Friday, January 09, 2015

Another nail in coffin of the antioxidant religion

Are antioxidants a waste of money? Latest study says eating expensive 'superfoods' or taking supplements WON'T help you live longer. That dynamo of research in the area, Beatrice Golomb, will not be surprised. In a recent correspondence with me she said: "Personally, I have never advocated, to anyone, carotenoids, vitamin C, vitamin E as d-alpha tocopherol, or folic acid in supplement form". The only pill that she is favors these days is the recently revived CoEnzyme Q10 -- but see here, here and here for skepticism about that

People who get a lot of antioxidants in their diets, or who take them in supplement form, don't live any longer than those who just eat well overall, according to a long term study of retirees in California.

Antioxidants, including vitamins A, C and E, are plentiful in vegetables and fruits and may help protect against cell or DNA damage.  As a result, they've been touted for cancer prevention, heart disease prevention and even warding off dementia.

'There is good scientific evidence that eating a diet with lots of vegetables and fruits is healthful and lowers risks of certain diseases,' said lead author Annlia Paganini-Hill of the Clinic for Aging Research and Education at the University of California, Irvine.

'However, it is unclear whether this is because of the antioxidants, something else in these foods, other foods in people's diet, or other lifestyle choices,' Paganini-Hill told Reuters Health by email.

Most double-blind randomized clinical trials - the gold standard of medical evidence - have found that antioxidant supplements do not prevent disease, she said.

The researchers used mailed surveys from the 1980's in which almost 14,000 older residents of the Leisure World Laguna Hills retirement community detailed their intake of 56 foods or food groups rich in vitamins A and C as well as their vitamin supplement intake.

With periodic check-ins and repeated surveys, the researchers followed the group for the next 32 years, during which time 13,104 residents died.

When Paganini-Hill's team accounted for smoking, alcohol intake, caffeine consumption, exercise, body mass index, and histories of hypertension, angina, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer, there was no association between the amount of vitamins A or C in the diet or vitamin E supplements and the risk of death.

Participants in the new study were largely white, educated and well-nourished.



The TSA: A Brief Tale

By Abigail Hall

This Christmas I flew out of town with my fiancĂ© to see his family. Since we’d be out of town for several days, I checked a bag with the airline.

We arrived to our destination without any fuss and drove to see his family. As I went to my bag to retrieve some things before bed, I was greeted by a note from the TSA. The paper stated that my bag had been searched as a part of necessary “security” precautions.

Aside from looking like a five-year-old had packed my bag, everything seemed fine (I’m a careful packer—so the fact my folded clothes were left in wads was particularly irritating). Upon further inspection, however, I realized some things were missing from my luggage.

Those things were my underwear.

Now, in the “best” case scenario, either these items were taken out of my bag and accidentally put in someone else’s (that’s awkward) or the person who searched my bag decided fruit of the loom posed a security risk (I always thought those characters from the commercial looked shady). Worst case scenario, some TSA agent stole my underwear.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who has wound up with some missing items at the hands of the TSA. In fact, some 29 TSA employees were fired for theft from Miami’s airport between 2002 and 2011. Over the same period, 27 agents were fired from JFK International. In total, a report on TSA theft obtained through the Freedom of Information Act found that the TSA fired over 400 employees for theft between 2002 and 2011.

The agents tasked with “keeping travelers safe” have gotten their hands on more than passengers’ small trinkets. Former TSA officer Pythias Brown, for example, was convicted of stealing some very expensive items from passengers. He admitted to taking some $800,000 worth of cameras and other items from checked bags.

When discussing his crime, Brown said the TSA had “a culture” of theft. He stated it was easy for TSA employees to take advantage of passengers’ luggage because of lax oversight and tips from their fellow employees. “[Stealing from checked bags] became so easy, I got complacent,” Brown said in an interview.

Brown certainly isn’t the only one. One officer was arrested for stealing some $5,000 in cash from a passenger’s jacket while another made off with a $15,000 watch. While the TSA is quick to point out that the number of thefts by TSA agents represents only a small proportion of their employees (which is true), it may be more commonplace than admitted. After all, it’s not exactly difficult to blame lost items on the general gross incompetence of airlines. The agency also states they have a “zero tolerance” policy for theft.

In spite of this zero tolerance policy, TSA agents have been arrested and convicted for stealing items including iPads, laptops, and a $40,000 piece of luggage.

The problem of theft seems simple enough to address. For example, how about that card put in my suitcase informing me of the “necessary procedure?” One could easily assign a number to each agent and print this number on the tickets placed in passenger suitcases. This would allow complaints to be easily traced to specific agents.

I’ve written elsewhere about problems with the TSA. Not only does the TSA violate your individual liberties every time you fly, it has also failed to catch a single terrorist since it was formed in 2001.

Put simply, the TSA faces poor incentives. The bureaucratic structure of the agency, without having to contend with the profit and loss mechanisms of for profit firms, means the agency must constantly appeal to the government for support.

As opposed to increasing revenues through improving its product and customer service, the TSA obtains more money and personnel by being worse at its job. Why? Poor performance, theft, and other problems means the TSA can say to the larger government, “we perform poorly because we need more resources. We have theft problems, we need more people to supervise, more training, and more resources.”

The result of these incentives is an ever-growing, dysfunctional organization. This agency not only fails to “keep you safe,” but might just steal your underwear.



The Next Detroit

What’s wrong with giving government employees every single dollar they ask for in pensions and benefits?

After having seen the role of out-of-control public employee pensions in helping drive the city of Detroit into bankruptcy, which the city was only just able to exit in November 2014 after the city’s public pensioners finally agreed to cut their overly generous pensions and benefits to levels that are more affordable for the city’s taxpayers, we wondered which local government in the U.S. is most like Detroit in the disconnect it has between the size of its debts and its ability to make good on those liabilities.

We didn’t have to spend much time researching the topic. America’s next Detroit is Illinois. At least, according to The Economist, which being international in scope, directly compares the fiscal state of Illinois with its most similarly dysfunctional European equivalent: Greece....

Illinois is like Greece in one obvious way: it overpromised and underdelivered on pensions and has little appetite for dealing with the problem, says Hal Weitzman of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. This large Midwestern state, with a population of 13m (Greece has 11m, though a far smaller GDP than Illinois), has the most underfunded retirement system of any state and the largest pension burden relative to state revenue. It also has the highest number of public-pension funds close to insolvency, such as the one looking after Chicago’s police and firemen. According to the Civic Federation, a budget watchdog, Illinois has piled up a whopping $111 billion in unfunded pension liabilities (see chart), in addition to $56 billion in debt for health benefits for pensioners. The state devotes one in four of its tax dollars to pensions, which is more than it spends on primary and secondary education.

Mainly as a result of this gargantuan pension debt, Illinois’s bond rating is the lowest of all the states, which means dramatically higher borrowing costs. When the state government failed to address pension underfunding in its budget for 2014, two credit-rating agencies, Fitch and Moody’s, cut the state’s bond rating, which in Moody’s case put Illinois on a par with Botswana. (An incensed editorial in the Chicago Tribune asked what Botswana had done to be so insulted.)

The main reason for the pension debacle is decades of underfunding. “Everything was always done with a short-term view,” says Laurence Msall, head of the Civic Federation. “Unique to Illinois is the idea that you don’t have to pay for pensions and you don’t have to follow actuarial recommendations.”

Unlike Detroit, however, Illinois has an extra barrier that is preventing desperately needed reforms for making its public employee pensions sustainable by reducing promised pension payments and benefits to affordable levels: the State of Illinois’ Constitution.

Here, the state’s top law prevents lawmakers from even being able to address its worsening public employee pension crisis by diminishing or impairing pension benefits to retired government employees at all. The state’s only way out is a “long shot” attempt to amend its Constitution, but that would require that the people responsible for creating the crisis in the first place, public employee unions and the large number of officials they helped put into power, go against their own greedy interests in favor of the public’s best interest.

Unfortunately, with such a stacked deck, it’s in their greedy interest to push Illinois to the very edge of insolvency. And all indications are that they will fight reform rather than give up their guaranteed gravy train.

That’s the sort of thing that doesn’t even fly in communist China, which has implemented real public employee pension reforms to meet the public’s interest! If only Illinois’ elected officials would show similar public spirit.



Jonathan Gruber: No Obamacare Subsidies in States That Don't Set Up Exchanges

In this new year, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear another challenge to the Affordable Care Act. And this time, Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber's own words may help the people who are challenging a key provision of the law.

In petitioning the Supreme Court to take their case, the plaintiffs quoted Gruber, who said in 2012: "[I]f you're a state and you don’t set up an Exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits. … I hope that’s a blatant enough political reality that states will get their act together and realize there are billions of dollars at stake here in setting up these Exchanges, and that they’ll do it.”

The problem arose when only 14 states took federal money to set up their own exchanges.

So the question before the Supreme Court is this: How can people in states with federally-run exchanges get tax-credit subsidies? The law says they can't; but the IRS, by regulation, said they can.

In their request for Supreme Court review, the petitioners noted that the Affordable Care Act authorizes federal tax credit subsidies for health insurance coverage that is purchased through an “Exchange established by the State."

“Congress did not expect the states to turn down federal funds and fail to create and run their own Exchanges,” the petition says. "Accordingly, for example, Congress did not appropriate any funds in the ACA for HHS to build Exchanges, even as it appropriated unlimited funds to help states establish theirs...Indeed, ACA proponents emphasized that '[a]ll the health insurance exchanges … are run by states,' to rebut charges that the Act was a federal 'takeover.'"

The petition continues: "Notwithstanding the ACA’s text and purpose, the IRS in 2011 proposed, and in 2012 promulgated, regulations requiring the Treasury to grant subsidies for coverage purchases through all Exchanges -- not only those established by states...but also those established by HHS."

Gruber's own words, therefore, appear to be central to the petitioners' case.

Repeating what he said in 2012: "[I]f you're a state and you don’t set up an Exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits. … I hope that’s a blatant enough political reality that states will get their act together and realize there are billions of dollars at stake here in setting up these Exchanges, and that they’ll do it.”

Under Obamacare, subsidies (or tax credits) are an essential part of "affordable" health insurance coverage. Without them, most people wouldn't be able to afford the health insurance they are now required by law to purchase (or else pay a fine).

On Dec. 30, the Department of Health and Human Services reported that 87 percent of people who selected 2015 plans through the federal exchange in first month of open enrollment were getting subsidies to lower their monthly premiums. That compares with the 80 percent of enrollees who purchased plans on the federal exchange in the same period last year.

According to SCOTUSblog, oral arguments in the case King V. Burwell are scheduled for Mar 4, 2015.



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1 comment:

C. S. P. Schofield said...

The problem with the TSA is brutally simple; it was created to satisfy a public demand for action where no action was necessary, or desirable. As a couple of incidents have demonstrated since, after 9/11 any would-be hijacker who tried to take over a plane would be dog-piled and then stuffed in the overhead luggage compartment in somewhat used condition. Bush created the TSA to satisfy the demand the "Something" be done. He had no expectation that it would be useful, and paid it no attention because he was busy on things that mattered.

Consequently the TSA was created to be street theatre, a security pantomime. It was rightly sen by the rest of the government as a useless waste of funds, and was a dumping ground for Government Service employees who were viewed as liabilities. The inept. The stupidly corrupt. The empire-builders.