Monday, December 31, 2012

Greenwich Village couple busted with cache of weapons, bombmaking explosives

Morgan Gliedman: daughter of privilege

Decades before terrorist became synonymous with Islamic radical in the minds of most Americans, the United States had left-wing actors like the Weathermen who murdered innocents and robbed banks to push their pro-Soviet cause.

Today, the New York Post is reporting that a well-educated and wealthy left-wing couple associated with the far-left Occupy Wall Street movment has been arrested on terrorist charges.

The privileged daughter of a prominent city doctor, and her boyfriend — a Harvard grad and Occupy Wall Street activist — have been busted for allegedly having a cache of weapons and a bombmaking explosive in their Greenwich Village apartment.

Morgan Gliedman — who is nine-months pregnant — and her baby daddy, Aaron Greene, 31, also had instructions on making bombs, including a stack of papers with a cover sheet titled, “The Terrorist Encyclopedia,’’ sources told The Post yesterday.

People who know Greene say his political views are “extreme,” the sources said.

The New York Daily News says that Ms. Gliedman went into labor this morning.

The Post story says that the discovery of the explosives was an accident.

Cops found the stash in the couple’s West Ninth Street home Saturday when they went there to look for Gliedman, 27, who was wanted for alleged credit-card theft. A detective discovered a plastic container with seven grams of a white chemical powder called HMTD, which is so powerful, cops evacuated several nearby buildings.

It sounds as if Mr. Greene and his girlfriend intended to cause a lot of harm:

Police also found a flare launcher, which is a commercial replica of a grenade launcher; a modified 12 gauge Mossberg 500 shotgun; ammo; and nine high-capacity rifle magazines, the sources said. Cops also allegedly uncovered papers about creating homemade booby traps, improvised submachine guns, and various handwritten notebooks containing chemical formulas.

A question going forward is how wide of a conspiracy these two are involved with? Is it just that couple? Or are radical friends of theirs getting ready to wage war on the United States?

Sunday, December 30, 2012

3 Found Dead in San Jose Apartment Blaze

Perishing in a fire is an increasingly uncommon way to die for Americans. Most who are killed in fires die from smoke inhalation.

Despite its relative infrequency, about 3,800 Americans die in fires every year. That is just over 10.4 per day. Suicide, by comparison, is nearly 10 times more often a cause of death.

Sadly, the AP is reporting that three residents of a San Jose apartment building died as a result of a fire last night.

San Jose fire investigators are looking through the rubble of an apartment as they try to determine what sparked a fire that killed three people and sent three others to a hospital late Saturday.

San Jose Fire Department Capt. Mary Gutierrez says when firefighters reached the scene shortly after 11 p.m. Saturday they found some people trapped in the burning apartment on the second floor of the building. After the fire was put out, firefighters found the bodies of a man, a woman and a child.

Due mostly to better construction standards, smoke detectors and automated sprinkler systems, fire deaths in the U.S. have fallen dramatically in the last 100 years. Even in the last 30 years they have continued to fall precipitously. Here is what FEMA reports:

From 1979 to 2007, the fire death rate in the United States declined by 66 percent. Today, the United States still has one of the higher fire death rates in the industrialized world. However, its standing has greatly improved.

In 1979, the U.S. suffered 34.4 fire deaths per million people per year. That fell to 12.4 in 2007. Switzerland stands out for being the safest country when it comes to deaths by fire. In 2007, its rate per million people was just 2.0.

In 2009, 2,437,163 Americans died. That is a total death rate of 793.8 deaths per 100,000 population. Here is how death by fire (assuming the same rate we had in 2007) compares to some other causes:

•Heart disease: 599,413
•Cancer: 567,628
•Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 137,353
•Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 128,842
•Accidents (unintentional injuries): 118,021
•Alzheimer's disease: 79,003
•Diabetes: 68,705
•Influenza and Pneumonia: 53,692
•Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 48,935
•Intentional self-harm (suicide): 36,909
•Fire: 3,807

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Kings dodge big collapse to beat Knicks on buzzer-beater

I don't watch every Sacramento Kings game. And when I do tune in, I will often surf other channels and miss good portions of their games.

The problem for me--a bandwagon fan, if you will--is that the Kings lose most of the time. It's just not that much fun to see my local outfit stink.

But last night, aided by the New York Knicks not having their best player, Carmelo Anthony, available, and not having their starting point guard, Felton Spencer, healthy enough to play, the Kings held on for a 1 point victory at home on a last-second shot. Earlier in the game Sacramento was up by 27 points.

When it mattered most, (assistant coach Bobby) Jackson's advice paid off when (James) Johnson made a three-pointer at the buzzer to save the Kings from an epic collapse and give them a 106-105 victory over the New York Knicks on Friday night at Sleep Train Arena.
Johnson had missed all 11 of his three-point attempts this season, but there was no better time for Jackson's tutoring to pay off.

A reasonable question to ask is why the Kings are as bad as they are? They are in last place in their division and have the second worst record in the Western Conference.

I don't think the problem is their head coach, Keith Smart. I don't think the fault lies with their owners or their dated arena. I think most of the blame is due to the fact that the Kings have had a mostly bad record in drafting players over the last 6 years.

In 2006, the Kings had the 19th selection of the 1st round, and they drafted Quincy Douby of Rutgers University. Douby turned out to be a complete bust. There were good players still available--Paul Millsap and Rajon Rondo, for example--who the Kings passed on in order to take the dubious Mr. Douby.

In 2007, the Kings had the 10th selection of the 1st round, and they drafted Spencer Hawes of the University of Washington. Hawes was not a total bust. But they took him in favor of Marc Gasol and Carl Landry, and both of those players have been much better pros than Hawes has been. (For one season the Kings had Landry, who they acquired by trading away Kevin Martin, then their best player, and then they let Landry go.) After three unimpressive years in Sacramento, the Kings traded Hawes to Philadelphia for Samuel Dalembert, who then left Sacramento as a free agent. In effect, the Kings got nothing out of the 2007 draft.

In 2008, the Kings had the 12th selection of the 1st round, and they drafted Jason Thompson of Rutgers University. Thompson is a good rebounder, and still plays for Sacramento, but he is no star. There were much better players still available--Ryan Anderson, George Hill and Serge Ibaka, for example--when Sacramento grabbed Thompson.

By the end of the 2008-09 season, the Kings were one of the worst teams in the NBA. They did not, however, do well in the draft lottery and ended up with the 4th pick of the first round. But Tyreke Evans of the University of Memphis fell to them, and at first he looked like an excellent pick. Evans won the Rookie of the Year award, though that was in part due to the fact that the first player selected in that draft, Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers, missed the entire season due to injury.

After his strong rookie season, unfortunately, Evans has regressed. Based on total Win Shares, Evans is now only the 12th best player from his draft class. He has even been passed by Marcus Thornton, who (following a trade with the Hornets) is his teammate. Thornton was the 43rd selection of the 2009 draft.

When the Kings took Evans, they could have had Stephen Curry, Ty Lawson, Brandon Jennings, DeJuan Blair and some others, all of whom have been better pros.

In 2009, the Kings had a second 1st round pick, and they selected Omri Casspi from Israel 23rd in that draft. He was a pleasant surprise, coming that late, a hustle player, but not a great athlete. After two years, the Kings traded Casspi to Cleveland for J.J. Hickson, got nothing out of Hickson, and waived him following the 20011-12 season.

In 2010, for the second year  in a row, the Kings did poorly in the draft lottery, and wound up with the No. 5 pick. They drafted DeMarcus Cousins of the University of Kentucky. Cousins was widely viewed as one of the two most talented players in his draft class. The problem was that he was said to be "immature," and no one picking before Sacramento wanted to deal with his personality issues.

Like Evans, Cousins was good as a rookie. But his personality has been a disaster--it seems to me he has a serious psychological defect--and Cousins has simply not been as good as many chosen after him in 2010. Two that the Kings bypassed for Cousins were Greg Monroe, who was taken No. 7 by Detroit, and Paul George, selected No. 10 by Indiana. Monroe is now one of the NBA's best big men. George is better at all aspects of the game than Cousins.

The 2011 first round of the draft for the Kings looks like another bust. They had the No. 7 pick. They used it for a Congolese forward named Bismack Biyombo, whom they traded away along with Beno Udrih, a mediocre guard, for Jimmer Fredette (the No. 10 pick from BYU) and John Salmons, an older guard who was earlier a King and is now on his last NBA legs.

Fredette has done next to nothing for the Kings. He rarely plays. When the Kings picked Biyombo, they could have had Kenneth Faried of Morehead State (who was taken No. 22 by Denver) or Kawhi Leonard of San Diego State (taken No. 15 by Indiana).

The irony of the 2011 draft is that the Kings did get one good player from it. With the 60th pick (the last of that draft) they selected Isaiah Thomas of the University of Washington. Mr. Thomas has been a much better pro than Mr. Fredette.

It's early to judge the 2012 draft. But so far, it does not look good, again, for the Kings. They had the No. 5 pick, and they used it on Thomas Robinson of the University of Kansas. Robinson, so far, has been horrible. He is easily the worst player taken early in 2012 and among the worst taken over the entire 2-round process.

When the Kings defeated the Knicks last night at Sleep Train Arena, Coach Keith Smart chose to sit Robinson out the entire game. It was not due to poor health. It was due to poor play by the rookie.

The two most productive first year players this season have been Damian Lillard (No. 6 to Portland) and Andre Drummond (No. 9 to Detroit). Both were available when the Kings decided to go with Mr. Robinson. Had Sacramento simply blindly selected a name off of the draft board at No. 5, they would have very likely gotten a better ballplayer.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Chicago reaches 500 homicides with fatal shooting

Mass killings like the horrific one in Newtown, CT get the most media attention, naturally. But day after day in our largest cities one or more people is murdered. Across the United States, every year, thousands of Americans are murdered.

In 2008, 16,799 were victims of intentional homicide. In 2010, 18,972. In 2011, 18,519. About 2 out of 3 were killed with guns.

The total murder rate in the U.S. has been on the decline for most of the last 21 years. Our homicide rate peaked at 9.8 per 100,000 residents in 1991. It fell steadily to 4.8 per 100,000 in 2010.

By comparison, the homicide rate in Canada is 1.9 per 100,000. In Norway, it is 0.5.

About the only time one of these "ordinary" killings in the United States gets widespread attention is when a milestone is reached. Chicago merits attention today because Nathaniel Jackson just became the 500th victim in Chicago in 2012. Congratulations, Nate!

On Thursday, officials with the Chicago Police Department said the city was one homicide away from the 500 mark. Hours later, a 40-year-old man was fatally shot in the Austin neighborhood on the city's West Side. Police say Nathaniel Jackson was found on the sidewalk outside a convenience store with a gunshot wound to the head late Thursday.

The Cook County Medical Examiner's Office says Jackson was pronounced dead at Stroger Hospital early Friday. Jackson's death remains under investigation. No arrests have been made.

In reality, the chances any American will be murdered varies greatly depending on where he lives, what his family circumstances are, what his income and job are, and so on. The vast majority of killers and murder victims are poor, inner-city non-white males from age 15 to 25.

Chicago has a lot of murders each year in large part because it has a lot of poor, inner-city non-white males from age 15 to 25. Yet Chicago is a safe-haven when compared with New Orleans and Detroit.

Here is how our major cities compare in 2012 when it comes to murder rates per 100,000 population:

New York City 2.72
Los Angeles 4.19
Houston 5.0
Dallas 6.43
Washington, D.C. 8.15
Chicago 10.83
Kansas City 12.2
Philadelphia: 12.38
Oakland: 15.89
St. Louis: 18.18
Baltimore: 18.22
Stockton 23.3

Detroit: 27.34
New Orleans: 32.65

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Russia fires back: At itself!

There must be a mysterious cultural chauvinism which explains why some people or some countries decide to respond by hurting themselves after another person or nation upsets them or somehow insults them.

I don't really understand it. It strikes me as completely irrational.

Russia has recently decided to enact a law punishing Russian orphans, because the U.S. passed a law aimed at corrupt Russian legislators. Makes sense?

This kind of "retaliation" reminds me of the response of many residents in inner-city Los Angeles after acquittals came down for the police officers who had beaten Rodney King: They decided the best response was to burn down the stores and factories in their neighborhoods where they shopped and they worked. In other words, they decided to punish themselves.

This is the Washington Post's take on the Russian "retaliation."

Russian President Vladimir Putin, acceding to the anti-American fervor that has gripped the country’s legislature, said Thursday that he intends to sign a bill barring Americans from adopting Russian children.
Various Kremlin officials had criticized the bill, which was designed as a means of retaliation against a new American law that targets corrupt Russian officials, but Putin has chosen not to heed their advice.

Having spent the past year stoking hostility toward the United States, he is now faced with an emotional response from parliament that seems to be on the verge of getting away from him. Though he raised questions about the adoption bill at his annual press conference earlier this month, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Science and Education Minister Dmitry Livanov, among others, have called it ill-advised, on Thursday Putin said, “I have not seen any reason why I should not sign it.”

No good reason to not sign it, Vlad? How about the fact that it does not hurt the United States. Rather, it hurts Russia and it hurts these children who will not have homes.

The journalist Alexander Minkin, on his blog for the Ekho Moskvy Web site, described the Russian bill as “cannibalistic”: With Americans placing sanctions on certain corrupt Russian bureaucrats, he wrote, Moscow strikes back by punishing its own orphans.
What is shocking about Russia is that they lack a culture of adoptions. They have hundreds of thousands of orphans in need of homes, but Russian families will not adopt them. If a child in Russia has a handicap, it is common for his parents to abandon him. Those children never get adopted by other Russians.

About 740,000 children live in Russian orphanages, according to UNICEF; many of their parents are still alive. Over the past 20 years, 60,000 Russians have been adopted by Americans, including a significant number with developmental disabilities.

No, the butler didn't do it ...

The cliché in old whodunit films was that the butler always did it. But when a woman mysteriously vanishes or is murdered, the reality is that the guilt party is usually her husband, her boyfriend or a jealous former lover.

That appears to be the case in the widely reported assassination of Jennifer Sebena, a patrol officer killed while on duty for the Wauwatosa (Wisc.) Police Department. The AP is reporting that homicide investigators have closed their case.

MILWAUKEE—Authorities arrested the husband of a slain suburban Milwaukee police officer who was shot dead on Christmas Eve while out on patrol.

Ben Gabriel Sebena, of Menomonee Falls, was booked into Milwaukee County Jail on Wednesday on a preliminary charge of first-degree intentional homicide in the death of his wife, Jennifer Sebena, the Wauwatosa police department said.

When the death of Jennifer Sebena was first reported, most news accounts played up the fact that she was a cop on duty and that made her vulnerable to psychopaths out to kill police officers. But if her husband, an ex-Marine, is guilty, it did not matter at all what she did for a living. His violent and vile anger was focused on his wife, not her profession.

Authorities have released few details about Jennifer Sebena's killing, but said the Wauwatosa police officer was patrolling alone on the night she was killed. Officers found her body early Monday after she failed to respond to radio calls. She had been shot several times.

I wonder if the investigation was aided by ballistics, which perhaps directed them to a specific type of weapon owned by Ben Sebena.

Ben Sebena was honorably discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps as a corporal in 2005. Among his 10 medals and commendations were a Purple Heart, a Good Conduct medal and a badge as a rifle expert.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

High-Ranking Syrian General Defects in New Blow to Assad

The New York Times is reporting today that a high-ranking Syrian general has defected, terming his departure "a new blow" to the dictatorship of Bashar Al-Assad.

The defector, Maj. Gen. Abdul Azia Jassem al-Shallal, announced his move in a video broadcast by Al Arabiya, saying that he had taken the step because of what he called the Syrian military’s deviation from “its fundamental mission to protect the nation and transformation into gangs of killing and destruction.”

An interesting question is how, once Assad falls, the new government of Syria deals with people like Gen. Shallal. He can claim that he left as a consequence of the brutality of the Assad regime against its own people in the last year.

But what this general can never honestly deny is that the Bashar al-Assad regime and that of his father, Hafez al-Assad, has always been a brutal dictatorship. Since the rise of the Ba'ath Party in the 1960s, there never have been ordinary freedoms for the Syrian people--no free commerce; no free elections; no freedom of speech; no freedom to travel; and no ability to stand up to the police state the Assads built.

And a major part of that brutal state required the work of men like Maj. Gen. Abdul Azia Jassem al-Shallal. He may never be held accountable for his crimes against humanity. But the fact that he defected shortly before the end of the regime he was a big part of should not absolve him of his record.

General Shallal’s statement came as Syrian insurgents were claiming new territorial gains against Mr. Assad in the northern and central parts of the country and as a special envoy from the United Nations and the Arab League was visiting Damascus as part of an effort to reach a political settlement that would halt the conflict, the most violent of the Arab Spring revolutions that began in the winter of 2010-2011. More than 40,000 people have been killed since protests against Mr. Assad began in March 2011.

There have been a handful of other big defections from Assad in the last half year. And there will likely be some more in the next 3-6 months. To me it seems that these defectors are more driven by a desire to be on the winning side than they are by moral qualms about how bad that government is. Gen. Shallal can see what is coming--Assad will fall in 2013. Shallal simply hopes to save his own skin.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Two firefighters die in ambush at blazing NY house

A strange, sad and scary story is being reported this morning about a house fire and the murder of two responding firefighters in Webster, NY. 

A gunman ambushed four volunteer firefighters responding to an intense pre-dawn house fire Monday morning outside Rochester, N.Y., killing two and ending up dead himself, authorities said. Police used an armored vehicle to evacuate more than 30 nearby residents.

The gunman fired at the firefighters when they arrived shortly after 5:30 a.m. at the blaze near the Lake Ontario shore in Webster, town Police Chief Gerald Pickering said. The first Webster police officer who arrived chased the suspect and exchanged gunfire with him, authorities said.

‘‘It does appear it was a trap’’ for the first responders to the fire, Pickering said at a news conference.

No details have yet been reported on the murderer, other than the fact that he too is dead. But I'd be willing to bet he was a mental patient, probably one who had a history of going off his medications and who seems to have spiralled down into paranoia and total madness.

If my guess about the killer is correct, this is yet another example of the price we are paying in society for not dealing properly with the mentally ill. At the very least, we need to force those with severe psychoses into psychiatric treatment. In most cases, that does not require forced hospitalization. But we should not be sitting back and letting the deranged manage their own mental health care.

UPDATE: Reuters has in the last hour reported some details about the murderer, who they say took his own life after setting fire to a house and shooting the firefighters as they arrived on scene:

A gunman who spent 17 years in prison for murder ambushed and killed two volunteer firefighters and wounded two others on Monday near Rochester, New York, as they responded to a house fire he deliberately set, police said.

William Spangler, 62, shot and killed himself after a gunfight with a police officer in Webster, a Rochester suburb, Webster Police Chief Gerald Pickering said.
Spangler was convicted of manslaughter in 1981 for beating his 92-year-old grandmother to death with a hammer, according to New York State Department of Corrections records, and after prison he spent eight years on parole.

It's possible Spangler does not have schizophrenia. Perhaps he has psychopathy. But the fact that he beat his grandmother to death suggests he has been crazy for a long, long time. In a more rational world, he would have been put in a locked medical facility for the insane before he became so violent and delusional.

One other thing this case makes clear: It is still easy for people who should not have guns to get them, largely because no background checks are done on those who purchase weapons from private sellers.
Pickering said police had found several types of weapons, including a rifle used to shoot the firefighters. As a convicted felon it was illegal for Spangler to own guns.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Take sugary drinks away from kids and they will lose weight

The New York Times is reporting today that the childhood obesity rate is falling by a small amount in some cities--namely those which have actively discouraged the consumption of sodas and other sugary drinks.

The drops are small, just 5 percent here in Philadelphia and 3 percent in Los Angeles. But experts say they are significant because they offer the first indication that the obesity epidemic, one of the nation’s most intractable health problems, may actually be reversing course. ... (The)  researchers note that declines occurred in cities that have had obesity reduction policies in place for a number of years. Philadelphia has undertaken a broad assault on childhood obesity for years. Sugary drinks like sweetened iced tea, fruit punch and sports drinks started to disappear from school vending machines in 2004.

When anti-obesity campaigns are focused on reducing fat intake or increasing exercise, they never work. The key is to get kids to stop eating foods with added sugars.

Though obesity is now part of the national conversation, with aggressive advertising campaigns in major cities and a push by Michelle Obama, many scientists doubt that anti-obesity programs actually work. Individual efforts like one-time exercise programs have rarely produced results.

Clearly, we still have a fat crisis.

Nationally, about 17 percent of children under 20 are obese, or about 12.5 million people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ... That rate, which has tripled since 1980, has leveled off in recent years but has remained at historical highs, and public health experts warn that it could bring long-term health risks. Obese children are more likely to be obese as adults, creating a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. The American Cancer Society says that being overweight or obese is the culprit in one of seven cancer deaths. Diabetes in children is up by a fifth since 2000, according to federal data.

Poor blacks and Latinos are the fattest Americans. Why? They eat the most sugar.

Obesity affects poor children disproportionately. Twenty percent of low-income children are obese, compared with about 12 percent of children from more affluent families, according to the C.D.C. Among girls, race is also an important factor. About 25 percent of black girls are obese, compared with 15 percent of white girls.

However, in Philadelphia, where they have taken away sodas and other sugary drinks from schools, the black and Latino kids have been experiencing the largest reductions in weight.

But Philadelphia, which has the biggest share of residents living in poverty of the nation’s 10 largest cities, stands out because its decline was most pronounced among minorities. Obesity among 120,000 public school students measured between 2006 and 2010 declined by 8 percent among black boys and by 7 percent among Hispanic girls.

Too fat to fight

In a December 10 Washington Post story, "Rising number of soldiers being dismissed for failing fitness tests," Ernesto Londoño reports that "the Army is dismissing a rising number of soldiers who do not meet its fitness standards, drawing from a growing pool of troops grappling with obesity."

Obesity is now the leading cause of ineligibility for people who want to join the Army, according to military officials, who see expanding waistlines in the warrior corps as a national security concern. Between 1998 and 2010, the number of active-duty military personnel deemed overweight or obese more than tripled. In 2010, 86,186 troops, or 5.3 percent of the force, received at least one clinical diagnosis as overweight or obese, according to the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center. The trend has prompted the military to reexamine its training programs and is driving commanders to weed out soldiers deemed unfit to fight.

Putting the focus on training programs is misguided. The real problem is with what recruits are eating--namely, too much sugar.

A National Institutes of Health study, for example, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in October reported that for people with a genetic predispositon to be fat the more sugary drinks they consume the fatter they will be and vice versa. The U.S. Army needs to prohibit soldiers from consuming sodas, sweet teas and fruit juice. If a recruit is thirsty, give him water or unsweetened green tea or black coffee.

An Australian author, David Gillespie, is touring the world crusading against sugar consumption. In his book, "Sweet Poison," he argues that "when we eat the fructose component of sugar - unlike when we eat any other forms of energy - our bodies do not release the three major appetite hormones that tell us we are full: insulin, leptin and cholecystokinin (CCK). Instead it goes straight to the liver where it often stays - converted into fat.

Dr. Robert Lustig of UC San Francisco calls sugar a poison. "Food was just as abundant before obesity’s ascendance. The problem is the increase in sugar consumption. Sugar both drives fat storage and makes the brain think it is hungry, setting up a vicious cycle. More specifically, it is fructose that is harmful. Fructose is a component of the two most popular sugars. One is table sugar — sucrose. The other is high-fructose corn syrup. High-fructose corn syrup has become ubiquitous in soft drinks and many other processed foods."

A big driver for the U.S. Army to rid itself of fat soldiers is that, as our wars are winding down, the budget demands a smaller force, according to the Washington Post.

During the first 10 months of this year, the Army kicked out 1,625 soldiers for being out of shape, about 15 times the number discharged for that reason in 2007, the peak of wartime deployment cycles. Under a mandate to reduce the force by tens of thousands in coming years, the Army has instructed commanders to make few exceptions when it comes to fitness, a strategy it also employed during the period after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. “During a war period, when we were ramping up, the physical standards didn’t have a lot of teeth because we needed bodies to go overseas, to fill platoons and brigades,” said Stew Smith, a former Navy SEAL and fitness expert who has designed workout routines for service members and law enforcement personnel struggling to meet workplace fitness standards. “During a period of drawdown, everything starts getting teeth, and that’s kind of where we are again.”

It is not only that soldiers are getting fat after joining the military. Most young people are too fat to enlist.

“Of the 25 percent that could join, what we found was 65 percent could not pass the [physical training] test on the first day,” he said in a recent speech. “Young people joining our service could not run, jump, tumble or roll — the kind of things you would expect soldiers to do if you’re in combat.” Smith, the former Navy SEAL, said the bulk of people struggling with weight issues are simply the product of a generation that has become increasingly sedentary and accustomed to large food portions.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Samuelson: put Social Security on the table

In an op-ed on, the Washington Post's mustachioed columnist, Robert Samuelson, argues compellingly that Social Security benefits need to be included as part of the fiscal cliff discussions.

Protecting retiree benefits is the left's political equivalent of the right's "no new taxes" pledge. Congressional Republicans are abandoning their untenable position. Now it is time for President Obama and congressional Democrats to do the same. As long as they don't, they aren't bargaining in good faith, or in the national interest. ...

He lays out the dollar amounts:
Doubters should ponder the numbers. In fiscal 2012, non-interest federal spending totaled $3.251 trillion. Of that, $762 billion went for Social Security, $469 billion for Medicare (insurance for the 65 and over population) and $251 billion for Medicaid (insurance for the poor -- two-thirds goes for long-term care for the aged and disabled). Altogether, that's 46 percent of non-interest spending. Defense, $651 billion and declining, was 20 percent.

As baby boomers retire and health costs rise, this spending will mount. In 2010, there were 40 million Americans 65 and older. By 2020, that number is projected to be 55 million; by 2030, 72 million. ...

Since Social Security transfers money from the young to the old, Samuelson points out that in many cases that is the poor giving to the rich:

One argument is that most elderly are poor; benefit cuts will further impoverish them. Not so. The Administration on Aging reports that in 2010, 25.9 percent of households headed by someone 65 or older had incomes exceeding $75,000; 19.4 percent had incomes from $50,000 to $74,999; and 18.8 percent had incomes from $35,000 to $49,999. ...

A growing problem is that Social Security taxes no longer cover the present costs of the program:
Finally, it's often said that Social Security -- no one makes this argument for Medicare -- doesn't add to the budget deficit because benefits are still covered by payroll taxes. Again, not true. In 2010, benefits exceeded taxes and are expected to do so indefinitely. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the gap to average 10 percent over the next decade and to be 20 percent by 2030. This bloats deficits. ...

Samuelson wants the changes to Social Security to be equitable:

The trick is to cut retiree benefits while minimizing the impact on the elderly poor. There are ways to do this: changing the benefit inflation-adjustment formula, fully taxing Social Security payments (affecting mostly the affluent elderly), gradually raising eligibility ages. ...