Monday, February 27, 2023

Five Facts About Social Security Most Americans Probably Didn't Know


Now, with the Social Security program back in the spotlight, with Reeps promising to address mammoth deficits in other ways, there are certain facts about the system that most Americans don't know.  

These include:

- Receiving Social Security is not a right under the Constitution, or in U.S. law evidently.   As difficult as this might be to believe (even for modern Social Security recipients) the government website itself  ( makes it clear:

There has been a temptation throughout the program's history for some people to suppose that their FICA payroll taxes entitle them to a benefit in a legal, contractual sense. That is to say, if a person makes FICA contributions over a number of years, Congress cannot, according to this reasoning, change the rules in such a way that deprives a contributor of a promised future benefit. Under this reasoning, benefits under Social Security could probably only be increased, never decreased, if the Act could be amended at all. Congress clearly had no such limitation in mind when crafting the law. Section 1104 of the 1935 Act, entitled "RESERVATION OF POWER," specifically said: "The right to alter, amend, or repeal any provision of this Act is hereby reserved to the Congress." Even so, some have thought that this reservation was in some way unconstitutional. This is the issue finally settled by Flemming v. Nestor.

In this 1960 Supreme Court decision Nestor's denial of benefits was upheld even though he had contributed to the program for 19 years and was already receiving benefits. Under a 1954 law, Social Security benefits were denied to persons deported for, among other things, having been a member of the Communist party. Accordingly, Mr. Nestor's benefits were terminated. He appealed the termination arguing, among other claims, that promised Social Security benefits were a contract and that Congress could not renege on that contract. In its ruling, the Court rejected this argument and established the principle that entitlement to Social Security benefits is not a contractual right.

- Millionaires are exempt from paying payroll taxes but still collect Social Security benefits.

Yes, it is indeed true. The "payroll cap" actually prevents billions of additional dollars from flowing into the Social Security Trust Fund. That cap is currently set at $160,200 which means anyone earning at least $1 million a year automatically stops paying into Social Security once that tax threshold is reached. That threshold will be attained this year at barely 7 weeks into the year according to the National Committee to Protect Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM)   

-  The Social Security Trust Fund Is Real:

 The Social Security Trust Fund is based on real bonds, not merely "IOUs", as the Right wing media continuously seeks to portray. Never mind the types of bonds in which the Trust Fund is invested are not the same as bonds traded on Wall Street.  Why would they be when the idea is to preserve capital for future outlays not reduce it if bond yields go south?   

As my Swiss friend Rolf made clear in 2010 after then Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill claimed the Social Security Trust Funds contained no real money:

"If they let that happen to their own people, what's stopping them from doing it to foreign bond holders? Nothing! What kind of demonstration is that of full faith and credit? None! At least here in Switzerland we believe it a terrible omen and message to send the international bond community. If you renege on your own people, you can certainly do it to us. So why should we not cash in our bonds when the Social Security betrayal of American citizens arrives?"

What follows would be a mass withdrawal from all previously held securities, including all T-bonds now held by the Chinese and Japanese.  Splitting hairs about bond definitions and realities is therefore  a fool's errand because in the end no foreign investor will buy it. He accepts at face value all bonds (including those underlying Social Security) have the full faith and credit of the U.S. government behind them.  If they don't, or one set is reneged upon, then the promise means nothing.

Social Security Benefits Are Subject To Taxation- And It's Not Adjusted For Inflation:

In 1983 Congress voted to start taxing Social Security benefits, again reinforcing the 'reservation of power' concept - see top fact. It established $25,000 as a taxable target (for adjusted gross income or AGI)  plus half of the taxpayer's annual benefit as the first threshold, i.e. requiring income tax payment on 50 percent of the benefit.  In 1993 Congress added a second threshold:  $34,000 of which S.S. recipients would pay tax on 85 % of the benefit.  Unlike other components of the program (e.g. COLA)  these tax thresholds were never linked to inflation and remain the same as the earliest threshold imposed in 1983.  This means that an ever increasing share of benefits is being snatched away - or one might say, "clawed back" by the government. 

- Social Security benefits will be cut 25% by 2033 unless the Payroll Tax Cap is increased or eliminated

Yes, you read that right.  Unless a major infusions occurs, the program's Trust Fund will become unable to pay out the same benefits by 2033-34 necessitating a 25% cut in benefits. But this is not the same as being 'insolvent' as the corporate media nabobs are wont to screech.  Organizations and people can become insolvent and perhaps file for bankruptcy if their debt is excessive.  But the government doesn’t have this same peril because Social Security has no EXTERNAL "collectors". It is in fact the government that OWES Social Security not the other way around. This is because of multiple years of dinging the Trust Fund to pay for other budget items, like military.

 The most efficient, direct way to avoid that insufficient payout calamity would be to increase the payroll tax cap or eliminate it entirely.  (That would also partially correct for all the money taken out.) Besides, it's already been done for Medicare, back in 1994, so it's not engraved in stone.  In fact, a bill introduced in the Senate on February 13th by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren is designed to do just that.  And in the process extend the benefits by an additional 75 years.

See Also:

by Richard Eskow | March 1, 2023 - 7:09am | permalink


Like they used to say in the old neighborhood, some things ain't complicated. If your senator or representative won't tax the wealthy to protect and expand Social Security, then they care more about America's 728 billionaires than they do about the 66 million children, disabled, and older people currently receiving benefits—or the many millions that will follow them. They don't deserve to stay in office if they can't represent their own people.

Social Security is a vast, highly successful program. That makes it sound complicated. It's not. It was built on simple moral and operational principles.


by David Badash | February 9, 2023 - 8:12am | permalink

— from The New Civil Rights Movement


Many across the nation were likely horrified but not surprised Tuesday night when Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), and several other House and Senate Republicans lashed out at President Joe Biden as he delivered the State of the Union Address, falsely branding him a “liar” for telling the truth: The GOP has consistently called to gut, sunset, or otherwise dramatically alter or dismantle the critical, life-saving social safety nets of Social Security and Medicare.

But it’s no secret Republicans for years, including recently, have wanted to take an ax to these programs, and other “entitlements,” despite proof they literally save lives.


by Linda Benesch | February 26, 2023 - 6:33am | permalink

Is your salary less than $160,200? If so, you’re among the 94 percent of American workers who pay into Social Security all year long. But there’s a privileged group that’s about to stop paying into Social Security for the rest of 2023: People who make $1,000,000 a year. Their last day of contributing to Social Security is February 28.


A Good Question: Why Are Social Spending Bills Cost - Scored By The CBO - But Not "Defense" Spending?

Solutions To Fractional Gamma Function Problems

 1. G(x + 1) = x G (x)


G (3/2) = G ( ½ +  1) = ½ G (½) =  Öp/2

2.   G (-0.70) = ?

Use:  G(x) = G(x + 1) = x G (x)

so that: G (-0.70) = G (-0.70 + 1) =  -0.70 G (-0.70)

Rewrite this as:  

G (-0.70)  =  G (-0.70 + 1) /  - 0.70  = G (0.30)/ - 0.70


G (0.30) = 2.992   

so  G (0.30) / - 0.70 = 2.992/ -0.70 = -4.274

  3.  We use the form:
G (n + ½) = (2n - 1)! (p)1/2 / 2n n!

To find:   G (3/2)

Here: n = 1,  i.e. form is (½ + 1)= 3/2,  so that:

(2n - 1)! (p)1/2 / 2n n!   =  (1) (p)1/2  / 2 1!    =  (p)1/2  / 2  =    Öp/2

Which is the same answer as (1) obtained in a different way.

4.   G (5/2)  G ( 3/2 +  1) = 3/2  G (3/2)  

(Since G(x + 1) = x G (x)  )

And we know:

G (3/2) =  Öp/2


G (5/2)  =  3/2   (Öp/2)  =   3Öp/ 4

Friday, February 24, 2023

Citizens of Democracies Suffer From More Mental Illness Than Those In Authoritarian nations - According to Boston Univ. Prof


In her striking essay, The West’s Struggle for Mental Health, Lisa Greenfeld, Boston University Political Science & Sociology Professor writes:

The epidemic rates of mental illness, even if taken at the 2007 measurement of incidence among adults aged 18 to 54 as 20%, means that 1 in 5 American adults at any point in time are likely to be irrational. That is, their judgments would be erroneous and subjective, reflecting their psychological condition and not objective reality. If we consider the current rates among college students, or tomorrow’s elite, we might expect judgments about economic, military, political or social matters by 2 out of every 5 American decision makers soon to become unreliable.

This is nothing short of appalling and means we soon may not be able to trust the judgments. as well as long term (and short term) decisions of a large swath of Americans. Surely, if "2 out of 5 American decision makers soon become unreliable".  What gives?  What is the agent or source of this crackup?   

In Prof. Greenfeld's take, such mental dislocation is a primary feature of liberal democracies in which equality and personal determination and choice are highly valued.  By contrast, such problems seldom arise in authoritarian countries because personal choice is circumscribed.  As she writes:

"The more a society is dedicated to the value of equality and the more choices it offers for individual self-determination, the higher its rates of functional mental illness. These rates increase in parallel with the increase in the available occupational, geographical, religious, gender and lifestyle- related choices."


"Equality inevitably makes self-definition a matter of one’s own choice, and the formation of personal identity— necessary for mental health—becomes personal responsibility, a burden some people can’t shoulder. A relatively high rate of functional mental illness, expressing itself centrally in dissatisfaction with self and, therefore, social maladjustment, thus must be expected in democracies."

But is this necessarily so or is it a psycho-babble copout?  Even if by accident one WSJ op-ed contributor( Vivek Ramaswamy)  may have hit on the core source of the issue (Feb. 22, p. A15):

"America is in the midst of a national identity crisis. We hunger for purpose at a moment when faith, patriotism and hard work are on the decline. We embrace secular religions like climatism, Covidism and gender ideology to satisfy our need for meaning, yet we can’t answer what it means to be an American."

But just as effectively trashes his point in the next line:

"The Republican Party’s top priority should be to fill this void with an inspiring national identity that dilutes the woke agenda to irrelevance."

No, No and NO!  That is exactly the wrong approach because we know the GOP is already compromised as a totally irrational cult of paper patriots and actual traitors, election deniers - who are as far from solving our real national problems as Earth is distant from Pluto.   The solution isn't to flee from wokeness but to embrace and enhance it in the tradition author Charles Reich first argued in his book, The Greening of America.  

Reich envisioned the path past false consciousness to entail evolution  through three stages he called "Consciousness I,  Consciousness II, and Consciousness III".  

Consciousness I identified with the nation’s early self-reliance;

Consciousness II  associated with the conformism of the New Deal era; and Consciousness III marked an unshackling from the stifling moral constraints of the 1950s, focusing on spiritual fulfillment. In today's context that fulfillment - independent of religious affiliation- would have recognized Trump's total lack of any moral compass and hence his unfitness as a leader. Certainly not one to be kowtowed to as most of the GOP has done.  (Witness Kevin McCarthy’s revisionism in certain January 6th insurrection videos then making them available to the most shameless liar on the planet – next to Trump: Tucker Carlson.  Then pundits wonder why so many Americans turn to opioids and other drugs to escape finding their authentic selves.

Enter now Charles Reich and his description (op. cit, p. 392) of the unaware or 'unwoke' in the 1960s, which matches the millions in the same boat today under the throes of Trumpism and GOP- FOXite propaganda, lies:  

"He is unable to understand his society, unable to vote in a responsible way, unable to communicate with his own children or to understand their culture. He is allowed to become human wreckage because his mind stopped growing while all the elements around him moved ahead."   

Should this forlorn unwoke citizen be allowed to just flounder and fiddle through his life, misfiring on all cylinders-   never enhancing or improving his lot, or his nation's?  Worse, deforming and defiling the remaining democratic edifice for those citizens who are woke,  via Thomas Jefferson's immortal words in his 'Notes on Virginia'?:

"Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves therefore are its only safe depositories. AND TO RENDER THEM SAFE, THEIR MINDS MUST BE IMPROVED."

I submit here we have the core answer - and inherent solution - to the tragic level of mental degeneration in the U.S.  That is, minds-brains have been left to flounder amidst the flotsam and jetsam of a consumer culture in which authentic identity is verboten.  Because of this, and the over choice paradox of the freedom available - too many seek refuge in devices (cell phones), diversions and drugs- unable to face being the authors of their own choices. For Reich, the mandate for his consciousness pursuit was always "know thyself".   

But Alan Watts, in his book, 'On The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are',  is also on Reich's wavelength as he encapsulates this issue in his Preface:

"We are therefore in urgent need of a sense of our own existence which is in accord with the physical facts and which overcomes our feeling of alienation from the universe."   

But the central problem is too many in the U.S. are indeed alienated from the universe and grope at any semblance of what their existence is about.  It is this alienation, leading to absence of self-awareness, that has led to the flight from reality in drugs and devices as well as the responsibility for our own decisions. The latter comprising the central plank of Lisa Greenfeld's thesis for the eruption of so much mental illness in the world's democracies - and particularly the U.S.

What Alan Watts would argue is probably in line with Reich: 

 Being 'woke' is a good thing. It means being alert and alive to life in all its diversity and to acknowledge one's own self on the stage of life. To the extent this is done one embodies the mindfulness Thomas Jefferson wrote about and which is the prerequisite for making authentic choices. Those choices, made with self-awareness are what lead to actual freedom, as opposed to imitations based on consumption.

Thus, the "dilution of the 'woke agenda' proposed by the WSJ writer is no real solution. Rather what is needed is a repurposing of that effort toward the mind- healing wholeness proposed by Charles Reich and Alan Watts.  The latter's words best sum that concept up - linking Wholeness, and Wokeness:

"Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. "

Failure to appreciate this leads to the sense of separation and isolation that accompanies depression and other mental illness- as well as the futile pursuit of false identity.   The result is "we have no common sense, no way of making sense of the world in which we are agreed in common. It's just my opinion against yours and therefore the most aggressive and violent propagandist makes the decisions."

The latter highlighted segment simply is that of the authoritarian, "where such problems as equality, personal determination and choice seldom arise."  Nowhere more vividly portrayed than in the following scene from the film '1984' where 'Big Brother' Interrogator O'Brien demands Winston disavow his friend - else deal with face-eating rats.

1984 (11/11) Movie CLIP - O'Brien Tortures Winston (1984) HD - YouTube

This ensued after Winston earlier had asked O'Brien why he must bend his will totally to Big Brother and was informed that the "future of humanity" was a boot stomping on a human face - to exert total control.  Such is what the end of a 'Woke' impetus might mean in any remaining free society - or at least those which allow greater self-determination than authoritarian ones.

To quote journalist Clarence Page:  

"I've never understood why so many attack being 'woke'. What? Would you rather go through life asleep?"

See Also:

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Solutions To Theoretical Mechanics Problems

 1.   Using  one or more of the preceding unit vector relations, obtain an expression for the acceleration in two dimensions of polar coordinates.


We differentiate:  v  =   dr/ dt  n   +   r  dq  /dt l

With respect to t to obtain:

a =     dr 2/ dt 2n   +   dr/ dt (dn /dt )  +   dr/ dt (d q /dt ) l   r (dq  /dt ) 2 l   

r  dq  /dt  (dl/dt)

We next use the following two equations:

a) :  dn /dt   =    dq  /dt l


b) dl /dt   =   -  dq  /dt n

To separate the components :

a =    [ dr 2/ dt 2   -  r (dq  /dt ) 2n   +  [r (d2 q  /dt 2)   + 2 dr/dt (dq  /dt )] l

Where the first term is just the radial acceleration:  r

And the second term is the angular acceleration:     q

2.A particle  of mass m moves in a plane under the influence of a force F = - kr, directed toward the origin.  Sketch a polar coordinate system (r, q ) to describe the motion of the particle and thereby obtain the Lagrangian (L = T - V, i.e. difference in kinetic and potential energy).


We make use here of the sketch below:

From which:   =  r n

dr/ dt =   ( dr/ dt  n   +   r dn /dt)

dn /dt   =   dn / dq   (dq  /dt) =   l  (dq /dt) 

(Since:  dn / dq   =  )

Then:    dr/ dt =  ( dr/ dt)  n  +  r  dq  /dt l

L  = T   - V

Where:  T  =    ½ m [( dr 2/ dt 2 )   +  (d2 q /dt 2) ]  

V   =  ò o     kr dr =     ½ k 2


L  = T   - V   =   

½ m [( dr 2/ dt 2 )   +  (d2 q /dt 2) ]    -   ½ k 2

This can also be written in more concise notation:

L =    T   - V  =  ½ m[ r"   +    2 (  " ) ]    -   ½ k 2

NASA Predicts "No Risk" Of Apophis Collision In 2029: Why I'm Not Buying It


“I have approximate answers and possible beliefs in different degrees of certainty about different things, but I'm not absolutely sure of anything.-     Richard Feynman,    Interview in BBC program Horizon, 1981

The asteroid 99942 Apophis is a near-Earth object (NEO) estimated to be about 1,100 feet (340 meters) across. In other words, about the same dimension as the rock that took out the dinosaurs 65 m years ago. Apophis was discovered in 2004 and immediately identified as one of the most hazardous asteroids that could impact Earth. But that impact assessment changed after astronomers tracked Apophis and its orbit became better determined.

To fix ideas: a radar observation campaign in March 2021, combined with precise orbit analysis, has allowed planetary astronomers to conclude that there is no risk of Apophis impacting our planet for at least a century. But is this information you can "take to the bank" - as it were? No, it isn't.  It's a "best guess"  based on the partial orbital data we have up to now.  It does not factor in any potential displacement in orbit which could occur, say, from another object - comet or other near earth asteroid.  In this sense, the situation echoes Richard Feynman's remark that: "I'm not absolutely sure about anything."

Now, one can perhaps use instead the "bead" model of British astrophysicist E.A. Milne, e.g.

0 <-------------------------------o----------------------> 1

which he used to assess probabilities. Milne argued that this was a useful device by which to gauge one’s acceptance of assorted claims, from unicorns, to Martians to whether an asteroid impacts Earth. The 1 end of the string defined absolute certainty, or a probability of 1.0, meaning there could be no doubt at all. The 0 end meant absolute impossibility of an event - i.e. an associated probability of zero for occurrence. 

Milne contended - basically like Feynman - that no truly serious person then could write off any event as having probability 0, i.e. putting his bead at the 0 end. In this sense a collision of Earth with Apophis cannot be summarily ruled out, never mind how close astronomers wish to place that bead near zero on Milne's scale. So one cannot assert there is "no risk" of Apophis colliding with Earth.  There may well be a minuscule or "almost nonexistent" risk, but one can't say there is "no risk" - which comes over as absolute certainty.

Estimated to be about 1,100 feet (340 meters) across, Apophis quickly gained notoriety as an asteroid that could pose a serious threat to Earth when astronomers predicted that it would come uncomfortably close in 2029. Thanks to additional observations of Apophis, the risk of an impact in 2029 was later ruled out, as was the potential impact risk posed by another close approach in 2036. But again these updated risk assessments have been based on partial observations to that point, and have not factored in potential "intruder" objects - however low that possibility.  We refer to such possibilities as "perturbations" of the orbit in celestial mechanics.  

The diagram shown below is useful in making some sense of what I mean by perturbations applicable to the Apophis approach in 2029:  

 Here, we let m2 be the Earth, m1 the Sun, r the Earth -Sun distance (1.5 x 10 11 m ) and m3 Apophis (just outside Earth's orbit at the time, 1.0993 A.U.) and m4 some additional, intruding body.  If the distance  r 1 separating m3 and m4 is small enough the gravitational effect of m4 (if large enough) will be to perturb the assumed orbit of Apophis which may then be sufficient that it directly impacts Earth in 2029. The relevant perturbation is expressed in terms of Delaunay variables (L,  ℓ  ) :   

R   =   2  4    {1/  D (L,  ℓ  )  +   r ·  r 1   /   r  }

And the relevant Hamiltonian:

H  (L,  ℓ  )  =   -  m 2 / 2 L 2  -  2  4    {1/  D (L,  ℓ  )  +   r ·  r 1   /   r  }

What is this intruder m4?  We don't know because it has not yet appeared, and we can't be certain if it ever will. But that is my point, as well as Milne's and Feynman's  We have to be honest enough to admit that such celestial forecasts are only as good as the data up to that point. But taking the intruder as a massive comet - say 1/3 the mass of Apophis - and 1  =  5 x 10  6 m at closest approach to Apophis (), we see a possible shift of 0.0015 rad in the inclination i of the asteroid's orbit.  That is probably enough to alter its course from "no likely impact" to likely impact.

When Apophis made a flyby of Earth around March 5, 2021, astronomers took the opportunity to use powerful radar observations to refine the estimate of its orbit around the Sun with extreme precision, enabling them to confidently rule out any impact risk in 2068 and long after.  But again, this confidence can be only partial, since it is based on partial orbital data. As Feynman tells us, "We cannot be absolutely sure of anything" - even an intruder object (another asteroid, comet?) showing up to screw up the earlier computations for the orbital elements.

This is why the recent statement of Davide Farnocchia of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), i.e.:

A 2068 impact is not in the realm of possibility anymore, and our calculations don’t show any impact risk for at least the next 100 years,” 

Is simply not credible. It's not credible because Farnocchia flouts Milne's and Feynman's warning about scientific absolutism. This he does by making the absolutist statement "a 2068 impact is simply not in the realm of possibility.'  Which discounts any other eventualities and factors, like a hitherto unknown mass showing up not previously observed. Say a new, massive comet from the Oort cloud - hitherto unobserved - makes its debut and perturbs Apophis's' orbit. Then all assumptions and computations are blown into a cocked act and Farnocchia ends up with egg on his face. But given he may (or may not) not be around in 46 years to take the blame for a miscalculation, that may not matter.

In fairness, it is true that the recently refined optical observations and additional radar observations, lower the uncertainty attached to Apophis’ orbit.  They have, effectively, "collapsed it" from hundreds of kilometers to just a handful of kilometers when projected to 2029 - according to Farnocchia.  (Farnocchia was referring to the Sentry Impact Risk Table. Maintained by CNEOS, the table keeps tabs on the few asteroids whose orbits take them so close to Earth that an impact can’t be ruled out).

But let's be clear that a "handful of kilometers"  is not zero kilometers (The actual uncertainty in the distance is given as +  150 meters by CNEOS)  And if a perturbing body is introduced - as I showed above - those handful of kilometers may well be doubled, tripled or even quadrupled. In which case all bets may be off.  This also nullifies Farnocchia's claim that "this greatly improved knowledge of its position in 2029"  also means  "we can now remove Apophis from the risk list.”  No, we cannot, because at some future date - maybe in 3 years - a variable in the form of an intruding object may appear that blows out the extrapolation.

In some ways, the claim of the "CNEOS Risk Table no longer including Apophis" reminds me of the 1986 NASA risk assessment of a Shuttle mishap with the crew killed.  Then assessed at 1 in 100,000.  It was left to Richard Feynman - as part of a presidential commission following the January 28, 1986 'Challenger' disaster - to show the actual risk for that occurrence was 1 in 200 .  This was based in NASA's other claim of the Shuttle being "99.4% safe" for missions. (E.g. 0.6 out of every 100 missions was unsafe, or 1.2 out of every 200.)

Lastly, let us note that relying on optical telescopes and ground-based radar to help characterize every known near-Earth object’s orbit to enhance long-term hazard assessments, is done in support of NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office.    Is this iteration of NASA better than the one that figured out the 1 in 100,000 Shuttle risks before the Challenger blasted off?  Maybe, but more needs to be done - and known. We do know that teams of Astronomers are still working to develop a better understanding of the asteroid’s rotation rate and the axis it spins around. That knowledge will enable them to determine the orientation the asteroid will have with Earth as it encounters our planet’s gravitational field in 2029.  

Which difference in distance could change that spin state and even cause “asteroid quakes.”   NASA space jockeys and asteroid hunters did not elaborate on what that means.

Is all of the preceding merely an exercise in advanced  improbabilism?  Maybe, but it also is based on the Milne and Feynman warnings about being cavalier about outcomes predicated on any scientific observations. 

And what if an intruding massive object enters the picture before 2029?  Stay tuned.  

See Also: