Today the Congressional Budget Office issued its report on the budget and Economic Outlook: 2014 to 2024. Two of the sections dealt with the affordable health care act (ACA, aka Obamacare).

Read more... )
In the last two weeks, machines from the following IP addresses have tried to break into one of my systems: China Telecom Beijing City, Haidian District Madian 8 South Road Beijing City, Haidian District Madian 8 South Road Beijing City, Haidian District Madian 8 South Road PrivateCloud id 840, Roubaix, France AT&T Services, Inc CGO COMPLEX, LODHI ROAD, NEW DELHI-110003 MULTACOM CORPORATION PE Skurykhin Mukola Volodumurovuch, Ukraine IT Venture Tower, Seoul, S. Korea 10th Floor Kopse Plaza, Harare, Zimbabwe Oshwal Academy, Kenya SoftLayer Technologies Inc, Dallas Texas CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network Tele2 Telecommunication GmbH, Austria Qwest Communications Company, LLC, Louisiana S.C. Interlink Banat S.R.L., Romania PrivateCloud id 840, Roubaix, France QuadraNet, Inc, Los Angeles PEER 1 Network Inc, Vancouver Canada Leaseweb USA, Inc, Virginia CHINANET Guangdong province network HINET, Taiwan CHINANET SHANGHAI PROVINCE NETWORK CHINANET-ZJ Shaoxing CHINANET-ZJ Shaoxing CHINANET Jiangxi province network China Unicom Shandong Province Network China Mobile Communications Corporation Guangdong Network of ChinaTelecom Guangdong Network of ChinaTelecom IRT-IPVG-PH, Makati City, Philippines THIX network staff CAT Telecom, Thailand China Unicom Jiangsu province network China Unicom Tianjin province network Taiwan Fixed Network CO Host Europe Ripehandle, Germany Beijing JingTian Technology Co CHINANET-ZJ Shaoxing node network CHINANET-ZJ Shaoxing node network S. Matthew Arcus, Pennsylvania AsreTelecom Network, Iran Telecel S.A., Paraguay Digital Ocean, Inc, New York Nodes Direct, Jacksonville, FL Psychz Networks, Walnut, CA Elink-space (Beijing) Technology Co RCN, Princeton, N.J. Shanghai Telecom Science & Technology Development Co China Mobile Communications Corporation - jiangsu Orion Telekom, Serbia CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET Beijing province network China TieTong Telecommunications Corporation CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network CHINANET jiangsu province network
With the exception a couple of posts debunking provable misstatements of fact (one liberal, one conservative), I haven't written anything about the ACA rollout for a while. So here are some thoughts based on the last week or two of apologies, attacks, retreats, and attempted spin.

I start with a futile hope that the whole "if you like your current insurance, you can keep that insurance" thing will serve as a cautionary tale to those people who don't see a problem in overselling their cause through poorly checked-facts or outright lies. The language of the ACA made it clear that wasn't going to be the case for a significant number of people. Nor did it take much more effort to realize that insurance companies would use the law as a chance to upsell to existing customers. One has to wonder if President Obama and others making this oft-repeated claim either failed to read the law, were mislead by their advisers, or simply felt the need to lie because their opponents were out there lying as well.

It's hard to tell how long the fallout from this particular falsehood will linger, but as yesterday's house vote showed at least some Democrats feel it places their reelection at risk. Think about that the next time you're ready to share a meme or quote from an ideologically driven website that you happen to like.

Moving on to the botched rollout, I think a little perspective is in order. Despite the "spin" some sites have tried to place on the 13-Nov HHS report, the site's problems are a major embarrassment to everyone involved.. But so far, no one has died or suffered a serious injury as a result of this mess. The direct financial loss is far less than, say, the $4 billion the IRS paid out to identity thieves last year. Even if you count the indirect costs such as the time lost by users, I doubt the total reaches half that. Just a few weeks ago, many people were claiming that the GOP and ACA opponents were afraid of Obamacare's inevitable success. I think those fears and claims have been thoroughly put to rest.

Technically, there are few lessons to be learned from the fiasco. "Never buy Version 1.0" went from a technological mantra to a cultural one years ago, and the state of the practice in software development is such that a delivery on a system at full scale on a hard delivery date is pretty much doomed to failure. The platform tried to do too much, required too many moving parts, and was subject to shifting requirements. That's true of all major software efforts, be they public or private. Over the next couple of years, blame will be cast on the software methodologies, the myriad required interfaces and databases, the testing techniques, and the overall architecture, just to name a few.

The more interesting lessons are political. Legislatures have the power to pass laws which tell people what to do. No matter how well-intentioned the law and no matter how good the funding, though, "wishing don't make it so." From where I sit, it appears that the Obama administration was so busy fighting political battles and so afraid to grant any "points" to the opposition that they either figured actual execution of the strategy was someone else's problem or that they glossed over and willingly ignored obvious red flags. The reports about "who knew what and when they knew it" will continue even longer than the technical post-mortems.

The other lesson that we in the electorate should take from this is how much damage the "us versus them" political mindset continues to cause. As I noted over a year ago, each state which refused to set up their own exchange did their constituents a disservice by surrendering that power to Washington. The political "victory" being celebrated by the GOP now is coming at a cost to all of us.

I've made no secret that I thought the ACA was a badly crafted law which purported to address a desirable goal. But until we start electing people who are interested in solving problems rather than trying to sell us ideology as reality, we will continue to celebrate schadenfreude instead of progress.
I've come to the conclusion, that only one man can end the current partial U.S. government shutdown. In this, our darkest hour, I call on that man to step forward and answer my country's need.

I refer of course to Nate Silver.

Let's face facts. The first law of incumbents is: "get reelected." 2014 is coming, and both sides know it. But with Nate out of the picture while transitioning to ESPN, both sides trust their own feelings and sycophants instead of other people's polls. They know damn well that the rants and memes on Facebook are meaningless; those posters have already made up their minds and won't be confused by facts. The politicians don't even care about most independents; too many of us live in safe districts in safe states. My own Congresscritter managed to get re-elected in 2012 despite his wife's indictment and facing a moderate, pro-life, openly-gay Republican challenger. To the Congressional leadership in both chambers and on both sides, the only people who matter are the swing votes in the swing elections.

It's possible that other people have done a better job of forecasting and presenting the probabilities than Nate Silver, but they don't have impact on public and political opinion. If, hypothetically, Mr. Silver's forecast showed a shift in the probability of the GOP retaking the Senate, both sides would take notice.

Please, Nate Silver, I implore you. We have met the enemy and he is us. Come off the sidelines and save us from ourselves.
Before we get involved in another war, it's worth asking some hard questions.  Not surprisingly, I haven't been able to come up with a better set of questions to ask than those asked by Colin Powell and Caspar Weinberger.  So here are their questions, and my proposed answers.
Read more... )
For the first time in 4 years, the Commerce Department is revising its method of calculating U.S. GDP. This time it's a big change; for the first time the figure will include both Artistic and Scientific R&D expenditures. This is expected to add about 3% to the GDP.

Since most of the money I've been paid in my life is for R&D, I have to admit a bit of a bias for the new figure, but I can't really say it's more or less accurate. But no matter how carefully the Commerce Department revises past numbers, certain numbers tossed around in political and economic debates are going to change.

  • Taxes as a percent of GDP will likely go down, since the output of R&D spending isn't taxable until it produces products.

  • Since government does spend a lot on R&D, I'd expect the percent of GDP produced in the public sector will go up.

  • Deficit and Debt as a percentage of GDP will go down.

As a result, especially for the next few years, I expect a lot of invalid comparisons will be made between numbers calculated with different methods.  Fact checkers, get your pencils and spreadsheets ready.

USDA Announces Additional Actions to Manage the Domestic Sugar Surplus

"Managing a surplus" sounds great, right?  In fact, what the government is doing is spending $38 million dollars to buy sugar that it doesn't need.

The United States Government lends money to sugar producers (and other farmers) at a subsidized rate.  These are mainly non-recourse loans with the crop pledged as collateral. According to the USDA, there is so much extra sugar being produced, and the world price is so low that about 15% of these loans are in danger of default.  So the USDA claims it'll cost us less to buy the sugar rather than to eat the loans.  Hence the bailout.

So what will the U.S. do with the extra sugar?  Most likely it'll sell it to ethanol manufacturers at below market prices to turn into fuel, thus completing the cycle of subsidy.  Who pays for it?  Pretty much everyone else.  The wholesale price of sugar in the United States is about twice what it is in the rest of the world.  There's nothing new about this -- the U.S. has been propping up domestic sugar growers since the 18th century.  But if you wondered how come so many U.S. products contain high-fructose corn syrup and/or "corn sugar," you can now make a pretty good guess.

While the Wall Street Journal ran a story on this earlier today, don't expect a lot of politicians, either Democratic or Republican, to be calling hearings or otherwise decrying wasteful government spending.  The largest sugar producing state is Florida, which is not only a key swing state but the home of two potential GOP presidential candidates. Other politically important sugar producing states include Louisiana, Michigan, and Minnesota.

Many of you may have read about Carie Charlesworth, a Teacher at the Holy Trinity School in El Cajon California. While we haven't heard both sides of the story yet, this letter seems pretty clear. She's was a domestic violence victim, and now she's out of a job out of fear of her ex-husband's behavior.

I rarely have much good to say about school administrators and bureaucracy. Nor am I particularly supportive of the Catholic Church. Assuming the allegations in the letter are true, a future attack at the school by Martin Charlesworth is a specific and more than reasonably foreseeable threat. Failing to act on that threat would be somewhere between negligent and reckless. The monetary risk to the Diocese from lawsuits is huge, but more importantly so is the risk of physical harm to their students.  Any school administrator who isn't thinking about Sandy Hook and Columbine isn't doing their job.

So, what are the alternatives? Mr. Charlesworth's crimes, so far, don't rise to the level which would permit permanent incarceration under California or Federal law. He's already broken injunctions; it's certainly foreseeable not only that he'll do so in the future, but also that he would ignore any inconvenient laws against felons possessing firearms. And despite NRA fantasies, I don't how having armed personnel at the school would act as a deterrent. And I think that the justice system would frown on an IndieGogo campaign to raise funds for a more "permanent" solution (that's a joke, okay?)

Personally, I would have liked to see the school offer Ms. Charlesworth an alternative. After all, if the Catholic Church can afford to relocate predatory priests, they should be able to afford to relocate Ms. Charlesworth and her family and find a position for her which wouldn't put kids at risk. But it's possible that Ms. Charlesworth rejected such an arrangement, or that a custody order would prohibit relocation.

In summary, the whole situation is a nightmare. The Diocese seems to have been faced with the choice of punishing a victim or risking more victims through inaction. I've never had to make a "least wrong" decision of such magnitude; but if they could not find a middle ground I can't say they made the wrong call.

Make no mistake, the IRS's biased enforcement of 501(c)(4) organizations is inexcusable.  I don't know who the genius who thought up the brilliant idea to discriminate based on name, nor their motivation, nor whether their sins rise to the level of criminality.  Nor do I expect any real answers from an "investigation" where all the players are more interested in polls and campaign warchests than the truth.

What I can tell you is that the provisions of 501(c)(4) leave enough leeway to obliterate any distinction between such groups and PAC's or other political actors.

I offer today's example here... )

Yesterday I took advantage of a half-price Amazon Local Offer to attend a Gun Safety Course in Woburn, MA. I now have my "Basic Firearms Safety Certificate" in hand, which is the first step to obtaining a license to purchase and carry firearms in Massachusetts. I have yet to decide whether I will actually apply, let alone purchase a firearm or join the local gun club. Nor would I post such decisions here.

No matter what your political beliefs on this polarizing issue, I'm pretty sure you'll find something upsetting in what follows. Feel free to click away now.

You've been warned )

According to the "Official Salem MA" guide, about one million people visit Salem annually, generating just under $100 million in tourism spending. Some people come for the maritime history, and some because of Nathaniel Hawthorne's works, but a large percentage of them come because of the connection to witches, the occult, and the Witch Trials of 1692.

But I would guess fewer than 1% of those tourists see the Salem Village Witchcraft Victims' Memorial. For one thing, it isn't in Salem at all, but in the town of Danvers, on a quiet side street on which once stood the original Salem Village meeting house. For another, cartoon witches and Halloween parties are a lot more commercial.

I live less than 5 miles from the memorial, but I never found it until a snowy day a few weeks ago:

In the second paragraph of her latest begging letter, Jo Ann Jenkins, the President of the AARP Foundation, says "You have been one of our most generous supporters."

I have given the AARP Foundation a grand total of $10.  In exchange, I received a $2 umbrella.  Draw your own conclusions about relative generosity.
It's been over a week now since news of the Massacre broke.  I've spent that week mourning in my own way, listening to all the usual suspects, and doing some research.  Finally, today I reached what should have been an obvious conclusion.  I can't think of a single reason why anyone should care what I have to say on the matter.

I knew none of the victims, nor their families.  I've driven past Newtown many times, but I know nothing of the town.  My experience with firearms is quite limited and doesn't include modern rifles of the type used here.  I've done a little volunteer work for elementary schools, but nothing even close to touching on physical security.

What I can tell you is that I've read online "discussions" about gun ownership for about 35 years.  I've yet to come across a single person who has changed their view or outlook as a result of such threads.  So I'm going to take a pass on trying to respond to the logical fallacies, hypocrisies, folklore, propaganda, and outright falsehoods that are dressed up as "facts."  If you assume this silence means acquiescence or apathy, I can only offer my apologies for misleading you.

Carry on.
Doesn't this sound a Facebook meme or a recent Warren Buffett quote?
  • In general, those individual or corporate tax-payers who received the bulk of their income from personal services or manufacturing were taxed at relatively higher tax rates than others.  On the other hand, individuals or corporations which received the bulk of their income from such sources as capital gains or were in a position to benefit from net lease arrangements, from accelerated depreciation on real estate, from percentage depletion, or from other tax-preferred activities tended to pay relatively low rates of tax. In fact, many individuals with high incomes who could benefit from these pro-visions paid lower effective rates of tax than any individuals with modest incomes. In extreme cases, individuals enjoyed large economic incomes without paying any tax at all.

In fact, that language is verbatim out of the "General Explanation of the Tax Reform Act of 1969."  BTW, when this law was passed, the top U.S. income tax bracket was 70%.  But along with the estate tax, the main effect of the high bracket rates was to create a thriving business for lawyers and accountants in tax shelters.  Law schools even taught classes primarily focused on how to avoid these "stupidity taxes."

Part of the 1969 act was to institute the Alternative Minimum Tax. That tax, and the unintended consequences of it, are part of the of what's on the table in the "fiscal cliff" debate.

Those who forget the past are...sorry, I can't recall the rest.  

Dear Governors and Legislatures of (about) 30 states:

Grow up.  You don't like Obamacare.  Some of y'all feel that the Federal Government overstepped its authority no matter what the Supreme Court said.  We get that.  But by throwing a snit fit, you are allowing the Feds to take even more power from you and doing your constituents a disservice.

As of this writing, states have to declare by Friday, November 16th whether they are going to set up health insurance exchanges or not.  If they don't, the exchange within the state will be federally managed.  Whether the setting of the deadline so soon after elections was by neglect or design doesn't matter -- as stupid as it is, it's part of the law.  Cope.

Do you and your voters a favor and make the best of the situation.  Set up the insurance exchange yourself so that you, not Washington, can better respond to the needs of your states.  Are the short-term satisfactions and political points worth giving Washington more power than you need to?

You may have been in office 6 years, but you're not a 6-year old.  Skip the temper tantrum and do the job you were elected to do.

A different perspective on the Fiscal Cliff. Read more... )

In the "put your money" where your mouth is department, apparently bookmakers in the U.K. are offering higher odds against Romney winning than here in the United States.  This creates a "middle" or arbitrage opportunity.

As of this writing, one can sell 240 shares of Mr. Romney at $3.23 at Intrade.  One can also bet $600 at 3:1 odds on Mr. Romney at Ladbrokes.  If Mr. Romney wins, you have to pay a net of $1624.80 to Intrade, but you'll receive $2400 on your $600 bet at Ladbrokes.  Net gain: $175.20.  If Mr. Obama wins, you receive $775.20 from Intrade, but you'll lose your $600 bet at Ladbrokes.  Net gain: $175.20.  It's not enough to make a living on, but it's more than enough to cover the transaction costs.

One small catch, alas.  You can't legally place the wager at Ladbrokes from the United States.  But if any of my Canadian friends wish to exploit this opportunity, I'll gladly accept a finder's fee.

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