Monday, August 31, 2009

Buying at a peak?

Disney's buying Marvel.

I could be wrong, but it seems like Disney's buying at the wrong time. I'm sure Marvel has multiple revenue streams, but I suspect its value has been pumped through the roof by the recent movie franchises. I wonder how much more can be pumped from it? Marvel has already done (and re-done) most of its biggest, mass-appeal comics. How many more X-Men movies can we take? They've done Spiderman, Daredevil, the Hulk (twice), Ghost Rider, the Fantastic Four, Blade, the Punisher (way too many times), Iron Man...what's left? Captain America? Thor?

Spiderman has been a popular Halloween costume for probably 30 years. When was the last time you saw a kid dressed as Captain America? Or Thor, for that matter?

They could always reboot some of their franchises, but you'd think it would take some time before the public would be ready for that. Even comic giants like Batman and Superman took a while, and Superman didn't do so well.

More importantly, can they really count on comic book movies to maintain their popularity indefinitely?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The devil's in the details

From an AP article regarding the Georgia mobile home park murders:

"The chief said police are certain they know what happened, but don't know who committed the slayings or why"

Well, call off the investigation. We're "certain" as to what happened. Except who did it. Or why. Which means we can't know whether the killer is still at large. Or if there were multiple killers. Or if he (or she) (or they) may strike again.

But we're absolutely certain that 7 people were killed. We had four separate officers count the bodies, and all but one of them came up with 7.

Case closed.

A complete and unmitigated disaster

No, I'm not talking about Social Security again. I'm talking about the Chiefs. Specifically the third preseason game against the Seahawks. For a recap:

*Our $60 million quarterback, on whom all hope relies, went down with a leg injury in the first series.
*Two other key players were injured during the game, and a couple others were injured shortly before.
*Our kicker, an unexpected bright spot during the preseason so far, missed two field goals and screwed up a kickoff.
*Special teams largely continued to suck.
*Our offense only put 3 points on the board the entire game.
*Tyler Thigpen, who was supposed to be on display in order to boost his trade value, played like crap.
*We lost a home game we were favored to win.

There's a good chance that ultra-brittle, third-stringer Brodie Croyle will start our opening game at quarterback. It's anyone's guess as to who will finish it.

This has always made me uncomfortable...

"There's the White House auto czar, the health care czar and the yet-to-be-named cyber czar. There are czars overseeing drugs, climate and regulatory action. There's a pay czar overlooking executive compensation and talk of another for sports and culture.

And then, there's the aging czar." - AP, via Yahoo!

I think that's a few too many czars.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Oh hell yes he does!

Cheney condemns Obama's probe of CIA interrogations - via Yahoo!

He's afraid the videos of him dragging detainees around on leashes will surface.

-- Post From My iPhone

Monday, August 24, 2009

Blue Bell Ice Cream

The commercials are a bit corny*, but I'm a huge fan. The fact that their half-gallons are still half-gallons, and not 1.75, or even 1.5 quarts like some of the other jokers really appeals to me. Even if it is more expensive per ounce, and they don't have as many flavor options. The Homemade Vanilla flavor is excellent.

*I was going to link a commercial on YouTube, but it was too terrible. And I've linked Kinoki Foot Pad commercials, so that's saying a lot.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Followup on health care reform

See the below comments from a friend on my post on health care reform:

“Every discussion I've heard by knowledgeable people on the topic of healthcare is that the current system is going to collapse.”


“[C]an you point to any example in the history of the world in which a completely private healthcare system has A) been designed for anyone but the wealthy, and B) actually caused the general health of the nation to rise or remain even?”

I agree the status quo is unsustainable. However, the same is true for every single federal entitlement program in existence, including Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Why would this be different? All these programs have enormous negative consequences, many of which are hidden. Even if their positive effects outweighed their downsides, it’s irrelevant. Why? Because we can’t afford any of these programs. They are all insolvent.

Even many people who think Medicare or Social Security are bad ideas that have caused more harm than good are unwilling to end them, because they’re afraid of the damage that will result from unwinding the mess. This is no excuse to continue an insolvent program until it eventually and inevitably collapses on its own. It is a great opportunity, however, to learn from our mistakes with these programs and avoid repeating them with public health care.

As far as examples of private health care working, consider the United States prior to Medicaid and Medicare. Was health care that bad compared to today? Now, house calls are practically extinct. After childbirth, mothers now get 2 days in the hospital. It used to be a week. People weren’t dying in the streets en masse. Of course, many things are better now, but this has more to do with subsequent scientific and technological advances rather than the availability of Medicaid.

Also, consider that cosmetic surgery is becoming steadily less expensive, while quality and innovation are getting better. This may seem paradoxical, until you consider that cosmetic surgery is largely free of government or insurance company influence. As technology and science advance, allowing more efficient production of goods or provision of services, the costs of those goods or services should decrease. If they don’t, it must be because of an outside influence.

Why should anyone believe more government health care will drive down costs when previous government health care involvement has done the opposite? For example, government caps on Medicaid payments for certain procedures forced providers to make up the difference by raising prices for those covered by private insurance.

Health care costs have also been skyrocketing because health insurance, unlike any other type of insurance, typically extends to all medical costs, no matter how routine. You buy home insurance to protect against fire, floods and tornadoes. You buy car insurance to protect against accidents, especially the medical costs of your potential victims. You buy term life insurance to protect your family in case you die. These types of policies do what insurance is supposed to do: leverage the risk of unlikely events that would be catastrophic if they occurred.

My health insurance pays for me to visit the doctor if I get the flu. It covers annual physicals. It covers all manner of regular, routine care. This is equivalent to filing a claim with your auto insurance carrier every time you need your brakes changed, tires replaced, oil changed or gas tank filled. Or even filing a claim on your home insurance when your lawn needs mowed. Health insurance isn’t really insurance in its current state. It’s more like a pre-paid extended warranty.

That sounds ridiculous, but the above analogies have merit. Imagine if workers were provided home insurance under a similar scheme. Third parties (insurance companies) would pay for landscapers (medical providers), and fourth parties (employers) would pay the third parties for their services. Under this model, lawn care (medical) costs would rise simply due to the middlemen and bureaucracy involved.

Prices would trend upward even more if the homeowner paid a flat deductible (copay) each time the lawn was trimmed. The homeowner would lack any incentive to compare prices, because he’s only paying $30 whether the landscaper charges $50 or $200. Landscapers would lack any incentive to compete on price, because the decision makers have no incentive to seek lower costs paid by someone else. As a result, they'd charge whatever they could get away with, driving costs higher for everyone, especially the uninsured.

Ultimately, homeowners’ salaries would be artificially held down, because their employers would be paying increasingly high premiums out of their finite labor budgets. Unemployment would be artificially higher, as per capita labor costs rise. However, the connection would be so indirect that most would never realize it exists.

Ideally, health insurance would cover catastrophic but unlikely events such as cancer, major diseases and accidents. If this were the case, the costs of both insurance and basic medical care would be drastically reduced. I could more than afford reasonable prices for routine care and catastrophic insurance coverage if my employer could increase my take home pay by the amount it currently pays for my insurance. Unfortunately, the status quo makes this impossible.

But this is no reason to demand a government solution to these problems. Our flawed system is largely due to the unintended consequences of government meddling. For example, wage controls were implemented during WWII. Unexpectedly, these controls were circumvented by fringe benefits such as employer provided health care. This caused someone to pay for health insurance by someone other than those who used it. But this didn’t make health insurance free to the average insured. It merely changed the direct costs into hidden costs such as lower wages and higher unemployment, as demonstrated above.

The HMO Act and tax exemptions for medical benefits contributed to this as well. Allowing medical benefits to enjoy tax exempt status encourages people to choose flawed medical coverage over a commensurate salary increase. All of these things funnel money into medical care, which necessarily drives prices up in the same way cheap credit fueled the tech stock boom and bust, the housing boom and bust and the college tuition boom and (coming) bust.

Government intervention pushed the health care system into becoming the mess it is today. No matter how noble the intentions behind government meddling in the marketplace, such meddling invariably causes painful, unanticipated consequences, many of which are hidden and under-appreciated. Predictably, government blames the very problems it caused on the free market to justify increasing its power by promising to fix things.

And the cycle continues in perpetuity.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Health Care

"PORTSMOUTH, N.H. – President Barack Obama says Americans wary of a government-run health care plan should look no further than Medicare." - AP via Yahoo!

I couldn't agree more. Consider Medicare:

"The present value of unfunded obligations under all parts of Medicare during FY 2007 is approximately $34.1 trillion. In other words, this amount would have to be set aside today such that the principal and interest would cover the shortfall over the next 75 years." - Wikipedia

At first, I wondered why he didn't use a more favorable example of a federal entitlement program, but then realized that's probably as good as it gets.

Some people argue that government involvement will drive medical costs down. How so? Medicare has done the exact opposite. During the 1980s, the federal government attempted to shore up Medicare's unsustainability by underpaying for procedures. To think this didn't affect the cost of medical care and private insurance is incredibly naive. The medical providers who were stiffed on their bills did what every business does under similar circumstances - they made up the difference by charging more to their other customers - patients covered by private insurance.

But that's not all. Because most private insurance is paid for by employers (thanks to government wage controls during World War II), much of the rising costs of insurance are hidden from individuals. But that doesn't mean they don't feel the effects. If premiums for employer provided insurance are 50% higher due to government involvement, employers have less money to pay their employees, resulting in lower salaries. It also means businesses have less money to hire workers or expand production, resulting in higher unemployment. It also means that businesses are less profitable, resulting in worse stock performance. It further means that people have less money to spend, resulting in lower demand for their products, which further contributes to all of the above.

Keep in mind that suppresed stock performance doesn't just hurt corporate fat cats. It hurts anyone with a 401k, IRA, pension, or mutual fund. That includes a lot of people, including young people starting families, retired teachers and firemen. This is especially true in light of the fact that artificially low interest rates set by the Federal Reserve, along with the resulting inflation, have eliminated the viability of using traditional savings methods to fund retirement.

Government attempts to make housing and college tuition more affordable have similarly backfired. Social Security is a huge disaster. Any of its alleged benefits are grossly outweighed by its costs - both apparent and hidden. All of the above programs are careening toward insolvency. Why should we believe government health care will be any different?

Imagine if John Daly's mom would have named him Al Kaholic... still wouldn't be as funny as this.

"A man suspected of appearing nude at homes and ringing doorbells is being held on $60,000 bail after pleading not guilty to a series of charges." -AP via Yahoo!

His name?

Peter Steele. No joke.

Think about how that will appear on the sex offender registry.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Some lady behind me on the plane... playing a poker game with the incredibly irritating music cranked to 11. The guy in front of me has a directional hearing problem, apparently, because he just griped out the guy in front of him, and told him to turn it down. That guy didn't know what the first guy was talking about, and ignored him. That didn't make the first guy happy.

As irritating as that scenario is, at least it's not on a 10:30 pm flight, like I thought I'd be on tonight.

-- Post From My iPhone

Saturday, August 01, 2009

What a scam

"The recently passed “cash for clunkers” program (currently on-hold, as it ran out of funding in one week) is a perfect example of how government policy can make the economy worse. By incentivizing Americans to destroy fully paid-for cars so they can go deeper into debt buying brand new ones, the government weakens an already crippled economy. The last thing we want to do is subsidize Americans to go deeper into debt by buying more stuff. Don’t they realize that is precisely the behavior that got us into this mess?" - Peter Schiff

This program encourages poor economic decisions and uses public money to subsidize new car dealers and manufacturers while simultaneously punishing poor people and those selling used cars.

Subsidizing new cars encourages people who might otherwise purchase used cars to buy new ones instead. This gives new cars an unfair advantage, and dealers or private parties hoping to sell used cars have to lower their prices to compete.

It's also bad for poor people or those with otherwise limited car budgets. If you're driving a car worth less than $4,500, your financial situation probably doesn't support buying a brand new one to replace it. Some people simply can't afford to spend more than $4,500 on a car. This plan destroys many cars in this price range, lowering their supply. This forces people with limited car budgets to pay increased prices for a more limited selection of used cars.

Ironically, the new car dealers who were supposed to benefit from this scheme might be left holding the bag for the $4,500 payments. Congress, as it frequently does, again failed to anticipate this legislation's adverse consequences, or even how it would actually work in practice.

And these are the guys we're supposed to trust with fixing healthcare.