August 28, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 PM


Evangelical Leader Sees Romney as Latest Convert (ELIZABETH FLOCK, August 28, 2012, US News)

"You really have to appreciate the religious history of America to see what a big moment it is to have a Mormon greeted like a hero at a fundamentalist, independent Baptist university," Reed said. "And to have evangelicals turning out in the largest numbers in history to vote for our ticket and not have a Protestant on it."

Reed attributed some of this shift to Romney's changed stance on abortion. When Romney was running for governor of Massachusetts, he promised abortion rights groups he would be a "good voice" for them. By 2005, however, he professed to be anti-abortion.

"They are not going to hold it against someone because they had a different view," Reed says. "The whole Evangelical theology is based on conversions, they are used to making converts. They don't take converts and kick 'em in the teeth. They hug them, they love on them."

Evangelicals, it seems, are content to treat Romney as their newest convert.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 PM


A Rational Discussion of the Federal Budget (Thomas Sowell, August 28, 2012, Real Clear Politics)

For those of us who like to believe that human beings are rational, trying to explain what happens in politics can be a real challenge.

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 PM


Social Security's Woes Are Worse Than You Think (Ramesh Ponnuru, Aug 27, 2012, Bloomberg)

[W]e have a better sense of how to restrain the growth of Social Security than of Medicare.

One promising option is to reduce the growth of Social Security benefit levels, especially for high earners. The program could be reformed so that high earners who retire in 2040 receive the same benefit level that high earners who retire in 2020 will -- with an adjustment for inflation, but nothing more. Under the program as it stands now, those future retirees will get a bigger benefit.

Benefit levels for people in the middle of the income spectrum, meanwhile, could be set so that they more than keep up with inflation but don't rise as much as currently scheduled.

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 PM


Many Bone Tests for Some, and Too Few for Others (RONI CARYN RABIN, 8/28/12, NY Times)

[R]ecent reports suggest that too many younger women are being evaluated and treated for bone loss when they should not be.

The standard in bone screening is dual energy X-ray absorptiometry, or DXA, a relatively inexpensive test that measures bone mineral density and is usually covered by insurance. But the consensus among physician groups is that healthy women who are not at any particular risk for osteoporosis should not even be tested until they turn 65.

This year, the American Academy of Family Physicians cited the scans among five tests that are often performed unnecessarily and may lead to overtreatment of patients. Yet 20 percent to 60 percent of family physicians and internists have been performing DXA scans on younger women. Too much screening often leads to too much treatment, doctors say.

"If you do testing earlier on and you identify osteopenia or osteoporosis, then you're compelled to want to treat these folks," said Dr. Glen Stream, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

For low-risk patients with modest bone loss, or osteopenia, bisphosphonates like Fosamax and Boniva may do more harm than good, Dr. Stream noted.

In May, the Food and Drug Administration warned that while the drugs can significantly reduce the risk of fracture during the first few years of use, they have little if any benefit after three to five years. At the same time, the risks for rare but serious side effects -- including unusual fractures of the femur and bone death of the jaw -- may increase.

Indeed, consumers have voted with their feet, abandoning the drugs in droves. The number of dispensed prescriptions for bisphosphonates has plummeted to an estimated 24.7 million this year from 46.8 million in 2007, according to IMS Health, a health care information and services company, even though cheaper generic formulations have become available.

Part of the problem is that once doctors develop certain practice habits, they become ingrained and are hard to change, said Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice and an author of "Overdiagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health."

And postmenopausal women represent "a huge market," Dr. Welch added. "That's a big part of the story."

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM


Weird Cloud Atlas: a collection of spectacular cloud formations (the Telegraph, 8/28/12)

Tornadic supercell thunderstorm over a plain in Mycroft, Wyoming, US.  Supercell thunderstorms rotate with immense energy, causing a strong updraft and severe weather, including tornadoes, hail, heavy rain, lightning and heavy winds. Inside these severe long-lived storms the wind speed and direction changes with height. This produces a strong rotating updraft of warm air (a mesocyclone) as well as a separate downdraft of cold air. Around a third of supercells produce tornadoes and are termed tornadic.

Tornadic supercell thunderstorm over a plain in Mycroft, Wyoming, US. Supercell thunderstorms rotate with immense energy, causing a strong updraft and severe weather, including tornadoes, hail, heavy rain, lightning and heavy winds. Inside these severe long-lived storms the wind speed and direction changes with height. This produces a strong rotating updraft of warm air (a mesocyclone) as well as a separate downdraft of cold air. Around a third of supercells produce tornadoes and are termed tornadic.
Picture: Science Photo Library / Rex Features

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


The coming one-state juggernaut (Judah Skoff, AUGUST 22, 2012, Times of Israel)

[I]n a recent interview with Charlie Rose, King Abdullah II of Jordan said that unless Israel granted the Palestinians their own state soon, Israel would become an apartheid state. As a hereditary monarch, King Abdullah has limited credibility on the subject of democracy. However, on the very next night, former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon essentially agreed with the king. If Israel does not figure out a way to permanently withdraw from the Palestinian-populated areas beyond the 1967 borders, it will need to make an impossible choice: either give up on being a democracy and commit to ruling over a minority -- but projected to become a majority -- population, without political rights, or cease to be a Jewish state and give all Palestinians the right to vote in Israeli elections. It bears noting, however, that Israel has already withdrawn from the major Palestinian population centers in the West Bank. The Palestinians have their own extensive security forces, and a political establishment. In fact, even in the midst of a global economic crises, the West Bank has experienced significant economic growth in the last several years. All of these factors, in my view, make any use of the term "apartheid" inappropriate and inapplicable.

However, if the Palestinians began demanding political rights within Israel, and called for the establishment of a single bi-national state, the international pressure on Israel could be extraordinary. In reality, this demand for the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state has been heard since 1948, but is now cloaked in new garb. One can easily imagine protests in European capitals, if not the United States, with demonstrators carrying signs demanding that Israel "Let Them Vote." Commentators and pundits around the world would call for a boycott, not just of Israeli settlements but of Israel itself. Many would conclude that the Israeli experiment "did not work." The fact that the Palestinians have refused three offers to create a state will not matter; nor will their already existing autonomy in Palestinian populated areas; nor will Hamas's consistent calls for Israel's destruction, which will be seen as unimportant, somehow unrelated to the quandary.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM


America the Undertaxed : U.S. Fiscal Policy in Perspective (Andrea Louise Campbell, September/October 2012, Foreign Affairs)

The first striking feature of the fiscal state of the United States, when compared with those of other developed countries, is its small size. As of 2009, among the 34 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a collection of the world's most economically advanced democracies, the United States had the third-lowest ratio of taxes to GDP (see chart). But it is important to look at pre-recession data, which better reflect long-term trends. In 2006, before the financial crisis struck, OECD tax statistics showed that total taxes in the United States -- at all levels of government: federal, state, and local -- were 27.9 percent of GDP, three-quarters the percentages in Germany and the United Kingdom and about half of those in Denmark and Sweden. Among the rich democracies in 2006, only South Korea had lower taxes.

The reason for this discrepancy is not that the United States has lower personal income tax revenues than its OECD counterparts. In fact, in 2006, personal income taxes at the federal, state, and local levels in the United States came to 10.1 percent of GDP, just above the OECD average of 9.2 percent. Instead, the disparity results from the low effective rates -- or nonexistence -- of other forms of taxation. To take one example, in 2006, the U.S. corporate income tax at all levels of government collected 3.4 percent of GDP, compared with an average of 3.8 percent across the OECD. During that same year, according to the OECD, U.S. social insurance taxes brought in 6.6 percent of GDP, compared with an average of 9.2 percent among the OECD nations. Yet the biggest difference between the United States and other OECD countries is in consumption tax revenue. Most U.S. states have sales taxes, and the federal government maintains excise taxes (taxes on such goods as alcohol, cigarettes, and fuel) and customs duties (taxes on imported goods). Yet none of those taxes currently collects the same amount of revenue as a value-added tax (VAT) would (a VAT is a consumption tax that collects revenue from the value added by each business at each stage in the chain of production of a given product). OECD statistics show that VATs bring in an average of 6.7 percent of GDP among the OECD nations, accounting for the majority of the difference in total tax revenues between the United States, which does not have a VAT, and the rest of the OECD. 

U.S. tax revenue is not only low but also consistently low, having equaled roughly the same share of the economy for 60 years. Since the tremendous growth of the federal government during World War II, federal tax revenues have hovered around 18 percent of GDP. This stability has also proved to be true of state and local tax levels, which have fluctuated between eight and ten percent of GDP over the same period. Over that time, taxes in the other OECD countries have grown more than in the United States. In 1965, total tax revenues stood at about 25 percent of GDP in the United States and across the rest of the OECD. But by 2000, tax revenue represented 30 percent of GDP in the United States and 37 percent in the rest of the OECD. The enacting of VATs throughout the OECD during the 1960s and 1970s accounts for much of the difference. It also accounts for the steadiness of European tax revenues through the global financial crisis. By 2009, total tax revenues had dropped to 24 percent of GDP in the United States, but they had fallen just two points, to an average of 35 percent of GDP, in the other OECD countries.

Although tax receipts have composed approximately the same share of GDP for decades in the United States, their composition has changed. In particular, the corporate tax has plunged as a source of federal revenues, from 30 percent in the 1950s to ten percent today. As Republicans are quick to point out, the United States does have one of the highest statutory corporate tax rates in the developed world. Combining the federal and state levels, the top rate of these taxes is 39 percent, compared with an average of 36 percent across the G-7 and 31 percent across the OECD. Yet as with the individual income tax, the United States applies these statutory rates to a narrower base of taxpayers than other advanced countries do, due to various corporate tax credits and breaks, such as the accelerated depreciation of machinery and equipment and the deferral of taxes on income earned abroad. As a result, according to a report issued by the U.S. Treasury Department, between 2000 and 2005, on average, U.S. businesses paid an effective tax rate of only 13 percent, nearly three percent below the OECD average and the lowest rate among the G-7 countries.

Whereas corporate tax revenues have fallen, revenues from payroll taxes for programs such as Social Security and Medicare have grown. The Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center found that these taxes rose from 23 percent of federal revenue in 1970 to 40 percent in 2010. In fact, the majority of Americans pay more in payroll taxes than in federal income taxes. This is the case in part because the United States imposes payroll taxes on all wages without the exemptions and deductions so common to individual and corporate income taxes and in part because the Earned Income Tax Credit, which helps offset the federal income and payroll taxes of low-wage workers, reduces or eliminates income taxes for many with low earnings.

Even as payroll tax revenues have risen, the individual income tax, which in 2010 accounted for 42 percent of national revenue, has remained the main source of federal income. According to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, for decades prior to the Bush tax cuts of 2001-3, despite many alterations to tax bases and rates, the individual income tax provided a steady and large percentage of federal revenue. That is because the government tended to compensate for changes in rates by expanding or shrinking the tax base when necessary. During the 1970s, the tax code featured 25 income brackets and a top rate of 70 percent. Legislation passed during Ronald Reagan's presidency reduced the number of brackets to just two, dropped the top rate to 28 percent, ended a number of tax breaks, and pegged the brackets to inflation, ending so-called bracket creep, in which inflation forced taxpayers into higher tax brackets even though their real incomes stayed flat. President George H. W. Bush brought the top rate back up to 35 percent, and President Bill Clinton further raised it to 39.6 percent, but each administration added a number of new tax breaks, from an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit to a credit for a child's tuition. The Bush tax cuts reduced taxes on capital gains and dividends and on estates and cut the top tax rate yet again, to 35 percent. 

The largest tax reductions from these changes went to high-income households. In fact, the United States currently taxes top earners at some of the lowest effective rates in the country's history. Data from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) show that the top one percent of taxpayers paid an average federal income tax rate of 23 percent in 2008, about one-third less than they paid in 1980, despite the fact that their incomes are now much higher in both real and relative terms. Although the rich enjoyed by far the largest tax cuts, the middle class is also paying lower taxes. In 2011, the effective federal income tax rate for a family of four with a median income was just 5.6 percent, compared with 12 percent in 1980. And because of the Earned Income Tax Credit, about 40 percent of low-income U.S. households do not pay any federal income tax. 

Altogether, the adoption and continuation of the Bush tax cuts has slashed federal revenues by about three percent of GDP, to levels not seen since shortly after World War II. As a result, the individual income tax now constitutes a smaller share of the economy than it did 30 years ago, falling from 10.4 percent of GDP in 1981 to 8.8 percent in 2005. By permitting extensive loopholes, failing to create effective consumption taxes, and cutting individual income taxes, the United States has created a tax system that collects far less revenue relative to GDP than many of its OECD counterparts.

The remarkable thing is that if you just get revenues back to that historic 18% of GDP and cut military expenditures back down from 6% to their normal level under 2% there basically is no budget problem.

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 AM


Virtually Exhausted : The limitations of the American work ethic (William Deresiewicz, American Scholar)

To every age its virtue. For the Greeks, courage; the Romans, duty; the Middle Ages, piety. Our virtue is industriousness, in the industrial age. (It is one that would have been incomprehensible to other times. The Greeks had a word for people who worked harder than anyone else: slaves.) It is the Protestant ethic, in other words, made general by the Victorians as the factories rose. That it is a virtue, not merely a value, is proved by the aura of righteousness that surrounds it. A virtue is not just a personal excellence, it is something that is felt to call down blessings upon the community, that wins the gods' approval, that possesses not just practical but metaphysical worth. We're in a panic, as a nation, that we don't work hard enough, and blame this iniquity for our "decline." God--the one who blesses America--is withdrawing his favor. Hence the sanctimoniousness with which the topic of work is approached. If you don't work as hard as people think you should, you're not just morally inferior, you're committing a kind of spiritual treason. And if you deny the value of work as a matter of principle, you're treated like a heretic.

That we're dealing here with something like a national religion is proved by one of its most cherished articles of faith. If you work hard enough, the maxim goes, you can do anything. This is one of those notions that is so stupid it has to embody a deeply held belief. If you work hard enough, you can be a poet. If you work hard enough, you can play for the Knicks. If you work hard enough, you can become a brain surgeon, a model, the president. Obviously no one believes those things. That it doesn't occur to anyone to consider them means we must be dealing with a matter of dogma.

Nor does it occur to many to question whether there's a difference between being at work and doing work.