Saturday, December 29, 2012

How polarisation in Washington affects a growing feeling of partisanship | Harry J Enten | Comment is free |

The Republicans are the problem.--SS    

How polarisation in Washington affects a growing feeling of partisanship | Harry J Enten :

The average Democrat was a little north of -0.4 after the 1992 elections and right at -0.4 in the last congress. This percentage has been fairly constant for the past 20 years even when the Democrats won more swing and red districts when they won back the majority from 2007 to 2011.
There has, however, been an increase in partisanship in the house, and it truly is "asymmetrical". 
The Republican House caucus has been becoming more conservative every year since 1977, whether or not House Republicans are winning or losing elections. Republicans have climbed from 0.4 on the DW nominate scales after the 1992 elections to near 0.7 in the last congress. That type of charge towards polarization is historically unusual over data that stretches back 130 years.

Go read the whole thing.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Silencing the Science on Gun Research

The GOP has a way of shutting that whole science thing down.--SS     

Silencing the Science on Gun Research:

The nation might be in a better position to act if medical and public health researchers had continued to study these issues as diligently as some of us did between 1985 and 1997. But in 1996, pro-gun members of Congress mounted an all-out effort to eliminate the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although they failed to defund the center, the House of Representatives removed $2.6 million from the CDC's budget—precisely the amount the agency had spent on firearm injury research the previous year. Funding was restored in joint conference committee, but the money was earmarked for traumatic brain injury. The effect was sharply reduced support for firearm injury research. 
To ensure that the CDC and its grantees got the message, the following language was added to the final appropriation: “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Brooks Jackson Uses Annenberg FactCheck to Push for Cuts to Social Security

I am always surprised at how uneducated people are about Social Security. Read your Dean Baker, people!--SS     

Brooks Jackson Uses Annenberg FactCheck to Push for Cuts to Social Security:

The Very Serious People have taken off the gloves. There are no rules when it comes to the battle over Social Security and Medicare as Brooks Jackson shows in his "FactCheck" on the use of the chained CPI to index the Social Security cost-of-living adjustments (COLA).

Jackson strongly endorses the use of the chained CPI, describing it in the first sentence as "a more accurate cost-of-living adjustment." The chained CPI would have the effect of reducing the annual COLA by approximately 0.3 percentage points. This reduction would be cumulative (e.g. 3 percent after 10 years, 6 percent after 20 years), leading to an average cut in lifetime benefits of approximately 3 percent for the typical beneficiary.

To push his case, Jackson seriously misrepresents the evidence. There is reason to believe that a chained index provides a better measure of inflation, since it takes account of the substitution between goods. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has been producing an experimental elderly index (CPI-E) for almost three decades, which has generally shown a somewhat more rapid rate of inflation than the standard CPI currently being used to index Social Security benefits. The CPI-E would imply that the current COLA has been underadjusting for inflation, not overadjusting.

Jackson notes the CPI-E, but dismisses it as:

"an unpublished, 'experimental' index"

He then cites BLS's warning that:

"'any conclusions drawn from it should be used with caution.' BLS also concedes that the CPI-E has a number of shortcomings because it simply re-weights the price data collected for its regular price surveys, without attempting to collect some important data specific to seniors."

Given that this experimental index has shown evidence that the elderly see a higher rate of inflation than the population as a whole, it would seem that anyone concerned about having an accurate measure of the rate of inflation experienced by the elderly would want to see the BLS construct a full CPI-E. In fact, several hundred economists recently signed a statement calling on BLS to construct such an index. This would be the obvious route to go for anyone interested in an accurate index for the inflation adjustment of more than $10 trillion in Social Security benefits over the next decade.

In addition to belaboring the obvious, that the CPI-E is an experimental index, Jackson also misleadingly presents evidence. He tells readers;

"Another shortcoming [of the CPI-E] that BLS readily admits is that the “elderly” index takes no account of “senior discounts” available on such purchases as movie tickets, car rentals, train tickets, public transportation, chain restaurants and so forth."

While Jackson presumably wants readers to believe that this omission means the CPI-E would overstate the rate of inflation seen by the elderly, that implication does not follow. It is true that the elderly are eligible for certain discounts, which means that they would face lower costs on the discounted items than other consumers. However, the CPI is not measuring levels of prices, it is measuring changes in prices.
This means that the relevant factor for purposes of calculating the rate of inflation seen by the elderly is whether senior discounts are getting larger or smaller through time. The fact that such discounts exist tells us zero about the rate of inflation seen by the elderly.

Jackson also notes that the recent slowing of health care costs has caused the gap in the rate of inflation shown by the CPI-E and the standard CPI to disappear in the last few years. [The weight of health care in the CPI-E is close to twice as large as its weight in the standard CPI. More rapid growth in health care costs is the main reason that the CPI-E has shown a higher rate of inflation than the standard CPI.] While this is true, Jackson failed to draw out the logical implication of this comment.

If the slowdown in health care costs continues, then the official projections of spending on Medicare, Medicaid, and other health care programs are hugely overstated. These projections assume that health care costs will increase far more rapidly than the overall rate of inflation. This means that either projections for government spending on these programs are overstated, and therefore projected deficits are overstated, or alternatively the closing of the gap in the inflation rates shown by the CPI-E and the overall CPI is temporary.
In other words, if the projections of large future budget deficits are accurate, then the CPI-E will show a higher rate of inflation than the overall CPI. This is not the only situation where Jackson fails to acknowledge the implications of his own claims. He also cites the Boskin Commission report that claimed that the official CPI overstates the true rate of inflation by 1.1 percentage point annually. (A 2000 survey of surviving commission members by the Government Accountability Office put the annual overstatement at 0.8 percentage points, after the BLS had made a number of changes in the CPI.)

If this overstatement is true, it means that living standards are rising much more rapidly than our data show and that official projections imply. For example, instead of average real wage growth being 1.1 percent annually, if the Boskin Commission is correct, average annual real wage growth has been almost 2.0 percent. This implies that young people will be far wealthier than we imagined. In 2042, the average real wage will be close to 80 percent higher than it is today.

This should hugely impact how we view intergenerational equity issues, since the Boskin Commission's claim on the overstatement of inflation also implies that older people were much poorer growing up than our data show. (If wages and income have been growing more rapidly than our data show, than the levels in the past would be lower than our current data indicate.) It would be rather perverse to use evidence showing that the elderly were poorer than we believed and the young will be richer as a rationale for cutting benefits for the elderly, ostensibly to improve the plight of the young.

The concluding statements in this "factcheck" are simply illogical. It tells readers:

"We take no position here as to whether benefits for seniors are too high or too low, whether future cost-of-living adjustments should be higher or lower, or how income-tax brackets should be adjusted in the future. ....
"But it’s just a fact that leading economists have said for many years that the current CPI overstates the true rate of inflation. So using it to index federal programs produces more spending and less revenue than a more accurate measure would justify."

The assertion in the last sentence that using the current CPI to adjust benefits, "produces more spending and less revenue than a more accurate measure would justify" is clearly taking a position on "whether future cost-of-living adjustments should be higher or lower."

Again, there is a simple answer for those who want a cost-of-living adjustment that accurately measures the rate of inflation for the elderly: have BLS construct a full elderly index. Brooks Jackson instead used FactCheck to argue for a reduction in Social Security benefits.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Washington Doesn't Have a Spending Problem. It Has a Healthcare Problem. Period.

Seems K-Drum has been reading Dean Baker; we spend twice as much per person on health care as the rest of the civilized world, and that is the thing that is driving our long term debt.--SS    

Washington Doesn't Have a Spending Problem. It Has a Healthcare Problem. Period.:

Earlier today I wrote a post saying flatly, "We don't suffer from runaway spending." Our only long-term problems are an aging population and rising healthcare costs. That's it. In case you, or a conservative loved one, doesn't believe this, here's a chart I posted last year that tells the basic story of federal spending:

First off, notice that total federal spending is down—not up—from its peak during the Reagan-Bush years. More specifically, the category that contains domestic discretionary spending and miscellaneous mandatory spending ("Other") has been on a steady downward slope for decades. It spikes a bit during recessions, but that's about it.

Interest expense is also down. Defense spending swelled back up to late-80s levels after 9/11, but is otherwise down over the long term too. And Social Security spending is pretty flat, though it will go up a point or two over the next few decades before it levels out again. The only category that's on a long-term upward slope is Medicare.

In other words, we don't have a discretionary spending problem. We don't have an interest expense problem. Once we withdraw from Afghanistan we don't have a big defense spending problem. And Social Security, at worst, is a very small and very manageable problem.

Our only serious problem is Medicare, thanks to an aging population and rising healthcare costs. That's it. End of story. If you actually care about federal spending, that's the only thing you should be focused on. Pundits and talking heads who complain generically about "out-of-control spending" are either (a) ignorant of basic budget facts or (b) engaged in agitprop.

NOTE: This chart deliberately stops at 2008 in order to show historical trends more clearly. The numbers in the chart have spiked over the past four years because the recession has temporarily depressed GDP and temporarily increased spending, but that spike will disappear naturally as the economy recovers—just as it has after every other recession. It's not an indication of a long-term spiral in federal spending.

Scalia, civil rights, and murder

Shorter Scalia: If we can't outlaw homosexuality, then we can't outlaw anything!--SS     

Scalia, civil rights, and murder:

Associated Press

Last week, the Supreme Court set the stage for a historic moment on American civil rights, agreeing to hear challenges to both the Defense of Marriage Act and to California's Prop. 8. It will be the justices' most important foray into the debate over marriage equality, and has the potential to overturn a series of discriminatory laws.

But while we wait for the judicial process to unfold, it appears one justice's vote is already pretty obvious.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia spoke at Princeton last night, and a student asked why the far-right jurist equates laws banning sodomy with those barring bestiality and murder.
"I don't think it's necessary, but I think it's effective," Scalia said, adding that legislative bodies can ban what they believe to be immoral. [...] 
"It's a form of argument that I thought you would have known, which is called the 'reduction to the absurd,'" Scalia told Hosie of San Francisco during the question-and-answer period. "If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder? Can we have it against other things?"
The justice added that he wasn't equating sodomy with murder.

No, of course not. What could possibly give people that idea?

It's too soon to say how the justices will rule on the gay-rights cases, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say Scalia's vote is not in doubt.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Once upon a time in 1956, there were Republicans who supported unions and Social Security

Pro-union Republicans? What a concept!--SS     

Once upon a time in 1956, there were Republicans who supported unions and Social Security:

My goodness, how things have changed:
Labor Day 1956: Young Republicans Salute Labor. America's free working men and women produce more and consume more than any other nation! Greatest prosperity in history without war. Over 66,000,000 employed. Highest take-home pay in history. Greater job security. Greater job opportunity. Less time lost because of strikes. Increased union membership. Best working conditions in history. Social Security expanded.

Can you imagine anything like this today? It's not just that it's Republicans saluting labor and increased union membership. It's Republicans celebrating expanded Social Security—a program they're fighting tooth and nail to cut today despite its massive popularity. Indeed, today's Republicans are fighting basically every indicator of prosperity and a strong middle class mentioned in this image, and so many more, from safe bridges to well-funded schools to well-maintained sewer systems.

(Via @litterof6)

How Does the Post Know that Both Democrats and Republicans Ignore Financial Markets?

Apparently Dean Baker is unaware that after the Iraq War fiasco, the Washington Post (and many other newspapers) invested in mind reading technology.--SS     

How Does the Post Know that Both Democrats and Republicans Ignore Financial Markets?:

The fact that the United States can borrow long-term at very low interest rates indicates that actors in financial markets are not concerned about large U.S. budget deficits. Odds are that these people recognize that the large current deficits are the result of the economic collapse that followed in the wake of the bursting of the housing bubble. They probably also know that if the deficit were smaller it would just mean slower growth and higher unemployment.

Given this reality, it is interesting how the Post could know that:

"$4 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade [is what] both sides believe is necessary."

We all know what the politicians in both parties are saying, but of course politicians often do not say what they actually believe. It would be interesting to know how the Post has determined what the leadership of the two parties actually believe about the economy.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Nectar Hills Designs on Etsy

Nectar Hills Designs on Etsy:

Amazing scottish highlander skull.

Our friends at Nectar Hills Farm have started an Etsy store: Nectar Hills Farm Designs. The store features handmade sheep skin pillows, handbags, and hats, plus this amazing Scottish highlander cow skull.

This is a great way to shop for gifts that will help support our local organic farmers!

The lessons Rove is reluctant to learn

Karl Rove has another poll!--SS

The lessons Rove is reluctant to learn:

Getty Images

A couple of weeks ago, an ABC News/Washington Post offered Republicans some bad news during the ongoing debt-reduction talks: the clear majority of Americans back President Obama and oppose the GOP's ideas. Yesterday, a Quinnipiac poll showed similar results: the public trusts Democrats when it comes to the fiscal fight, and by a wide margin, want to see higher taxes on income over $250,000.

But Karl Rove, who still has a column in the Wall Street Journal, insists Republicans are on the right track anyway.
While Americans favor raising taxes on the wealthy, a Winston Group poll two weeks ago (conducted for the GOP House leadership) found just 26% of respondents agreeing that "given the state of the deficit, those making over $250,000 a year should have to pay 40% of their income in federal taxes." Some 68% disagreed.
For now, let's put aside the fact that Rove is mischaracterizing how marginal income tax rates work. Instead, let's consider the question about polling.

In this case, we have public polls, conducted by independent organizations, which show the public siding with Democrats and strongly supporting higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans, returning them to the rates they paid during the Clinton era. On the other hand, Rove has a Republican poll, conducted for Republican lawmakers, that says most of the public agrees with the conservative position.

Refresh my memory: how did it work out for the GOP the last time Karl Rove urged his party to overlook independent polls and focus more on partisan polls that told Republicans what they wanted to hear?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dave Brubeck Changed the World of Jazz

My thoughts on Dave Brubeck.--SS     

Dave Brubeck Changed the World of Jazz:

My Dad taught me that Dave Brubeck changed the way the world thought about Jazz. Mr. Brubeck, who died today, one day short of his 92nd birthday, recorded an album, Jazz at Oberlin, that literally changed the way the world thought about, and listened to, Jazz.

From Wikipedia:
The concert is credited with making jazz a legitimate field of musical study at Oberlin, but it and the album did much more that. The album is further credited with initiating making jazz a subject of serious intellectual attention in a listening-centric environment; Wendell Logan, the chair of Oberlin's Jazz Studies Department, described it as "the watershed event that signaled the change of performance space for jazz from the nightclub to the concert hall". 
In addition, it was one of the early works in the cool jazz stream of jazz; The Guardian's John Fordham wrote that "indicated new directions for jazz that didn't slavishly mirror bebop, and even hinted at free-jazz piano techniques still years away from realisation"; he further observed that it "marked Brubeck's eager adoption by America's (predominantly white) youth - a welcome that soon extended around the world ... for a rhythmically intricate instrumental jazz". 
Just listening to the album now takes me back to my youth, when I would listen to Dad play it--loud, so loud that you could hear it up the hill behind the house, all the way up to the shed (which he later tore down and put a hot tub on the slab), all the way up to the Kumquat tree, where I would sit on a limb and listen while looking at the view of the San Fernando Valley.

Of course, I was just one of many kids who's Dad taught him about Brubeck. Brubeck inspired many generations of musicians. While I tend more toward John Prine than Jazz, the influence is there, and it makes up a part of who I am musically--from what I play to what I listen to to this day.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

High-Speed Traders Profit at Expense of Ordinary Investors, a Study Says -

Free markets!-SS  

High-Speed Traders Profit at Expense of Ordinary Investors, a Study Says -

"The chief economist at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Andrei Kirilenko, reports in a coming study that high-frequency traders make an average profit of as much as $5.05 each time they go up against small traders buying and selling one of the most widely used financial contracts."

Republicans not handling election results well


Republicans not handling election results well:

49% of GOP voters nationally say they think that ACORN stole the election for President Obama. We found that 52% of Republicans thought that ACORN stole the 2008 election for Obama, so this is a modest decline, but perhaps smaller than might have been expected given that ACORN doesn't exist anymore. 
Some GOP voters are so unhappy with the outcome that they no longer care to be a part of the United States. 25% of Republicans say they would like their state to secede from the union compared to 56% who want to stay and 19% who aren't sure.

Only 25%? The Magic Crazy number is usually 27%! Go read the whole thing for more fun with #wingnutopia!

The Case for Creationism

A Whitney Brown!

The Case for Creationism:

There are some things that can be known and other things which must be taken on faith, like science. Either you believe that or you do not, and both sides have equal standing. These postulates are self evident, and not open to argument.

Go read the whole snarky thing. Classic A Whitney. Be sure to read his comments, too.

Lindsey Graham Commits Huge Gaffe: Shows Complete Lack of Understanding on the Budget

Lindsey Graham, supposed GOP budget expert, doesn't have a clue about how the budget works. Why am I not surprised?--SS     

Lindsey Graham Commits Huge Gaffe: Shows Complete Lack of Understanding on the Budget:

The Post neglected to point out that Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican often cited on budget issues, is apparently badly confused about the basics of the budget. A Post piece quoted Graham as saying:
"This offer doesn’t remotely deal with entitlement reform in a way to save Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security from imminent bankruptcy."

This statement is absurd on its face. Medicaid is paid out of general revenue, it makes no more sense to say that Medicaid faces bankruptcy than to say that the Commerce Department faces bankruptcy. While the same is true of Medicare Part B and Part D, the Hospital Insurance portion of the program (Part A) is funded by a trust fund with a designated revenue source that is first projected to face a shortfall in 2024. If the projections prove correct, at that point it would lack sufficient revenue to pay full benefits.

While this would be a problem, it is worth noting that, contrary to the criticisms made by Graham in the piece, President Obama's reforms have extended the projected solvency of the program from 2016 to 2024. They have also eliminated more than two-thirds of the projected 75-year shortfall.

In the case of Social Security, the projections from the Congressional Budget Office show that the program can pay all scheduled benefits through the year 2035 with no changes whatsoever. Even after that date it would be able to pay close to 80 percent of scheduled benefits for the rest of the century, leaving future beneficiaries with benefits that considerably exceed those of current retirees.

The Post should have pointed out that what Graham asserted was nonsense, since many readers may not have recognized this fact. Actually, this astounding gaffe should have been the focus of the piece, since Graham is often treated by the media as an expert on the budget. It is probably worth noting that Graham typically presents views on the budget that are similar to the Post's editors.

Corporate profits are highest-ever share of GDP, while wages are lowest-ever

The amazing split between corporate profits and private sector wages really took off when GW Bush became President. Who'd have thunk it?--SS     

Corporate profits are highest-ever share of GDP, while wages are lowest-ever:

Graph showing corporate profits and private sector wages as a percentage of the GDP. Corporate profits are high, wages are low.
Red is corporate profits; blue is private sector wages

Corporations are doing well. Workers, not so much. That could be the opening of just about any discussion of the American economy at least over the past couple years since corporations recovered from the great recession while workers didn't. But that's because there are always new specifics coming out to illustrate the point. Like this: after-tax corporate profits were a record share of the gross domestic product in the third quarter of 2012. Wages were the smallest share of GDP they've ever been.

Profits accounted for 11.1% of the U.S. economy last quarter, compared with an average of 8% during the previous economic expansion. They fell as low as 4.6% of GDP during the recession. 
A separate government reading shows that total wages have now fallen to a record low of 43.5% of GDP. Until 1975, wages almost always accounted for at least half of GDP, and had been as high as 49% as recently as early 2001.
Once again, the 1970s are the tipping point where the balance of power shifts decisively toward business and away from working people. This is not, as corporate mouthpieces would have us believe, because of an inevitable force of history, but because corporations decided to exert power to make it this way. And it's causing people to suffer. It's devaluing work. It's devaluing the human beings who do the work. But hey, profit!

(Via Think Progress)



By David Fitzsimmons, Cagle Cartoons, The Arizona Star

Related Entries

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Walmart Wants Taxpayers to Pick Up Health Care Costs

Free markets!--SS     

Walmart Wants Taxpayers to Pick Up Health Care Costs:

Walmart has found yet another way to give its already underpaid employees the short end of the stick. According to a copy of the company’s health care policy obtained by The Huffington Post, the nation’s largest private employer will begin to deny insurance to new employees who work fewer than 30 hours a week. The company can also choose to eliminate health coverage for current workers whose hours dip below the 30 hour threshold.

The decision would shift the financial burden from Walmart, which already rakes in exorbitant profits every year, to you, the taxpayer.

“Walmart likely thought it didn’t need to offer this part-time coverage anymore with Obamacare,” Nelson Lichtenstein, the director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy at UC Santa Barbara, told The Huffington Post. “This is another example of a tremendous government subsidy to Walmart via its workers.”

Still think you’re saving money by shopping at the big-box retailer?

The Huffington Post:

Labor and health care experts portrayed Walmart’s decision to exclude workers from its medical plans as an attempt to limit costs while taking advantage of the national health care reform known as Obamacare. Among the key features of Obamacare is an expansion of Medicaid, the taxpayer-financed health insurance program for poor people. Many of the Walmart workers who might be dropped from the company’s health care plans earn so little that they would qualify for the expanded Medicaid program, these experts said.

“Walmart is effectively shifting the costs of paying for its employees onto the federal government with this new plan, which is one of the problems with the way the law is structured,” said Ken Jacobs, chairman of the Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

For Walmart, this latest policy represents a step back in time. Almost seven years ago, as Walmart confronted public criticism that its employees couldn’t afford its benefits, the company announced with much fanfare that it would expand health coverage for part-time workers.

Read more

Ross Douthat Thinks Sub-Saharan Africa Is the Richest Region on Earth

Math is hard, huh Ross?--SS     

That is the implication of his column decrying the falling birthrate in the United States and other wealthy countries . Douthat seems to believe that we face some terrible fate if the population of the United States stagnates or even declines.

People who follow the news probably would see things differently. Given the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to slow global warming, the prospect of a smaller population should be seen as a huge bonanza. The story is quite simple, if we have 20 percent fewer people, we should expect our emissions of greenhouse gases to be roughly 20 percent less. Since the U.S. ranks near the top in terms of emissions per person, slower U.S. population growth is especially important to the world.

While some have made a big deal out of the projected decline in the ratio of workers to retiree, those familair with arithmetic know that the impact of even low rates of productivity growth swamps the impact of a lower ratio of workers to retirees.


It is unfortunate if financial insecurity discourages people who want children from having them, but from the standpoint of economy and the country, a smaller population should be seen as good news.