Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Sunday Reads

Senator Elizabeth Warren introduces bill to stop credit checks in job application process
A bad credit rating is far more often the result of unexpected medical costs, unemployment, economic downturns, or other bad breaks than it is a reflection on an individual’s character or abilities,Senator Warren said. “Families have not fully recovered from the 2008 financial crisis, and too many Americans are still searching for jobs. This is about basic fairness — let people compete on the merits, not on whether they already have enough money to pay all their bills.” Hat Tip Crooks and Liars

The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows us the frugal reality of life on the social safety net.
“This month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics compared yearly spending between families that use public assistance programs, such as food stamps and Medicaid, and families that don’t. Surprise, surprise, households that rely on the safety net lead some pretty frugal lifestyles. On average, they spend $30,582 in a year, compared to $66,525 for families not on public assistance. Meanwhile, they spend a third less on food, half as much on housing, and 60 percent less on entertainment.” Hat Tip Atlantic Magazine

Annual Spending

You Don’t Have the Right to Remain Silent
“On Monday, in a case called Salinas v. Texas that hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves, the Supreme Court held that you remain silent at your peril. The court said that this is true even before you’re arrested, when the police are just informally asking questions. The court’s move to cut off the right to remain silent is wrong and also dangerous—because it encourages the kind of high-pressure questioning that can elicit false confessions. Hat Tip Slate Magazine”

Who said the appointment of Federal Judges do not have much importance? A judge’s life time appointment sways the legal course of the nation for decades to come until SCOTUS again finds time enough to rule on cases impacting people and not big business.

Land of The Free?
25% of the world prison population resides in US prisons and jails at an ~ cost exceeding $22,000 annually. As I had written in “One In 31 Adults”, ~50% of those incarcerated have been convicted of nonviolent crimes. Maybe it is time to review sentencing guidelines. Hat Tip Crooks and Liars

The Death of The American Dream in a Single Chart
Upward Mobility in America has become increasingly difficult. Whether black or white, “Children from low-income families have only a 1 percent chance of reaching the top 5 percent of the income distribution.” The odds of advancing up a rung increase when racial background is included. Understanding Mobility in America Hat Tip David Atkins At Hullabaloo

Gatsby Curve

Wealth inequality is even more disturbing than income inequality

Distribution of Income by Source

“Democrats are often afraid to talk in these terms because it sounds positively Marxist to do so. But while I don’t consider myself a Marxist, I’ve been writing for a long time now that it’s important to recognize that we have an asset class and a wage-earner class–and their interests don’t align at all.” Hat Tip David Atkins Hullabaloo

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Sunday Reading

Emerging Strategy for the DEMS; Karoli at Crooks and Liars, Dems Strategy on Extending Unemployment Insurance  Dems will leverage their votes to pass the Farm Bill for an extension of Unemployment . “Now that Congress is set to leave town even as unemployment benefits for 1.3 million Americans are set to expire just after Christmas, is there any chance that Democrats can still prevail on Republicans to agree to extend them? Dems who are pushing for an extension have hatched a new plan to do just that: Once Congress returns, they will refuse to support the reauthorization of the farm bill — which will almost certainly need Dem support to pass the House — unless Republicans agree to restart unemployment benefits with the farm bill’s savings.”  I guess two can play that game.

She Did It for the Kids. “Fox News host Megyn Kelly on Friday lashed out at critics who she said had accused her and Fox News of being racist because she insisted that Santa Claus and Jesus Christ had to be white men. For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white,” Kelly said at the time. “But this person is just arguing that maybe we should also have a black Santa. But Santa is what he is.

Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change, you know?” she added. “I mean, Jesus was a white man too. He was a historical figure, that’s a verifiable fact, as is Santa — I just want the kids watching to know that.” So is the verifiable fact both Jesus and Santa Claus are white men or historical figures? Megyn Kelly won’t back down   David’s Feed

PPACA Website Adventures: Next stop, the call center. I got the power cord to my phone, plugged it in along with my headphones so I could be hands-free, and started dialing. First try, I got the “call back later, we’re too busy” recording. So I waited awhile and tried again. Big mistake. I should have just kept dialing.

It took a total of nine tries to get into the queue, but I did finally hit the magic “Press 1 for English” message. I did so, and settled into the wait, hoping against all hope that I wouldn’t get dumped from the queue like I had on two other occasions.

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Next Year, Will Your Employer’s Insurance Cover 62 Services and Products with No Co-Pay or Deductible? How Much Will You Save? Maggie Mahar Health Beat Blog

Under the ACA,  some 62 preventive services and products will be free (in the past much of the preventative medicine was charged to patient on a non-negotiated rate. Today, they are financed through regulations applied to the insurance industry): no copays and the deductible will not apply. The list includes vision checks for children, birth control, and more than a dozen vaccines.

This rule will hold true not just for plans sold in the exchanges, but for most employer-sponsored plans. Under Obamacare, they, too, must offer preventive care without cost-sharing – unless they are “grandfathered.” (Grandfathered plans are policies that existed before the ACA was passed in 2010, and that have not made substantial changes to benefits or cost-sharing since then.)

This year, just 36 percent of Americans who have health benefits at work are enrolled in a grandfathered plan,, down from 48 percent in 2012 and 56 percent in 2011. Each year, more plans will lose their grandfathered status.

The ACA’s list of preventive services and products covers most of the reasons that many of us visit a physician – for blood pressure checks, cholesterol checks, flu shots, mammograms, tetanus shots, Pap smears or colorectal cancer screening.

Some of us go to the doctor because we want help losing weight, or quitting smoking. Counseling and smoking cessation products – including nicotine patches – all make the list.

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Was the Nov. 30 Deadline the Make-or-Break Moment for Obamacare? No . . .

Somewhere in the future months, one of us is going to have to eat crow here on the success of the PPACA. The Republicans, Teabaggers, Healthcare Insurance Companies, Gerrymandered Republican Districts, ALEC, Koch Bros, etc. are working their hardest to make this much needed change in how people gain coverage fail. Meanwhile healthcare insurance companies are scamming the public with the cancellation of policies they should have never written after 2010 and are increasing policy premiums in spite of the MLR. Its the PPACA’s fault . . .

In my own state of Michigan, 315,000 people, a minority of the 9 million voters, have signed a petition to force women who want abortion coverage to seek a rider to their policy independent of PPACA coverage. Given that the state has refused to set up a state exchange and has used the Federal Exchange adding to the overloading of it, I wonder how the Federal Government will weigh in on this silliness. This petition is dangerous as it will not be put to vote on the November 2014 ballot. Instead, it will go to the Republican controlled legislature to decide whether it becomes law of not and bypass the Republican governor who vetoed a similar bill. Michigan has quite a few laws which beg for Federal review. Most recently, The state Attorney General decided he would not review juveniles sentenced to life imprisonment without parole claiming it only applies to future trials. Huh????

Maggie Mahar does a good review of the current PPACA deadline which warrants greater acknowledgement.

Was the Nov. 30 Deadline the Make-or-Break Moment for Obamacare? No . . .

Why March 31 is Far More Important –Particularly for Younger Americans 

The media has described November 30 as the administration’s “self-imposed” enrollment deadline, but conservatives—and the media itself—insisted on a date, demanding, over and over again, that the administration answer the “$400 million question”:

How long will it take to fix the Federal Exchange?

Ultimately, Jeffrey Zients, the Obama administration’s new health-care website, promised the site would be “generally operational” for “the vast majority of users” by the end of November.”  No one quite knew what that meant. But immediately, the media turned the November 30 deadline into a headline. On November 28,CNN declared:  “A moment of truth approaches for President Barack Obama’s signature health care reforms with Saturday’s self-imposed deadline to get the website to work properly for most users.”

Reuters chimed in: “President Barack Obama’s healthcare law is facing its biggest test this weekend since its disastrous October 1 launch . . .  If the website does not work on Saturday’s deadline, that could turn off millions of uninsured Americans, especially young and healthy consumers whose participation in the new insurance exchanges are critical.”

Where, I wondered, is Reuters getting its information? From Fox News?

Younger Americans Are Not as Intimidated by Website Snags

There is absolutely no reason to think that 20-something and 30-somethings are more frustrated with the technical glitches than anyone else. There is, in fact, every reason to think that young Americans are not nearly as bothered by software bugs.

First, keep in mind that most Millennials haven’t even tried to sign up. This is because they are not as anxious as older, sicker Americans about securing insurance.

But when they do go to the website, a twenty-something is likely to have an easier time than a 50-something when trying to work his way around glitches. Unlike many of their elders, Millennials solve software snags every day – at home, at work, at school. Twenty-five-year-olds who have grappled with Windows 8 will not be daunted–or surprised—by a few bugs.  For many younger Americans working through such problems is almost intuitive.

This also helps explain why, despite the sustained bad-news blitz, a CNN poll released just last week shows 18-34-year-olds overwhelmingly believe the president’s healthcare law will work: “Seven in 10 younger Americans think the current problems faced by Obamacare will eventually be fixed. Senior citizens are split, and most people between 35 and 65 years old think that the system is permanently broken,” said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. . (So much for 35-65 year boomers. Some of the folks in my generation are getting grumpy).

The Success of Reform Turns On the Health of Those Who Sign Up

Keep in mind that 18-34-year-olds are needed to make the Exchanges work. As Ezra Klein pointed out recently, what matters most is not the absolute number of Americans who join the Exchanges this first year, but who they are. He explains:  “Back in July, when Sarah Kliff and I asked the White House how they defined ‘success’ in 2014, they always defined it as a function of the mix of people in the exchanges  . . . rather than the number of people in the exchanges . . . More wasn’t necessarily better. Twenty million enrollees would be a disaster if only 1 million of them were young and healthy. . .

“If they got 10 million people to sign up, about 3.9 million had to be young and healthy. If they got 4 million to sign up, success would mean making sure 1.5 million were young and healthy.. . . so long as the ratio was right, the premiums will remain low, and so when people eventually come to buy insurance, they can get a good deal, and they’ll want to sign up.”

In other words, it doesn’t matter whether 7 million or 5 million Americans join the Exchange this year. If enough 20 and 30-something’s join the risk pool, this will ensure that premiums are as low in 2015–or even lower– than they were in in 2014. This is the scenario that reform’s opponents fear most..

Many Young Americans Will Wait Until March

Those who argue that reform is a “failure” because October and November enrollments remain low emphasize that if potential Obamacare customers haven’t signed up by the end of November they will have only 23 shopping days left if they want be covered by January 1.

But many hale and hardy 20-somethings don’t really care whether they are insured by the first of the year. They just want to avoid forking over $95 because they  decided to ignore the mandate that they purchase coverage. In that case, they have until March 31. That is when open enrollment ends—and when the penalty kicks in for those who decide not to buy insurance.

What Happened When Massachusetts Mandated That Its Citizens Buy Healthcare?

Massachusetts’ experience suggests that, for young healthy Americans—the folks we need to keep premiums at reasonable levels– March 31 is the most important deadline

In Massachusetts enrollment in Commonwealth Care began in March of 2007. The state mandated that  but the state’s citizens wouldn’t have to pay a $291 penalty if they purchased insurance by November of 2007.A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows just how important that November deadline was.

Researchers began by separating enrollees into two groups—those who were healthy when the joined Commonwealth Care, and those who were not.  Using claims data from the first year that these patients were part of Commonwealth Care, they measured the health mix of the population who had enrolled from March 2007 through June 2008, looking at average age, average monthly health care expenditures, and the proportion of enrollees suffering from a chronic illness. We identified patients as having a chronic illness if within the first 12 months after enrollment they had an office visit at which a diagnosis of hypertension, high cholesterol level, diabetes, asthma, arthritis, an affective disorder, or gastritis was recorded

The chart below reveals the enormous spike in the number of healthy applicants joining the program in November–just in time to dodge the penalty. That month, there was a much smaller increase in the number of chronically ill people signing up for insurance. Many already had purchased insurance.

< a href="">NEJM Commonwealth Care enrollees

The chart also shows that the number of healthy applicants continued to outpace sicker applicants for another six months. Clearly the mandate made a huge difference in ensuring that younger customers joined the pool. I suspect that over the next four months, we’ll see the same pattern nationwide.. I don’t expect to see most Millennials scrambling to buy insurance in December. Very likely, the bigger spike will come in March. This is why MIT’s Jon Guber an architect of Massachusetts Reform, plan calls the October and November Obamacare enrollment figures “basically meaningless”:

Look, when we opened our system in Massachusetts the first month the people could pay premiums and enroll, 123 people enrolled,” Gruber points out  ”By the end of the year, it was 36,000. That meant we got .3 percent of the people the first month. By that standard the federal government did great, 1.3 percent of the people the first month. It’s too early to say anything useful. The real deadline we have to focus on is March of next year.” 

I agree. When we look at who has signed up at the end March, we will be able to assess how well reform is doing—and how likely it is that premiums will rise in 2015.

Was the November 30 Deadline the Make – or – Break Moment for Obamacare?  No  .  .  .  Maggie Mahar; Economist, The Healthbeat Blog

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Ending the Era of Minority Rule

Obstructionism has been the modus operandi by Republicans in Congress to oppose President Obama with special emphasis in the Senate. Through the use of the filibuster, the Senate Republican minority has been able to block presidential appointments or sway them to less likely candidates, block the appointment of Federal Judges to the bench, and obstruct the enforcement of laws by blocking appointments to the NLRB . To bring about the end of a filibuster through cloture, 60 of the 100 senators had to vote in favor of it under the current Senate rules.  

With the appointment of Mitch McConnell as the Republican Senate minority leader, the number of cloture motions filed to break a filibuster has increased with <a href=”” target=”_blank”>3 of every 10 clotures</a>  filed having occurred since McConnell’s appointment. The numbers are up drastically since Obama became president and McConnell became the Senate Minority leader (redundant alert). Maybe McConnell does not like the president as the current practice is certainly not reminiscence of past practices.




Senator Henry Reid decided to employ the nuclear option:

“a Senate procedure that will allow a majority of the Senate to effectively change its rules to limit widespread obstructionism by the minority. As the trigger for this reform involves seven executive branch nominees being held up by Senate Republican filibusters, the likely consequence of this round of rules reform will be to eliminate the minority’s ability to filibuster nominees.” 

The president will now be able to appoint to the judiciary and to legislative positions with just a majority rule vote. If it appears to be unfair, more nominations by President Obama since he took office have been blocked than all other presidents combined.




Maybe they just do not like Barack Obama the man?



“Huge, huge victory for Political Sanity today,” November 2013,

“Why Senate Democrats Had To Invoke The Nuclear Option,” November 2013,

Everything Yo Need To Know About The ‘Nuclear Option And Harry Reid’s Plan To Fix The Senate,” July 2013,

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Traveling China and Thailand

I am nearing the end of my 16 day jaunt starting in China and ending in Thailand. It has been 7 years since I have been in Thailand and the same for China other than an overnighter plus a day in Shanghai, China. Both places are surging in infrastructure and in business. Let me explain why I say such.

I am a Global Procurement Manager for a $500 million division of an $8 billion corporation. My VP and I have been hitting the machining, die casting and casting, extrusion, forging, fabrication, and steel manufacturers in both countries at the rate of 2-3 per day. We have traveled by train, plane, and automobile in China and plane and automobile (besides tok-tok) in Thailand.

The China pros: The 200 mph train ride to Ningbo, Suzhou, etc. The seats were comfortable, the stops few, and the time sent moving between cities quick. A lot of infrastructure building going on in the cities and outside of the cities. A company I visited (TonTech ) was making a $1 billion investment in a milling machine / fabrication facility and another $1 billion investment in a casting and forging facility. We stopped to see a needle bearing facility which can meet our needs and beat McGill with a lower cost and similar capability. It is a startup and the owner lives on site with his family and one huge dog. The food is good and the people mostly friendly.

The China Negs: Air Pollution is everywhere. The quality of air is typically poor to bad on most days without a strong wind. Haimen, China I thought had the worst for quality of air. It was always smoky and the air irritates. Even with license plates exceeding $10,000 per vehicle for Shanghai, China; traffic is still horrific with travel measured in hours during certain parts of the day. Shanghai is one of the biggest cities in the world. Some of the Chinese are just plain rude to each other.

The Thailand Pros: It is warm for sure and in the nineties even now. The sky train above Sumhumvit Road in Bangkok is cool. Again there are many small businesses at $2 million to $250 million which would suit our needs. The intelligence of how to machine and extrude is excellent and they bring things to the table. Remember what I have always preached, it is about Overhead and not Labor in Asia when comparing against the US. Travel in Bangkok and the surrounding areas is easier even with poor roads.

The Thailand Negs: It is hard not to walk the streets and see crippled people, moms with kids, and the elderly begging for coins. If you have a soft heart, carry plenty of small change (20 baht) in your pockets. Safety at machining is a lesser priority than what you would find in the US. There is civil unrest with the government and corruption also. There is a fair amount of pollution; but, it is not a serious as China.

In general inequity is far more wide spread in China and Thailand than in the US; however, China with all of its infrastructure building and investment in domestic improvements will overtake the US in in time as we continue to invest in Defense and tax breaks for a few. It is just a matter of time before the US is a Tier 2 nation.

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The Not So Bad PPACA Numbers

After 10 days scurrying around the Shanghai, China area; I am now sitting in Bangkok, Thailand and reading more of the news. Such is the life of a Global Purchasing Manager dealing with automotive and industrial. I have been reading and watching the typical media reporting about the PPACA while drinking my green tea.

Greg Sargent as reported on Crooks and Liars – How the Obamacare numbers actually look pretty good picks up on what the numbers to date mean for the PPACA. So what is the big deal???


Republicans are gleefully pointing to the numbers as proof Obamacare needs to be scrapped entirely.

That confirms two things we’ve long known to be true: the website is a disaster, and short term enrollment figures are a serious political problem for the White House and Democrats. But to Larry Levitt, a vice president at the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, another very telling number is this one: over 975,000 have been determined eligible for a marketplace but haven’t yet chosen a plan.

‘That’s one of the most telling numbers — a million people have been determined eligible,’ Levitt tells me. ‘That means if the website had been working well, and a million people had gotten to the end of the process, we’d be looking at a very different trajectory now. We heard about the surge in traffic when went live. This suggests there is in fact a lot of interest.’”

We can establish the PPACA website which was more or less designed as a backup to expected state run exchanges and did not function as expected. We can also safely say > half of the states who were supposed to have systems in place declined to implement state exchanges much less pass the PPACA. My experience as a part of multiple MRPII/ERP implementations where businesses decided to either change source code or make other extensive changes has always resulted in system issues. this leaves me to say, the crowing about commercial enterprises being far more successful in system implementations is just plain nonsense. Even so, the federal exchange was never meant to handle the traffic which showed up at its doorstep due to obstinate political and moneyed interests (such as in Michigan) who are more interested in seeing a President in failure than helping their constituents. 20 years since Hillarycare and little has happened to help the uninsured or stem the rising cost of healthcare (sans insurance).

Looking at the chart, Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Foundation points to the “975,000 being determined eligible in the marketplace but not having yet chosen a plan.

if the website had been working well, and a million people had gotten to the end of the process, we’d be looking at a very different trajectory now. We heard about the surge in traffic when went live. This suggests there is in fact a lot of interest.” A lot of interest in having some type of healthcare insurance

Because we have issues with the PPACA software; the proposal by Republicans, tea-baggers, and those who simply dislike the president is to scrap the PPACA this decade and wait for another decade or two to implement another version? Hmmmmmmmmmm, nope! There is no way another bill would get past the Republican held House in this decade. I have not participated with a commercial interest yet which has shut down when there have been software issues and we should not be so willing to back away from the PPACA. The companies worked through the issues and went onward for the most part. When the TSA was blowing $200 million a year (since 2007) trying to read your personality in conversations while you were getting x-rayed and patted down, no one was calling for an immediate halt to it. 6 years later, > $1.2 billion spent, and the TSA finally determined their Vulcan mind-meld methodology did not work. Even so, we do need to move forward much faster with a PPACA website fix.

”’Assuming the website gets fixed, I would assume a surge of enrollment in December, and another surge in March,’ KFF’s Levitt explains.”

But what about the lowly numbers (100,000) who did get insured through the state and federal exchanges? This is an extremely low number when compared to expectations for the individual market place; but, the critics and pols conveniently side step the 400,000 who were made eligible for Medicaid in states which embraced the expansion. Isn’t this about insuring more people whether through the individual exchanges or through Medicaid?

”‘In total that’s over 500,000 people who signed up for insurance in the midst of a tumultuous launch,’ Levitt says. ‘People make a distinction between the marketplace and Medicaid, but those are both elements of the Affordable Care Act — both are mechanisms to get people insured.’” 500,000 in one month?

The argument put forth by the Obama foes have been about people experiencing negative impact (as if the Republicans actually cared for their constituents as opposed to the moneyed interests) from the PPACA website failures, purposeful insurance company cancellations, and higher rates due to broader coverage. All of this is occurring in the individual market as opposed to the much larger group market. The cancellations have been made by companies, the increased costs have mostly been disproven, and the website is being worked on feverishly. Going forward, the answer to today’s issues and the success of the PPACA will be determined by the numbers who benefit from coverage. As a result, the outlook is still unsettled but positive when the entire numbers are reviewed as shown. The PPACA is moving forward albeit slower than expected. It is accomplishing at a less than spectacular rate on the exchanges what it is supposed to do . . . cover people. Given time, it will succeed.

What the Obamacare enrollment numbers really tell us,” Greg Sargent, Washington Post November 13, 2013

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Socialism At Its Finest

The Grey Matter Blog does a nice little bar chart on insurance profitability; “Socialist” Obamacare a boon to insurance companies” since the passage of the PPACA in 2010. I gotta say this is nothing like what I would have expected to happen; but, I have to acknowledge my other blogger-foil’s told-you-so remarks to me repeatedly.

With all of those socialism programs we liberal put out there, who would have thought the healthcare insurance racket would do so well under government regulation? Only one insurance company failed to outperform the S&P.


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The Truth About Obamacare’s Exchanges

Maggie Mahar at The Health Beat Blog writes bout the exchanges.

Paul Krugman: “There are two remarkable things about this kind of doomsaying. One is that the doomsayers haven’t rethought their premises despite being wrong again and again — perhaps because the news media continue to treat them with immense respect.”

If you Google “Obamacare,” “Exchanges,” and “Disaster,” more than 20 million articles will pop up.

One month into a six-month enrollment process, the Media Pundits have spoken.

In truth, there are two tales to be told: one that is getting widespread coverage, and one that is not.

The stories that you are Not hearing come from folks like Michael Cadigan, the president of a New Mexico law firm who enrolled his firm’s four employees the day his state’s Exchange opened. “I thought it was going to be an administrative nightmare,” he confesses. Instead, he quickly found a policy “that will cost $1,000 less a month than I’m currently paying.”


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