Monday, October 7, 2013

Monday update: got skunks?

GIRLS PLAYING MUSIC--Woot! At left: Underhill Rose at the Albino Skunk Music Festival this weekend.

It was fabulous ALBINO SKUNK weekend, which I have covered before, here and here... as I have complained before, I just keep doing the same things over and over and probably bore everyone to death. Apologies! For this reason, I decided not to blog a buncha festie photos (again), but just link to a couple of good ones on my Flickr page. And I certainly can't forget the greatest antique hippie bus in creation, parked at the festival and used by the kids to play in. Its so beautiful, it can make you cry with nostalgia.

My new Facebook selfie-photo comes from the festival; and I am looking fairly mellow, if glistening with sweat. (Good Lord, why are we STILL BAKING in October? I have also written about the autumn-weather-fakeout I experience every year in the South.) I have noticed when I take photos of myself at special events, my expression inevitably mirrors the emotions of those events. For instance, HERE at Occupy, I look all defiant and pissed, and HERE at the radio station, I look ready to take on all the Republicans you can throw at me... but the radio station Daisy looks nothing like the Daisy at the Spartanburg Music and Arts Festival last month (not a selfie), once again mellow and filled with all kindsa goodvibes.

And in this one, I think you can see how thrilled I am with my granddaughter. We look a great deal alike, so I thought a mirror-image might be fun.

She asked me to braid her hair, to make it look like mine. :)


At left: After Thursday's stellar Occupy the Microphone radio show! You gotta listen! (downloads are always on the radio show blog)

Left to Right -- Efia Nwangaza (Malcolm X Center for Self Determination), Liz Smith Anderson (York County, SC Green Party), Daisy and Double A at WOLI studios, McAlister Square.

Some of our topics:

:: The shutdown of Silk Road website, and the bust of infamous entrepreneur Ross William Ulbricht:
The Silk Road was the Deep Web’s version of an unregulated bazaar, a market for anything deemed unsavory or illegal by the traditional world. There were virtually no restrictions on sales (firearms were allowed for a short period, but later banned), and virtually no check on distribution. A seller from Australia might accept Bitcoins for a shipment of LSD to, say, Brazil. Another might accept a similar shipment as barter for work hacking a specified Facebook account. It was Ulbricht’s dream come to life: a truly free market, one unfettered by the governments whose regulations he so despised. And give him credit, since Ulbricht’s venture reportedly earned him roughly $80 million in commissions, using current Bitcoin values. By the same measure, the Silk Road was the site of more than a billion dollars in illegal transactions, and all shipments went through the conventional mail system.
:: Herman Wallace of the Angola 3 was released after 42 years in solitary confinement. This is thought to be the longest period of continuous solitary confinement on record in the USA. Wallace had cancer and his release was therefore regarded as a "compassionate release".

He passed away three days later.

Efia reported on the campaign for "compassionate release" of Lynne Stewart, who is also suffering from late-stage cancer.

:: We also discussed the continuing government shutdown at some length, and the political compromises/machinations necessary for Obamacare to get passed. And now those very compromises are used by the Republicans who forced them, as reasons to shut down the government.

Bumper sticker: To err is human, to really screw things up, takes a politician.

Our show today included an interview with the legendary John Sinclair. It was great to talk to him, and I want to be sure to link his online radio also.


On the air today, I also mentioned the nasty hit-piece by "60 Minutes", aired last night, attacking disability benefits and presenting right-wing Senator Tom Coburn as a freedom fighter for the people. Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times dissects the propaganda very well, starting with the most obvious fact--they didn't talk to a single person receiving benefits, or a single disability advocate:
Is it possible for a major news organization to produce a story about the Social Security disability program without interviewing a single disabled person or disability advocate?

That's the experiment "60 Minutes" conducted Sunday. The result was predictably ghastly.

The news program's theme was that disability recipients are ripping off the taxpayer. Anchor Steve Kroft called the program "a secret welfare system... ravaged by waste and fraud." His chief source was Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican with a documented hostility to Social Security. Coburn has a report on the disability program's purported flaws due out Monday. Good of "60 Minutes" to give him some free publicity.

Together Kroft and Coburn displayed a rank ignorance about the disability program: how it works, who the beneficiaries are, why it has grown. This is especially shocking because after a similarly overwrought and inaccurate "investigation" of disability aired on National Public Radio in March, numerous experts came forth to set the record straight. They included eight former Social Security commissioners, experienced analysts of the program, even the Social Security Administration's chief actuary, Steve Goss.

"60 Minutes" apparently talked to none of them.

At the top of the segment, Kroft observed that disability now serves "nearly 12 million Americans," up by about 20% in the last six years. Coburn asked, "Where'd all those disabled people come from?"

To begin with, 12 million people aren't collecting disability payments. The number as of the end of 2012 was 10.9 million, comprising 8.8 million disabled workers and about 2 million of their family members, mostly children.

The rolls have grown consistently since 1980, but even though Coburn professes to be dumbfounded why, there's no mystery. As Goss laid out the factors, they include a 41% increase in the total population aged 20-64. Then there's the demographic aging of America, which has increased the prevalence of disability by 38%. (In case Coburn, a physician, hasn't noticed, the older you get, the more vulnerable you are to injury and illness.) Then there's the entry of women into the workforce in large numbers, which has brought many of them under Social Security coverage for the first time.

Finally, there's the economy. When jobs are scarce, more people land on the disability rolls, but that's not about people treating it as an alternative welfare or unemployment program, as "60 Minutes" would have it.

The relationship between disability and unemployment is much more nuanced. As we explained in April, disabled people always have more difficulty finding jobs than others; when desk jobs disappear and all that's left are laborers' positions, the opportunities for the physically and mentally challenged shrink. A good economy allows more disabled persons to find gainful employment and stay off the rolls; in a bad economy that path isn't open.
One thing that unfortunately rings true (highlighted in the piece), is how many disability-lawyers advertise on TV, guaranteeing a positive outcome. I have long noticed that the gist of these commercials is that you have been shafted and you deserve justice, whereas Steve Kroft and (presumably) Senator Coburn just hear these commercials as "Stop working! Get a check!" (Maybe we are watching different commercials?)

One of the interesting things I learned from the piece, is that some doctors are doing quickie exams right in lawyer's offices. And some judges are very friendly with certain of these lawyers, and virtually always rule in their favor. Nah, you don't say?!? The county profiled was in West Virginia; we are to seriously believe that the Old-Bubba-network suddenly surprises Coburn? Its the same system that elected him.

More from Hiltzik:
The most pernicious lie told about the disability program is that it's easy to obtain benefits. "60 Minutes" repeated that lie. The truth is that disability standards are stringent, and they're applied stringently. Two-thirds of all applicants are initially denied, though 10% or so of all applicants win benefits on appeal. All in all, 41% of all applicants end up with checks. Sound easy to you?

"60 Minutes" interviewed two Social Security disability judges, Marilyn Zahm and Randall Frye, who seemed to say that standards are so loose almost anyone can score. That's curious. When they were interviewed in 2009 by Zahm's hometown newspaper, The Buffalo News, they said that standards were too tight -- "Every month, most judges see a case that should have been paid at the first level," Frye said then. (It would be interesting to see the "60 Minutes" outtakes.)

Much of the "60 Minutes" piece was devoted to exposing garden variety scams supposedly perpetrated by shyster disability lawyers, which apparently is Coburn's hobbyhorse. But that's not the true story of Social Security disability. This is a program that serves needy, aging and injured members of the workforce, paying a princely average of $1,130 a month.

The tragedy is that the disability program is underfunded, facing the exhaustion of its resources as soon as 2016. In the past, Congress has routinely remedied this funding crisis by transferring funds from Social Security's old-age program. But it has never acted to properly support the disability fund.

Stories like the "60 minutes" and NPR pieces perpetuate the false image of disability recipients as the undeserving poor, slackers and frauds. That will make it easier for wealthy lawmakers like Coburn to hack away at the program in its time of need.

"60 Minutes" used to stand for rigorous, honest reporting. What's happened to it?
I've been wondering that myself.


tlfk said...

Re: disability program. We hear those same arguments about fraud and scams in unemployment benefits programs and with domestic violence protection orders. "People just trying to game the system for personal benefit". I don't doubt that can and does happen, that any program will have people in it who are just trying to see what they can get away with. But that doesn't mean you necessarily scrap the whole program; it just means you make sure you have better regs and proceses in place to keeps the scams from happening. Because people can and do try to take advantage of ANY system - including elections, corporate subsidies, tax breaks for charitable giving, tax loopholes, govt reimbursements for medical services, mortgage lending, govt defense contracts, etc. There have been instances of fraud in all of these systems, but you rarely hear people saying we need to scrap the WHOLE of these systems.

In NC these days, with our state govt acting like an ATM and delving deep into cronyism, I'm starting to wonder if some of this attitude is just projection on the part the accusers: "I treat the govt like a personal piggy bank, so everyone else must as well".

JoJo said...

Great pic of you and your granddaughter and I do love your FB selfie. :D It got warm/humid yesterday but it's cooled off today. Hope we're done with the humid weather.

The disability's kind of weird. I often wonder how young people in their 20s are getting disability, but my now deceased ex was dying of liver disease and still being refused, even though all his doctors said he couldn't work. He was finally approved about 3 months before he died. Yet my friend's daughter is 28 or 29 and she's permanently disabled with a young son. I don't get it at all.

bryce said...

Jojo's right. no rhyme or reason to who gets it and who doesnt., prob its what kind of lawyer you can get, caseworkers, judge, ect. no doubt some lawyers can 'usher you in' so peeps w/no lawyers get fucked

Gorgeous Gregg said...

It's somewhat similar to food stamps being used to buy caviar. It does happen, but not often. I sometimes wonder if they leave it that way just so those not on benefits will resent those who are on benefits.

I suspect that for some folks there is work they can do, and are likely doing, but we don't see it as work or value it. Caring for children, parents, neighbors etc is work. Moderating a website is work. Handling calls at a suicide hotline is work. If we were willing to broaden what we call work and pay folks to do it we may find fewer folks getting benefits without "earning" them...not for OUR benefit, but because meaningful work is good for the human spirit.

Sevesteen said...

I agree with Cato's analysis of shutting down Silk Road--it will almost certainly increase violence, including against those not involved. I still don't understand conservative drug policy (or respectable liberal drug policy, for that matter) because it seems so obvious that the indirect effects harm non-users far more than the direct affects help anyone.

I wince whenever I hear the phrase "get what you deserve" in a commercial. Entitlement mentality is a huge problem--whatever happened to "Ask not what your country can do for you"? My wife is disabled due to a work related injury. I've heard stories that Social Security refuses most cases without a lawyer. Her disability isn't that severe, and was approved the first attempt, with no lawyer involved. Contingency lawyers are a huge problem--her case was originally a workman's comp case with a lawyer handling that part. He wanted to continue the workman's comp side after she was granted her social security...but couldn't give an explanation of how it would benefit her, given that her SS benefits would be cut by the amount of any Workman's comp award. Pretty obvious he was only concerned with the contingency fee from the Workman's comp side. I don't know if there is any better way to handle these cases though-Contingency seems to be the only way poor people would have any access to lawyers.

One of the problems here is that my wife now CANT work more than a token amount without jeopardizing her benefits. Disability shouldn't be all or nothing--once again, if you are willing to work despite a disability making it more difficult you should be better off--your benefits should only be cut by a fraction of the amount you earn. I think my wife's case is right on the edge of what should be covered--if it was approved so easily while there are lots of rejected cases, it makes me wonder how minor a condition has to be to NOT be covered?

I don't think the news has changed much in its reliability--rather, we now have means to find out how much their reporting is lacking. Every single newsworthy story I've seen where I have inside information gets basic fundamental elements wrong. Everyone I've talked to says the same thing for stories they know about.

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