Roundup: sick bees, tanning tax

A couple of years ago vendors of honey at the Rochester Public Market told me about something called “Colony Collapse Disorder” – a mysterious something that caused adult bees to fly off and die. CBS News reported that colony collapse disorder has wiped out 3 million to 4 million beehives in the United States, about 30 percent of the total.  My vendor friends blamed pesticides, and they may be right; many of the dead hives have high residues of pesticides and other chemicals. Many kinds of fruits and vegetables, such as apples and raspberries, depend on bees for pollination. We won’t starve to death without the bees, according to agricultural experts in an article on the Atlantic Monthly web site, but our diet will be a lot less varied.

Books such as Fast Food Nation and movies such as “Supersize Me” put the blame for the nation’s obesity problem on the fast food industry and its ability to manipulate our desire for more.  But a scholar who has studied paintings of the Last Supper says that portion sizes in the paintings have been growing for the past 1,000 years, according to the Los Angeles Times. By comparing the size of the meal to the size of the disciples’ heads, Brian and Craig Wansink determined that the size of the plates increased 67 percent, the size of the entrees increased 70 percent and the size of just the bread increased 23 percent over the past millennium. It is a good thing that people today are bigger, healthier and better-fed than people back then, but you can have too much of a good thing.

The health care reform law contains a 10 percent tax on tanning salon services, but not a 5 percent cosmetic surgery tax that was in an earlier draft. The American Conservative magazine web log says this is a good example of what’s wrong with the Democratic Party. The writer says the Democrats ought not to favor the affluent classes who can afford Botox treatments over the regular folks who patronize tanning salons. I have to agree, although cosmetic surgery isn’t always a luxury; it would be a necessity for someone whose face was disfigured in an accident or because of a birth defect.

The Social Security trust fund will pay out more in benefits this year than it will collect in taxes, the New York Times reports. But it won’t run a deficit, because the interest on the U.S. Treasury bonds it holds will make up the difference. Back in the Reagan years, there was a bipartisan agreement to increase payroll taxes so that the Social Security trust fund would have a surplus when the baby boom generation reached retirement age.  An Associated Press article says the fund consists of  “government IOUs,” as if this was a problem. Should the Social Security trust fund have been invested in dot.com stocks or hedge funds?

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