Thursday, September 29, 2011

AARP story on a "hair test" and heart disease opens a Pandora's Box (with me, at least)

The AARP has been reporting a number of factors that are predictive of heart disease.  Perhaps the AARP laid an egg, or at least started something, with me at least, on a story today. Here goes.

Apparently elevated cortisol levels in (scalp?) hair can be predictive of future heart disease, according to one study, probably in both men and women. The AARP link ("What your hair says about your heart") is (website url) here. Now hear this: The study doesn’t go into whether loss of extremity hair (especially the lower legs) in early middle age is predictive of heart disease, but it makes sense that it could be related to poor circulation, possible (adult-onset) diabetes (and sometimes cigarette smoking), and  this cosmetic embarrassment could become moderately predictive of future heart artery blockages.  Check this "Health Boards" link.    Peter Benchley actually mentioned this problem in his novel “Jaws” and attributed it to constant chafing of clothing and socks [on his policeman lead character]; on wonders about all the “results” on men from long stockings and garters of IBM’s and EDS’s dress codes in the 60s.  Maybe socklessness is a good thing.   And maybe early male pattern baldness (of the scalp) is slightly predictive of later balding legs, and maybe (below) slightly increased prostate cancer risk.  I’d hate to take an interim job that required wearing of shorts  (letter carrier?); and maybe that 60+ lifeguard who got fired from a job on Long Island (NBC story) for his “modesty” was on to something.   I recall Dr. Phil's term for all of this, "tissue death". As I write (or type) this, I remember another controversy: hair tests for drug use, that sometimes life insurance companies require. 

AARP also links to a story about “Type D Personalities” (distressed, but not necessarily depressed) as having elevated risks, outside of the normal measures of cholesterol and weight.  CNN has been reporting that the size of cholesterol particles is predictive, since larger particles don’t stick to artery walls and create blockages.

AARP also supported a study, published in Human Reproduction (main link) which apparently finds that men who have been fathers are less likely to die of heart attacks at a particular age, but the cause is not clear-cut.  Apparently fatherhood helps, regardless of marriage, so childlessness could be related to other genetic markers that increase heart disease.   Other studies have found that fatherhood in marriage (with childcare responsibilities) actually lower testosterone levels in men.  (Could that mean that non-father gay men have higher testosterone than married fathers? Good question.  How would having childcare responsibilities in a two-dad family with adopted children affect testosterone?)

We don’t like to admit it, but lower testosterone levels later in life in men could be somewhat protective against prostate cancer, at least the more aggressive forms of it.  So the old Army joke (in my case, at least, in 1969), “you’re losing hormones”, may have a twist.

AARP opened a "Pandora's Box", at least with me, on this story, Maybe this sidebar belongs in Richard Kelly's film "The Box". 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Seniors become "foster grandparents" to job corps students in Washington DC (CNN)

A jobs center in Washington DC is using informal “foster grandparents”, who receive commuting allowance and possibly a small stipend, to help train unemployed youth and even young adults (including college graduates), in a CNN report by Athena Jones broadcast Saturday.

The example shown here was a cooking class.

The report covered Jobs Corps center where youth actually live as residents. 

Picture:  a restaurant in downtown DC that closed.  With the amount of demand in downtown, when will someone else move in and start a business? 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Maryland professor explains why Social Security is a Ponzi Scheme; Obama's plan to means test Medicare would start in 2017

Peter Morici, professor at the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business, has an op-ed on p 19 of the Baltimore Sun Thursday, “Yes, Social Security is a Ponzi Scheme”, link here

It’s a Ponzi scheme because the original beneficiaries never contributed anything for their benefits, back in the 1930s. The system has always depended on more workers to support the mechanism. Because of much longer life spans and fewer kids, it can’t sustain itself.

But privatization, as a defense against possible “expropriation”, isn’t an adequate answer.

Morici gives several reasons, the most interesting is which the original benefits for which beneficiaries made no contributions would need to be recovered, which means that members of future generations must somehow be “stiffed”, whatever the scheme.  

He also says that private investments generally don’t work out that well for “ordinary people”.

He says there is no choice but to raise the retirement age, to about 70 at least, and stop companies from pushing people into early retirement.  (That’s what happened with me in 2001, at age 58.).

I have insisted that Social Security retirement benefits generally behave like an annuity, where the accumulated lifetime  FICA taxes (including self, spouse, and employer) are used to calculate a benefit, in a tiered fashion, however (and subject to other restrictions such as a minimum of 40 covered quarters). 

Yahoo! reproduced a Market Watch article today on the likely course of Obama’s plans for Medicare changes.  A moderate version of means testing would apparently start in 2017, for new retirees, and would particularly affect Medicare Supplemental  (Medigap) and Part D premiums and deductibles, link here

Monday, September 19, 2011

Is means testing FICA-based Social Security a form of "expropriation"?

Here’s a wrinkle in thinking about any future means testing and Social Security.

If you don’t pay social security benefits to someone who paid the actuarially necessary amounts into FICA (including spousal and employer contributions) because of his/her current salary or accumulated (or even inherited) assets, you’ve basically committed expropriation.  If you repudiate a debt, that’s expropriation, too. 
The radical Left used to talk about repudiation and expropriation as tools of “revolution”.

Moderate tax increases, especially related to ability to pay, related to a need to reduce debt or build public infrastructure, is not “expropriation”, even though some radical members of the Tea Party might see it that way.  Making sure that the “rich” pay at least at the same rate as the middle class is not expropriation.

The concept is hard to define, but I know it when I see it. 


There are reports mid-day Monday that President Obama is proposing "means-testing Medicare". The best I can find is on p 35 of a WhiteHouse report where it is proposed that, by 2017, wealthier seniors pay more and receive fewer benefits for some Medicare services, and accept incentives for less "knee-jerk" treatments, link here.

Monday, September 12, 2011

NY Time columnist reviews situation on estate taxes, slowness of IRS in releasing forms; Bill Gates SR argues FOR estate tax

On Saturday, Sept. 10, Paul Sullivan wrote a recap of the inheritance tax situation in his “Wealth Matters” column of the New York Times, Personal Business, p. B5, “In agreement on estate taxes, even more complications,” link here.  

When someone passes in 2011 or 2012, the agreement exempts the first $5 million in assets per person. In 2010, it’s very complicated, there is a “Hobson’s Choice”, and the IRS doesn’t even have all the paperwork available yet to make the choice. It appears as though heirs can opt out of the estate tax but later face a liability basis calculation based on original value, not on date of death.

The AICPA, American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) has an information page here for CPA's. 

It’s interesting that the Left has not been more vocal about “inherited wealth” this time around, given the debate on the budget crisis. 

Here, on this video, Bill Gates Sr,. interviewed by his famous son, argues for the estate tax. He says, "We have a situation where there is no estate tax".  The interview was conducted mid 2010, before the Dec. 2010 agreement. 

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Seniors hobbled by debt, especially lower home values

The Wall Street Journal today has an important subscriber article “Debt Hobbles Older Americans”, by E.S. Browning, link here
The single biggest problem for many seniors is their upsidedown mortgages, or at least lower home values, that would hinder getting effective reverse mortgages.

And far too many seniors are withdrawing  401(k)’s too early and paying penalties.  And their kids could wind up on the hook.

Here’s another wrinkle. Sometimes older Americans do inherit houses as parts of trusts from even older parents.  But as long as a house remains in a trust, you can’t take out a reverse mortgage. You have to sell it in a bad market and live in something else.

I still think that the “free market” can do a much better job of building more CCRC’s. I would think Trump would get into the business.  Maybe this would be a good job for the next “Apprentice.”

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Rhode Island may cut pension amounts for existing retirees

Michael Fletcher has a front page story in the Washington Post about pensions in Rhode Island, where problems are in the whole state and not just Central Falls (July 20). The print title is “Strapped Rhode Island May Take Ax to Pensions”, link here. The story discusses the town of Cranston at length. 

State officials may actually reduce the amount of public employee pensions, as well as move some of it to 401(k)’s.

Over time, will we see more public employee pension promises broken, as our system just can’t sustain them? 

Virginia and Maryland have cut defined benefit pensions to new hires while keeping them for existing retirees. 

States have tended to depend on overstatement of investment income for pension funds, which is also unsustainable, given US and European debt. 

This is the real beginning of the "pension tsunami".

Monday, September 05, 2011

NBC Today finance host talks about financial responsibility for parents

Their children will not only be concerned with their own student debt; they are likely to be saddled with enormous bills taking care of their parents as people live longer, she warned.

She didn’t mention filial responsibility laws, in effect in about 28 states, specifically.  She got into a discussion of premature IRA withdrawals (before age 59-1/2) and suggested that could burden kids with eldercare bills later.

She suggested that family adopt prepaid debit cards for use of a whole family, and that families learn they are in the same boat together.

Her blog is here.

Upon further review, it looks as though the speaker was in fact Manisha Thakor, with her comments about saying for both kids' college and your own retirement here:

Saturday, September 03, 2011

On longevity and lifestyle-associated diseases with aging, it's time for tough love

Having stopped a part-time job (IT jobs blog, Aug. 29), I probably will spend more effort soon on medical matters, including the ruthless colonoscopy and followup on a PSA antigen test.  I can imagine, because of some heart  arrhythmia, being shaved for a Holter Monitor.   (The preps for the stress test, which I probably wouldn’t pass, are bad enough.) No thank you.

And, at 68, I have to be braced for the idea I could get “bad news”.  So, yes, I need to get some other affairs in order.  I do know that if my life were to end violently, because of aggression from others (as in a terrorist attack), I might have different intentions as to what I want.  Sometimes there are lessons to be learned; some  things have permanent consequences.

I also believe that with some seniors, in terms of medical care, “less is more”.  Some people might remain productive and active much longer than medical “experts” predict, with little treatment in the way of chemotherapy or potentially mutilative surgery.   One trouble with today’s Medicare system (whatever all the talk about means testing) is that doctors have every incentive to over-treat, and it can be difficult to get them to stop at exactly what you want and have faith will be acceptable.

I’m finishing up the reading of Albert Brooks’s “2030”, which I will review soon on the Books blog, but his point that our society cannot afford infinite longevity (without generational warfare) is obvious.  Consider the lifestyle we live.  Growing children need proteins and fats, and having enough food has been a valid concern in the past (and still is in most parts of the world). But our high fat diet reasonably allows most people to make it only to their 70s (or maybe early 80s) at best without major medical interventions.  We used to accept that.  (We didn’t even bother people to purge out for colon screenings.)  During the last months, an unmarried family member stayed home with the elderly parent, who usually did not expect to live long.  There was no moral controversy. But now we can try to keep people going for 15 or 20 more years with bypasses and transplants, the last years of which will get bad anyway.  And the diseases, mostly coronary artery disease and Type Ii diabetes and many cancers, have been brought on largely by behavior and excess food consumption.  If people want thirty more years and to live regularly to 100 or more, they will have to switch over to all vegetarian diets in early adulthood.  And exercise more. In moral terms, it’s that simple.  (See TV blog, “The Last Heart Attack”, Aug. 28.)

Wikipedia attribution link for Holter Monitor picture. 

Update: Sept. 13

Check Sandra Boodman's story in the Washington Post, "Seniors get more medical tests than are good for them, experts say", link