Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

Paid Sick Leave: Public Policy That Makes Ethical And Economic Sense

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2022

The Dragon Has Struck

Wednesday, April 13th, 2022

A little setback

Reality landed with a heavy thud on Monday morning here in the Berkshires. After not feeling well Sunday evening, I tested positive for CoVid 19 Monday morning.

I will be forever grateful to the scientists who created the vaccine that has made this a moderate inconvenience (but it’s certainly no fun), rather than a full-bore medical event. Believe me, this could have ended very badly were it not for three vaccine shots.

Two of the symptoms are, shall we say, interesting. First, things are a bit fuzzy in the brain. Concentration is sometimes difficult, as in right now as I try to type these words, but make more mistakes than usual, many more. Second, occasional profound fatigue. For a guy who is used to playing energetic tennis four or five times a week, this is humbling, indeed.

It’s a long time ago in the life of this pandemic that I stopped trying to figure out why people would choose to risk their lives (and those around them) by refusing vaccination. A large swath of humanity just seems highly suggestible and follows the lead of people they’ve come to admire. That sometimes turns out fine, and sometimes not.

Correction

In my column of last Friday, 8 April, in which I reported on the actions companies doing business in Russia are taking in light of Putin’s inhumane invasion, I wrote this sentence about a specific company that has chosen to remain and sell its stuff to Russians:

Personally, I have decided the Acer corporation will not be among the brands I consider for my next pair of running shoes.

However, as percipient readers have reminded me, the Acer Corporation makes computers, not running shoes. It’s the Asics Corporation that makes running shoes. I should have known better. The offending sentence now reads:

Personally, I have decided the Acer corporation will not be among the brands I consider for my next computer.

Since I really like Asics running shoes, I am happy I can continue buying them with complete moral justification! Just as soon as I leave my CoVid bed.

Please forgive me for the error.

 

Important Items You Might Have Missed This Week

Friday, April 8th, 2022

Let’s ban some books!

During the summer of my 15th year, my father walked into our very Roman Catholic home to find me reading a paperback book on the couch in our living room. “What are you reading, Tommy?” he said. So, I showed him the book I was well into. It was Henry Miller’s The Tropic of Cancer. Whereupon, Dad became somewhat apoplectic, and rushed into the kitchen where my mother was starting to cook supper. “Mary, do you know what your son is reading?” he said. “Of course,” my mother replied. “I gave it to him.”

Tropic of Cancer is an autobiographical novel by Henry Miller, published in France in 1934 and, because of censorship, not published in the United States until 1961. And it is racy, indeed. It is also superbly well-written and compelling as it takes the reader on a tour of Miller’s mind as he lived a hedonistic life in the Paris of his youth.

My mother knew a book would never hurt me. People could and would, but not books. And I’m happy to say she eventually convinced my father of the value of that proposition.

I bring this up, because yesterday Pen America released a deeply researched report, Banned in the USA, addressing what it calls the “Index”* of books banned in the U.S. from 1 July 2021 through 31 March 2022. That’s just nine months.

It may flabbergast you to learn that during those nine months the Index lists 1,586 book bans that have occurred in 86 school districts in 26 states. These districts represent 2,899 schools with a combined enrollment of over 2 million students.

Mom would have disapproved.

I was somewhat disappointed I could not write about the banning of Ray Bradbury’s masterpiece Fahrenheit 451. The irony of writing about banning a book about a society that bans and burns books would have appealed to me. However, that book is not on Pen America’s Index (perhaps the book banners aren’t very well read). The irony will have to wait. Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer didn’t make the Index, either. I guess hedonism from 88 years ago is fine now, or maybe the book is just too old to worry about anymore. But four of Margaret Atwood’s books are on the list, including The Handmaid’s Tale.  That’s a pity.

Some highlights from the Pen America report:

  • These bans have targeted 1,145 unique book titles by 874 different authors, 198 illustrators, and 9 translators, impacting the literary, scholarly, and creative work of 1,081 people altogether.
  • Texas led the country with the most bans at 713; followed by Pennsylvania (456); Florida (204); Oklahoma (43); Kansas (30); and Tennessee (16).
  • Processes aimed to uphold the First Amendment in the context of school book challenges are not being followed. Of bans in the Index, 98% involve departures from best practice guidelines for how school authorities may remove books; most bans and restrictions have occurred without proper written forms, review committees, or transparency. While school boards and administrators do have some discretion over library and instructional materials, there are safeguards and best practices meant to protect students’ First Amendment rights that are being widely abrogated.

Among titles in the index:

  • 467 titles (41%) included protagonists or prominent secondary characters who were people of color;
  • 247 titles (22%) directly address issues of race and racism
  • 379 titles (33%) explicitly address LGBTQ+ themes, or have protagonists or prominent secondary characters who are LGBTQ+
  • 184 titles (16%) are history books or biographies. 107 have explicit or prominent themes related to rights and activism (9%).
  • 42 children’s books were censored, including biographies of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Ruby Bridges, Duke Ellington, Katherine Johnson, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Cesar Chavez, Sonia Sotomayor, Nelson Mandela, and Malala Yousafzai.
  • The majority of the books targeted have been works of fiction, however 28% are non-fiction and include history books, analytical and/or personal essays, and children’s reference and informational works.

*The “Index” of Prohibited Books, Index Librorum Prohibitorum, established in 1557 by Pope Paul IV, was a list of books Roman Catholics were prohibited from reading on pain of excommunication. The books were prohibited because they contained material considered dangerous or contrary to faith, morals, or the teaching of the Church. I’m not sure if Pen America intended this relationship, but I’ll assume the authors did.

What actions are companies doing business in Russia taking in response to Putin’s invasion?

Yesterday, in an important New York Time op-ed, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, the Lester Crown professor of management practice at the Yale School of Management, who has studied corporate social responsibility for 45 years, and Steven Tian, research director at the Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute, pointed out that in the late 1980s roughly 200 American companies withdrew from South Africa, partly in protest against its apartheid system. These actions helped topple the racist regime.

With that in mind Sonnenfeld, Tian and their Yale team have made a deep dive into how companies doing business in and with Russia are responding to the inhumane invasion of Ukraine. After completing their analysis they have placed businesses in one of five categories based on their response to the war. They say, “Consumers should know whether the companies that make their food, clothes and goods are fully committed to ending Mr. Putin’s atrocities.”

Many of the companies they examine are household names. The 162 companies that have chosen to stay have offered a number of excuses, which I find lack any compelling rationale. Sonnenfeld and Tian urge consumers to pressure by boycott. Personally, I have decided the Acer corporation will not be among the brands I consider for my next computer.

Brief comment

Yesterday’s confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson to replace Justice Stephen Breyer on the Supreme Court was everything I predicted it would be in yesterday’s Letter From The Berkshires, but a putting-a-period-on-it is in order.

Republicans, continuing to display an abysmal lack of grace and dignity, abruptly walked out of the senate chamber immediately following the Vice President’s announcing the vote. The video of them all rushing for the door as Mitt Romney stood in their midst applauding and looking slightly bewildered as they almost ran him down was disgraceful. The spectacle made a mockery of a place where great Americans, many of them Republicans, once stood.

 

And The Nominee Is?

Wednesday, February 9th, 2022

More than 20 years ago, C-SPAN and its academic advisors decided to create a survey instrument, by which “historians, professors and other professional observers of the presidency” would be asked to rate all presidents in ten areas from best to worst. They conducted the first survey in 2000 and, using the same criteria, have repeated it since then every time administrations changed.

This year, 142 scholarly elites completed the survey that asked participants for evaluations in the following ten categories:

  • Public Persuasion
  • Crisis Leadership
  • Economic Management
  • Moral Authority
  • International Relations
  • Administrative Skills
  • Relations with Congress
  • Vision/Setting an Agenda
  • Pursuit of Equal Justice for All
  • Performance Within the Context of the Times

Abraham Lincoln has finished on top in every one of the surveys, including the fifth one just conducted following the change to the Biden administration.

It will come as no surprise to many that Donald Trump finished fourth from the bottom in this year’s survey, his first. He finished ahead of Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson and James Buchanan, and behind all the others. Even Warren Harding got more respect from the raters.

However, the historians, et al, were not asked to rate Presidents in terms of how consequential they were. And it is here I suggest Trump would finish in the top ten, perhaps even the top five. I base this on one thing and one thing only: His fundamental change of the American Judiciary, principally at the Supreme Court level. Trump succeeded in locking in a deeply conservative bench for decades to come. That was the result of the grifter and reality show star’s Faustian Bargain with Mitch McConnell, senate Majority Leader during the Trump years. Trump craved power and being adored by people who were in need of someone to adore, and McConnell wanted his legacy to be the establishment of a profoundly conservative court. They each got what they bargained for.

Trump had two other monumental accomplishments, of course. The first was passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which was a Christmas present of the first order for the nation’s wealthy, a knife in the back for everyone else, and a means to a significant widening of the ever-growing divide between the haves and have nots. Trump’s second accomplishment was to give the Republican Party an opportunity to exercise noble leadership in the face of his insane narcissistic nationalism and autocratic desires culminating in the January 6th insurrection. Unfortunately, only two Republican leaders, Representatives Cheney and Kinzinger, answered the call. The rest of them, every one of them, became profiles in cowardice.

However, these other two Trumpian achievements can be changed. Congress can change tax laws, and Republicans can grow spines. But that Supreme Court thing? That is here to stay.

Which brings us to the imminent Supreme Court vacancy caused by the announced retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer.

When he was campaigning for President, Joe Biden promised if he had the opportunity to nominate a Supreme Court Justice, he would nominate a highly-qualified black woman. With Justice Breyer’s announcement, Biden has reaffirmed that pledge. He will submit his nomination to the Senate in the very near future. It will be a black woman.

How will Republican Senators react to the nominee, whoever she is? How will they approach the hearings to be held by the Judiciary Committee, chaired by Illinois senator Dick Durbin? Will they be able to restrain the natural gravitational urges of their more ambitious and inflammatory members to grandstand opportunistically? Will they be able to keep Trump out of it?

Nominations to the Supreme Court are highly political. History is replete with examples, and this one will be no different. But from here, deep in the winter of the Berkshire mountains, my guess is that with a few unavoidable histrionics from the grandstanding children, Biden’s nominee will sail through like a battleship through fog, with Republicans, trying to appear as honorable adults, saying they refuse to do to Biden’s nominee what the Democrats did to Bret Kavanaugh.

Not that it will make a bit of difference to the future rulings of the Supreme Court.

Yes, Jennifer, It Really Is Human Error!

Tuesday, January 25th, 2022

Jennifer Homendy is upset.

The Chair of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is rippin’ mad, because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that human error is a significant factor in 94% of auto crashes. This is how she put it on Twitter:

 

Sorry, Ms. Homendy, but it’s more true than not. Human error always has been, is now, and will continue to be a major contributing factor to motor vehicle crashes. This is true in nearly all cases. It’s even true when a crash happens just because of lack of preventive maintenance. Think skidding into a pole on bald tires. It’s true in a two-car crash when one party does everything right and nothing wrong. Think being rear-ended at a traffic light. Somebody makes a mistake, and, regrettably, sometimes others have to pay.

There are so many ways for human beings to contribute to things going bad on the road. Take talking on a cell phone. Epidemiological research has found that cell-phone use is associated with a four-fold increase in the odds of getting into an accident. David Strayer, Ph.D., of the Applied Cognition Laboratory at the University of Utah, has studied cell-phone impact for more than five years. In one of his studies, when drivers talked on a cell phone, their reactions to imperative events (such as braking for a traffic light or a decelerating vehicle) were significantly slower than when they were not talking on the cell phone.

Ms. Homendy is right about one thing, though. Crashes are “complex.” That’s why local police, Highway Patrol officers, state troopers, etc., take in-depth training classes to learn how to investigate them. And in most cases they find human error involved. I’m speaking from experience.

In the mid-1970s, I was the Director of Safety and Health for the U. S. Army on the east coast. I was the Principal Guest Lecturer at the Army Safety Center at Fort Rucker, Alabama. I knew more soldiers died in auto crashes than on the battlefield. I also knew their driver training was abysmal. Crashes happened during emergencies, but, unlike other areas of training, soldiers weren’t taught how to handle driving emergencies. Nobody was. I wanted to correct this by building Emergency Driving Centers on every Army base, and I got the Army Chief of Staff to agree to a pilot at Fort Devens, Massachusetts.

To my everlasting regret, I learned that just because something is approved at the highest level does not mean it will  be funded. And that’s what happened. No funding, no Emergency Driving Centers. Not even the pilot. That was a hard lesson. But in the process auto safety became my specialty, at least back then, and I investigated a lot of horrible crashes.

The only crashes I ever saw, and the only kind of crashes ever reported through my office where human error was not a leading or important factor, were crashes attributed to severe and sudden weather events, such as black ice on a road, a quick forming and violent snowstorm, or an abrupt cloudburst downpour.

The number one contributing factor in fatal and non-fatal crashes was speed.

However, a couple of things were happening in the mid-1970s that would change the equation in a highly positive way: Automotive safety engineering and the beginnings of seat belt design and usage (something I played a role in, but that’s a story for another day). Let’s look at what’s happened since.

In 1975, there were 130,906,113 registered vehicles on U.S. roads. The population was 216 million.

In 2020, there were 275,924,442 registered vehicles on U.S. roads. The population was 333 million.

In 1975, 39,161 fatal motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. resulted in 44,525 deaths.

In 2019, 33,244 fatal motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. resulted in 36,096 deaths.

Please, think about that for a moment. Despite the U.S. population growing by 54% since 1975, the rate of crash deaths per 100,000 population is about half what it was then. This is a tremendous accomplishment, and is due primarily to safer roads, safer cars and seat belt usage (which in 1975 was woeful). What it is not due to is safer driving, but it appears Jennifer Homendy wants us to think it is.

What got her going is a 2015 NHTSA figure from a statistical summary within a Traffic Safety Facts data sheet. The sheet can be misleading, in that it says driver error is a “critical reason” for a crash in 94% of the cases. Here is how the agency defines “critical reason:”

Critical Reasons for the Critical Pre‑Crash Event
The critical reason is the immediate reason for the critical pre-crash event
and is often the last failure in the causal chain of events leading up to the
crash. Although the critical reason is an important part of the description
of events leading up to the crash, it is not intended to be interpreted as the
cause of the crash nor as the assignment of the fault to the driver, vehicle,
or environment.

The wording can certainly be improved. You have a “critical reason” for a crash, but you’re not supposed to interpret the “critical reason” as “the cause” of the crash.

This data sheet has been around for nearly seven years, and it probably would have remained in happy oblivion if not for a big and unexplained spike in fatal crashes during the first half of 2021, which NHTSA highlighted in an October 2021 News Release in which it dropped the 94% figure. The agency, under the leadership of Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, wants to marshal the forces, study this unhappy development, and do what it can to combat a phenomenon no one wants to see as becoming a trend.

Ms. Homendy, Chair of the NTSB since last August, takes issue with the News Release. I can’t say for sure, but it’s possible this paragraph may be the offending section:

“The report is sobering. It’s also a reminder of what hundreds of millions of people can do every day, right now, to combat this: Slow down, wear seat belts, drive sober, and avoid distractions behind the wheel,” said NHTSA Deputy Administrator Dr. Steven Cliff. “All of us must work together to stop aggressive, dangerous driving and help prevent fatal crashes.”

In response to Ms. Homendy’s ire, the NHTSA says it will do what it can to make its position more clear. Regardless, it is critical that we continue to engineer safer cars and roads. As history shows, we can do that, and we can do it well.

However, the way we train drivers hasn’t changed in 50 years, and it was poor then. To this day, when a driver confronts an emergency on the road it’s a totally new experience with often predictable and tragic results.

Getting From Here To There Politically

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2021

Unless you’ve been living under a very big rock at the bottom of a very deep hole at the base of a very large crater on the planet Mars, you probably know there is a very wide chasm separating the Republican and Democratic Parties with respect to domestic policy.

The Democratic Party believes the middle and lower classes have had it tucked to them since the era of Ronald Reagan and the emergence and eventual marketplace triumph of trickle down politics. They point to more than 40 years of stagnant Real Wages, the constant and dispiriting race to keep up with the cost of living in which every step means falling farther behind, and the ever-widening and maddening gulf between the haves and the have nots, the one-percenters and everyone else. Party leadership and President Biden believe something has to be done and now is the time to do it. Ergo, the Build Back Better bill (BBB) currently ricocheting around the halls of Congress.

The Republican Party and its leadership disagree. In a nutshell, they say the whole thing costs too much and will bankrupt the country.

They took a somewhat different stance when they were in power and, with no Democratic support, passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which many consider the quintessential example of trickle down economics in American history. Under this legislation the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported that individuals and pass-through entities like partnerships and S corporations would receive about $1.125 trillion in net benefits (i.e. net tax cuts offset by reduced healthcare subsidies) over 10 years, while corporations would receive around $320 billion in benefits. The CBO estimated that implementing the Act would add an estimated $2.289 trillion to the national debt over ten years (emphasis added)( “CBO-Appendix B: The Effects of the 2017 Tax Act on CBO’s Economic and Budget Projections, page 129)

Republicans, said the CBO report was hogwash. Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin went so far as to say the Act would pay for itself in ten years and lower the national debt.

Unfortunately, things haven’t worked out that way. Almost every major analysis correctly predicted revenues would fall and debt would increase. Analysis of first-year results released by the Congressional Research Service (the best research service you perhaps have never heard of) in May 2019 found:

  • “a relatively small (if any) first-year effect on the economy”
  • “a feedback effect of 0.3% of GDP or less,” such that the tax cut did not pay for itself
  • “pretax profits and economic depreciation (the price of capital) grew faster than wages,” meaning shareholders benefited more than workers
  • inflation-adjusted wage growth “is smaller than overall growth in labor compensation and indicates that ordinary workers had very little growth in wage rates”
  • “the evidence does not suggest a surge in investment from abroad in 2018” as proponents of the Act had asserted it would
  • “While evidence does indicate significant repurchases of shares, either from tax cuts or repatriated revenues, relatively little was directed to paying worker bonuses”

So, with that kind of batting average it seems a bit precious for Republicans to summarily dismiss the BBB bill and line up the firing squad to kill it. On the other hand, they proclaim agreement with the “goals” of the BBB, while offering no practical applications to achieve the desired results. Just goes to show that since the founding of the country parties in the minority, no matter who they are,  have demonstrated a terrific ability to denigrate what the majority proposes without any responsibility for proposing and implementing their own solutions.

But pity the poor Democrats within the Biden Administration. They’re having to fight the war on three fronts. First, there is the inevitable and total Republican opposition; then they have to appease the Progressive wing of their own party; and they have to do all this while at the same time dealing with a certain Senator from West Virginia. Let us not forget that this is the man who fathered the CEO of Mylan Pharmaceuticals, Inc., who, with Gordon Gekko enthusiasm, in 2016 raised the price of life saving EpiPens from $100 to $600 for a two-pack. Why? Because she could. I only mention this because of the old adage about the apple and the tree.

Given Senator Manchin’s knife-through-the-heart death blow to BBB this past Sunday on Fox News, one might be forgiven for thinking that if democrats keep bringing up the bill they’ll be fulfilling Einstein’s definition of insanity.

But, hold on a minute. I suggest the erstwhile coal magnate has gone a bridge too far and given the Democrats a magnificent opportunity. After his announcement, he was almost universally excoriated for it. Even the Coal Mining Union called him out on it. Obviously, this affected him, because the next day he seemed to back off a bit. Therefore, if the democratic muck-a-mucks are magnanimous and warm-hearted and forgive him publicly for this unfortunate error in judgement―sort of welcome him home as the Prodigal Son―he may be grateful enough to work with the President and, with a couple of face-saving tweaks, produce a bill all democrats can support, maybe even a few Republicans when they see the writing on the wall.

I’ve always thought the key to success is the ability to outlast the opposition. Elihu Root said it better. He was Secretary of State and Secretary of War in the Roosevelt Administrations, Theodore’s not Franklin’s. He said, “Men do not fail; they give up trying. Failure is a necessary step toward success.” Mr. Root also won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1912.

Democrats would do well to remember Root’s words.

What do you think?

WCRI: The Calm In The Storm

Tuesday, December 21st, 2021

In these uncertain times, it’s nice to know there are still a few things you can count on. One of them is the upcoming Workers’ Compensation Research Institute’s Annual Conference, its 38th. This year’s is scheduled for Boston on Thursday and Friday, 16 and 17 March. I say ‘scheduled for Boston,” because, well, one never knows, right? Omicron is raging right now. Almost makes me think you can catch it from someone three counties over.* If in early March Omicron persists, or some other variant of you know what barrels down the Massachusetts Turnpike, we might end up going remote again. But, as Alexander Pope so nicely put it, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”

WCRI has scored a hit this year in having Dr. Robert Hartwig deliver the Keynote speech. Bob is one of the smartest people you’ll ever meet, and his presentations can be exhausting. He delivers more data than there are cargo containers in the port of Los Angeles, and he does it in Gatling gun style. Hint: Load up on the caffeine, so you’ll have a chance to keep up with him. Although his presentation is titled, Impact of Disruptions Caused by COVID-19 on Workers’ Compensation, I’ll be interested in his thoughts on the drop in Real Wages over the last year, despite wage growth, and whether he views the spike in inflation as more permanent than temporary. Bob’s presentation will be worth the price of admission, and then some.

The rest of the first day is loaded with important, if wonky, data, such as Dr. Bogdan Savych’s presentation on the Impact of Consolidation of Care and Vertical Integration on Professional Prices. Might be a good idea to keep the coffee coming.

I’m particularly looking forward to the presentation on Vaccines, Variants, and Long-term Medical Effects of COVID-19, which is mid-morning, Friday. Frankly, I wish that had been laid on for Thursday, because, what with air reservations, Friday can sometimes be more sparsely attended than Thursday. Regardless, we should know a lot more about the variants by early March than we do now, so I would suggest this is an important presentation.

You can register for the conference here. If you’re in the workers’ compensation business, I urge you to do so.

Congratulations to the excellent staff at WRCI, led superbly by Dr. John Ruser, for soldiering on during these trying times and for keeping their eyes squarely focused on the mission.

One more thing: Congratulations also for WCRI’s decision to forgo holiday cards this year. Instead, the Institute is donating the money that would take to the Greater Boston Food Bank, one of the largest in the country. The need has been great over the last two years and the Greater Boston Food Bank has saved many of my Massachusetts neighbors in the community from food deprivation. Job well done. Thank you.

* It’s a story for another time, but, in spite of my best efforts, I still do not understand the rationale, presuming there is any, behind the intransigence of the unvaccinated. For instance, yesterday in Boston, brand new Mayor Michelle Wu gave a presser on her decision to require proof of vaccination, beginning next week, for everyone entering public places in the city. That’s restaurants, gyms, bars, etc. This became difficult for her, because a fairly large crowd, carrying homemade signs (they must have known this was coming, somehow), squirreled their way into Boston City Hall’s great big lobby and did their level best to drown her out. Democracy around here is getting messy, but at least it was peaceful.

News You Might Have Missed

Wednesday, May 26th, 2021

Immunity Passports and Herd Immunity

As time passes, we are learning more and more about SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. One of the things we are learning is how much we have yet to learn.

For example, a current and pervasive meme involves antibodies an infected person’s immune system makes to combat COVID-19.

Following his bout with the virus in October, 2020, during which he was given an “antibody cocktail,” Donald Trump famously said, “Now you have a president who doesn’t have to hide in a basement like his opponent. You have a president who is immune. Which is a very important thing, frankly.” Although the disgraced former president also said he wasn’t sure how long his “immunity” would last, the cult-of-Trump within the American public heard his “now I’m immune” message loud and clear.

Even before Trump’s “I’m immune” message, six months before, actually, his White House Rasputin, Scott Atlas, from Stanford’s Hoover Institute, told Fox’s Tucker Carlson it was “good news that the virus spreads widely and without risk to the vast majority of people. That’s good news, because we have a better chance of developing population immunity.” He went on to say this “would allow people to develop their own antibodies, and eventually enough people would develop their own antibodies to block the network of contagion.”

Herd immunity from having had the disease is a belief that won’t die. Two months ago “Health Coach” Christian Elliot published a mega-viral blog post entitled Eighteen Reasons I Won’t Be Getting A Covid Vaccine. One of the reasons? “I already had Covid.”

Reputable journals, newspapers and website have published fact-based research debunking this “I’m immune because I had it” drivel. As far back as 24 April 2020, around the same time Scott Atlas was mythologizing with Tucker Carlson, The World Health Organization (WHO) tried to put the matter to rest when it published Immunity Passports in the context of COVID-19. From the beginning of the article:

Some governments have suggested that the detection of antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, could serve as the basis for an “immunity passport” or “risk-free certificate” that would enable individuals to travel or to return to work assuming that they are protected against re-infection. There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection.

For the article, the WHO reported on 17 studies investigating whether having had COVID-19 produces antibodies (it does) that prevent recurrence of the disease (unknown). Seventeen studies, and not one reporting having had COVID-19 prevents short or long term reinfection.

To make it even clearer, further on the WHO said:

As of 24 April 2020, no study has evaluated whether the presence of antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 confers immunity to subsequent infection by this virus in humans.

But none of this stopped Donald Trump from perpetuating the medical myth the following October after his recovery.

This Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole thinking just confirms once again there has never been a fact that Trumped a deeply held belief.

Fifty-three percent, eh?

The Gallup organization made news this week with its latest poll in which it reported 53% of Republicans believe Donald Trump was cheated out of the presidency. This has been confirmed over and over again in the six months since the election—an election Joe Biden won by more than seven-million votes. Makes it seem as if a big swath of the country thinks a fraudster sits in the Oval Office.

But does it really? Let’s look a little deeper.

For decades, Gallup has surveyed the party affiliation of Americans, that is, U.S. adults identifying with the Democratic Party or who said they are independents leaning toward the Democratic Party; and, U.S. adults identifying with the Republican Party or who said they are independents who lean toward the Republican Party. In recent years, the gap between the two, a Democratic advantage, has been between four and six percentage points. In the first quarter, 2021, that gap grew to nine percentage points.

In Gallup’s Q1 survey, 25% of U.S. adults identified as Republicans and 15% as Republican-leaning Independents, for a total of 40%. This compares with 30% identifying as Democrats and 19% as Democratic-leaning Independents, totaling 49%. Thus, the nine point gap.

Now, back to the 53% of Republicans who believe Trump was cheated. Fifty-three percent of 25% is 13.25%. Fifty-three percent of 40% is 21.2%. Presuming not every, single Republican-leaning Independent believes Biden stole the election, we can say somewhere between 13.25% and 21.2% of U.S. adults believe the stolen election Big Lie. I’m betting it’s closer to the bottom number.

And that, my friends, is Donald Trump’s true base.

Who needs an independent commission?

The last time a violent mob invaded Washington, D.C. was 24 August 1814 during the War of 1812 when the British set fire to the White House and the U.S. Capitol, destroying the Senate Chamber and the Library of Congress. They burned most everything to the ground. Only torrential rains stopped the blaze. President James Madison wasn’t at the White House when this occurred, but his wife Dolly was. She took command and rescued everything she could. After that, with American soldiers escorting her, she was able to make her escape.

Two-hundred-seven years later, on 6 January 2021, a weaponized and organized mob of our fellow citizens stormed the Capitol in a violent insurrection. Five people died and the mob trashed the place to the tune of $30 million, according to the Architect of the Capitol. President Donald Trump wasn’t in the Capitol when the mob arrived, but his Vice President Mike Pence was. With the mob chanting, “Hang Mike Pence,” the Secret Service, like the soldiers who helped Dolly Madison, spirited Pence and his retinue out of the building to safety.

Thus far, 494 people have been arrested and charged for participating in the insurrection. They are from all parts of America and from all levels of society. Knowing the who, what, how, and why of this national obscenity seems to me to be a not too radical idea, the responsible thing to do. However, Republicans in Congress maintain that, because congressional committees are looking into the matter, an independent commission is unjustified and a waste of time and taxpayer money. They say the country needs to look forward, not back.

Being kind about this type of argument, I have to say it is full of what makes the grass grow green and tall. Perhaps the summit of Republican silliness was reached last night when Mitch McConnell, calling the whole thing a “purely political exercise,” told reporters that democrats, “would like to continue to debate things that occurred in the past,” as if investigating an assault on Democracy during which a violent mob was trying to find the Vice President of the United States in order to kill him was something akin to investigating how a new city parking lot strangely came to be on the corner of 6th and 7th. McConnell couldn’t even call the insurrection what it was; for him, it’s now just a “thing in the past.”

It is a tremendously sad commentary on our current society that the U.S. Senate, because of Republican opposition, will most likely not  approve an investigation by an independent commission into the 6 January insurrection. People, what have we come to?

History will not be kind to us in this moment. It will give us what we deserve.

Reflections On WCRI’s Recent Virtual Annual Conference: In A Word, It Was Excellent

Tuesday, March 30th, 2021

COVID-19 impact analysis

Last year, the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute held its Annual conference in Boston at the Westin Hotel on 5 and 6 March. The ballroom was full. COVID-19 was talked about in the conference and on the breaks, but it was too new to be on the Agenda. Everyone was doing elbow bumps instead of hand shaking. Four days after the conference wrapped, Governor Charley Baker declared a Massachusetts State of Emergency. The WCRI conference was likely the last one held in the City before everything shut down.

At that time, per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, the nation had seen ~139,000 cases and 2,425 deaths. In Massachusetts, where the conference was held, there had been 4,955 cases and 48 deaths.

The following month, the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) issued a Research Brief titled, COVID-19 and Workers’ Compensation: Modeling Potential Impacts. 

NCCI’s analysis projected a best case scenario, in which loss costs would increase $2 billion, and a worst case scenario, in which they would increase $81.5 billion, or 250% more than then current total loss costs. Willis Towers Watson also released a scenario-based analysis that suggested pretty much the same thing.

Also in April, the California Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau (WCIRB) projected loss costs if conclusive (rebuttable) presumptions were provided to front line workers, something Governor Gavin Newsom actually did through Executive Order one month later, so the “if” became a “done.” The WCIRB report concluded costs would range “from $2.2 billion to $33.6 billion with an approximate mid-range estimate of $11.2 billion, or 61% of the annual estimated cost of the total workers’ compensation system prior to the impact of the pandemic.

A year later, at this week’s virtual annual conference, WCRI Economist Olesya Fomenko, Ph.D., reported results from her analysis of workers’ compensation claims in WCRI study states for Q1 and Q2, 2020. This period, ending 30 June, encompassed the pandemic’s first of what has been up to now three surges.*

Her data and presentation slides are preliminary, but more than likely will stand up to future scrutiny. Her findings confirmed what most students of COVID-19 were intuitively thinking. To wit, it does not appear that, at least through the study period of two quarters, COVID-19 would deal a death blow to the workers’ compensation industry. Claims in her analysis of 27 study states are plentiful, but relatively inexpensive. There is wide variation in the geographic distribution of claims, probably because COVID-19 surged at different times in different states. New York is not among the WCRI study states, but during the period of Fomenko’s analysis, it was the state with more COVID problems than any other. A lot more.

During the study period, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey had the most reported claims. Massachusetts claims were 42% of all reported claims in the study states and 59% of all lost time claims. Dr. Fomenko suggested that the presence of presumption laws, pay without prejudice (in the case of Massachusetts) and other compensability issues (in New Jersey) might is some way contribute to the high numbers in those states.

Looking at Massachusetts for a moment might be instructive.

At the top of this column we showed Massachusetts with relatively few cases as of early March, two-thirds of the way through Q1. Let’s look at Massachusetts now, at the end of Q1 a year later. The state has been hit hard, but has also rebounded. Here’s a look at the state by county:

As you can see, no county has had less than 3,000 infections, and three have had more than 10,000. But what came of those infections? How did the patients make out medically? Here is a look at cumulative cases from 9 March 2021 through yesterday, 29 March 2021.

There have been 17,130 total deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, but 97% of infected patients have recovered. Deaths are at 3%, which is less than the 5% predicted by the CDC one year ago. And this is the case for most of the country, and is one of the reasons Dr. Fomenko’s data shows claims to be relatively inexpensive.

NCCI Analysis

The WCRI studies define the concept of “early days.” So do those from the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI). The point is, however, that analyses from both organizations appear to be congruent and complementary.

The lasting costs of COVID-19 to the workers’ compensation industry, aside from deaths, are going to come from permanent total and permanent partial disability awards. To that end, in October, 2020, NCCI published a Research Brief updating the Brief cited earlier in this column and titled, COVID-19 And Workers’ Compensation: Permanent Disability. These costs will be significant. NCCI’s analysis determined the average age of hospitalized COVID-19 patients at 49.5 years old. Average life expectancy allows for about 30 more years of benefits. The organization writes:

Given that severe cases are expected to have a higher likelihood of permanent disability, particularly PTD injuries, NCCI
assumed that all PTD claims would occur in this symptom grouping (infections and lung claims). Adjusting our PTD rate to between 0.0% and 1.5% to be applicable to only severe cases, we observe a PTD rate between 0% and 10% (= 1.5% / 15%) using the default Critical Care Rate from the NCCI Hypothetical Scenarios Tool.

Permanent Partial Disability cases are another matter. Here the frequency will be higher as well as the costs:

One interpretation of this assumption could be that moderate cases behave more like infection claims which tend to have a
near-zero PTD rate. If we compare the lung and infection PPD rates, we observe that lung claims have about twice the
likelihood of a PPD injury compared to infection claims. To the extent that moderate cases of COVID-19 behave like
infection claims and severe cases behave like lung claims, then a similar difference in the PPD rate may be expected. Under
this view, the Severe PPD rate would range between 40% and 50% with an implied Moderate PPD rate ranging between
20% and 25%.

With assumptions it clearly states contain wide variability, NCCI suggests the following COVI-19 benefits by injury type:

We’ll continue to follow the NCCI analyses as well as WCRI’s ongoing research.

Interview by John Ruser, PhD, with John Howard, MD, MPH, JD, LLM, MBA

John Howard is the longest serving Director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, three terms and counting. He is a legend in the field, and WCRI attendees got a good look at why during this wonderful interview by John Ruser. Howard, who has more letters after his name than there are years in elementary and high school combined, put on quite a show.

Some people are one inch wide and ten miles deep; others ten miles wide and one inch deep. Howard seems to know no inch or mile boundaries.  His subject was The Future of Work, and he made a number of highly interesting and prescient points, even going so far as to describe Aristotle’s concerns about automation in the ancient world of 350 BCE.

Asked about fears of jobs disappearing because of Artificial Intelligence and automation, Dr. Howard pointed to a study showing that in 2018 there were 60% more jobs than existed in 1940. Jobs have always gone away, but they’ve been replaced, and then some, by new jobs.

He’s concerned about a safety ergonomic vacuum employers are going to have to manage somehow. He believes employers are facing a “real challenge” adjusting to the new Work From Home paradigm.

My question is: How do employers deal with, let alone manage, workers’ compensation claims bound to occur while working in the home. You’re at your desk or dining room table working, get up for lunch, fall down the stairs and break an arm. Is that compensable? Is your employer going to make you prove it actually happened while you were actually working, and not just taking Junior out to the back forty for a little tag football?

And what responsibility does an employer have with respect to OSHA’s General Duty Clause, the one about providing a safe and healthful workplace?

If anyone can figure this stuff out, my money’s on John Howard.

Conclusion

Under trying circumstances, WCRI did an admirable job of hosting its 2021 Annual Conference. I’m told attendees gave it high marks, as well they should have. At the end of the second day, Dr. Ruser announced next year’s conference as being back in Boston’s Copley Westin Hotel on 15 and 16 March 2022. And I have a suggestion: After this ridiculously stressful year, it would be helpful and probably appreciated to devote a session to the impact of COVID-19 on employee mental health. A lot has happened in the last year to the field of Behavioral Health. It seems to have fitted in quite well to the new paradigm called Telehealth. It would be interesting to learn about that.

 

* Yesterday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said, “We do not have the luxury of inaction. For the health of our country, we must work together now to prevent a fourth surge. I so badly want to be done. I know you all so badly want to be done. We are just almost there, but not quite yet.” Walensky said she is now feeling a sense of “impending doom.”

**The Future of Work: The Economist is presenting a discussion on 8 April, at 4 pm, EST. To reserve a place, go here.

Sidney Powell’s “No Reasonable Person” Nutty Defense

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2021

In early February, 2021, an Associated Press-NORC* poll found 65% of Republicans believed Joe Biden was not legitimately elected President of the united States. One week ago, a Monmouth University National Poll found exactly the same thing. Nothing had changed in a month and a half. Why do you suppose that is?

 

 

You don’t have to be Albert Einstein to know that since the election, in fact since well before it, authority figures in the Republican Party, including the President, insisted the only way Donald Trump could lose the election would be through massive fraud. One of the leaders of this disinformation campaign is the lady pictured here: Attorney Sidney Powell, Trump’s on-again off-again lawyer in his attempt to overturn the election result.

Powell manufactured far-fetched claim after monstrously far-fetched claim of election fraud beginning two days after the election. Powell and her team of conspiracy theorists filed more than 60 lawsuits around the country that all died in court. But that didn’t stop her and her sidekick Rudy Giuliani from sharing their bird-brained ideas from the stage of the Republican National Committee in a November press conference carried on C-Span. Neither did it stop them from doing the same dozens of times on Fox News and Fox Business, never challenged by anybody from the network.

When none of that worked, Powell went for the big time and won the Gold Medal for the craziest claim of 2021 (thus far). To wit, Smartmatic and Dominion Voting Systems conspired with Venezuela’s communist leadership, ditto with Cuba, and “likely” China to create software to fix the election for Joe Biden against Donald Trump. On 8 November on Fox Business she was interviewed by Maria Bartiromo and claimed Dominion created a secret “algorithm to calculate the votes they would need to flip. And they used the computers to flip those votes from Biden to—I mean, from Trump to Biden.”

In late January, after the Dominion Voting Systems leaders had heard this lie a few thousand times, they had enough and sued Powell, Giuliani and others for $1.3 billion for defamation. That’s billion.

Yesterday, Powell’s defense team responded to the lawsuit. It’s 90-page filing can be summarized in two words: Just kidding.

In legalese, what her lawyers said was, “no reasonable person would conclude that [Powell’s] statements were truly statements of fact.” Moreover, her high-priced defense team writes that Dominion itself “characterize(s) the statements at issue as ‘wild accusations’ and ‘outlandish claims,’” and that “Such characterization of the allegedly defamatory statements further support Defendants’ position that reasonable people would not accept such statements as fact…”

In otherwords, if the company she defamed considers the accusations off-the-chart lunacy, then nobody else could ever possibly believe them.

Finally, the Powell team claims she never knew her accusations were false. “In fact,” they write, “she believed the allegations then and she believes them now.” So, she’s not guilty; she’s just crazy.

This would all be riotously funny if it weren’t so deadly serious. Deadly, as in five people died and more than 140 were injured at the Insurrection of 6 January, a day, to quote Franklin Roosevelt, “that will live in infamy.”

But notwithstanding the Insurrection, could Sydney Powell’s defense team actually be right? Would no one believe her claims, as well as all the other ridiculous claims made by Trump apologists, because they are all so nutty? The early February AP-NORC and the mid-March Monmouth University polls, as well as the Insurrection itself, appear to give the lie to that defense. Sixty-five percent of Republicans still believe Biden cheated his way to the Oval Office. They’re getting that belief from somewhere. And unless we figure out how to disconnect this significant faction of the American public from the Big Lie, it will continue as a grotesque cancer on our society.

In the 1930s, Joseph Goebbels made famous the Big Lie.

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

We have seen this movie before. And it never ends well.
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* The National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, founded in 1941 whose name is now officially NORC.