Sunday, June 26, 2011

White Sox Rant

Adam Dunn sucks, but he didn't lose this game, Ozzie did. This is a management issue. A guy has 96 strikeouts in 227 at-bats, so when do you sit him down? I have no doubt that at one time Adam Dunn was a good hitter, I see the stats, I hear the legend, but this guy on the 2011 White Sox is not the Adam Dunn on the back of his bubble gum card. Sure, he's wearing #32 and his uniform says "Dunn", but we're halfway thought the season and he has 7 home runs. Seven. So, no, he's not going to hit 40 home runs this season. I could live with the 200 strikeouts every year, if he hit 35 or 40 home runs.

Word is Dunn is a "great clubhouse guy", then leave him in the clubhouse. He's a nice guy who strikes out a lot at the plate. So is Gavin Floyd, put him in to DH. Today's game against the Nationals is a case in point of how Ozzie does not know how to manage. In the eighth inning, Sox down by one run and Dunn is due up, after having struck out three times already today against righti pitching. The Nationals bring in lefty Sean Burnett just to pitch to Dunn who has waht 2 hits against against lefties all year, and has not ever gotten a hit against Burnett in 5 lifetime appearances. What are the chances Dunn will get a hit now? 0.0005%? The cameras pan over to Ozzie who is looking down at his scorecard (presumably, but it could have been iPad Scrabble, who knows) with his $2 Walgreen reading glasses. He-e--elloooo, Ozzie.... how about a pinch hitter, the game's on the line here, buddy.

No pinch hitter, three pitches, three strikes. Dunn is done, takes the collar the the umpteenth time this year. Oh-ferfour with 4 strikeouts. It's not Adam Dunn's fault. Sit him down, send him to Charlotte to work on stuff. Something. But losing games by giving away outs is insanity.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Where the rich are keeping their money

The next time your broker or 401(k) adviser tries to talk you into aggressively investing your retirement, consider the results of the latest Merrill Lynch- Gap Gemini survey of high net worth individuals:

The core of the rich portfolio is surprisingly conservative. The wealthy have, on average, 43% of their holdings in low-risk assets. That's 29% bonds and a thumping 14% in cash. So much for the idea that the more you have, the more risk you can take. (It matters, of course, that the rich are typically much older than the rest of us, and are therefore more likely to be risk-averse for that reason.)

They still only have 33% of their money in equities — a slow climb back from the 25% lows seen at the end of 2008. Ominously, while that 33% figure does not seem very high, it nonetheless equals the levels seen just before the crash. And the rich told surveys that they are planning to ramp up their equity holdings pretty substantially this year.

Real estate makes up 15% of the average allocation and gold and other alternative investments are down to 5%. The lesson learned 3 years ago is that real estate can be a risky investment (although housing is probably near a generational low price now at the moment), and for most small investors this has entailed a disproportionately large percentage of savings, even to the point that most of us are leveraged with a mortgage.

Your job is the best place to earn income-- learn a skill that is valued by society-- investments should be primarily for wealth preservation. Three lessons: 1) cash is an allocation, 2) not everyone should necessarily own a house, and 3) everyone is trying to sell you something, even your 401(k) adviser.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Jon Stewart was correct about Fox News

Fox News has spent the past week defending itself against the claims of Jon Stewart who

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bill Gross and Bill Clinton: we need more stimulus!

With economic pain lingering and our leaders flailing about looking for solutions, two stalwarts from the financial and political worlds have chimed in. Bill Gross, founder of PIMCO, one of the premier bond mangers-- and notably stationed in California well away from Wall Street-- has called for Congress to increase direct federal spending to stimulate employment by investing in our ailing and archaic infrastructure.

Likewise, former President Bill Clinton has laid out a 14-point plan to bring smart jobs and increase energy efficiency with direct federal spending. The only question I have is why so little of this has been done to date. A crushing deflationary recession and increasing needs for fuel, food and functional jobs... this is a screaming call for stimulative Keynesian spending.

Clearly the increase in Federal Reserve liquidity alone has not increased jobs and we need direct federal spending on a massive scale. We learned this lesson in the 1930's and 40's, the last deflationary cycle that didn't end until Europe, Japan and the US put everyone back to work killing each other. It would be nice if we had learned that lesson well enough to obviate another world war. If Obama doesn't do something very soon to get unemployment below 8.5% his legacy will be of a one-term president who was elected with a mandate for change from a devoted and vibrant base, and instead he squandered his presidency on the status quo appealing to the tired tropes of endless war and wall street fat cats.

Obama could have been Marcus Aurelius and instead he chose to be Vitellius; could have been FDR, but opted alternatively to serve GWB's third term. It's really unbelieveable to me.

[One note: Bill Gross at PIMCO has been short Treasuries, so he's talking his book in wanting more deficit spending... but that doesn't make him wrong.]

Monday, June 20, 2011

Why academics tend to be Democrats

Jason Rosenhouse discusses the simple reasons that academics tend to be liberal and eschew the Republican Party for its "war on expertise":

The power brokers in the Republican party are primarily Wall Street barons and other members of the super rich. On domestic policy they care almost exclusively about redistributing wealth upwards and in creating an entirely unregulated
environment for corporations. The flip side is that anything that might benefit
poor or middle class people they oppose. That is why they will fight tooth and
nail to oppose the tiniest tax increase on millionaires, but will then turn
around and accuse schoolteachers (!!) of being greedy
It is why they openly
the public schools, and propose ludicrous, unworkable tax schemesthat
overwhelmingly benefit
the super rich. It's why they are so horrified by the
idea that the health care system might be reformed to make it possible for
millions of uninsured to obtain insurance. (It's certainly not that they had a
better idea for reforming the system. And notice that when they controlled both
Congress and the Presidency from 2000-2006, they never even mentioned the health care crisis. As far as they are concerned, forty million people without health
insurance simply isn't a problem.)

The trouble is that if they actually said any of this clearly and publicly then no
one would vote for them. So instead they throw around incendiary decoy issues.
Behind closed doors they are perfectly happy to laugh at evangelical Christians,
but in public they will toss them a little red meat, say by appointing a crazy
judge or by cutting off funding to Planned Parenthood
. (After all, it's mostly poor
women who are hurt by such cuts, and who cares about them?) Or they produce an
endless string of boogeymen only they can protect us from. (It's the gays! It's
the Muslims! It's the illegal immigrants!)

On the issues where they openly defy the scientific consensus, it is easy to see
why they do so. The sorts of things we would do combat global warming might hurt
certain corporate interests, so they have to oppose global warming. Evolution is
quite correctly seen as menacing to religious belief, which means they must
oppose it too. The power brokers couldn't care less about science education or
whether homosexual couples are given the benefits of civil marriage, but their
religious supporters do, so they pretend to care when speaking publicl

They tend to have success with these approaches first because there is a very large
moron vote in this country (the technical term is “low-information voters”) that
is easily scared and doesn't actually know anything about anything. But they are
also successful because on these issues they are largely telling people what
they want to hear.
If liberals were selling the message that you can eat ice
cream all day long without getting fat, then all the right-wing think tanks in
the world would not be able to defeat them.
It's just that, on the issues where
science and politics tend to meet, the right-wingers are defending the more
pleasant position. Liberals are the ones saying our way of life is
unsustainable, conservatives are saying we can just keep doing what we're doing.
Liberals are the ones saying that we evolved from lower orders of animals,
conservatives are saying the local preacher understands these subjects better
than the eggheads. Liberals are saying that gay couples should have the same
rights as straight ones, conservatives are saying homosexuality is icky and
unnatural. In each case they are affirming what large segments of the population
already want to believe.

[Emphases mine] There was a time not too long ago that Republicans could be intellectually honest and not kow-tow to the extreme right-wing. Bill Buckley dressing down the John Birchers comes to mind, something that would never happen today. Rather, we have Newt ostracized because he got lax on message discipline and stated the facts about the unworkability of Paul Ryan's fantasy Medicare fix.

Remember when Nixon signed the EPA into existence? Something else that would never happen today. The GOP has moved into the farthest corner of silliness and the power brokers are laughing all the way to the bank. But the corollary effect is that the Democratic Party, while marginally better, has also moved further toward silliness. After all, they only need to appease enough of the middle to get re-elected while still remaining loyal to the plutocrats, therefore we still have "health reform" written by insurance companies, endless wars that enrich defense contractors, and bailouts that protect Wall Street bonuses while we tear apart our social safety nets-- and there are no checks on the power (Why that is is another issue, but see Jon Stewart's interview with Chris Wallace for a clue.).

Jon Stewart on Fox

Chris Wallace interviews the Daily Show host.

In his sternest moment, Stewart refers to the misinformed Fox viewers, which is the main point-- indeed, the only point-- of this entire discussion about the media. Representative government is the only political system that relies on a well-informed populace, and the fourth estate has a well-defined part in the drama. If you are not educating the viewers then you are either entertaining or propagandizing. Period. Those are the only 3 choices. Next time you watch the evening news, MSNBC, CNN or FOX ask yourself:

Am I being educated, entertained or propagandized?

And before the false equivalence comes down, look at the chyron in the lower left corner of Fox News to see what they purport to be doing.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

NEJM: Dutch experience shows limits of competition in health care

From New England Journal of Medicine:

Discussions about U.S. health care reform are often parochial, with scant attention paid to other countries' experiences. It is thus surprising that in the ongoing debate over Medicare, some U.S. commentators have turned to the Netherlands as a model of regulated competition among private insurance companies.1 The Dutch experience is particularly relevant given the proposal by Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) to eliminate traditional Medicare and instead provide beneficiaries with vouchers to purchase private insurance. (The Republican majority in the House passed the Ryan plan as part of the 2012 budget resolution, but it was defeated in the Senate.)

It is easy to understand why Dutch health care — which does rely on regulated private insurance — would appeal to advocates of Medicare vouchers. Indeed, U.S. ideas about managed competition helped to shape health care reform in the Netherlands.2 But careful examination of the Dutch experience shows that insurance competition has not produced the expected benefits and in fact has created new problems, calling into question the merits of this reform model and its suitability for Medicare.


The myth that competition has been key to cost containment in the Netherlands has obscured a crucial reality. Health care systems in Europe, Canada, Japan, and beyond, all of which spend much less than the United States on medical services, rely on regulation of prices, coordinated payment, budgets, and in some cases limits on selected expensive medical technologies, to contain health care spending.5 Systemwide regulation of spending, rather than competition among insurers, is the key to controlling health care costs. The Netherlands, after all, spent much less on medical care than the United States with virtually universal insurance coverage long before it began experimenting with managed competition in 2006.

The Dutch experience provides a cautionary tale about the place of private insurance competition in health care reform. The Dutch reforms have fallen far short of expectations — a reminder that policy intentions should not be confused with outcomes and that managed competition is hardly a panacea. The idea that the Dutch reforms provide a successful model for U.S. Medicare to emulate is bizarre. The Dutch case in fact underscores the pitfalls of the casual use (and misuse) of international experience in U.S. health care reform debates.5 Before we learn from other countries' experiences with medical care, we first need to learn about them.

Mulch-a-Matic will destroy it

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Bifurcation of society: Chumps and Hustlers

The Cunning Realist has a story from TAC pointing out that we have become a nation of Chumps and Hustlers:

The world is becoming much more of this hustlers game. The conservative folk, who survive by playing it straight, see rules change and bend before their eyes....

The old and unworldly had the worst of it. Many were driven to begging, many to suicide. The young and quick-witted did well. Overnight they became free, rich, and independent. It was a situation in which mental inertia and reliance on past experience were punished by starvation and death, but rapid appraisal of new situations and speed of reaction were rewarded with sudden, vast riches. -Sebastian Haffner on the early 20's Weimar economy in Defying Hitler

Another story from Marketwatch outlines a scam where unscrupulous real estate agents convince sellers to take a loss on their property in a sale to a pre-arranged buyer with the agent and buyer splitting the profits. Illegal? Unethical? Who cares? It's the wild West and the honest folk lose their life's savings.

What we are slouching toward is not the result of true conservatism, it is the result of a decade where the grifters wrote the rules and carried away or destroyed the wealth that had taken three generations to build. We lack the vigilance needed to protect our cherished institutions and now they are in shambles.

Congress cannot or will not appoint the necessary watchdogs because their corporate paymasters dictate otherwise, yet these same Congressmen have ample time to exhibit their genitalia on social media and airport bathrooms. We fight unnecessary wars and ignore the health, welfare and education of our own people; we operate out of irrational fear of Islamic terror while the real threat is from financial terrorists within our own borders and institutions.

I'm a firm believer that the complex dynamic system will correct eventually, but I am absolutely amazed at how much pain the common citizen is willing to endure in order to protect a status quo that is lining the pockets of charlatans at the expense of working folks. When the bureaucrats scream "We're broke", we readily entertain the elimination of Medicare and health care for each other yet allow the military-industrial complex and the banking industry to wallow in unregulated and unfettered greed.

If you're not the hustler, then you must be the...

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Greenwald: Weiner and repressed titillation

From Glenn Greenwald:

Yes, Anthony Weiner lied -- about something that is absolutely nobody's business but his and his wife's. If you're not his wife, you have absolutely no legitimate reason to want to know about -- let alone pass judgment on -- what he does in his private sexual life with other consenting adults. Particularly repellent is the pretense of speaking out on behalf of his wife, as though anyone knows what her perspectives on such matters are or what their relationship entails. The only reason to want to wallow in the details of Anthony Weiner's sex life is because of the voyeuristic titillation it provides: a deeply repressed culture celebrates when it finds cause to be able to talk about penises and naked pictures and oral sex while hiding behind some noble pretext. On some level, I find the behavior of the obviously loathsome Andrew Breitbart preferable; at least he's honest about his motive: he hates Democrats and liberals and wants sadistically to destroy them however he can. It's the empty, barren, purse-lipped busybodies who cannot stay out of other adults' private and sexual lives -- while pretending to be elevated -- that are the truly odious villains here.

In The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf argues that the private consensual sexual activities of politicians are none of our business, and in reply, Megan McArdle insists that "society has [an] interest in whether people keep their vows" in marriage and thus it's a good thing "to use a few of our precious news hours to say, 'Hey, not okay'!" Except McArdle has absolutely no idea what vows Weiner and his wife have made to each other, and she shouldn't know, because it's none of her business, despite her eagerness to learn about it and publicly condemn it. Even if she had any idea of what she was talking about -- and she plainly doesn't -- nothing is less relevant than Megan McArdle's views of the arrangement Anthony Weiner and his wife have for their marriage and whether each partner is adhering to that arrangement. That a journalist at The Atlantic wants to talk about this, and dig into the details, and issue judgments about it, says all one needs to know about our press corps.

Yes, this is really none of our business and I agree that investigative journalists could use their time better looking into more important matters, but I disagree that this is only about voyeuristic titillation. The Republicans, such as Rep Cantor, who have asked for Weiner's resignation are more correct than the few Democrats who have downplayed Weiner's shenanigans. The GOP has fallen into the crevice of political dialog where they have taken the side that all government is bad and Anthony Weiner can be used as yet one more example of the decrepitude of the institution of Congress. The Democrats are the ones who have always made the case that federalization of things such as health care, bank regulation and retirement Social Security can make for better society, so when their members are wanking their... er.. members on Twitter instead of ironing out solutions to our economic and social ills, it is especially poignant. If government is so necessary, then for chrissakes let's take it seriously.

Sure, Sen. John Ensign was screwing his best friend's wife and paying hush money, but he's a Republican and isn't that expected? Sure, Sen. David Vitter was prancing around in diapers in probably illegal (uninvestigated) trysts with prostitutes. Sure, Sen. Larry Craig was getting his balls washed by male consorts in airport bathrooms until he was arrested. But these guys have never made a pretense that government is anything but counterproductive and have always maintained that all federal employees are bums. Hasn't the GOP always been the party of taking it to us without even the courtesy of a reach around? And what could be more emblematic of that than such lewd behavior, all worse than Weiner's by the way?

While I may agree with Greenwald that engaging in titillation is a distraction, I would say that Democratic voters should be aware that behavior such as Weiner's only emboldens Republican voters in their belief that government is unnecessary and evil. We are in the midst of a fundamental discussion of what and how much of our lives we should entrust to government.

I happen to believe that the federal government should be, needs to be, recruited to manage and regulate and ensure our well-being on various important issues, and therefore I hold Democrats, who are elected to serve the people by forming a more perfect government, to a higher standard. I don't need to see pictures of Weiner's dick, but I can say that New York voters need to speak against their Representative's behavior... by not re-electing him. We need individuals in Congress who are awake and paying attention in order to counter-act the fixed number of cynical clowns who will always be there to represent their corporate overlords.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Is there an epidemic of mental illness? UPDATE

Marcia Angell, MD, the often critic of the pharmaceutical industry, has reviewed three books that address the status of psychiatry. From the New York Review of Books:

It seems that Americans are in the midst of a raging epidemic of
mental illness, at least as judged by the increase in the numbers treated for
it. The tally of those who are so disabled by mental disorders that they qualify
for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
increased nearly two and a half times between 1987 and 2007—from one in 184
Americans to one in seventy-six. For children, the rise is even more startling—a
thirty-five-fold increase in the same two decades. Mental illness is now the
leading cause of disability in children, well ahead of physical disabilities
like cerebral palsy or Down syndrome, for which the federal programs were

Read the whole article. Our society is medicated beyond belief and the efficacy and long term effects of these psychoactive drugs are suspect, especially in children. The conflicts of interests among doctors, patients and industry is examined.


Part two of the 2-part article:

At the very least, we need to stop thinking of psychoactive drugs as the
best, and often the only, treatment for mental illness or emotional distress.
Both psychotherapy and exercise have been shown to be as effective as drugs for
depression, and their effects are longer-lasting, but unfortunately, there is no
industry to push these alternatives and Americans have come to believe that
pills must be more potent. More research is needed to study alternatives to
psychoactive drugs, and the results should be included in medical

In particular, we need to rethink the care of troubled children. Here
the problem is often troubled families in troubled circumstances. Treatment
directed at these environmental conditions—such as one-on-one tutoring to help
parents cope or after-school centers for the children—should be studied and
compared with drug treatment. In the long run, such alternatives would probably
be less expensive. Our reliance on psychoactive drugs, seemingly for all of
life’s discontents, tends to close off other options. In view of the risks and
questionable long-term effectiveness of drugs, we need to do better. Above all,
we should remember the time-honored medical dictum: first, do no harm (primum
non nocere).

So much of medicine is unscientific-- one of the glaring disappointments I've always had with the profession-- but few things are less scientific or more reckless than treating kids with antipsychotics.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Firms to halt health insurance coverage

From Marketwatch:

LOS ANGELES (MarketWatch) — Once provisions of the Affordable Care Act start to kick in during 2014, at least three of every 10 employers will probably stop offering health coverage, a survey released Monday shows.

While only 7% of employees will be forced to switch to subsidized-exchange programs, at least 30% of companies say they will “definitely or probably” stop offering employer-sponsored coverage, according to the study published in McKinsey Quarterly.

The survey of 1,300 employers says those who are keenly aware of the health-reform measure probably are more likely to consider an alternative to employer-sponsored plans, with 50% to 60% in this group expected to make a change. It also found that for some, it makes more sense to switch.

My comment: This is not a bad thing, employer-based health insurance is an anachronistic inefficiency left over from the wage-control era of the last century. It was bound to be destroyed with the next deflationary cycle in the employment market-- which is now. This will allow individuals more mobility and choice, and my prediction is that it's one step closer Medicare-for-all basic national health insurance which can be supplemented by private policies.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Rosalyn Yalow, Dead at 89

One of the first female Nobel Laureates, revered alumna of the University of Illinois at Urbana, discoverer of the radioimmunoassay among other things. From the NYT:

World War II and the draft were creating academic opportunities for women; to her delight, Dr. Yalow was awarded a teaching assistantship at the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois. She tore up her steno books and headed to Champaign-Urbana, becoming the first woman to join the engineering school’s faculty in 24 years.

Dr. Yalow received her doctorate in nuclear physics in 1945, and went to teach at Hunter College the following year. When she could not find a research position, she volunteered to work in a medical lab at Columbia University, where she was introduced to the new field of radiotherapy. She moved to the Bronx Veterans Administration Hospital, now the James J. Peters Veterans Affairs Medical Center, as a part-time researcher in 1947 and began working full time in 1950. That same year, she began her 22-year collaboration with Dr. Berson.

In their work on radioimmunoassay, Dr. Yalow and Dr. Berson used radioactive tracers to measure hormones that were otherwise difficult or impossible to detect because they occur in extremely low concentrations. They went on to use the test to measure concentrations of vitamins, viruses and other substances in the body.

I remember passing her portrait at the Illini Union on the many nights I spent there studying. An inspiration.