An Alternative Investment To The Stock Market

piggy bank

Recently I found out that my brokerage account offers a money market fund, SWVXX, that yields 2.3%. That is even higher than the 2.1% rate offered by Discover Online Savings. Both of these rates are much better than the rate on the sweep account attached to my brokerage account. That account yields about 0.1%. Unlike investments in short term bond funds, there is no risk to the principal if the Federal Reserve continues to increase rates in 2019. This money market rate is even higher than the Consumer Price Index(1.6%). A positive real interest rate on a money market fund is rare. This is such a rare occurrence you have to wonder what is the Federal Reserve thinking! Regardless, this money market fund looks like the perfect way to put your money to work while you wait for the next stock market pullback. Low-interest rates courtesy of the Federal Reserve was a massive gift to investors in the stock market over the last ten years. During this time there was no viable alternative to the United States stock market. We even had a name for it, There Is No Alternative (TINA). Are higher returns on money market funds the answer to the TINA question? The Federal Reserve giveth and the Federal Reserve taketh away.

Am I The Only Person Who Thinks Governor Northam’s Yearbook Photo Is A Prank Gone Bad?

Thriller Album Cover

Governor Northam is a huge Michael Jackson fan. In a recent news conference, someone asked whether he could demonstrate his moonwalk and Governor Northam flipped his head around looking for an appropriate place to demonstrate his dance moves. Fortunately, wiser minds prevailed and his wife talked him out of it.

In the fall of 1982, Michael Jackson’s career went from superstar to supernova with the release of Thriller. By 1983 I bet Northam’s interest in everything Michael Jackson had become unbearable to his friends. So they submitted a totally inappropriate photo to the yearbook and looked forward to the shock on Northam’s face. They probably never thought their attempt at humor would backfire on them 36 years later. Although this is pure speculation on my part, I would not be surprised if the person wearing Ku Klux Klan outfit is a black person. Irony is a dish best served cold.

Too Woke To Check Her Facts, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez And The Ringworm Crisis

I try not to listen to her but this tidbit caught my attention, “there are parts of Alabama where people are still getting ringworm because they don’t have access to public health”. When my son was in high school he was diagnosed before a wrestling match with a ringworm infection. It took us several days to get a doctor’s appointment so we treated it with Selsun Blue we picked up at the grocery store. By the time the doctor saw him, it was gone. Ringworm is a contagious skin infection but it is not a public health crisis.

If Ms. Ocasio-Cortez had spent just a few moments checking her facts, she would have noticed two things wrong with her statement. According to al.com, the two problems with her statement are:

  1. The problem in Alabama is with hookworms, not ringworms.
  2. Rural Alabama has a hookworm problem because it has a sewage problem. It has nothing to do with access to public health.

I found it especially ironic that the first public health crisis that the representative from Brooklyn can think of is hookworms in Alabama. The opioid crisis is undoubtedly a better example of a public health crisis she should have used her position to discuss. Unlike the hookworm problem in Alabama, public health policies play an important part in treating opioid addiction. Her opinion on this public health crisis is important and relevant to her constituents.

If Only 5% Of The Fence In The 2006 Secure Fence Was Built, Why Can’t The Republicans And Democrats Make A Deal?

If building the fence is the issue then history says the prudent action is to let Trump have his fence. Building a border fence is even more complicated today than in 2006. There is a pretty good chance the only border fence built is where the Federal government and locals agree that it is necessary. That sounds like they will spend more than Ms. Pelosi’s $1 but probably considerably less than 5 billion dollars. That sounds like a win-win for the taxpayer and immigration control. Maybe we can get a DACA fix, too!

A Libertarian Christmas Present From President Trump

President Trump surprised some people recently when he announced that the United States would be withdrawing troops from Syria and Afghanistan. President Trump and I come from the Vietnam War generation and understand the mistakes that were made in those years. Good intentions gave way to mission creep. By the end of the Vietnam War, no one knew why we were there. Thousands died and for what? With a considerable amount of bitterness and frustration, we brought our soldiers home. For many years after the fighting in Vietnam ended, the American people continued to fight the aftermath of the war. Was it guilt or remorse, I do not know. It was a painful experience. As an example, it took several years of introspection before the American people finally came to the conclusion that a Vietnam War memorial was in order. President Trump is like many people who grew up during the Vietnam war who promised themselves to never let our politicians get us involved in a stupid foreign war ever again. Both Democratic and Republican politicians got the message. In a rare bipartisan agreement, both sides promised we would never get involved in a foreign war without a clear exit plan. We had learned our lesson or so we thought.

In the last twenty years, both the Republicans and the Democrats succumbed to the old ways. President G. W. Bush may have had good intentions in deploying soldiers in Afghanistan after 9/11 to pursue Osama bin Laden. In 2018 we have soldiers being deployed today who were not born when the initial fighting started. The time for a clear exit plan from Afghanistan has come and past. To the credit of the Obama administration, both President Obama and Vice-President Biden started the ball rolling at bringing our soldiers home. The problem is that the Obama administration screwed up the Iraq exit plan. The administration’s encouragement of the Arab Spring made a mess of the Middle East but in particular, Libya and Syria. With foreign policy disasters in Libya, Syria, and Iraq, the wind-down in Afghanistan was put on hold. We were so close and yet so far away!

What I did find surprising about President Trump’s announcement is that the only people applauding it are Libertarians and Trump supporters. The Syrian war is going to end soon and Bashar_al-Assad is going to run the Syrian government. President Obama’s argument for regime change in Syria is just not going to happen. The only question is what happens to the Kurds when the United States troops leave. I think the Kurds will do just fine. They are a battle-tested fighting force. The United States is not abandoning the Kurds as much as establishing a different relationship with them. There are solid foreign policy reasons why keeping the Kurds strong is in America’s best interest. Politically and militarily both Turkey and Iran have to come to grips with the Kurds. They are not going away and invading them will only embolden them. For the United States, the pullouts in Syria and Afghanistan are overdue. We may not get the pullouts right but if we learned from our mistakes in the Iraq pullout it will probably be close enough to claim success and move on. If our military industrial complex wants to endear itself with the American people, this would be the time to say we can cut our defense budget 5% like the domestic programs. That sounds like a win-win for the American people. We’re all in this together!

ObamaCare Is Dead, Long Live ObamaCare

Healthcare-LunchboxA Federal judge ruled that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional and I am not sorry. The Affordable Care Act has always been a bunch of dumb ideas that were poorly implemented. The only way the Affordable Care Act would be a “good first step” at reforming health care is if it provided affordable health care costs for everyone.  The Affordable Care Act has always been a great deal for doctors, hospitals, drug companies, and health insurance companies. It was a great deal for those who will never pay enough into the system to cover their health care. For the rest of us who pay for our health care costs, it didn’t provide a path to affordable health care costs. For healthy people buying health insurance in the individual health insurance market, the Affordable Care Act has always been a failure. There has never been a greater condemnation of the Affordable Care Act than healthy people opting out of the health insurance.

The health care industry has always been a hotbed for cronyism. So while those of us who pay for our health care struggle to find a way to pay for the same old insurance at a much higher price, the Affordable Care Act supporters have been doing their touchdown dance with their industry friends. The trouble with the Affordable Care Act is that you eventually run out of other people’s money and the only path forward is to focus on health care costs. The party is over!

If Saudi Arabia Wanted Khashoggi Dead, Why Did They Do It At Their Consulate?

Am I the only person who thinks it strange that Saudi Arabia purportedly assassinated Khashoggi in their consulate? Both North Korea and Russia assassinated citizens they did not like in foreign countries but they were not foolish enough to do it in their consulate. It is called plausible deniability. The assassinations by North Korea and Russian sent a clear message to potential enemies of the government that they will never be safe. What message does an assassination at a consulate say? If Mr. Khashoggi has done something that violated Saudi laws, why not have someone in the consulate arrest him and put him on a plane back to Saudi Arabia for a trial? In Saudi Arabia, they could legally interrogate and condemn him to death. Killing him in a consulate makes no sense.

Does The FBI Have A Multiple Personality Disorder?

When I read the article, Don’t blame the FBI — Hillary Clinton was never going to be charged, I was left with the feeling that the FBI suffers from a multiple personality disorder. For Mrs. Clinton’s investigation, the author argues that the FBI was apolitical, pragmatic, and risk-averse. Literally, at the same time, the FBI was doing their Dr. Jekyll imitation for Mrs. Clinton’s investigation, they went batshit crazy trying to sabotage the Trump administration. There had to be some sane people in the FBI who knew there were political consequences for the FISA abuses, the dossier, and the leaks.  The Mr. Hyde version of the FBI did not care about ethics, legality, or the damage they did to the FBI’s reputation. Good luck, Mr. Sessions, fixing this problem!

Should We Upgrade Our Assessment of Obama’s Economic Record?

In a response to the post, Should We Upgrade Our Assessment of Obama’s Economic Record?, I wrote:

I think the Obama economy was a non-traditional economy so evaluating it using traditional quantitative measures will be quite difficult. I suspect some economists would go so far as to describe the Obama economy as a “grand experiment”. Let me highlight some of the non-traditional aspects of this economy that separate it from past traditional economies.

  1. The combination of zero interest rates and quantitative easing is not something we have done before. Other countries tried this and got hyperinflation. This was America’s first time with this “experiment” and we got low inflation. This tactic was extremely risky. We got lucky!
  2. For the last eighteen years, American companies have consistently reported better earnings with almost no growth in sales. An underlying theme for this earnings growth was various financial engineering schemes. Instead of investing in capital equipment or employees, we invested in stock buybacks. There is nothing like zero interest rates to encourage stock buybacks and prop up the stock price. Traditionally American companies earnings grew because of productivity growth and great products.
  3. Another interesting divergence with tradition was the sector driving GDP growth. In the Obama economy, it was the growth of health care and almost no growth of traditional areas, such as home building and retail. For a consumer-driven economy like the United States, this is probably a bad omen for economic growth.

So we had a non-traditional economy, what difference does it make? The policies in the first two years saddled America with a lot of debt and slow economic growth. The solution to this problem is faster economic growth. So why did the Obama administration fail to enact policies that unleashed the animal spirits of the economy? They had six years to figure this out. As James Carville once said its “the economy, stupid“. The Trump administration figured this out in less than two years. It won’t take too many quarters of over 3% GDP growth to come to the conclusion that the “grand experiment” was a policy failure that fortunately we can overcome. The good news is that the “grand experiment” is over and we can go back to being America again. The question that goes to the heart of the question on Obama’s economic record is, am I better off than eight years ago? Am I better off than two years ago? Yes, I am. Real economic growth with low inflation solves a lot of problems.

Reasonable Doubt Versus Exoneration

A couple of weeks ago I was reading a question on Skeptics, Was Paul Manafort exonerated for the crimes he’s now charged with? So while the accepted answers attempted to wrangle out a legal definition for “exoneration” when there has been no trial, I found it puzzling no one noticed that the instructions given to a jury use the words “Guilty Beyond A Reasonable Doubt”. The problem with the word, exoneration, is best understood by looking for the word, exoneration, in the following tweet. If the jury gives a “Not Guilty” verdict because they thought he was “probably guilty”, does that mean Mr. Manafort is exonerated? I don’t think so. It means that they found him “Not Guilty”. Exoneration is a term best left to the TV pundits to define.