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The Takeaway: Gingrich Pushes Private Social Security Accounts In Debate; Rethinking Aspirin

Style Trumps Substance in South Carolina: At the 16th Republican presidential debate last night-yep, 16th-the candidates were spunky, spirited … and sometimes spurious. Here’s a fact-check of some of the candidates‘ claims, from mere “shortcuts with complex realities” to “outright distortions” of the facts. Among them? Newt Gingrich describing the Chilean retirement system that he favors as a model for the United States as ‘totally voluntary.’

THE FACTS: There is nothing voluntary about Chile’s system. It requires that all workers contribute 10 percent of their salaries to private pension plans, plus other fees for insurance, instead of a government program like Social Security.

Gingrich brought up Chile’s plan in the course of advocating major Social Security changes. His proposal to allow younger workers to put their share of Social Security taxes into private accounts “makes every American an investor when they first go to work,” he said. But he didn’t say how he would pay for the costs of the change, which “could be huge,” notes New York Times blogger Robert Pear.

Economists say that money diverted to private Social Security accounts would otherwise be available to pay benefits of current retirees, and that the government would need to find other ways to cover these costs. Mr. Santorum said he had favored private accounts for 15 years, but thought the idea would be “fiscal insanity” at the moment. If Mr. Gingrich is right in suggesting that 95 percent of younger workers would establish private accounts, Mr. Santorum said, “there’ll be hundreds of billions of dollars in increased debts,” and “we’re going to be borrowing money from China to fund these accounts, which is wrong.”

Mr. Romney said, “We simply can’t say we’re going to go out and borrow more and more money to let people set up new accounts that take money away from Social Security and Medicare today.”

But retirement security wasn’t a huge issue in last night’s debate, only being raised for the first time about an hour and a half in. Frontrunner Mitt Romney spent a significant amount of time last night criticizing President Obama, while the other GOP hopefuls (all four of them, now that Jon Huntsman, Herman Cain and Michele Bachman have dropped out) took turns grilling Romney on everything from his jobs creation record to abortion to why he won’t release his tax returns.

Overall, the substance of last night’s debate seemed to take a backseat to “vamping” for the live crowd, as Washington Post blogger Chris Cillizza put it. “The result? Lots of conservative red meat thrown on the debate stage but not a lot of serious and detailed discussion that went beyond the candidates’ talking points.”

Rethinking Aspirin: The third of middle-aged Americans who regularly take aspirin may consider it harmless at worse and-at best-a prudent precaution against heart attack, stroke, and cancer. But a large study of aspirin use America, Europe and Japan found that for every 162 people who took aspirin, the drug prevented one nonfatal heart attack but caused about two serious bleeding episodes. Aspirin use had no effect on overall risk of dying during the study, nor on preventing cancer.

The patients analyzed, however, were all subjects who had never had a heart attack or stroke. For other groups, the benefits could outweigh the risk. Research has shown that in men who’ve had a previous heart attack, regular aspiring can lower the risk of another one by 20 to 30 percent. It can also reduce the risk of repeat strokes caused by blood clots in women. But “we have been able to show quite convincingly that in people without a previous heart attack or stroke, regular use of aspirin may be more harmful than it is beneficial,” said lead researcher Dr. Sreenivasa Seshasai, of the University of London.

For people with a strong family history of heart attack or stroke, the decision whether to take regular aspirin should be made “on a case-by-case basis” between patients and doctors, Seshasai said.

Tuesday Quick Hits: 

Photo: Jason Reed/Reuters