Wednesday, June 24, 2009

-- An imaginary conversation with my family doctor on the true difficulty of paying for national health care --

-- An imaginary conversation with my family doctor on the true difficulty of paying for national insurance --

Me: $1.2 million is the average income for top 1 percentile households (2006 figure). You must have made at least a couple of million last year, right? I mean you are a doctor – and you are with Columbia Presbyterian hospital.

Doctor Levine: “[Laughs].”

Me: You mean that the 15% of income share that slipped out of the pockets of bottom 90 percentile earners and into the buckets of top 1 percentile earners over the past few decades slipped right past you doctors?

Doctor Levine: “[Smiles ruefully].”

Me: Still, with the US having 135% of the per capita GDP of comparable modern economies we should no trouble devoting 15% of GDP [.15 X 1.35 = .2025] to health care, right (note parallel with 15% of income shifted to pockets of folks who earn lots more than doctors)? Unless we have too deeply gutted much of our workforce’s pay – with something like 30% of families living below the poverty line.

In real life the poverty line for a family of three -- assuming they have to pay their own health premiums – is about $45,000 (not the unreal $20,000 government calculation based on three times the price of an emergency diet – premiums alone exceed $12,000!). If you look at the Census, median family income is about $62,000. The real minimum needs line would hover somewhere around 37 percentile – if we didn't count families with paid health insurance. Knock off 7 points (guesstimate) for families on the top end with paid insurance (not those on the bottom with Medicaid) and we can reckon – it turns out very reliably -- about 30% of American families’ incomes are below minimum needs without government helps like food stamps.

Sounds like a quarter of the country must be earning less than the minimum wage or something equally crazy, right? Nearly a quarter of the workforce is earning less than the minimum wage – if we are talking about Lyndon Johnson’s 1968 minimum wage of $10/hr [$1.60/hr adjusted] – back when average income was half today’s. (FYI, tech improvement, like how much better today’s Timex is, generally not counted in inflation estimates.)

Doctor Levine: “How can something like this happen; why can’t we straighten it out?”

We can straighten out our labor market any time we wish – nothing like this happens anywhere else in the first-world. Simply institute the same labor market structure in place in virtually every modern economy (and many not so modern like Argentina and Indonesia): sector-wide labor agreements – wherein everybody with the same job description within the same locale works under identical collectively bargained terms with all the different firms – legislation required. [Note: check out French-Canadian “lite” version.]

Medical Doctor (not psychiatrist) Levine: What is holding back our big wig progressives from pushing – or at least mentioning out loud – such apparently badly needed and promisingly efficacious labor market changes?

Me: Something I call “pack check.” Males instinctively check in with what everybody else is thinking on any economic or political – or metaphorical “hunting pack” -- issue. And as long as they stay fix-focused on what everybody else is thinking it can seem impossible to them to make headway in an entirely new policy direction: so many different people require so many different approaches – and whom did we ever convert before with our most reasonable (we thought) arguments. Impostavazoo!

Sociobiology time – my lay opinion anyway: chasing wild pigs (what human males evolved doing) required a kind of perfect awareness of what every other hunting pack member was doing (pigs, as anyone who owns one can tell you, are not stupid) – was an essential survival mechanism. Without awareness of the need to break free from this innate focus-on-everybody-else’s-focus, at least for short breaks, all the economic male geeks in all the world may never initiate any new solution to the uniquely lop-side bargaining power ruining the American labor market – nor anything else – no matter how obviously practical, no matter how desperately (!) needed.

Human males are not so much pig headed as we are “pig-chase” headed.

Doctor Levine: “[Makes excuse; finally escapes].”

Monday, June 22, 2009

School corporal punishment: closer to the final "anti" argument

For a more comprehensive treatment click on: Corporal Punishment in Schools: Economic, Liable, Practical, Ethical, Constitutional?

Even closer to the final “anti” argument against corporal punishment in school – the big jump (not yet the final) comes at the very end.

First, I can now delineate between the slipper (more like a size 12 sneaker), the cane and the paddle.

Getting the slipper turns out to be a painful spanking (never sounded like much to me). It starts out stinging badly and by the time you get hit on the same spot for the sixth time it is unbearable.

But English students who got the slipper were so happy not to be getting the cane. IOW, the slipper meant a spanking, the cane meant real torture.

OTH, an African slave in America would never be lucky enough to get the cane. Even a small woman can give you max pain with a cane – it is light enough. It takes a strong man (or, for example, a female phys ed coach) to deliver all a paddle can deliver.*

I once found a paddle lying around a place I worked and since nobody was around I gave myself a weak, clumsy, back-handed shot on the butt with it – I thought I would hardly feel it, the shot was so weak. It took the hair off my head for ten years (so don’t let women loose with a paddle – everything is a matter of degree).

I once got the equivalent of the cane, thirteen shots with a 36 inch pointer in the seventh grade (he lined up half the class – we had been falling behind doing assignments) and can remember every shot like 1956 was yesterday.

I would probably brave the slipper rather than spend all day in school (even I who “suffered” through every second of school). I would do a dozen Saturdays before braving the cane or the paddle.

To me this means that the usual “anti” arguments about permanent trauma are more appropriate to spanking – the slipper. When you are dealing with true torture (the slave paddle) the only “anti” argument you need is the torture itself.

Now we are ready for the big “anti” finale: I find the adult paddler to be the one who is behaving immaturely – the definition of immature being not keeping things in the right proportion – in the case of the adult paddler just to give in to his or her bureaucratic impulses.

We covered the light weight of the student infractions elsewhere (we don’t tell students that) – student rules equate to adult office management. We now know how unacceptably (criminally!) painful being paddled or caned is. The adult paddler ignores – really inverts – the true proportion of both: the personification of immaturity.

[*Further "physics" insights: the reason students victims may be told to spread their feet wide for a paddling is prevent them from instinctively puckering their butt cheeks together to absorb the power of the incoming missile (making the pain penetrate deeper). Nothing like that happens with a cane which doesn't have anything resembling the impact force of paddle.

[Students relate living if fear of the paddle or the cane through their school years. Nobody reports living in terror the whole time of every getting the slipper -- which is very painful punishment but not full-fledged torture.

[A caning is a trip through hell. Every single shot with a paddle is a trip through hell -- making a paddle totally inappropriate for "spanking" children; should be outlawed even for parents.]

Another possible approach is that you cannot hit a school child if they have not done anything morally offensive: e.g., spitting on passersby from the school bus, cheating on exams, etc.

We cannot legally strike adults with a stick for lateness (no "option" to getting fired allowed) under criminal law. Children are no different from adults under the constitution -- equal protection (parental exemption for practical keep-state-out-of-family rationale -- not a "sacrament" to be conferred on schools which usually are government). Tardies, doing homework, smoking in the parking lot are all everyday office management issues -- not moral issues.

And if you do hit a school child it is not with the slave-paddler ("er" is more active) or the cane (ownership of which should be outlawed -- perhaps even from parents -- like they were switch-blade knives). The "slipper" or gym shoe (the lower level of old time British corporal punishment) should be the limit -- and it had better be a standard approved by whatever body with what we are talking about in mind; can't let the "hold drillers" lose or they will come up with a near fatal shoe sole. Not unknown in this country -- saw it in a National Geographic story of all places, 25-35 years ago.

[More creepy comparisons (can't help it: I am gifted with this flood of mechanical associations): I am sure most would agree that the strap or the hairbrush are a lot worse than the sneaker (I saw four Brit soldiers in an online video (this research takes you where it takes you) drawing straws to see who would take a sneaker shot from the other three -- the loser jumped around with the shots but I don't think they would play that way with the strap or the hairbrush.

[And think about it: the paddle is like 5 or 10 hairbrushes. And if you look at the one used in the famous Principal's Office episode it looked like 10 times the area and 20 times the weight -- swung by a beefy ex-welder of course (who seemed to be humanely intended in general -- may have no idea what he delivers).

[To combine with the last (unbracketed) point above: you don't give someone -- least of all a child -- that kind of pain if they have not done something morally offensive (e.g., cheating on a test). You don't train human children to be a little more efficient (reduce tardies) by using what amounts to a cattle prod. Some don't object to a parent hairbrushing a kid for being out late? The parent is not talking about 5 minutes late for dinner -- the parent is worried about being out all night and getting in a car crash with a drunken driver.]

Saturday, June 20, 2009

What to replace the US Senate with: a representative US Senate.


What to replace the US Senate with: a representative US Senate.

First raise the number of representatives to 500 (representing 600,000 people each, to be apportioned across state lines if necessary; no state need have less than one, lowest population, Wyoming, 621,254).

Then (you guessed what was coming), have 100 senators represent 5 contiguous representative districts. California (pop. 36 million) could share 12 US senators with Hawaii (pop. 600,000) under this arrangement.

No other country in the world has such screwy undemocratic representation as found in the number one legislature body of the United States. 18% of our citizens supply 50% of the US Senate vote.

On top of which no new progressive directions can be taken without an undemocratic 60% of the vote. 10% of our citizens can supply enough votes block any legislation. (This reactionary setup reminds of why California cannot raise taxes to pay for expenditures that have not risen beyond inflation over the years – the only kind of setup the Republican disease can thrive in anymore.)

Worst – so I thought -- of all to alter the Constitution requires a two-thirds vote of the US Senate: making it practicably impossible. I contemplated the most populous states (e.g., Texas) seceding from union with the least populous (e.g., Alaska) – temporarily – just long enough to get rid of the old US Senate and replace it with something more practical (until this week I could not think of what that might be).

“When in the course of human events…” Then the full states can re-adopt the empty “territories.” Under this scenario Obama can play the part of Jefferson Davis. I don’t think the national guard of Alaska is going to suppress the “rebellion” in Texas. J

Just today I learned there is another path to amendment (and junking the US Senate). Two-thirds of state legislatures can convene a Constitutional convention to propose an amendment which then must be ratified by three-quarters of the state legislatures. Worth a try.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

15% of US GDP goes to health care – with 135% of comparable (OECD) per-capita GDPs – what’s the universal health hold up?

15% of US GDP goes to health care – with 135% of comparable (OECD) per-capita GDPs – what’s the universal health hold up?

Imagine a US economy in which 25% of wages lie below the federal minimum and 30% of families subsist below realistic (not the phony federal) poverty lines (not counting government helps like food stamps -- sounds like something out of “Soylent Green”).

Not merely imagination if we are talking LBJ’s federal minimum wage of 1968: $10/hr ($1.60/hr adjusted for inflation – average income has nearly doubled since!).

Matching believable family minimum needs tables found in the 2002 book “Raise the Floor” (not quack federal poverty lines, computed as three times the price of an emergency diet -- dried beans only please, no canned) with Census historical family income tables reveals in the neighborhood of 30% of American families below minimum needs (without government helps -- eight-grade math is here).

Meanwhile, average top 1 percentile household income reached a stratospheric $1.2 million dollars (hint: 100 X $12,000) in 2006 – just not your over-trained, over-worked family doctor’s household. The 15% of income share relocated from the pockets of bottom 90 percentile earners to top 1 percentile buckets flew right past him or her. (Note match with 15% of GDP we strain to allot to less than universal care.) It’s the labor market, doc.
Bumping up the minimum wage over three years to $12.50/hr (in real terms -- $1 every six months?) would add all of
2 1/2% to the cost of GDP output (how much our per capita GDP typically grows every year or two) and presumably to direct inflation – raise 40% of American workers to a still minimum family needs short $500/wk -- and likely recirculate much demand in the direction of high minimum wage use businesses (lower wage tending to serve lower wage).

The end of the middle class race to the (Wal-Mart) bottom in almost the entire first-world (even in second-world Argentina and third-world Indonesia) is called sector-wide labor contracts: same job description, same geographic locale equals same contract conditions across diverse firms – legislation required.

The French-Canadian “lite” version of sector-wide – in which non-union firms work under terms collectively bargained with unionized firms -- is available right nearby for easy study and adaptation -- Canada’s economy mostly mirroring our own.
What could be tying the tongues of our economic geeks who should be pressing upon we less knowing these make-or-break American labor market moves? In sociobiological (evolved behavior) terms, and to my lay observation: the more momentous and more critical any political or economic issue is, the less likely human male geeks are to be guided by their internal gyros in “pack” dialogue – almost forget challenging the general direction. This is not exactly herd instinct; better called “pack” instinct: “No time for new notions now: the wild pigs are running away!”

No matter how diverse the rationalizations for doing it; whatever the reasons offered for practicality of – all males perform the identical mental operation: all check in (within seconds?) with where “pack” thought is running and why – all tend to get stuck (lost?) in the flow. Females do not automatically perform "pack-check" (within seconds). Females in my experience are able to assess the prospects of new directions and (just as importantly) their marketability in purely substantive, is it a good idea or not a good idea, terms.

”Pack check” may have played its part in keeping our species fat in the rain forests. It can play its role today in keeping even worldwide discussions coherent. But, if you ask me, as long as the inhibition goes unchecked because unconscious, it can contribute to too many modern Americans living too lean.
Looking for a “natural” (as in no artificial inducements) demand boost to ease our two-pronged (financial and real estate) recession: start most Americans toward recapturing that 15% of income share lost over three and a half decades to folks who earn lots more than doctors (the top of top 1 percentile earners). Mere anticipation of renewed buying power to be refreshed by rebuilt bargaining power could unleash a third of a century of pent up demand. It’s the “Great Wage Depression” Americans.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

How to depersonalize TSA backscatter x-ray "strip searches"

Emailed this to TSA a while back (for latest controversy see below):

To reach an acceptable level of privacy with the use of low energy backscatter x-ray machines we could try morphing all personal body images into standard impersonal templates: fat persons' images would be shrunk to fit a standard image and vice versa for example. All males and all female images could could be morphed into one standard gender image (not very personal). We could even try squared off "standard body" images if that would make the public feel less exposed.

Standardized male and female body images might actually make it easier for TSA employees to search for hidden objects. Even modified images should do a significantly better job than metal detectors.

Whether or not standardized images would satisfy public objections of virtual strip search would be purely subjective. If it works for the public, it works.
Touching private parts might be considered a felony criminal law violation as part of random checks entering a disco. You cannot be forced to agree to allow an illegal assault.

When the government is the main -- only -- actor setting TSA frisking policy the Fourth Amendment may be invoked under the same kind of rationale that finds some so-called private contractors (e.g., leasing limo drivers) to be employees because all their job activities are governed by management.
I went on hundreds of prison visits in New York State in the late '70's (Rikers Island, Elmira, Fishkill, Coxsaki, Camp Monterey and Hudson) and the metal detectors were set so sensitively the brass rivets in your plastic eyeglass frames would make them go off (take them off and go through again) -- but the frisks never touched anyone's genitals, male or female.

"By buying your ticket you gave up a lot of rights," countered the TSA supervisor.

You cannot give up your First Amendment rights by buying a ticket -- nor your right to due process; going to jail without trial. You cannot give up your rights not to have the private areas of your body groped. The latter becomes especially egregious when the TSA, according to some stories, presents a male agent to intimately frisk a female flier on the excuse of no female agent available (one of the first stories on Drudge I believe) for a RANDOM AIRPORT (as in on the ground) check -- not a bomb threat at 35,000 feet.
I just finished reading about prosecution for leaving the pat-down area without permission: once you enter the pat down area you have to allow it (unless you get "permission" ???). No rational relationship to a valid state interest -- shamelessly violates 14th amendment's rational test." You are forced to allow someone to grope your private parts because a terrorist might want to look at the no-tech, empty room (and leave unfrisked?). Even if it were high-tech, pat-down room what difference could being patted-down or not make? Someone at TSA has a serious skull full of mush.

The supposed letter of the law (check out the way law enforcement sees the strict legality of men frisking women as opposed to mere, if almost universal outside TSA stories, policy prohibitions) means that even if only a man is available a woman has to submit.
For the last word on pointless TSA over focus on passengers read: