I'm in Ohio for my mom's 80th birthday. Happy birthday Shirley! Blogging to resume on March 7 or thereabouts.
I'm in Ohio for my mom's 80th birthday. Happy birthday Shirley! Blogging to resume on March 7 or thereabouts.
Peak Oil enthusiasts went wild when an American diplomat was revealed in a Wikileaks cable to have reported that a Saudi oil executive said Saudi Arabia's oil reserves are exaggerated. Today in the NYT energy consultant Michael C. Lynch torpedoes the notion that this is the smoking gun in exposing Saudi oil depletion. Lynch:
Actually, it does nothing of the sort. The Saudi executive, Sadad al-Husseini, a former head of exploration for the Saudi oil monopoly Aramco, has been making such claims for years. Finding them repeated in a confidential cable is news only to those unfamiliar with the field.
Just talked to a very nice, older Baltimorean who wanted to know whether Obamacare bans the sale of gold worth more than $600, as her accountant told her. (It doesn't. The bill expands requirements for filing 1099 forms for many businesses, including gold & coin dealers. Even so, it's an onerous burden and should get overturned.) "I don't like government," she says, by way of explantion.
But she has another question. Are her money market deposit accounts at her bank insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.? She won't deposit her money until she's sure. They probably are, I reassure her, and print out the FDIC policy to send her in the mail. Maybe she doesn't hate government as much as she thinks.
Many Republicans are implicitly or explicitly peddling the fantasy that gaping federal budget deficits can be fixed without substantially cutting Medicare and Social Security, especially Medicare. Refreshing to hear Chris Christie tell the bad but true news. Now if only he could acknowledge the other fiscal certainty, that fixing the deficit without eviscerating the Medicare entitlement Americans love so much will also eventually involve tax increases...
(UPDATE: For the Democratic fairy tale -- that we can leave Medicare and Social Security untouched if only we get out of Afghanistan and tax the rich, see comments. Fiscal sanity does of course include drastically cutting the Pentagon's budget, but that won't come close to footing the entitlement bill.)
Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, said Wednesday that his counterpart in Indiana, Mitch Daniels, is the only prospective Republican presidential candidate who is honestly talking about how to confront the nation’s biggest fiscal challenges.
The New Jersey governor made the blunt assessment of the potential Republican field during a wide-ranging discussion with The Caucus a day after presenting his second budget to state lawmakers.
Mr. Christie said that any Republican who fails to offer a specific plan to address the growth in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security is “selling people short” and will not be successful in challenging President Obama next year. He said Mr. Daniels might not be the candidate he endorses, but that, for now, “He’s the only one around the country, at least who is on the list as considering running for president, who is talking about it,” referring to addressing the skyrocketing costs of entitlement spending.
Check out Kaiser Health News' piece on Maryland's system of rewarding hospital quality and penalizing hospital shortcomings. Johns Hopkins Hospital and Howard County General did better than average; St. Joseph Medical Center and University of Maryland Medical Center were among those who did worse. KHN's piece in the Washington Post includes a link to a scorecard for all Maryland hospitals.
The publicity-related incentives here are probably even more powerful than the financial incentives. You don't want your institution on the below-average list for bed sores, infections, accidental punctures etc.
Jesse Jackson has an over-the-top piece in the Chicago Sun-Times equating what's going on in Madison, Wisconsin with the American Revolution and the civil rights movement. Jackson:
The effort by the governor and his right-wing allies to divide private sector workers from public sector workers is an old trick. In the South, race was used to divide. The tricks perfected in the South — right-to-work laws, barriers to unions — are now coming north.
Madison, like Selma, is not a major city. It isn’t Chicago or New York or Los Angeles. And it isn’t Cairo. It is the epicenter of the battle for America’s democracy, and it is as American as Lexington, Concord, Gettysburg, Montgomery and Selma.
I suspect voters are going to get pretty tired of this kind of thing pretty quickly. Bill Clinton's Democrats rebounded from the Gingrich surge by moving to the center. Barack Obama's Democrats seem to be in danger of forgetting that.
Maryland Chamber of Commerce President Kathleen Snyder replied to yesterday's column, which portrayed the chamber and other business interests as out to lunch when it comes to fighting against soaring Maryland health costs.
Jay Hancock's recent column ("Maryland business a no-show in fight over the cost of health care," Feb. 22) did not fully describe the efforts of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and employers in our state to slow the rise of health insurance costs. We have, in fact, already taken positions on 16 health care bills before the Maryland General Assembly and are reviewing more. Our positions are based on our 800 members' needs and interests and determined through rigorous committee processes. With 70 percent of our members having fewer than 100 employees, we are indeed a diverse business organization with a strong track record of success in Annapolis.
Read her whole letter here.
I have only one thing to say in my defense, but it is sufficient: The Maryland Chamber's members include Johns Hopkins Health Systerm, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, Patient First and MedStar Health. If you think that with these and many other denizens of the medical-industrial complex as its members the chamber is really an advocate for health-care cost containment, you also think that American Petroleum Institute is fighting hard to prevent climate change.
With Annapolis discussing extending Maryland's millionaire income-tax surcharge, it's time to talk again about how much of a disincentive to capital the state's taxes are. Maryland's personal income taxes are high relative to its neighbors. And Smart Money says Maryland is the second worst place to die, after New Jersey, from an estate/inheritance-tax point of view.
Yet Phoenix Marketing International says Maryland is No. 2 in the country in millionaires per capita. And New Jersey (also with high income taxes) is No. 3. (This is a strict definition of millionaire. You have to have $1 million in liquid assets; under their definition that doesn't count your house or your 401(k) plan.)
why do millionaires love New Jersey? My answer: because it's really, really nice!
Especially if you are old. You don't have to live in New York or Philadelphia, and yet you have access to at least one of those cities, possibly both if you buy in Edison. You can have a splendid house in a nice, leafy neighborhood with reasonable public services, a socially excessive amount of parking, and good restaurants.
For smart young people, however, the nice parts of New Jersey are very much a net exporter.
That leaves Maryland. What are all these rich people doing here? How did they get here and why do they stay? Should we tax them more?
David Brooks nicely explains a distinction that is lost on many on the left. My reposting of it here is not necessarily a defense of what Gov. Scott Walker is doing in Wisconsin. Walker's crusade is nakedly partisan and offers a double standard to government employees who vote Republican.
The corporate takeover of American politics is deeply troubling. But is that a reason to prefer another dubious alliance -- public-sector unions and their Democratic enablers -- as a counterweight? Here Brooks explains why public-sector unions are more problematic than private-sector unions:
That’s because public sector unions and private sector unions are very different creatures. Private sector unions push against the interests of shareholders and management; public sector unions push against the interests of taxpayers. Private sector union members know that their employers could go out of business, so they have an incentive to mitigate their demands; public sector union members work for state monopolies and have no such interest.
Private sector unions confront managers who have an incentive to push back against their demands. Public sector unions face managers who have an incentive to give into them for the sake of their own survival. Most important, public sector unions help choose those they negotiate with. Through gigantic campaign contributions and overall clout, they have enormous influence over who gets elected to bargain with them, especially in state and local races.
Jay here. This is an economics blog, and in economics it's all about the incentives. The incentives in the relationship between Democrat pols and government unions are corrosive. Loyalty to public-sector unions conflicts with Democratic public servants' loyalty to taxpayers and citizens. (Republican public servants, too. Look how Walker is pandering to the fire and police unions.) Of course, fealty to corporate overlords conflicts with Republicans' loyalty to taxpayers & citizens. But as I said, is one relationship less unwholesome than the other?
Another column on the legislation to allow orthopedists to own MRI machines and refer patients to them. Read David Plymer's, subtle, excellent and economically literate letter to the editor on this issue.
Other than in hospitals, MRI machines and CT scanners sit idle for many hours of the day. In the aggregate, the supply of MRI machines and CT scanners in the Baltimore metropolitan area greatly exceeds the reasonable demand for their use.
Excess capacity is anathema to the success of most enterprises. GM and Ford reduce plant capacity when demand for cars drops. The costs of maintaining capacity that sits idle increase the costs of manufacturing, and therefore the price, of each car. This is no less true for the costs of each MRI or CT scan.
The average MRI costs about $2 million to buy and install, and about $800,000 per year to run. Those costs must be recouped by the health care providers within a finite period of time before the equipment wears out or becomes obsolete.
Same-store sales at Walmart fell for the 7th straight consecutive quarter. Says the FT:
Walmart has attributed its US sales problems to slack demand from its largely low income shoppers and to a misjudged attempt to improve store productivity by reducing the variety of brands and inventory that its stores carry. It had predicted that efforts to undo some of the changes, and a renewed focus on “every day low prices” rather than promotional price cutting, would restore same store sales growth in the US during the quarter.
That's one interpretation of Walmart's poor results. 9 percent unemployment means many folks are trading down from Walmart to places such as Aldi and Family Dollar. Or does a slowly recovering economy mean people are trading up to Target, Macy's etc.?
My friend and former Sun London Bureau Chief Bill Glauber has covered three wars, so he is well-qualified to chronicle demonstrations in Wisconsin over Gov. Scott Walker's attempt to withdraw bargaining privileges from state workers. Listen to him discuss it with WBAL's Shari Elliker at 3:50 this afternoon.
Not sure whether that's central time or our time, so check in at 4:50 if you don't hear him at 3:50.
UPDATE: It's 3:50 Eastern time.
At least the spam is topical:
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A December Hancock column was about the need for efficiencies in universities to lower the cost and make them accessible to more people.
Professors and university administrators like to think their product is more important than a car.They're right. But that's why it's so critical to get the economics of higher education right. If universities can't deliver the kind of quality improvements and cost reductions embraced by other industries, investing in tomorrow's workers and citizens becomes a bigger and bigger problem.
The piece talked about marginal gains being made in survey courses at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and elsewhere. The savings aren't being passed along to students -- they're shared with the academic departments offering the courses. As Matt Yglesias blogs, referencing Mark Kleiman, this kind of tiny change won't end the constant escalation of high-ed costs. You need a radical, disruptive competitor to the traditional college, "something that doesn’t at all look like our canonical image of a college." Yglesias:
What you could plausibly hope to see happen is the creation of an institution of higher education that’s (a) much worse than the University of Michigan, (b) better than nothing, (c) radically cheaper than the University of Michigan, and (d) scalable. Then you could imagine a model like that moving incrementally up the quality ladder. CAP put out an interesting paper from Clayton M. Christensen, Michael B. Horn, Louis Soares, and Louis Caldera laying out some of the fundamentals here.
Of course the Christensen et. al. paper talks about applying online learning and other tools being employed by the Maryland system in a much more intensive way. This kind of talk makes traditional academicians deeply uncomfortable, because the way to slash college costs is to employ many fewer professors. But as Yglesias says, "Either a college education will turn over time into something that only a narrow elite can afford, or else our idea of what “a college education” looks like has to transform into something with a lower cost structure and more scalability."
This would resonate from Woodlawn and across metro Baltimore. TPM's Brian Beutler reports that Republicans propose to cut more than $1 billion from Social Security's operating budget. Social Security, of course, is headquartered in Baltimore County.
As Matt Yglesias points out, it's kind of a weird move. Social Security is already very efficient. Cutting staff might lead to delayed checks and other snafus, ticking off old people, who tend to be very politically engaged about their entitlements. Beutler:
House Republicans will wait until the budget fight this spring to attack Social Security head-on. But in the meantime, they're coming after America's favorite entitlement at an angle. In the current spending bill, they're proposing to slash the administrative funds that federal employees use to run the program. Democrats warn this will lead to furloughs and other service interruptions that could delay checks and prevent new retirees from enrolling.
Good piece from Investigative Voice. The city accepted several parking-lot management offers from PMS Parking despite the fact that they were far from being the low bids.
Bottom line: The city will see a smaller share of revenues from the facility paid for by taxpayer-funded bonds had it accepted lower bids from any of the several competing firms.
Asked to explain why the Parking Authority awarded management contracts to what was in some cases the most costly bid, Executive Director Peter Little — who declined to be interviewed for this story — explained that experience and planning weighed heavily on the decision to award the contract to PMS.
“It is very important that these garages be well operated and maintained in order to retain and attract as many parking customers as possible and thereby maximize revenues to the City,” Little explained in an email.
“A particular garage operator may be ‘cheaper,’ but if they have not demonstrated that they can manage the garages as well, then the result is loss of revenues due to the loss of parking customers because of poor garage maintenance and/or poor customer service,” he wrote.
Tyler Cowen is getting a ton of attention for his ebook, The Great Stagnation, which argues that the productivity gains reaped by the world for the last century are slowing down, which is very bad news indeed if true. Today on MR he has a good post with lots of links on one striking aspect of the great stagnation -- health care. Basically the great leaps forward with vaccines and pasteurization and antibiotics are behind us, and it's unclear what if any major new advances loom. For all the money we blow on health care, advances in life expectancy are slowing.
James Le Fanu, in his 2000 history of modern medicine, lists definitive moments of modern medicine. In the 1940s there are six such moments, seven moments in the 1950s, six moments in the 1960s, a moment in 1970 and 1971 each, and from 1973-1998, a twenty-five year period, there are only seven moments in total.
For his "Dates of the discovery and sources of the more important antibiotics," the list starts in 1929-1940 with penicillin and ends in...1963, with Gentamicin.
Unstated but suffusing the post is the notion of diminishing returns. Society is spending more and more on health care and getting less and less gain. And because of the unique nature of the product -- information asymmetry, hugely inelastic demand, customers paying with monopoly money from Medicare or insurers -- society doesn't know how to stop throwing money at disease even when the returns get smaller and smaller.
Lt. McCullough excuses the poker bust because the "high-stakes game" -- $65 buyin! -- might have actually, someday, maybe had something to do with something that harmed society.
"These are financial crimes, and while it might appear on the surface that it's harmless, it festers into other crimes," said Lt. Robert McCullough, a county police spokesman.
It's an admission that the game itself wasn't a problem. Don't mean to pick on Lt. McCullough or the Baltimore County police; they enforce the law as it's written.
But it's a fair question to ask why the law allows Penn National Gaming to sponsor gambling in Maryland but doesn't allow the folks who were charged here. Now that the morality-based or social-wholesomeness arguments against gambling have been tossed out, the only justification for busting these guys is to maintain the government's gambling monopoly. That doesn't have quite as high-toned a ring as the old arguments.
Glad to see the Columbia Borders escape the list of scores of stores that Borders Group books will close. There are three stores to be closed in Maryland: Bowie Gateway, White Flint and Capital Centre in Largo.
From the NYT:
WASHINGTON — In a sign that some freshman Republicans were willing to cut military spending, the House voted 233-198 on Wednesday to cancel an alternate fighter jet engine that the Bush and Obama administrations had tried to kill for the last five years.
The vote marked another instance in which some of the new legislators, including members of the Tea Party, broke ranks with the House speaker, John A. Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, where the engine provided more than 1,000 jobs.
There are also encouraging amendments from southern and western Republicans that would cut some types of ethanol welfare. Now if Republicans could also slash Medicare while they're at it, they might gain some credibility as people who really want to save the country from insolvency. (You can't cut the deficit without cutting Medicare, but nobody will admit this.)
Then if they could cancel the Bush income-tax cuts for the rich and also OK a national sales tax to take effect in 2015... Oops. Got carried away.
(Ending crippling deficits without canceling the enormously popular Medicare program requires big spending cuts AND modest tax increases, but Republicans won't admit this, either.)
Last week the Cenus reported that Baltimore lost 30,000 people from 2000 to 2010, dealing a crushing blow to folks who had hoped for evidence of a population turnaround. As I blogged, taxes and schools are a major disincentive to live in the city. So is crime, many commenters added.
But other cities have been in Baltimore's position and managed to bring residents and investment back within city limits. Boston and San Francisco, for example, say Stephen J.K. Walters and Louis Miserendino. And Baltimore can become just as successful and populated as they are if Baltimore mimics them in cutting property taxes -- substantially, they argue in a new economic periodical, Maryland Journal, published by the Maryland Public Policy Institute.
No, the politicians didn't cut the tax. Voters did, through California's Proposition 13 in 1978 and Massachusetts' Propisition 2 1/2 in 1980. Walters & Miserendino:
In California, where the inflation of the mid-1970s had led to crushing real estate tax burdens, voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 13 in 1978, capping local property tax rates at one percent of properties’ 1975 values and limiting subsequent increases in assessments to two percent annually (until a property was sold). Overnight, San Francisco had to chop its tax rate by almost three-fifths. Elected officials predicted a budgetary disaster of biblical proportions. Yet almost immediately, and in spite of “stagflationary” macroeconomic conditions as bad or worse than those we are now experiencing, the city experienced a downtown building boom that broadened its tax base, staunched job losses, and began the process of repopulation and recapitalization that would make it a superstar.
In Boston, they say, sharply lower taxes also caused the turnaround:
Massachusetts voters passed Proposition 2 ½ in 1980, forcing Boston to cut its effective property tax rate by an estimated 75 percent within two years. Boston had lost a remarkable 12 percent of its population between 1975 and 1980, but the tax cap instantly made the city more hospitable to investment in physical capital. In San Francisco, that soon attracted employers and residents, and Boston, too, was set on a path of greater prosperity, increasing safety, and enhanced quality of life.
Read the paper. Walters, an economist at Loyola University, and Miserendino, a social studies teacher at Calvert Hall, argue that the city should amend its charter to cut property tax rate several years hence by more than half -- to 1 percent. That's below Baltimore County's rate. Knowing the rate would be slashed and knowing it would be difficult to amend the charter again to raise it, they say, people would move back to the city.
Here is my colleague Jamie Smith Hopkins' recent interview with Walters on this idea.
Nurse Janelle Wissler, blogging on RACmonitor.com, urges hospitals to start the New Year right by not miscoding their insurance claims. Good idea!
New Year's Resolution No. 1: Discard the sports-related mantra that "if you're not cheating, you're not trying hard enough."
Instead, keep in mind that just because you CAN get away with something doesn't mean you should. In 2011, let's try to get it right the first time, every time.
But her online test with coding case studies demonstrates how subtle and complicated the process can be. Example:
A patient is admitted in a hypotensive state. Various causes are considered throughout the stay. Consultations are held with cardiology, neurology, nutrition and internal medicine. Occupational therapy consult is obtained. Medications are adjusted according to the medication reconciliation form, and the patient is told to be cautious in standing from a sitting position. Final diagnosis is "hypotension, multifactorial." Do you query the attending physician to determine what he or she feels is the "most likely" cause, or do you assign "hypotension, NOS," which is the highest weighted MS-DRG assignment of the multiple "possible" causes noted throughout the chart?
Who knows? In patients with multiple symptoms, and especially in patients with multiple diagnoses, it's probably not clear-cut even for professionals.
When pursuing book projects, some reporters (paging Bob Woodward) scoop their own papers or withhold news until the book is published, upon which the paper publishes excerpts. Kudos to NYT's Diana Henriques for getting her exclusive interview with Bernard Madoff into her newspaper immediately. Her book publisher is probably unhappy, but she owes it to the Times and Times readers. Perhaps there were also competitive pressures -- Madoff giving other interviews.
Among other eye-openers, Madoff told her he is helping trustee Irving Picard track down some of the fugitive money.
In the interview and e-mails, he also claimed credit for helping the court-appointed trustee who is seeking to recover lost billions on behalf of his swindled clients. In e-mails, Mr. Madoff said repeatedly that he provided useful information to Irving H. Picard, the trustee trying to recover assets for the fraud victims. He met with Mr. Picard’s team over four days last summer, he said. The e-mails were written in December and January, but he only recently agreed that they could be made public.
The Planter's trail mix in the company vending machine just went from 75 cents to 85 cents. The Payday bars went from $1 to $1.20.
No, I'm not one of those predicting a new Weimar Germany, this column notwithstanding. But wholesale ag-commodity prices are bleeding into retail. The cafeteria just raised coffee prices, too.
Today's column is about the lamentations rising from the energy industry over New Jersey's plan to lower electricity prices and retake control of its energy future. Republican(!) N.J. Gov. Chris Christie just signed a bill that would require utilities to buy power from a specified price from newly constructed generation plants. Contract in hand, the plant developers can get financing and build the facilities.
New Jersey gets a twofer: 1) New, cleaner generation capacity to run its future economy. 2) Capacity that can be offered into the PJM capacity auction and bring down sky-high prices for reserving future generation time -- thus saving New Jerseyans money. Maryland is contemplating a similar course, although it might not happen for a year.
BGE owner Constellation Energy and other power companies are outraged that the PJM auction rules, which have enriched them for years, could be used to save consumers money. So they're petitioning the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to get them changed, to raise the minimum price for generation capacity. Unfortunately, they have a good chance of winning. FERC seems just as clueless and intransigent under Obama as it was under Bush, possibly because of the large debt that Obama owes Chicago-based Exelon, one of the biggest U.S. generation companies.
Here's a January 2008 Hancock column:
Pay no attention to whether Sen. Barack Obama's ties to Exelon Corp. might make him sympathetic to storing nuclear waste in Nevada. That argument, aired before that state's Democratic caucuses last week, is a sideshow.
A bigger question is how Obama's Exelon links might influence his broader electricity policy at the most critical period for U.S. electricity since the 1930s. Exelon, the Illinois version of Baltimore's Constellation Energy, is one of the country's biggest megawatt producers, the largest nuclear plant operator and a huge Obama backer through its executives and employees.
I can't find this on the Web yet, but here is the whole press release from Council for a Livable World. The possiblility of nukes falling into the hands of terrorists remains the No. 1 threat to global stability. Spending money to control loose nukes is one of the best investments the United States can make. The program has enjoyed broad bipartisan support. House Republicans should wake up. This is one program that shouldn't be tossed out in the zeal to cut costs.
Washington, DC. Council for a Livable World today denounced the proposed House Republican budget for Fiscal Year 2011 "for undercutting the fight against nuclear terrorism."
The House Appropriations Committee on Friday recommended $2.085 billion for "Defense Nuclear Proliferation" in the National Nuclear Security Agency, a whopping cut of $602 million, or 22% from programs that keep nuclear weapon materials out of the hands of terrorists.
These funds are used to reduce the global threat posed by nuclear weapons, nuclear proliferation and unsecure nuclear materials.
The programs funded by this budget are a highly successful effort thus far in keeping nuclear weapons materials away from terrorists that has heretofore enjoyed bipartisan support.
"House Republicans, in their zeal to fulfill a campaign pledge, threaten to cripple one of the best defenses this country has that has also enjoyed bipartisan support," said John Isaacs, Council’s executive director. "Republicans seem indifferent to the real threat that al Qaeda will steal nuclear bomb-making material."
Experts agree that limiting access to vulnerable nuclear weapons-usable materials greatly reduces the threat of nuclear terrorism. The global financial cost and terrible destruction of a nuclear terrorist attack would dwarf the costs of preventing such an attack.
The fight against nuclear terrorism is a fight that can and must be won.
At the close of 2010, NNSA announced that 111 pounds of bomb-making highly enriched uranium were removed from three sites in Ukraine. Since April 2009, six countries have given up all their highly enriched uranium and a total of 120 bombs’ worth of nuclear material was secured.
The bi-partisan 9/11 Commission responsible for investigating the terrorist attacks of September 11th found that, "The greatest danger of another catastrophic attack in the United States will materialize if the world's most dangerous terrorists acquire the world's most dangerous weapons."
It further noted that al Qaeda had been working diligently for a decade to acquire weapons of mass destruction and that the United States would most certainly be a prime target once they succeeded in their quest.
During the first presidential debate in 2004, President Bush and Sen. John Kerry agreed -- as stated by the president -- that "the single, largest threat to American national security today is nuclear weapons in the hands of a terrorist network."
“It is understandable that Tea Party freshmen would be unaware of the successes of this program, said Isaacs. “But to see House leadership who have every reason to know better to cave in on this issue is very surprising, and, given their rhetoric on security, surprising,” concluded Isaacs.
The Feb. 6 column was about how independent electricity companies continue to spin fairy tales about how much money people are going to save by switching from BGE's standard offer. And they nail people with high early-termination fees buried in the fine print. There are at least a couple bills pending in Annapolis that would improve education and consumers and tighten up standards for the kilowatt sellers.
One bill would require the Public Service Commission to have a a portion of its Web site as a comparison-shopping portal for people contemplating switching electricity companies. It would list BGE's and Pepco's standard price to compare and all the competing prices. This is basically what the Office of People's Counsel does now.
A week ago Del. Al. Carr sent me a draft bill he said he would be introducing. I don't see it on the General Assembly's Web site yet, but here is the key language:
(2) A RESIDENTIAL SUPPLY CONTRACT MAY NOT CONTAIN AN AUTOMATIC RENEWAL CLAUSE. 7 (3) IF A RESIDENTIAL SUPPLY CONTRACT REQUIRES THE CUSTOMER TO PAY AN EARLY TERMINATION FEE OR PENALTY ON CANCELLATION OF THE CONTRACT, THE TERMINATION FEE OR PENALTY SHALL DECREASE BY AN EQUAL AMOUNT EACH MONTH SO THAT THE CUSTOMER OWES NO TERMINATION FEE OR PENALTY AT THE END OF THE CONTRACT. (4) AN ELECTRICITY SUPPLIER MAY NOT REFUSE TO PROVIDE 13 SERVICE TO A PERSON BECAUSE THE PERSON PREVIOUSLY CANCELED A 14 RESIDENTIAL SUPPLY CONTRACT.
The biggest item, from my point of view, is the one prohibiting automatic rollovers. It's a great idea -- this is where companies make a lot of their stupid money from consumers. People sign up for what's initially a good deal. They save money. But a year later, the contract automatically renews to a not-so-good deal. Suppliers are required to notify customers by mail of the new terms, but people don't pay attention.
We could call section 4 "the Hancock clause." When I terminated my 10.8-cent, 3-year deal from Washington Gas Energy Services, I tried to sign up with WGES for their new, cheaper deal. But they wouldn't let me, saying early-termination customers had to wait for a certain number of months to re-sign.
If Maureen Dowd is going to use French in her column on Rumsfeld, you would think she could consult with somebody who knows the language, or at least Google the Edith Piaf song.
As part of his “Je ne regret rien pas” book tour, the 78-year-old former defense secretary stopped by the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday, where he got the group’s annual “Defender of the Constitution” award.
Or is there some kind of double-negative, Rummy-mangling-the-language joke, or a Rummy-dissing-Old-Europe joke, that I'm not getting here?
UPDATE: The Iconoclast agrees.
As noted, my inbox is full of emails from radiologists, patients and a few MRI technicians who wrote in response to this column, "Orthopedist-ownewd MRIs a recipe for soaring costs." But the orthopedists themselves hadn't responded to me. However here is a letter to the editor from Dr. James York. he is an orthopedic surgeon at Chesapeake Orthopaedic & Sports Medicine Center and is head of the group that is trying to get the legislature to nullify a Court of Appeals decision that orthopedist-owned MRIs and CT scanner are illegal.
As a physician who has devoted 25 years to caring for patients in our great state, I was deeply distressed to read Jay Hancock's column attacking the integrity of orthopedic surgeons and other doctors who rely on modern tools such as MRI and CT scans to diagnose patients' injuries and illnesses ("Orthopedist-owned MRIs a recipe for soaring costs," Feb. 9).
Mr. Hancock's claim that orthopedic surgeons drive MRI utilization and cost is contradicted by federal government data showing that more than 80 percent of all advanced imaging services paid by Medicare go to radiologists and free-standing radiology centers, not to orthopedic surgeons and other treating physicians. That same federal data shows that from 1995 to 2005, payments made for advanced imaging services to free-standing radiology centers, commonly owned by the radiologists for whom Mr. Hancock advocates, jumped seven-fold to 23 percent. By contrast, in 2005, orthopedic surgery accounted for only 3 percent of Medicare payments for advanced imaging.
The patient is all but forgotten in Mr. Hancock's attack. Without legislative action,
we will become the only state in the country where a urologist cannot use an in-office CT machine to diagnose painful kidney stones. An emergency medicine physician operating an urgent care clinic will not be allowed to use CT in the office to diagnose potentially life-threatening pulmonary embolisms or appendicitis. And orthopedic surgeons like myself will not be able to rely on in-office MRI to diagnose the most serious injuries that require immediate surgical attention, such as painful and debilitating Achilles tendon tears.
Mr. Hancock's bias might be most evident when he writes that "Maryland orthopedists decided the law didn't apply to them" when they installed MRI machines in their offices. The reality is that the first judge to consider the legality of in-office MRI ruled in favor of orthopedic surgeons. As a member of one of the medical practices that challenged the Board of Physicians' ruling in the Court of Appeals against the backdrop of that prior judicial decision, I believe Mr. Hancock should have shared this fact with his readers.
Mr. Hancock calls the 1993 Maryland law "a model for the nation." No law that seeks to fragment health care delivery at a moment when we are moving toward more patient-focused, integrated medical care can fairly be regarded as a model. Maryland patients deserve better, and The Sun's readers deserved a more balanced analysis of a critically important health care issue.
Dr. James York, Glen Burnie
The writer is an orthopedic surgeon in the Chesapeake Orthopaedic & Sports Medicine Center and is president of the Maryland Patient Care and Access Coalition
Entitlements, especially Medicare, are the biggest threat to U.S. fiscal solvency. Cutting the budget without paring Medicare and rationalizing Social Security will do next-to nothing to fix the country's problems. Even if taxes are raised -- and they will be -- big adjustments must be made to Medicare if the country is to avoid the worst.
But Republicans refuse to acknowledge this. The leadership knows it but won't state it publicly because Medicare is so popular. Some of the biggest opposition to Obamacare -- the evidence showed up in my emails, among other places -- came from seniors who were afraid a new government entitlement would jeopardize their government entitlement. And the Republican base doesn't get it.
This is from the American Enterprise Institute, the conservative think tank. When self-identified conservatives -- Fox News and talk radio fans, rock-ribbed enthusiasts for low taxes -- were asked how to fix the deficit, only 3 percent mentioned Medicare and Social Security.
Do you think the message is getting through to voters that entitlement reform is a critical part of long-term deficit reduction? If you answer “nope,” you’re right. Conservative voters—the ones who sent a large, fresh crop of Republicans to Washington to cut spending—still don’t quite get deficit control... That was pretty revealing. Social Security and Medicare will drive our long-term structural deficits and crush our economy along the way. But even though the issue is getting some play in the media, it doesn’t seem to be getting through to the grassroots.
Or to the leadership, which is happy to yap on about socialism to gain seats but seems intent on doing nothing about fixing socialized medicine for seniors.
in today's column. It's hard to argue against Krugman's contention that, measured against the standards of Ron Paul etc., Milton Friedman was a leftist.
Mr. Paul’s subcommittee called three witnesses, one of whom was an odd choice: Thomas DiLorenzo, a professor at Loyola University and a senior fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
What was odd about that choice? Well, Mr. DiLorenzo hasn’t actually written much about monetary policy, although he has described Fed policy — not just recently, but since the 1960s — as “legalized counterfeiting operations.” His main claim to fame, instead, is as a critic of Lincoln — he’s the author of “Lincoln Unmasked: What You’re Not Supposed to Know About Dishonest Abe” — and as a modern-day secessionist.
No, really: calls for secession run through many of Mr. DiLorenzo’s writings — for example, in his declaration that “healthcare freedom” won’t be restored until “some states begin seceding from the new American fascialistic state.” Raise the rebel flag!
Excellent reporting by the Associated Press. "Unpredictable and inconsistent" doesn't begin to describe it.
In the years since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, officers who committed serious mistakes that left people wrongly imprisoned or even dead have received only minor admonishments or no punishment at all, an Associated Press investigation has revealed. The botched el-Masri case is but one example of a CIA accountability process that even some within the agency say is unpredictable and inconsistent.
Though Obama has sought to put the CIA's interrogation program behind him, the result of a decade of haphazard accountability is that many officers who made significant missteps are now the senior managers fighting the president's spy wars.
Don't swallow the "it's the least-bad population loss in decades" spin for city officials. Baltimore's loss of 4.6 percent of its population -- 30,000 people -- is a very disappointing result. People were hoping that revivals east of the harbor and in midtown would make up for declining neighborhoods. They were hoping that one of Baltimore's biggest problems, its schools, would cease to be such a large disincentive for people figuring where to live. The thinking was that aging baby boomers, having educated their kids in the suburbs, would move back into the city once the kids left home.
You should criticize the city for not doing a better job of competing for the growing Hispanic population. But the biggest factors in the population decline probably continue to be taxes and schools. Even with schools less of a factor for empty nesters, the higher property taxes and insurance rates they must pay are a big turnoff. Baltimore is one of the first big cities to have its 2010 Census results released. It will be interesting to see whether the population-gain hopes of other rust-belt towns -- Pittsburgh, Philly etc. -- will be realized.
For what it's worth, Baltimore also lost almost 50,000 jobs last decade, although it seems to have showed a rare gain of about 5,000 last year, according to the Labor Department.
I got love letters from radiologists yesterday and some pushback from orthopedic patients. Tuesday's column was on the overutilization of MRI machines caused by orthopedists ordering expensive scans on machines they own. Maryland's Court of Appeals ruled last month that the state's law banning medical self-referrals applies to MRI machines and CT machines. Orthopods and others are trying to get the legislature to nullify the decision. Here is some of the feedback:
From a patient:
I understand what you're saying, and it makes perfect sense in many ways.
You obviously haven't had extensive orthopedic problems. As someone who has unfortunately been there, I can attest to the immense aggravation that results from having to reschedule with some facility you've never been to and go through all their hoops. Between the often lengthy delays on the phone to try to make an appointment, the endless questions and sometimes long delays for scheduling, the patient then has to waste another half day driving to the appointment, filling out the never-ending forms and waiting sometimes an hour or more for the brief interaction with the MRI. If you have a job, it's another half day of sick leave. If you need help, it's another imposition on someone else who probably has other things to do.
From a radiologist who sold his practice's imaging center to the local hospital:
You pay the bills for a $1.5mil machine, plus service contract from siemens was $15-20k a month and when we switched to a cheaper service contract siemens refused to send us parts- but they'll sale equipment to Iran and Sadamn Iraq! Plus a tech to run machine at $70-80k a year plus benefits and health insurance, and other expenses. And at $400 a study reimbursement from CMS- started getting difficult to make bills. I saw writing on the walls and that the government wanted us out of business so I pushed to sell to the only potential buyers- the local hospital. So the governments limited wisdom forced us out of business in order to save medical cost, right. Wrong, now the hospital get 2.5 times more than we did from blue cross and the CMS rates are also quiet better than our out patient rates. Cash price for a CT abdomen and pelvis- $4500, we charged about $800. No savings forcing out the little guy!
From a brain-tumor patient:
I was especially interested in your article on MRI's. I have been very upset about Dr's being allowed to own these and a host of other machines and was beginning to think I was the only one! Other countries don't allow that - one reason that heath care elsewhere costs just half of what we spend for health care in the US.
More below the fold:
From a patient:
My primary physician thought I had a Baker's Cyst and recommended I visit an orthopedic doctor located by St Agnes hospital. After contacting his office I was told to have my knee x-rayed at the Imaging Center at St Agnes, afterwards I would be seen by the doctor, one floor above. On the day, I told the orthopedic doctor of my concerns of it being a Baker's Cyst and the discomfort it caused , especially after walking or running. I was hoping he would just drain the thing but after looking at my x-rays he said he wanted an MRI to rule out anything else.
On returning to his office after the MRI he said "Good thing is you don't have any sign of cancer". Well, I could have told him that! I am a 57 year old very healthy active person and was appalled that he even asked me to get an MRI.
From a radiologist:
Someone finally got it right and wrote it down succinctly for the public's benefit. Great job!
From a radiologist:
I love this article. Keep up the good work. As a radiologist I am biased, but without this anti self referral legislation Medicine will turn into the wild west. We need tough laws and Marshals to prevent a few greedy doctors from ruining medicine for everyone in the system. Self referral is bad medicine.
From an MRI technolgist:
In reading your Sunpaper article today Orthopedist-owned MRI's...I was very conflicted. I agree with the majority of what you are saying, Self Referral is a major problem throughout the Country and Non Radiologists are the main culprits in this case. That is why Medicare and Insurance companies want MRI scanners to be certified by the ACR (American College of Radiology). Eventually all scanners will be required to be certified for reimbursment purposes. I must say though, that MRI exams are way more then alternatives to XRAYS. In many cases they are used for diagnosis that are not even seen on XRAY, i agree they are expensive, however treatment option costs can decrease if the proper diagnosis is found sooner. MRI's do just that!!
From a radiologist in Boston:
I am a practicing radiologist and have seen first hand the overuse of advanced (and expensive) medical imaging by non-radiologists. Another area of gross misuse of imaging in many cardiology practices. In addition to imaging testing, some unscrupulous cardiologists will often perform invasive procedures and place unnecessary coronary stents. A patient who shows up to his cardiologist for chest pain gets an echocardiogram, radionuclide stress test, perhaps a coronary CT, and now cardiac MRI. At the end will be a diagnostic cardiac catheterization with or withour stents. Even for a scrupulous cardiologist, the temptation to reap economic productivity from otherwise idle machines is too great to resist.
From the FBI on an an alleged $7 million insurance-fraud scheme in Puerto Rico.
After our initial investigative work and the first round of indictments, we were able to identify more than 500 others involved in the same accidental injury scam against the same company. According to the January 2011 indictment, from 2004 to 2008, a doctor from Lares, Puerto Rico falsely completed and signed some of the accidental injury claim forms for policy holders and their dependants—and he pocketed approximately $450,000 for doing it.
How the scheme worked. In general—after word got out that this particular doctor could be bought—policy holders would go to his office claiming every sort of accidental injury imaginable. The doctor, without even examining the patient, would fill out the claim form…for a fee of between $10 to $20 per form.
The policy holders would also make fraudulent claims of accidental injuries on behalf of their kids and other family members...injuries that were never properly verified by the doctor.
One of the most exasperating arguments made about health reform is: "If we only let the free market work, medicine would get better and less expensive." As Kenneth Arrow showed decades ago, health care is not a free market, hasn't been a free market for 40 years and never will be again.
How can it be a free market when the people making decisions to buy health-care services use OTHER PEOPLE'S MONEY to pay for it? How can it be a free market when the patient "customers" are completely in the dark about what works best for the least money and rely on a priestly class of physicians to decide what is done? The incentives are wrong and the information is wrong.
That's why arguments about "the radiologist monopoly" from orthopedists and others who want to do their own imaging are bogus. Urologists, orthopods and others are acquiring their own CT machines and MRI machines and taking market share from the radiologists. That's a big problem, as today's column notes, because the urologists and the orthopods are the ones ordering the scans. Having their own machines gives them enormous incentives to run up the bill by prescribing unneeded scans, and indeed that's what seems to happen.
In a real market, giving radiologists a monopoly on MRIs would be bad policy. But this isn't a real market. What's desperately needed in American medicine is to separate those prescribing expensive procedures from those profiting from them. Let's use radiologists as expert technicians performing tests ordered by others. That'll cut down on needless, wasteful scans.
Advocates for orthopedists pay lip service to the soaring utilization and cost of MRI scans. A possible bill in the General Assembly allowing orthopods to have MRIs might require the docs to tell patients that other MRI options are available. Come on. Like anybody is going to go to the trouble of signing up with an independent lab when the nice orthopod is right there telling you what to do and the nurse is ready to make the appointment.
Attorney Howard Rubin represents a couple hundred Maryland doctors seeking approval for non-radiologist MRIs who, he says, "are committed to protecting patient choice and access to quality care.” The reason America spends twice as much on medicine as other countries and experiences poorer outcomes is that patients have too much access to care, much of it superfluous, most of it paid for by somebody else, with no regard for the costs. Time to start changing that.
Business share of state’s operating funding. Approximately $2.5 billion of the state’s $13 billion in revenues to the state’s General Fund in 2008 was derived directly from business taxpayers mostly through corporate income taxes, individual income taxes, sales taxes, and property taxes, along with other industry-specific taxes. That amounts to 19.2 percent of the state’s general operating revenues.
What Fry neglects to mention is that, dollar-for-dollar, business gets more out of government spending in Maryland than in almost any other state. Check out the table below from the Council on State Taxation, but big-business lobby in state taxes. In the ratio of what it pays in taxes to what it gets in return, Maryland business is better off than business in any other state except Nevada.
The whole COST study is here. This is not an argument to raise Maryland biz taxes. It's a suggestion to put things in perspective. Here is the table. The lower the ratio, the more business gets in government services per tax dollar paid.
From this week's Economist:
Germany scores highly on several other economic gauges, too. It is one of only two countries in the G7 where the unemployment rate ended the decade lower than it began. Its current rate of 6.6% (using the standardised international definition) is the second-lowest, well below America’s 9.4%. For the first time eastern Germany now has a lower jobless rate than California.
The January jobs report was a mixed bag. Unemployment plunged for the second month in a row, but the increase in payroll employment of 36,000 jobs was far less than the expected ~150,000. Nevertheless it's an encouraging report, especially in the context of other recently released economic indicators.
Two straight months of unemployment declines of 0.4 percent is big news and looks a lot like the Reagan economic recovery of 1983 -- read the NYT's Floyd Norris's column on this from yesterday. Normally people discount the unemployment report because it's based on an uncertain telephone survey, can jump around and depends on the technical definition of unemployment, which means actively looking for a job.
But perhaps the unemployment survey is telling us more about the recovery than the payroll survey. The payroll survey has a habit of missing new jobs in a recovery. The Labor Department can't survey employers that it doesn't know exist, and in recoveries new companies are formed. They hire people totally off the Labor Department' radar screen, at least initially.
In past recoveries the revised numbers have shown much stronger job growth than was initially reported. Already the Labor Department has been pretty consistently revising payroll employment upward in the months after the initial report comes out. It happened again in this morning's report for December and November. My bet is that the January payroll numbers will be revised upward later.
There is other good news out there. Consumer spending was decent in the fourth quarter. Industry surveys are showing positive results. Consumer confidence is up. The most recent unemployment claims were down sharply. Those data suggest that a 0.8 percent decline in unemployment over two months shows the start of a jobs recovery.
UPDATE: Here is my conversation with WBAL's Bill Vanko about this after the results came out at 8:30.
The switch shows increased confidence that growth in the U.S. and Europe will underpin the global expansion as emerging countries raise interest rates to combat inflation, according to Artemis Investment Management and ING Investment Management. It has catapulted Bill Miller’s $4.07 billion Legg Mason Capital Management Value Trust to the top of the mutual fund rankings after trailing 98 percent of peers in 2010, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
The fund gained 5.4 percent for January. Bill Miller back on top? asks Barry Ritholtz. Not so fast. And Barry supplies this chart showing Miller's miserable performance vs. the S&P 500 over the course of the past decade-plus.
Got a form from United Way two days ago stating my donation for 2010. I thought it was weird -- it was about $400 less than I thought I had given through payroll deductions at The Sun. Now I get this in the email. Good for them for catching the mistake and notifying people quickly of their intent to correct it.
Dear James Hancock, You recently received a letter from me acknowledging your gift for 2010 for tax purposes. Unfortunately we had a glitch in our system causing a batch of these letters to go out with the incorrect amount. We are sincerely sorry that this happened and are working to correct the situation immediately. A new letter is being sent to everyone affected with the corrected amount.
Justin Fenton's excellent story on the trial of Jose Cavazos and Wade Coats portrays the deadly supply chain, rarely chronicled, that gets drugs from Latin America to Baltimore. In this case it's Mexico's infamous Gulf Cartel that was picking up checks at the Capitol Grille and ferrying a mobile home jammed with cocaine across America.
You've probably heard news about "drug wars" or "drug-related violence" in Mexico. It's a vastly underplayed story in the United States. It is tearing Mexico apart, and the Gulf Cartel is at the center of the evil. Members of the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas cartel are fighting it out for supremacy, killing each other, police and innocent bystanders by hundreds.
If you can stomach extremely gruesome photographs (and a few four-letter words, which are, juxtaposed with what's described, entirely inoffensive) check out the eXiled's new piece by Pancho Montana, its drug-war correspondent. He describes the war between the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel in brutal detail.
This is what your drug habit and your outlawing of drugs does, America. Your money finances the killing. Your refusal to set up a legal competitor to the cartels keeps them in business. Your war on drugs to stop them has failed. Legalize cocaine and heroin -- dispense it to addicts from government-controlled clinics -- and the Gulf Cartel and its rivals go out of business. Here's Montana:
First, let’s go over what happened last year: 2010 was the bloodiest, most violent year in recent history in my home state of Nuevo Leon–Monterrey is the capital of this state, for you short-memoried gringos out there. Official figures estimate there’ve been around 700 deaths in the wars between cops and narcos, but knowing how the Zetas operate in this state it’s safe to say the real figure is at least double or triple that amount. The violence has only accelerated due to the ugly split between the big players—the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel–a break-up that’s dragged the entire state into in a war-like situation, in which every day the news was filled with stories of more shootouts, more executions, more kidnappings, more good ol’ family feuding between the two cartels.
Economist Michael Mandel seems guardedly optimistic. He urges agencies such as Maryland's Department of Business and Economic Development to start thinking about how to "recapture" factory jobs lost to China, now that China isn't as cheap as it once was. The idea is that some industries could be competitive making stuff in America now that China prices are going up sharply.
It’s time for state and local economic development agencies to start honing their import recapture strategies. By ‘import recapture strategy’, I mean the judicious use of loans and other aid to help rebuild and restart manufacturing production and jobs that were lost to foreign factories.*
Yes, I know that sounds weird after all the manufacturing jobs that have been lost. Anecdotally, the price differential between China and the U.S. was on the order of 35%. Given the price jumps in the pipeline, all of a sudden the cost of U.S. production might be in spitting distance for some industries.That’s especially true since domestic manufacturers have the advantage of being close and flexible.
I'm skeptical. China is not the last redoubt of cheap manufacturing. Producers will move to Vietnam, Cambodia or Indonesia. In a world where more than a billion people still live on $2 a day or less, it seems like there are plenty of other places to seek low-cost inputs (including but perhaps not confined to labor).
Good thread on Big Picture. Barry starts out by asking: Who are the biggest corporate welfare queens?, and throw out suggestions. The comments are very interesting.
Let’s start with:
Big Oil: $4B (see this)
Ethanol/Corn Growers $XX Billions
What specific legislation would you change? What tax breaks would you get rid of?
Let’s see who really is a deficit hawk and who is a deficit peacock…
Fox News's Gene Koprowski wants people to comment on the notion that increased greenhouse gases can worsen winter storms. But apparently only if they think the suggestion is stupid. He put out this query on profnet, a resource journalists use to get in touch with academics and other experts on deadline. He wants "comments from someone who can point out the ridiculousness of [the] argument." Gawker has the text.
Perhaps Koprowski already had scientists who agree with the idea that climate change can worsen winter storms and needed Profnet to seek out a skeptic, to provide "balance." (Can't find a finished column online.) But you would think the Fox folks would have a well-used (if thin) folder of those folks on speed dial.
1. ENVIRONMENT/TODAY: Global Warming Causing More Snow? Come Again? — FoxNews.com Deadline: Feb 01, 2011 11:00 PM EST
Former Vice President Al Gore told Bill O'Reilly that: "A rise in global temperature can create all sorts of havoc, ranging from hotter dry spells to colder winters, along with increasingly violent storms, flooding, forest fires and loss of endangered species." We need comments from someone who can point out the ridiculousness of his argument, even if you accept the somewhat-implausible argument. I've been assigned this story just now by Fox News in New York for the science and technology desk. I'm looking for comments. Please send comments via e-mail. Please send your name, title and company you represent. Please send comments by 10 p.m. CST. Contact: Gene Koprowski, [redacted]
It's disturbing that the FDIC is wasting taxpayer dollars defending against Kwaku Atta Poku's lawsuit to regain what for all the world looks like what's his, when at the same time the agency says it's trying to keep people who defaulted on their mortgages in their homes. Atta Poku is the guy who didn't default. He never missed a payment, according to Larry Carson's story. But because somebody -- not Atta Poku -- messed up during a refinancing, the old mortgage never got paid off and Atta Poku eventually lost his house.
The FDIC is the defendant because it's the receiver for failed lenders. Details of the case can be gleaned from Judge Bates's November dismissal of Atta Poku's complaint.
The FDIC doesn't want to give a man what seems to be his, but it says it's all about stopping foreclosures on people who stopped paying their mortgages:
The FDIC -- along with fellow regulators and the banking industry -- is working vigorously to help consumers and the banking industry avoid unnecessary foreclosures and stop foreclosure "rescue" scams that promise false hope to consumers at risk of losing their homes. Banks that originate and service mortgage loans are encouraged to make prudent attempts to find solutions for homeowners having trouble making their mortgage payments.
The FDIC is also working vigorously to uphold injustice for a guy who looks like he really got screwed.
We're hearing a lot about the evils of Chinese inflation. It's one of Mark Zandi's Four Worries about the U.S. economy. Of the four Robert Wasilewski says Chinese inflation is the biggest. This business columnist implied that Chinese inflation is part of an overall scenario of rising inflation, including for the U.S.
But let me play devil's advocate. There's another, positive side, to inflation in China and other developing nations. It's making their manufactured products less competitive on the world stage and moving to reduce trade deficits in the United States (check out Keith Bradsher's story in the NYT) and other developing nations. Chinese inflation is eroding China's low-cost advantage in the world economy. It's a ricochet effect from China's policy of depressing its currency. (That's poetic justice, because currency manipulation is China's attempt to keep its low-cost edge.)
In a developed world where policymakers are still obsessed about deflation, maybe a little inflation imported from China would be a good thing.