5 x 8: You may be more government dependent than you think


Ask most people if they benefit from a government “safety net” program, and most will say “no,” but many of them do, according to Marketplace reporter Krissy Clark.  Interviewing Cornell University professor and “invisible government” expert Suzanne Mettler, Clark reports:

Let’s take the second category first— employer health care and retirement benefits, which have been tax-free for decades, as a policy that encourages employers to provide health insurance for their workers. “If our employers gave us the same amount of money they put in to these benefits in to our paychecks” instead, Mettler says, “we’d be paying income taxes on it.” Since we don’t have to pay those taxes, we’re effectively getting a little extra money in our pockets, and a little more economic stability.

The home mortgage interest deduction is a good illustration of a safety net program “hidden” in the tax code, Mettler says. “We could have a housing policy in the United States where everyone got a check every month to help them pay their mortgage,” she says. “But instead we channel it through the tax code and we simply allow people to pay less. From an accounting perspective, it’s the same thing.”

But from a political perspective, it’s a very different thing, argues Mettler. To create these sorts of “submerged” safety nets lawmakers don’t need to raise taxes. And people who use them rarely think of themselves as reliant on a government program. Of course, not everyone agrees with Mettler’s framing. “I receive emails from some people saying ‘How can you call these provisions in the tax code government social benefits? This is simply government taking less of my money,’” she says.


The 19 “Hotshots” who died trying to save people’s homes in Arizona this summer were hailed as heroes.

Then it came time for the city of Prescott to live up to their promise to the people who risk their lives for people’s “stuff.”

It’s denying survivor benefits accorded city workers because they’re considered “seasonal workers,” CBS reports.

“I said to them, ‘My husband was a full-time employee, he went to work full-time for you,'” one widow said, “and their response to me was, ‘Perhaps there was a communication issue in your marriage.'”



If doctors stopped using the word, “cancer,” would you be less likely to agree to more tests and treatments?

A recent Journal of the American Medical Association article claimed Americans are overdiagnosed and overtreated, chasing cancer treatments that likely won’t make much difference. You might live, but you probably would’ve lived anyway.

John Horgan, of Scientific American, says the significance of the article is it comes from the very industry that’s responsible: the medical community.

One policy change that the authors recommend would be to avoid using the term “cancer” to describe tumors or other abnormalities that are not life-threatening. When patients hear the word “cancer,” they often demand further tests and treatment, even when medically unjustified, and physicians are too often eager to comply.

The JAMA article, if anything, downplays the problems with cancer testing. For example, the authors state that “colon and cervical cancer are examples of effective screening programs in which early detection and removal of precancerous lesions have reduced incidence as well as late-stage disease.” As I stated in a column last year, “Why I Won’t Get a Colonoscopy,” the value of colonoscopies has not been clearly demonstrated.

In that same column, I quoted Gilbert Welch, a professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice Welch, writing in The New York Times that screening healthy people leads to “needless appointments, needless tests, needless drugs and needless operations (not to mention all the accompanying needless insurance forms).”


Jane Catherine Lotter and you probably didn’t know her, but the Seattle woman has become the latest “popular” obit because it’s not like every other obit you read — formulaic and focusing on our jobs rather than our lives.

Ms. Lotter wrote her own obit instead.

I was given the gift of life, and now I have to give it back. This is hard. But I was a lucky woman, who led a lucky existence, and for this I am grateful. I first got sick in January 2010. When the cancer recurred last year and was terminal, I decided to be joyful about having had a full life, rather than sad about having to die.

Amazingly, this outlook worked for me. (Well, you know, most of the time.) Meditation and the study of Buddhist philosophy also helped me accept what I could not change. At any rate, I am at peace. And on that upbeat note, I take my mortal leave of this rollicking, revolving world-this sun, that moon, that walk around Green Lake, that stroll through the Pike Place Market, the memory of a child’s hand in mine

According to the obit, she also took advantage of the fact it’s legal in Washington state to take one’s own life with a physician assisting.(h/t: Will Lager)

Related: Living with ALS: The right kind of bucket list (MPR)

2-year-old dies just days after being parents’ best man (NBC)


Baseball has suspended 13 ballplayers for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. The biggest name, you may have heard, is Alex Rodriguez. He’s remained blind to his actions, the Star Tribune’s Chip Scoggins writes today in the Star Tribune.

“If only the narcissistic phony in New York would have accepted his punishment, too, and faded into oblivion. Alas, Alex Rodriguez clings to his last shred of hope, a pariah even to his own team and fan base, defiant and smug to the end,” he writes.

But not everyone came to bury A-Rod. “It seems the media have gone overboard in their portrayals of A-Rod as a player uniquely deserving of flagellation,” writes Greg Simons of Hardball Times today. “Why don’t I have the same feelings of derision toward Rodriguez? I think it’s a combination of an admiration of the major league talent he demonstrated at such an early age and a reflex response to the overabundance of abuse he has received for more than a decade.”

Bonus I: 6 clever reuses for plastic bread tags.

Bonus II: NPR and Threadless launch T-shirt challenge (Current.org)

Bonus III: Wisconsin’s supper club culture.

Bonus IV: While we’re trying to follow his game Of checkers, Jeff Bezos is playing chess (TechCrunch)

Should CNN and NBC pull Clinton shows?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Income inequality.

Second hour: Tom Weber speaks with MCTC officials why there’s such a large amount of homelessness among college students and what schools are doing to address it.

Third hour: NPR’s former “spy beat” reporter Mary Louise Kelly debuts her first thriller, Anonymous Sources, this summer. Kelly combines her reporting experience and knowledge in introducing us to Alexandra James, an intelligent young reporter who gets caught up in a murder and a terrorism investigation. She joins The Daily Circuit to talk about her first novel, spies and reporting, and how she hit the wall.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): From the Aspen Ideas Festival: Three doctors speak on a health care panel titled, “The Overtested American.”

The Takeaway (1-2 p.m.) – U.S. Extends Closure of Some Embassies & Diplomatic Posts | TVs Stay Dark Amid Time Warner, CBS Dispute | Messy Desks a Sign of Creativity

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – The race for governor and U.S. Senate are overshadowing what could be another competitive statewide race: the campaign for Minnesota secretary of state. Democrat Mark Ritchie announced in June that he’s not running for reelection. A few Democrats have quickly announced that they’re running for the seat but no Republican has filed the official paperwork yet. MPR’s Tom Scheck will have the story.