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Social Security History and Life Expectancy

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Forget-me-not Social Security
Forget-me-not Social Security

A frequently repeated assertion by Social Security opponents is that Social Security was not designed for a population such as ours, with advances in medicine, yadda yadda.

Or as Dr. Krugman calls it, the Life Expectancy Zombie

If we look at life expectancy statistics from the 1930s we might come to the conclusion that the Social Security program was designed in such a way that people would work for many years paying in taxes, but would not live long enough to collect benefits. Life expectancy at birth in 1930 was indeed only 58 for men and 62 for women, and the retirement age was 65. But life expectancy at birth in the early decades of the 20th century was low due mainly to high infant mortality, and someone who died as a child would never have worked and paid into Social Security. A more appropriate measure is probably life expectancy after attainment of adulthood.

As Table 1 shows, the majority of Americans who made it to adulthood could expect to live to 65, and those who did live to 65 could look forward to collecting benefits for many years into the future. So we can observe that for men, for example, almost 54% of the them could expect to live to age 65 if they survived to age 21, and men who attained age 65 could expect to collect Social Security benefits for almost 13 years (and the numbers are even higher for women).

Also, it should be noted that there were already 7.8 million Americans age 65 or older in 1935 (cf. Table 2), so there was a large and growing population of people who could receive Social Security. Indeed, the actuarial estimates used by the Committee on Economic Security (CES) in designing the Social Security program projected that there would be 8.3 million Americans age 65 or older by 1940 (when monthly benefits started). So Social Security was not designed in such a way that few people would collect the benefits.

(click here to continue reading Social Security History.)

Written by Seth Anderson

March 6th, 2013 at 7:04 pm

How the Pentagon Screws Taxpayers Out of $170 Billion

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On Leave
On Leave

I laugh at the number of times Defense Department spending is discussed during talks of deficits and tax burdens, and slashing the social insurance of our nation. Rarely, if ever, do either party of our political elites want to mention how many dollars are squandered without oversight, feeding the maw of our military…

Americans rarely think about these bases, let alone how much of their tax money—and debt—is going to build and maintain them. For Dal Molin and related construction nearby, including a brigade headquarters, two sets of barracks, a natural-gas-powered energy plant, a hospital, two schools, a fitness center, dining facilities, and a mini-mall, taxpayers are likely to shell out at least half a billion dollars. (All the while, a majority of locals passionately and vocally oppose the new base.)

How much does the United States spend each year occupying the planet with its bases and troops? How much does it spend on its global presence? Forced by Congress to account for its spending overseas, the Pentagon has put that figure at $22.1 billion a year. It turns out that even a conservative estimate of the true costs of garrisoning the globe comes to an annual total of about $170 billion. In fact, it may be considerably higher. Since the onset of “the Global War on Terror” in 2001, the total cost for our garrisoning policies, for our presence abroad, has probably reached $1.8 trillion to $2.1 trillion.

How Much Do We Spend?

By law, the Pentagon must produce an annual ” Overseas Cost Summary” (OCS) putting a price on the military’s activities abroad, from bases to embassies and beyond. This means calculating all the costs of military construction, regular facility repairs, and maintenance, plus the costs of maintaining one million US military and Defense Department personnel and their families abroad—the pay checks, housing, schools, vehicles, equipment, and the transportation of personnel and materials overseas and back, and far, far more.

The latest OCS, for the 2012 fiscal year ending September 30th, documented $22.1 billion in spending, although, at Congress’s direction, this doesn’t include any of the more than $118 billion spent that year on the wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the globe.

While $22.1 billion is a considerable sum, representing about as much as the budgets for the Departments of Justice and Agriculture and about half the State Department’s 2012 budget, it contrasts sharply with economist Anita Dancs’s estimate of $250 billion. She included war spending in her total, but even without it, her figure comes to around $140 billion—still $120 billion more than the Pentagon suggests.

Wanting to figure out the real costs of garrisoning the planet myself, for more than three years, as part of a global investigation of bases abroad, I’ve talked to budget experts, current and former Pentagon officials, and base budget officers. Many politely suggested that this was a fool’s errand given the number of bases involved, the complexity of distinguishing overseas from domestic spending, the secrecy of Pentagon budgets, and the “frequently fictional” nature of Pentagon figures. (The Department of Defense remains the only federal agency unable to pass a financial audit.)-PDF

Ever the fool and armed only with the power of searchable PDFs, I nonetheless plunged into the bizarro world of Pentagon accounting, where ledgers are sometimes still handwritten and $1 billion can be a rounding error. I reviewed thousands of pages of budget documents, government and independent reports, and hundreds of line items for everything from shopping malls to military intelligence to postal subsidies. 

(click here to continue reading How the Pentagon Spends $170 Billion | Mother Jones.)

Jimi 1961 Army
Jimi  Hendrix 1961 Army.jpg

If logic were part of the budget negotiations in Washington, the Pentagon would not be able to play such games. Why should taxpayers like you and me subsidize the military contractors who profit from bases in Kosovo? or wherever? If Medicaid and Medicare is on the table, why shouldn’t our insanely over-funded military budget be on the table too?

But don’t for a second think that that’s the end of our garrisoning costs. In addition to spending likely hidden in the nooks and crannies of its budget, there are other irregularities in the Pentagon’s accounting. Costs for 16 countries hosting US bases but left out of the OCS entirely, including Colombia, El Salvador, and Norway, may total more than $350 million. The costs of the military presence in Colombia alone could reach into the tens of millions in the context of more than $8.5 billion in Plan Colombia funding since 2000. The Pentagon also reports costs of less than $5 million each for Yemen, Israel, Uganda, and the Seychelles Islands, which seems unlikely and could add millions more.

When it comes to the general US presence abroad, other costs are too difficult to estimate reliably, including the price of Pentagon offices in the United States, embassies, and other government agencies that support bases and troops overseas. So, too, US training facilities, depots, hospitals, and even cemeteries allow overseas bases to function. Other spending includes currency-exchange costs, attorneys’ fees and damages won in lawsuits against military personnel abroad, short-term “temporary duty assignments,” US-based troops participating in exercises overseas, and perhaps even some of NASA’s military functions, space-based weapons, a percentage of recruiting costs required to staff bases abroad, interest paid on the debt attributable to the past costs of overseas bases, and Veterans Administration costs and other retirement spending for military personnel who served abroad.

Beyond my conservative estimate, the true bill for garrisoning the planet might be closer to $200 billion a year.

(click here to continue reading How the Pentagon Spends $170 Billion | Mother Jones.)

Written by Seth Anderson

December 11th, 2012 at 9:51 pm

Posted in government

Tagged with , , , ,

A Minimum Tax for the Wealthy and the 2012 Fiscal Cliff

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Million Dollar Quartets
Million Dollar Quartets

Warren Buffett’s Op Ed begins:

SUPPOSE that an investor you admire and trust comes to you with an investment idea. “This is a good one,” he says enthusiastically. “I’m in it, and I think you should be, too.”

Would your reply possibly be this? “Well, it all depends on what my tax rate will be on the gain you’re saying we’re going to make. If the taxes are too high, I would rather leave the money in my savings account, earning a quarter of 1 percent.” Only in Grover Norquist’s imagination does such a response exist.

Between 1951 and 1954, when the capital gains rate was 25 percent and marginal rates on dividends reached 91 percent in extreme cases, I sold securities and did pretty well. In the years from 1956 to 1969, the top marginal rate fell modestly, but was still a lofty 70 percent — and the tax rate on capital gains inched up to 27.5 percent. I was managing funds for investors then. Never did anyone mention taxes as a reason to forgo an investment opportunity that I offered.

(click here to continue reading A Minimum Tax for the Wealthy – NYTimes.com.)

Forget-me-not Social Security
Forget-me-not Social Security

And of course, he’s right, but logic has been banned from the modern conservative party. Historical perspective as well, apparently, unless Regan is involved. At least President Obama has said that Social Security is off the table, in the short term at least. Just waiting for Defense spending to join the deficit party – we could halve our military spending every year for the next ten, and still spend more than any other country on the planet. Even the Democrats never seem to mention slicing defense spending as part of the Grand Bargain.

In a speech at the Center for American Progress on Tuesday, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) , urged progressives to be open to Medicare and Medicaid reforms as part of long-term deficit talks.

But he also said both entitlement programs, along with Social Security, should be off the table during fiscal cliff negotiations.

“Progressives should be willing to talk about ways to ensure the long-term viability of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, but those conversations should not be part of a plan to avert the fiscal cliff,” Durbin said in his remarks.

“I think the point we tried to make in the campaign was the Paul Ryan approach [turning Medicare into a quasi-voucher program] we think threatens the existence of these programs and the services they provide,” Durbin told reporters later in the day. “That’s unacceptable. There has to be a better, more positive approach that saves money and at the end of the day, is going to keep these programs alive.”

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) agreed with Durbin that Social Security should be off the table, noting that it has not contributed to the debt.

(click here to continue reading For Fiscal Cliff Talks, Medicare Reform Still On Table For Senate Democrats.)

Greg Sargent adds:

Now this is encouraging. I’m told that representatives of major unions and progressive groups met privately this morning with senior Obama administration officials at the White House — and were pleased with what they heard.

Things can always change at a moment’s notice. But attendees at this meeting came away convinced — for now — that the White House firmly believes it has the leverage in the fiscal cliff talks, and has no intention of budging on the demand for higher tax rates from the rich or on other core priorities.

Indeed, one person at the meeting — which included people from the AFLCIO, AFSCME, SEIU, MoveOn and others — came away convinced that the White House would ultimately prove willing to go over the fiscal cliff if necessary, rather than give ground on core demands, though this is not by any means a desired option and isn’t being discussed as a strategic possibility.

…“They remain in the same place: They expect taxes to go up on the wealthy and to protect Medicare and Medicaid benefits,” the attendee added. “They feel confident that they don’t have to compromise.”

White House officials also signaled in the meeting that they are going to insist that Republicans agree to resolve the need to raise the debt ceiling as part of the fiscal talks — and won’t abide a separate fight over it, attendees said. Also key: Attendees got the impression the White House does not view this looming debt ceiling battle in the same terms as the 2011 fight, where Republicans had the leverage.

(click here to continue reading Reasons to be encouraged about fiscal cliff’s endgame – The Plum Line – The Washington Post.)

For the Sake of Security
For the Sake of Security

David Dayen:

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), who has almost become the liaison to the left for cuts to federal health care programs in the grand bargain, gave a speech today at the Center for American Progress that included a couple important points:

• Durbin sequenced the provisions of the deal, saying that Republicans would have to build the framework on taxes, which includes an increase in the top marginal rates, before any Democrat will even begin to talk about social insurance programs. This seems like a hardline stance, but it just mirrors the dominant conversation, which has focused on taxes to the exclusion of practically everything else.

• Though Durbin has sought to bring rank-and-file Democrats along on a grand bargain that would include cuts to those social insurance programs, he set out some red lines. In addition to rejecting the privatization of Medicare or Social Security and the block granting of Medicaid – a common tactic to reject the extreme view to provide space for more modest but still damaging cuts – Durbin took Social Security almost entirely off the table. This matches White House Press Secretary Jay Carney’s statements yesterday. It does appear that’s been filed away for the time being.

In addition, Durbin said, regarding spending cuts on anti-poverty social programs, “Let me be clear: Those cuts will not happen.” And he sought to line up with the Administration’s viewpoint that any changes to Medicare and Medicaid can happen without cuts to benefits, through payment reforms or provider cuts. This would “strengthen” those programs through the reform, he said. He also wanted to exempt infrastructure spending fully from any cuts.

(click here to continue reading Durbin Outlines Democratic Approach on Grand Bargain | FDL News Desk.)

Spare Change
Spare Change

Brian Beutler:

Democratic leaders, frustrated by the GOP’s unwillingness to reckon with the need to raise taxes, are publicly airing the hard-bargaining demands they’re bringing to budget negotiations with Republicans.

The Senate’s top two Democrats, in separate remarks Tuesday, each said that Congress could avoid looming across-the-board tax increases and spending cuts if House Republicans agree to freeze all the Bush tax rates except those benefitting top earners. If that were accompanied by an increase in the debt limit, and the creation of a separate track for reforming the tax code and social safety net programs in 2013, the near-term austerity problem will be solved, and lawmakers can call it a day.

In other words, Senate Democrats are staking out the position that entitlement reform should not be on the table in fiscal cliff negotiations.

“If we fail to reach an agreement, the average middle-class family will see their taxes go up by $2,200 a year,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told reporters at his weekly press availability. “As I’ve indicated, the Senate has already reacted to stop that and the House is one vote away from making that a reality for many millions of Americans who are middle class.”

(click here to continue reading Top Democrats Drive Hard Bargiain In Budget Talks | TPMDC.)

Written by Seth Anderson

November 28th, 2012 at 10:11 am

Social Security and the 2011 VP Debate

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Forget-me-not Social Security
Forget-me-not Social Security

One other point on the VP debate, beyond Paul Ryan’s disturbing call for a theocracy, is that Social Security is not going broke. No matter how many times the beltway press claims it is, no matter how many times the political party that wants to privatize Social Security claims it, no matter how many times the other party which isn’t that enthusiastic a supporter of social welfare agrees: Social Security isn’t about to go broke. It just isn’t.

But it’s domestic policy where Raddatz, like Lehrer, blew it. She started by asking about unemployment, which is at least a gesture at the enormous suffering in the country right now. That set off minutes and minutes of rambling, all of which was boilerplate (though the stuff on the green stimulus was interesting, mostly because Ryan lied his ass off).

Then it was straight to “entitlements,” which, in case you weren’t aware of the Beltway CW, Raddatz introduced by saying, “Both Medicare and Social Security are going broke.” That is just absolutely, empirically false. Medicare is fine out to 2024 and easily fixable after that (it’s medical costs, not Medicare, that are the real problem). And Social Security quite literally cannot go broke. It too can be kept solvent for many decades with small tweaks. Neither is a problem until a decade from now.

Of all the requirements for a debate moderators, surely the very minimum is that he or she not introduce factual errors into the discussion. No?

And then it was on to taxes and the defense budget. I kept thinking, “This is exactly the stuff we went over the other night in the presidential debate! Where are immigration, education, innovation, housing, LGBT issues? Where is energy? Where is, God forbid, climate change?”

(click here to continue reading Questions at VP debate reveal bankrupt Beltway thinking | Grist.)

In honor of Tax Day
In honor of Tax Day

more on the fallacy from John Harvey, of Forbes, no less:

It is a logical impossibility for Social Security to go bankrupt. We can voluntarily choose to suspend or eliminate the program, but it could never fail because it “ran out of money.” This belief is the result of a common error: conceptualizing Social Security from the micro (individual) rather than the macro (economy-wide) perspective. It’s not a pension fund into which you put your money when you are young and from which you draw when you are old. It’s an immediate transfer from workers today to retirees today. That’s what it has always been and that’s what it has to be–there is no other possible way for it to work.

The most obvious and straightforward means is this: set a tax of 30% on the salaries of existing workers and give it directly to the retirees–right now, today, immediately. Have the money come straight out of your paycheck and right into your grandmother’s bank account. This accomplishes the goal neatly and directly–and it’s exactly what we do in real life. This is how Social Security actually operates. As you can see, this needs no prior financing or savings, nor would that appear to be particularly helpful. At the national level, maintaining a class of retirees (whether via Social Security or private pensions) means redistributing existing output, not putting money under your mattress. Although you can run out of money for retirement, we, as a nation, cannot.

What, then, you may ask, is the Social Security Trust Fund, the pool of money that people say will dry up and make it impossible for anyone to receive their Social Security payments? It is the surplus that resulted from having collected more in taxes than was necessary to pay out to retirees. Let me say that again: it is how much existing workers were overtaxed relative to the need to pay retirees in the past. It was never the source of the money we’ve been paying to Social Security recipients all these years. Strictly speaking, it’s completely unnecessary if we are able to precisely and continuously match tax revenues and pay outs.

(click here to continue reading Why Social Security Cannot Go Bankrupt – Forbes.)

Spare Change
Spare Change

Too bad this simple point is not repeated often by those who should know better. In fact, the only politician who I’ve heard correct this error forcefully has been Bernie Sanders, and he isn’t a Democrat or Republican…

Written by Seth Anderson

October 13th, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Congress to Face Angry Farmers

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A Little Sigh
A Little Sigh

What a surprise! The anti-American GOP Congress has decided farmers are not a core constituency, or at least are not as important as defense contractors. Since the GOP doesn’t believe in climate change, the drought is just god’s will, and farmers should pray for rain, avoid asking for government assistance. 

When Congress returns to business this week, it will be met not by the Code Pink antiwar protesters or the Tea Party supporters who often gathered near the Capitol last year. Instead, farmers will be out in force, rallying for a bill that lawmakers failed to pass before they recessed five weeks ago.

That unfinished bit of business threatens to cut off aid to farmers across the nation. But lawmakers, fresh off their parties’ conventions, appear to favor action on other bills that emphasize their political agendas over actual lawmaking.

When the Senate reconvenes on Monday, it will move to begin debate on a jobs bill for veterans that is championed by President Obama. The Democratic leadership is also considering yet another vote on Representative Paul D. Ryan’s budget, for no other apparent reason than to embarrass Republicans facing tough re-election battles.

In the House, Republicans will vote on a bill that seeks to phase out the Energy Department’s loan guarantee program that financed Solyndra, the bankrupt maker of solar power equipment. They also want Senate Democrats to come up with a measure like one already passed by the House that would replace the large-scale budget cuts for the Pentagon that are scheduled to take effect with other trims on Dec. 31. The military cuts were set in motion by an agreement to raise the debt ceiling last summer, and they became automatic when a special select committee failed to come up with at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years.

Over the summer, the Senate passed a bipartisan five-year farm bill that the House declined to take up. House leaders also refused to consider their own Agriculture Committee’s sweeping farm measure, instead pushing through a short-term $383 million package of loans and grants for livestock producers and a limited number of farmers. Senate leaders declined to take action on that measure because they said it was too limited, a view shared by many farmers.

Mr. Boehner lacks enough votes to pass a bill because Democrats dislike the $16 billion in cuts to nutrition programs, including food stamps, in the House committee’s bill. And many conservative Republicans would like to see more cuts over all in the measure.

 

(click here to continue reading Congress to Face Angry Farmers – NYTimes.com.)

Written by Seth Anderson

September 10th, 2012 at 8:04 am

A Crusade Against Toxic Couches

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Can't See the Couch For the Forest
Can’t See the Couch For the Forest

Yes, your couch, and chairs, and bed, and so on, is probably contributing to your mortality, and the ill health of your family and friends as well. The sad part is that the EPA is so toothless it cannot stop this travesty from happening. Occasionally, the EPA can regulate some toxic chemical, after enough people die from it, but never before.

Kudos to Dr. Arlene Blum for her diligence bringing the topic to our attention. Now the question is, what are we going to do about it? 

Heather Stapleton, a Duke University chemist who conducted many of the best-known studies of flame retardants, notes that foam is full of air. “So every time somebody sits on it,” she says, “all the air that’s in the foam gets expelled into the environment.” Studies have found that young children, who often play on the floor and put toys in their mouths, can have three times the levels of flame retardants in their blood as their parents. Flame retardants can also pass from mother to child through the placenta and through breast milk.

The effects of that exposure may be hard to detect in individual children, but scientists can see them when they look across the population. Researchers from the Center for Children’s Environmental Health, at Columbia University, measured a class of flame retardants known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, in the umbilical-cord blood of 210 New York women and then followed their children’s neurological development over time. They found that those with the highest levels of prenatal exposure to flame retardants scored an average of five points lower on I.Q. tests than the children with lower exposures, an impact similar to the effect of lead exposure in early life. “If you’re a kid who is at the low end of the I.Q. spectrum, five points can make the difference between being in a special-ed class or being able to graduate from high school,” says Julie Herbstman, the study’s author.

There are many flame retardants in use, the components of which are often closely held trade secrets. Some of the older ones, like the PBDEs, have been the subject of thousands of studies and have since been taken off the market (although many of us still have them in our furniture). Newer ones like Chemtura’s Firemaster 550 are just starting to be analyzed, even though it is now one of the most commonly used flame retardants in furniture.

Logic would suggest that any new chemical used in consumer products be demonstrably safer than a compound it replaces, particularly one taken off the market for reasons related to human health. But of the 84,000 industrial chemicals registered for use in the United States, only about 200 have been evaluated for human safety by the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s because industrial chemicals are presumed safe unless proved otherwise, under the 1976 federal Toxic Substances Control Act.

When evidence begins to mount that a chemical endangers human health, manufacturers tend to withdraw it from the market and replace it with something whose effects — and often its ingredients — are unknown. The makeup of the flame retardant Firemaster 550, for instance, is considered a proprietary trade secret. At a recent conference, Stapleton discussed a small, unpublished study in which she fed female rats low doses of Firemaster 550. The exposed mothers’ offspring gained more weight, demonstrated more anxiety, hit puberty earlier and had abnormal reproductive cycles when compared with unexposed offspring — all signs that the chemical disrupts the endocrine system.

(click here to continue reading Arlene Blum’s Crusade Against Toxic Couches – NYTimes.com.)

the sad thing is: the fire retardant doesn’t even really help in a real-world fire:

That, after all, is the reason TB 117 exists — to keep people from dying when their couch catches on fire. “Deaths caused by furniture fires dropped from 1,400 in 1980 to 600 in 2004; a 57 percent reduction,” Chemtura wrote in response to my questions.

Three years ago, Blum contacted Babrauskas1 and invited him to attend a keynote address she was giving at a scientific meeting in Seattle. Afterward, they went on a hike. By the time the day was over, he had become her most potent ally in the battle against TB 117. It turned out that Babrauskas felt his study results had been distorted. He used a lot of flame retardants, he says, far more than anyone would ever put in a piece of furniture sold to consumers. “What I did not realize would happen is that the industry would take that data and try to misapply it to fire retardants in general,” he says.

In Babrauskas’s view, TB 117 is ineffective in preventing fires. The problem, he argues, is that the standard is based on applying a small flame to a bare piece of foam — a situation unlikely to happen in real life. “If you take a cigarette lighter and put it on a chair,” he says, “there’s no naked foam visible on that chair unless you live in a horrendous pigsty where people have torn apart their furniture.” In real life, before the flame gets to the foam, it has to ignite the fabric. Once the fabric catches fire, it becomes a sheet of flame that can easily overwhelm the fire-suppression properties of treated foam. In tests, TB 117 compliant chairs catch fire just as easily as ones that aren’t compliant — and they burn just as hot. “This is not speculation,” he says. “There were two series of tests that prove what I’m saying is correct.”

Before Blum met Babrauskas, the conventional wisdom was that the clash over flame retardants was a conflict between two competing public interests — the need to protect people from furniture fires and the need to protect them from toxic chemicals. But the more Blum studied the safety benefits of flame retardants, the more elusive their benefits seemed to be.

and the lobbyists for the chemical industries took a page from the tobacco companies, and dug in for a long battle against consumers, and health in the name of profits:

California Senate Bill 147, which would have directed the Bureau of Home Furnishings to develop fire-safety standards for furniture that does not require flame retardants, something along the lines of a yet-to-be-adopted federal standard developed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission that tests whether furniture ignites when exposed to a smoldering cigarette. (Focusing on the entire piece of furniture, rather than the foam, allows manufacturers to use nonchemical solutions like barriers and less-flammable fabrics.) The bill had what seemed like a bulletproof array of supporters — dozens of organizations representing health officers, firefighters, furniture makers and environmental groups. Only three people spoke against it; all three had been compensated by Citizens for Fire Safety. One witness was David Heimbach, a burn doctor at the University of Washington who told a moving story about a 7-week-old baby girl he treated the year before. The baby’s mother had placed a candle in her crib, he said, and the candle fell over, igniting a pillow.

“She ultimately died after about three weeks of pain and misery in the hospital,” he told the senators. He asked them to do “anything to stop little children from being burned.”

But it seems there was no such baby, no such candle and no such pillow. Reporters working for The Chicago Tribune, which published a four-part investigation of the flame-retardant industry in May, could find no record of any infant who matched Heimbach’s description. Heimbach’s lawyer, Deborah Drooz, says that he changed the details of the story to protect patient identity. (The Tribune reporters did find a baby that died in a fire caused by an overloaded electrical outlet — circumstances that have little to do with flame retardants.) In the end, eight of the nine committee members voted against the bill. Those eight had received a total of $105,500 from chemical companies since 2007.

(click here to continue reading Arlene Blum’s Crusade Against Toxic Couches – NYTimes.com.)

Any Questions?
Any Questions?

Michael Hawthorne of the Chicago Tribune reported earlier this summer:

The world’s leading manufacturers of flame retardants faced scathing criticism Tuesday from U.S. senators angered by what they called the industry’s misuse of science, misleading testimony and creation of a phony consumer group that stoked the public’s fear of house fires.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, pointedly asked one chemical company official: “Don’t you owe people an apology?”

The Tribune series, published in May, revealed how the tobacco and chemical industries engaged in a deceptive, decades-long campaign to promote the use of flame-retardant chemicals in household furniture, electronics, baby products and other goods.

Those efforts have helped load American homes with pounds of toxic chemicals linked to cancer, neurological deficits, developmental problems and impaired fertility. A typical American baby is born with the highest recorded concentrations of flame retardants among infants in the world.

(click here to continue reading Flame retardants: Chemical companies face Senate criticism over flame retardants – Chicago Tribune.)

scathing criticism, and yet nothing substantive has happened yet.

“Generations of Americans have been asked to tolerate exposure to potentially toxic chemicals in their furniture in the name of fire safety,” Senator Dick Durbin said when he led a hearing on the chemicals in July. At the same hearing, James J. Jones, an administrator with the E.P.A., cited flame retardants as “a clear illustration” of all that is wrong with the Toxic Substances Control Act, the federal law that governs the use of chemicals. Several states, including New York, have proposed bans on chlorinated Tris. (So far unsuccessfully, for the most part.)

Abandon All Chairs Ye Who Enter
Abandon All Chairs Ye Who Enter

Patricia Callahan and Sam Roe reported even earlier:

Dr. Heimbach’s passionate testimony about the baby’s death made the long-term health concerns about flame retardants voiced by doctors, environmentalists and even firefighters sound abstract and petty.

But there was a problem with his testimony: It wasn’t true.

Records show there was no dangerous pillow or candle fire. The baby he described didn’t exist.

Neither did the 9-week-old patient who Heimbach told California legislators died in a candle fire in 2009. Nor did the 6-week-old patient who he told Alaska lawmakers was fatally burned in her crib in 2010.

Heimbach is not just a prominent burn doctor. He is a star witness for the manufacturers of flame retardants.

His testimony, the Tribune found, is part of a decades-long campaign of deception that has loaded the furniture and electronics in American homes with pounds of toxic chemicals linked to cancer, neurological deficits, developmental problems and impaired fertility.

The tactics started with Big Tobacco, which wanted to shift focus away from cigarettes as the cause of fire deaths, and continued as chemical companies worked to preserve a lucrative market for their products, according to a Tribune review of thousands of government, scientific and internal industry documents.

(click here to continue reading Chemical manufacturers rely on fear to push flame retardant furniture standards – chicagotribune.com.)

Footnotes:
  1. fire-safety scientist named Vytenis Babrauskas, who is considered a leading authority on furniture flammability []

Written by Seth Anderson

September 9th, 2012 at 10:40 am

Posted in government,health,science

Tagged with ,

Time Wasters In Congress

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We Deliver - Just not Saturdays
We Deliver – Just not Saturdays, maybe

Our Congress, hard at work…

In the 18 months the 112th Congress has been sworn in, the House has introduced 60 bills to rename post offices. Thirty-eight have passed the House and 26 have become law. During those 18 months, the House has produced 151 laws, 17 percent of which have been to rename post offices, according to Congressional Democrats. Not a single bill has come to the House floor aimed at reforming a Postal Service, which is bleeding billions of dollars because of Congressional mandates. … USPS claims that if Congress does not act, the mail service will default not only on the $5.5 billion payment due [August 1, 2012], but also on another $5.6 billion payment for future retiree’s benefit due September 30. The Postal Service has pleaded with Congress for years to end the requirement that it pre-fund its retiree’s health benefits. But many lawmakers claim that because USPS has such a massive workforce – there are 614,000 Postal Service employees-if it does not pre-fund retirement benefits, it will not be able to pay them in the future.

And as long as these disagreements persist, it looks like naming post offices is the closest Congress will get to passing postal reform.

(click here to continue reading 60 House Bills to Name Post Offices, Zero To Fix Mail Service – Yahoo! News.)

Mail Acceptance
Mail Acceptance

Paul Ryan is one of those time-wasters:

He’s been in Congress for nearly 13 years, but Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has only seen two of his bills pass into law during that time.

Ryan, who Mitt Romney has tapped as his running mate, passed a bill into law in July 2000 that renames a post office in his district. Thanks to Ryan, the post office on 1818 Milton Ave. in Janesville, Wis., is now known as “Les Aspin Post Office Building.”

(click here to continue reading Paul Ryan Only Passed 2 Bills Into Law In More Than A Decade.)

I Won't Mind Waiting
I Won’t Mind Waiting

and speaking of wasting time, the Republican mouth-breathers in Congress have also wasted taxpayer money with symbolic votes re: the Affordable Care Act a/k/a Obamacare:

What grave business is the House of Representatives undertaking today? It is voting to do away with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—or, as the name of the bill puts it, on the Repeal of Obamacare Act. The title has a certain appealing conciseness, relative to what some of the other partial or entire repeal bills have been called, like the Religious Freedom Tax Repeal Act or the Repealing the Job-Killing Health-Care Law Act—Eric Cantor introduced that one, which stands as a true classic of the bill-title genre. (Reuters has a list of more.)

The names have been the bill-sponsors’ only real accomplishment, even though repeals have passed the House again and again—some thirty times, in various forms, since the G.O.P. got its majority, in 2010. Sometimes it’s been been brazen and loud (the NObamacare Act of 2012—isn’t there a ban on legislative names that rely on capitalization tricks?). And sometimes there’s an amendment that comes to Congress, as the saying goes, on little cat feet, attached to a big bill. All the significant ones have died, though, as everyone knew they would, and as today’s will as well, before getting anywhere near Senate passage, let alone the President’s desk. (If he signed it “NObama,” would that count as a veto?) The Republicans have some legislative options—reconciliation, debt-ceiling-collapsing blackmail—but not good ones. So why do they bother?

(click here to continue reading House Votes on the Repeal of Obamacare Act : The New Yorker.)

Good thing the nation is working perfectly with zero problems of any kind that need fixing so that the fools in Congress can play.

Written by Seth Anderson

September 9th, 2012 at 9:24 am

Posted in government,politics

Tagged with , , ,

Preckwinkle tells the truth: Reagan deserves special place in hell for war on drugs

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Nancy Reagan - Just Say Yo
Nancy Reagan – Just Say Yo

Kudos to Ms. Toni Preckwinkle for speaking the truth. Earlier editions of this story didn’t mention the subsequent dialing back…

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle on Tuesday said former President Ronald Reagan deserves “a special place in hell” for his role in the war on drugs, but later regretted what she called her “inflammatory” remark.

The comment from Preckwinkle, known more for a reserved, straight-ahead political style, came at a conference led by former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar, who’s now at the University of Illinois Institute of Government and Public Affairs.

Preckwinkle was defending the recent move by the city of Chicago to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana by allowing police to write tickets, saying out-of-whack drug laws unfairly lead to more minorities behind bars.

Downstate Republican state Rep. Chapin Rose of Mahomet questioned whether such an approach includes drug treatment for those who are ticketed. Preckwinkle said no, arguing that drug treatment should be part of the health care system, not criminal justice. She said Reagan deserves a “special place in hell” for his involvement in “making drug use political.”

(click here to continue reading Preckwinkle regrets saying Reagan deserves ‘special place in hell’ for war on drugs – chicagotribune.com.)

If I ever have a chance to meet Ms. Preckwinkle, I’d like to shake her hand – too many politicians bend their knee to the War on Drugs, despite the facts.

Patience please
Patience please

While President Richard Nixon is generally credited with starting the war on drugs, critics contend Reagan ramped up the issue for political purposes during the 1980s.

“Ronald Reagan wasn’t the first or the last, but he was certainly the most prominent at the very beginning,” Preckwinkle told the Tribune in a phone interview.

The resulting policies have had the effect of sending young African Americans and Latinos to jail and prison in disproportionate numbers, she said. They also have driven up government costs and damaged communities, she said.

“Drug policy in this country has been in the wrong direction for 30 years,” she said. “I think that’s something they should acknowledge. If I had it to do over again, I certainly wouldn’t say anything quite so inflammatory. But my position basically remains the same.”

Shouldn't That Be a Right Turn?
Shouldn’t That Be a Right Turn?

Jeralyn Merritt, of the seminal blog Talk Left, wrote this about Saintly Ron back in 2004:

three of [Reagan’s] less-than-endearing legacies deserve to be highlighted

Mandatory minimum drug sentences in 1986. This was the first time Congress passed mandatory minimum sentences since the Boggs Act in 1951.

Federal sentencing guidelines: Under this new method of sentencing, which went into effect in 1987, prison time is determined mostly by the weight of the drugs involved in the offense. Parole was abolished and prisoners must serve 85 percent of their sentence. Except in rare situations, judges can no longer factor in the character of the defendant, the effect of incarceration on his or her dependents, and in large part, the nature and circumstances of the crime. The only way to receive a more lenient sentence is to act as an informant against others and hope that the prosecutor is willing to deal. The guidelines in effect stripped Article III of their sentencing discretion and turned it over to prosecutors.

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988: This law established a federal death penalty for “drug kingpins.” President Reagan called it a new sword and shield in the escalating battle against drugs, and signed the bill in his wife’s honor… Did the law nab Pablo Escobar? No. The law’s first conquest was David Ronald Chandler, known as “Ronnie.” Ronnie grew marijuana in a small town in rural, northeast Alabama. About 300 pounds a year. Ronnie was sentenced to death for supposedly hiring someone to kill his brother-in-law. The witness against him later recanted.

As a result of these flawed drug policies initiated by then President Reagan, (and continued by Bush I, Clinton and Bush II) the number of those imprisoned in America has quadrupled to over 2 million. These are legacies that groups like Families Against Mandatory Minimums are still fighting today. Even George Shultz, Ronald Reagan’s former secretary of state, acknowledged in 2001 that the War on Drugs is a flop.

In Smoke and Mirrors, Dan Baum, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, provides a detailed account of the politics surrounding Reagan’s war on drugs.

Conservative parents’ groups opposed to marijuana had helped to ignite the Reagan Revolution. Marijuana symbolized the weakness and permissiveness of a liberal society; it was held responsible for the slovenly appearance of teenagers and their lack of motivation. Carlton Turner, Reagan’s first drug czar, believed that marijuana use was inextricably linked to “the present young-adult generation’s involvement in anti-military, anti-nuclear power, anti-big business, anti-authority demonstrations.” A public-health approach to drug control was replaced by an emphasis on law enforcement. Drug abuse was no longer considered a form of illness; all drug use was deemed immoral, and punishing drug offenders was thought to be more important than getting them off drugs. The drug war soon became a bipartisan effort, supported by liberals and conservatives alike. Nothing was to be gained politically by defending drug abusers from excessive punishment.

(click here to continue reading Reagan’s Drug War Legacy | Alternet.)

Written by Seth Anderson

August 21st, 2012 at 7:46 pm

Drought-Driven Voters Vent Anger Over Farm Bill

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More Immaculate Syllables
More Immaculate Syllables

Tea Party-led GOP is concerned about any government assistance for non-oil company entities, thus no help for farmers, despite the fact that farmers lean Republican, usually. The only way the farmers are going to get drought relief is if fracking is allowed on their land, or oil is discovered…

House leaders, including Speaker John A. Boehner, who popped into Iowa on Friday night to promote Mr. Latham’s re-election campaign, have been unable to muster the votes.

A summer drought that has destroyed crops, killed livestock and sent feed prices soaring is now extracting a political price from members of Congress, who failed to agree on a comprehensive agriculture bill or even limited emergency relief before leaving Washington for five weeks.

Farmers are complaining loudly to their representatives, editorial boards across the heartland are hammering Congress over its inaction, and incumbents from both parties are sparring with their challengers over agricultural policy.

In Minnesota, Senator Amy Klobuchar and her Republican Party-endorsed opponent, Kurt Bills, disagreed sharply in their first face-to-face debate over what a farm bill should contain. In Missouri, Senator Claire McCaskill and her Republican challenger, Representative Todd Akin, defended their positions before the state farm bureau’s political unit.

Representative Leonard L. Boswell, Mr. Latham’s Democratic opponent in a newly drawn district, said, “Every time I get out there, people keep asking me: ‘What happened to the farm bill? Why don’t we have a farm bill?’ ”

In Arkansas, the Democratic Party paid for an automated call by a farmer imploring rural voters to pester Representative Rick Crawford, a Republican, about the unfinished farm business. Representative Kristi Noem, Republican of South Dakota, took heat back home for backing away from a petition sponsored by Democrats that would have forced the House Agriculture Committee’s farm bill to the floor.

“We would have much preferred they pass the House bill,” said Michael Held, the chief executive of the South Dakota Farm Bureau. “I think the attitude here is this is typical Washington, D.C., not getting its work done.”

But in a dynamic that has roiled the 112th Congress, this year’s farm bill was unlike any before it. While the House Agriculture Committee signed off on a measure, its substantial cuts to food programs alienated too many Democrats. And its cuts to those programs, as well as to some forms of farm aid, were not enough to appease the chamber’s most conservative members.

 …

Representative Paul D. Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman and newly anointed vice-presidential candidate, has recommended cutting $134 billion from food stamps over the next decade…“This bill is being held up by the same people who held up the debt ceiling last year,” said Bob Kerrey, who is seeking to regain a Senate seat he once held in Nebraska, where he joined Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Friday for a drought meeting and news conference. “They don’t want a farm bill.”

(click here to continue reading Drought-Driven Voters Vent Anger Over Farm Bill – NYTimes.com.)

Written by Seth Anderson

August 13th, 2012 at 9:45 am

Posted in government

Tagged with ,

Stephen Colbert on Papa John’s “Obamacare” price hike

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Stephen Colbert agrees with me regarding the asshole CEO of Papa John’s cardboard that resembles pizza:

President Obama’s health care reform law is wreaking havoc in the most unexpected places. This week, Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter predicted that the cost of providing health care to his employees will result in a 14-cent hike on pizza prices. It’s a wake-up call Americans will finally pay attention to, Stephen Colbert said Wednesday.

“That’s three times the value of a Papa John’s pizza,” Colbert said. And he doesn’t believe customers will swallow the price hike.

“Because when you order a Papa John’s pizza, it’s only after you’ve reached a state of such desperate, gnawing hunger that you would eat the ass off a raccoon that drowned in your bird bath. And even then, only after making absolutely sure that you’re all out of drowned raccoon ass. And now Obama expects you to shell out almost three extra nickels for this hot turd pie? Fuck that, eat the nickels, you have your dignity.”

(click here to continue reading Stephen Colbert on Papa John’s “Obamacare” price hike | TPMDC.)

Full clip here 

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Seth Anderson

August 10th, 2012 at 8:15 am

Climate Change and Cities

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99 in the Shade
99 in the Shade

I moved to Chicago in 1994, and the heat-wave of 1995 surprised me. I was used to living in extreme heat in Austin, several of my cheap apartments didn’t have air conditioning. But Chicago was not culturally or politically prepared to deal with the heat of that summer. This year’s heat-wave was taken a lot more seriously by city officials, as Eric Klinenberg reports:

the most visible human drama of climate change is happening in cities. Cities are not merely the population centers where dense concentrations of people are trapped and exposed during dangerous weather events. They are also “heat islands,” whose asphalt, brick, concrete and steel attract the heat while pollution from automobiles, factories and air-conditioners traps it. City dwellers experience elevated heat at all hours, but the difference matters most at night, when the failure of high temperatures to fall deprives them of natural relief. For the most vulnerable people, these “high lows” can be the difference between life and death.

Americans began to take urban heat seriously after 1995, when a record-breaking heat wave — three days of triple-digit heat — baked Chicago. Ordinarily, heat waves fail to produce the kind of spectacular imagery we see in other disasters, like earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes and floods. Heat doesn’t generate much property damage, nor does it reveal its force to the camera or naked eye. Heat waves are invisible killers of old, poor and other mostly invisible people. Until the summer of 1995, medical examiners and media outlets often neglected to report heat-related deaths altogether.

But the great Chicago heat wave changed things. It caused so much suffering that at one point nearly half the city’s emergency rooms closed their doors to new patients. Hospitals were not the only institutions stretched beyond capacity by the heat. Streets buckled. Trains derailed. The power grid failed. Water pressure diminished. Ambulances were delayed.

There were “water wars” in poor neighborhoods, where city workers cracked down on residents who opened fire hydrants for relief. There were surreal scenes at City Hall, where members of the mayor’s staff declined to declare a heat emergency, forgot to implement their extreme heat plan and refused to bring in additional ambulances and paramedics.

And there was Mayor Richard M. Daley, telling reporters: “It’s hot. It’s very hot. But let’s not blow it out of proportion,” while the morgue ran out of bays and the medical examiner had to call in a fleet of refrigerated trucks to handle the load. When the temperatures finally broke, 739 Chicagoans had died as a result of the heat wave.

Chicago learned from the disaster, and today it is a national leader in planning for the next acute heat emergency. The city compiles a list of old, isolated and vulnerable residents, and public workers contact them when dangerous weather arrives. City officials and community organizations promote awareness and encourage residents to check in on one another. The local news media treat heat waves as true public health hazards. Everyone knows how perilous the new climate can be.

Unfortunately, Chicago keeps getting reminders. In the early July heat wave, despite its improved emergency response system, Chicago reported more heat deaths than any other city or state. And this week the Union of Concerned Scientists released “Heat in the Heartland,(PDF)” a study that reports an increased incidence of dangerous hot weather throughout the Midwest in the past 60 years, including elevated evening temperatures and more heat waves lasting three days or longer. Along with Chicago, the report singles out St. Louis, Detroit, Minneapolis and Cincinnati as being at risk, but also cites public health research predicting more heat waves in towns and cities throughout the Midwest and Northeast.

(click here to continue reading Is It Hot Enough for Ya? – NYTimes.com.)

Help Me Make It Through The Night
Help Me Make It Through The Night

Rising temperatures are not just a concern for the future. Dangerously hot weather is already occurring more frequently in the Midwest than it did 60 years ago.

The report, Heat in the Heartland: 60 Years of Warming in the Midwest, presents an original analysis of weather data for five major urban areas — Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, Minneapolis, and St. Louis — as well as five smaller nearby cities.

The results from the analysis are clear: Hot summer weather and heat waves have been increasing in cities in the nation’s heartland over the last six decades on average. The report documents this trend, explores its health implications, and looks at what the largest cities are doing to adapt to these changes and protect their residents.

High temperatures can lead to dehydration, heat exhaustion, and deadly heat stroke. Very hot weather can also aggravate existing medical conditions such as diabetes, respiratory disease, kidney disease, and heart disease.

Urban populations, the elderly, children, and people with impaired health and limited mobility are particularly susceptible to heat-related illness and death.

(click here to continue reading Heat in the Heartland: The Growing Health Risks of Heat Waves and Hot Summer Weather in the Midwest (2012) | Union of Concerned Scientists.)

Now if only someone could come up with a good (non-financial) reason for the Tea Party and other GOP factions to support a national policy dealing with climate change…

Written by Seth Anderson

August 5th, 2012 at 8:21 am

Fed Sees Action if Growth Doesn’t Pick Up Soon

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Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago
Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago

Every time I read about the sweet deal the Fed gives banks, I get mad. Corporate welfare is rarely the right answer, but the Fed and its relationship to banks continues unabated.

Another option is a change in the Fed’s public communication about its plans. Since January the Fed has been saying it doesn’t expect to raise short-term interest rates until late 2014. The Fed could change its policy statement in September to move that date into 2015. Such pronouncements about the expected path of short-term rates tend to reduce long- and medium-term interest rates. The Fed thinks this supports near-term spending and investment.

Officials also are looking at changing the interest rate paid on money banks deposit at the Fed. This interest on reserves is now 0.25%. Some critics say the Fed shouldn’t be paying banks even this small amount for money that they choose not to lend.

Fed officials haven’t been very enthusiastic about this idea. Some officials think the benefits of reducing the rate would be small, and some worry cutting the rate could disrupt short-term money markets. Still, officials might choose to reduce the rate in combination with other moves in an effort to give the economy a little extra lift. The European Central Bank cut its bank deposit rate to zero earlier this month.

The Fed could also try to push its benchmark interest rate, the federal funds rate, a little lower. Since late 2008, it has targeted a range for the rate between zero and 0.25%. It could narrow that range closer to zero.

(click here to continue reading Fed Sees Action if Growth Doesn’t Pick Up Soon – WSJ.com.)

Here’s why I get mad: the Fed lends corporate banks money at basically zero percent interest, no strings attached. Apparently, this happens in Europe as well. The banks in turn loan a percentage of that money out, at varying interest rates, 4.5% on a mortgage if you are a good credit risk, or 18% if you have a credit card that you’ve missed the payment deadline a few times. The rest they keep. Why is this acceptable? Since when did you vote on who your bank’s CEO will be?

How Does the State Respond?
How Does the State Respond?

I consider Ron Paul a crank on many, many topics, but I agree with him wholeheartedly on his repeated insistence that the Fed should be audited.

Federal Reserve Transparency Act of 2011 – Directs the Comptroller General to complete, before the end of 2012, an audit of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and of the federal reserve banks, followed by a detailed report to Congress.

Repeals specified limitations on such an audit.

(click here to continue reading Bill Summary & Status – 112th Congress (2011 – 2012) – H.R.459 – All Information – THOMAS (Library of Congress).)

Why should the Fed policy be more hidden than that of every other branch, department and division of the government?

Written by Seth Anderson

July 24th, 2012 at 8:55 pm

Posted in Business,government

Tagged with ,

Acxiom Consumer Data Unavailable to Consumers

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Old Number Two
Old Number Two

Funny how this works: databases containing all sorts of data about you is compiled by giant, somewhat secretive corporations, and then rented out to corporations so marketers can sell their goods and services to you, and yet you have no access to the data. For what it’s worth, I took the time to opt out of Acxiom’s system, based on my email address, but who knows if they really removed me. I doubt it, but there is no way to verify or confirm in any case. We are just numbers to them, not people.

I recently asked to see the information held about me by the Acxiom Corporation, a database marketing company that collects and sells details about consumers’ financial status, shopping and recreational activities to banks, retailers, automakers and other businesses. In investor presentations and interviews, Acxiom executives have said that the company — the subject of a Sunday Business article last month — has information on about 500 million active consumers worldwide, with about 1,500 data points per person. Acxiom also promotes a program for consumers who wish to see the information the company has on them.

As a former pharmaceuticals industry reporter who has researched all kinds of diseases, drugs and quack cures online, I wanted to learn, for one, whether Acxiom had pegged me as concerned about arthritis, diabetes or allergies. Acxiom also has a proprietary household classification system that places people in one of 70 socioeconomic categories, like “Downtown Dwellers” or “Flush Families,” and I hoped to discover the caste to which it had assigned me.

But after I filled out an online request form and sent a personal check for $5 to cover the processing fee, the company simply sent me a list of some of my previous residential addresses. In other words, rather than learning the details about myself that marketers might use to profile and judge me, I received information I knew already.

It turns out that Acxiom, based in Little Rock, Ark., furnishes consumers only with data related to risk management, like their own prison records, tax liens, bankruptcy filings and residential histories. For a corporate client, the company is able to match customers by name with, say, the social networks or Internet providers they use, but it does not offer consumers the same information about themselves.

(click here to continue reading Acxiom Consumer Data, Often Unavailable to Consumers – NYTimes.com.)

Numbers Add Up to Nothing
Numbers Add Up to Nothing

and I’m totally in favor of the FTC forcing these companies to become more transparent, based upon the historical precedent of the credit card industry’s standard practice:

Now federal regulators are pressuring data brokers to operate more transparently. In a report earlier this year, the Federal Trade Commission recommended that the industry set up a public Web portal that would display the names and contact information of data brokers, as well as describe consumers’ data access rights and other choices.

Julie Brill, a member of the Federal Trade Commission, said consumers should have access to all the details that data brokers collect on them, as well as any analyses that the companies sell about their behavior.

“I include in that not just the raw data, but also how that information has been analyzed to place the consumer into certain categories for marketing or other purposes,” she said. “I believe that giving consumers this kind of granularity will greatly increase consumer trust in the information flow process and will lead to more accurate marketing.”

At the moment, however, information brokers have wildly different policies. Acxiom lets people opt out of its marketing databases, while Epsilon, another marketing services firm, allows people to opt out of having their data rented to third parties. Epsilon says it will also furnish individuals, upon request, with general information about their past retail transactions — including the categories and years of purchase. But it does not include exact product or retailer names.

Commissioner Brill of the F.T.C. said she could not comment on specific companies. But she said the reluctance of the data broker industry to show consumers their own records reminded her of an earlier era, when consumer reporting agencies — companies that track and sell information about people’s credit histories — protested that it would be too expensive and time-consuming for them to show individuals the same reports that creditors could see. In 1996, Congress updated the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970, giving people greater access to the files that those agencies held about them. Today, consumers can easily gain access to their credit reports online.

“What the credit reporting industry did was change their point of view from client-oriented to consumer-oriented, and develop the tools and technology to allow consumers to see what’s in their reports and ensure it is accurate,” Ms. Brill said. “The data broker industry could do the exact same thing.”

(click here to continue reading Acxiom Consumer Data, Often Unavailable to Consumers – NYTimes.com.)

Written by Seth Anderson

July 23rd, 2012 at 6:07 am

Zion IL sounds like Hell On Earth

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Whisky versus Whiskey
Whisky versus Whiskey

Zion Illinois, a Christian theocracy, sounds like hell on earth, at least to me. Why would anyone want to live there? Maybe there’s more to Zion than just the repression and hypocrisy, but I’d never want to find out.

As in other Chicago suburbs, Zion leaders struggle to provide services with less money, dealing with shrinking budgets, employee layoffs and declining tax revenue. But officials also remain beholden in some ways to the city’s colorful, religion-centric past.

Called “Mayberry-esque” by one business investor, Zion is home to residents who can still recall praying twice daily when a bell tolled. They live on streets named after biblical figures and landmarks, such as Gabriel, Hebron and Ezekiel avenues.

And in trying to balance a community’s history with modern economic development, perhaps no issue is more fraught with controversy than alcohol sales. In Zion, liquor has been sold under strict parameters since voters ended the local prohibition in 2004.

Zion was among the last suburban holdouts as a dry community. Even Wheaton — college alma mater of evangelist Billy Graham — overturned its prohibition on alcohol in 1985 after much controversy.…

Yet ever since the 1998 closing of Zion’s nuclear power plant — once dubbed the “golden goose” by Harrison — officials have tried to replace the millions in lost revenue. They have enjoyed mixed success, aided by the addition of alcohol sales that opened the door to chain restaurants and a hotel that caters to Zion’s largest employer, the Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Midwestern Regional Medical Center.

(click here to continue reading Zion officials struggle with brewery proposal – chicagotribune.com.)

Jesus Hoards
Jesus Hoards

a small bit of history:

JOHN ALEXANDER DOWIE was born in Edinboro’ Scotland on May 25, 1847 and received his religious conviction — while singing a hymn from a street pulpit in that city — at age seven. His family emigrated to Australia when he was thirteen; there he attended seminary and held a number of pastoral positions in the Congregational Church before resigning the last to become a full-time non-denominational evangelist in 1878.

As a young man he experienced a healing from chronic indigestion which he attributed to divine intervention; this led to his growing activity as a faith healer and ultimately to the foundation of his International Divine Healing Association. He left for the United States in 1888, and after two years on the Pacific coast moved to Evanston, Illinois. During the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 he led healing services in a large tabernacle across the way from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

 …Following a decade of legal wrangling with the Chicago authorities, between 1899 and 1901 Dowie secretly bought ten square miles of lakefront land 40 miles to the north and founded a true American theocracy: Zion, Illinois. Here people could — and would — live sinless lives in conditions approximating (as nearly as possible) those obtaining after the Millennium. Whether the New Jerusalem’s citizens will, in fact, be summoned to worship by steam whistle remains to be seen; but they were in Zion.

…Dowie owned everything personally, although settlers were offered 1,100-year leases (i.e., 100 years to usher in the Kingdom and 1,000 for Christ’s millennial reign — after that, seemingly, you were on your own). The leases specifically forbade gambling, dancing, swearing, spitting, theaters, circuses, the manufacture and sale of alcohol or tobacco, pork, oysters, doctors, politicians — and tan-colored shoes. The city police carried a billy club on one hip and a Bible on the other; their helmets were adorned with a dove and the word “PATIENCE.” At the height of his power and influence, Dowie was worth several million dollars and claimed 50,000 followers, 6,000 of whom lived in Zion City.

  In 1901 Dowie proclaimed himself “Elijah the Restorer” and began to wear High-Priestly robes. This caused many disciples to fall away; the subsequent decrease in income combined with the expenses of building Zion marked the beginning of Dowie’s slide into bankruptcy. It was at this time that rumors of his polygamous teaching and activities, use of alcohol, and extravagant lifestyle began to gain currency, not only in the world, but also within the Church

(click here to continue reading John Alexander Dowie | Evangelist – Biography | Zion City, Illinois.)

Valpolicella Classico 2007 finito
Valpolicella Classico 2007 finito

…and since business decisions are secondary to interpretations of Christian doctrine, Zion is not a home of the free…

Finally, the businessmen were referred to the Planning and Zoning Board, which would review their original request to rent space within the former lace factory. The 385,000-square-foot brick building was one of the first businesses Dowie opened in Zion, which was incorporated in 1902.

Dowie’s early designs for the city are woven throughout Zion’s fabric, and they have continued to court controversy over the years.

“He would roll over in his grave because of the liquor. Other than that, I think he’d be fairly impressed,” said Commissioner Jim Taylor, citing the city’s attempts to preserve buildings such as Dowie’s original home, the Shiloh House.

By 1903, Dowie had attracted newcomers to his Christian utopia from Southern states and elsewhere around the world, with many hoping that he could heal them of disease. He had gained notoriety for his faith healing during Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and found an international audience with a publication, “Leaves of Healing.”

He opened a wood-frame hotel where new residents lived until their houses were built. The hotel is long gone, but a gold dome was salvaged and is about to be repainted by a local business, Coral Chemical Co.

In 1990, city leaders were forced to drop the Zion corporate seal, which included a cross, a dove and a crown, after a federal court found it to be an unconstitutional endorsement of Christianity.

Well-known atheist Rob Sherman took the city back to court over the seal last fall, after city Commissioner Shantal Taylor resurrected it in an ad for a community event.

Taylor promised Judge James Zagel she wouldn’t use the seal again. She continues, though, to frame her personal vision for Zion within a Christian context.

“I really believe that great things are going to happen in Zion again,” said Taylor, opposed to the brewery. “If we go by a saying, ‘History repeats itself,’ then Zion is in for one heck of a repeat because this city was created to bring the God of gods glory.”

(click here to continue reading Zion officials struggle with brewery proposal – chicagotribune.com.)

Written by Seth Anderson

June 25th, 2012 at 6:48 am

We Only Think We Know the Truth About Salt

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Morton Salt
Morton Salt

Amazingly, a public health initiative is based on shaky research. Shocking, I know…

And yet, this eat-less-salt argument has been surprisingly controversial — and difficult to defend. Not because the food industry opposes it, but because the actual evidence to support it has always been so weak.

When I spent the better part of a year researching the state of the salt science back in 1998 — already a quarter century into the eat-less-salt recommendations — journal editors and public health administrators were still remarkably candid in their assessment of how flimsy the evidence was implicating salt as the cause of hypertension.

“You can say without any shadow of a doubt,” as I was told then by Drummond Rennie, an editor for The Journal of the American Medical Association, that the authorities pushing the eat-less-salt message had “made a commitment to salt education that goes way beyond the scientific facts.”

While, back then, the evidence merely failed to demonstrate that salt was harmful, the evidence from studies published over the past two years actually suggests that restricting how much salt we eat can increase our likelihood of dying prematurely. Put simply, the possibility has been raised that if we were to eat as little salt as the U.S.D.A. and the C.D.C. recommend, we’d be harming rather than helping ourselves.

WHY have we been told that salt is so deadly? Well, the advice has always sounded reasonable. It has what nutritionists like to call “biological plausibility.” Eat more salt and your body retains water to maintain a stable concentration of sodium in your blood. This is why eating salty food tends to make us thirsty: we drink more; we retain water. The result can be a temporary increase in blood pressure, which will persist until our kidneys eliminate both salt and water.

The scientific question is whether this temporary phenomenon translates to chronic problems: if we eat too much salt for years, does it raise our blood pressure, cause hypertension, then strokes, and then kill us prematurely? It makes sense, but it’s only a hypothesis. The reason scientists do experiments is to find out if hypotheses are true.

In 1972, when the National Institutes of Health introduced the National High Blood Pressure Education Program to help prevent hypertension, no meaningful experiments had yet been done. The best evidence on the connection between salt and hypertension came from two pieces of research. One was the observation that populations that ate little salt had virtually no hypertension. But those populations didn’t eat a lot of things — sugar, for instance — and any one of those could have been the causal factor. The second was a strain of “salt-sensitive” rats that reliably developed hypertension on a high-salt diet. The catch was that “high salt” to these rats was 60 times more than what the average American consumes.

Still, the program was founded to help prevent hypertension, and prevention programs require preventive measures to recommend. Eating less salt seemed to be the only available option at the time, short of losing weight. Although researchers quietly acknowledged that the data were “inconclusive and contradictory” or “inconsistent and contradictory” — two quotes from the cardiologist Jeremiah Stamler, a leading proponent of the eat-less-salt campaign, in 1967 and 1981 — publicly, the link between salt and blood pressure was upgraded from hypothesis to fact.

In the years since, the N.I.H. has spent enormous sums of money on studies to test the hypothesis, and those studies have singularly failed to make the evidence any more conclusive. Instead, the organizations advocating salt restriction today — the U.S.D.A., the Institute of Medicine, the C.D.C. and the N.I.H. — all essentially rely on the results from a 30-day trial of salt, the 2001 DASH-Sodium study. It suggested that eating significantly less salt would modestly lower blood pressure; it said nothing about whether this would reduce hypertension, prevent heart disease or lengthen life.

(click here to continue reading We Only Think We Know the Truth About Salt – NYTimes.com.)

As a personal note, probably based on my mother’s attitude, I’ve always been skeptical about removing salt, and butter, and eggs, and whatever else the demon food of the moment is, from my diet. I cannot say I am in optimal health, but my preference is to eat fresh foods, and eat a variety of them. I try to stay away from deep fried foods, especially from crappy chain restaurants, and I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, and so I don’t consume much sugar, but otherwise, I don’t really have restrictions, besides personal taste preferences. Which is why Mayor Bloomberg’s anti-soda crusade seems a bit ridiculous…

Bloomberg as The Nanny
Bloomberg as The Nanny

Full page ad in Saturday’s NYT (not all shown)

QR code at the bottom led here:

Center for Consumer Freedom”  

 

((Shot with my Hipstamatic for iPhone / Lens: Watts / Film: Kodot XGrizzled))

 

Written by Seth Anderson

June 3rd, 2012 at 8:17 am