Tuesday, May 18, 2010

In the pocket of Big Coffee?

Via ScienceDaily I became aware of this special supplement of Journal of Alzheimer's Disease

Therapeutic Opportunities for Caffeine in Alzheimer's Disease and Other Neurodegenerative Disorders

The special issue focuses only on the effects of caffeine on the brain, more specifically on caffeine's effect on Alzheimer and similar ailments.

What's interesting is that the issue, and the conference which lead to it, was funded by Associação Industrial e Comercial do Café - "Big Coffee" if you will. However, while the association has funded the conference and issue, they have not in any way tried to influence the research, and everyone has been entirely above board about the funding.

This is a very good way to deal with these things. Obviously, it is in the interest of the association to find any, especially positive, effects which caffeine might have, so it makes sense for them to fund this research. Yet, in order to reduce doubts about bias, everybody involved have been entirely open about the source of funding. Many other scientists and interest organizations could learn from this.

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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Ineptitude with numbers

Quite frequently, one comes across comments which clearly demonstrates that a person hasn't got a grasp of the numbers involved, and today I came across one such comment.

It was in the comments to a NY Times Op-ed on taxes, and it stated the following

If the United States had a Value Added Tax of 22-25 percent on consumption, we could eliminate the personal and corporate incomes taxes altogether. We would not need to send tax forms on April 15 because all the money would have been collected as we purchased goods and services. And if we were frugal in our consumption, then all the money we did not spend would be ours. Plus, we could design such as system, as dozens of other nations have, so that the VAT on essentials such as food and medicine and housing would be low and thus socially equitable. Not only would we have low administrative costs for such a system, it would be very difficult for cheats to avoid payments, as they so easily do now. Finally, it would generate more than enough money to balance our federal budget. Too bad, that so many special interests have so many loopholes and fight so hard to keep this antiquated, corrupt, inefficient and inequitable approach to taxes -- and our elected representatives capitulate to them.


I found this comment quite amusing for several reasons, and pretty damn annoying for a much more simple reason.

First of all, the annoying part - taxation through consumption is an unfair way of taxation, since it hits the poor disproportionally hard. Rich people use less of their money on consumption than poor people, and for people who live below the poverty line (13.2% in 2008) and shift from income taxes, where they don't pay anything, to a consumption based tax, would mean a decrease in their coverage of their basic needs.

And now for why I find it amusing.

I live in a country which not only has a much higher income tax than the US (it's not possible for an American to reach the tax rate I pay for my last earned money), but it also has a sales tax of 25%. Many goods, such as cars, electricity, and water, have additional taxes on them (e.g. cars have approximately 200% taxes on top of their price).

Out of the 800 billion kroner paid through taxes of all sorts, 491 billion kroner came from income taxes and 40 billion kroner came from corporate income taxes, while only 168 billion came from the 25% sales tax (called moms in Denmark). All number are from Danmarks Statistik.

As these numbers make clear, a 25% sales tax would be nowhere near compensating for removing income taxes and corporate taxes. Not in Denmark, and not in the US, even when one take into consideration that Danes pay more in taxes than Americans.

According to this website the income taxes collected in the US in 2008 was $2.3 trillion. The corporate taxes were $354 billion. Altogether, $2.7 trillion or so.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics conducts a Consumer Expenditure Survey (.pdf) which we can use to find the US consumption. The 2008 survey found that there are ~121 million consumer units in the US, each of which, on average uses $50,486 per year. Multiplying these two numbers gives us a total consumption of ~$6.1 trillion. If we assumed that people had paid 25% sales tax of this consumption, this would result in ~$1.5 trillion - a shortfall in the region of $1.2 trillion compared to the current tax income from income taxes and corporate taxes alone.

Even if all the money saved from not paying taxes would be added to the consumption (an unlikely case, as muchof it would be invested), the idea would still call short - the sales taxes this would generate would only amount to $675 billion, bringing the total up to ~$2.2 trillion, still half a trillion short.

And then we haven't even addressed the deficit, which this new taxation should somehow also solve.

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Health Care Reform: The Morning After

Note: This is a first for this blog. A guest post by someone else. Generally speaking, this is not something I plan on happening a lot, but when Barbara asked me if I was interested, I found the post interesting enough, but also relevant to the subjects I normally touch on on this blog.

Many politicians and pundits warned us that the health care reform (HCR) legislation that just became law will destroy America. Government bureaucrats will take over health care decisions, we were told. The old and infirm would be hauled away by death panels. Everything about the way we receive our medical care will change, and change drastically, they said.

Medicare recipients have been frightened by stories that their benefits will be cut. Middle-age people are worried they will lose their jobs when the law’s dreaded regulations, or taxes, or maybe regulations with taxes, would destroy their employers’ businesses.

The truth is, very little will change for most people. If you were insured by employee benefits before HCR, you will be insured by exactly the same policy in exactly the same way after HCR. You will have access to the same doctors on the same terms. “Government bureaucrats” will no more be involved in your health care than they were before.

And the same is true of Medicare, which of course is a government program, although many of the people who opposed the HCR bill don’t seem to know that.

Here are the “cataclysmic” changes to health care that are now in effect, or which will go into effect within the next six months for people who are already in group insurance plans:

  • The law says you can’t lose your insurance coverage because you get sick. Before, in many states, if you were stricken with a severe illness such as mesothelioma cancer that would be expensive to treat, your insurer could use just about any excuse to cancel your coverage. That is over.

  • HCR has ended lifetime limits on coverage. As long as you are receiving medical care, your insurer pays the bills.

  • Your children can be covered on your existing policy until they are 26 years old.

  • In six months, insurers cannot refuse to insure people under the age of 19 because of “pre-existing conditions.” This provision will go into effect for everyone in 2014.

And if you are on Medicare, you will be asked to struggle with the following:

  • You get a free annual checkup.

  • The co-pays and deductibles on many preventive care services are eliminated.

  • If you are in the Medicare D “doughnut hole,” you will get a $250 rebate check in a few weeks. The hole itself will be closed gradually and will be gone by 2020.

But what about all those terrible regulations and taxes that are about to drive businesses out of business? Um, there really isn’t much to report. Oh, wait, here’s one — a 10 percent tax on indoor tanning services that use ultraviolet lamps will go into effect July 1. That’s about it.

However, beginning this year a tax credit will be available for some small businesses to help provide insurance coverage for employees.

Soon the politicians and pundits will start trying to frighten you about the provisions that will go into effect after this year. I assure you they are about as scary as the provisions that go into effect this year, but I will discuss them in a follow-up post.

Barbara O’Brien
Barbara O'Brien is a popular blogging advocate and left wing blogger who writes the blog Mahablog. O'Brien is a strong advocate of blogging as a means of giving the public power in the media, as well as opposing the Iraq war. She has a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri

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Catching up

The last couple of weeks have been quite busy, so my blogging has been non-existing, and there is therefore a bit of catching up to do.

First of all, my sitemeter counter passed 100,000 hits earlier this month. That's nearly 100 visits per day for the little over 3 years the blog has existed. On top of that, one should add the many people who read my blog through feed-readers (approximately 150, as far as I can see from feedburner). While fairly modest by blog-standards, it much better than I would have expected when I started out blogging.

And then to something completely different - there is a group called Fresh Air Fund, which works on giving kids from the worst areas of New York access to fresh air. For this purpose, they need host families - if you live in the suburbs or small town communities, please consider signing up at the Fresh Air Fund Host website.

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Saturday, May 01, 2010

Make a decision before it's too late

There are certain decisions which will only come into effect after it's too late for you to choose. One of them is the decision whether your organs can be used after you're dead. This means that the decision is left to the grieving relatives, who are forced to face the issue just after their loved one has passed away.

This is a horrible situation to put them in.

Fortunately, many countries allows you to make the decision up front, stating whether you want your organs to be used or not, in case something happens to you.

In Denmark, this can be done through the website tagstilling.nu. Here you can enter your decision, and even indicate whether you want your relatives to be asked or not.

If you live in Denmark, I would ask you, if you haven't already done so, to think about the issue, and then register your choice. I am on the side of donating organs, but I accept that others don't feel the same way. But regardless of where you fall, please make a decision, and register it. It's important.

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