Last 2 weeks of the Presidential Election

July 26, 2012


As the Presidential race continues towards the end of summer and the start of the conventions in due time, the race appears to have started to tighten a bit.  Over this two week period President Obama has lost a bit of ground, probably due to his gaffes and negative campaigning, something he dodged entirely in 2008.  Mitt Romney appears to have caught up a bit but still lags overall.  His failure to take on the President has been sort of a cat and mouse situation all summer with neither side wanting to go all-in this soon.  A criticism of Romney’s during the primary campaign was how soft he was in the early contests with no hard hitting.  Florida changed that and he paid a bit later in the contest but eventually won.

I suspect that neither side wants to put the gloves on so soon.  Though President Obama seems to be struggling to find a message behind an ailing economy and continually disappointing jobs numbers.  Another slow report in Aug. and/or Sept. could be pretty damning to his campaign.  His efforts have fallen behind attacking Romney of late.  Something I suspect doesn’t sit well with voters looking for that same Hope and Change message of 2008.  Also this struggling for a message has caused the most notable gaffe to date “you didn’t build that”.

Romney on the other hand is slow playing.  Currently he’s on an under-publicized foreign trip, certainly compared to 2008 when then Sen. Obama was stopping for photo-ops and speeches in front of hundreds of thousands.  All of this leaves us wondering when Romney will ever join the fight.  He’s been careful not to lay out too many positions this early as to avoid any pitfalls in the fall.  At the same time he’s been sort of off the mind of voters, something I suspect he intends so that they’re not over-saturated come election time in the fall.

Overall I think the President is suffering from his economic situation right now and is struggling to make the campaign about Mitt Romney, which is failing in these recent weeks.  As more negative news about the economy surfaces, his numbers steadily decline.  Romney seems to be sitting back deflecting blows with a rope-a-dope strategy in play.  Trying by not trying, and thus allowing the election to be about what the voters care about, the economy.  This of course plays into his wheelhouse rather than jumping at side issues like immigration, gay rights, or gun control.

Pierce Morgan and Horrible Journalism

July 24, 2012

Pierce Morgan and Horrible Journalism

I saw this “discussion” last night on CNN.  I understand Mr. Morgan is from a different country with much different laws, but this was quite embarrassing on his part.  At least let the discussion occur before you decide to rip into it with your opinion or present some facts other than repeating over and over “100 rounds of ammunition a minute!”  While Mr. Morgan may have a point to make it gets drown out in him blatantly falling back on strawman arguments and shouting over, cutting off, and simply disrespecting someone he’s invited as a guest.  Not to mention the second guest slinging wild accusations about the NRA (which were untrue) and simply dismissing studies as “no no they’re false use common sense”.  This is not the 1800’s, this call to common sense in lieu of studies that exist simply because you don’t like the results is the height of anti-intellectualism.

Many people have strong feelings on this topic, but this “interview” was terrible.  It’s a display in bullying a “guest”.  At least let the opposing view speak, otherwise it’s nothing but an editorial present by Mr. Morgan to promote his own views.

Paying the “Fair Share”

July 24, 2012

Now let me premise this post by saying that I do think there is a bit of an argument to be made about the lack of bonuses to lower level employees that do a great deal of work for companies, or for salary parity.  But this topic gets kicked around quite frequently.

So when we talk about “fair shares” it’s important to analyze just what share everyone is paying.
Here we see the overall share of the Federal Tax Liability being paid to the government for all taxes (income, payroll, ect.).  These stats are produced by the CBO in it’s analysis of how taxes work in this country.  And most astonishing to me right away is that the bottom 20% of the population pay 0.3% of all Federal taxes.  Even more incredible, the bottom 40% pay about 4% of all the Federal taxes in this country.  That’s nearly half the population paying for 4% while the other half of the population pays for 96% of the Federal Tax Burden.

The top 20% of wage earners in this country pay nearly 70% of all Federal taxes and that number has been rising since the 1970’s.  Fair to address is that the top 20% have also seen an increase in their share of the wealth during that growth period.  That’s not to say that the bottom 50% are “poor” but that through economics the top have sold the bottom a good deal of items and concentrated their wealth (ipads, flat screen tvs, cars, computers, etc.) primarily through investment.

I think it’s important to note that the top 40% of wage earners now pay nearly 90% of the Federal Tax burden for all taxes.  That means the other 60% of lower and middle class earners are left with the remaining 10-15% of the tax burden.  That’s a huge disparity.  I think the issue here is not that top earners aren’t “paying their share” (which I’d conclude they are) but that budgeting and saving even for middle class families seems almost unheard of these days.  Now I understand (as I grew up poor myself) that this doesn’t apply to all families and many are scraping by.  But I think for many middle income families frugal living is a thing of the past.  And now that they face a looming retirement with no savings they feel that retirement is entitled to them.  That somehow they’ll be taken care of, which only has pushed the burden to the younger generation to cover the most costly years of living (65+) when medical treatment becomes a must.

There has been a shift in the American society, which says that middle class families should support kids going to college and traveling and flat screen tvs and two cars.  There’s a “every family deserves this” sort of attitude which assumes that high end products (like cars) should be cheaper.  That tax rates need to reflect this burden on middle class families (buying 2 cars is a must).  I wouldn’t take qualms with the bottom 20% of the population (paying 0.3% of all federal taxes) as they’re the lowest level of earners and surely feel the most burden of providing for their own daily living.  I surely hope they’re not complaining about paying their taxes as they pay very little.  But the middle 20 – 40%, middle income America, certainly should realize that they’re not overburdened with this tax rate either.  That middle 40% of the population pays around 15-20% of the Federal Tax Burden and that’s been declining.  Middle income savings are nearly unheard of.  Yet most middle income homes have luxury items (ipads, ps3’s, 2 cars, flat screen tv’s).  Which I think gets to the problem.  Those without savings are screaming about how unfair their tax burden is, while they refuse to save money and spend what they earn on luxury goods.  Effectively pushing their money to the upper class.
Maybe we need to do a better job teaching budgeting and economics in high school.

Five Fundamental Flaws of Healthcare and Reform

June 29, 2012

Here they are:

  1. Over the past 20 years in the US healthcare as been treated as synonymous with health insurance coverage. That is to say the main push from both Republicans and Democrats has been to increase insurance coverage to all Americans.  The problem, as most of us have horrifyingly found at a one point or another, is that health insurance doesn’t always equate to good or quality care.  At times it doesn’t even equate to care at all.  Haggling with your insurance provider over what is covered and how much after the fact has become a nightmare of paperwork that you store in a box somewhere.  This most recent attempt at reformation (Obamacare or the ACA) falls into this same problem.  Again, the fix isn’t for healthcare, it’s for health insurance.  Now we’re all forced in some form or another to have health insurance.  Fantastic, at least we’ll all share the same headaches.  The problem for many Americans is this won’t solve their problems.  While pre-existing conditions can’t be denied insurance, that doesn’t mean they have to cover and treat them well.  It’s still the same old insurance that treated you like crap before.
  2. No changes are ever made to healthcare supply.  There are many levels of this from RN’s to PA’s to MD’s.  But in this country we have a significant shortage of trained medical professionals.  That problem just got worse.  Not to come off as “uncaring” but from a strictly numbers point of view, we just expanded coverage to many people who were kept out of the system.  The problem is we didn’t change the size of the system to add more trained medical professionals.  More demand, same supply, prices go up.  Now you might be inclined to point out that in free markets this gets remedied by pushing more professionals into the field as wages are alluring.  Let’s take practicing MD’s for an example.  Something you may not know is that in most states to practice as an MD after you graduate medical school you need to have completed residency training.  Sounds simple, sign them up.  The problem is that >95% of residency funding comes from the US Federal government in Medicare aid to the hospitals.  And currently that funding is so shorted that we have more people with MD’s looking for residency positions every year than we have residency positions available.  Do you think this was changed with the implementation of the new healthcare bill?  Of course not, let’s not be ridiculous.
  3. Healthcare costs. Healthcare is expensive, but in the US, it’s exceptionally expensive.  The issue in point 2 is one problem.  But there are many layers.  Some of these layers were attempted to be remedied in the recent bill (e-files, shared information, etc.) but in actuality the large gorillas in the room went predominantly untouched.  If you’ve gone to a hospital in the recent term you’d recognize that your radiologist probably went to a pretty new machine and may have even mentioned their new equipment.  Why are we continually paying for expensive upgrades to medical equipment that gets shuffled into our bills in some form or another?  Part of that is medical malpractice insurance, which is itself expensive and driving up your bill.  But it also causes hospitals and physicians to safe guard against making a “preventable mistake”.  They need the highest resolution image possible so they don’t make any sort of mistake or get hammered in a lawsuit for missing something (even if they don’t get sued, they have to take the safeguard).  Things like this drive cost up.  I get it, mistakes are potentially lethal, but we seriously need medical malpractice reform that caps suits.  It’s just not realistic to go along with out it.
  4. Which brings me to the next point, Technology! I love tech, I’m a techie, I look over new innovations all the time online.  That’s awesome.  But many countries use 1950’s-1970’s tech to provide many of the same treatments we do today.  Why are lesser clinics not more common in this country for people that can’t afford care or insurance premiums?  If they can’t have a ferrari a honda won’t do?  I’m sure many of these people would be infinitely grateful to get any form of help.  Top end ferraris would still be sold to those that could afford them.  Analogy done, you get the point.
  5. Covering every condition. We can’t prevent every death, at some point we need to realize we’re human.  I’m sure many people have seen loved ones die, and I feel for them.  But let’s not turn a few rare instances into the common plight of all man.  Watching people die is always painful, and through our lifetimes we will all watch each other die.  That’s life.  But there’s something about a tragic or sudden death which pulls people to race to defend it as unfair or unnatural.  It’s not, it happens, accidents happen, rare genetic diseases happen.  Now that I’m done with the portion that will make the more sensitive readers write me off as a grade A jerk for the rest of their lives, I’m not saying we should do nothing.  But clearly this is a high risk, very expensive pool of insured people.  Rare diseases and cancers are a healthcare nightmare for everyone involved.  We need to do a better job at streamlining that treatment and finding ways to pool resources into centralized locations.  This might mean some sacrifices for patients (more shared rooms) whatever, but these rare circumstances need to be handled better.  Maybe I don’t have a solution yet (I’ll keep thinking) but the other 90% of the system cannot be shackled into dragging everyone down.  Clearly it needs to be separated into distinct systems to keep care prices down for people but treating those rare situations in more efficient manner.  Or I’m just a jerk.

President Obama’s Unemployment Problem

June 27, 2012

In 2009 when the President was settling into office one of the first bills he and the newly elected Democratic congress threw together in haste was the Recovery Act.  This $787,000,000,000 bill was aimed at providing 3 years of recovery funds to encourage job growth and rescue a declining economy.  Of course spending $787 Billion is never taken lightly in congress (by most people) and it was a hotly contested proposal.  The President had his staff draw up some projections based on their modeling of how the economy would act in the future in the presence and absence of the bill being passed. (i.e. with and without stimulus to the economy).  The bill was passed and unemployment was supposed to decline to around 6% by now.  Instead the actual unemployment rate released by the government is 8.2%.

Here is what they came up with, and I’ve included the actual unemployment rate over the same period.


The president predicted, naturally, that stimulus (red line) would lower unemployment vs. not passing the bill (grey line).  The problem it turns out, is that the President over expressed how well the economy would act in the next few years.  The bill was passed and we should be cruising along on the red line by now.  Real unemployment (black line) shows that the President was way off, even with the stimulus bill being passed the unemployment rate stayed far above estimates for unemployment without them acting.

This is just an example of the miscalculation that has steered the President into believing all sorts of fictitious information about how the economy would perform.  In fact it marks a trend whereby the President continually takes the best estimate he can find for how the economy is doing (regardless of it’s accuracy).  When we hear about Job creation we hear about 27 months of the private sector job growth.  Now, all job growth (public and private) hasn’t been positive for 27 straight months.  And the term positive doesn’t account for population changes and graduates or those 18+ entering the labor force, job growth in that context is drastically under-performing.

Which get’s us to the point.  Instead of speeches full of rhetoric where we talk about how things are doing.  People should examine the numbers every once in a while.  Pay attention to more than just the 8.2% unemployment rate and look into what politicians are predicting and actually saying when they convince people that bills will lower unemployment numbers, will they?

Supreme Court Rejects Arizona Immigration Law SB1070 (5-3)

June 25, 2012

Today the supreme court struck down 3 of the 4 objectionable portions of Arizona’s immigration law SB1070.  The 4th portion was punted back to the local courts to determine if it should also be stricken.

Here the Supreme Court made the correct ruling.  State law cannot pre-empt Federal law no matter how bad we want the states to take charge of poorly handled Federal agencies and efforts.  Clearly Arizona overstepped its bounds and tried to take charge of a Federal immigration effort.  While we may want further action from the Federal Government the state cannot act in their place.  The issue needs to be resolved by Congress.  The Federal Government via the Constitution was granted exclusive rights to controlling immigration.    That is to say travel across borders is a Federal decision.

The ruling was right.

Job Growth for the Past 2 Years

June 22, 2012

Today it became apparent that job growth over the past two years is not only declining but has been rather sluggish.  Certainly headwinds from Europe have impact US markets, but it’s not very encouraging 4 years after a terrible recession to see things slowly decline again heading into a summer that will surely be filled with political turmoil.  However, the American people should be concerned about a contracting economy.

Each month the US economy needs to add about 150,000 jobs to keep pace with population growth.  This means as we have more and more children we need to keep creating more and more jobs so make sure that we keep pace and don’t fall into a net negative event.  This is imperative to sustaining a healthy economy.  Here we see that over the past 2 years only a few months have even eclipsed this threshold set by economists as the baseline necessary.  Certainly this is not very encouraging.

The next question is probably what could be done.  I would recommend that the government become seriously concerned about current growth rates which have slowed down.  The Federal Reserve just this week noted that long term employment and GDP growth will probably be lower than originally anticipated.  This doesn’t mean we need to spend more money, but the government in Washington needs to start prioritizing it’s spending to both reduce the near Trillion dollars in loans we take and increase spending in vital areas that will increase productivity rather than areas we just want to spend in.