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A free floating commentary on culture, politics, economics, and religion based on a passionate commitment to the truth and a desire graciously to refute that which is contrary to it….
"He must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it."
--Titus 1:9, Revised Standard Version
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Americans have major doubts about the financial health of Social Security.
A new survey by Pew Research Center finds that 41 percent of Americans think there will be no Social Security benefits for them when they retire and nearly a third expect reduced levels of benefits. (Tweet This)
Some of those fears may be overblown. "People who think they will get zero benefits from Social Security are wrong and they should look at the facts," said Andy Landis, a former claims representative for the Social Security Administration (SSA) and author of "Social Security: The Inside Story."
There are concerns that benefits may be reduced, however.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Aging / the Elderly Psychology * Economics, Politics Economy Personal Finance The U.S. Government Budget Social Security Politics in General * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
Some 239 years after South Carolina lawmakers decided to move the capital from Charleston to Columbia, and more than 65 years after the Capital City’s population eclipsed the Holy City’s, the title of the state’s largest city seems certain to switch back soon.
U.S. Census estimates released Wednesday showed Charleston — as well as Mount Pleasant and North Charleston — among the state’s fastest-growing cities.
Columbia, not so much, and Charleston’s population might have already eclipsed it — even with the Sergeant Jasper emptied out.
The 2015 population estimates — to be released at this time next year — could place Charleston as South Carolina’s largest city for the first time since World War II.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Urban/City Life and Issues * Economics, Politics Economy The U.S. Government Census/Census Data Politics in General City Government State Government * South Carolina
In my previous post, I detailed the sordid story by which the Episcopal Church (USA) has gotten into the debt collection business. Refugees designated to migrate to the United States are advanced travel money by an arm of the U.S. State Department. They land here, and are placed in the hands of (among other agencies) Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM), which helps them relocate into specific communities, find jobs, and settle in. Then EMM sees that they repay their travel advances to the Government, and pockets one-quarter of its debt collection proceeds for its trouble.
It's a nifty racket, and ensures that annually over $300,000 comes into the Episcopal Church's coffers, to help with its bottom line. Meanwhile, the U.S. Government reimburses EMM for all of its other refugee relocation expenses, to the tune of some $14 million annually.
Now thanks to our good friend and frequent commenter El Gringo Viejo, your Curmudgeon has been pointed to this illuminating video message, which tells "the rest of the story," so to speak. It turns out that a good portion of the refugees EMM is assisting are not just any refugees, but are Muslims from some of the countries to which America has sent troops, bombs or both: Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq and (soon) Syria. Listen to Ann Corcoran as she explains what she discovered...
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture * Economics, Politics Defense, National Security, Military Economy The U.S. Government Foreign Relations Politics in General * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Other Faiths Islam Muslim-Christian relations * Theology
Several widely-watched gauges of US inflation expectations have climbed to their highest levels this year, as oil prices regain their footing and some investors bet that the Federal Reserve will be slow in quelling any price pressures.
The US 10-year “breakeven” rate measures the market’s expectations of average inflation over that time by comparing the yields of conventional US Treasuries maturing in 10 years and Treasury Inflation Protected Securities, or Tips.
The 10-year breakeven has shot up from a low of 1.53 per cent in mid-January to 1.92 per cent on Monday, the highest since November 2014. The five-year breakeven rate has risen to 1.71 per cent, the highest since September, while the two-year is at its highest since July 2014.
Read it all.
The Economic Growth and Family Fairness Tax Reform Plan, a brainchild of Senators Mike Lee (R-Ut) and Marco Rubio (R-Fl), is designed, in part, to help middle-income families raise their children. Over the past several months, policymakers have argued about the merits of the plan, and analysts have modeled its distributional effects, albeit with widely different results based on a lack of clarity about some of its provisions.
The crowning jewel of the Lee-Rubio plan is a new child tax credit of $2,500—separate from the existing $1,000 Child Tax Credit—with no phase out for higher income families. Based on our current understanding of the plan, very few if any lower-income families with children would benefit, while the annual cost of extending this tax relief to middle-class and wealthy families is $414 billion.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Children Marriage & Family * Economics, Politics Economy Personal Finance Taxes The U.S. Government Politics in General * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
Lacker, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, which includes the Palmetto State, got a first-hand look at the Boeing juggernaut during a two-day visit to the Charleston area last week.
“It’s really impressive,” he said. “What I don’t think is broadly known is the extent of which ... they’ve added to what was just a manufacturing and assembly facility, and this looks now to be a bigger part of Boeing’s future than it looked a couple of years ago. So I think that speaks well for Charleston’s economic capabilities and for its work force ... because they’ll tell you ... the biggest uncertainty about the whole venture down here was whether they could attract enough of a work force to do the things they can do up in Puget Sound. They’ll tell you they succeeded.”
Aside from Boeing’s growth, Lacker has witnessed other sea changes since his last official visit to the Holy City. In 2009, the Fed was still cutting interest rates to jump-start the then-wounded economy. Now, some believe the time is finally ripe to start raising them again.
Read it all from the local paper
Filed under: * Economics, Politics Economy Consumer/consumer spending Corporations/Corporate Life Housing/Real Estate Market Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market The U.S. Government Federal Reserve * South Carolina * Theology Anthropology Ethics / Moral Theology
For those who survived the Oklahoma City bombing, this is a tough milestone, but it's also a moment to honor their resilience.
Watch it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch History Urban/City Life and Issues Violence * Economics, Politics Economy The U.S. Government Politics in General City Government Terrorism * Theology Anthropology Eschatology Pastoral Theology
Look at them all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch History Religion & Culture Violence * Economics, Politics Economy The U.S. Government Politics in General City Government Terrorism * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. * Theology Eschatology
Even worse for Democrats, the Saez paper found that “information about inequality also makes respondents trust government less,” decreasing “by nearly twenty percent the share of respondents who ‘trust government’ most of the time:”
Hence, emphasizing the severity of a social or economic problem appears to undercut respondents’ willingness to trust the government to fix it — the existence of the problem could act as evidence of the government’s limited capacity to improve outcomes.
The findings of the Saez group are consistent with Luttig’s. Taken together, they suggest that even if Democrats win the presidency and the Senate in 2016, largely on the basis of favorable demographic trends, the party will confront serious hurdles if it attempts to deliver material support to working men and women and the very poor. Redistribution is in trouble, and that is likely to tie American politics in knots for many years to come.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Health & Medicine --The 2009 American Health Care Reform Debate History * Economics, Politics Economy Consumer/consumer spending Corporations/Corporate Life Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market Personal Finance Taxes The U.S. Government Politics in General House of Representatives Office of the President Senate * Theology Anthropology Ethics / Moral Theology
Last year, a study found that about four out of every 10 people who received financial help from the government while buying their Obamacare health plans had no idea they were getting any assistance.
This tax season, many of those people may be in for a rude surprise when they're asked to pay some—or even all—of that money back....
"I wasn't very happy," said Mike Highsmith, 61, a retired US Airways flight attendant who learned after having his taxes done that he has to pay back every cent of the $6,624 in federal subsidies that helped pay the lion's share of his HealthCare.gov-purchased plan.
"This shocked me ... I didn't know this was coming."
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Health & Medicine --The 2009 American Health Care Reform Debate Law & Legal Issues * Economics, Politics Economy Consumer/consumer spending Personal Finance Taxes The U.S. Government * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
Recently adopted net neutrality regulations soon could make your monthly Internet bill more complicated — and potentially more expensive.
Every month, consumers pay a small fee on their phone bills for a federal program that uses the money — a total of $8.8 billion raised nationwide last year — to provide affordable access to telecommunications services in rural areas, underserved inner cities and schools.
Now the fee could start appearing on broadband bills too, in a major expansion of the nearly two-decade-old Universal Service Fund program.Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Blogging & the Internet Law & Legal Issues Science & Technology * Economics, Politics Economy Consumer/consumer spending Corporations/Corporate Life The U.S. Government Politics in General
Oil-related job cuts may start to slow: Energy firms announced plans to lay off 1,279 workers in March, down from 16,000 in February. But for oil patch states, other questions remain: the health of the service economy surrounding energy firms, the reliability of tax revenues, and so on.
Some of that uncertainty may be trickling through to the broader economy. Some 42% of all IBD/TIPP respondents still say the U.S. is in a recession in April, nearly six years after the economic recovery began.
Yet recent data has been fitful, making it hard to get a clear read on whether the economy is turning down or just taking a beating from temporary factors — the oil price plunge, severe winter weather, and the West Coast ports labor slowdown, for example.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Psychology * Economics, Politics Economy Consumer/consumer spending Corporations/Corporate Life Housing/Real Estate Market Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market The Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007-- The U.S. Government * Theology Anthropology Ethics / Moral Theology
If the opponents of that law were arguing that the Indiana statute tightens the federal standards a notch too far, that would be compelling. But that’s not the argument the opponents are making.
Instead, the argument seems to be that the federal act’s concrete case-by-case approach is wrong. The opponents seem to be saying there is no valid tension between religious pluralism and equality. Claims of religious liberty are covers for anti-gay bigotry.
This deviation seems unwise both as a matter of pragmatics and as a matter of principle. In the first place, if there is no attempt to balance religious liberty and civil rights, the cause of gay rights will be associated with coercion, not liberation. Some people have lost their jobs for expressing opposition to gay marriage. There are too many stories like the Oregon bakery that may have to pay a $150,000 fine because it preferred not to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony. A movement that stands for tolerance does not want to be on the side of a government that compels a photographer who is an evangelical Christian to shoot a same-sex wedding that he would rather avoid.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Law & Legal Issues Marriage & Family Psychology Religion & Culture Sexuality --Civil Unions & Partnerships * Economics, Politics Economy The U.S. Government Politics in General State Government * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. * Theology Anthropology Ethics / Moral Theology
If the brisk pace of population growth and development along South Carolina’s coast seems unusual, that’s not your imagination.
The latest Census Bureau estimates show that few metropolitan areas in the nation are growing so quickly.
Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head and Charleston were the three fastest-growing metro areas on the Atlantic Coast in 2014, as they were in 2013.
Read it all.
The FBI improved its ability to fight terrorism in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but a new report says the bureau still faces significant challenges as it strengthens its intelligence capabilities to deal with nimble enemies.
The finding was part of an exhaustive review requested by Congress to evaluate the FBI’s response to the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations in 2004 and determine if the domestic law enforcement agency was moving quickly enough to deal with fast-moving threats.
The lengthy report, “The FBI: Protecting the Homeland in the 21st Century,” is perhaps the most detailed, public examination of the FBI’s post-9/11 capabilities, highlighting the successes and limitations of the traditional crime-fighting bureau.
Read it all.
With a few short-lived and unsustainable exceptions, the story of the last 30 years appears to be one of constantly falling interest rates and disappointing growth. Central banks try to keep stimulating the economy, but investment demand never really seems to gather pace in response to their efforts. Instead, investment seems stagnant and unresponsive to policy during normal periods, but shoots up during events like the dotcom and real estate bubbles, which then burst and leave everyone worse off.
People have been puzzling over this pattern for decades, but it took a speech by Larry Summers to the IMF in 2013 to really crystallise the whole picture, and bring it into the public eye. Ever since, it’s been known by the term he gave the phenomenon: ‘secular stagnation’. But he didn’t invent it. It was first coined by Alvin Hansen in the post-Depression 30s, when technological progress seemed to have ground to a halt.
The revival of the term could be misleading on a number of levels.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Globalization History Psychology Science & Technology * Economics, Politics Economy Consumer/consumer spending Corporations/Corporate Life European Central Bank Housing/Real Estate Market Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market Personal Finance The U.S. Government Federal Reserve * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
The way to eliminate potholes, or at least diminish their number, is to keep the roads in good shape, with regular resurfacing. But far less is being done than required. And the same goes for the rest of the infrastructure in the US: not just roads, but ports and airports, bridges, railways and power grids, those boring basics that keep a country running. America, to believe the title of a recent television documentary on the subject, is falling apart – literally.
Not so long ago the opposite was true. The US was the shining future that had already arrived. It had the best technology, the most modern cities, the fanciest cars, the most up-to-date airports. The jewel in the crown was the interstate highway system, built in the 1950s and 1960s to knit a continent together.
Alas, sooner or later, youthful beauty fades. And so it is with America’s infrastructure. Many of those projects date back to the immediate post-war years, even to FDR’s New Deal to counter the Great Depression. More than half a century later, they’re in desperate need of overhaul or replacement.
Surveys merely confirm America’s relative slide.
Read it all from Rupert Cornwell.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch History Travel Urban/City Life and Issues * Economics, Politics Economy Consumer/consumer spending Corporations/Corporate Life The U.S. Government Politics in General City Government State Government * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
Rarely have investors lavished so much attention on a single word. After a two-day meeting, the Federal Reserve dropped the word “patient” from its monetary-policy statement. Why the fuss over this single word?
"Patient”, in Fed-speak, indicates that it will hold off increasing interest rates for at least two meetings. Now the word has been ditched, at subsequent meetings (most probably in June) we could see rates move off from rock-bottom for the first time since 2008.
The last rate-tightening cycle began over a decade ago. The Fed feels comfortable, it seems, with raising interest rates now that unemployment has moved towards 5.5%. The latest forecasts from the Fed show that it expects the economy to expand by 2.3%-2.7%, a slight fall from the projections in December but still one of the strongest in the OECD, a club of mostly rich countries.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Globalization * Economics, Politics Economy Consumer/consumer spending Corporations/Corporate Life Credit Markets Currency Markets Housing/Real Estate Market Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market Personal Finance Stock Market The Banking System/Sector The Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007-- The U.S. Government Federal Reserve * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
A crackdown by the Obama administration on “tax inversion” deals, which allowed US companies to slash their tax bills, has had the perverse effect of prompting a sharp increase in foreign takeovers of American groups.
In September the US Treasury all but stamped out tax inversions, which enabled a US company to pay less tax by acquiring a rival from a jurisdiction with a lower corporate tax rate, such as Ireland or the UK, and moving the combined group’s domicile to that country.
The move was designed to staunch an exodus of US companies and an erosion in tax revenues, but it has left many US groups vulnerable to foreign takeovers. Once a cross-border deal is complete, the combined company can generate big savings by adopting the overseas acquirer’s lower tax rate.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Law & Legal Issues * Economics, Politics Economy Corporations/Corporate Life Taxes The U.S. Government Foreign Relations Politics in General * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
Americans continue to name the government (18%) as the most important U.S. problem, a distinction it has had for the past four months. Americans' mentions of the economy as the top problem (11%) dropped this month, leaving it tied with jobs (10%) for second place.
Though issues such as terrorism, healthcare, race relations and immigration have emerged among the top problems in recent polls, government, the economy and unemployment have been the dominant problems listed by Americans for more than a year.
The latest results are from a March 5-8 Gallup poll of 1,025 American adults.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Psychology Sociology * Economics, Politics Economy The U.S. Government Politics in General * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
“In 1990, 54 percent of marriages were the first for both spouses,” said Jamie Lewis, an analyst in the Census Bureau’s Fertility and Family Statistics Branch and one of the report’s authors. “Now, newlyweds are more likely to be walking down the aisle for the first time — 58 percent of recent marriages were a first for both. The stabilization or slight decrease in the divorce rate during this period may explain why more marriages today are first marriages."
Below are a few highlights from the report:
About 13 percent of men age 15 and over have been married twice, compared with 14 percent of women.
Between 1996 and 2008-2012, the share of those who had married at least twice increased only for women age 50 and older and men 60 and older.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch History Marriage & Family Psychology Religion & Culture Sociology * Economics, Politics Economy The U.S. Government Census/Census Data * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. * Theology Anthropology Ethics / Moral Theology
The nation’s shortage of doctors will rise to between 46,000 and 90,000 by 2025 as the U.S. population grows, more Americans gain health insurance and new alternative primary care sites proliferate.
A new study announced by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), a lobby for medical schools and teaching hospitals, said “the doctor shortage is real” with total physician demand projected to grow by up to 17 percent as a population of baby boomers ages and the Affordable Care Act is implemented.
“It’s particularly serious for the kind of medical care that our aging population is going to need,” said Dr. Darrell Kirch, AAMC’s president in a statement accompanying the analysis by research firm IHS.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Aging / the Elderly Health & Medicine --The 2009 American Health Care Reform Debate * Economics, Politics Economy Consumer/consumer spending Corporations/Corporate Life Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market Personal Finance The U.S. Government Politics in General * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. * Theology Anthropology Ethics / Moral Theology
At any given time, around 7,000 aircraft are flying over the United States. For the past 40 years, the same computer system has controlled all that high-altitude traffic—a relic of the 1970s known as Host. The core system predates the advent of the Global Positioning System, so Host uses point-to-point, ground-based radar. Every day, thousands of travelers switch their GPS-enabled smartphones to airplane mode while their flights are guided by technology that predates the Speak & Spell. If you're reading this at 30,000 feet, relax—Host is still safe, in terms of getting planes from point A to point B. But it's unbelievably inefficient. It can handle a limited amount of traffic, and controllers can't see anything outside of their own airspace—when they hand off a plane to a contiguous airspace, it vanishes from their radar.
The FAA knows all that. For 11 years the agency has been limping toward a collection of upgrades called NextGen. At its core is a new computer system that will replace Host and allow any controller, anywhere, to see any plane in US airspace. In theory, this would enable one air traffic control center to take over for another with the flip of a switch, as Howard seemed to believe was already possible. NextGen isn't vaporware; that core system was live in Chicago and the four adjacent centers when Howard attacked, and this spring it'll go online in all 20 US centers. But implementation has been a mess, with a cascade of delays, revisions, and unforeseen problems. Air traffic control can't do anything as sophisticated as Howard thought, and unless something changes about the way the FAA is managing NextGen, it probably never will.
This technology is complicated and novel, but that isn't the problem. The problem is that NextGen is a project of the FAA.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Science & Technology Travel * Economics, Politics Economy The U.S. Government Politics in General * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
Thirty-seven percent of Americans are satisfied and 61% dissatisfied with the position of the U.S. in the world today. These views are unchanged from last year, even after a series of significant challenges for U.S. foreign policy. Americans' satisfaction is a bit higher than at the end of the Bush administration and at the beginning of the Obama administration, but remains well below where it was in the early 2000s.
The results are from Gallup's annual World Affairs survey, conducted Feb. 8-11. Americans' satisfaction held steady in the past year, even as the U.S. was forced to deal with the rise of Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria, a dispute with Russia over Ukrainian separatists in the eastern part of Ukraine, heightened tensions between the Israelis and Palestinians, and ongoing policy disagreements involving North Korea and Iran. The lack of change may be attributable to Americans' already high level of dissatisfaction with the nation's world position, with those events and the way the U.S. handled them serving to reinforce the dissatisfaction rather than to worsen or even improve it.
Americans have been more likely to be dissatisfied than satisfied with the position of the U.S. in the world since 2004, about the time it became clear that the U.S. military action in Iraq was running into problems that could -- and did -- lead to a prolonged U.S. commitment there. Satisfaction fell to a low of 30% in the final year of George W. Bush's administration and remained low in the very early stages of Barack Obama's presidency. Americans' satisfaction is modestly higher now than at that point, but has leveled off.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Globalization Psychology Sociology * Economics, Politics Defense, National Security, Military Economy The U.S. Government Foreign Relations Politics in General * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. * Theology Anthropology Ethics / Moral Theology
Read it all and see how you do.
As an October chill fell on the mountain passes that separate the militant havens in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a small team of Afghan intelligence commandos and American Special Operations forces descended on a village where they believed a leader of Al Qaeda was hiding.
That night the Afghans and Americans got their man, Abu Bara al-Kuwaiti. They also came away with what officials from both countries say was an even bigger prize: a laptop computer and files detailing Qaeda operations on both sides of the border.
American military officials said the intelligence seized in the raid was possibly as significant as the information found in the computer and documents of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, after members of the Navy SEALs killed him in 2011.
In the months since, the trove of intelligence has helped fuel a significant increase in night raids by American Special Operations forces and Afghan intelligence commandos, Afghan and American officials said.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Globalization Science & Technology * Economics, Politics Defense, National Security, Military Economy The U.S. Government Foreign Relations Politics in General Terrorism * International News & Commentary Asia Afghanistan * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
There's another reason why the official rate is misleading. Say you're an out-of-work engineer or healthcare worker or construction worker or retail manager: If you perform a minimum of one hour of work in a week and are paid at least $20 -- maybe someone pays you to mow their lawn -- you're not officially counted as unemployed in the much-reported 5.6%. Few Americans know this.
Yet another figure of importance that doesn't get much press: those working part time but wanting full-time work. If you have a degree in chemistry or math and are working 10 hours part time because it is all you can find -- in other words, you are severely underemployed -- the government doesn't count you in the 5.6%. Few Americans know this.
There's no other way to say this. The official unemployment rate, which cruelly overlooks the suffering of the long-term and often permanently unemployed as well as the depressingly underemployed, amounts to a Big Lie.
And it's a lie that has consequences, because the great American dream is to have a good job, and in recent years, America has failed to deliver that dream more than it has at any time in recent memory.
Read it all.
The petroleum industry celebrated the proposal, while complaining that it didn’t go far enough. Environmental groups warned of disaster.
“This represents a significant shift in federal policy and, in my view, a threat to the environment, the economy and the lifestyle of living in the Lowcountry of South Carolina,” said Chris DeScherer, a Charleston-based senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “It’s not just the coastal waters, wetlands, and wildlife that depend on them, but the businesses and the tourism industry.”
Erik Milito, director of Upstream and Industry Operations for the American Petroleum Institute, said offshore oil and gas exploration and drilling is much safer today than just five years ago.
“We are now in a new age,” Milito said in a conference call with reporters. “We’ve decreased the risk dramatically.”
Read it all.
Filed under: * Economics, Politics Economy Consumer/consumer spending Corporations/Corporate Life The U.S. Government Energy, Natural Resources Politics in General * South Carolina * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
I’ve never been a fan of global conferences to solve problems, but when I read that the Obama administration is organizing a Summit on Countering Violent Extremism for Feb. 18, in response to the Paris killings, I had a visceral reaction: Is there a box on my tax returns that I can check so my tax dollars won’t go to pay for this?
When you don’t call things by their real name, you always get in trouble. And this administration, so fearful of being accused of Islamophobia, is refusing to make any link to radical Islam from the recent explosions of violence against civilians (most of them Muslims) by Boko Haram in Nigeria, by the Taliban in Pakistan, by Al Qaeda in Paris and by jihadists in Yemen and Iraq. We’ve entered the theater of the absurd.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Globalization Religion & Culture Violence * Economics, Politics Economy The U.S. Government Foreign Relations Politics in General Office of the President President Barack Obama Terrorism * Religion News & Commentary Other Faiths Islam * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
As 2015 begins, the global economy remains weak. The United States may be seeing signs of a strengthening recovery, but the eurozone risks following Japan into recession, and emerging markets worry that their export-led growth strategies have left them vulnerable to stagnation abroad. With few signs that this year will bring any improvement, policymakers would be wise to understand the factors underlying the global economy’s anemic performance – and the implications of continued feebleness.
In the words of Christine Lagarde, the International Monetary Fund’s managing director, we are experiencing the “new mediocre.” The implication is that growth is unacceptably low relative to potential and that more can be done to lift it, especially given that some major economies are flirting with deflation.
Conventional policy advice urges innovative monetary interventions bearing an ever expanding array of acronyms, even as governments are admonished to spend on “obvious” needs such as infrastructure. The need for structural reforms is acknowledged, but they are typically deemed painful, and possibly growth-reducing in the short run. So the focus remains on monetary and fiscal stimulus – and as much of it as possible, given the deadening effects of debt overhang.
And yet, the efficacy of such policy advice remains to be seen.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Globalization * Economics, Politics Economy Consumer/consumer spending Corporations/Corporate Life Credit Markets Currency Markets European Central Bank Personal Finance The Banking System/Sector The Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007-- The U.S. Government Federal Reserve Foreign Relations Politics in General * International News & Commentary Asia India Europe * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
Washington went on to express his gratitude for the support of "my countrymen" and the "army in general." This reference to his soldiers ignited feelings so intense, he had to grip the speech with both hands to keep it steady. He continued: "I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my official life by commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God and those who have the superintendence of them [Congress] to his holy keeping."
For a long moment, Washington could not say another word. Tears streamed down his cheeks. The words touched a vein of religious faith in his inmost soul, born of battlefield experiences that had convinced him of the existence of a caring God who had protected him and his country again and again during the war. Without this faith he might never have been able to endure the frustrations and rage he had experienced in the previous eight months.
Washington then drew from his coat a parchment copy of his appointment as commander in chief. "Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theater of action and bidding farewell to this august body under whom I have long acted, I here offer my commission and take leave of all the employments of public life." Stepping forward, he handed the document to Mifflin.
This was -- is -- the most important moment in American history.
The man who could have dispersed this feckless Congress and obtained for himself and his soldiers rewards worthy of their courage was renouncing absolute power. By this visible, incontrovertible act, Washington did more to affirm America's government of the people than a thousand declarations by legislatures and treatises by philosophers.
Thomas Jefferson, author of the greatest of these declarations, witnessed this drama as a delegate from Virginia. Intuitively, he understood its historic dimension. "The moderation. . . . of a single character," he later wrote, "probably prevented this revolution from being closed, as most others have been, by a subversion of that liberty it was intended to establish."
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Christmas * Culture-Watch History Religion & Culture * Economics, Politics Economy The U.S. Government Politics in General Office of the President * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A.
The economic recovery is real, and even though it's not spectacular, it's getting there.
The good news is that the economy grew at a 5 percent annual pace in the third quarter this year, revised up from the 3.9 percent that the Commerce Department had previously estimated. It's the best quarterly growth since 2003, and, on the heels of the 4.6 percent growth in the second quarter, it's also the best six months the economy has had in that long. The even better news, though, is that this growth, unlike every other uptick the past few years, looks sustainable.
This isn't a blip. It's a boom.
Well, at least by the sad standards of this slow and steady recovery. The truth is that for all the hype and headlines about every little head fake, the economy has just been chugging along at the same 2 percent pace the past few years.
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Six years after candidate Barack Obama vowed to make working for government “cool again,” federal hiring of young people is instead tailing off and many millennials are heading for the door.
The share of the federal workforce under the age of 30 dropped to 7 percent this year, the lowest figure in nearly a decade, government figures show.
With agencies starved for digital expertise and thousands of federal jobs coming open because of a wave of baby-boomer retirements, top government officials, including at the White House, are growing increasingly distressed about the dwindling role played by young workers.
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Disneyland has become a time capsule not of the romantic idea of 19th century Main Street or even the possibilities in Tomorrowland but of a time when Americans believed in a better future — and were willing to invest in it. A half-century ago, we put almost 1 percent of our economy into landing men on the moon, yet today we fall behind other countries in exploring space, supposedly because we cannot afford it.
We pay a huge price for our lack of investment and faith in the future of America. We pay for all the inefficiency of our decrepit infrastructure. We pay with minds that will never be fully developed and with scientific breakthroughs that will enrich other countries. And we pay with lives of daily grind and unpleasantness without hope of respite.
Would that as a people we thought like Walt Disney so we could make America into a happy place.
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...my colleague may be a bit too optimistic regarding just how close the economy is to full employment. It is true that the unemployment rate, at 5.8%, is within hailing distance of the Fed's projected full-employment rate, of between 5.2% and 5.5%. But there are many margins along which the labour market can adjust in addition to the unemployment rate. Participation rates can and should rise. So too should hours, effort, and productivity. Given the slow growth in wages over the last year it is hard to conclude that the American economy is close to maxxing out its labour-force potential.
That apart, I think my colleague is exactly right and the Fed is close to making a big mistake. The wires are alive this morning with reports from Fed watchers, who are presumably taking their cues from Fed officials themselves, writing that the Fed will almost certainly adjust its language in a more hawkish fashion at the December or January meeting and is on track for an initial rate increase in the middle of 2015. I cannot fathom what the Fed is thinking.
Set aside potential downside risks (from a Russian financial crisis, or renewed euro-zone troubles, or a Chinese hard landing, or lord knows what else) and just focus on the dynamics within the American economy. Almost since the Fed announced that it was officially targeting an inflation rate of 2%, as measured by the price index for personal consumption expenditures, actual PCE inflation has run below the target, and often well below. It remains below target now. It is possible that tumbling oil prices could so augment household incomes that the economy roars forward and inflation jumps back to target. I do not think it is particularly likely, for a few reasons.
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The danger of stimulus-induced bubbles is starting to play out in the market for energy-company debt.
Since early 2010, energy producers have raised $550 billion of new bonds and loans as the Federal Reserve held borrowing costs near zero, according to Deutsche Bank AG. With oil prices plunging, investors are questioning the ability of some issuers to meet their debt obligations. Research firm CreditSights Inc. predicts the default rate for energy junk bonds will double to eight percent next year.
“Anything that becomes a mania -- it ends badly,” said Tim Gramatovich, who helps manage more than $800 million as chief investment officer of Santa Barbara, California-based Peritus Asset Management. “And this is a mania.”
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An exhaustive, five-year Senate investigation of the CIA’s secret interrogations of terrorism suspects renders a strikingly bleak verdict of a program launched in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, describing levels of brutality, dishonesty and seemingly arbitrary violence that at times brought even agency employees to moments of anguish.
The report by the Senate Intelligence Committee delivers new allegations of cruelty in a program whose severe tactics have been abundantly documented, revealing that agency medical personnel voiced alarm that waterboarding methods had deteriorated to “a series of near drownings” [among many other things]...
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The U.S. economy is on track for its strongest year of job creation since 1999, as employers last month ramped up hiring and wage growth posted a small—but potentially significant—pickup.
Nonfarm payrolls rose a seasonally adjusted 321,000 in November, the strongest month of hiring since January 2012, the Labor Department said Friday. Hiring was broad across industries, led by gains in the professional and business-services sector.
“The economy may not yet be a big mean jobs machine but it is just about there,” Joel Naroff, president and chief economist at Naroff Economic Advisors Inc., said in a note to clients.
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Homeland security officials have issued their strongest warning yet that American service members may be targeted in the U.S. by the militant group ISIS, according to a report Monday.
A joint intelligence bulletin issued by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security said military personnel should review their social media accounts and remove anything that could draw the attention of “violent extremists,” specifically those from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), ABC News reports. The group has been targeted for months by a bombing campaign in Syria and Iraq, conducted by the U.S. and several other nations in the region.
“The FBI and DHS recommend that current and former members of the military review their online social media accounts for any information that might serve to attract the attention of ISIL [ISIS] and its supporters,” read the bulletin sent to law enforcement agencies. Some personnel said they had been urged to scrub their profiles by security officials in August.
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Leading U.S. CEOs, angered by the Obama administration's challenge to certain "workplace wellness" programs, are threatening to side with anti-Obamacare forces unless the government backs off, according to people familiar with the matter.
Major U.S. corporations have broadly supported President Barack Obama's healthcare reform despite concerns over several of its elements, largely because it included provisions encouraging the wellness programs.
The programs aim to control healthcare costs by reducing smoking, obesity, hypertension and other risk factors that can lead to expensive illnesses. A bipartisan provision in the 2010 healthcare reform law allows employers to reward workers who participate and penalize those who don't.
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Every day all over America, postal workers complete their appointed rounds without much notice. But in one Midwest town, they turned into heroes.
Christy Perfetti has been delivering mail in East Peoria, Ill., for 23 years. Almost a decade along this same route.
For the most part, she says every day is like every other. Except for one day last year.
Perfetti was pulling into the post office parking lot when she saw an older man taking a young boy behind a shed. She had a gut instinct something was wrong.
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Federal drug agents conducted surprise inspections of National Football League team medical staffs on Sunday as part of an ongoing investigation into prescription drug abuse in the league. The inspections, which entailed bag searches and questioning of team doctors by Drug Enforcement Administration agents, were based on the suspicion that NFL teams dispense drugs illegally to keep players on the field in violation of the Controlled Substances Act, according to a senior law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation.
The medical staffs were part of travel parties whose teams were playing at stadiums across the country. The law enforcement official said DEA agents, working in cooperation with the Transportation Security Administration, inspected multiple teams but would not specify which ones were inspected or where.
The San Francisco 49ers confirmed they were inspected by federal agents following their game against the New York Giants in New Jersey but did not provide any details. “The San Francisco 49ers organization was asked to participate in a random inspection with representatives from the DEA Sunday night at MetLife Stadium,” team spokesman Bob Lange said in an e-mailed statement. “The 49ers medical staff complied and the team departed the stadium as scheduled.”
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A federal court of appeals has rejected an atheist group’s lawsuit seeking to strike down a 60-year-old tax provision protecting ministers, notes the Becket Fund. The ruling allows ministers of all faiths to continue receiving housing allowances. “This is a great victory for separation of church and state,” said Luke Goodrich, Deputy General Counsel of the Becket Fund of Religious Liberty. “When a group of atheists tries to cajole the IRS into raising taxes on churches, it’s bound to raise some eyebrows. The court was right to send them packing.”
Aside from the question of constitutionality, the clergy exemption raises a question that many people — whether religious or not — are likely to be wondering: Why exactly do ministers receive a tax exemption for their housing allowance?
To answer the question we must first consider how taxation of church property, including clergy housing, has historically been considered.
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A federal court of appeals rejected a case brought by an atheist organization that would have made tax-exempt clergy housing allowances – often a large chunk of a pastor’s compensation – illegal.
“This is a great victory for fair treatment of churches,” said Luke Goodrich, deputy general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which filed an amicus brief on behalf of pastors from several major denominations.
“When a group of atheists tries to cajole the IRS into raising taxes on churches, it’s bound to raise some eyebrows,” he said. “The court was right to send them packing.”
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You can find four pages of graphs here. There is also a very helpful interactive state by state map there. There are approximately 417,554 Veterans in South Carolina where I live (last year there were 421,500)--check the numbers for your state if they apply.
There is also a map to find Veterans Day events near where you live.
The Supreme Court announced Friday that it will hear the most serious challenge to the Affordable Care Act since the justices found it constitutional more than two years ago: a lawsuit targeting the federal subsidies that help millions of Americans buy health insurance.
More than 4 million people receive the subsidies, which the Obama administration contends are essential to the act by making insurance more affordable for low- and middle-income families.
But challengers say the administration is violating the plain language of the law. They are represented by the same conservative legal strategists who fell one vote short of convincing the court that the law was unconstitutional the last time around.
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if we look at just the 25-to-54 age group, which strips out most students and retirees, the employment-to-population ratio has been slowly improving since it bottomed out at 74.6% (not seasonally adjusted) in February 2011. Last month, 77.3% of all 25-to-54-year-olds were employed, which is well below the indicator’s pre-recession high in October 2006, when 80.7% of people in this age group were employed.
Then again, not all employment is created equal, either. During the Great Recession, the ranks of people working part-time either because they couldn’t find full-time work or because their hours were cut back because of slack demand soared from around 3% of all employed people pre-recession to 6.6% in March 2010. There are fewer such involuntary part-timers now, but last month they still accounted for 4.8% of all employed people (and 2.7% of the entire adult civilian non-institutional population).
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Even as Americans' trust in government eroded in recent years, people kept faith in a handful of agencies and institutions admired for their steadiness in ensuring the country's protection.
To safeguard the president, there was the solidity of the Secret Service. To stand vigil against distant enemies, the U.S. nuclear missile corps was assumed to be on the job. And to ward off threats to public health, the nation counted on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Now, in the space of just a few months, the reputations of all those agencies - as well as the Veterans Administration - have been tarred by scandal or tarnished by doubt. Maybe a public buffeted by partisan rhetoric and nonstop news should be used to this by now. But, with the CDC facing tough questions about its response to the Ebola outbreak, something feels different. Government is about doing collectively what citizens can't do alone, but its effectiveness is premised on trust.
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I accept the doctors' conclusion -- mandatory quarantine is a bad idea -- but not the way they justify it. You don't have to be a cynic, a slanted term, to argue for "better safe than sorry." The calculus isn't simple, either. The crucial thing, though, is that the doctors' sensible conclusion doesn't rest solely on the science.
It requires a delicate judgment about many different risks and costs -- the risk of extra U.S. cases in the short run, the risk of discouraging health workers from traveling to West Africa so that the disease keeps spreading there, the cost in civil liberty of restricting people's movements, and so on. I agree with the doctors about where the balance lies, but the issue isn't easy and, in any event, it isn't just about the science of Ebola.
The doctors conclude, "We should be honoring, not quarantining, health care workers who put their lives at risk..." We should indeed be honoring them -- and, unless I'm mistaken, we are -- but that comment isn't science; it's pure politics. Forgive me for stating what should be obvious, but if the facts about the transmission of Ebola were different, one could imagine that mandatory quarantine would be justified; and if it were, the policy would imply no disrespect to the health professionals involved.
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The U.S. health care apparatus is so unprepared and short on resources to deal with the deadly Ebola virus that even small clusters of cases could overwhelm parts of the system, according to an Associated Press review of readiness at hospitals and other components of the emergency medical network.
Experts broadly agree that a widespread outbreak across the country is extremely unlikely, but they also concur that it is impossible to predict with certainty, since previous Ebola epidemics have been confined to remote areas of Africa. And Ebola is not the only possible danger that causes concern; experts say other deadly infectious diseases - ranging from airborne viruses such as SARS, to an unforeseen new strain of the flu, to more exotic plagues like Lassa fever - could crash the health care system.
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“Bankruptcy? Repossession? Charge-offs? Buy the car YOU deserve,” says the banner at the top of the Washington Auto Credit website. A stock photo of a woman with a beaming smile is overlaid with the promise of “100% guaranteed credit approval”.
On Wall Street they are smiling too, salivating over the prospect of borrowers taking Washington Auto Credit up on its enticing offer of auto financing. Every car loan advanced to a high-risk, subprime borrower can be bundled into bonds that are then sold on to yield-hungry investors.
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Sometimes, though, another analogy makes more sense. In this story, the US is the first to climb a cliff. Other countries are tethered to the US by ropes. The overall pace of ascent depends on the burden of debt each country has to carry. One false move by the US will wreck the entire enterprise. Yet the US will only get to the top if the others also make steady progress. At the moment, they are more in danger of losing their footing, thereby dragging down the US.
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Huge expansions in credit followed by crises and attempts to manage the aftermath have become a feature of the world economy. Today the US and UK may be escaping from the crises that hit seven years ago. But the eurozone is mired in post-crisis stagnation and China is struggling with the debt it built up in its attempt to offset the loss of export earnings after the crisis hit in 2008.
Without an unsustainable credit boom somewhere, the world economy seems incapable of generating growth in demand sufficient to absorb potential supply. It looks like a law of the conservation of credit booms. Consider the past quarter century: a credit boom in Japan that collapsed after 1990; a credit boom in Asian emerging economies that collapsed in 1997; a credit boom in the north Atlantic economies that collapsed after 2007; and finally in China. Each is greeted as a new era of prosperity, to collapse into crisis and post-crisis malaise.
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One of the hardest things for us to do is to envision a future that is different from the present. For instance, we live in an age of paralyzed politics, so it is hard, in the here and now, to imagine what could change that. A second example: It is difficult to think of a scenario where federal gun legislation could be passed over the objections of the National Rifle Association. And a third: Income inequality has been the trend for some three decades; doesn’t it look as if it will always be that way?
What prompts these thoughts are two papers that landed on my desk recently. Although they tackle very different issues, they have one thing in common: They imagine a future that breaks from the present path.
The first is a draft of a speech given earlier this month at TEDMED by Daniel Webster, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. (TEDMED is associated with TED Talks.) The second is an article in the latest edition of the Harvard Business Review by Roger Martin, the former dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.
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A little over three years ago, I wrote a column titled “The 2% Economy,” explaining how a recovery with only 2% GDP growth, no new middle-class jobs and stagnant wages wasn’t really a recovery after all. Like everyone, I hoped that once growth kicked up to about 3%, middle-class jobs and wages would finally revive.
But we’re now in a 3% economy, and I’m writing the same column. Only this time, the message is more disturbing. Growth is back. Unemployment is down. But only a fraction of the jobs lost during the Great Recession that pay more than $15 per hour have been found. And wage growth is still hovering near zero, where it’s been for the past decade. Something is very, very broken in our economy.
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Should democratically elected leaders in more or less secular countries ever say that this or that religion is essentially good or essentially bad? The dilemma is especially acute, perhaps, if the religion that they want to speak about is one which they don't happen to practise, and presumably don't know about in any depth. But ever since September 2001, and especially over the last few weeks of intensifying conflict with Islamic State, it has been a question that Western heads of government cannot completely duck. The West is at war with an adversary which claims to be acting in the name of Islam. Does that mean that the West is, in any sense whatever, at war with Islam?
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Gallup's Economic Confidence Index is the average of two components: Americans' views of current economic conditions and their opinions on whether the economy is getting better or worse. Last week, 18% of Americans said the economy was "excellent" or "good," while 35% said the economy was "poor," resulting in a current conditions index score of -17. Over the past four weeks, the current conditions index has fallen one point per week.
Meanwhile, 38% of Americans last week said the economy was "getting better," and 57% said it was "getting worse." This resulted in an economic outlook score of -19, down three points from the week before, but similar to several prior weeks.
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The panel, which included doctors, nurses, insurers, religious leaders, lawyers and experts on aging, said Medicare and other insurers should create financial incentives for health care providers to have continuing conversations with patients on advance care planning, possibly starting as early as major teenage milestones like getting a driver’s license or going to college.
It called for a “major reorientation and restructuring of Medicare, Medicaid and other health care delivery programs” and the elimination of “perverse financial incentives” that encourage expensive hospital procedures when growing numbers of very sick and very old patients want low-tech services like home health care and pain management.
And it said that medical schools and groups that accredit and regulate health providers should greatly increase training in palliative care and set standards so that more clinicians know how to compassionately and effectively treat patients who want to be made comfortable but avoid extensive medical procedures.
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The United States has made the same mistake in evaluating fighters from the Islamic State that it did in Vietnam — underestimating the enemy’s will, according to James Clapper, the director of national intelligence.
Clapper’s comments came in a telephone interview Wednesday, in which he summarized the elements of a new National Intelligence Strategy released this week. Clapper also answered some broader questions about intelligence issues confronting the country.
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The Federal Reserve took two steps toward winding down the historic easy-money policies that have defined its response to the financial crisis, but stopped short of the move markets are awaiting most: signaling when interest rates will start to rise.
With the economy gradually improving, U.S. central-bank officials plan to end the bond-buying program known as quantitative easing after October, hoping to finally stop expanding a six-year experiment in monetary policy that has left the Fed holding more than $4 trillion of Treasury and mortgage bonds.
The Fed on Wednesday also detailed a new technical plan for how it will raise short-term interest rates, something most officials currently don't intend to do until next year. The central bank has kept the federal-funds rate near zero since December 2008 and offered assurances along the way about rates remaining low, another part of its varied efforts to boost the post-financial-crisis economy.
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Americans' trust in each of the three branches of the federal government is at or near the lows in Gallup's trends, dating back to the early 1970s. Americans' trust in the legislative branch fell six percentage points this year to a new low of 28%. Trust in the executive branch dropped eight points, to 43%, and trust in the judicial branch, at 61%, is also the lowest measured to date.
The data are part of Gallup's annual update on trust in government, conducted in the Sept. 4-7 Governance poll. Gallup previously documented that Americans' trust in the federal government to handle both domestic and international problems slid to new lows this year.
Americans have generally had the least trust in the legislative branch, consisting of the House of Representatives and the Senate, but never lower than the 28% who do so now. The prior low was the 31% measured in 2011, shortly after Congress and the president engaged in contentious debt-ceiling negotiations.
Trust in the legislative branch had recovered slightly during the previous two years, to 34%, but is down significantly this year....
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A “Yes” vote for independence would be an economic mistake for Scotland and a geopolitical disaster for the west, senior US figures – including Alan Greenspan – tell the Financial Times as Washington wakes up to the chance that its closest ally could break up this week.
Having assumed for months that “No” would win comfortably, Washington has reacted with alarm to opinion polls showing that Thursday’s referendum is going down to the wire. “We have an interest in seeing the UK remain strong, robust and united,” said Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman.
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The story of how the Central Intelligence Agency came to operate a secretive program of rendition, detention, and interrogation under President George W. Bush has been made public by a number of investigations into the abuses that resulted. In 2007, the Red Cross detailed the methods used to interrogate suspects at CIA-run “black sites.” In 2010, the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility strongly criticized the Bush administration lawyers who wrote the legal memos permitting the CIA to use torture. And last year, the Constitution Project Task Force on Detainee Treatment—a nonpartisan group that included a number of former military and intelligence personnel—analyzed what is known about mistreatment of detainees and the policy decisions that led to such ugly consequences.
Now a new report is expected from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which is charged with overseeing the activities of the CIA.
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The U.S. government threatened to fine Yahoo $250,000 a day in 2008 if it failed to comply with a broad demand to hand over user communications — a request the company believed was unconstitutional -- according to court documents unsealed Thursday that illuminate how federal officials forced American tech companies to participate in the NSA’s controversial PRISM program.
The documents, roughly 1,500 pages worth, outline a secret and ultimately unsuccessful legal battle by Yahoo to resist the government’s demands. The company’s loss required Yahoo to become one of the first to begin providing information to PRISM, a program that gave the National Security Agency extensive access to records of online communications by users of Yahoo and other U.S.-based technology firms.
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The gap between the richest and poorest Americans widened even as the U.S. economic recovery gained traction in the years after the recession, the Federal Reserve said.
Average, or mean, pretax income for the wealthiest 10% of U.S. families rose 10% in 2013 from 2010, but families in the bottom 40% saw their average inflation-adjusted income decline over that period, according to the Fed's Survey of Consumer Finances, which is conducted every three years.
The report showed little change in average take-home pay for middle- and upper-middle-class families, who "failed to recover the losses experienced between 2007 and 2010," it said.
Overall, average income rose 4% from the 2010 survey while median—the midpoint with half higher and half lower—income fell 5%, "consistent with increasing income concentration during this period," the report said. Median income fell for every income bracket except the top 10%.
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Social Security Act is signed into law, assuring retirement income for all working Americans. Payroll taxes...are set at 1% (Courtesy of Barry Ritholtz)
Dr. Bob Russo is sure of it. He's a radiologist and he's also the president-elect of the Connecticut State Medical Society. He says that the low rates and administrative burdens that come along with the ACA could make it a financial loser.
"You get what you pay for," he says. "If you can't convince [doctors] that they're not losing money doing their job, it's a problem. And they haven't been able to convince people of that."
He, like Counihan, worries about creating a tiered health care system. Think about Medicaid, he says. Before a recent rise in rates, it paid doctors even less than Medicare, so many stopped accepting Medicaid patients.
"There's no question that Medicaid, under its old rates, wasn't working," he says. "So, have we just invented a new Medicaid that kind of slid the scale up a little more to make access a little more?"
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Thousands of South Carolina residents who filed for Medicaid between October and mid-July are still waiting to find out if they qualify for the government's low-income health insurance program.
While most Medicaid applications are typically approved or denied within six days, the state agency responsible for processing the paperwork hasn't been able to keep pace with an influx from HealthCare.gov.
More than 43,000 South Carolina Medicaid applications were submitted through the new federal health insurance marketplace between Oct. 1 and July 13, but the S.C. Department of Health and Human Services has only managed to make its way through 25 percent of them.
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Here is one:
Your opinion, in “Repeal Prohibition, Again,” that marijuana should be legalized is based in part on an assumption that during Prohibition “people kept drinking.” Prohibition reduced the public’s alcohol intake considerably. The rate of alcohol-associated illness dropped in similar fashion. Prohibition was perhaps a political failure, but an impressive success from a public health standpoint.Read them all.
Both alcohol and marijuana can lead to the chronic disease of addiction, directly affect the brain and negatively affect function. As more than 10 percent of our population has addictive disease, your statement that marijuana is “far less dangerous than alcohol” doesn’t reflect decades of research demonstrating risks associated with both of these drugs.
Why would we possibly wish to add to the alcohol- and tobacco-driven personal and public health catastrophe with yet another substance to which some people will become addicted?
Some people use marijuana currently. Legalize it, and more people will use more marijuana, leading to more addiction, lower productivity and higher societal costs....
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Alcohol/Drinking Alcoholism Drugs/Drug Addiction Health & Medicine History Law & Legal Issues Police/Fire Media * Economics, Politics Economy The U.S. Government Politics in General House of Representatives Office of the President Senate * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
It took 13 years for the United States to come to its senses and end Prohibition, 13 years in which people kept drinking, otherwise law-abiding citizens became criminals and crime syndicates arose and flourished. It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol.
The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.
We reached that conclusion after a great deal of discussion among the members of The Times’s Editorial Board, inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws.
Read it all from this past weekend.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Drugs/Drug Addiction History Law & Legal Issues Police/Fire * Economics, Politics Economy The U.S. Government Politics in General House of Representatives Office of the President Senate State Government * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
The Internal Revenue Service said it will monitor churches and other houses of worship for electioneering in a settlement reached with an atheist group.
The settlement was reached Friday (July 18) in federal court in Madison, Wis., where the initial lawsuit was filed in 2012 by the Freedom from Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based atheist advocacy group that claims 20,000 members nationwide.
The suit alleged the IRS routinely ignored complaints by the FFRF and others about churches promoting political candidates, issues or proposed legislation. As part of their tax-exempt status, churches and other religious groups are prohibited from engaging in partisan political activity.
Read it all.
Shaw Air Force Base was spared in this round of the Air Force’s budget cuts, losing no jobs, but Joint Base Charleston will have 19 positions eliminated.
The announced cuts were the first permanent jobs lost in South Carolina in what is expected to to be a deep reduction in the military following 13 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. State leaders are preparing to fight for the state’s seven installations, based mostly in Columbia, Charleston and Beaufort.
The installations and their missions, as well as a large National Guard, numerous defense contractors in the Upstate and a high number of retirees, especially on the coast, pump nearly $16 billion a year into the state’s economy, according to a study by the S.C. Department of Commerce.
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Filed under: * Economics, Politics Defense, National Security, Military Economy Consumer/consumer spending The U.S. Government Budget Politics in General State Government * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. * South Carolina
The $2.8 trillion Social Security Trust Fund is on track to be totally spent by 2030, the Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday.
That's one year earlier than projected in 2013 and a decade earlier than the CBO estimated as recently as 2011.
The CBO delivered the warning in a gloomy long-term budget outlook that shows federal debt reaching 106% of GDP in 25 years, up from 74% now.
Read it all.
Ms. Yellen, in downplaying concerns about financial stability, said the economic recovery remained incomplete and the Fed’s help was necessary.
“Too many Americans remain unemployed, inflation remains below our longer-run objective and not all of the necessary financial reform initiatives have been completed,” Ms. Yellen told the Senate Banking Committee.
Ms. Yellen’s testimony is likely to reinforce a sense of complacency among investors who regard the Fed as convinced of its forecast and committed to its policy course. She reiterated the Fed’s view that the economy will continue to grow at a moderate pace, and that the Fed is in no hurry to start increasing short-term interest rates.
Read it all.
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Ordinary Internet users, American and non-American alike, far outnumber legally targeted foreigners in the communications intercepted by the National Security Agency from U.S. digital networks, according to a four-month investigation by The Washington Post.
Nine of 10 account holders found in a large cache of intercepted conversations, which former NSA contractor Edward Snowden provided in full to The Post, were not the intended surveillance targets but were caught in a net the agency had cast for somebody else.
Many of them were Americans. Nearly half of the surveillance files, a strikingly high proportion, contained names, e-mail addresses or other details that the NSA marked as belonging to U.S. citizens or residents. NSA analysts masked, or “minimized,” more than 65,000 such references to protect Americans’ privacy, but The Post found nearly 900 additional e-mail addresses, unmasked in the files, that could be strongly linked to U.S. citizens or U.S.residents.
Read it all.
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U.S. food prices are on the rise, raising a sensitive question: When the cost of a hamburger patty soars, does it count as inflation?
It does to everyone who eats and especially poorer Americans, whose food costs absorb a larger portion of their income. But central bankers take a more nuanced view. They sometimes look past food-price increases that appear temporary or isolated while trying to control broad and long-term inflation trends, not blips that might soon reverse.
The Federal Reserve faces an especially important challenge now as it mulls the long-standing dilemma of what to make of the price of a pork chop.
Read it all.
As lawmakers continue the call for answers into the troubled Veterans Affairs health care system, including South Carolina's Sen. Tim Scott, the White House released findings Friday describing "significant and chronic system failures," substantially verifying problems raised by whistleblowers and internal and congressional investigators.
A summary of the review, ordered by President Barack Obama and conducted by deputy White House chief of staff Rob Nabors, says the Veterans Health Administration must be restructured and that a "corrosive culture" has hurt morale and affected the timeliness of health care. The review also found that a 14-day standard for scheduling veterans' medical appointments is unrealistic and has been susceptible to manipulation.
Read it all.
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For those who argue that marijuana is no more dangerous than tobacco and alcohol, [Nora] Volkow has two main answers: We don’t entirely know , and, simultaneously, that is precisely the point .
“Look at the evidence,” Volkow said in an interview on the National Institutes of Health campus, pointing to the harms already inflicted by tobacco and alcohol. “It’s not subtle — it’s huge. Legal drugs are the main problem that we have in our country as it relates to morbidity and mortality. By far. Many more people die of tobacco than all of the drugs together. Many more people die of alcohol than all of the illicit drugs together.
“And it’s not because they are more dangerous or addictive. Not at all — they are less dangerous. It’s because they are legal. . . . The legalization process generates a much greater exposure of people and hence of negative consequences that will emerge. And that’s why I always say, ‘Can we as a country afford to have a third legal drug? Can we?’ We know the costs already on health care, we know the costs on accidents, on lost productivity. I let the numbers speak for themselves.”
Read it all from Ruth Marcus in the Washington Post.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Drugs/Drug Addiction Law & Legal Issues * Economics, Politics Economy Consumer/consumer spending Taxes The U.S. Government Politics in General City Government State Government * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. * Theology Anthropology Ethics / Moral Theology
The American people -- most of us, anyway -- did "choose" to provide first-class medical care for our veterans. But we didn't do it. We set up the Veterans Administration to do it. And the Veterans Administration -- or, more accurately, some of the people who work for and run the Veterans Administration -- had a stronger interest in other things. Things like fat bonuses, and low workloads in comfy offices.
Thus we find that, even though veterans were dying, and books were being cooked, every single VA senior executive received an evaluation of "fully successful" or better over a 4-year period. That's right. Every single one. Over four years. At least 65% of them received bonuses ("performance awards"). All while veterans around the country were suffering and dying because of delayed care. The executives got these bonuses, in part, because they cooked the books, because the bonuses were more important to them than the veterans' care.
It would be nice to believe that this sort of problem is limited to the VA, but there's no particular reason to think that it is. The problem with the VA is that, like every other government agency -- and every other human institution -- it's not a machine that runs itself. It's a collection of people. And people tend to act in their own self interest.
Read it all(emphasis is his).
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Aging / the Elderly Health & Medicine * Economics, Politics Defense, National Security, Military Economy The U.S. Government * Theology Anthropology Ethics / Moral Theology
Four years ago, 6.8 million Americans were out of work for six months or longer. Half as many are now. That might sound like good news, but it isn't.
Nearly four-fifths of those who became long-term unemployed during the worst period of the downturn have since migrated to the fringes of the job market, a recent study shows, rarely seeking work, taking part-time posts or bouncing between unsteady jobs. Only one in five, according to the study, has returned to lasting full-time work since 2008.
The plight of these millions is now at the center of a contentious debate among top U.S. officials over how to spur jobs without stirring inflation.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Globalization * Economics, Politics Economy Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market The Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007-- The U.S. Government Federal Reserve * Theology Anthropology Ethics / Moral Theology
The longer that Americans are unemployed, the more likely they are to report signs of poor psychological well-being. About one in five Americans who have been unemployed for a year or more say they currently have or are being treated for depression -- almost double the rate among those who have been unemployed for five weeks or less.
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[Book authors Mian and Sufi] argue that, rather than failing banks, the key culprits in the financial crisis were overly indebted households. Resurrecting arguments that go back at least to Irving Fisher and that were emphasised by Richard Koo in considering Japan’s stagnation, Mian and Sufi highlight how harsh leverage and debt can be – for example, when the price of a house purchased with a 10 per cent downpayment goes down by 10 per cent, all of the owner’s equity is lost. They demonstrate powerfully that spending fell much more in parts of the country where house prices fell fastest and where the most mortgage debt was attached to homes. So their story of the crisis blames excessive mortgage lending, which first inflated bubbles in the housing market and then left households with unmanageable debt burdens. These burdens in turn led to spending reductions and created an adverse economic and financial spiral that ultimately led financial institutions to the brink.
This interpretation resolves the anomalies that Mian and Sufi highlight. Households do not spend while they are still overly indebted, which precipitates slow growth even after banking is restored to health. Spending slowdowns are caused by household over-indebtedness, so of course they precede problems in the banking system. And, when consumers do not spend, businesses have less need to borrow to finance investment, inventories or receivables.
Their analysis, presented with far more depth and subtlety than I have been able to reflect here, is a major contribution that furthers our understanding of the crisis. It certainly affects what I will examine in trying to predict and forestall future crises. And it should influence policies aimed at crisis prevention by demonstrating the insufficiency of keeping financial institutions healthy and by making a case for macroprudential measures directed at preventing runaway growth in household debt.
Read it all (my emphasis).
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Books History * Economics, Politics Economy Consumer/consumer spending Corporations/Corporate Life Personal Finance The Banking System/Sector The Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007-- The U.S. Government Federal Reserve Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
With five months to go until the Affordable Care Act’s 2015 open enrollment season, states that had troubled exchanges during the inaugural sign-up period are scrambling to either upgrade their sites or transition to the federal exchange—all on the taxpayer’s dime.
A new analysis from the Wall Street Journal finds that the cost for Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada and Oregon to overhaul their exchanges or transition to healthcare.gov will be as high as $240 million in total.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Aging / the Elderly Health & Medicine --The 2009 American Health Care Reform Debate * Economics, Politics Economy Consumer/consumer spending Corporations/Corporate Life Personal Finance The U.S. Government Politics in General House of Representatives Office of the President Senate State Government * Theology Anthropology Ethics / Moral Theology
When 83-year-old Maybell Prewette spent one night in an Eden, N.C., hospital a few years ago because she felt dizzy, she was stunned to find out that a couple puffs of allergy nasal spray cost her more than $600.
Medicare didn't cover the prescription because Prewette was never admitted as a patient at the hospital.
Instead, she was kept overnight for observation. The federal Medicare program doesn't cover the cost of drugs self-administered by "observation status" patients.
Prewette called her local pharmacy after she was discharged and discovered it charges $30 for the same nasal spray. The hospital marked the medicine up 2,000 percent.
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• NCA currently maintains approximately 3.2 million gravesites at 131 national cemeteries in 39 states and Puerto Rico, as well as in 33 soldiers’ lots and monument sites.
• Approximately 429,000 full-casket gravesites, 111,000 in-ground gravesites for cremated remains, and 147,000 columbarium niches are available in already developed acreage in our 131 national cemeteries.
• There are approximately 20,200 acres within established installations in NCA. Nearly 57 percent are undeveloped and – along with available gravesites in developed acreage – have the potential to provide approximately 6.8 million gravesites.
• Of the 131 national cemeteries, 72 are open to all interments; 18 can accommodate cremated remains and the remains of family members for interment in the same gravesite as a previously deceased family member; and 41 will perform only interments of family members in the same gravesite as a previously deceased family member.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Death / Burial / Funerals * Culture-Watch History * Economics, Politics Defense, National Security, Military Economy The U.S. Government
Previous studies suggest that many people will use the new coverage to obtain medical care for conditions that went untreated while they were uninsured.
The new health law reduces special payments to hospitals serving large numbers of low-income patients, on the assumption that many of the uninsured will gain coverage through Medicaid.
But hospital executives are unsure that the savings will materialize. Dr. Campbell said the cuts could create serious financial problems for hospitals treating large numbers of Medicaid patients.
Recent research in other states has raised similar questions.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Aging / the Elderly Health & Medicine --The 2009 American Health Care Reform Debate Law & Legal Issues * Economics, Politics Economy Consumer/consumer spending Corporations/Corporate Life The U.S. Government Medicaid The National Deficit Politics in General * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
In the first large-scale study to directly measure wasteful spending in Medicare, researchers found that Medicare spent $1.9 billion in 2009 for patients to receive any of 26 tests and procedures that have been shown by empirical studies to offer little or no health benefit.
By analyzing Medicare claims data, researchers in the Harvard Medical School Department of Health Care Policy found that at least one in four Medicare recipients received one or more of these services in 2009. What’s more, those 26 services are just a small sample of the hundreds of services that are known to provide little or no medical value to patients in many circumstances.
“We suspect this is just the tip of the iceberg,” said study author J. Michael McWilliams, associate professor of health care policy. The study appears today in JAMA Internal Medicine.
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If realized, the larger move to marketplace coverage would shift more of the cost and responsibility for employee health insurance to workers themselves.
"Once a few notable companies start to depart form their traditional approach to health care benefits, it's likely that a substantial number of firms could quickly follow suit," the report noted. "The result would be a dramatic departure from the legacy employer/employee payroll deduction benefit provision relationship, and could quickly be the modern day equivalent of companies moving from defined benefit pension plans to defined contribution programs."
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Some current and former Republican lawmakers from South Carolina say that climate change does pose a threat, but that more regulations aren't the solution.
"The assessment that came out today is another reminder that climate change is going to present real challenges for the Lowcountry, and the nation as a whole," said U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, South Carolina's former governor. "I've watched rising sea levels play out at our family farm in Beaufort over the last 50 years, and I think others in our area could also point to impacts they've seen.
"As Congress confronts these challenges, I think we should be searching for solutions that embrace free market principles, rather than increasing already burdensome government regulations," he said.
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The US government has inadvertently empowered warlords and nurtured corruption in Afghanistan, warns a strikingly candid new report from the Pentagon that offers a devastating window into worthy US intentions that ended in exorbitant waste.
The initial US focus on defeating the Taliban and Al Qaeda created mutually dependent relationships between the US government and Afghan warlords “that empowered these warlords” and “expanded their opportunities for financial gain,” according to the study, which was produced by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s “lessons learned” department.
This was caused in large part by a “deluge” of military spending that “overwhelmed” the Afghan government’s ability to absorb it and later encouraged spending habits and graft that impeded the US war effort, the report concludes.
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Filed under: * Economics, Politics Defense, National Security, Military Economy The U.S. Government Foreign Relations Politics in General War in Afghanistan * International News & Commentary Asia Afghanistan * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
The U.S. economy slowed in the first quarter to one of the weakest paces of the five-year recovery as the frigid winter appeared to have curtailed business investment and weakness overseas hurt exports.
Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of goods and services produced across the economy, advanced at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 0.1% in the first quarter, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had forecast growth at a 1.1% pace for the quarter.
The broad slowdown to start the year halted what had been improving economic momentum during much of 2013. In the second half of last year, the economy expanded at a 3.4% pace. The first quarter reading fell far below even the lackluster average annual gain of near 2% since the recession ended.
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Filed under: * Culture-Watch Globalization * Economics, Politics Economy Consumer/consumer spending Corporations/Corporate Life Housing/Real Estate Market Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market Personal Finance The U.S. Government Politics in General * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A.
We start with this reality: Social Security and Medicare are practically sacrosanct. Nearly nine-in-ten Americans say they're good for the country. That's an amazing number. But the popularity of these programs really isn't all that surprising. People love them because they do what they were created to do. They ease many of the frets and dreads of old age – a blessing not just for seniors but for everyone who loves, supports and depends on seniors. Which is to say, everyone.
But the status quo is unsustainable. Some 10,000 Baby Boomers will be going on Social Security and Medicare every single day between now and 2030. By the time everyone in this big pig-in-the-python generation is drawing benefits, we’ll have just two workers per beneficiary – down from three-to-one now, five-to-one in 1960 and more than forty-to-one in 1945, shortly after Social Security first started supporting beneficiaries.
The math of the 20th century simply won’t work in the 21st. Today's young are paying taxes to support a level of benefits for today's old that they have no realistic chance of receiving when they become old. And they know it – just 6% of Millennials say they expect to receive full benefits from Social Security when they retire. Fully half believe they’ll get nothing.
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Filed under: * Culture-Watch Aging / the Elderly Young Adults * Economics, Politics Economy The U.S. Government Budget Medicaid Medicare Social Security The National Deficit Politics in General House of Representatives Office of the President President Barack Obama Senate * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
Efforts to fix the notorious Heartbleed bug threaten to cause major disruptions to the Internet over the next several weeks as companies scramble to repair encryption systems on hundreds of thousands of Web sites at the same time, security experts say.
Estimates of the severity of the bug’s damage have mounted almost daily since researchers announced the discovery of Heartbleed last week. What initially seemed like an inconvenient matter of changing passwords for protection now appears much more serious. New revelations suggest that skilled hackers can use the bug to create fake Web sites that mimic legitimate ones to trick consumers into handing over valuable personal information.
The sheer scale of the work required to fix this aspect of the bug — which makes it possible to steal the “security certificates” that verify that a Web site is authentic — could overwhelm the systems designed to keep the Internet trustworthy.
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Weighing in at more than $1 trillion, student loan debt is now larger than total credit card debt. Morning Edition recently asked young adults about their biggest concerns, and more than two-thirds of respondents mentioned college debt. Many say they have put off marriage or buying a home because of the financial burden they took on as students.
William Elliott, director of the Assets and Education Initiative at the University of Kansas, says the burden of student loans isn't just a personal, short-term problem for individuals. Loans now make up too large a part of financial aid packages, he tells NPR's David Greene, "and they're too big of a part of how we finance college."
As a result, Elliott says, too many young people are spending years on loan repayment, instead of growing personal wealth through investments like real estate and retirement accounts. In the long-term, he adds, that can be a drag on the economy — and create a wealth divide between people who have student debt and those who don't.
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“A Journey to Waco,” [Clive] Doyle’s memoir, is an account of what it means to be a religious radical—to worship on the fringes of contemporary Christianity. Doyle takes the story from his childhood in Australia through the extraordinary events of 1993, when some eighty armed agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms raided the Mount Carmel community, in an effort to serve a search and arrest warrant on Koresh, on suspicion of violating federal firearms rules. “I want you all to go back to your rooms and stay calm,” Doyle recalls Koresh saying, as federal agents descended on Mount Carmel. Doyle goes on, “I could hear David’s steps going down the hall toward the front door. . . . Then all of a sudden I heard David say: ‘Hey, wait a minute! There are women and children in here!’ Then all hell broke loose—just a barrage of shots from outside coming in. It sounded like a bloodbath.”
In the resulting gun battle, four A.T.F. agents and six Davidians were killed. The F.B.I. was called in. The Davidian property was surrounded. An army of trained negotiators were flown to the scene, and for the next fifty-one days the two sides talked day and night—arguing, lecturing, bargaining—with the highlights of their conversations repeated at press conferences and broadcasts around the world. The Waco standoff was one of the most public conversations in the history of American law enforcement, and the question Doyle poses in his memoir, with genuine puzzlement, is how a religious community could go to such lengths to explain itself to such little effect....
The F.B.I. agent expected that the Davidians, like a fragile cult, would turn paranoid and defensive in the presence of a threat. He didn’t grasp that he was dealing with a very different kind of group—the sort whose idea of a good evening’s fun was a six-hour Bible study wrestling with a tricky passage of Revelation. It was a crucial misunderstanding, and would feed directly into the tragedy that was to come.
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Ah, ah, ah--you need to guess before you look. Check it out from Forbes.
South Carolina was home to all three of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas on the Atlantic Coast in 2013, new Census Bureau estimates say.
Greater Charleston is the largest of those metro areas, and it has accounted for nearly a third of the state's population growth since the last census in 2010.
Read it all.
....with less than 10 days left in the 2014 window to apply for coverage with policies through the federal marketplace, lots of people still don’t understand the penalties. Who pays? Who doesn’t? How do you pay? How do you avoid paying?
Toni McKinnon of Columbia stopped by Richland Library’s main branch on Assembly Street last week to find out about the health insurance marketplace because she was worried about having to pay a penalty.
“When you’re living paycheck to paycheck, you can’t afford insurance,” McKinnon said, “and you sure can’t afford to pay some kind of penalty.”
She left the library slightly confused and very disappointed.
Read it all.
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