Facts vs……Facts?

critical thinkingRecently, one column directly below the other in the Op Ed section of my newspaper, both about fixing Medicare, attempted to persuade us of each writer’s position on the issue…one from Right leaning David Brooks, the other from Ezra Klein who appears to be tilting more left-ish.  They did this by appealing to our Spock-selves, using the logic of statistics.

Mr. Brooks cited the following in his attempt to convince us that a system with greater government control by a team of experts is akin to a walk in Wonderland: “(existing competitive model)…costs are 41% below expectations”; Mr. Klein  tried to convince us that countries with greater government control have far better, and more cost-effective systems than do we, by citing the following statistic: “The Medicare Advantage (competitive model) program…ended up costing about 120% of what Medicare costs.”

Hmmmm… the competitive model costs us less, except when it’s costing us more.

This is the problem with statistics.  The numbers may be real, the science behind them solid, but you can easily find what you want to support your position, using numbers to tell a very different story about the same specific issue.

It is understandable, then, that folks with some willingness (and ability) to think critically, will rely only marginally on easily manipulated (or carefully chosen) numbers to make important decisions.

Instead, here is my recommended recipe for deciding the best course of action: start with your fact-based numbers – fine (I am a particular fan of cost/benefit analyses) – but then add a big dollop of common sense, a generous sprinkle of compassion, add plenty of historic track record, throw in a dash of learning from others (mistakes and successes), and season with what is best for the common good (my fellow Boomers, “keep your hands off my Medicare” is a fine example of thinking “me” vs. common good).

Crucial decisions on how to fix seriously dysfunctional systems without doing more harm in the process, like reducing our national debt while maintaining a decent quality of life for all Americans, depend on this balanced approach.

Boomers….Beware “Entitlement Reform”

social security administrationWhen we hear about the need to tackle entitlements if we are to have even the wisp of a hope of getting the federal budget under control, the two compelling questions become:

  1. Are Boomers “entitled” to Medicare and Social Security (is the term itself accurate), and;
  2. Is there actually a need to “reform” them?

First, to the question of entitlement.

I’ve paid into Social Security my entire working life (I started @ 16… that would be a ton of candles on my worker cake…), the promise being receipt of the benefits I’ve earned upon reaching a certain age.

The same goes for Medicare, which, like Social Security, is funded by payroll taxes; it gets additional funding by income taxes on SS benefits (which we will be paying) and interest earned on trust fund investments.

So…yes…we are entitled to them which is “beware #1”: Any argument to the contrary, often used to base debate on a complete overhaul of both systems, is incorrect.

Now, onto the need to “reform” them.

SS & Medicare were set up to pay for themselves, and in fact Social Security would be running a surplus were it not for the raiding of it over the decades to pay for other things.  Medicare is indeed rife with fraud (I’ve seen it with these two aging eyes as billing took place for my father for services that never occurred…we reported it…Medicare ignored it), but the good news is, unless the Medicare trust fund is being handled by Bernie Madoff, it ought to be doing well, so that’s a plus.

So, unfortunately, we do need reform them, which leads to “beware #2”:

Any reform will be useless without the most important change, not even whispered on Capital Hill –
Legislators’ ability to get their hands on those monies for uses other than the purposes of SS & Medicare.  Make both the Medicare & the SS Trust Funds off limits, period.

Once that’s in place, a few tweaks and we’re good to go.  For Social Security:

  • Change the formula for SS deductions so that income on earnings over $106K goes into the pot
  • Allow those making over $106K a year to claim only the percentage of SS equal to the percentage of their income they invested
  • Allow those making over a certain income upon retirement to not claim their benefits, if they wish to do so, putting that back into the pot
  • Raise the age at which we can claim our benefits, to match life expectancy (which was the original formula, we just haven’t been following it)

Onto Medicare.  This is one is simpler; rout out the fraud, and the system is solvent once more.  Yes that will take some investment in more investigators, etc., but the pay-off will be huge, the ROI significant.

Boomers are in charge, we have all the influence needed to make these reforms a reality.  We are entitled to these programs, so let’s be unafraid to fix them so they work well, now and through the coming decades.

Worth Reading….and Doing

 

mark bittman food in NY Times

Mark Bittman

I rarely do this, but this piece by Mark Bittman is so well constructed, with solid recommendations for fixing our food supply, that I want to spread his news as far as possible.

Share it with all you know around the world.  In many ways, our lives depend on it.

His article printed in the NY Times.

“Civility” & The Press

inflammatory news storiesSo, how much responsibility does the press hold for keeping civility alive?

Does having a free press – which is a  cornerstone of American greatness – include a “no holds barred” approach to news reporting, printing/airing pretty much anything?  Or with great power, does great responsibility as well reside?

Take “reverend” whathisname who got the press in his pocket with his threat to burn the Koran.  The question afterward – How far would that situation have gotten if the press chose to ignore him? – was asked indignantly but never answered.  It’s well known that more stories are not reported than those that are, so we turn to the criteria for choosing one situation/comment/behavior, over another, thus considering it more “newsworthy”…

We’ve also known… for decades… of the ever-increasing needs of a starved 24/7 media system more intent on trumping the competition for 60 seconds than it is on the nation’s greater good…which both sides of the media aisle (“liberal” or “conservative”) claim as their motivation.

So: Is it the media’s responsibility to opt to report only the less inflammatory items in the best interest of improved national discourse aka not stoking crazy people, or is it our responsibility as media consumers to refuse to support such presentations by tuning out rather than droolingly tuning in when they go for the jugular to get better ratings?

They claim to be simply providing what the public wants; the public decries violent rhetoric that almost killed a Congresswoman yet continues to seek out blood in the water; Congress responds by considering a movement back about 150 years to the Wild West & takes a 2 minute break from name-calling; no one shows a modicum of true determination to end their part in this vicious cycle.

Here’s the real and most important question: If the media were to take their responsibility far more seriously, eg take the higher and more journalistically pure road, refusing to report nonsense as “newsworthy” or vitriol as verity, would it help make us a tad more “civil”?  Follow-up questions: would that be the end to the 24/7 news cycle, and the closing of more newspapers?  Is it a worthy price to pay for a nation ever more torn by extreme, and therefore extremely easily stoked, anger and personal dissatisfaction?

Once you’ve answered for yourself, we’ll have ourselves a start down the road of either less, or more, civil discourse.

Boomers & The Work Place…A Fairy Tale

Once upon a time…

boomers needing work…in a great land known as The USA, there were a whole bunch of people known as “Boomers” – in fact, there were almost 78 million of them!  They partied hearty as youngsters, and worked just as heartily when they got out into what was known as “the world of work”!  They worked and worked and worked, for many decades, and many of them rose to higher paying positions as a reward for all that hard work!

But alas, one day, The USA experienced a terrible “economic downturn” called The Great Recession, and as a result, businesses started closing up or getting rid of lots of their employees, so lots of people lost their jobs.  And the people who were hit the hardest were the Boomers.

That’s because the Boomers were now getting older, and because they were making the most money at these companies, they were the first to get what was called “the boot” meaning a kick in the a** out the door so the company could save lots of money on their salaries.

Alack, when those Boomers tried to find new jobs, they had great difficulty because of a number of “factors” otherwise known as “myths” that employers used to keep from hiring them:

  • Myth #1: Boomers cost more for health insurance (in fact, younger workers are more likely to get sports injuries, get pregnant, or have children in need of costly medical care)
  • Myth #2: Boomers are too old to learn the newest ways of conducting business (in fact, Boomers were always learning the newest ways of conducting business, including being the first to use computers)
  • Myth #3: Boomers don’t have the same energy as younger workers (in fact, Boomers are quite vibrant even at middle age, unlike any generation before them)
  • Myth #4: Boomers will take the job and then leave in a year or two for retirement (in fact, many Boomers plan to work for at least a decade to come, and with Social Security set to raise its age for qualification to 67, even those who didn’t want to keep working will have to)

The saddest thing of all was that of all the people businesses could hire, the Boomers had the most knowledge, experience, and skill-sets, something that “whippersnappers” as the young workers were called, wouldn’t possess for another 20 years….  And Boomers were willing to work for the same salary as the whippersnappers if that meant getting hired.

Even a child could see that hiring a Boomer would be a really smart business move!  Alas, children weren’t running the businesses…what a shame!  They’d probably be run much better if they were!

Well, our fairy tale doesn’t have a happy ending…yet.  9 officials known around the land as “The Supreme Court” made it pretty much impossible to prove age discrimination, so the Boomers weren’t able to change businesses’ hiring practices that were really obviously discriminatory…another one of those things that the children could see…

But, there may be a happy ending after all!  If the Boomers learn the facts vs. the myths, they can use that information to greatly increase their chances of getting hired!  They can cover these concepts in their resumes and cover letters, and during the interview!  They can show a prospective employer that they are the best thing for the company, not the worst!  They can change what are called the employers’ “perception” about hiring an “older” worker by the way they present themselves!

Will the Boomers be able to do it?  Well, we have about 20 years to go to find out.