Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Economist: Ukraine's economy is in the toilet

"Few people know that Ukraine is the world’s most unequal country, if you look at wealth (not income). The second-most unequal is Russia," noted The Economist.

And few people know that Ukraine's Maidan Revolution was not about the Russian language, or even about signing an agreement with the EU. It was about systemic corruption and political cronyism that was slowly yet unstoppably choking the life out of the economy, chasing out foreign investment and the country's best and brightest, and depriving a whole generation of smart, ambitious young Ukrainians of any kind of future where their hard work and merit could better their station in life.  

Russia's president Vladimir Putin cannot let the Maidan Revolution succeed in stamping out corruption and reforming the economy. Now he is perfectly content to let Ukraine be a freezing economic and political basket case with a Russian-fomented "frozen conflict" in its eastern Donbas region.

By C.W.
November 20, 2014 | The Economist

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Zakaria: ISIS wants U.S. '800-pound gorilla' to fight them

I've been saying this from the start, nevertheless, here you go, an expert opinion:

Remember, ISIS has gone from nothing to becoming the replacement for al Qaeda, the most well-known jihadi organization in the world. How? By taking on the 800-pound gorilla of the world, the United States of America.

How exactly then would that create recruitment for wannabe jihadis?

Because if you are one of the many jihadi organizations or one of the many radical Sunni organizations in Syria that is sort of struggling for market share and adherents, that's one thing. If you become the organization that battles the United States, the crusaders, the West – if you become the face of radical Islam that is up against this new crusade – now, all of a sudden, you are the place everyone wants to come to. You're the place everyone wants to send money to. There's a lot of this that has to do with fundraising.

A Cosby dad's rules for his kids couldn't shield them from racism

This Cosby-eqsue Ivy League black father did everything -- and more -- that conservative Republicans said he should do to raise his privileged black kids... and yet white racism still got to them.

Reading his "rules" for his kids was a real shock to me. Black readers won't be surprised, but I think most white readers would share wonderment at just how far blacks must go not to trigger our prejudices:

My wife and I used our knowledge of white upper-class life to envelop our sons and daughter in a social armor that we felt would repel discriminatory attacks. We outfitted them in uniforms that we hoped would help them escape profiling in stores and public areas: pastel-colored, non-hooded sweatshirts; cleanly pressed, belted, non-baggy khaki pants; tightly-laced white tennis sneakers; Top-Sider shoes; conservative blazers; rep ties; closely cropped hair; and no sunglasses. Never any sunglasses.

[...] [W]e came up with even more rules for our three children:

1. Never run while in the view of a police officer or security person unless it is apparent that you are jogging for exercise, because a cynical observer might think you are fleeing a crime or about to assault someone.

2. Carry a small tape recorder in the car, and when you are the driver or passenger (even in the back seat) and the vehicle has been stopped by the police, keep your hands high where they can be seen, and maintain a friendly and non-questioning demeanor.

3. Always zip your backpack firmly closed or leave it in the car or with the cashier so that you will not be suspected of shoplifting.

4. Never leave a shop without a receipt, no matter how small the purchase, so that you can’t be accused unfairly of theft.

5. If going separate ways after a get-together with friends and you are using taxis, ask your white friend to hail your cab first, so that you will not be left stranded without transportation.

6. When unsure about the proper attire for a play date or party, err on the side of being more formal in your clothing selection.

7. Do not go for pleasure walks in any residential neighborhood after sundown, and never carry any dark-colored or metallic object that could be mistaken as a weapon, even a non-illuminated flashlight.

8. If you must wear a T-shirt to an outdoor play event or on a public street, it should have the name of a respected and recognizable school emblazoned on its front.

9. When entering a small store of any type, immediately make friendly eye contact with the shopkeeper or cashier, smile, and say “good morning” or “good afternoon.”

These are just a few of the humbling rules that my wife and I have enforced to keep our children safer while living integrated lives. 

So as it turns out, to avoid white judgment and racism, well-heeled black kids must learn not only not "act black," not only to "act white," but also to act better than white.

By Lawrence Otis Graham
November 6, 2014 | Washington Post

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Canadian takes down GOP, midterm elections, pines for their own Obama

[HT: JC]. Well said, eh!

Unfortunately, it would never occur to our President or the Democrats to brag, they're much too timid for that... because somebody, somewhere doesn't like them!  [Gasp! Shudder!]

By Richard Brunt
November 10, 2014 | Detroit Free Press

Many of us Canadians are confused by the U.S. midterm elections.

Consider, right now in America, corporate profits are at record highs, the country's adding 200,000 jobs per month, unemployment is below 6%, U.S. gross national product growth is the best of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.

The dollar is at its strongest levels in years, the stock market is near record highs, gasoline prices are falling, there's no inflation, interest rates are the lowest in 30 years, U.S. oil imports are declining, U.S. oil production is rapidly increasing, the deficit is rapidly declining, and the wealthy are still making astonishing amounts of money.

America is leading the world once again and respected internationally — in sharp contrast to the Bush years. Obama brought soldiers home from Iraq and killed Osama bin Laden.

So, Americans vote for the party that got you into the mess that Obama just dug you out of? This defies reason.

When you are done with Obama, could you send him our way?

Richard Brunt
Victoria, British Columbia

On Jonathan Gruber's comments 'bashing' Obamacare

which have talk radio, Fox and Republicans publicly all aflutter. So check this out:

"Healthy people pay, sick people get money," is the way all health insurance works, I'm afraid. It's the way insurance works, period: "Unsunken ships pay; sunken ships get money;" "Undamaged homes pay; damaged homes get money;" "Safe drivers pay; unsafe drivers get money," and so on.

Nevertheless the insurance companies through rescission have tried, illegally, to mitigate the economics of health insurance, retroactively; but PHSA, HIPPA and Obamacare have restricted that underhanded business practice.

No, Obamacare isn't "something for nothing." It's not "free healthcare." More people have to pay in by buying private insurance, or having their employer pay part of their insurance cost, but the economics are sound, there is no other way. The other side of the ledger, (which any accountant should acknowledge), is that having more people insured will lower health spending overall. That's what the CBO has said consistently. 

In the U.S. we're spending nearly 20 percent of GDP on health care, and that's not sustainable. It's also not competitive. Check this out from the World Bank,health expenditure, total (% of GDP):

Australia -- 9.1 percent
Canada -- 10.9 percent
France -- 11.1 percent
Germany -- 11.3 percent
Great Britain -- 9.4 percent
Japan -- 10.1 percent
... and so on.

Next, take a deep breath and check this out: "Revisions to CBO's Projections of Federal Health Care Spending" from July 2014. Upshot: The U.S. economy, at least the federal government'share of it, is projected to spend less  on health care in the long term, which is exactly what we liberal-progressives wanted, to bend the cost curve:

CBO now projects that, if current laws remained generally unchanged, net federal spending for the government’s major health care programs in 2039 would equal 8.0 percent of gross domestic product (GDP)—1.6 percentage points, or about 15 percent, less than the 9.6 percent the agency projected in 2010 (see the figure below). That revision stems in large part from the observed slowdown in health care spending in recent years, but it also includes the effects of other factors; some of those factors reduced projected spending, and others increased it.

The programs included in the calculations are Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and subsidies for insurance purchased through exchanges. 

But how can that be, my conservative interlocutor will ask? How can the government be spending more on [Obamacare] subsidies yet projected to spend less, overall?  

The answer, (not to get too wonky), if you read between the lines of the CBO's revised estimate, is that growth in healthcare spending, including on Medicare, has been slowing down faster than anybody projected. 

Indeed, noted conservative Forbes, "The current numbers represent the slowest rate of growth since the government began tracking the data in 1960."

And why is that? Apparently nobody knows yet. But for four years running, the rate of spending on health care in America has slowed... just coincidentally under President Obama, under an Obamacare regime. 

Harvard economist David Cutler argued in the Washington Post a few days ago that, in fact, we do indeed have Obamacare to thank for it.

Probably it's still premature to say for sure, but the signs are good. Yet one more reason not to "repeal and replace" Obamacare when it's doing what it was designed to do -- covering about 7 million more Americans in its first full year; and lowering -- or at least not increasing -- healthcare costs for four years running.

UPDATE (11.15.2014): Here's kind of a fair and balanced analysis of what Jonathan Gruber said (on multiple occasions, unfortunately), from none other than CNN: "Obamacare: Voters, are you stupid?"