Archive for February, 2012

The Democratic lady and her friend

February 29, 2012

Click on Ted Rall’s Rallblog for his web site and latest cartoon.

Click on Photo gallery: Ted Rall Cartoons for a selection of his cartoons from the Los Angeles Times.

The success and limits of economic stimulus

February 28, 2012

New unemployment insurance claims

It is a fact that economic recovery began after President Obama took office.  I believe that the recovery was helped by his economic stimulus program and by programs already in place such as food stamps and unemployment insurance.  These helped cushion the effects of the recession and allow recovery to take place.  I can’t prove this.  There is no way to go back in time and run another scenario in which the government stood aside and allowed events to take their course.

The problem is that the recovery is so slow, and that even when and if economic conditions get back to the way they were before.  During the supposed expansion preceding the 2007 recession, wages were declining (in terms of buying power), American manufacturing was being eroded and poverty was increasing.

Below are some charts which illustrate the weakness of the current economic recovery.


The many sources of Wall Street power

February 27, 2012

No matter which party is in powerful, Wall Street firms such as Goldman Sachs have a powerful voice in Washington.  This will be hard to change.  Wall Street’s power has many dimensions.

  • Wall Street is a power center independent of government.  James Carville, one of President Bill Clinton’s main political advisers, famously said that if he died, he would like to be reincarnated as the bond market, because that is the entity to which everybody bowed down.  Interest rates determine the limits of what government can pay for.  But I think the bond market is less an impersonal force than the decisions of a dozen or two bankers and a handful of rating agencies.
  • Candidates depend on campaign contributions in order to be able to run, and more campaign funds come from big financial institutions than any other interest group.
  • The financial industry’s lobbyists are more numerous and have better access than advocates for depositors, borrowers and investors.  This does not necessarily imply corruption.  No decision-maker is better than their sources of information, and Wall Street lobbyists are always on hand to provide information from their point of view.
  • The White House draws on Wall Street executives to staff the Treasury Department and other economic posts partly because they have expertise on the complexities of high finance.  This has become the default decision.  A Robert Rubin, Henry Paulson or Timothy Geithner is an uncontroversial appointment for Treasury Secretary.  If a President appointed an outsider such as Paul Krugman or Joseph Stiglitz, they would be blamed for everything that went wrong in the economy.  Furthermore they might have trouble finding qualified underlings not drawn from Wall Street.
  • Wall Street has won the battle of ideas.  President Obama, like Presidents Bush and Clinton, apparently believes sincerely that letting banks fail or subjecting them to serious regulation or prosecuting financial fraud would destabilize the economy.  Leaders of both political parties agree with Wall Street’s priority of a balanced budget over putting people to work.

Click on The Quiet Coup for an article by Simon Johnson, former chief economist for the International Monetary Fund, on Wall Street’s control of U.S. economic policy.

Click on The new American oligarchy for my review of 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Crisis by Simon Johnson and James Kwak.  I highly recommend the book.

Click on The financialization of America for my review of Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Policies and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism by Kevin Phillips.  I highly recommend the book.

Click on How the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate Sector Drove the Political Growth of the One Percent of the One Percent for a report on the explosive growth of large political campaign contributions by Wall Street firms.

Click on The Wall Street-Washington Revolving Door Keeps Spinning for a report by Bill Moyers.

Is it too late for a new candidate?

February 27, 2012

It is technically possible that Republican voters could turn to a candidate other than Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul.  Highly unlikely, but technically possible.

› Under the rules, a [Republican] candidate must win 1,144 delegates during the primary season to win a majority and secure the nomination

› It is thought that a new candidate jumping in now would only be able to compete in eight of the remaining primaries – that gives them a possible 519 candidates up for grabs

› But a good showing in those primaries could not only establish that candidate’s credibility but also mean that none of the other candidates reach that 1,144 figure

› That would raise the prospect of what is known as a brokered convention, which essentially turns August’s Republican convention into one big debate to decide the nominee

via Al Jazeera English.

The Republicans’ dissatisfaction with their current crop of candidates isn’t new.  It is more common than not in each Presidential election for both Democrats and Republicans to ask:  Is this really the best we can do?  Since this happens so often, maybe the problem lies with the process rather than the individuals.  Can’t we come up with a process that is less exhausting, less demeaning and less expensive?

Click on Huntsman, Barbour Call for New Candidate for news of Republican dissatisfaction with the current selection of candidates.

Click on Republicans Want a Nominee Pre-Convention for a Gallup poll indicating that 55 percent of Republican voters are dissatisfied with their current selection, but they want the choice to be made in the primaries and not by a convention.

Click on Results of the 2012 Republican Party presidential primaries for Wikipedia’s running report on the Republican race.

Click on Republican presidential candidates 2012 for Wikipedia’s comprehensive roundup on all the Republican candidates.

The troops support Ron Paul

February 26, 2012

The Presidential candidates who talk the most about going to war with Iran get the least in campaign contributions from the troops who would have to do the fighting.  Ron Paul, the most outspoken opponent of war with Iran, gets the most.

Political campaign donations to Ron Paul from members of the U.S. uniformed military exceed donations to Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum combined, in every branch of military service.  President Obama gets more donations than Rep. Paul from employees of the U.S. Department of Defense, which I’d guess are mainly civilians.

Click on Why Does the Military Love Ron Paul? for background on the chart in Mother Jones magazine.   The Mother Jones writer said that troopers are impressed by Ron Paul’s opposition to military intervention abroad, his libertarianism and the fact that he served as a flight surgeon in the Air Force and Air National Guard during the Vietnam era.

By the way, even though the U.S. Department of Defense is a huge bureaucracy, it is not a contradiction for libertarians to serve in armed forces, as the Mother Jones article implies.  The libertarian philosophy is that national defense is one of the few necessary and Constitutional functions of government.

Click on Military Donors Prefer Ron Paul for a report from the Center for Responsive Politics.

Click on Ron Paul gets the most military donations for an independent report from Army Times.

Hat tip for the chart to The Agitator.


Trying to decide about global warming

February 26, 2012

The facts about global warming are as follows:

  • Carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gasses have the chemical property of being transparent to visible light, but translucent to infrared radiation (radiant heat).  The higher the concentration of these greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, the more of the earth’s heat will be reflected back into their earth.
  • Concentrations of greenhouse gasses are rising steadily.  So are recorded temperatures.  There are other things that are known to affect global temperatures, but they all are cyclical.  The greenhouse effect will increase without limit, unless either human beings decide to set a limit or a crash in the global economic or ecological system sets a limit for us.

Click on Why Global Warming Skeptics Are Wrong for an article by William D. Nordhaus, Sterling professor of  economics at Yale University, in the New York Review of Books.  [Added 2/28/12]

Click on Climate Change: the Evidence for a summary of the evidence from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Click on State of the Climate for the latest report of the National Climate Data Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Click on Michael E. Mann’s The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars for an account of one scientist’s battle with climate change deniers.

Click on Hockey stick controversy wiki for a Wikipedia article about the “hockey stick” graph of global temperature change.

Click on xkcd for more cartoons.

Henry Miller’s 11 Commandments for writing

February 26, 2012
  • 1.  Work on one thing at a time until finished.
  • 2.  Start no more new books, add no more new material to “Black Spring.”
  • 3.  Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
  • 4.  Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
  • 5.  When you can’t create you can work.
  • 6.  Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
  • 7.  Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
  • 8.  Don’t be a draught-horse!  Work with pleasure only.
  • 9.  Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day.  Concentrate.  Narrow down. Exclude.
  • 10.  Forget the books you want to write.  Think only of the book you are writing.
  • 11.  Write first and always.  Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

Click on Lists of Note for more lists.

Click on The Reality of Henry Miller for an appreciation of Henry Miller by Kenneth Rexroth.

Click on Henry Miller wiki for his Wikipedia biography.

Click on Kurt Vonnegut’s eight rules for writing fiction for another writer’s rules.

Snowboarding with the lights on

February 25, 2012

Jacob Sutton is a fashion photographer and filmmaker based in London.

Click on Jacob Sutton for his home page.

Click on Jacob Sutton’s Blog for his web log.

Hat tip to Jason Kottke.

Social Security is an American success story

February 24, 2012

For many old people, Social Security make the difference between a life in modest comfort and a life in poverty.  For others, it is the margin of survival.

Social Security has been under attack for decades.  Many young people have been convinced by propaganda that there is a greater chance of encountering a flying saucer than receiving Social Security benefits, and their belief could make this a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The important things to remember about Social Security are:

  • Social Security is not broke.  The Social Security Trust Fund has been accumulating a surplus in the form of interest-bearing U.S. Treasury bonds for decades.  Even though Social Security is currently paying out more in benefits than collecting in payroll taxes, the trust fund surplus makes up the difference.
  • Social Security contributes nothing to the U.S. government deficit (or surplus).  It has its own financing system.
  • “Government IOUs” are the most secure form of investment there are.  The bonds in the trust fund are a fiduciary obligation of the U.S. government, just as much as bonds held in somebody’s Individual Retirement Account or by a foreign bank.
  • If there ever comes a time when the U.S. government is unable to fulfill its obligations, then no other U.S. financial asset will be worth anything either.
  • At some point the Social Security trust fund may reach a point in which it is unable to pay out benefits at the current level.  If that time comes, the choice will be to reduce Social Security benefits by some percentage or raise payroll taxes (or the cutoff point for taxes) by some percentage.  Neither would be catastrophic, according to current projections.
  • The best way to keep Social Security paying out at current levels is to have a growing high-wage full-employment economy.

The chart above is from the Economic Policy Institute.


The trouble with globalization

February 24, 2012

The trouble with globalization is that the only global organizations, except maybe the Roman Catholic Church, are international banks, other international corporations and institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization and the European Central Bank which serve the interests of the banks and corporations.

Trade in goods and services among people in different countries is a good thing, not a bad thing.  Cooperation among nations for common purposes is a good thing, not a bad thing.  But what globalization has come to mean is nations yielding control over national resources, currency and finances to banks, corporations and international institutions that do not have their best interests at heart.

Naomi Klein has described the extreme of this process in The Shock Doctrine—how the international financial community takes advantage of crises to pressure countries to drive down wages and sell off national assets at bargain rates.  This seems to be what’s now going on in Greece.

Democracy exists (so far) only at the national level.  When a nation gives up its national economic sovereignty, it gives up the possibility of democracy.   Instead it is subjected to governance in theory by international civil servants, but all-too-often in practice by an international financial oligarchy.

The European financial crisis shows the pitfalls of an international currency without international democratic governance.  When a nation such as Greece runs a big trade deficit, its national currency becomes worth less, its goods and services become cheaper in terms of other currencies and its trade tends to come back into balance.  A cheaper Greek national currency would make Greece more attractive as a tourist and retirement destination, and help redress the balance.  But because Greece is in the Euro zone, its goods and services cost more, which works to the benefit of exporting nations such as Germany.

The experience of the past 20 years is that the nations that have fared best economically are those whose governments have acted in the national self-interest and disconnected from the IMF and WTO.   Until there are international institutions that are accountable to the public, that will continue to be true.

Click on Europe’s Transition from Social Democracy to Oligarchy for more from Michael Hudson.

Rick Santorum and the GOP dilemma

February 24, 2012

Any political party depends on two kinds of people—the people who contribute the money, and the people who do the work.   Within the Republican Party, the hardest workers are the religious conservatives, the so-called religious right.

Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich know this, and they catered to the religious right, but the religious conservatives don’t trust them.  Rick Santorum, on the other hand, is obviously sincere.  No politician would take the stand he takes, for example, on contraception unless he really believed it.   The religious conservatives trust him, but in gaining their trust, he may have alienated the majority of Americans.

Many Americans oppose abortion and gay rights, and others are ambivalent.  But contraception is another matter.   The majority of Catholics as well as the majority of the population generally take the right to contraception for granted.   If Rick Santorum is the candidate and contraception is the central issue of the 2012 Presidential election, the Republicans will lose.

The Republican dilemma is the result of the flawed U.S. system for nominating Presidential candidates.  Among all the Republican Governors, Senators and other national figures, there surely are some that would both be more electable and be better Presidents than the current crop.  But many of them probably didn’t want to subject themselves to the ordeal of campaigning and fund-raising, and now it is too late to get into the race.

Drifting into war with Iran

February 23, 2012

Colonel Larry Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to Colin Powell when he was Secretary of State in the Bush administration, says the United States is on course to war with Iran.  He draws parallels to the buildup to the invastion of Iraq, the Vietnam conflict and the Bay of Pigs invasion.

His hope is that President Obama, while appeasing the congressional war hawks, is secretly engaged in negotiations with Iran.  It’s a sad state of affairs when the main hope for avoiding disaster is that the President of the United States is not doing what he appears to be doing.

The Republican candidates are all agreed except for Ron Paul agree that Iran is somehow a threat to the United States, and that war would be an answer.  As the Who Is IOZ? blogger commented, Newt Gingrich was called crazy for wanting to establish a lunar colony, but starting a war with Iran—that’s a perfectly rational thing to discuss.

Click on Another March to War? for Matt Taibbi’s thoughts in Rolling Stone.

Click on The View from Iran for a report by Der Spiegel, the German news magazine, on what Iranians think.


The geography of American conservatism

February 23, 2012

Self-described conservatives outnumber liberals in 49 states, according to Gallup.  That’s true even in the state colored light green on the map—all except Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia.  Strangely, the poorest states are the most conservative.  Liberals are strongest in states whose residents contribute the most in federal taxes in comparison to the benefits they receive; conservatives are strongest in states who benefit the most from federal programs in comparison to the taxes they pay.

There are 26 states in which more than 40 percent of those polled by Gallup call themselves conservatives, including three (Mississippi, Utah and Wyoming) in which conservatives are more than 50 percent).  In no state do self-described liberals get above 40 percent, and only in Massachusetts and the District of Columbia do they get above 30 percent.

New York state, where I live, is one of the more liberal states.  It is five to three Democratic in registration and gives President Obama a net favorable approval rating.  Yet in a Gallup poll, self-described conservative New Yorkers outnumber self-described liberals, 32 percent to 26 percent.  (An additional 37 percent of New Yorkers polled told Gallup they are moderates.)

Gallup’s data indicate that:

• Conservative states are considerably more religious than liberal-leaning states, and the correlation between conservatism and religion is increasing.

• Conservative states have a smaller proportion of college graduates, a larger concentration of blue-collar workers and a smaller concentration of “creative” and “knowledge” workers.

• States with more conservatives are less diverse.  They have a smaller percentage of immigrants or of gays and lesbians.  However, it doesn’t seem to matter one way or the other what percentage of the population is black, white or Hispanic.

• States with more conservatives are considerably less affluent than those with more liberals.  Conservatism is correlated with lower state income levels and even more so with lower average hourly earnings.

Within states, the higher-income people tend to be economic conservatives and social liberals and the lower-income people tend to be economic liberals and social conservatives.

My guess is that the Gallup respondents defined themselves in terms of social issues rather than economic issues.  That is because they are offered a meaningful choice on issues such as gay marriage, abortion rights, prayer in the public schools and the like.  On economic issues, not so much.  Liberal Democrats are as much in thrall to Wall Street as conservative Republicans.  Neither faction offers any hope of doing anything about outsourcing, downsizing, foreclosures, declining wages or other material concerns of average Americans.  Only in the so-called moral and cultural issues is there a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties.

We don’t know that average-income voters necessarily consider social issues more important than economic issues.  They might or might not, if given a choice, but they are not given that choice.

The next charts show how ideological differences among the states and among voters within states.


The enduring power of conservatism

February 23, 2012

Self-described conservatives outnumber self-described liberals nearly two to one nationwide.  If you look at this graph, it is easy to understand why the Republican candidates emphasize their conservatism, while Obama and the Democratic leaders emphasize their moderation.    Republicans can win nationally if they get all the conservative voters and a third of moderate voters.  But Democrats can’t win unless they get a large majority of moderates.

In the long run, the perceived lack of appeal of liberalism becomes self-reinforcing.  If liberals insist that they’re really moderates, and not all that liberal, how can anyone take liberalism seriously?  The “movement conservatives” don’t do that.  Even in 1964, when American conservatism seemed washed up, they stuck to their principles and eventually came back.

Click on Conservatives Remain the Largest Ideological Group in U.S. for more from Gallup and the source of the top chart.

Click on State of the States for more from Gallup and the source of the bottom chart.


Why a Jeremy Lin couldn’t emerge in China

February 22, 2012

Jeremy Shu-How Lin, the Taiwanese-American basketball star now playing for the New York Knicks, has a great following in China.  But if he had grown up in China, he wouldn’t have had the same opportunity to become a top basketball player.

Time’s Hannah Beech tells why.

In the U.S., Lin was underrated by pro and college scouts because he is Asian-American.  Chinese fans are indignant about a stereotyping in the States that assumes Americans of Chinese descent can be good engineers or software designers, but not brash NBA stars. 

The criticism is absolutely fair.  But in China, Lin may not have been picked for stardom either.  Firstly, at a mere 6 feet 3 inches—relatively short by basketball standards—Lin might not have registered with Chinese basketball scouts, who in their quest for suitable kids to funnel into the state sports system are obsessed with height over any individual passion for hoops.  That’s why the Chinese basketball league has had a history of producing strong centers—big men like 7 foot 6 inch Yao [Ming, who played for the Houston Rockets,] or 6 foot 11 inch Mengke Bateer, the ethnic Mongolian who played briefly in the NBA—but does poorly when it comes to developing point guards like Lin.

The Economist’s Gady Epstein explains that lack of height wouldn’t have been Lin’s only problem.

What of Mr Lin’s faith?  If by chance Mr Lin were to have gained entry into the sport system, he would not have emerged a Christian, at least not openly so.  China has tens of millions of Christians, and officially tolerates Christianity; but the Communist Party bars religion from its membership and institutions, and religion has no place in its sport model.  One does not see Chinese athletes thanking God for their gifts; their coach and Communist Party leaders, yes, but Jesus Christ the Saviour? No.

Then there is the fact that Mr Lin’s parents probably never would have allowed him anywhere near the Chinese sport system in the first place.  This is because to put one’s child and in China, usually an only child at that, in the sport system is to surrender that child’s upbringing and education to a bureaucracy that cares for little but whether he or she will win medals someday.  If Mr Lin were ultimately to be injured or wash out as an athlete, he would have given up his only chance at an elite education, and been separated from his parents for lengthy stretches, for nothing.

One must add to this the problem of endemic corruption in Chinese sport that also scares away parents—Chinese football referee Lu Jun, once heralded as the “golden whistle” for his probity, was sentenced to jail last week as part of a massive match-fixing scandal.  Most Chinese parents, understandably, prefer to see their children focus on schooling and exams.

In America, meanwhile, athletic excellence actually can open doors to an elite education, through scholarships and recruitment. Harvard does not provide athletic scholarships, but it does recruit players who also happen to be academic stars. There is no real equivalent in China.

I admire all forms of human excellence.  I have posted a number of videos on the amazing feats of Chinese acrobats.  But maybe this excellence is achieved at too high a price.  If you take some child away from their parents, and intensively train them in just one thing, whether it be basketball, gymnastics, ballet or chess, and then discard them if they fall short of perfection, isn’t that the equivalent of the Chinese electronics sweatshops we complain about so much?  What you have sounds like a mixture of Chinese sweatshop manufacturing companies such as Foxconn, and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, in which people are bred and nurtured for their specialist roles in society.

Click on Why Jeremy Lin Can’t Be Made in China for Hannah Beech’s full article in Time.

Click on China’s new sports problem: Stop the Linsanity? for Gady Epstein’s full Banyan column in The Economist.

Click on Jeremy Lin wiki for Wikipedia’s review of his career.

Hat tip to Daniel W. Drezner.


Wall Street’s investment in politics

February 21, 2012

The Sunlight Foundation reported that a large and increasing fraction of political campaign contributions comes from 1 percent of 1 percent of the American people—the nearly 27,000 who give $10,000 or more in an election campaign cycle.  And a large and increasing fraction of that group comes from employees and executives of the FIRE (finance, insurance, real estate) sector, mostly elite banks and investment firms.   Contributions from these big donors increased 700 percent in the past 20 years.

The U.S. economic system is increasingly dominated by companies that buy, sell and create debt, rather than useful products and services.  Employees of these same companies are the leaders in campaign contributions, for both Republicans and Democrats.  And that is why the U.S. government, under Clinton, Bush and Obama, has been so willing to bail out the big banks from the consequences of their mistakes, and so reluctant to subject them to regulation.

Click on How the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate Sector Drove the Growth of the Political One Percent of the One Percent for the Sunlight Foundation report.

Hospitalists and the price of medical efficiency

February 20, 2012

Click to enlarge.

If you’re admitted to a hospital these days, responsibility for your care is likely to be handed off from your family doctor to a specialist known as a “hospitalist” — a physician employed by the hospital whose specialty is knowing how to coordinate and deliver the hospital’s services most efficiently.

“Hospitalist” was a new and rare specialty 15 years ago, but there are more than 30,000 practitioners now.  A Google search shows many hospitals here in the Rochester area advertising for hospitalists.  It is a lucrative specialty.  A 2011 survey shows that 99 percent receive more than $100,000 a year in total compensation and roughly two-thirds receive more than $200,000.

Compensation of hospitalists in 2011.  Click to enlarge.

It seems to me this is another example of how managers of institutions prioritize maximizing efficiency of the system rather than maximizing service to the individual.  For example, you spend time on the phone waiting for customer service representatives to return your call because, if there were enough of them to return your call promptly, they would have down time in which they didn’t take calls.  Electric utility systems have less and less reserve generating capacity, because that capacity is idle except in emergencies.  Many colleges and universities prefer to maximize enrollment even if it means less attention by the individual teacher to the individual student.

I first became aware of the “hospitalist” profession while visiting a friend in San Antonio over the Christmas holidays, and reading an article in the San Antonio Current.  The reporter described a case in which a family has filed a lawsuit about a loved one who died under hospitalist care without being able to see the family or the family doctor.  His article pointed out that:

The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston (UTMB) began researching concerns with the hospitalist paradigm after geriatric specialists noticed hospitalists were not fully communicating with primary care physicians about patient histories and hospital stays.

A study published in the August 2 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine found that Medicare patients under hospitalist care checked out of hospitals sooner than those managed by primary care physicians. However, the hospitalist patients were more likely to be readmitted, costing $1.1 billion in added payments for 120,000 Medicare patients.

Yong-Fang Kuo, a co-author of the study, told the Current that the hospitalist model encourages early discharge to cycle more patients through hospitals. “The shorter stay means more beds are open and, if beds open, that means you can admit more patients,” she said.

Reduced waste and greater efficiency is a good thing, not a bad thing, but I fear the hospitalist is likely to be more concerned with getting me in and out of the hospital in the shortest possible time than giving me the best possible care.  Of course there is a balance to be made here.  To give me a level of care equivalent to that of a Saudi prince or a Fortune 500 CEO would be prohibitively expensive.  The goal should be to set a standard of efficiency, and give the best possible individual care within that standard, not to set a (very) minimum standard of care and maximize efficiency and revenue within that standard.

With or without hospitalists, modern medicine is growing more impersonal.  My relationship with my primary care physician, whom I see for 20 to 30 minutes once a year, is not like my boyhood relationship with my family doctor, who had a close personal knowledge of my parents and me.  During my hospital stays, the main health care workers who’ve been concerned with me as a human being, rather than just for my physical body, were the nurses and aides.

I don’t have good answers to this.  Doctor Zimmerman, my family’s doctor of 60 years ago, lived a life of self-sacrifice, making house calls all day and in the evening seeing patients in his office, which was in his home.  I would not ask anyone to live like this today.  To some extent the impersonality of modern medicine is due to technological advances, without which I would not be alive.  I don’t have a good answer for this.  I would be interested in a second opinion.

Click on Hospitalists: high-tech, high-turnover medicine for the full San Antonio Current article.

Click on The Hospitalist Model of Care for an article by Robert Wachter, one of the original advocates for “hospitalist” as a profession.  The chart at the top of this post is taken from that article.

Click on Survey Results Compare Hospitalist Earnings in 2011 for the source and context of the hospitalist compensation chart on the Better Health group medical blog.

Click on Today’s Hospitalist for the blog of Today’s Hospitalist magazine.

Beauty of the Northern Lights

February 19, 2012

Click on Christian Mulhauser on Vimeo for background on the photographer and the taking of these pictures.

Hat tip to The Browser.

The jobs that are out there

February 18, 2012

Click to enlarge.

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Click on Candorville for more Darrin Bell cartoons.

The political one percent of the one percent

February 18, 2012

Double click to enlarge.

Only about 1/100th of 1 percent of the U.S. population make political contributions of $10,000 or more in any election campaign, according to the Sunlight Foundation, but they account for nearly a quarter of the total.   The largest share of that came from FIRE (finance, insurance, real estate) sector.  FIRE contributions of $10,000 or more are up 700 percent since 1990.

The average contribution by a member of the 1 percent of the 1 percent was $28,913 in 2010, the Sunlight Foundation reported; that was more than the average American’s total income, which was $26,364.

These wealthy contributors are gatekeepers of the American political process.  Their contributions to political parties rose from 18 percent of all contributions in 1990 to 32 percent in 2010, with Democrats getting a slightly higher share than Republicans.   An increasing number of federal candidates get more than half their funds from the 1 percent of the 1 percent.

About 55 percent of the 1 percent of the 1 percent are affiliated with corporations, with Goldman Sachs leading the rest.   The Sunlight Foundation found another 16 percent affiliated with law firms and lobbyists, and 18 percent “ideological” contributors, who gave to organizations such as Emily’s List, the Club for Growth and Act Blue.

The 1 percent of the 1 percent comprises just under 27,000 people.  Within that group, there is an elite of 252 who contributed between $100,000 and $500,000 toward the 2010 elections, and 15 who contributed more than $500,000.

This elite group accounted for a majority of the contributions to Republican Presidential candidates’ PACS— Mitt Romney’s Restore Our Future, Rick Perry’s Make Us Great Again, Jon Huntsman’s Our Destiny PAC, Newt Gingrich’s Winning Our Future, Ron Paul’s Embrace Liberty and Rick Santorum’s Red, White and Blue Fund.

Click on The Political One Percent of the One Percent for the Sunlight Foundation’s full report.

Click on How the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate Sector Drove the Growth of the One Percent of the One Percent for the Sunlight Foundation’s follow-up report.

Click on Presidential Super PACS almost entirely funded by six-figure contributions for a report on the 2012 Republican candidates by Talking Points Memo.

Candidates follow the same money trail

February 17, 2012

Double click to enlarge.

The chart from OpenSecrets shows campaign contributions by employees of various organizations (not just the organizations themselves).   It shows that a lot of the organizations whose employees gave most generously to Mitt Romney during the current election cycle produced the most generous givers to Barack Obama in the 2008 election cycle and George W. Bush in the 2004 election cycle.

Click on Top Contributors to John McCain for a list of John McCain’s top contributors in the 2008 election cycle.   Apparently Goldman Sachs employees liked both candidates, but they like Barack Obama four times as much.

Click on Top Contributors to Barack Obama for a list of Barack Obama’s top contributors recorded so far in this election cycle.  In the top right corner of this page is a “switch to” link to the top contributors for the other 2012 Presidential candidates.

Click on The 2012 Money Race: Compare the Candidates for a report by the New York Times.

Click on Open Secrets: Money in Politics for continuing updates on the influence of money on elections and public policy.

Hat tip to Tyler Durden.

When I first published this post, I erroneously confused Open Secrets with OpenLeaks, a spinoff of WikiLeaks.

What liberalism ought to be

February 17, 2012

Fundamentally liberalism is an attitude.  The chief characteristics of that attitude are human sympathy, a receptivity to change and a scientific willingness to follow reason rather than faith or any fixed ideas.
    ==Chester Bowles


This, perhaps, is the testament of Liberalism.  For underlying all the specific projects which men espouse who think of themselves as Liberals there is always, it seems to me, a deeper concern.  It is fixed upon the importance of remaining free in mind and action before changing circumstances.
This is why Liberalism has always been associated with a passionate interest in freedom of thought and freedom of speech, in scientific research, in experiment, in the liberty of teaching, in an independent and unbiased press, in the right of men to differ in their opinions and to be different in their conduct …
    ==Walter Lippmann

The essence of the Liberal outlook lies not in what opinions are held, but in how they are held: instead of being held dogmatically, they are held tentatively, and with a consciousness that new evidence may at any moment lead to their abandonment.  This is the way opinions are held in science, as opposed to the way they are held in theology.
    ==Bertrand Russell


What do I understand by the Liberal principle?  I understand, in the main, it is a principle of trust in the people only qualified by prudence.  By this principle which is opposed to the Liberal principle, I understand mistrust of the people, only qualified by fear.
    ==William E. Gladstone

Things to do about Chinese sweatshops

February 16, 2012

Foxcomm and other Chinese electronics suppliers force their workers to work under conditions so inhuman that Foxcomm requires its new hires to sign a no-suicide pledge.   American, European and Japanese companies that hire these suppliers are well aware of these conditions, but do nothing.  The late Steve Jobs demanded action in six weeks to produce a scratch-proof surface for the i-Phone, but procrastinated for years about doing anything about his own company’s reports on substandard working conditions.

Bill Black, associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri and an expert on white collar crime, gave a good rundown on the situation in this interview in the Real News Network.   He points out that the Chinese suppliers violate their contractual obligations with their U.S. customers and their Chinese workers, and also violate Chinese law.

So it is not a question of imposing American standards on the Chinese.  We have a right to hold the Chinese to their own standard, just as other countries have a right to hold us Americans to the standard of our laws and Constitution.

How could this be done?  Congress could enact a law empowering the U.S. Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration to impose penalty tariffs on imports of products made under conditions that violate international labor standards and the domestic laws of the country of origin.

The U.S. government could adopt a policy of only purchasing electronics equipment, especially for the military, with U.S.-made components.  This would be wise on national security grounds.  If the U.S. has a military confrontation with China, we don’t want the Chinese to be in a position to cut off supplies vital to our military.

Labor and consumer organizations could recognize companies that obey the law and refrain from fraud, and we the people could patronize these companies.

Congress probably would have to revise or cancel the World Trade Treaty.  The World Trade Organization authorizes punitive action against countries that engage in unfair trade practices, such as dumping products at prices below cost.  But it has never, so far as I know, authorized action against unfair labor standards.

Globalization under these conditions could be a force for raising wages and improving working conditions around the world, rather than driving them down to the lowest possible level.

It’s not as if having suppliers pay decent wages would force Apple Computer and other electronics companies to go broke.

Click to enlarge.

Romney’s great wealth and modest taxes

February 15, 2012

All the well-known candidates in this year’s Presidential race are millionaires, but Mitt Romney is rich even by their standards.   The chart above compares the top estimates of the wealth of the various 2012 candidates.  The next chart compares him with wealthy candidates of the recent past.

At the same time, as the two bottom charts show, Romney’s effective tax rate is one of the lowest of recent candidates, along with John Kerry’s.  The reason Romney’s and Kerry’s tax rates were so much lower than all the rest is that they get their income from capital gains.  If you put your money to work, you’re taxed at a lower rate than if you put yourself to work.

Romney’s tax plan, if enacted, would keep his effective tax rate low.  He proposes continuation of the Bush tax cuts and reduction of the corporate income tax rate.

Click on How rich are these guys? on the Gold Is Money web forum for the source and background of the top chart.

Click on Romney is richest candidate in a decade in the Wall Street Journal for the source and background of the second chart.

Click on How Romney’s Tax Rate Stacks Up to Recent Presidential Candidates on the Talking Points Memo web log for the source and background of the third chart.  Click on Romney: Actually, I Kind of Pay 50% Tax for more from TPM.

Click on Tax rates of presidential candidates, in one chart for the source and background of the bottom chart in the Washington Post.

Romney would be one of richest Presidents

February 15, 2012

Double click to enlarge.

Mitt Romney, if elected, would be among the three or four richest Presidents in American history.  By one estimate, his estimated net worth would make him No. 3, behind Presidents John F. Kennedy and George Washington, but ahead of Thomas Jefferson.

Another estimate would put him behind Washington and Jefferson, but ahead of JFK.  Now these figures are at best informed guesswork.  Writers will differ on how to estimate the wealth of historic figures and as to how to state it in inflation-adjusted 2010 dollars.  What the figures do show, even if they’re not exact, is that Mitt Romney is a peer of the richest American Presidents in terms of wealth.

The 24/7 web site says the wealthiest American Presidents, at the peak of their wealth calculated in inflation-adjusted 2010 dollars, were as follows:

  • John F. Kennedy, estate worth nearly $1 billion.
  • George Washington, $525 million.
  • Thomas Jefferson, $212 million.
  • Theodore Roosevelt, $125 million.
  • Andrew Jackson, $119 million.
  • James Madison, $101 million.

These figures are the Presidents’ estimated net worth at the peak of their wealth, which did not necessarily last a lifetime.  Thomas Jefferson was rich during his lifetime, but he died broke and in debt.

Only a few Presidents have not been the equivalent of millionaires.  According to the 24/7 Wall St. web site, they were James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, U.S. Grant, James Garfield, Chester A. Arthur, Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge and Harry Truman.

Great wealth is not a reason to vote against against a candidate, in and of itself.  Our greatest Presidents have been found in all income categories.  All other things being equal, I would rather vote for a rich financier than for a candidate who begs rich financiers for money to campaign on.  Many Presidents of great wealth have been champions of the common people.  It just so happens that Romney is not one of them.

Click on The Net Worth of the American Presidents, from Washington to Obama to … for financial snapshots of the American Presidents from the 24/7 Wall St. web log.

Click on How Does Romney’s Wealth Compare to Other Candidates? for the source of the top infographic and background information.

Click on Romney Is Richest Candidate in a Decade for comparisons of Romney with recent wealthy candidates of the past decade.

Click on Tax rates of presidential candidates for effective income tax rates of the candidates.