Monthly Archives: March 2015

Job Polarization and Wages (A Visualization)

by Bud Meyers, published on March 29, 2015

Economists refer to “job polarization” in the labor force when middle-class jobs (requiring a moderate level of skills) appear to disappear relative to those at the bottom (requiring fewer skills) and to those at the top — requiring greater skills; or those who are better networked and know people in a position of influence. (Below is a simple animation to show how job polarization might look).

Latest wage data from the Social Security Administration for 2013 showed an annual median wage of $28,031 — and at 40 hours a week for 52 weeks would be $13.48/hour. But FiveThirtyEight.Com reports the median worker earned $17.09 an hour in May 2014 — or $35,547 for a typical full-time job.  Middle-Class Jobs Are Still Lagging (March 26, 2015 by Ben Casselman):

“As has been true for much of the nearly six-year-old recovery, hiring was strongest at the top and bottom of the pay scale. Overall, jobs at the extremes of the pay distribution — those where median pay falls in the top or bottom 20 percent of all occupations — have surpassed their prerecession peaks. Jobs in the middle 60 percent experienced slower growth and are still deep in negative territory … Some economists have argued that longer-term forces, particularly automation and outsourcing, are having a polarizing effect on the job market, with high- and low-skilled jobs growing as those in the middle disappear.”

Assuming (at very least) that $50,000 a year (before payroll taxes) is a true middle-class wage in 2015, then 72.7% of all wage earners make less than that today. If the middle-class were defined by individuals (not multiple-income households) who had incomes of between $50,000 and $100,000 a year, then less than 20% of all wage earners make a middle-class wage.

Continue reading Job Polarization and Wages (A Visualization)

War Profiteering Off U.S. Tax Dollars: Spending $17+ Billion per Month for Defense & Wars is Insane

by Christian Sorensen, for Boiling Frogs Post, published March 10, 2015
titled “BFP Exclusive Report-A Distillation of DOD Funding Priorities for February 2015**

DOD spent $16,962,000,762+ on 218 individual contracts in February 2015

0130_DODPostThe Pentagon issues a jumbled list of contracts every business day around 5:00PM local time. Our project distills an entire month of these contracts into an accessible form.

The Department of Defense (DOD) spent at least $16,962,000,762 on 218 individual contracts during February 2015.

REMOTELY PILOTED MACHINES

General Atomics received $279,144,933 for 24 MQ-9 Block 5 Reapers (including spare parts, equipment and spares). This is a sole-source acquisition.

Northrop Grumman received $25,848,612 for engineering sustainment and integrated logistics in support of MQ-8 software. This was not competitively procured per FAR.6.302-1.

Northrop Grumman received $63,700,156 for long-lead components, material, parts and efforts to maintain the MQ-4C Triton planned production schedule. This was not competitively procured per FAR 6.302-1.

FOREIGN MILITARY SALES – Through Foreign Military Sales (FMS), the U.S. government procures and transfers materiel to allied nations and international organizations.

BAE Systems received $221,000,000 for F-16 support equipment and related services. This is a sole-source acquisition. This is 100% FMS “to multiple countries including Morocco, Egypt, Oman, Pakistan, Indonesia and Portugal.”

Continue reading War Profiteering Off U.S. Tax Dollars: Spending $17+ Billion per Month for Defense & Wars is Insane

Founding Fathers decried Standing Army: How about a Global Pentagon?

By William D. Hartung | (Tomdispatch.com) (via Juan Cole’s Informed Comment blog)

President Obama and Senator John McCain, who have clashed on almost every conceivable issue, do agree on one thing: the Pentagon needs more money. Obama wants to raise the Pentagon’s budget for fiscal year 2016 by $35 billion more than the caps that exist under current law allow.  McCain wants to see Obama his $35 billion and raise him $17 billion more. Last week, the House and Senate Budget Committees attempted to meet Obama’s demands by pressing to pour tens of billions of additional dollars into the uncapped supplemental war budget.

What will this new avalanche of cash be used for? A major ground war in Iraq? Bombing the Assad regime in Syria? A permanent troop presence in Afghanistan?  More likely, the bulk of the funds will be wielded simply to take pressure off the Pentagon’s base budget so it can continue to pay for staggeringly expensive projects like the F-35 combat aircraft and a new generation of ballistic missile submarines.  Whether the enthusiastic budgeteers in the end succeed in this particular maneuver to create a massive Pentagon slush fund, the effort represents a troubling development for anyone who thinks that Pentagon spending is already out of hand.

Mind you, such funds would be added not just to a Pentagon budget already running at half-a-trillion dollars annually, but to the actual national security budget, which is undoubtedly close to twice that.  It includes items like work on nuclear weapons tucked away at the Department of Energy, that Pentagon supplementary war budget, the black budget of the Intelligence Community, and war-related expenditures in the budgets of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Homeland Security.

Despite the jaw-dropping resources available to the national security state, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair General Martin Dempsey recently claimed that, without significant additional infusions of cash, the U.S. military won’t be able to “execute the strategy” with which it has been tasked. As it happens, Dempsey’s remark unintentionally points the way to a dramatically different approach to what’s still called “defense spending.”  Instead of seeking yet more of it, perhaps it’s time for the Pentagon to abandon its costly and counterproductive military strategy of “covering the globe.”

A Cold War Strategy for the Twenty-First Century

Even to begin discussing this subject means asking the obvious question: Does the U.S. military have a strategy worthy of the name?  As President Dwight D. Eisenhower put it in his farewell address in 1961, defense requires a “balance between cost and hoped for advantage” and “between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable.”  Eisenhower conveniently omitted a third category: things that shouldn’t have been done in the first place — on his watch, for instance, the CIA’s coups in Iran and Guatemala that overthrew democratic governments or, in our century, the Bush administration’s invasion and occupation of Iraq.  But Eisenhower’s underlying point holds. Strategy involves making choices.  Bottom line: current U.S. strategy fails this test abysmally.

Continue reading Founding Fathers decried Standing Army: How about a Global Pentagon?

Medicare Doc Fix is Fixed — Sort of — for Now

by Bud Meyers, published March 26, 2015 (via The Economic Populist)

The House overwhelmingly approved sweeping changes to the Medicare program (voting 392 to 37) which would establish a new formula for paying doctors and increasing premiums for Medicare beneficiaries.

The John Boehner-Nancy Pelosi measure would replace a 1997 formula that linked doctor pay to economic growth with a new one that is more focused on “quality of care and performance” by rewarding them for higher-quality work, rather than on the volume of their services.

According to Forbes (who isn’t happy with the plan):

“Medicare payments to doctors would rise by 0.5% in each of the next four years—a rate that is likely to be well below inflation. Then, payments would be frozen for the next six years. After that, physicians would get modest annual increases again. After 2019, doctors would receive financial incentives to participate in two alternative payment systems that would tie their compensation to performance. Potentially, this could improve the quality of care for seniors. That, in turn, could reduce their acute health episodes and hospitalizations and might even save Medicare money.”

Continue reading Medicare Doc Fix is Fixed — Sort of — for Now

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, 2014 Update: How the U.S. Health Care System Compares Internationally

by The Commonwealth Fund, published March 27, 2015

Executive Summary

The United States health care system is the most expensive in the world, but this report and prior editions consistently show the U.S. underperforms relative to other countries on most dimensions of performance. Among the 11 nations studied in this report—Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States—the U.S. ranks last, as it did in the 2010, 2007, 2006, and 2004 editions of Mirror, Mirror. Most troubling, the U.S. fails to achieve better health outcomes than the other countries, and as shown in the earlier editions, the U.S. is last or near last on dimensions of access, efficiency, and equity. In this edition of Mirror, Mirror, the United Kingdom ranks first, followed closely by Switzerland (Exhibit ES-1).

Expanding from the seven countries included in 2010, the 2014 edition includes data from 11 countries. It incorporates patients’ and physicians’ survey results on care experiences and ratings on various dimensions of care. It includes information from the most recent three Commonwealth Fund international surveys of patients and primary care physicians about medical practices and views of their countries’ health systems (2011–2013). It also includes information on health care outcomes featured in The Commonwealth Fund’s most recent (2011) national health system scorecard, and from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Davis_Mirror_2014_ES1_for_web

Continue reading Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, 2014 Update: How the U.S. Health Care System Compares Internationally

U.S. Pays Most for Healthcare of Any Industrialized Nation … But Ranks Worst for Healthcare

by Washington’s Blog, published March 27, 2015

According to Some Metrics …

The Commonwealth Fund reported last year:

The United States health care system is the most expensive in the world, but this report and prior editions consistently show the U.S. underperforms relative to other countries on most dimensions of performance. Among the 11 nations studied in this report—Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States—the U.S. ranks last, as it did in the 2010, 2007, 2006, and 2004 editions of Mirror, Mirror. Most troubling, the U.S. fails to achieve better health outcomes than the other countries, and as shown in the earlier editions, the U.S. is last or near last on dimensions of access, efficiency, and equity. In this edition of Mirror, Mirror, the United Kingdom ranks first, followed closely by Switzerland

While UK residents averaged $3,405 per year on healthcare costs (the second-lowest, trailing only New Zealand), Americans paid $8,508 per year. And yet Commonwealth ranked the UK as number 1 for healthcare, and the U.S. dead last … 11th out of 11 industrialized nations.

Continue reading U.S. Pays Most for Healthcare of Any Industrialized Nation … But Ranks Worst for Healthcare

India’s ‘Common Man’ faces high expectations in New Delhi

by Jason Overdorf, published March 27, 2015 in the Christian Science Monitor online

Arvind Kejriwal and his upstart “Common Man’s Party” won almost complete control of Delhi’s legislative assembly last month. But will the new chief minister be able to deliver on his lofty campaign promises?

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Arvind Kejriwal addresses his supporters after taking the oath as the new chief minister of New Delhi on Feb. 14. Anindito Mukherjee/Reuters/file

NEW DELHI — From a jerry-built tea stall in the Bawana resettlement colony, one of New Delhi’s newest neighborhoods, the huge challenges confronting the city’s charismatic new chief minister are glaring.

Forced to move here when central slums were demolished to make way for stadiums and metro stations nearly a decade ago, thousands of people are still living without proper houses, a functioning sewer system, or a regular water supply.

“We’re hoping that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) will finally give us the houses we were promised,” says Leelawati Gupta, the tea stall’s owner.

In February, Arvind Kejriwal led his fledgling AAP, or “Common Man’s Party,” to a surprise trouncing of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s hugely popular Bharatiya Janata Party in Delhi elections by building a new coalition of voters like Ms. Gupta.

But analysts warn that Mr. Kejriwal’s unexpected success could lead to his undoing as Delhi residents eagerly wait for him to follow through on his sweeping campaign promises, from clean water to free wireless Internet. It’s a task made increasingly difficult by India’s fragmented and schadenfreude-fueled political system, which threatens to impede delivery of even the most basic services.

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“We’re all in trouble”: The Yantic CT post office, from suspension to appeal

by Save The Post Office , published March 26, 2015

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The Postal Service has made a final determination to close the post office in Yantic, Connecticut, a village in Norwich.  Deberey Hinchey, the mayor of Norwich, and Kevin Ryan, a state representative, have filed an appeal on the closing to the Postal Regulatory Commission.

It’s the first appeal filed on a post office closing since July 2013.  (Another appeal has recently been filed for a contract post office in Careywood, Idaho.)  It will be interesting to see how the PRC, under the new leadership of Acting Chairman Robert Taub, handles the appeal.

Appeals on post office closings are rarely successful.  Between April 2012 and November 2013, the PRC ruled on over 200 appeals.  Only 17 of them resulted in an order remanding the closing decision back to the Postal Service for further consideration.  (The PRC can only remand; it cannot completely overturn a decision to close.)

During that period, most of the PRC orders affirming the Postal Service’s decision were actually decided by a tie vote.  Commissioner Tony Hammond was waiting for Senate confirmation, so there were only four commissioners.  Mark Acton and Robert Taub consistently voted to affirm the decision to close, and then-Chairman Ruth Goldway and then-Vice-Chairman Nanci Langley consistently voted to remand.  (Goldway and Langley, by the way, are Democrats; the other three commissioners are Republicans.)

Continue reading “We’re all in trouble”: The Yantic CT post office, from suspension to appeal

Goodbye, math and history: Finland wants to abandon teaching subjects at school

by Kabir Chibber, published March 21, 2015

Cheap Oil Changes
Change is coming.(AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Finland already has one of the best school education systems. It always ranks near the top in mathematics, reading, and science in the prestigious PISA rankings (the 2012 list, pdf) by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Teachers in other countries flock to its schools to learn from a country that is routinely praised as just a really, really wonderful place to live.

But the country is not resting on its laurels. Finland is considering its most radical overhaul of basic education yet—abandoning teaching by subject for teaching by phenomenon. Traditional lessons such as English Literature and Physics are already being phased out among 16-year-olds in schools in Helsinki.

Instead, the Finns are teaching phenomena—such as the European Union, which encompasses learning languages, history, politics, and geography. No more of an hour of history followed by an hour of chemistry. The idea aims to eliminate one of the biggest gripes of students everywhere: “What is the point of learning this?” Now, each subject is anchored to the reason for learning it.

Continue reading Goodbye, math and history: Finland wants to abandon teaching subjects at school

9 Billionaires Are About to Remake New York’s Public Schools—Here’s Their Story

by George Joseph, reporting for The Nation, published March 19, 2015

A Nation investigation reveals how a group of hedge funders are about to get exactly what they paid for.

cuomo_charter_schools_ap_img_2
Governor Cuomo speaks at a rally in support of charter schools on the steps of the state Capitol in Albany. (Tim Roske/ AP)

Hedge-fund manager Whitney Tilson stands at a Harvard club podium in midtown Manhattan, facing a room full of investors eating eggs and bacon, and eager to learn more about charter schools. The walls of the wood-paneled room are lined with the portraits of Tilson’s Harvard forefathers. Above the podium where Tilson stands hangs an ornamental gold ship, swaying. In the corner of the room is a large screen, on which the logos of the day’s sponsors, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation, float like guardian angels. Two large stone fireplaces dominate the west end of the room. Their exaggerated mantelpieces are each decorated with two empty crests and a laurel—symbols of power drained of any purpose.

Tilson begins an enormous PowerPoint presentation, speaking of the inequities black and Latino children face in the public school system. “Your entire prison population is in these red bars,” he explains, showing red bars indicating the high percentage of poor black and Latino children who could not read at a fourth-grade level. No such children, nor their parents, seemed to have been invited to this presentation.

Despite the role poverty plays in determining whose kids gets stuck in those red bars, Tilson declares to the room of Ivy League investors, “This is not rocket science. Notice on my list there’s no #5, no Spend More Money. You get new facilities and smaller classrooms but nothing changes. Nobody believes anymore that if you give us more money we’ll solve all the problems.”

Something is Rotten in the State of New York

These exact talking points were echoed in Democrat Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address, last January, where the governor commanded the legislature, “Don’t tell me that if we only had more money [for education], it would change. We have been putting more money into this system every year for a decade and it hasn’t changed and 250,000 [failing children] will condemn the failing schools by this system.”

Continue reading 9 Billionaires Are About to Remake New York’s Public Schools—Here’s Their Story