concerns among Tea Party Republicans and progressive Democrats "about the way the Patriot Act undermines our Fourth Amendment rights" that guard against unreasonable searches and seizures.

And Murphy is among those who are not looking to the White House to lead on the issue.

"We'd hoped for a much more progressive position out of the Obama administration," she said.

Paul Vs. Reid And McConnell

What happened between Paul and Majority Leader Reid came pretty close to Sanchez's "boxing match." And there was an equal struggle behind the scenes between Paul and fellow Republican McConnell, who wanted to move to a quick vote without considering changes Paul wanted included.

Reid, from the Senate floor, had attacked Paul's push-back on the Patriot Act as akin to aiding terrorists by giving them "the opportunity to plot against our country undetected."

A clearly infuriated Paul responded later from the floor, saying Reid's comments were "offensive" and "personally insulting." And he dressed down the majority leader for abandoning an earlier promise to have a week of debate on the issue.

"I think we should have an intelligent and rational discussion about this," he said. The issue, he said, is "not so simple that you can just say well, I'm either against against terrorism, or I'm going to let terrorists run wild and take over the country."

Paul also took on McConnell, sending out a statement to supporters that asserted the senior Kentucky senator was working against efforts by his junior colleague to force a debate on amendments to the act.

With pressure building on both Reid, who took heat for his treatment of Paul on the floor, and McConnell, buffeted by Tea Party backlash, Paul was allowed to introduce two amendments — both of which failed — before moving to a final vote.

Paul pronounced himself "pleased that we cracked open the door to shed some light" on the Patriot Act.

Consistent Pressure

Congress has always been under pressure to extend expiring provisions of the counterterrorism law.

And the Obama administration has pushed Congress just as hard as the Bush White House. It insisted that if Congress failed to extend the provisions that were set to expire Thursday, terrorism investigations could be compromised.

James Clapper, director of national intelligence, was even dispatched to warn Congress that analysis of "information obtained at the Osama bin Laden compound" could be slowed if the surveillance provisions lapsed.

Sanchez is among those who have long suggested that the need for many of the expanded government powers under the Patriot Act are overstated, as is the imperative that extensions of expiring provisions must be done quickly and without lapse.

"If an investigation is already open, it's grandfathered in if a provision expires," he says. "And if they need to open a new investigation, I would be very surprised if they couldn't figure out a way to do that."

"Terrorism investigations happened before 9/11," he says.

Future Of Debate

Paul has teamed up with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) on an amendment to the Patriot Act that would phase out so-called National Security Letters. The controversial letters allow the FBI to collect, without court approval, personal records from financial institutions, credit card companies and Internet service providers.

Paul did not raise the amendment last week; Leahy has promised to raise it as a stand-alone bill.

Murphy, of the ACLU, says she's been heartened to see more members of Congress willing to push back on Patriot Act extensions. They include Democratic Sens. Mark Udall of Colorado, Jon Tester of Montana and Ron Wyden of Oregon and Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg of Montana.

She sees a western and New England flavor to the core of opposition.

It appears that Paul will remain at the center of the ongoing debate over counterterrorism policy executive power.

"If he can do what he's just done, and show that there isn't a huge political price to pay for saying that there should be limits on government surveillance, maybe other people will step forward, too," Sanchez says.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio.

More On The Two Tier Economy

Here is another way to understand the two tier economy. Rank and file workers account for 80% of nongovernmental jobs. Their pay rose steadily from the 1990's until 2008. Today, average hourly hourly wage for production and non-supervisory employees is $8.76, down from $8.93 in 2008. Now that $.17 doesn't sound like much, but it works out to be $353.60 a year.

Now take that amount and add it to the rapidly increasing costs for food and gasoline, and you can begin to understand the financial difficulty of trying to live at the bottom of the second tier.

And to put that in perspective, $8.76 works out to be $18,229.80 a year (before taxes).

Now why should anyone else care? About 70% of the Gross Domestic Product (the pie we all share) is generated by consumer spending. The GDP has to grow 2%-3% a year just to absorb all the new people entering the work force, and it is not growing much at all now.

So we have 15 million Americans without jobs at all, and another 15 million working short hours or working at jobs significantly below the qualifications, and now add in those with jobs who have taken a pay cut, and you can understand why the economy is not growing.

And when the economy does not grow, our part of the two tier economy loses. The richie riches take care of themselves.

Friday, May 27, 2011

More Warnings About The Two Tier Economy

In today's Los Angeles Times (5/27/11) there is a piece by Ron Brownstein (one of the level headed writers) entitled, "White, working class and alienated". I would reproduce it here but I can't find it. As you may know, the Los Angeles Times has serious, serious financial problems. So here are the highlights.

"...the average high-school educated, middle-aged man earns about 10% less than his counterpart did in 1980...."


"That huge bloc of Americans increasingly feels itself left behind---and lacks faith that either government or business cares much about its plight. Under these pressures, noncollege whites are now experiencing rates of out-of-wedlock birth and single parenthood approaching the levels that triggered worries about the black family a generation ago. Alarm bells should be ringing now about the social and economic trends in the battered white working class and the cry of distress rising from this latest survey."

Inside of the two tier economy (the incredibly rich and all of the rest of us), we are creating two additional classes, e.g., the middle class that Washington keeps blathering on about, and a lower, basically white, not well educated class that is never mentioned by any one in Washington.

If you want to see these people from the inside, you can't do better than Deer Hunting With Jesus. Just be warned it is repetitive.

To understand just about how important this problem is, understand that it includes 48% of all adult males. That represents about 75 million Americans.

Read that again. 75,000,000 Americans think that their future is only going to get worse and that nobody gives a damn. And they are about right!

The fundamental problem is that the labor intensive jobs they used to have are gone, long gone, to places where labor costs less. You can argue all you want about the morality of that fact, but the truth is that things you buy cost less because those jobs are gone.

O.K., so what do we do? The answer truly is simple. Re-training for jobs that do exist. Community Colleges are the perfect vehicle for that re-training. In The Great Recession Conspiracy we provide examples of such programs at work, successfully.

Did you know that a skilled wind turbine maintenance person can earn over $100,000 a year? That should cheer up any out of work white male with only a high school education.

So we have this huge, corrosive problem with a sure fire solution and what does the President do about it? That is right, NOTHING.

I am beginning to think Mitt is right. The President has no idea how this county really works.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Getting Serious About Health Care Costs

There is no question that U.S. health care costs are out of control. Anybody who denies that is a damn fool. But nobody in Congress seems to have any idea about what to do about it. Paul Ryan and the Republicans want to deny health care to future generations. Something no other developed country does. The Democrats simply want to whine about the Republicans plans.

There are three specific actions that Congress should be taking to curb, and then reduce, health care costs.

#1) Allow end of life counseling by doctors and other professionals. Pay for DNR documents. Pay for living wills. Everyone who has looked at health care costs seriously concludes that the last two years/months/days at end of life takes the majority of healthcare costs. The Wicked Bitch from the North called such ideas Death Panels. The truth is that the real death panels are faceless clerks in insurance companies who decide what gets covered and what doesn't. (Yes, I have both documents.)

#2) Attack Obesity and Over Weight seriously. Two out of three Americans are seriously over weight. This condition leads to diabetes and other very serious long term illnesses. The life time costs are huge for people who are overweight. Yet nobody in Congress even seems to understand this.

#3) Understand which medical procedures are effective and which are not, and then sharing that information widely. That includes information about why a procedure at the Mayo Clinic costs $100,00, but the same procedure costs $200,000 at the UCLA Medical Center.

Peter Orzag was brilliant in his efforts to implement #3 when he was Director of the Office of Budget and Management. Now he is gone, no one seems interested. By the way, Obamacare includes a directive that specifically prohibits such information being used in Medicare decisions.

Today's New York Times carries an OpEd piece that makes #3 very clear.
May 25, 2011

Squandering Medicare’s Money

San Francisco

MEDICARE has suddenly taken center stage in American politics, with Democrats now trying to score an advantage from the unpopularity of the Republican plan to overhaul the government health insurance program. Apart from the politics, though, Medicare’s financing challenges are worsening: this month, Medicare’s trustees projected that the insurance program would become insolvent by 2024, five years earlier than previously estimated.

Much has been said about the growing gap between the program’s spending and revenues — a gap that will widen as baby boomers retire — but little attention has been focused on a problem staring us in the face: Medicare spends a fortune each year on procedures that have no proven benefit and should not be covered. Examples abound:

• Medicare pays for routine screening colonoscopies in patients over 75 even though the United States Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel of experts financed by the Department of Health and Human Services, advises against them (and against any colonoscopies for patients over 85), because it takes at least eight years to realize any benefits from the procedure. Moreover, colonoscopies carry risks of serious complications (like perforations) and often lead to further unnecessary procedures (like biopsies). In 2009, Medicare paid doctors more than $100 million for nearly 550,000 screening colonoscopies; around 40 percent were for patients over 75.

• The task force recommends against screening for prostate cancer in men 75 and older, and screening for cervical cancer in women 65 and older who have had a previous normal Pap smear, but Medicare spent more than $50 million in 2008 on such screenings, as well as additional money on unnecessary procedures that often follow.

• Two recent randomized trials found that patients receiving two popular procedures for vertebral fractures, kyphoplasty and vertebroplasty, experienced no more relief than those receiving a sham procedure. Besides being ineffective, these procedures carry considerable risks. Nevertheless, Medicare pays for 100,000 of these procedures a year, at a cost of around $1 billion.

• Multiple clinical trials have shown that cardiac stents are no more effective than drugs or lifestyle changes in preventing heart attacks or death. Although some studies have shown that stents provide short-term relief of chest pain, up to 30 percent of patients receiving stents have no chest pain to begin with, and thus derive no more benefit from this invasive procedure than from equally effective and far less expensive medicines. Risks associated with stent implantation, meanwhile, include exposure to radiation and to dyes that can damage the kidneys, and in rare cases, death from the stent itself. Yet one study estimated that Medicare spends $1.6 billion on drug-coated stents (the most common type of cardiac stents) annually.

• A recent study found that one-fifth of all implantable cardiac defibrillators were placed in patients who, according to clinical guidelines, will not benefit from them. But Medicare pays for them anyway, at a cost of $50,000 to $100,000 per device implantation.

The full extent of Medicare payments for procedures with no known benefit needs to be quantified. But the estimates are substantial. The chief actuary for Medicare estimates that 15 percent to 30 percent of health care expenditures are wasteful. Medicare spending exceeded $500 billion in 2010, suggesting that $75 billion to $150 billion could be cut without reducing needed services.

Why does Medicare spend so much for procedures and devices on patients who get no benefit and incur risks from them?

One reason is that Medicare’s reimbursement procedures are not sophisticated enough to track the appropriateness of the care provided. Medicare delegates its claims administration to private local contractors based on how quickly and cheaply they can process claims.

These contractors have few incentives to audit the taxpayer dollars they are paying out, and even if they wanted to, they would need information often not available on the claim form. For example, a claims administrator, processing a claim for a screening colonoscopy, does not know when the patient’s last colonoscopy was, or whether there was a new clinical reason for repeating it. While this information is available, finding it would require extra steps, and there are no incentives to do so.

Moreover, denying payment after a procedure is performed invites the wrath of both patient and physician. Medicare and private insurers are also keen to avoid situations that could be viewed as telling doctors how to practice medicine — even if such advice is in the patient’s best interest. The political sensitivity of limiting services based on age, for example, was illustrated by the uproar over the Preventive Services Task Force’s finding two years ago that women in their 40s do not benefit from routine mammography.

Another factor is the shocking chasm between Medicare coverage and clinical evidence. Our medical culture is such that if the choice is between doing a test and not doing one, it is considered better care to do the test. So while Medicare is obligated to follow the task force’s recommendations to cover new preventive services, it has no similar mandate to deny coverage for services for which the task force has found no benefit.

Changing the system would be relatively easy administratively, but would require a firm commitment to determining whether tests and procedures truly benefit patients before performing them. Unfortunately, in a political environment in which doctors providing end-of-life counseling are called death panels, and in which powerful constituencies seek to preserve an ever-increasing array of procedures and device sales, this solution remains hidden in plain view.

Of course, doctors, with the consent of their patients, should be free to provide whatever care they agree is appropriate. But when the procedure arising from that judgment, however well intentioned, is not supported by evidence, the nation’s taxpayers should have no obligation to pay for it.

Rita F. Redberg, a cardiologist, is a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and the editor of Archives of Internal Medicine.

Beware the Happy Talk from Washington

The Economic Collapse writer has summarized what I have been saying for a long time now, e.g.,we have to create actual jobs so people can spend and drive the economy forward. (Consumer spending accounts for about 70% of GDP.) The President utterly fails to comprehend this simple fact. Read on.

20 Questions To Ask Anyone Foolish Enough To Believe The Economic Crisis Is Over

If you listen to Ben Bernanke, Barack Obama and the mainstream media long enough, and if you didn't know any better, you might be tempted to think that the economic crisis is long gone and that we are in the midst of a burgeoning economic recovery. Unfortunately, the truth is that the economic crisis is far from over. In 2010, more homes were repossessed than ever before, more Americans were on food stamps than ever before and a smaller percentage of American men had jobs than ever before. The reality is that the United States is an economic basket case and all of these natural disasters certainly are not helping things. The Federal Reserve has been printing gigantic piles of money and the U.S. government has been borrowing and spending cash at a dizzying pace in an all-out effort to stabilize things. They have succeeded for the moment, but our long-term economic problems are worse then ever. We are still in the middle of a full-blown economic crisis and things are about to get even worse.

If you know someone that is foolish enough to believe that the economic crisis is over and that our economic problems are behind us, just ask that person the following questions....

#1 During the 23 months of the "Obama recovery", an average of about 23,000 jobs a month have been created. It takes somewhere in the neighborhood of 150,000 jobs a month just to keep up with population growth. So shouldn't we hold off a bit before we declare the economic crisis to be over?

#2 During the "recession", somewhere between 6.3 million and 7.5 million jobs were lost. During the "Obama recovery", approximately 535,000 jobs have been added. When will the rest of the jobs finally come back?

#3 Of the 535,000 jobs that have been created during the "Obama recovery", only about 35,000 of them are permanent full-time jobs. Today, "low income jobs" account for 41 percent of all jobs in the United States. If our economy is recovering, then why can't it produce large numbers of good jobs that will enable people to provide for their families?

#4 Agricultural commodities have been absolutely soaring this decade. The combined price of cotton, wheat, gasoline and hogs is now more than 3 times higher than it was back in 2002. So how in the world can the Federal Reserve claim that inflation has been at minimal levels all this time?

#5 Back in 2008, banks had a total of 27 billion dollars in excess reserves at the Fed. Today, banks have a total of approximately 1.5 trillion dollars in excess reserves at the Fed. So what is going to happen when all of this money eventually hits the economy?....

#6 If the U.S. economy is recovering, then why are shipments by U.S. factories still substantially below 2008 levels?

#7 Why are imports of goods from overseas growing much more rapidly than shipments of goods from U.S. factories?

#8 According to Zillow, the average price of a home in the U.S. is about 8 percent lower than it was a year ago and that it continues to fall about 1 percent a month. During the first quarter of 2011, home values declined at the fastest rate since late 2008. So can we really talk about a "recovery" when the real estate crisis continues to get worse?

#9 According to a shocking new survey, 54 percent of Americans believe that a housing recovery is "unlikely" until at least 2014. So how is the housing industry supposed to improve if so many people are convinced that it will not?

#10 The latest GDP numbers out of Japan are a complete and total disaster. During the first quarter GDP declined by a stunning 3.7 percent. Of course I have been saying for months that the Japanese economy is collapsing, but most mainstream economists were absolutely stunned by the latest figures. So will the rest of the world be able to avoid slipping into a recession as well?

#11 Next week, Republicans in the House of Representatives are going to allow a vote on raising the debt ceiling. Everyone knows that this is an opportunity for Republican lawmakers to "look tough" to their constituents (the vast majority of which do not want the debt ceiling raised). Everyone also knows that eventually the Republicans are almost certainly going to cave on the debt ceiling after minimal concessions by the Democrats. The truth is that neither "establishment Republicans" nor "establishment Democrats" are actually serious about significantly cutting government debt. So why do we need all of this political theater?

#12 Why are so many of our once great manufacturing cities being transformed into hellholes? In the city of Detroit today, there are over 33,000 abandoned houses, 70 schools are being permanently closed down, the mayor wants to bulldoze one-fourth of the city and you can literally buy a house for one dollar in the worst areas.

#13 According to one new survey, about half of all Baby Boomers fear that when they retire they are going to end up living in poverty. So who is going to take care of them all when the money runs out?

#14 According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, an average of about 5 million Americans were being hired every single month during 2006. Today, an average of about 3.5 million Americans are being hired every single month. So why are our politicians talking about "economic recovery" instead of "the collapse of the economy" when hiring remains about 50 percent below normal?

#15 Since August, 2 million more Americans have left the labor force. But the entire period from August to today was supposed to have been a time of economic growth and recovery. So why are so many Americans giving up on looking for a job?

#16 According to Gallup, 41 percent of Americans believed that the economy was "getting better" at this time last year. Today, that number is at just 27 percent. Are Americans losing faith in the U.S. economy?

#17 According to the U.S. Census, the number of children living in poverty has gone up by about 2 million in just the past 2 years, and one out of every four American children is currently on food stamps. During this same time period, Barack Obama and Ben Bernanke have told us over and over that the U.S. economy has been getting better. So what is the truth?

#18 America has become absolutely addicted to government money. 59 percent of all Americans now receive money from the federal government in one form or another. U.S. households are now receiving more income from the U.S. government than they are paying to the government in taxes. Americans hate having their taxes raised and they hate having their government benefits cut. So is there any hope that this will ever be turned around before disaster strikes?

#19 The combined debt of the major GSEs (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Sallie Mae) has increased from 3.2 trillion in 2008 to 6.4 trillion in 2011. How in the world is the U.S. government going to be able to afford to guarantee all of that debt on top of everything else?

#20 If the U.S. national debt (more than 14 trillion dollars) was reduced to a stack of 5 dollar bills, it would reach three quarters of the way to the moon. The U.S. government borrows about 168 million dollars every single hour. If Bill Gates gave every penny of his fortune to the U.S. government, it would only cover the U.S. budget deficit for 15 days. So how in the world can our politicians tell us that everything is going to be okay?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Research That Makes Sense

I only knew one of my grandfathers. Both were farmers on small farms. My Minnesota grandfather got up at 5AM every day and went to bed at 7:30PM. Sometimes he took Sunday afternoon off. Other wise he did hard work all the time.

I sit at a typewriter (in old days) or a computer key board for four or five hours a day.

What a contrast! This article from the New York Times explains the difference between my lifestyle and grandpa's. This also explains why diets don't work and that is the bad news. But the good news is that getting people up and moving works. A number of companies are encouraging exactly that kind of behavior change. So it is good news and bad news. Read on.

May 25, 2011, 5:19 pm

Less Active at Work, Americans Have Packed on Pounds

Getty Images/SuperStockA worker operates a press at the New Orleans Times-Picayune, typical of the physical activity that was common in many workplaces in earlier decades.

Looking beyond poor eating habits and a couch-potato lifestyle, a group of researchers has found a new culprit in the obesity epidemic: the American workplace.

A sweeping review of shifts in the labor force since 1960 suggests that a sizable portion of the national weight gain can be explained by declining physical activity during the workday. Jobs requiring moderate physical activity, which accounted for 50 percent of the labor market in 1960, have plummeted to just 20 percent.

The remaining 80 percent of jobs, the researchers report, are sedentary or require only light activity. The shift translates to an average decline of about 120 to 140 calories a day in physical activity, closely matching the nation’s steady weight gain over the past five decades, according to the report, published Wednesday in the journal PLoS One.

Today, an estimated one in three Americans are obese. Researchers caution that workplace physical activity most likely accounts for only one piece of the obesity puzzle, and that diet, lifestyle and genetics all play an important role.

But the new emphasis on declining workplace activity also represents a major shift in thinking, and it suggests that health care professionals and others on the front lines against obesity, who for years have focused primarily on eating habits and physical activity at home and during leisure time, have missed a key contributor to America’s weight problem. The findings also put pressure on employers to step up workplace heath initiatives and pay more attention to physical activity at work.

“If we’re going to try to get to the root of what’s causing the obesity epidemic, work-related physical activity needs to be in the discussion,” said Dr. Timothy S. Church, a noted exercise researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La., and the study’s lead author. “There are a lot of people who say it’s all about food. But the work environment has changed so much we have to rethink how we’re going to attack this problem.”

The report shows that in 1960, one out of two Americans had a job that was physically active. Now it is estimated that only one in five Americans achieves a relatively high level of physical activity at work. Dr. Church notes that because the research doesn’t factor in technological changes, like increasing reliance on the Internet and e-mail, many people in service and desk jobs that have always involved only light activity are now moving less than ever, meaning the findings probably understate how much physical activity has been lost during work hours.

While it has long been known that Americans are more sedentary at work compared with the farming and manufacturing workers of 50 years ago, the new study is believed to be the first in which anyone has estimated how much daily caloric expenditure has been lost in the workplace.

“It’s a light bulb, ‘aha’ moment,” said Barbara E. Ainsworth, the president-elect of the American College of Sports Medicine and an exercise researcher at Arizona State University. “I think occupational activity is part of that missing puzzle that is so difficult to measure, and is probably contributing to the inactivity and creeping obesity that we’re seeing over time.”

For years, the role that physical activity has played in the obesity problem has been uncertain. Numerous studies suggest there has been little change in the average amount of leisure-time physical activity, posing a conundrum for researchers trying to explain the country’s steady weight gain. As a result, much of the focus has been on the rise of fast-food and soft drink consumption.

Other studies have suggested that changing commuting habits, declining reliance on public transportation and even increased time in front of the television have played a role in the fattening of America. But none of those issues can fully explain the complex changes in nationwide weight-gain patterns.

Some earlier research has hinted at the fact that workplace physical activity is associated with weight and health. One seminal set of studies of London bus drivers and conductors showed that the sedentary bus drivers had higher rates of heart disease than the ticket-takers, who moved around during the workday.

Dr. Church said that during a talk on the country’s obesity patterns, he was struck by the fact that Mississippi and Wisconsin both have high rates of obesity, despite having little in common in terms of demographics, education or even weather. It occurred to him that both states have waning agricultural economies, prompting him to begin exploring the link between changes in the labor force and declines in workplace physical activity.

He quickly discovered that a decline in farming jobs alone could not explain increasing obesity around the country, and began exploring job shifts over several decades. Using computer models, Dr. Church and colleagues assigned metabolic equivalent values to various job categories and then calculated changes in caloric expenditure at work from 1960 to 2008.

“You see the manufacturing jobs plummet and realize that’s a lot of physical activity,” said Dr. Church. “It’s very obvious that the jobs that required a lot of physical activity have gone away.”

Ross C. Brownson, an epidemiologist at Washington University in St. Louis, said that both health professionals and the public needed to broaden the traditional definition of physical activity as something that occurs during planned exercise, like running or working out at the gym.

“We need to think about physical activity as a more robust concept than just recreational physical activity,” said Dr. Brownson, whose 2005 report on declining physical activity in the workplace is cited in the PLoS One report. “In many ways we’ve engineered physical activity out of our lives, so we’ve got to find ways to put it back into our lives, like taking walks during breaks or having opportunities for activity that are more routine to our daily lives, not just going to the health club.”

Researchers said it is unlikely that the lost physical activity can ever be fully restored to the workplace, but employers do have the power to increase the physical activity of their employees by offering subsidized gym memberships or incentives to use public transit. Some companies have set up standing workstations, and marketers now offer treadmill-style desks. Employers can also redesign offices to encourage walking, by placing printers away from desks and encouraging face-to-face communication, rather than e-mail.

“The activity we get at work has to be intentional,” said Dr. Ainsworth. “When people think of obesity they always think of food first, and that’s one side of it, but it’s high time to look at the amount of time we spend inactive at work.”

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Republicans Degrade Themselves

The House is holding hearings on the new Consumer Protection Agency, the only good thing in that crappy, dishonest Financial Reform Bill. The Chairman of the committee holding the hearings made a complete fool of himself by calling Elizabeth Warren a liar.

I want to make this clear. I am in love with Elizabeth Warren and my respect for her knows no boundaries.

Understand this also clearly. She is the ONLY PERSON in Washington who you can count on to tell the TRUTH every time!!

It is to the great shame of the Cowardly Lion that he is unwilling to support her in public. Shame on him!! And shame of the Republican Congressman from North Carolina who has no sense of shame or decency!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Credit Where Credit Is Due

Barack Obama stuck his (our) finger in the eye of Israel and the Jewish mob that supports it in the U.S. That was an action that was long, long overdue, and it took some courage even though it was exactly the right thing to do.

Nobody in their right mind would argue against the fact that there has to be a two state solution to the endless Israeli and Palestine battle. But nobody there seems to want to agree to that fact.

Outsiders, i.e., U.S., UN, etc, etc, have been proposing solution that were fair and humane for at least fifty years. In the beginning, that little jerk Arafat, would blow up the proposed agreements. Lately, it has been the Israelis that blow them up.

So what Obama said yesterday is, basically this, everybody is tired of screwing around with you on this incredibly important action, so here is what you are going to do. Period.

Wow! That blew the Israelis away! Nobody has ever talked to them like that before. They have always been able to scupper a peace settlement and still get enormous sums of money from us. Now Obama has said "Put up or shut up".

Make no mistake about two things. 1) Israel is our most important ally in a part of the world where a lot of people really do hate us. And Israel has nuclear bombs and jets capable of delivering them to Iran, which is making increasingly bellicose threats against Israel.

2) The treatment of the Palestine people by Israel is a real source of hatred against the West throughout the Arab world. It fuels the hatred preached by the worst of Islam preachers. It truly is in our best interests to end the problem.

So here are my three cheers for Barack Obama for standing up to Israel and the Jewish mob.

Now, if only he could find the courage to stand up to Congress!!

Some More Numbers

The Gross Domestic Product is the measure of how big the economic pie we all share is quarter by quarter. Remember that it has to be growing at least 2% to make enough new jobs for all the new graduates, but much over 3% and inflation can set in. So here are the numbers for the last 17 quarters. You judge whether The Great Recession is over.
2007 1st quarter 0.9%
2nd 3.2%
3rd 2.3%
4th 2.8%
2008 1st o.7%
2nd 0.6%
3rd -4.0%
4th -6.8%
2009 1st -4.9%
2nd -0.7%
3rd 1.6%
4th 5.0%
2010 1st 3.7%
2nd 1.7%
3rd 2.6%
4th 3.1%
2011 1st 1.8%

So watch for the 2nd quarter numbers before you decide the Great Recession is over.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Here Is A Math Problem For You

Speaking of health care costs, CNN/ says that the average health care cost for a family of four insured through an employer was $19,393 in 2010, an increase of 7.3% over 2009. Nothing much else in the U.S. grew 7.3% from 2009 to 2010, and health care costs continue to race toward 30% of the entire GDP.

Now here is the math problem. According to CNN, an average American in a very good position (company paid health insurance) cost his/her healthcare supplier about $5,000 a year.

Paul Ryan wants to give you a $2,000 voucher to buy health care insurance. Now tell me what kind of insurance company will sell you a policy for $2,000 that they know will cost them $5,000 in paid out benefits.

Great math problem, right? Too bad Paul Ryan didn't bother to do the math also. Or maybe he isn't smart enough for this math problem. Or, more likely, he just doesn't care since he is completely covered by Congressional healthcare policies.

But you should care, and care a whole lot!!

Dealing With Exploding Medical Costs

One third of Americans are overweight. Another one third are obese. (Overweight comes first, then obese.) Being too fat leads almost directly to diabetes, cancer and hypertension. These are all long term, incredibly expensive diseases. Any legislation that claims to reduce medical costs in the U.S. has to begin with this "in plain sight" problem. (See my report on a 6,000 road trip through the heartland last fall.)

Arkansas is the most over weight state in the U.S. A couple of weeks ago, the Los Angeles Times carried a story about all the things that the state had done to combat the problem. I would have endorsed every one of them. Sorry to say, none of them worked. See if you can find the article (I couldn't find it online) and it was entitled, "The Arkansas Experiment......................."

Today's New York Times has a report on the results of a clutch of commercial weight loss programs. The results are not encouraging. When you need to lose 50 or 100 pounds, which most over weight people need to do, these results are not happy news.
May 16, 2011, 5:48 pm

Taking Measure of Weight-Loss Plans, and the Studies of Them

Stuart Bradford

Consumer Reports, famous for its ratings of appliances and cars, has jumped into the diet wars.

In an article in its June issue, published last week, the magazine declared Jenny Craig the winner among several commercial weight-loss plans, beating out Slim-Fast, Weight Watchers, the Zone fast weight-loss plan, Dr. Dean Ornish’s “Eat More, Weigh Less” diet, the Atkins diet and Nutrisystem.

Consumer Reports said it relied on the available scientific evidence. But readers who try to follow its advice will discover that a Jenny Craig diet in the real world is far different from the one studied for the article.

Indeed, the findings, which generated widespread news coverage, highlight just how little weight the participants in commercial diet plans manage to lose, despite considerable expense in money and time.

The magazine said Jenny Craig had “the edge over the other big names” on the basis of a two-year study published last year in The Journal of the American Medical Association. In that study, 92 percent of 442 overweight and obese women stuck with the program for two years, which Consumer Reports called a “remarkable level of adherence.” They lost an average of about 16 pounds.

But the magazine failed to report that the women in the study didn’t pay a dime to sign up for the Jenny Craig program. Unlike real Jenny Craig customers, they received $6,600 worth of membership fees and food during the two-year study.

Today, someone who wanted to spend two years on the program would pay about $400 in registration fees and about $100 a week for packaged meals during the first several months of the plan. Later in the program, dieters are encouraged to make the transition to their own foods, but typically still continue to pay for some packaged Jenny Craig foods.

The study wasn’t designed to test the success of Jenny Craig in the real world, but to determine whether a free prepared-meal program could help people lose weight and keep it off.

Rena R. Wing, director of the Brown Medical School weight control and diabetes research center, wrote an editorial in JAMA noting that the study results were most likely influenced by the fact that the diet program was free.

“An important question is whether an obese individual enrolling in this or a similar structured commercial weight-loss program will achieve similar results,” she wrote. “Most likely, the answer is no.”

Nancy Metcalf, senior program editor for Consumer Reports, said it was the nature of medical research to pay participants, and she defended the magazine’s reliance on a study that paid for the dieters’ foods. She noted that studies of Weight Watchers also paid for program fees, although free food was not provided.

“I don’t think it’s normal for clinical trials to make people pay to be in the trial,” she said. “Would I like it better if there was a lot more independent research on diets? I would.”

While praising the dieters’ level of adherence to Jenny Craig, Consumer Reports ignored a 2007 study that showed just the opposite. Researchers led by the Cooper Institute in Dallas tracked 60,164 men and women enrolled in the Jenny Craig Platinum program between May 2001 and May 2002. Only 3 out of 4 dieters stuck with the program for a month; by 13 weeks, 58 percent had dropped out, and after a year the dropout rate was 93 percent. Those who stuck with the program for at least three months did lose about 8 percent of their body weight, but there is no long-term data on whether they kept it off.

Patti Larchet, chief executive of Jenny Craig, said the free food received by participants in the JAMA study needed to be considered in context.

“The hardest part of a weight-loss clinical trial, whether they get the product or not, is they have to adhere to the program,” she said. “Our adherence and weight loss was by far the best. In this study, the same as in the real world, people do transition off of our food.”

But Karen Miller-Kovach, chief science officer for Weight Watchers, said Consumer Reports appeared to misconstrue the JAMA study, whose stated objective was not to study real-world retention rates on the Jenny Craig plan but to determine whether a free, structured diet program could help people lose weight.

“We thought they didn’t do a particularly good job of putting the end results of that study into context for consumers,” Ms. Miller-Kovach said, adding, “A real-life consumer is not going to have the experience the study participants did.”

Weight Watchers has conducted dozens of published studies of its program. In those studies, dieters are given free access to meetings, but no free food. In the real world, Weight Watchers participants can often join the program for no charge but pay about $14 a week to attend meetings.

Last year, Weight Watchers published an analysis of all dieters who joined the program in Germany during 2009. Among those who attended at least two weekly meetings, the average length of participation was 17 weeks and the average loss about 12 pounds. About 20 percent of participants achieved weight loss of 10 percent or more, according to the report, published in Obesity Facts.

Ms. Metcalf of Consumer Reports said a diet was a “much more personal thing” than an appliance purchase and that consumers would choose among the ranked diets depending on their needs and priorities.

“This is just a starting point,” she said. “I wish all the diets that put themselves out there before the public would do what these diets have done, which is subject themselves to scientific evaluation.”

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Long Term Problems of No Jobs for New Graduates

The research evidence is quite clear. When college graduates cannot find work in their chosen fields when they graduate, there are long term consequences.
1) Future earnings are severely reduced.
2) College loans are much more difficult to pay off.
3) College learned skills erode.
4) Someone further down the education level loses a job.
5) Tax revenues fall.
See earlier graph on unemployment by education level. Then read the following article from today's New York Times.

Many With New College Degree Find the Job Market Humbling

The individual stories are familiar. The chemistry major tending bar. The classics major answering phones. The Italian studies major sweeping aisles at Wal-Mart.

Now evidence is emerging that the damage wrought by the sour economy is more widespread than just a few careers led astray or postponed. Even for college graduates — the people who were most protected from the slings and arrows of recession — the outlook is rather bleak.

Employment rates for new college graduates have fallen sharply in the last two years, as have starting salaries for those who can find work. What’s more, only half of the jobs landed by these new graduates even require a college degree, reviving debates about whether higher education is “worth it” after all.

“I have friends with the same degree as me, from a worse school, but because of who they knew or when they happened to graduate, they’re in much better jobs,” said Kyle Bishop, 23, a 2009 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh who has spent the last two years waiting tables, delivering beer, working at a bookstore and entering data. “It’s more about luck than anything else.”

The median starting salary for students graduating from four-year colleges in 2009 and 2010 was $27,000, down from $30,000 for those who entered the work force in 2006 to 2008, according to a study released on Wednesday by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. That is a decline of 10 percent, even before taking inflation into account.

Of course, these are the lucky ones — the graduates who found a job. Among the members of the class of 2010, just 56 percent had held at least one job by this spring, when the survey was conducted. That compares with 90 percent of graduates from the classes of 2006 and 2007. (Some have gone for further education or opted out of the labor force, while many are still pounding the pavement.)

Even these figures understate the damage done to these workers’ careers. Many have taken jobs that do not make use of their skills; about only half of recent college graduates said that their first job required a college degree.

The choice of major is quite important. Certain majors had better luck finding a job that required a college degree, according to an analysis by Andrew M. Sum, an economist at Northeastern University, of 2009 Labor Department data for college graduates under 25.

Young graduates who majored in education and teaching or engineering were most likely to find a job requiring a college degree, while area studies majors — those who majored in Latin American studies, for example — and humanities majors were least likely to do so. Among all recent education graduates, 71.1 percent were in jobs that required a college degree; of all area studies majors, the share was 44.7 percent.

An analysis by The New York Times of Labor Department data about college graduates aged 25 to 34 found that the number of these workers employed in food service, restaurants and bars had risen 17 percent in 2009 from 2008, though the sample size was small. There were similar or bigger employment increases at gas stations and fuel dealers, food and alcohol stores, and taxi and limousine services.

This may be a waste of a college degree, but it also displaces the less-educated workers who would normally take these jobs.

“The less schooling you had, the more likely you were to get thrown out of the labor market altogether,” said Mr. Sum, noting that unemployment rates for high school graduates and dropouts are always much higher than those for college graduates. “There is complete displacement all the way down.”

Meanwhile, college graduates are having trouble paying off student loan debt, which is at a median of $20,000 for graduates of classes 2006 to 2010.

Mr. Bishop, the Pittsburgh graduate, said he is “terrified” of the effects his starter jobs might have on his ultimate career, which he hopes to be in publishing or writing. “It looks bad to have all these short-term jobs on your résumé, but you do have to pay the bills,” he said, adding that right now his student loan debt was over $70,000.

Many graduates will probably take on more student debt. More than 60 percent of those who graduated in the last five years say they will need more formal education to be successful.

“I knew there weren’t going to be many job prospects for me until I got my Ph.D.,” said Travis Patterson, 23, a 2010 graduate of California State University, Fullerton. He is working as an administrative assistant for a property management company and studying psychology in graduate school. While it may not have anything to do with his degree, “it helps pay my rent and tuition, and that’s what matters.”

Going back to school does offer the possibility of joining the labor force when the economy is better. Unemployment rates are also generally lower for people with advanced schooling.

Those who do not go back to school may be on a lower-paying trajectory for years. They start at a lower salary, and they may begin their careers with employers that pay less on average or have less room for growth.

“Their salary history follows them wherever they go,” said Carl Van Horn, a labor economist at Rutgers. “It’s like a parrot on your shoulder, traveling with you everywhere, constantly telling you ‘No, you can’t make that much money.’ ”

And while young people who have weathered a tough job market may shy from risks during their careers, the best way to nullify an unlucky graduation date is to change jobs when you can, says Till von Wachter, an economist at Columbia.

“If you don’t move within five years of graduating, for some reason you get stuck where you are. That’s just an empirical finding,” Mr. von Wachter said. “By your late 20s, you’re often married, and have a family and have a house. You stop the active pattern of moving jobs.”

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Two Tier Economy With Views

This is where the 1% of Americans who ain't you lives. Enjoy the view.

Highlight link above, then click on Open Link.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

50 Things You Should Know About Today

50 Things Every American Should Know About The Collapse Of The Economy

Right now, we are witnessing a truly historic collapse of the economy, and yet most Americans do not understand what is going on. One of the biggest reasons why the American people do not understand what is happening to the economy is because our politicians and the mainstream media are not telling the truth. Barack Obama and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke keep repeating the phrase "economic recovery" over and over, and this is really confusing for most Americans because things sure don't seem to be getting much better where they live. There are millions upon millions of Americans that are sitting at home on their couches right now wondering why they lost their jobs and why nobody will hire them. Millions of others are wondering why the only jobs they can get are jobs that a high school student could do. Families all across America are wondering why it seems like their wages never go up but the price of food and the price of gas continue to skyrocket. We are facing some very serious long-term economic problems in this country, and we need to educate the American people about why the collapse of the economy is happening. If the American people don't understand why they are losing their jobs, why they are losing their homes and why they are drowning in debt then they are going to keep on doing all of the same things that they have been doing. They will also keep sending the same idiot politicians back to Washington to represent us. There are some fundamental things about the economy that every American should know. The American people need to be shocked out of their entertainment-induced stupor long enough to understand what is really going on and what needs to be done to solve our nightmarish economic problems. If we do not wake up enough Americans in time, the economic collapse that is coming could tear this nation to shreds.

The U.S. economy was once the greatest economic machine in modern world history. It was truly a wonder to behold. It worked so well that entire generations of Americans came to believe that America would enjoy boundless prosperity indefinitely.

But sadly, prosperity is not guaranteed for any nation. Over the past several decades, some very alarming long-term economic trends have developed that are absolutely destroying the economy. If dramatic changes are not made soon, a complete and total economic collapse will be unavoidable.

Unfortunately, the American people will never agree to fundamental changes to our economic and financial systems unless they are fully educated about what is causing our problems. We have turned our backs on the principles of our forefathers and the principles of those that founded this nation. We have rejected the ancient wisdom that was handed down to us.

It has been said that those that sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind.

We are about to experience the consequences of decades of really bad decisions.

Hopefully we can get the American people to wake up.

The following are 50 things that every American should know about the collapse of the economy....

#1 Do you remember how much was made of the "Misery Index" during the presidency of Jimmy Carter? At that time, the "Misery Index" was constantly making headlines in newspapers all across the country. Well, according to John Williams of Shadow Government Statistics, if we calculated unemployment and inflation the same way that we did back during the Carter administration, then the Misery Index today would actually be higher than at any point during the presidency of Jimmy Carter.

#2 According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, an average of about 5 million Americans were being hired every single month during 2006. Today, an average of about 3.5 million Americans are being hired every single month.

#3 According to the Wall Street Journal, there are 5.5 million Americans that are currently unemployed and yet are not receiving unemployment benefits.

#4 All over America, state and local governments are selling off buildings just to pay the bills. Investors can now buy up government-owned power plants, prisons and municipal buildings from coast to coast. For example, the mayor of Newark, New Jersey recently sold off 16 government buildings (including the police and fire headquarters) just to pay some bills.

#5 When Americans think of "government debt", most of them only think of the federal government, but it is not just the federal government that has a massive debt problem. State and local government debt has reached an all-time high of 22 percent of U.S. GDP.

#6 If you can believe it, one out of every seven Americans has at least 10 credit cards.

#7 Credit card usage in the United States is on the increase once again. During the month of March, revolving consumer credit jumped 2.9%. Sadly, it looks like Americans have not learned their lessons about the dangers of credit card debt.

#8 Last year, Social Security ran a deficit for the first time since 1983, and the "Social Security deficits" in future years are projected to be absolutely horrific.

#9 The U.S. government now says that the Medicare trust fund will run out five years faster than they were projecting just last year.

#10 Right now we are watching what could potentially be the worst Mississippi River flood ever recorded play out right in front of our eyes. One agricultural economist at Mississippi State University believes that this disaster could do 2 billion dollars of damage just to farms alone.

#11 The "tornadoes of 2011" that we just saw in the southeast United States are being called the worst natural disaster that the U.S. has seen since Hurricane Katrina. It has been estimated that up to 25 percent of all of the poultry houses in Alabama were either significantly damaged or destroyed. It is also believed that millions of birds were killed.

#12 The economic effects of the BP oil spill just seem to go on and on and on. The number of very sick fish in the Gulf of Mexico is really starting to alarm scientists. The following is how one local newspaper recently described the situation....

Scientists are alarmed by the discovery of unusual numbers of fish in the Gulf of Mexico and inland waterways with skin lesions, fin rot, spots, liver blood clots and other health problems.

#13 The number of "low income jobs" in the U.S. has risen steadily over the past 30 years and they now account for 41 percent of all jobs in the United States.

#14 All over America, hospitals that care for the poor and needy are so overwhelmed and are so broke that they are being forced to shut down. Recently, a local newspaper in Florida ran an article about two prominent charity hospitals in Illinois that have served the poor for more than 100 years but are now asking for permission to shut down....

Two charity hospitals in Illinois are facing a life-or-death decision. There's not much left of either of them - one in Chicago's south suburbs, the other in impoverished East St. Louis - aside from emergency rooms crowded with patients seeking free care. Now they would like the state's permission to shut down.

#15 The U.S. dollar is in such bad shape that now even Steve Forbes is predicting that the U.S. is "likely" to go back to a gold standard within the next five years.

#16 Most Americans don't realize how much the U.S. dollar has been devalued over the years. An item that cost $20.00 in 1970 would cost you $115.93 today. An item that cost $20.00 in 1913 would cost you $454.36 today.

#17 Over the past 12 months the average price of gasoline in the United States has gone up by about 30%.

#18 U.S. oil companies will bring in about $200 billion in pre-tax profits this year. They will also receive about $4.4 billion in specialized tax breaks from the U.S. government.

#19 It is being projected that for the first time ever, the OPEC nations are going to bring in over a trillion dollars from exporting oil this year. Their biggest customer is the United States.

#20 According to the Pentagon, there are minerals worth over a trillion dollars under the ground in Afghanistan. Now, J.P. Morgan is starting to tap those riches with the help of the U.S. military.

#21 Speaking of J.P. Morgan, most Americans don't realize that they are actually the largest processor of food stamp benefits in the United States. In fact, the more Americans that go on food stamps the more money that J.P. Morgan makes.

#22 When 2007 began, there were about 26 million Americans on food stamps. Today, there are over 44 million on food stamps, and one out of every four American children is on food stamps.

#23 Back in 1965, only one out of every 50 Americans was on Medicaid. Today, one out of every 6 Americans is on Medicaid.

#24 Only 66.8% of American men had a job last year. That was the lowest level that has ever been recorded in all of U.S. history.

#25 The financial system is more vulnerable today than it was back in 2008 before the financial panic. Today, the world financial system has been turned into a giant financial casino where bets are made on just about anything you can possibly imagine, and the major Wall Street banks make a ton of money from this betting system. The system is largely unregulated (the new "Wall Street reform" law has only changed this slightly) and it is totally dominated by the big international banks. The danger from derivatives is so great that Warren Buffet once called them "financial weapons of mass destruction". It is estimated that the "derivatives bubble" is somewhere in the neighborhood of a quadrillion dollars, and once it pops there isn't going to be enough money in the entire world to bail everyone out.

#26 Between December 2000 and December 2010, the United States ran a total trade deficit of 6.1 trillion dollars with the rest of the world, and the U.S. has had a negative trade balance every single year since 1976.

#27 The United States has lost an average of 50,000 manufacturing jobs per month since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, and the U.S. trade deficit with China is now 27 times larger than it was back in 1990.

#28 In 2010, the number one U.S. export to China was "scrap and trash".

#29 All over the United States, many of our once great manufacturing cities are being transformed into hellholes. In the city of Detroit today, there are over 33,000 abandoned houses, 70 schools are being permanently closed down, the mayor wants to bulldoze one-fourth of the city and you can literally buy a house for one dollar in the worst areas.

#30 During the first three months of this year, less new homes were sold in the U.S. than in any three month period ever recorded.

#31 New home sales in the United States are now down 80% from the peak in July 2005.

#32 America's real estate crisis just seems to get worse and worse. U.S. home prices have now fallen a whopping 33% from where they were at during the peak of the housing bubble.

#33 According to a new report from the AFL-CIO, the average CEO made 343 times more money than the average American did last year.

#34 The European debt crisis could cause a global financial collapse like the one that we saw in 2008 at any time. The world economy is incredibly interconnected today, and the United States would not be immune. A recent IMF report stated the following about the growing sovereign debt crisis in Europe....

Strong policy responses have successfully contained the sovereign debt and financial-sector troubles in the euro area periphery so far. But contagion to the core euro area and then onward to emerging Europe remains a tangible risk.

#35 According to one study, the 50 U.S. state governments are collectively 3.2 trillion dollars short of what they need to meet their pension obligations.

#36 A different study has shown that individual Americans are $6.6 trillion short of what they need to retire comfortably.

#37 The cost of college tuition in the United States has gone up by over 900 percent since 1978.

#38 According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, health care costs accounted for just 9.5% of all personal consumption back in 1980. Today they account for approximately 16.3%.

#39 One study found that approximately 41 percent of working age Americans either have medical bill problems or are currently paying off medical debt.

#40 The combined debt of the major GSEs (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Sallie Mae) has increased from 3.2 trillion in 2008 to 6.4 trillion in 2011. Thanks to our politicians, U.S. taxpayers are standing behind that debt.

#41 The U.S. government is over 14 trillion dollars in debt and the budget deficit for this year is projected to be about 1.5 trillion dollars. However, if the U.S. government was forced to use GAAP accounting principles (like all publicly-traded corporations must), the U.S. government budget deficit would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 trillion to $5 trillion each and every year.

#42 Most Americans don't understand that the Federal Reserve and the debt-based monetary system that it runs are at the very heart of our economic problems. All of this debt is absolutely crushing us. The U.S. government spent over 413 billion dollars on interest on the national debt during fiscal 2010, and it is being projected that the U.S. government will be shelling out 900 billion dollars just in interest on the national debt by the year 2019.

#43 Standard & Poor’s has altered its outlook on U.S. government debt from "stable" to "negative" and is warning that the U.S. could soon lose its AAA rating.

#44 In 1980, government transfer payments accounted for just 11.7% of all income. Today, government transfer payments account for 18.4% of all income.

#45 U.S. households are now receiving more income from the U.S. government than they are paying to the government in taxes.

#46 59 percent of all Americans now receive money from the federal government in one form or another.

#47 According to Gallup, 41 percent of Americans believed that the economy was "getting better" at this time last year. Today, that number is at just 27 percent.

#48 The wealthiest 1% of all Americans now own more than a third of all the wealth in the United States.

#49 The poorest 50% of all Americans collectively own just 2.5% of all the wealth in the United States.

#50 The percentage of millionaires in Congress is more than 50 times higher than the percentage of millionaires in the general population.