Archive for the ‘Misc.’ Category

Thoughts Of The Day

Monday, January 18th, 2021

Was Azar intentionally lying, colossally incompetent, or both?

Given the last four years, I’m guessing Door Number 3.

Because both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two shots, administered 21 and 28 days apart, respectively, Operation Warp Speed’s initial plan, announced in early December, was to hold back half the supply to make sure there was enough for the second shots. At the same time, the Trump Administration was saying it would vaccinate 20 million people by the end of the year.

On Tuesday, 12 January, as it became apparent the first doses of COVID-19 vaccinations were proceeding much slower than predicted (the 20 million prediction had turned into an 11.4 million reality), U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar announced the government was making all of the coronavirus reserve vaccine supply immediately available, urged states to provide shots to anyone 65 and older and warned governors that states with lagging inoculations could see their supply shifted to other places.

You could hear the collective country-wide sigh of relief. Help was on the way.

That is, until three days later when we learned the only place the “reserve supply” existed was in Alex Azar’s imagination, because the Administration admitted to state and federal officials it stopped stockpiling the second doses at the end of last year as it attempted to hit the 20 million goal. The reserve supply no longer existed. The states were left to scramble again, as they have throughout the pandemic. Remember the PPE fiasco? States were forced to compete against each other and the Feds to get any. Remember the Administration’s leadership about masking? Neither do I. I could go on.

This latest FUBAR catastrophe led President-Elect Joe Biden to tell the world the vaccine rollout was “a dismal failure.” Seems fairly accurate to me.

“Never ruin an apology with an excuse” – Benjamin Franklin

Here’s the way it worked. After the election, which he lost, Donald Trump spewed lie after lie about how he actually won “in a landslide.” And he convinced millions of people this was so. A new Quinnipiac poll reports 73% of Republicans believe there was “widespread fraud” in the election, which allowed Joe Biden to win. Trump’s two-month assault on truth led to the 6 January armed insurrection.

It is questionable whether he would have persuaded his millions of followers to believe the lies if he had not had profound assistance from Twitter, Facebook and conservative media. Case in point: the conservative outlet American Thinker which, with no investigation,  bought the Dominion Voting Machines stole-the-election line – again and again.

Yesterday, American Thinker “screwed its courage to the sticking post” and apologized. It was not one of those, “We did a bad thing, but we did it because…” things. No, this was an apology that would have made Ben proud. Here it is in full:

We don’t know what prompted American Thinker to so abjectly fall on its sword. I choose to think optimistically, believing journalistic ethics won the day. Regardless, this is how you do an apology.

Speaking of optimism

Why not end on a lighter note?

Back in pre-pandemic times (you remember those, don’t you?), when you wouldn’t think twice about sitting in a pub with friends discussing the metaphysics of Sartre, I once did just that with two friends, one a conservative republican with whom one could actually debate policy issues with smiles all around; the other, an MIT engineering professor.

We were talking about how people so often view the same thing in different ways, which led us to a discussion about optimism. That led to further discussion about the differences between people who were naturally optimistic and those who were naturally pessimistic.

One of us brought up the old glass half full or empty screed. I, the eternal optimist, said to me the glass was always half full. My conservative friend said he couldn’t help seeing it as half empty.

My friend from MIT said, “There’s too much glass.”

Stay safe – and, if you can, optimistic.

 

 

 

 

 

And Nero Fiddled While Rome Burned

Friday, November 20th, 2020

Speaking on CBS this morning, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said the delay in allowing President Elect Biden’s transition team to meet with Trump Administration health officials will cause no harm to anyone, because, “The same career professionals there on January 19th will be there on January 21st.” Hmmmm.

Have you ever had the exquisite experience of being part of a team buying a company? If you answered “yes” you know what that involves. Even if, as buyer, you intend to make no operational changes, which, admittedly, is rare, there is a lot to learn as you approach  the sale. Data rooms are complicated. So are the people you’ll be employing. What senior staff will you keep? Who will go? After you execute a Term Sheet, understanding product development, the logistics of distribution and the financial labyrinth will take time, usually more than a few months.

Suppose the company you’re buying is Amazon, the company owned by Jeff Bezos, the richest person in the world. Amazon’s reported operating expenses for the year ending 30 September 2020 were $328.04 billion. Try to wrap your head around how long such a purchase would take and what it would involve. It would be an awesome undertaking.

Now, think of the U.S. government. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analyisis, U.S. expenditures for the 2019 fiscal year, ending 30 June 2020, were $7.3 trillion, a tad larger than Amazon’s operating expenses.

The 2021 budget for Health & Human Services, which runs 184 pages, calls for $1.3 trillion in spending; 1.2 trillion for mandatory programs like Medicare and Medicaid and $94 billion in discretionary spending.

We are engaged in two massive efforts: first, to control the spread of the novel coronavirus, and second, to vaccinate 330 million people as quickly as humanly possible – twice. Atul Gawande, a member of Biden’s Coronavirus Transition Team, in an interview following Azar’s, said roadblocks delaying the baton pass will, not could, cost lives, thousands of them. He said Azar’s claim that no one would be hurt by delaying the transition is “absolutely not true.”

Consider that Pfizer announced this morning that it will file for Emergency Use Authorization for its vaccine today. But the Biden team has had zero conversations with HHS. Not CDC, not FDA, not CMS, not NIH. Not a soul in government.

Meanwhile, back at the White House, Donald Trump remains out of sight, concentrating on manufacturing out-of-this-world conspiracy theories rather than on the job the Electoral College hired him to do in 2016. He’s giving the term “grasping at straws” an entirely new meaning. Nothing is too outlandish. Case in point: His fairy-tail spouting “Personal Lawyer’s” cringe-worthy press conference yesterday. Everything that comes out of Rudy Giuliani’s mouth these days is full of what makes the grass grow green and tall, but people are buying it.

This is sticking a very sharp knife into American Democracy.

According to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted from 13 to 17 November, 55% of Republicans surveyed think Donald Trump “rightfully won” the election, only to have it stolen from him by widespread voter fraud. Only 55% of all adults in the United States surveyed by the poll said they believed the Nov. 3 presidential election was “legitimate and accurate,” and 28% said they thought the election was “the result of illegal voting or election rigging,” which is up 12 points from four years ago. It is unfathomable why so many of our neighbors fixate on the rigged election theme with the intensity of devoted biblical scholars. They have become habituated to believing the rants that spew from Mr. Trump and his sycophant toadies. And in this case, old habits don’t so much as die hard, as they refuse to die at all.

One can only hope Joe Biden and his team, whenever they’re able to begin taking the reins of government, will find a way to clean America’s gaping societal wound and start the healing.

How optimistic about that are you?

Seven Days

Tuesday, October 27th, 2020

A diversion

How about a break from anything having to do with COVID-19 or the election? Would you like that? Then let me tell you a story.

Long ago, in a galaxy far away, a 23-year-old, newly-minted, Infantry 2nd Lieutenant airborne ranger with my name spent two-plus years in a little country in Southeast Asia called Vietnam. I think if Donald Trump had foregone the fake bone spurs and taken his chances over there he might have learned a lot.

But that’s another story, and not the point of this one. Couldn’t help myself.

Three months before rotating home to the U.S., I had been pulled from the field, that is, taken out of the jungle, and given a staff job on Firebase Vegel in northern South Vietnam.

With two months to go, I decided to begin keeping a Short-timer’s Calendar.

My Short-timer’s Calendar consisted of the centerfold of the June, 1971, Playboy magazine. My Battalion Commander, Lt. Colonel  Bulldog Carter (that’s right, Bulldog), and my partner, Buck Kernan (who went on to become a Lieutenant General, like his father before him), marked up the luscious photo into 60 puzzle-like areas numbered from 60 down to one. The trajectory of the progression became increasingly lascivious.

Thereafter we held a nightly, candle-lit ceremony in the bunker occupied by Buck and me.

But before I describe the ceremony, I have to tell you about the Macadamia nuts.

During Vietnam  the army  allowed soldiers a ten-day R&R (Rest and Relaxation) vacation. As a two-year guy I got two of them, which I spent in Honolulu, Hawaii, with my wife, Marilyn. One day, during the second R&R, we went to the PX (Post Exchange) at Scofield Army Barracks to pick up a couple of things. While we were there we bought a large bottle of Macadamia nuts for me to take back to Vietnam. In Vietnam, little things became luxurious delicacies.

Back to the ceremony.

Our bunker had a single bunk bed. There was only one bed, because Buck and I took 12-hour shifts in the Op Center keeping the world safe for democracy. One of us would end his shift, wave to the other and crash into the bed.

Every night, at 2000 hours, 8:00 pm to you, the three of us would gather in the bunker. There was a small table to the side of the bed.  I had pinned the centerfold to the wall above the table. At the appointed hour, I would light two candles and place them on each side of the table under the pin-up. I would open the bottle of Macadamia nuts, which occupied a special spot in the center of the table, and hand each of my comrades one nut, taking one for myself. We would then have a moment of quiet reflection, after which I would, with a red marker purloined from the Op Center, X-out the next descending number on Miss June.

We would then eat the nuts.

We did that all the way down to ONE! On that night, we held a special ceremony, inviting the Battalion XO, the other six staff officers and the Battalion Sgt. Major into the bunker, which became almost as crowded as the stateroom scene in Night at the Opera. We gave everyone a Macadamia nut that night, and, in a service worthy of priestly ordination, I passed the bottle of Macadamia nuts to Buck, who, because he still had six weeks to go, later on would replace my centerfold with his centerfold and continue the tradition. We retired my centerfold to a place of prominence on the side wall of the Op Center, where Bulldog could see it every day all day. Six weeks later, Buck’s would be hung beside it.

The next day, I choppered south, boarded a chartered Pan Am plane with about three-hundred other happy guys and flew home to what we called “the world.”

OK. Break’s over

If it weren’t so stupidly tragic and delusional, one might be forgiven for viewing Donald Trump’s campaign swan song as comical. “We’ve turned the corner.” “It will go away.” “On November 4th, you won’t hear about it anymore.” And the list goes on.

But if you really want to know how we’re doing, there are, actually, reliable places to look. Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center and the New York Times COVID Tracker, for example.

And now there is this website, which tracks the Rt factor for each state, daily. Rt represents the effective reproduction rate of the virus calculated for each locale. It lets us estimate how many secondary infections are likely to occur from a single infection in a specific area. Values over 1.0 mean we should expect more cases in that area, values under 1.0 mean we should expect fewer. As of today, only one state, Mississippi, of all places, is below 1. You can see what infection rates are like today, two weeks ago, one, two and three months ago. It confirms what all of us, except the aforementioned Mr. Trump, his minions and cult-like followers, know to be true.

If we’ve “turned the corner” it is only to enter Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell. You remember that one, don’t you? It’s the final, deepest level of hell, reserved for traitors, betrayers and oath-breakers. Up until now, it’s most famous occupant had been Judas Iscariot.

Up until now.

And finally…

Seven days to go.

The number seven comes up a lot in Roman Catholicism. There are seven Cardinal Virtues, called by the church, “Gifts of the Holy Spirit.” They are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.

There are seven Corporal Works of Mercy. They are feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, bury the dead, and give alms to the poor.

And there are seven Spiritual Works of Mercy. They are instruct, advise, console, comfort, forgive, and bear wrongs patiently.

Judge, now Justice, Amy Coney Barrett is a devout Roman Catholic. I’m sure she is also a very smart person and probably a pretty good lawyer, too.

But for a month now, I’ve been bothered by something about her, and with seven days to go, I’m bothered even more.

For the life of me I cannot get over that, at her super-spreader Rose Garden introduction and follow-on reception in the White House, she did not wear a mask to protect herself and others. I understand everyone else who attended had swallowed the Kool-Aid, but she should have known better. And last night, in the White House Blue Room and outside on its balcony, she was still unmasked.

There are only three possibilities for this behavior.

  1. She doesn’t believe masks protect us and others from the virus, which I don’t believe for a minute;
  2. She is ignorant about masks and doesn’t understand their importance, which I don’t believe for a second;
  3. She was influenced by Trump’s behavior, as well as that of everyone else’s, and just went along to get along.

I’m voting for door #3, and that is a scary thought for our future.

Seven days.

 

 

The Pledge, AstraZenica’s Hiccup, An Important WCRI Study, And An Homage To Bourbon!

Wednesday, September 9th, 2020

Having put The Insider on pause for a few weeks to have some fun researching pandemics in earlier times (they were awful) and to improving my tennis game (it’s pretty good), we now dive back into the blogging fray. Today, we get a running start.

The Pledge

At a press conference on 24 August, President Trump and FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn trumpeted (pun very much intended) the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) of blood plasma to treat COVID-19 patients.  The Trump/Hahn announcement came less than a week after officials at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) had put a hold on releasing the EUA, saying randomized trials were needed before such an action could occur. The President disagreed, saying, “There are people in the FDA and actually in your larger department [HHS] that can see things being held up and wouldn’t mind so much — its my opinion, a very strong opinion — and that’s for political reasons. We are being very strong and we are being very forthright, and we have some incredible answers, and we’re not going to be held up.”

In yet another example of Olympian Hyperbole, a disease to which Mr. Trump seems to be terminally infected, he also called the EUA a “truly historic announcement,” which puts it alongside something like the Emancipation Proclamation.

Like most of Trump’s hyperbolic pronouncements, the blood plasma EUA created quite the controversy, especially when the FDA released the comments of one of its own scientists tasked with reviewing the appropriateness of the same blood plasma EUA. That scientist— displaying far less enthusiasm than Trump and Hahn, and whose name was redacted from a memo released by the agency — wrote that the data:

 “…support the conclusion that [convalescent plasma] to treat hospitalized patients with COVID-19 meets the ‘may be effective’ criteria for issuance of an EUA. Adequate and well-controlled randomized trials remain nonetheless necessary for a definitive demonstration of … efficacy and to determine the optimal product attributes and the appropriate patient populations for its use.”

After the 24 August press conference, it took about 1.5 nanoseconds for Joe Biden and many media pundits to accuse Trump and Hahn of politicizing the EUA to influence the coming election.

Which brings us to The Pledge.

On 8 September, wanting to get out of firing range, the CEOs of all the leading Western developers of COVID-19 vaccines vowed to only file for FDA approval after demonstrating safety and efficacy in their Phase 3 trials. Their Pledge and descriptions of all nine trials can be found here.

The Pledge also promises all the developers will share some, but not all, of their data to propel their vaccines to the finish line. However, although every CEO wants their vaccine to be the first approved, not one of them wants to get there only for the world  to discover they’ve cut corners and now endanger humanity. These are people who want to go down in history for the right reason.

Mr. Trump will push, prod and kick these vaccine developers to get one of their efforts approved before 3 November. But I have a 95% confidence level none of them will buckle under that pressure. I sure hope I’m right.

AstraZenica’s Hiccup

In an example of the caution just described, yesterday AstraZenica announced  it was putting its Phase 3 vaccine trial on hold, due to a suspected serious adverse reaction in a participant in the United Kingdom.

This is not an uncommon happening in vaccine development, but it does show how fraught with uncertainties these trials can be. It proves that AZ’s data and safety monitoring group is doing its job, and that’s what is supposed to happen. I previously wrote about all the leading COVID-19 vaccine candidates, as well as ChAdOx1, the one being tested by AstraZenica in partnership with the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute.

It is entirely possible we will experience more bumps in the road before one of the developers wins FDA approval.

An Important, New WCRI Study Is Released

Low back pain (LBP) is something that has afflicted humanity since Homo Sapiens decided to stand straight and walk upright. And it’s been the bane of claims adjusters since Otto von Bismarck, Germany’s Iron Chancellor, created the first workers’ compensation program in the 1880s.

Back injuries are the leading cause of all musculoskeletal claims, which are the leading cause of all workers’ compensation claims, and have been since it seems forever. If you’ve ever looked at a workers’ compensation loss run for any hospital in America, you’ll know what I mean.

One of the myriad treatment modalities for these claims is physical therapy (PT). However, it’s always been a bit of a crap shoot as to when to prescribe PT for a patient beset by a work injury resulting in low back pain.

Now, the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) has produced a study that convincingly puts the matter to rest. The study’s conclusion: the earlier PT is begun, the better.

The study, The Timing of Physical Therapy for Low Back Pain: Does It Matter in Workers’ Compensation?, is based on a review of  nearly 26,000 LBP-only claims with more than seven days of lost time from 27 states, with injuries from 1 October 2015, through 31 March 2017, and detailed medical transactions up through 31 March 2018.

One of the many reasons this study is important is that PT can sometimes be the last resort, not the first, in many cases being recommended only after opioids and other invasive procedures have been tried.

The WCRI study found:

  • Later timing of PT initiation is associated with longer temporary disability (TD) duration. On average, the number of TD weeks per claim was 58 percent longer for those with PT initiated more than 30 days post-injury and 24 percent longer for those with PT starting 15 to 30 days post-injury, compared with claims with PT within 3 days post-injury.
  • Workers whose PT treatment started more than 30 days post-injury were 46 and 47 percent more likely to receive opioid prescriptions and MRI, respectively, compared with those who had PT treatment initiated within 3 days of injury. The differences between PT after 30 days post-injury and PT within 3 days post-injury were 29 percent for pain management injections and 89 percent for low back surgeries.
  • The average payment for all medical services received during the first year of treatment was lower for workers with early PT compared with those with late PT. For example, the average medical cost per claim for workers who had PT more than 30 days post-injury was 24 percent higher than for those who had PT within 3 days post-injury.
  • Among claims with PT treatment starting more than 30 days post-injury, the percentage with attorney involvement was considerably higher (27 percent compared with 13–15 percent among those in the early PT groups) and workers received initial medical care much later (on average 18 days compared with 2–3 days in the early PT groups).

If you’re a claims adjuster wary of incurring the cost of sending injured workers with resultant low back pain to PT, this study should make you press the “Reset” button in your mind.

And, finally, an homage to bourbon (which is also good for low back pain)

In the constant sea of terrible, divisive, set-your-hair-on-fire news, we now row to a bipartisan safe harbor: Bourbon.

In the halls of Congress, bipartisanship seems to have gone the way of the Woolly Mammoth. But, reader, that is not the case in the case of Bourbon! That’s because on 2 August 2007, Congress ratified a bill designating September as National Bourbon Heritage Month. More notable, however, is that it passed unanimously. Thus, history shows that amid the countless issues and places and opinions that divide us, nothing unites Americans like bourbon.

And that aint all. A 1964 act declared bourbon “America’s Native Spirit,” making it the only spirit distinctive to the United States, if you don’t count the “spirits” the QAnon folks are worried about.

So, although I can’t stand the stuff, on this first day after 2020’s Labor Day as we all get sucked along the giant tube of political rigarmarole, you might want to consider the nationally endorsed benefits of America’s Native Spirit. Things will still be dire, the President will continue his hyperbolic rants, many of your fellow Americans will continue to “choose liberty” over masks, but you? You’ll hardly notice any of it.

 

 

It Bears Repeating: We Have Been Here Before

Friday, June 19th, 2020

In the summer of 1918, during the first wave of the Spanish Flu pandemic, American troops were at war in Europe’s killing fields. That was when Philadelphia officials decided they would hold a massive parade for the ages to promote Liberty Loans – government bonds issued to pay for the war. The City Of Brotherly Love organized an extraordinary spectacle: marching bands, women’s auxiliaries, Boy Scouts, soldiers and floats showcasing the latest innovation in warfare – floating biplanes built in Philadelphia’s Navy Yard.

That Philadelphia’s medical community thought this a very bad idea didn’t matter. That the nation was awash with flu had to be put aside in order to support the war effort. The flu could wait.

When two miles of parade marchers took their first steps on the morning of 28 September, some 200,000 people jammed Broad Street, cheering wildly.

The Spanish Flu had been circulating in America for six months at the time of the parade, and the flu, like COVID-19, loved a crowd. The flu couldn’t, and wouldn’t, wait.

Within 72 hours of the parade, every bed in Philadelphia’s 31 hospitals was filled. In the week ending 5 October, nearly 2,600 people in Philadelphia had died from the flu or its complications. A week later, that number rose to more than 4,500, with 200,000 more sick. With many of the city’s health professionals pressed into military service, Philadelphia was unprepared for this deluge of death.

City leaders closed Philadelphia, locked it down. But it was too late. Morgues and undertakers could not keep pace. Grieving families had to bury their own dead. Casket prices skyrocketed. And a rumor started to spread – The Germans did it.

History continually repeats itself. Tomorrow night we have a potential case in point when 19,000 followers of the Cult of Donald Trump will gather in the BOK Center in Tulsa Oklahoma. That the city’s medical officials have unanimously declared this a very bad idea doesn’t seem to matter. That the nation is awash with COVID-19 has to be put aside in order to support the election effort. COVID-19 can wait.

Campaign officials say they’ll take peoples’ temperatures as they enter and pass out face masks and hand sanitizer. But they won’t insist any be used and they won’t enforce social distancing. Can you, in your most far out imagination, visualize the camera shot of Donald  Trump at his podium with his amped-up ardent followers behind him, each six feet apart and all wearing masks?

Since 17 June, two days ago, Tulsa’s COVID-19 cases have risen 42%, going from 259 to 450. At one time, New York City had 450 cases.

As we have seen, this is not the first time in the midst of a pandemic people have been irresponsible and downright wacky.

Both President Trump and Vice President Pence have lately taken to declaring victory over the virus. You’d be hard pressed to find a single medical expert who agrees. We can only hope that somehow Trump’s medical experiment tomorrow night will not turn a very bad idea into a tragic one.

And Now For Something Completely New And Different: May Day!

Friday, May 1st, 2020

“When the pandemic is over, our society will need to stop and think about who is essential and why should the delivery truck driver earn a tiny fraction of what is paid to the Executive Vice President for Interactive Synergy & Proactive Metrics?” ― Garrison Keillor

Boy, do we need a break. This dystopian, abnormal new normal is wearing us down.  Yesterday’s little broo-ha-ha in the Michigan Capital with wackadoodle white gunslingers roaming the gallery illustrates the point.

So, today we’ll take a break from all things COVID and bring you a touch of history. Stay with me, now.

First, a plug. For many years, Garrison Keillor has published The Writer’s Almanac, a refreshing and informative daily dollop of history and poetry that somehow finds its way to the inbox every morning. If you’re not a subscriber (it’s free), you will thank me if you become one. Today’s Writer’s Almanac told the story of May Day, all the way back to the 3rd century BC. Everyone thinks they know all about May Day, but maybe everyone should give that a rethink, especially when everyone reads about the Puritans’ views on the subject.

Here, from The Writer’s Almanac, is the story of May Day.

Today is May Day. Even though spring officially begins in March, today is the day that celebrates the height of spring, a day of spring festivities and celebrations. It is also a day to honor laborers.

Like many of our modern holidays, May Day has its roots in ancient, pagan celebrations.

Beginning in the third century B.C. in Rome, the festival Floralia, for the goddess Flora, was held in the days around May Day, April 28th to May 3rd. Flora was a goddess of flowers and fertility, and the festival was held to please her so that she protected flowers and other blossoming plants. There was a circus and theater performances, there were prostitutes and naked dancers, and a sacrifice to the goddess. Deer and goats were let loose to symbolize fertility, and beans and lupines were scattered for the same reason. Romans usually wore white tunics, but during Floralia, they got to wear bright colors.

In the Celtic British Isles, May Day was celebrated as the festival of Beltane, or Bealtaine or Bealtuinn — Bel was the Celtic god of light, and taine or tuinne meant fire. It was the summer half of the year — a time when the sun set later, when the earth and animals were fertile. Beltane lasted from sundown the night before to sundown on the first of May. On the eve of Beltane, people lit bonfires to Bel to call back the sun. People jumped over the fires to purify themselves, and they blessed their animals by taking them between bonfires before leading them to their summer pastures the next day. It was a day to walk around the property lines and assess your land for the summer season, to mend fences. Women washed their faces with the spring dew so that they would stay beautiful, and there was dancing, tournaments, parades, feasting, and general revelry. There were lots of flowers — men walked around the fires with rowan branches to keep evil spirits at bay, and May trees, or Maypoles, were set up covered in rowan or hawthorn flowers as a blessing. People danced around the Maypole, seen to be a phallic symbol to promote fertility, and villages would compete with each other to see who could produce the tallest maypole. Young couples went off into the forest to spend the night together and came back the next day with flowers to spread through the village. A young woman was crowned May Queen, and she would ride naked on horseback through the village.

Many of these celebrations continued as late as the 17th century — the Puritans were not too pleased, especially since so many young women went off into the woods and came back pregnant. Maypoles were made illegal in 1644.

Since the Puritans discouraged May Day, it was never a major holiday in America. In the late 19th century, May Day was chosen as the date for International Workers’ Day by the Socialists and Communists of the Second International to commemorate those who were hanged after the Haymarket Square riot, which occurred in Chicago in early May of 1886.

A Puzzlement Before The WCRI’s Annual Conference

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2020

Thoughts and questions before heading to the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute’s (WCRI) annual conference this week in Boston.

Despite the erstwhile efforts of certain folks to put a big lid on scientific data and bury it all deep in the ground, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) continues to publish interesting and compellingly thought-provoking work. Take the paradox of union membership and earnings, for example.

Beginning of the paradox: Non-union wage and salary workers earn only 81% of what union members earn. Union workers in 2019 earned an average of $1,095 per week, as opposed to $892 for non-union workers, a difference of $203 per week, which, if you’re doing the math, is $10,556 per year.

The difference in earnings for men and women is stark: Men in unions earn an average of $1,147 per week, which contrasts with non-union earnings of $986. The difference here is $161 per week, or $8,372 per year. Unionized women, on the other hand, earn less than the men, but way more than non-unionized women: $1,018 versus $792, a difference of $226 per week, or $11,752 per year.

Clearly, union members earn significantly more than non-union workers.

So, will somebody tell me why union membership has been declining for decades? Every year, God bless ’em, the brainiacs at the BLS tell us by just how much, which is the second part of the paradox.  In January, 2020, BLS published data for 2019, which showed the union membership rate for wage and salary workers to be 10.3%, down 0.2% from 2018. Of course, our workforce is made up of both private and public sector workers, and here the public sector saves the day. The union membership rate of public-sector workers, at 33.6% is more than five times higher than the 6.2% rate for private-sector workers.

Some say the reason for declining union membership is the hefty annual dues union members have to pay. Well, the most any worker will pay in dues to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers for 2020 is $492; for the United Auto Workers, it’s $843.84. It doesn’t seem as if sky-high dues can be the answer.

I don’t know whether WCRI, or anyone else for that matter, has studied whether there is a statistically significant difference in workers’ compensation injuries and costs between union and non-union wage and salary workers. Might be interesting to find out whether the 10.3%, in addition to earning more, has better workers’ compensation performance

Hope to see you in Boston

After Catching Bus, Dog Still Doesn’t Know What To Do. But The Bus Just Got Bigger!

Tuesday, March 26th, 2019

In February, 2018, a Texas-led coalition of 20 states sued the federal government claiming the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional in its entirety. The states argued that after Congress in December 2017 gutted one of its major provisions, a financial penalty for not having health insurance, known as the “individual mandate,” the rest of the law became unconstitutional.

In June, 2018, the US Department of Justice announced it would not defend the suit, which prompted a counter-coalition of states, led by California, to step in to defend the law. In the Brief, the Trump Administration, while refusing to defend, had agreed the individual mandate was unconstitutional, but argued this only invalidated the ACA’s preexisting condition protections and not the remainder of the ACA. This was ironic, indeed, because the part of the ACA with the most public popularity is the part protecting preexisting conditions. Attorney General Jeff Sessions pointed out he had made the not-to-defend decision after conferring with the President.

In December, Judge Reed O’Connor, of the 5th Circuit Court, ruled in favor of the Texas coalition and declared the entire Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. Very few legal scholars, make that nearly none, thought Judge O’Connor’s ruling would stand. Many died-in-the-wool conservatives, make that nearly all, thought the same. We wrote about this in a “Dog Catches The Bus. Now What?” post.

Last night, the Department of Justice sent a two-sentence letter to the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit saying the DOJ now supports Judge O’Connor’s ruling that the entire ACA be struck down. Further, it will shortly file a Brief endorsing the decision. Here’s the letter:

The Department of Justice has determined that the district court’s judgment
should be affirmed. Because the United States is not urging that any portion of the
district court’s judgment be reversed, the government intends to file a brief on the
appellees’ schedule.

So, in two sentences, the DOJ went from everything in the ACA, except the preexisting conditions part, is constitutional, to everything is unconstitutional.

Reaction in Republican circles has not exactly been one of untold delight. In fact, so far, it’s been as quiet as midnight in Death Valley. So, what was William Barr thinking and why did his minions send the midnight missive?

Here’s a thought. Since most of the heavy money is on Judge O’Connor’s ruling being overturned somewhere along Appellate Way, could the DOJ have sent its billet doux with the intention of showing its ultra-conservative allies that it’s with them all the way, while all the while realizing it will never have to put the ACA toothpaste back in the tube? Think about it.

After all, you have to admit it’s easier to think about that than about what will happen if O’Connor’s ruling becomes the law of the land.

We’re goin’ right straight back to 2010
And start the healthcare war all over again!

God help us.

Robots In The Manufacturing Sector – We’re Lagging Behind

Thursday, March 14th, 2019

In 2013, Oxford professors Carl Frey and Michael Osborne published what became a highly read, highly cited and highly criticized study suggesting that machines could replace 47% of America’s jobs over the following 25 years. This landed like a stink bomb on the robotic revolution.

The study, which examined more than 700 US occupations, found that jobs in transportation, logistics, and administrative and office work were at “high risk” for automation. “We identified several key bottlenecks currently preventing occupations being automated,” said Dr. Osborne when the study was released. “As big data helps to overcome these obstacles, a great number of jobs will be put at risk.”

Following the study, academics and pundits jumped into the middle of the debate to argue its conclusions. In 2015, Forrester Research’s J. P. Gownder authored The Future Of Jobs, 2025: Working Side By Side With Robots and updated it two years later in 2017. Gownder concludes that, yes, AI will replace many jobs, but it will also create many jobs. He suggests a net job loss of perhaps 9.1 million, or about 7% of the workforce. Seven percent isn’t 47%, but 9.1 million jobs are a lot of jobs. And a lot of people who could be swept away by the rise of the robots.

So, clearly, the robots are coming. And, just as clearly, there is now, and will continue to be, human collateral damage. We should do everything in our power to help the millions of people the robots will displace. It would be outrageously stupid, and immoral as well, not to do that.

But if you believe development and adoption of robots is essential to keep the country competitive and prosperous, then you should be concerned, because other countries are outpacing us. By long shot.

A new report from the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) finds the US ranks 7th in the world in the rate of robot adoption in the manufacturing sector.

When controlling for worker pay, the situation is even more bleak. In that case, we’re 17th in the world.

The report relies on International Federation of Robots data for industrial robot adoption rates but adjusted the rankings to control for differences in manufacturing worker pay. The decision to use robots usually weighs the cost savings that can be achieved when a robot can perform a task instead of a human worker, and those cost savings are positively related to the worker compensation levels. Higher wages lead to faster payback, making more robots a more economical investment.

On a compensation-adjusted basis, the report found that southeast Asian nations significantly outperform the rest of the world in robot adoption, with South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, China, and Taiwan the top five nations, in that order. Moreover, China’s rate of robot adoption is so high, fueled by massive government subsidies, that if China and South Korea’s respective growth rates continue, by 2026 China will lead the world with the highest number of industrial robots as a share of industrial workers, when controlling for compensation levels.

Robert Atkinson, ITIF’s President, has some sensible suggestions for how we can catch up. Policy makers should listen to him.

A Message To Our Readers

Saturday, January 19th, 2019

Image result for graphic of oops!

 

Due to a technical error (mine!), yesterday’s blog post was transmitted incorrectly. The post was meant to detail how lower wage workers pay more for employer provided health insurance than higher wage workers. We will publish the corrected post on Monday.

Thanks to the many readers who alerted us to the problem.

Tom Lynch