Daily Archives: February 3, 2004

The Other Side

In an AJC Guest Editorial, Larry Taylor, President of something called “Parents for Truth in Education”, makes the case for including criticism of evolution in science classrooms.

Last year, in public comments before the Cobb County Board of Education, I witnessed firsthand the danger that can come when personal opinions and philosophical or religious prejudices are allowed into the science classroom.I was shocked as Cobb County public school teachers stood at the podium and made the absurd claim that evolution is an absolute proven fact that is no longer disputed by reasonable, educated people.

Further, these teachers went on to denigrate anyone who held an opposing viewpoint as “uneducated,” “illogical,” “radical” and my all time favorite, “right-wing extremists.”

I left that meeting vowing to protect my children from the obvious bias and open hostility that was exhibited by the teachers in attendance.

Go read the rest. It’s…interesting….

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Stealing From Seniors

The NYT reports on the lastest trend in corporate theft: cutting back or eliminating the health benefits of retirees.

Employers have unleashed a new wave of cutbacks in company-paid health benefits for retirees, with a growing number of companies saying that retirees can retain coverage only if they are willing to bear the full cost themselves.Scores of companies in the last two years, including the telecommunications equipment giants Lucent Technologies and Alcatel and a big electric utility, TXU, have ended medical benefits for some or all of their retirees and instead offered to let them buy coverage through a group plan. This coverage is often more expensive than many retirees can afford.

Experts expect that the trend, driven by the fast-rising cost of health care, will continue, despite the billions of dollars that the government will distribute to companies that maintain retiree health coverage when the new Medicare drug benefit begins in two years. In contrast to pension financing, companies are not obligated to set aside funds to pay for retirees’ health benefits, and the health plans can usually be changed or terminated at the company’s choosing, with no appeal available to the retirees.

The costs can be a shock. According to surveys by benefits consultants, companies that offer health benefits to retirees typically have subsidized about 60 percent of the premium. Losing that support all at once can mean hundreds of dollars a month in unexpected costs.

Moreover, in dropping their subsidies, many companies push retirees into insurance pools that are separate from those of younger, healthier workers, executives said. That lowers the company’s costs for insuring its current workers, while raising the premiums charged to retirees even further.

James Norby, president of the National Retiree Legislative Network, an advocacy group that is urging Congress to strengthen legal protections for retired workers, said companies that charged for formerly covered benefits had found “a clever way of getting out of the contract they made to people who had been retired for 15 or 20 years.”

Not as outrageous as the pension-theft that was big during the first Bush Admin, but slimy and unethical just the same. For companies like Lucent and Alcatel that are in deep financial difficulties (Alcatel lost $$4.5B$$ last year) retrenching their health insurance profile may be unavoidable. Unfortunately, just as in the pension-theft years, corporations that are in NO financial difficulty will steal from their retirees’ benefits for no other reason than that they can get away with it.

TXU, the Texas (surprise surprise) utility corp mentioned in the article, has revenues of almost $$$9B$$$ and a net profit of nearly $$$3/4B$$$*, yet despite this financial health Chairman and CEO Earl Nye, whose salary (minus benefits and stock options) is slightly less than $$8M$$/yr, apparently feels no compunction about violating his company’s contract with its retirees and forcing them to pay up to $800/m for their own health insurance. I can promise you that Earl’s contract for company payment of his health benefits will be honored even though he could easily afford to pay for them himself.

Of course, Earl insists that the new policy is a Good Thing for the retirees (even though he, himself, won’t be taking advantage of it).

Employers that are shifting costs to their retirees often present the change as a benefit: although the company is no longer subsidizing coverage, premiums are usually lower than for individual policies, and the retirees do not have to worry about being rejected by insurers because of their age or prior health problems.

Since the company was paying for 60% of the cost before, how exactly is a 700% raise in the cost of a retiree’s premium a “benefit”?

Eloise Bolt, 56, who took early retirement in October 2002 from her job as an information technology project manager at TXU in Dallas, said that she was “really hurt and really angry” when her monthly insurance premium — which also covers her self-employed husband — soared from the $100 she had paid when she was working.According to Ms. Bolt, TXU said that the $100 represented 20 percent of the total premium, and that on retirement after 24 years with the company, she would be paying 60 percent. But instead of rising to $300 or so, as she had expected, her monthly premium jumped to $659, and rose to $725 this month, with a higher deductible.

“The math does not work out,” said Ms. Bolt, who abandoned her retirement plans and took a $9-an-hour job as a secretary to pay for the insurance.

So much for “retirement” and the legitimacy of corporate contracts. Bolt was lucky enough to find a job; many retirees in Bush’s job-losing “recovery” won’t be able to. Earl and his fat-cat buddies could care less. Their healthcare costs are covered and they won’t have to go back to work after they “retire” in order to pay for them. I bet Earl doesn’t lose so much as a single night’s sleep over what he’s done to Bolt and his other retirees, though he may have a bad moment or two because it got Bad Press. Earl doesn’t mind doing it, he’ll just mind if people know he’s doing it. See the difference?

Of course as you might have guessed, retirees aren’t the only ones being shafted on their health benefits. Earl has taken Junior’s “ownership” propaganda to heart.

When TXU trimmed its retiree benefits at the start of 2002, the company announced that all employees hired since Jan. 1 of that year would have to pay the full cost of health benefits when they retired. Like other companies, TXU — which has 12,000 employees and 8,000 retirees — is encouraging younger workers to save for their future health costs. TXU is promoting participation in the company’s 401(k) retirement plan. It matches employee contributions up to 6 percent of their salary.

Wow. 6 whole %. That’s what?, like $500/yr? How generous. “Your health is your problem,” Earl would say, if asked. “Not mine. We’re out of it.” TXU only cleared $$$750M$$$ last year. Obviously they can’t afford luxuries like employee health care. Hell, that’s a mere 100X Earl’s meager salary. Poor Earl.

In line with Junior’s radcon philosophy, Earl is simply shifting costs from his corp to his employees, putting the burden on them. And TXU employees should be aware that this move means that those promises about how Earl will let them piggyback onto a group plan to keep their premium costs down when they retire ain’t worth the paper they’re printed on. If Earl’s profits slip 1/10th%, they’ll be on their own, probably without warning.

*Note: The NYT article (by Milt Freudenheim) doesn’t bother to mention TXU’s profits. Apparently he didn’t think it was important that an extremely profitable company was stealing from its employees’ health care and violating its own contracts with them when it wasn’t financially necessary or even justifiable for it to do so. So what else is new?

Look for Junior Bush to do…NOTHING. As usual.

Ignorance Is Powerful

Jeanne at Body and Soul had a flash of insight yesterday after looking at the Newsweek poll over the weekend:

Forty-nine percent of Americans still believe that Iraq was directly involved in the attacks of September 11th, and even after significant coverage of David Kay’s report, fifty-percent believed, as of Friday and Saturday, that Iraq had banned biological or chemical weapons right before the war began. He draws the not unreasonable conclusion that any support George Bush has is based on ignorance.******************************

That leads me to a question I don’t have good answers to. Is anything going to happen in the next nine months to knock a hole in that ignorance, and is there anything I or anyone else can do to help it along? Because ignorance could elect George Bush president.

Good point. What the hell can we do? Scream ’til we’re blue in the face, I suppose. But what good does it do when no one is listening? Surveys show that only 11%–11%!!!–of us get our national news from somewhere other than tv, and tv news shows have become a running joke–1 1/2 mins (if you’re lucky) on the Bush Budget Cartoon, most of which simply repeats BA assertions that it will cut the deficit in half without mentioning that it will do no such thing, and 10 mins on Janet Jackson’s tit because “that’s what the audience wants.” It was a nice tit but was it more important than the budget? the burgeoning guerilla war in Iraq? the fact that our govt manufactured an unnecessary war, lied about it, is still lying about it, and alienated much of the rest of the world to have it? Is JJ’s tit more important than health care? than the open sale of our govt to corporate CEO’s? than the wholesale destruction of our environment through Presidential fiat? Is it even more important than flu shots?

Apparently. If you watch the news on tv, JJ’s tit would seem to be a more important topic than Armageddon. And yet this is the way 89% of us find out what’s happening in the world. (BTW, if you want an even scarier statistic, within that 89%, more than half of respondents under 30 reported getting most of their knowledge about the news from late-night talk shows!) With an ill-informed uninformed public doing the voting, a public that has no freaking idea what the hell is going on around it and is less interested in finding out than in catching a glimpse of half-time nipple, what can any of us do? Commenter Mary Kay put it this way:

The difficulty of getting a message, undistorted, out through this media is immense. Add to that, most people don’t want to know that Shrub and his allies are lying themselves black in the face, selling out both the public and the republic to monied interests, and do not have their best interests at heart. The want to believe that effective measures are being taken against terrorism, that the government is protecting and making them safe, that everything will be all right.Jordin and I were just discussing this today over lunch. I want to go around grabbing people on the street, shrieking, “Look. Look what they’re doing to you. To us. To the Constitution, the environment, the country.” It’d get me arrested in short order of course, and just annoy the heck out of everyone I talked to.

Probably, but what choice do we have? Between excellent alternative news sites like Alternet or Democracy Now! and the many blogs like Atrios’ Eschaton or Tapped–or even this here site–providing oodles of news and commentary that would otherwise never see the light of day, the internet is a valuable and–for most folks these days, even us working-class stiffs–accessible resource. But what good is it when people won’t use it?

Well, I’ll tell ya. The answer is in Junior’s falling ratings: the Bush/Rove Fantasy Hour is struggling, people. Nobody’s laughing at the jokes, listening to the sermons, or believing the bulletins. They’re starting to change the station–in droves. Partly it’s “we’ve seen this already” and partly it’s “oh come on, who do you think you’re kidding?” but the point is they’re pushing the button on the old remote. Why? It sure ain’t because of what network Happy-News is ladling out, so what is it?

I think it’s primarily two things:

1) Reality is slowly overcoming fantasy. Given the choice, most Americans will act exactly the way Mary Kay says: they’ll go into denial because they want to believe everything ‘s alright–or will be. But as the fantasies mount up and the reality we live with matches them less and less, that choice gets taken away. We start to notice the discrepancies, we start to react to the vast differences between what they’re telling us and what we see around us. And we start to turn off.

2) Us. That’s right, all of us–the blogs, the alternative news sites, the people like Mary Kay who grab people by the lapels and shake them. People may not read us but, like osmosis. what we say gradually works its way out into the general population and has its effect. Individually we may not be a terribly important part of all this–certainly I’m not–but collectively we are the battering ram that breaks down the HappyNews media wall and lets a little light shine into the castle courtyard. We are the flyer on the general store wall that one person sees and then tells ten other people about. We are the kid in the crowd who shouts, “But the Emperor is butt-naked!” and makes the scales fall from everyone else’s eyes.

We’re pushing, we’re pulling, we’re pleading, we’re reporting, and, like the force of evolution, we are slowly beginning to shift the flaccid mass of blind deniers into a different form, bit by bit, a petal at a time. It isn’t much, maybe, but it’s what we can do. Even if it’s all we can do, it’s better than doing nothing. Eventually we will make it possible for the blind to see and the lame to walk–to the polls, hopefully–and the momentum will move with us instead of against us.

Whenever you doubt, whenever you think you’re wasting your time, whenever it looks hopeless and naive and useless, tell yourself this: Despite everything in the mass media going Junior’s way, despite being told over and over every hour of the day that we live in the best of all possible worlds, despite the massive Rove PR machine, Junior is now losing to every Democrat in the polls.

Don’t quit. Don’t ever quit. In the words of Henry Stamper, “Never Give an Inch.”

Commentary on the Majority Rule Voting Paradox

by Peter K Harrell

The “majority rule paradox” is probably not much of a paradox in the real world today. That “lesser of two evils” situation almost certainly describes a large majority of the voters.

The “yes/no/maybe” voting has all sorts of legal problems. Perhaps some parties may adopt it for primaries when there are large numbers of candidates to be thinned down. In elections, though, the presumption of preference voting, the “one man, one vote” rule, and all sorts of other legal issues would probably prevent it from being implemented.

Hal

Before I begin I would like to point out that formal analysis indicates that the choice of voting techniques can affect the stability of democratic government. You may be surprised to learn that both Plurality Voting and Instant Runoff Voting will elect extremist candidates when an electorate is sufficiently polarized, but that Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting promotes the election of moderate candidates, who are better able to represent all of the voters and less likely to further antagonize opponents. I will be glad to post this analysis if you are interested.

Now regarding the Majority Rule Voting Paradox:

Actually, a probability analysis of the Majority Rule Voting Paradox, which assumes that each of the 6 opinion types used in the analysis is equally likely, indicates that there is over a 10% chance that the Majority Rule Voting Paradox will occur. Considering the large number of elections in most election years, this probability analysis strongly suggests that the Majority Rule Voting Paradox is actually a significant problem in elections today.

The next step of course would be to analyze opinion polls in an effort to identify the existence of actual Majority Rule Voting Paradox situations in the electorate. That would require including appropriate questions in opinion polls to ensure that enough information was collected to enable the analysis to take place.

But the significance of the Majority Rule Voting Paradox extends beyond the actual paradox itself. The Majority Rule Voting Paradox reveals in a concise analysis that Plurality Voting cannot ensure that election outcomes will be consistent with the principle of the Consent of the Governed, which is by the way a fundamental principle of American democracy (see note below). This is true even if we ignore situations where a Majority Rule Voting Paradox actually exists.

In order to see this more clearly we simply need to alter slightly the way opinion is modeled, relax the high standards of the Majority Rule Voting Paradox, and to recall that Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting permits the election of a candidate who has received only a plurality of support from the voters.

In the original description of the Majority Rule Voting Paradox we ignored the possibility that people might be indifferent or equivocal in their opinions of the candidates. If we include this possibility we alter the results of our probability analysis, but we also greatly increase the number of combinations of opinions where Plurality Voting would elect Candidate A, even though Candidate A is either disapproved of by a majority of the electorate (which will be our First Case) or is disapproved of by a larger portion of the electorate than approves of Candidate A (which will be our Second Case). In this Second Case we would say that Candidate A is disapproved of by a plurality of the electorate.

An example of the First Case can be constructed if this slight but arbitrary change simply means that we assume that only 40 % of the electorate approves of Candidate B. A Majority Rule Voting Paradox no longer exists under these circumstances, but Plurality Voting would still elect Candidate A, who is still disapproved of by over 50 % (i.e. 66.6…%) of the electorate. In this case we have an explicit lack of consent for Candidate A and what political philosophers would call tacit consent for Candidate B. Once again I would argue that Candidate B (40 % approval) should be elected not Candidate A (33.3…% approval). However, when we make these assumptions the model of our electorate becomes more complex.

Here is a First Case sample electorate:

Group 1A (20%):
Prefers Candidate A to Candidate B. Approves of Candidate A and Approves of Candidate B.

Group 1B (13.3…%):
Prefers Candidate A to Candidate B. Approves of Candidate A and is Indifferent/Equivocal with respect to Candidate B.

Group 2 (33.3…%):
Prefers Candidate A to Candidate B. Disapproves of Candidate A and Disapproves of Candidate B.

Group 3A (20%):
Prefers Candidate B to Candidate A. Disapproves of Candidate A and Approves of Candidate B.

Group 3B (13.3…%):
Prefers Candidate B to Candidate A. Disapproves of Candidate A and is Indifferent/Equivocal with respect to Candidate B.

What’s more we can relax the high standards of the Majority Rule Voting Paradox even further in our effort to reveal the flaws in Plurality Voting.

For our next example illustrating the Second Case mentioned above let us continue with a situation where only 40% of the electorate approves of Candidate B. However, this time let us assume that only 40% of the electorate disapproves of Candidate A. Citizens, who make up the remaining 26.6…% of the electorate, either are indifferent with respect to Candidate A because they have no opinion about Candidate A or are equivocal with respect to Candidate A because they have a conflicting set of opinions about Candidate A. Naturally when we make this new assumption the model of our electorate becomes even more complex.

Here is a Second Case sample electorate:

Group 1A (20%):
Prefers Candidate A to Candidate B. Approves of Candidate A and Approves of Candidate B.

Group 1B (13.3…%):
Prefers Candidate A to Candidate B. Approves of Candidate A and is Indifferent/Equivocal with respect to Candidate B.

Group 2A (6.6…%):
Prefers Candidate A to Candidate B. Disapproves of Candidate A and Disapproves of Candidate B.

Group 2B (26.6…%):
Prefers Candidate A to Candidate B. Is Indifferent/Equivocal with respect to Candidate B and Disapproves of Candidate B.

Group 3A (20%):
Prefers Candidate B to Candidate A. Disapproves of Candidate A and Approves of Candidate B.

Group 3B (13.3…%):
Prefers Candidate B to Candidate A. Disapproves of Candidate A and is Indifferent/Equivocal with respect to Candidate B.

In this example Plurality Voting would elect Candidate A even though there exist more members of the electorate who disapprove of Candidate A (40%) than who approve of Candidate A (33.3…%). In other words a plurality of voters disapprove of Candidate A (40%), while at the same time a plurality of voters approve of Candidate B (also 40%). What is more a larger percentage of the electorate approves of Candidate B (40%) than approves of Candidate A (33.3…%).

In this example there is no explicit lack of consent for Candidate A (only 40% disapproval). Also both Candidate A (60%) and Candidate B (93.3…%) receive tacit consent from the electorate. But Plurality Voting is incapable of making any of these distinctions. I would argue once again that Candidate B clearly should be elected not Candidate A.

What I hope is obvious to you from the preceding discussion is that there are huge numbers of combination of opinions which fall into the First Case, Second Case and Majority Rule Voting Paradox categories, and that the probability the electorate will actually hold a set of opinions that fall into these categories is quite high.

What is more you yourself have expressed the opinion that the lesser of two evils dilemma is a serious problem.

Plurality Voting cannot resolve the lesser of two evils dilemma for precisely the same reason that Plurality Voting cannot properly resolve the Majority Rule Voting Paradox and the other voting problems presented here in our First Case and Second Case scenarios.

The reason is simple. Plurality Voting does not permit enough appropriate information about the opinions of the voters to be collected in order to return a result, which consistently respects the principle of the Consent of the Governed.