February 3, 2012

So-called “Right-to-Work” has dangerous side-effects

Posted in health care, role of government, states' rights tagged , , , , at 3:41 pm by realitytax

So-called "Right-to-Work" has dangerous side-effects.

NFL players understand exactly what’s at stake for workers. They oppose these so-called “Right-to-Work” laws fervently. It was one of the first topics raised at the NFLPA’s Groundhog Day news conference leading up to this year’s Superbowl.

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Quarterbacks Jay Cutler of the Chicago Bears and Rex Grossman of the Washington Redskins are among six NFL players urging Indiana lawmakers to oppose right-to-work legislation.

Cutler, from Santa Claus, Ind., and Grossman, from Bloomington, joined New Orleans’ Courtney Roby, Pittsburgh’s Trai Essex, St. Louis’ Mark Clayton and San Diego’s Kris Dielman in sending letters to Indiana House members Monday. Days earlier, the NFL Players Association came out against the measure that would ban private contracts that require workers to pay union fees for representation.

Cutler called it a “political ploy” against workers.

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February 10, 2011

United, we stand.

Posted in economic recovery, foreclosure crisis, health care, immigration, role of government, soft bigotry, taxes, U.S. Economy tagged , , , , , , , at 11:01 am by realitytax

Miami Herald LogoThe President of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumka, joined with Gaby Pacheco on an Op-Ed piece in the Wednesday Miami Herald, “DREAM Act – keep trying” intended to reinvigorate the discussion of immigration.

“It is time for President Obama and Congress to take action on meaningful immigration reform, to turn these dreams to reality and to move our country and our economy forward.”

RICHARD TRUMKA AND GABY PACHECO
Wednesday, 02.09.11

Who is Gaby Pacheco? Gaby is an “undocumented, DREAM-Act eligible youth” from Miami, risking a fair bit by stepping into the limelight.

Richard Trumka of the AFL CIO

AFL CIO President Richard Trumka

Like it or not, immigration is the most powerful force in shaping our culture, and has been for centuries. Trumka and Pacheco have it right, asserting that our immigration “system” will not fix itself. So, what should the role of the department of Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the rest of the state and federal agencies dealing with immigration be?

Well, if you believe some, government can’t get anything right, and should just throw in the towel and disband. I’m not one of those. We elect people to work for us in Washington (and in our state governments, too.) The reality is: without government there would be no immigration policy, let alone men and women paid to enforce it; we’d be practicing the model currently used in Somalia. Somalia, where piracy plays a central role in the economy – and thinking people find the means to leave if they possibly can.

It’s misleading for politicians and pundits to talk about reducing the size of government, cutting taxes, cutting the deficit, and lessening “government interference in our lives” while at the same time arguing for more immigration agents, more prisons, building democracies in other nations, and fixing the economy to help the middle class recover from the banking and mortgage crisis that came from deregulating Wall Street. Double talk won’t form a more perfect union, let alone ensure domestic tranquility, ok?

We’ve always believed that the way to make this country great is to ensure that future generations will enjoy a higher standard of living. That won’t happen if they can’t buy homes because they can’t even afford health insurance, while politicians cater to the whims of special interest money funneled to their incredibly expensive campaigns.

I’m not saying every tax dollar is spent wisely – we can’t even account for squandered billions simply “lost” during the abysmal Iraq reconstruction, for instance – but that’s precisely why it’s time to talk about running our government as a whole, and every agency within it, better and more carefully. Planning for the future, financial experts advise, is always about investing strategically and ensuring diversity.

“At a time when business is loudly advocating for importing skilled workers, politicians and corporate CEOs are ignoring the fact that some of our best and brightest are already here, but pushed into an underground economy where they can’t actively participate.”

RICHARD TRUMKA AND GABY PACHECO
Wednesday, 02.09.11

If you believe that government should work for us, that our elected officials should work for us, that partnering with business to ensure our economic viability as a nation is a key to a future where our children can thrive and prosper, then it’s time to stop focusing on the messages that divide us.

That’s why I applaud, and stand with, that third-generation Pennsylvania coal miner Richard Trumka, and Gaby Pacheco, a DREAM Act-eligible youth from Florida, as they talk about jobs, the economy, and immigration — which the Congress seems to lack the courage and vision to address. It’s time for our elected leaders to stop playing politics and do what we sent them to do – create real solutions.

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July 2, 2010

Leadership and the budget conundrum

Posted in 2010 Elections, health care, media coverage, taxes, U.S. Economy tagged , , , , , , , , , , , at 7:55 am by realitytax

Budgeting is always an exercise in prioritization; there’s never enough money to accomplish everything we’d choose to undertake perfectly. The vast majority agree we want government to exist, to manage highways and immigration and mutual defense and make sure our toys don’t have lead paint and our drugs aren’t snake oil and prevent monopolies and so on.

Accordingly, it’s the leaders we elect who have to run government well, although many lately seem to run on the premise that government can’t do anything cost-effectively, let alone well.

We’ve seen what happens when big business calls the shots, from Wall Street’s calamitous collapse (which hurt most of us considerably more than it did them) to the slip-shod operation of an oil rig that threatens to ruin the livelihoods of millions along the gulf coast and savage the oceans and shores for decades to come. The short-sighted profit motive aspect of capitalism is best balanced by governmental regulation on behalf of the greater good.

True leaders don’t sit back and watch as our jobs move overseas and huge corporations prey greedily on those outside their inner circles, they work on behalf of those who elected them despite the constant temptation posed by special influence money. I’m delighted there are, in fact, so many excellent elected officials working on behalf of Minnesotans, and I congratulate David Bly, U.S. Represenative Tim Walz, and their hard-working current and former peers such as Shelley Madore, John Marty, and the late, great U.S. Senator late Senator Paul WellstonePaul Wellstone pursuing solutions to everything from the MN Health Plan to our national budget priorities. Their tireless, selfless efforts are a model of how to step up and get work done despite naysayers who promote a “divided we fall” agenda exemplified by the smoke-and-mirrors approach to discussing the Minnesota budget that Governor Tim Pawlenty has relied on to further his Presidential ambitions at the expense of the citizens of Minnesota.

Hopefully this current election cycle will give us more people pursuing common sense approaches in the state and national legislatures instead of more political posturing and empty “anti-tax, anti-government” sound-bites, although from Fox to MSNBC the media lately seems inclined to let the latter dominate their “journalism” rather than observing that time-tested rule for investigative research and reporting: follow the money.

February 11, 2010

Are disingenuous “republicants” trying to undermine confidence in government?

Posted in economic recovery, GOP, health care, media coverage, mortgage reform, taxes, U.S. Economy tagged , , , , , , , , at 2:29 pm by realitytax

Now more than ever Americans question that Congress is ready, willing, or able to effectively govern. We trusted them with billions of dollars in handouts to Wall Street in late 2008, but still needed a separate stimulus bill to create jobs after a new administration took office, a process which has yet to make much headway as reverberations of the economic crash continue.

Some debate the value of Cash for Clunkers, too – mostly they’re elected to Congress as Republicans, and none of them work in the auto industry. But it’s fashionable to bash the opposition, after all. The media drinks it up, and it keeps their pundits off the foreclosure stories.

The “Credit Card Bill of Rights” was so hamstrung that banks used the interval to increase fees and interest rates on consumers. The American people fear Washington has gone wrong, and the media coverage of Republican leaders steadfastly refusing to compromise on anything has come to epitomize Washington’s gridlock.

Health Care Reform was one of the keys to President Obama’s litany when he was still just Senator Obama, a candidate for our nation’s highest office. It united a broad coalition of voters who believed he understood the unfairness of a system where insurance companies treated health care differently than any other form of insurance, picking and choosing the most profitable customers while denying those who most needed health care access to what is nominally a payment system. In fact, 55 Republican members of Congress who oppose a public option, calling it a “government takeover of health care” nonetheless rely on just such a system themselves. If “government run” health care payment administration is good enough for a member of the U.S. Congress, it’s probably good enough for you and me.

Meanwhile, medical bankruptcies will continue to occur despite the skyrocketing cost of premiums. Over half the personal bankruptcy filings in the U.S. are triggered by medical costs, but Congress spent billions to prop up rich bankers who didn’t even suffer a cut in pay, let alone lose their jobs or benefit packages. Set aside the uninsured a moment, the average medical debt that causes insured families to become bankrupt is $18,000 – compare that to the bonuses paid on Wall Street.

Corporations jiggle their accounting to avoid paying taxes, and the richest Americans pay a smaller fraction that the less well-to-do in personal taxes. It’s no wonder the Tea Party concept holds appeal – we seem to have returned to taxation without representation, and if there’s one things Americans agree on it’s the concept of “fair play.” Well, Americans outside the Republican Caucus in the U.S. Capitol, anyway.

Since it’s politics, we know we have to follow the money. We’ve recently cut dozens of taxes; Congress has left income tax laws alone which would normally put the GOP in a mood to smile. In this case, with one party childishly digging in their heels much like children who won’t eat their vegetables, we have to ask: “What more does the minority hope to gain?”

September 15, 2009

Misinformation 101: Spin Influences Debates

Posted in health care, media coverage tagged , , , , , , , , , at 6:41 pm by realitytax

Polling can reliably reveal whatever the person who constructs/conducts the poll was investigating – if we’re given the raw data and a good description of the sampling procedure. But in practice, the data is usually glossed over in favor of a sound-bite summary tending to support the interests of the person and/or network doing the reporting on it, and the description of the sample is only included by the most rigorous of editors.

Without knowing how the sample of people was selected (and randomized) you simply can’t know anything more than what’s reported about a poll. You can’t know, for instance, if its findings are useful in any logical sense, because you don’t know who the sample represents.

It’s all in the design

I can ask 13, 17, or 21 people a question, and come back with convincing-looking numbers that don’t look “too round.” But if I select who most of those people are it will darn sure tell you what I want you to think I learned.

An example of shaping a poll

Imagine I go to a GOP Town Hall meeting, and survey 15 people wearing shirts or carrying signs that say either “Nobama,” or, “Joe Wilson was right!” I’ll ask them one simple question:

Are you a) “for” Obama’s government takeover of our health care system that he’s pushing through the congress under the name of “reform” or b) “against reform” that will make changes that undermine the free market system that has given us the best health care in the world and cost the tax payers even more money?

OK, I’ve plausibly got 15 “b) against reform” responses now in my hypothetical example.  I’ll ask 6 additional people, more or less randomly selected, that same question. Let’s say for the sake of argument that most of them magically favor reform (not a given the way the question’s phrased, is it?) But for the example say I got 4 out of 6 favorable replies.

Now I’ll summarize the poll for you based on that (fake) survey:

“In a [hypothetical] survey conducted Wednesday, only 19% of those responding favor the proposed reforms to health care, while  nearly 81% said they were ‘against change.’ That’s more than 4 out of 5 in our survey who are hoping their representatives in Congress will stop the President’s take-over of business.”

If you believe what anybody in the media tells you without understanding both the sample and the data, all you know is what the reporter’s boss wants you to believe. If you choose to believe on that basis – which you just might if it agrees with your political leanings – rather than examining the poll itself, then you’re gullible indeed.  The good news is: the politicians on your side and the ratings-hungry networks (who are on the side of earning a living from ad revenues) both love you. They’ll go out of their way to validate your “wisdom and insight” into the issue.

If the poll isn’t conducted on a random sample, but merely open to those who respond…? Well, my friends, that will tell you a bit about the people who responded, of course, but one must be wary of extrapolating to draw any useful conclusions about a larger population. We call it spin. But knowing that they’re gaming us doesn’t stop the echoes.

Media complicity

In fact, it won’t surprise me to find this utterly fake survey example quoted elsewhere within days, if not hours.  Can’t you see it, at DIGG maybe, or on another blog, or even on Fox? Something like:

A post on Wednesday at a liberal-leaning blog about politics and economics described a survey which concluded that, quote, “only 19% of those responding favor the proposed reforms to health care, while nearly 81% said they were ‘against change.’” In other words, that’s more than 4 out of 5 who want their representatives in Congress to stop the President’s assault on insurance providers and let capitalism work.

There you go:  lifted out of context, but the quote is nearly character-for-character what I reported in the fake “summary” above. Now we’re set up for the media echoes to persist even though the numbers are clearly unreal.  Now they’re not reporting on the survey, they’re reporting on the reporting, which is just an irresponsible excuse to keep repeating the misleading numbers. Next thing you know, nobody knows how many people were at that rally on the mall in DC, but everybody believes the numbers support their hopes.

Misinformation distorts any debate. I could easily have made the example go the opposite way, of course, but I don’t want somebody to echo a story that falsely represents support for reform.  In fact, some well-constructed surveys do reveal that over 90% favor “at least some reform.”  But then, who wouldn’t favor “at least some” unless they were making money from the insurance industry? It’s like asking who wants lower taxes without considering how you’d pay for those government services you realize you benefit from.

Are you leading an “unexamined” life?

You know that commercial media outlets rely on advertising revenues. So, do you follow the money? Better still, my favorite (somewhat cynical) question: Why do you trust who you always have to report on things you care about? And yet, those are the sources most people trust to describe the town hall “meetings” as well as the “expert” arguments for and against reforming the health care insurance system.

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August 28, 2009

Rep. Michelle Bachmann (MN CD6) missed the chance to lead

Posted in health care, John McCain's campaign, senior citizens tagged , , , , , , , at 2:04 am by realitytax

Minnesota’s 6th district congressional Representative, Michelle Bachmann, missed a golden opportunity this afternoon to step back from the partisan talking points and rumor-mongering before an overflow crowd at her town hall meeting in a Junior High School auditorium in Lake Elmo. Fresh from criticism that she had been much too quick to depart an event earlier in the week in St. Cloud, Bachmann responded to virtually every question or comment from the crowd with long-winded recitations of her already familiar litany: that the U.S. has the best health care system in the world despite outcomes surpassed by many other nations, and that the government would be interfering in and controlling medical decisions in some vast bureaucracy that was somehow worse than the actuarial and profit-driven bureaucrats at insurance companies who already countermand medical orders.

The tone was set early on, when despite the moderators admonitions that the only topic open to discussion was health care, Ms. Bachmann launched into such a long-winded, wandering opening statement that the crowd grew restless.  The session was obviously scripted to limit both the questions/comments and her need to respond, complete with a Texas congressman who also responded to virtually every question, yet evidently hadn’t gotten the “death panels” talking points from Bachmann’s staff. If the Congresswoman was really interested in hearing from her constituents she might have talked less, but alas like so many D.C.-based politicians she relied on posturing at length and repeatedly for the media and her base after paying lip-service to listening as the lines of questioners grew restless.

Ms. Bachmann had the chance to reach out to those looking for real information, she even repeated her recent notion that there would have to be a “safety net” for those without insurance (divining how this differs from a public option is left as an exercise for the voter, evidently,) after assuring the crowd that everybody wants the system reformed. Then, however, she resorted to amateurish theatrics (at least we didn’t see the Grassley dragon) and cheer-leading for unsupported assertions while cherry-picking points to assure her already-confirmed supporters that she wouldn’t let taxes on their children reach 80-90% to pay for reform (which she is in favor of, make no mistake about it) without addressing what she would do, or even suggest, to improve matters. All in all, while her base was delighted with the Obama-bashing, for the vast majority of those in attendance, including the dozens who couldn’t ask their questions, or thought they might hear ideas about how to address the skyrocketing costs of health care insurance, it was a waste of time.

The one accomplishment was the ratcheting up of polarization, in utter contrast to the Representative’s stated goal of attaining a bi-partisan solution.  She lacks the rhetorical polish, and the quick familiarity with the facts, that her wingman (Congressman Burgess, R-TX, a self-described “McCain surrogate”) displayed, which made her look under-prepared, if not outright insecure. From the outset it was clear that the crowd was split, and while the majority were Bachmann loyalists that didn’t mute the opposition, which roared their own approval as one questioner started out by declaring she’d turned him from a Reagan voter into a Democratic (DFL) activist.

One has to marvel at the staunch GOP line regarding government ineptitude coming from those who have controlled the White House for such a large fraction of the last quarter century, at times complete with majorities in the Congress. Still, it’s clear that Ms. Bachmann has spent little time examining her positions logically; perhaps it’s all that special interest money she gets that keeps her aiming partisan criticism at the very institution that writes her paycheck, provides for a very generous retirement, and – ironically enough – provides and pays for her health care insurance plan.

August 10, 2009

Aug 2009 Economic Recovery Reality Index up slightly to 16.03

Posted in economic indicator, economic recovery, ERRI, health care, Obama administration, U.S. Economy tagged , , , , , at 2:41 am by realitytax

Bolstered by a very slight improvement in the unemployment rate and average weekly earnings, since non-farm payrolls declined slightly, despite robust activity on Wall Street the Economic Recovery Reality Index (ERRI) crept up a modest 4.76 points over July 2009 to 16.03 as of August 7, 2009. Unemployment rates remained essentially unchanged among the major demographic divisions examined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and many experts still expect the overall rate to increase to 10%, in part because hiring necessarily lags other economic indicators.

Nonetheless, investors seem optimistic, some of the uncertainty surrounding the big 3 U.S. automakers has subsided, and stock markets reflect an increasing willingness to move funds back into equities over the past month. The ERRI is based in part on a weighted, hypothetical mid-cap oriented index fund (see below) which showed upward, yet uneven movement across the 10 sectors/industries being tracked. Solar technology and utilities lagged other sectors, which were led by investment in retail and cyclical consumer goods, with solid performance in basic materials and capital goods equities (construction, aerospace, etc.) Energy showed some investor confidence, while both financial and service sectors reflected substantive improvement in sentiment.

Average weekly earnings, which had fallen in June reflecting that wage earners continued to be under siege, showed a modest recovery during July by returning to the levels they had been at in May of this year. The increase in the number of “discouraged” workers is slowing – it has risen roughly 335,000 people over the past 12 months, but only 3000 were added to that number in the latest monthly figures, while the number of “involuntary part-time” workers declined slightly. (Discouraged workers are those not currently looking for work because they doubt jobs are available for them.) The bright spot in the figures may be Health Care, where employment continued to make gains – up about 20,000 jobs in July.

U.S. government unemployment figures are estimates based on a monthly survey of households. All persons who are without jobs and are actively seeking and available to work are counted among the unemployed, including those on temporary layoff are included (even if they do not actively seek alternative work.)


Note: The particular selections comprising the security/equity component of the ERRI (data below) were selected to track various sectors, not out-perform the broader U.S. equity markets. These are not investment recommendations, and should not be construed as such. The ERRI fund is an entirely hypothetical construct, and while the author and/or persons connected to the research and/or this website may at times hold positions in these securities, particularly via any one of a number of mutual funds, no representation is made as to the suitability of any given equity, sector, on investment strategy for the reader.

Further, while the hypothetical index fund component shows apparent growth of 23% when calculated simply against an initial cost-basis of $10,000 and an August 7 valuation of $12,298.41 it should be noted that the weighting of various sectors means the effective impact is approximately tantamount to only a 17.6% change, which is not evident in the raw data below. The ERRI fund calculation represents only investor sentiment to the extent stock market behaviors reflect this mostly professional group; domestic (and global) economic recovery depend heavily on wages and employment, as well as difficult-to-quantify public sentiment.

Data on the equities is presented “as though” an investment had been made in an “index fund” for the ease of comparison and understanding, but no such fund exists nor did any investment take place. Equity investments are volatile, particularly when not carefully diversified and monitored; the ERRI would have shown even less improvement had closing prices from even a day sooner been utilized in the calculations (since that would have reduced the “ERRI fund” improvement.) The third column in the table below represents the percentage change in the individual equity prices as of the close of the NYSE on 7 August 2009.

symbol 7 Aug 09
close
%
+/-
index
value
Sector Industry
EMN $ 52.73
+43.09

1,423.71

Basic Materials Chem. (Plastic & Rubber)
HON $ 36.38
+16.68 582.08 Capital Goods Aerospace & Defense
CAT $ 47.78
+49.64 716.70 Capital Goods Constr. & Agric Machinery
FDML $ 14.98
+54.91 1,542.94 Consumer Cyclical Auto & Truck Parts
HQS $ 9.09
+8.60 1,081.71 NonCyclic Consumer Fish / Livestock
BBEP $ 8.73 +19.26 593.64 Energy Oil & Gas (Integrated)
PZE $ 7.02
+17.39 582.66 Energy Oil & Gas (Integrated)
AIB $ 5.88 +28.38 423.36 Financial Money Center Banking
CMA $ 27.61 +26.42 414.15 Financial Regional Bank
FITB $ 9.71 +37.54 456.37 Financial Regional Bank
CCI $ 28.11 +15.87 562.20 Services Communications Srvcs
JWN $ 30.30 +50.67 727.20 Services Retail (Apparel)
FSLR $146.47 +3.48 1,025.29 Solar Technology Semiconductors
RIMM $ 77.09 +16.49 539.63 Technology Comm. Equipment
PLXS $ 26.58 +23.11 611.34 Technology Electronic Instr & Controls
POM $ 13.91 +2.73 1,015.43 Utilities Electric

Disclaimer: Readers are advised that the ideas, materials, and opinions contained herein should be used solely for informational purposes. The author does not purport to tell or suggest investment securities that should be bought or sold. Investors should always conduct their own research and due diligence and obtain professional advice before making any investment decision. Neither the author nor realitytax shall be be liable for any loss or damage caused by a reader’s reliance on information obtained in any posts, newsletters, special reports, email correspondence, or comments on the web site. The author is not a registered investment advisor or broker/dealer. The information contained herein does not constitute a representation by the publisher or a solicitation for the purchase (or sale) of securities. Opinions and analyses are based on sources believed to be reliable and are written in good faith, but no representation or warranty is made as to their accuracy or completeness, and we are not liable for errors or omissions. All such information should be independently verified with the companies mentioned. The author(s) receives no compensation of any kind from any companies that may be mentioned on this web site. Any opinions expressed are subject to change without notice. Owners, employees and writers may hold positions in the securities that are discussed; the intent is neither to suggest investment choices/strategies nor to influence market conditions, but rather to divulge methodology for inclusion of equities and sectors in the Economic Recovery Reality Index [ERRI]

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