Thursday, November 14, 2013

"Socialist" Obamacare a boon to insurance companies

But wait a minute, I thought we were told Obamacare was going to destroy free-market insurance companies? I mean isn't "rampant socialism" supposed to be bad for capitalism?

Of course the ACA is nothing close to the socialist program Republicans would have us believe -- just ask Mitt. But all you really need to do is check out the performance of the health care insurance stocks. If Obamacare was going to wreak havoc on the private insurance industry, one would surely see the proof in the pudding when it came to stock price returns.

The chart below shows stock price performance for the S&P 500 (red), the iShares US Health Care Provider ETF (IHF, blue) and then eight of the largest publicly-traded health care insurers. The start date is March 23, 2010, when President Obama signed the ACA into law.

In the time period, the health care provider ETF returned 74%, far surpassing the 52% gain for the S&P 500. Meanwhile seven of the eight insurance stocks easily trounced the S&P 500 with only Wellpoint underperforming the S&P 500, albeit ever so slightly.

Oh yeah, it's quite clear Obamacare has just devastated our capitalist system.... Gads, just more lies.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Some interesting numbers

In reading this week's The New Yorker magazine, I came across some interesting numbers.

I'll first give three numbers: 5 million, 10 million and 1.5 million.What do they refer to?
  • Obama was reelected by a net margin win of 5 million votes.
  • For the Senate in 2012, Democrats received 10 million more votes than Republicans.
  • For the House in 2012, Democrats received 1.5 million more votes than Republicans.
And yet because of redistricting, Republicans retained control of the House. It's for this reason we went through the government shutdown and faced default on our debt. It's why there's dysfunction in Washington. Democrats received many more votes last year, but due to gerrymandering and arcane redistricting laws, they do not wield the equivalence in power. Instead a minority of extreme far-right Republicans hold an inordinate amount of power and in many respects abuse it for purely selfish reasons.

More numbers:
In 1965, C.E.O.s at big companies earned, on average, about twenty times as much as their typical employee. These days, C.E.O.s earn about two hundred and seventy times as much.
Incredible. In less than 50 years, CEO pay has ballooned by more than 13 times the compensation of the typical employee. The ratio in 1965 would have a CEO today making $800K assuming a typical employee earned $40K. However, the actual ratio for today has that CEO earning close to $11 million, well above the already bloated $800K figure. Certainly this business model can't last. It's Rome all over again.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

It's over, finally

Yippee. It's over. Finally. We won't default on our debt and the government should be open for business by tomorrow morning.

And what was it all for? What did the Tea Party zealots get in return? As far as I can tell, "Obamacare" emerges intact and spending remains as it would've been if none of this occurred. It's pretty much status quo, business as usual. On the surface, the Tea Party got nothing, but in actuality what they got was unprecedented media attention, the likes of which is worth many millions of dollars. Through Sen. Cruz, they held the country hostage, shutting down the government and risking national default, all so that they could garner some free publicity. Like cheap, two-bit shysters. These are U-S-A patriots? This is country first??

So things get pushed off till February, when we undoubtedly will have to go through this crap all over again. Will this become the norm for how government will operate in the future? Every six months, we'll go through this nonsense to see if the government (and national parks, etc.) will remain open and the country won't default on its debt? If so, then rating agencies should lower our credit rating! Talk about third world!

Assuming this unfortunately becomes the norm, I recommend ignoring the media and following the stock market when it comes to gleaning the most likely outcome. During this past ordeal, the market held up well through it all, indicating much of it was idiotic showboating and correctly looking past the inane shenanigans. In general, investors collectively are not stupid. 

As for Republicans, they have only themselves to blame. Carve up a bunch of districts through gerrymandering to successfully elect a bunch of what would normally be unelectable candidates, i.e. lunatics -- you get what you deserve. Inmates are definitely running the asylum. 

The much greater tragedy is we as a country get screwed in the process. At least Reagan was shrewd enough to just pretend to care, to throw the nutballs some symbolic morsels they could chew on yet never letting them gain enough voice to wield actual power. Somewhere the former president is shaking his head, saying "You idiots!" (and, "Enough with renaming so many post offices after me!!").

Friday, October 04, 2013


Where is it written that only the Republicans and Tea Party crackpots can be "justifiably" angry, with their so-called righteous outrage?? Like many non-Republican Americans, I'm currently mad as hell and as is most often the case, the reason I'm angry is because of Republicans and Tea Party crackpots.

Yesterday morning, in a moment when it appeared as if the stock market was about to break and likely fall off a cliff, I sent this to some friends:

What is to blame for all of this? I say the crazy redistricting laws, which allows district lines to be drawn that makes it possible for the normally unelectable to get elected. A few kooks here and there get voted into office and the next thing they wield an inordinate amount of power, destroying anything that resembles a democracy. They say they care about the country and the Constitution -- bullcrap! They only care about what they themselves specifically care about and the hell with everyone and everything else -- including the Constitution! The country has been taken hostage by a bunch of nutballs, but make no mistake, in "normal" times such people still existed but had no chance of winning an election. All of that changed with redistricting. It's why Tea Party candidates will never win the White House -- the power of redistricting can't extend far enough nationally for that to happen -- and yet it doesn't stop the few from winning their pretzel-shaped districts, banding together and wreaking havoc.

What is the predominant fear? I agree with those who say that the big fear is Obamacare will succeed and become very popular. Years from now, when the program has been repeatedly refined and improved, as any such program has evolved, and the many benefits become increasingly apparent to the masses, the fear is Obama will receive tons of credit and goodwill, that he'll become the equivalent of FDR and the New Deal. Republicans know that they must snuff Obamacare out now before it has a chance to take hold and blossom. The demographics already disfavor Republicans in the future, the last thing they need is a Democrat-sponsored government program becoming wildly popular.

As for the government shut down, I continue to believe the adults in the room will eventually take control and Republicans will cave in to their true masters: the top 1%. Right now the stock market is hanging in there, much as it did in late 1995 during the last shut down, but it did look as if it was going to crack yesterday morning and may still do so in the near future if the shenanigans continue. Reminder: the top 1% hold most of the $$$ tied up in stocks. If the market takes a meaningful nose dive, you can bet the phones will be ringing in most GOP offices with angry voices saying, "Enough already! Cut the crap, or else!"

And presto, the government shut down would end. Well, that's what would occur in a normal world, but perhaps, as Obama said, it truly is different this time.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

It's not all bad

At a time when Obama's poll numbers are at all-time lows, it's good to be reminded of the many positive things he's been able to achieve that don't get the attention they deserve.
The larger point is that overall, as an independent review by Republican Senator John McCain’s finance chairman confirmed, the Energy Department’s $40 billion loan portfolio is performing well. It’s also transforming the energy landscape with America’s largest wind farm, a half-dozen of the world’s largest solar plants, cellulosic biofuel refineries and much more. Obama didn’t support one company or one technology; he supported all kinds of plausible alternatives to fossil fuels. He didn’t pick winners and losers; he picked the game of cleaner energy. And we’re winning. The U.S. has doubled its production of renewable power. Our carbon emissions are at their lowest levels since the early 1990s. And after decades when the U.S. invented products like solar panels and lithium–ion batteries only to see them manufactured and deployed abroad, we’re finally making green stuff at home. For example, not only are we generating twice as much wind power, we’re making twice as many of the components for U.S. wind turbines. -- Michael Grunwald, Time

Friday, August 09, 2013

Global warming anyone?

"Oil drillers in North Dakota's Bakken shale fields are allowing nearly a third of the natural gas they drill to burn off into the air, with a value of more than $100 million per month, according to a study to be released on Monday." -- Reuters

It's one thing to burn fossil fuels to produce energy, it's quite another to burn fossil fuels to produce nothing, simply because we have too much of it.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Paula Deen

What I want to know is how this racist chef-cracker ever got this many corporate sponsors...?

Friday, June 07, 2013

Our Biggest Blown Opportunity

I've written about this topic before, but with the collapse of the bridge near Seattle I felt it was worth writing about again.

Here's the checklist:
  • Our infrastructure is woefully in need of fixing. We get a report card grade of D+ by the American Society of Civil Engineers with needed investment for repairs estimated at $3.6 trillion by 2020.
  • Our bridges, roads, buildings, etc. will not improve or fix themselves over time. The needed repairs will only grow in number and worsen, becoming ultimately more expensive to fix.
  • The longer we postpone infrastructure upkeep, it not only becomes fiscally more expensive but also more costly in terms of human lives at risk.
  • Importantly, real interest rates are negative and have been negative for months. This means we as a country are being paid to borrow! If there ever was a time to borrow, it's now. And yet thanks to the deficit scolds, the public has been convinced we should do the opposite, cut back and pay down existing debt. No doubt we will look back 10 or 20 years from now and deeply regret the fact we let this rare opportunity pass us by, as real interest rates by then could be north of 10%.
  • By borrowing and investing in our infrastructure now, we would be able to stimulate our sluggish economy and put people back to work. Every $1 spent on infrastructure helps boost the economy by $2, i.e. a massive 2-1 multiplier effect. Given interest rates are negative and unemployment has seemingly stalled at 7.5%-8%, I repeat, now is the time to borrow/invest!
I'm sure the list could be longer, but you get the point. It's a complete no-brainer. The pros far and away outnumber the cons. In fact, I can't think of any cons (at least not any good ones).

Oh wait, that's right, there is one con, the big con, that being the lie hoisted by Republicans onto the naive public, having them believe our deficit is out of control and that we need to tighten our belt as a nation and pay for the sins of our past. But even as the deficit shrinks faster than anyone expected, there are no belated calls to finally spend the money on our infrastructure. No, instead we get new distractions in the form of trumped-up "scandals" ala Benghazi and the IRS.

Sad to say, we as a country get what we deserve, enabling the crafty few to hoodwink the clueless many.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Obama, Syria & Bush/Cheney

Over the last few days, the Obama administration has conveyed far-from-conclusive statements about the use of chemical weapons in Syria. When one hears phrases like "with varying degrees of confidence," it's quite a stretch to regard anything as certain.

And yet it doesn't stop many on the right -- including more than few right-leaning friends of mine -- from directing criticism at Obama, claiming he had a "red line" which appears to have been crossed, so what is he waiting for? It's another chance for them to hopefully cast him as a wobbly Democrat when it comes to making difficult decisions about going to war or intervening militarily in another country.

As always, Obama's no dope. He remembers all too well what happened when the prior administration acted on very inconclusive intel about WMD. He's definitely not going to make that same mistake.

However, suppose the intel is 90% or 95% on-the-mark, that it's very likely Syria did indeed use chemical weapons, but yet it's not 99.9% ironclad. Will Obama delay in favor of getting a near-100% certain answer from intelligence sources? And what if his desire for certitude ends up taking a prolonged amount of time during which something awful happens? And will such intel ever be 99.9% conclusive, and at what point should a president just act?

I believe these are all valid points and questions, and I don't claim to have the definitive answers. However, I would remind those on the right that if you want to blame anyone at a time like this, start with your boys Bush/Cheney. It was their bungling of intel in the lead up to Iraq (leaving aside how much was cooked or fabricated at the time) that has forever affected how future presidents will decide to act under similar circumstances. Can anyone blame Obama if he were to hesitate, even slightly, given recollections of the Bush/Cheney years? Would he even want to risk being cast in the same light as Bush/Cheney if the Syrian intel turned out to be wrong?

Some may say that the extremely regretful past of Bush/Cheney has managed to at least create lemonade from lemons in that if anything it insures that future presidents will take inordinate steps to insure all intel is accurate. I would argue that Bush/Cheney were the exceptions, that most if not all prior administrations did take the necessary time and effort to insure that intelligence was solid and actionable. The mistakes and chicanery committed by GW's administration does not improve the chances that intel will be more accurate. The protocols, routines and systems in place likely remain now as they were then. In fact, arguments can be made that overall the intelligence community performed very well during the Bush years, and that the failures came from higher-ups within the administration and not so much within the "nuts and bolts" of the intel apparatus.

But a lasting harm of Bush/Cheney is for any president to refrain from acting on intel due to excessive fears of it being faulty. Yet no intel will ever be 100% certain and such hesitancy to act could eventually cost lives. Make no mistake, and I hope it's obvious, I'm not making the case that Obama should rush to judgment and take action versus Syria. Rather I'm simply making the case that these kinds of decisions are not and never have been easy, and yet thanks to the shameful legacy of GW/Cheney, it has only been made a much more difficult process for all future presidents for all the wrong reasons.

In this time of Bush reconsideration, one should remember the many horrible truths of his eight years in office. To this day we continue to be adversely affected by his incompetent reign.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Obama Proposes $900 Billion Surplus!

(UPDATE: The great wonk-maestro Ezra Klein kindly informed me that my numbers were off a bit, he reminds that the $1.8 trillion plan is over 10 years, not one, and even then the deficit never completely disappears. I admit to an extent I was purposefully somewhat hyperbolic and a tad facetious with this entry, but my bad for not closely studying all the details in Obama's proposal. And silly me to rely on simple math when it comes to Washington, tsk tsk. But apart from a lack of eventual surplus, despite close to a $2 trillion proposal, all of my remaining points below stand.)

Huh? Obama proposes a surplus?

Here’s the running tally on the federal deficit:

Note the $200+ billion Clinton surplus (in yellow), which Bush/Cheney quickly turned into years of deficits.

Also note that despite the year after year of deficits under Bush/Cheney, we never heard a peep from the Tea Party and/or Republicans. As a rule, deficits only matter when a "D" resides in the White House.

As you can see, the (inherited) deficit has come down under Obama by -35% ($1.4 trillion to $900 billion), one of if not the biggest and fastest deficit reductions ever, in our history. Yet, just as we never heard boo from the Tea Party/Republicans about the deficits during Bush/Cheney's reign, we never hear boo about the fact that the deficit has been declining since 2009. For that matter, just as we never hear much about how the stock market has more than doubled with a pinko socialist as President.

So this past week Obama proposed a $1.8 trillion deficit reduction package. Given the deficit is projected to be $900 billion by the end of this year, judging by my math, in effect he's proposing a plan to achieve a sizable ($900 billion) surplus. Let's please stop using "balance the budget" or "erase the deficit" and start using that "S" word more -- it has a huge impact on the public and always harkens back to the last time we had a surplus, the Clinton years. Ah yes, when times were better.

But again, we never hear a peep about any of this.... Oh, that liberal media.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Scalia: oh, the ignorance

This week in the same-sex marriage hearing, Justice Scalia wondered aloud if same-sex parents were harmful to children.

Just last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics endorsed same-sex couples as parents to children. A pretty big deal, widely reported.

What more evidence does one need to realize how out-of-touch and misinformed Scalia is on many issues? I mean this is inexcusable. He may not agree with the endorsement, but he certainly can't suggest that there does not exist any scientific evidence concluding that same-sex parents may or may not be harmful to children. For the AAP to approve means there exists many years worth of studies proving no harm (and the report has 60 citations).

But as is common with Fox News, Scalia appears to only know that which he chooses to know, ignoring the rest of the fact-based world that he deems to be dissonant or in conflict with his heavily self-edited view.

Brilliant legal mind? C'mon.

Monday, March 18, 2013

How Anemic Was The Stimulus?

We know that the 2007-2009 economic collapse has been unprecedented in terms of the toll taken on jobs, and such devastation has unfortunately continued to linger much longer than history would have otherwise suggested. Why has the economy remained in such a funk, with the rate of unemployment stubbornly hovering well above the 7% level?

One significant reason has been the lack of fiscal stimulus. Oh yes, we had the American Economic Recovery Act of 2009, but it was much too low a figure in relation to the economic damage it aimed to mend. And a good chunk of that Act was not good old fashioned fiscal stimulus in the form of spending but rather tax cuts, which are substantially less effective when it comes to turning around an ailing economy. Meanwhile, since the downturn, the political climate has been obsessed with the opposite of fiscal stimulus, that being austerity in the form of deficit reduction. (Never mind that Economics 101 dictates the time to spend and ignore the deficit is during economic recessions/depressions. Instead we had GW/Cheney obliterate a surplus ala Cheney's "deficits don't matter" -- it didn't matter then, but apparently it does now, exactly at the wrong time.)

So the stimulus was not big enough, but the nagging question remains: how big should it have been? I think the two charts below help to establish at least a ballpark figure on that number.

The first chart shows the percent of job losses as compared to past recessions. As you can see, this current recession has been the worst ever in this respect. The second chart shows amounts of fiscal stimulus delivered in past recessions, more specifically during the Reagan and GW Bush recessions compared to Obama's inherited debacle.

The first chart makes the case that compared to Reagan's (purple line) and GW's (brown line) recessions, Obama's (red line) recession is twice as bad as Reagan's and three times worse than GW's downturn. These figures are arrived at by comparing the worst point in the job loss levels, the red line (Obama) bottoming below -6% as compared to -3% for Reagan and -2% for Bush II.

It's just one metric, admittedly, but it is apples-to-apples and employment loss does get at the root of an economic decline. What is made plain to see is that the fiscal stimulus (in real dollars) for Obama should have been at least 2x-3x greater than that passed during the recessions of Reagan and GW.

And yet the second chart clearly shows that not only has stimulus been anemic during this most recent recession/depression, it hasn't come close to the levels achieved during the Reagan and GW downturns. In fact, we see the bars for the recent downturn actually go negative, when as just stated, those bars should be 2x-3x higher than what is shown for the 1981-1982 and 2001 recessions. Incredible. A far worse economic condition and yet far less stimulus delivered as a remedy.

Of course, the fiscal stimulus bars are positive for recessions other than Obama's because prior to when the "Kenyan" took office, Congress knew that spending was necessary to help get an ailing economy humming again. Democrats worked with Republicans to pass such fiscal spending bills for the betterment of all Americans. Clearly that has not been the case for Obama, with Republicans vowing to stonewall and vote against any meaningful fiscal stimulus in the form of government spending.

Well there you have it, one attempt to arrive at an estimate for how much bigger stimulus should have been compared to past precedent. What is obvious is it was woefully too small, and remains so. As a further stick in the eye, real interest rates are negative, meaning investors are paying the federal government to take on added debt! We should be spending more and ignoring the deficit! Bridges, roads and infrastructure will have to be repaired at some point -- now is the time, not just because it will help the economy and job market, but because it also makes sense financially given the level of real interest rates.

Oh forget it. Since when did facts and reason make a difference to modern-day Republicans?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Rob Portman's "Courageous" Flip-Flop

Ohio senator Rob Portman recently changed his position on gay marriage, stating "I have come to believe that if two people are prepared to make a lifetime commitment to love and care for each other in good times and in bad, the government shouldn’t deny them the opportunity to get married." And many are applauding his sudden turnaround, deeming it courageous and brave.

Really? In this day and age, isn't this kind of decision -- to update one's views to match the current century -- just a long overdue correction, something that doesn't deserve being rewarded with laudatory characterizations? Rather Portman should simply be commended for joining the side of reason as well as the side aligned with the Constitution, the law of this land, as opposed to say the Bible. And then it should be glibly asked, "What took you so long?"

But of course, as often is the case, it takes a personal event to resonate with a politician enough to have him or her consider changing a position. Never mind said person should've had the empathy and ability to consider others versus oneself to arrive at a just decision. In this case, Portman learned that his own son was gay and such a revelation apparently changed everything.

However, something not getting mentioned in this story is a time table. Portman wrote, "Two years ago, my son Will, then a college freshman, told my wife, Jane, and me that he is gay." Two years ago? And Portman only recently changed his opinion on this issue?? Let me understand, after his son told him he was gay, it took the senator two whole years to gain the wisdom and muster the courage to reverse his position publicly. What a man, I say, what a paragon of bravery, a valiant soul!


It's similar to those who call Paul Ryan "brave" and "courageous" for having the "guts" to cut taxes on the wealthy, slash programs for the poor and elderly, and vow to close many tax loopholes without naming one specifically. What a ballsy American! Yes, a genuine Braveheart without the skirt and makeup....

As Paul Simon (& Art Garfunkel) once sang, "Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?"

Monday, March 11, 2013

True dat!

A poetic takedown of the financial media and Wall Street types, by Lawrence O'Donnell.

The market has more than doubled under Obama, compared to -25% under GW's eight years, and we know what the market did under Clinton, yet you don't hear a friggin peep about this from the Wall Street crowd. It's been shown in studies that the market has done better with Dems in the White House than Republicans, but facts are illusory to this crowd -- except when it has to do with companies. Most on the Street root for the Republican to win despite evidence showing the GOP is bad for their profession. Crazy.

Just imagine what we'd be hearing if the stock market more than doubled with a Republican in charge. The shrill boasting would be endless and insufferable. In large part, because it rarely happens.

But do we hear the Democrats boasting? Do we hear it repeated over and over on MSNBC? Nope. Nothing.