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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Living Dead Sox (aka Theo Epstein's Science Project) Finally Liberate Boston Fans By Doing What They Do Best

Your fun caption here !
Finally, the Living Dead Sox have met their predestined (according to A-Gon), and unlamented (by me) end.
Sox fans can only hope the breadth and depth of their  failure prompt ownership to demolish the team's entrenched, entitled, SABREMETRICS-know-it-all, what-me-bunt culture, starting with the big, giant heads in the front office right down to obscenely overpaid, consistently inconsistent non-performers, emotional basket-cases, and seriously-hardball-IQ-challenged players whom the late Eddie Stanky surely would have described as 'All-Stars from the neck down'. 
We can only hope that Henry, Werner et al. decide to close down Theo Epstein's Science Project before more innocent people are harmed (pink-hats not included).
We can only hope that 2012 Spring Training is more about baseball than fishing or golf, or that during the regular season--which, oddly enough, still counts for something--the boys take time away from their busy schedule of paid personal appearances at malls, banks, and hot-dog stands to DO THEIR REAL JOBS. 
We can only hope that next year, the boys might actually keep their collective heads in the game (as opposed to where the sun and/or lights don't shine) long enough (1) not to routinely walk 7-8-or-9 hitters in the opposition's batting order, (2) to field their positions adequately, (3) opportunely to move runners into scoring position, (4) consistently to score runners from 3rd when there are no outs (5) not to let themselves get picked off, and (6) NOT TO TRY TO TAKE AN EXTRA BASE IN A ONE RUN, DO-OR-DIE GAME ! The last is especially important for players who get winded just walking from the couch to the fridge. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Sensible, Non-punitive, Politically Neutral Medicare Reform Plan ?

That's how Ramesh Ponnuru describes proposals by Senators Tom Coburn and Joe Lieberman in his Bloomberg opinion piece, excerpted below. 

* * *

Senators Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, and Joe Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, have suggested some reforms to Medicare that would generate about $600 billion in savings within the next 10 years. They would gradually raise the eligibility age for Medicare to 67 by 2025 while increasing premiums and co-pays in a progressive manner, with higher-income seniors paying more for their coverage. They would also limit the ability of “Medigap” plans to drive Medicare spending higher by covering the federal program’s deductibles. (No private insurer would tolerate such parasitic activity.)

The plan isn’t perfect. Its means-testing provisions should be modified: Premiums should be tied to lifetime earnings, not income, so that seniors aren’t discouraged from working. But it’s a more sensible way to reduce the deficit than across-the- board cuts in defense and domestic discretionary programs. And it doesn’t really cross any of the Democrats’ ideological red lines. It doesn’t voucherize the program or otherwise transform it, as Representative Paul Ryan’s plan would. And if the health- care law that Democrats enacted -- which scaled back Medicare Advantage and cut payments to providers -- didn’t amount to fewer benefits in liberals’ eyes, they ought to be able to accept these reductions, too.

The plan leaves the campaign chessboard largely untouched. If both parties agree to these reforms, neither will take a political hit for enacting it, while both will accomplish some of their policy objectives: sparing defense for the Republicans, and sparing domestic programs for the Democrats.

Surely some liberals would prefer to see wealthy senior citizens get a little bit less help from the federal government than see education and infrastructure spending cut. But if the Democrats on the committee nonetheless balk, the Republicans should make the proposal anyway. It beats tearing each other up over taxes and defense -- when the real budget choice we face is between entitlements and everything else.

Obama's Political Position and Future U.S. Foreign Policy

Great article by George Friedman, Obama's Dilemma: U.S. Foreign Policy and Electoral Realities, the conclusion of which I've republished with permission of STRATFOR.

* * *

Obama’s support now stands at 41 percent. The failure point for a president’s second term lurks around 35 percent. It is hard to come back from there. Obama is not there yet. The loss of another six points would come from his Democratic base (which is why 35 is the failure point; when you lose a chunk of your own base, you are in deep trouble). At this point, however, the president is far less interested in foreign policy than he is in holding his base together and retaking the middle. He did not win by a large enough margin to be able to lose any of his core constituencies. He may hope that his Republican challenger will alienate the center, but he can’t count on that. He has to capture his center and hold his left.

That means he must first focus on domestic policy. That is where the public is focused. Even the Afghan war and the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq are not touching nerves in the center. His problem is twofold. First, it is not clear that he can get anything past Congress. He can then argue that this is Congress’ fault, but the Republicans can run against Congress as well. Second, it is not clear what he would propose. The Republican right can’t be redeemed, but what can Obama propose that will please the Democratic core and hold the center? The Democratic core wants taxes. The center doesn’t oppose taxes (it is merely uneasy about them), but it is extremely sensitive about having the taxes eaten up by new spending — something the Democratic left supports. Obama is trapped between two groups he must have that view the world differently enough that bridging the gap is impossible.

The founders gave the United States a government that, no matter how large it gets, can’t act on domestic policy without a powerful consensus. Today there is none, and therefore there can’t be action. Foreign policy isn’t currently resonating with the American public, so any daring initiatives in that arena will likely fail to achieve the desired domestic political end. Obama has to hold together a coalition that is inherently fragmented by many different understandings of what his presidency is about. This coalition has weakened substantially. Obama’s attention must be on holding it together. He cannot resurrect the foreign policy part of it at this point. He must bet on the fact that the coalition has nowhere else to go. What he must focus on is domestic policy crafted to hold his base and center together long enough to win the election.

The world, therefore, is facing at least 14 months with the United States being at best reactive and at worst non-responsive to events. Obama has never been a foreign policy president; events and proclivity (I suspect) have always drawn him to domestic matters. But between now and the election, the political configuration of the United States and the dynamics of his presidency will force him away from foreign policy.

This at a time when the Persian Gulf is coming to terms with the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and the power of Iran, when Palestinians and Israelis are facing another crisis over U.N. recognition, when the future of Europe is unknown, when North Africa is unstable and Syria is in crisis and when U.S. forces continue to fight in Afghanistan. All of this creates opportunities for countries to build realities that may not be in the best interests of the United States in the long run. There is a period of at least 14 months for regional powers to act with confidence without being too concerned about the United States.

The point of this analysis is to try to show the dynamics that have led the United States to this position, and to sketch the international landscape in broad strokes. The U.S. president will not be deeply engaged in the world for more than a year. Thus, he will have to cope with events pressed on him. He may undertake initiatives, such as trying to revive the Middle East peace process, but such moves would have large political components that would make it difficult to cope with realities on the ground. The rest of the world knows this, of course. The question is whether and how they take advantage of it.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

What, Me Worry, About Hackers ?

Yes, Alfred E. Newman, now that you ask.

Why ?

Check out '8 Things You Won't Believe Can Be Hacked' by Colin Murdock of humor site CRACKED.COM. My comments, in parens below, should make clear to you, dear reader, that I for one am not amused at the prospect that hackers might actually be able to :

#8. Explode Your Genitals ( Note to self: keep laptop off lap, on desk !).
#7. Cut Your Car's Brakes ( No problem if brakes shot anyway, right ?)
#6. Control a Nuclear Power Plant ( What's a lead suit go for these days ? Hmmm... )
#5. Use Your Computer Screen as a Two-Way Mirror ( Go ahead, *hole, watch me pick my nose !)
#4. Shower in Free Money ( Really, I'd rather bag it, then spend it. )
#3. Crash the National Power Grid ( Hey, genius-boy, you ever buy that portable generator ? Didn't think so. )
#2. Stop Your Heart ( I can think of more fun ways to do that. Speaking of which, wonder what's Megan Marshak up to these days ?)
#1. See You Naked ( What kind of sick f*ck gets turned on, ogling an X-ray ? )

Friday, September 9, 2011

Tax Fat-Cats ? Sure, but Start with Congress !

The Hill has obligingly compiled a list of the 50 Wealthiest law-makers who "reported a minimum net worth of $1.6 billion, about $200 million more than the lawmakers who appeared on 2010’s list."

Who's at the top ? Glad you asked.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) has dethroned Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) as the richest member of Congress, according to The Hill’s annual list of the 50 wealthiest lawmakers.

McCaul reported a net worth of at least $287 million, by far the most of any lawmaker.

Analysis for The Hill’s Wealthiest shows that 2010 was a banner year for many well-heeled members of Congress. Lawmakers including Republican Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.) and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) saw gains of millions of dollars in their fortunes.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Two Contrasting Perspectives on the Chinese Economy

1. An Economic Intelligence Unit study quoted by MetalMiner in SEEKING ALPHA contends that China is on the verge of reaching two economic milestones : her primary export markets will be developing, not developed, countries, and her domestic-owned firms will export more than foreign-owned firms.

Helping China overcome wage inflation in its coastal cities is "the flood of Western technology and know-how that has come on the back of successive waves of investment ", enabling Chinese companies " to innovate, reduce costs and compete internationally with their foreign peers."

MetalMiner continues...

The report suggests that heavy equipment manufacturers, particularly in the construction machinery sector, will be in the vanguard of this trend. The EIU expects China to overtake Germany and Japan in exports of construction machinery by the end of this year to become the world’s second largest exporter of construction equipment after the US. As most construction and mining activity is happening in developing countries, this will mean increased competition for the likes of Caterpillar in the years ahead.

Across the board, China’s ability to penetrate developed markets will be limited, but that doesn’t lessen their impact on Western manufacturers exporting to developing markets. In addition to construction machinery, China will soon be exporting high-speed trains, trucks and in time, even commercial aircraft, just as they have saturated the wind turbine and solar panel markets.

2.  Carlos X Alexandre takes the opposing view that China's Future Economic Power Will Disappoint.

Let’s put some perspective on the issue: China can build bullet trains, refurbish old Soviet aircraft carriers – the “new” one was bought from the Ukraine in 1998 -- but can’t raise enough pigs to feed its population. As a side note, a lower dollar has no effect on swine breeding because pigs are not picky eaters.

And on that basis, a country that cannot tend to the basic needs of its population, will become the world’s financial center. Enough said. Ivory tower thinking may foster the publication of impressive glossy papers, but I learned pig slaughtering and sausage making from my grandmother, not my MBA.

Lastly, Reuters reported today that Fitch Ratings – I know, these guys are unreliable -- announced that it may downgrade China within two years "as the country's banks struggle with debt loads following a lending surge to help lift the economy during the 2008 financial crisis." Dismissing Fitch is easy, but not the Chinese debt that lurks in the shadows. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

What's Behavioral Finance, and Does BF Explain Why Voices in Your Head Are Screaming at You to Sell Everything, Now ?

Irrelevant but amusing pic
Not knowing you, I can't answer question #2.

As for question #1, offers this definition--"the study of how unconscious biases affect financial decisions"--and a bevy of articles on the subject.