Thursday, January 31, 2008

Monthly Update

Thank you all for being such great supporters of my blog. We have come to the close of January, so to mark our first full month of blogging, I would like to present you with some blog statistics.

Unfortunately, the blog doesn't allow me to see how many hits we've had, however, I can give you some other broad blog stats.

As you can see, the most common topic area for my blog entries has been politics (n=25), followed by financial topics (n=13). Click on the image to enlarge it so you can see it more clearly.

By percentage, politics-related blog posts made up more than 1/3rd of blog posts (37%), and financial issues made up nearly 20%.

In an effort to ascertain which topics have interested the readers the most, I obtained a rough estimate by the average number of comments per type of blog post. As you can see, the most popular pieces were posts regarding global warming or the environment, follwed by entertainment-related topics, and in 3rd place were my political pieces.

I will continue to try to bring you all a wide variety of topics and please email me or post comments (as some of you have been doing) if you see an interesting topic for the blog.



Update on Polls

Thank you to everyone for voting thus far in the Rebate Check and Flossing Polls.

I had a request from a friend to add another category to the Rebate check poll..."I will not get a check (because income is too high)".

That was a great point. Unfortunately, i cannot edit polls in progress, thus, i have added a new poll for you to vote in regarding this matter.

As of this afternoon, it still isn't clear what the income limit will be for getting a check. The house bill had much lower thresholds, but the Senate just approved the bill, but will much higher limits ($150,000 if single, $300,000 for couples). The house and Senate will have to compromise, but for arguments sake, since it election season and politicians want to make voters happy, let's assume the final bill has the income limits proposed by the Senate.

Finger on the Pulse

Check this out...Nick Kristoff from NYT writes his Op-Ed today, concurring with what I wrote in the blog yesterday on the Clinton dynasty!!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Food Sampler

Here are some interesting food related news items that I came across:

1. Super Bowl is coming up. That means lots of chips and dips. A microbiology professor at Clemson University has performed a neat study and found that "double-dipping" results in the transfer of approximately 10,000 bacteria from each person's mouth to dip. That's pretty disgusting. Don't double-dip on Sunday!

2. My mom always used to tell me to use cold water, even when planning to boil it. I used to wonder why not use hot water from the should boil quicker since its already hot. Well, it appears that hot water allows more contaminants to dissolve in the water. Boiling doesn't help.

3. More abuse of animals...this time cows (see my piece on Tyson Chickens a few weeks ago). Downed cows were administered repeated electric shocks. Workers were kicking cows, jabbing them near their eyes, ramming them with a forklift and shooting high-intensity water up their noses to force them to their feet for slaughter. There is a short video of the cruelity in this link along with the full story.

4. OK, I know this isn't really "food" (although some people do eat kidneys), but this story is just amazing, shocking, and sad. There are a ring of surgeons, nurses, and paramedics at 4 hospitals in India who are running an illegal transplant ring. Basically, they lure in poor Indians for "job interviews", drug them up, operate on them and take out one kidney. The poor unsuspecting soul wakes up sans a kidney. It's estimated they've stolen about 500 kidneys and sold them to rich Indians. Unbelievable. We have a shortage of kidney donors, but this is not the way to remedy the situation!!!

In Reagan's Shadow

In tonight's debate at the Reagan Presidential Library, I thought this quote was great...

We were elected in the year 2000 to have a humble foreign policy and not police the world, and yet what are we doing now? We're bogged down in another war. We're bankrupting our country and we have an empire that we're trying to defend which costs us $1 trillion a year.

Who said it? None other than Congressman Ron Paul. He is pretty great. A real straight shooter. He's never backed down from his convinctions.

He said some other pretty rational things. For example...

Q: Congressman Paul, what makes you capable of being a leader both on the economy and the military?

PAUL: OK. The Constitution is very clear that the president is commander in chief of the military, but the president is not the commander in chief of the economy or of the people. The president is not supposed to manage and run the economy. The people are supposed to do this. The government is supposed to give them sound money, low taxes, less regulation. The people are supposed to run it. You know, it comes about because we have a Federal Reserve that creates money and prints it out of thin air. There is a lot of malinvestment. That's the most important thing to understand about the inflation of the monetary system, is the malinvestment. Then, later on, people suffer. You wipe out the middle class. But the evil of it all is the vehicle for financing wars that we shouldn't be in and a welfare state that we shouldn't be doing.

Unfortunately, Ron Paul has absolutely no chance. I can't believe he's still in the race.

So, I must support McCain over Romney on the Republican side. While McCain is out of his gourd on the war (he recently said we will be be 100 years, and hints at attacks on Iran), he has pretty reasonable positions on other issues:

1. He does NOT pander. Who else would go to Michigan and tell the people that they're jobs are not coming back? That takes guts.

2. He strongly feels that we need to reduce our need for fossil fuels and rapidly invest and develop alternative sources of energy; would enact policies to protect the environment

3. He's an ardent free trader

4. Supports stem cell research

5. Has a reasonable immigration policy (not going to deport all illegal immigrants...only the ones who have committed crimes). Romney said he wants everyone deported in 90 days. What he is smoking? How would he do that?

6. He has shown the ability to work with Democrats and getting things done (e.g., Ted Kennedy)

Vaccine for Drug Addiction

Wow...this is an amazing medical breakthrough. A vaccine that causes the body to make antibodies against the foreign drug, effectively neutralizing the drug, and enabling it to be excreted via the kidneys without affecting the brain.

My friend Will may be out of a job (he's an addiction medicine specialist), but at least he would still have his blog!

Flying Naked

A german airline is offering nudist flights. That would be pretty interesting.

Gives new meaning to "You are now FREE to move around the cabin".

Also, must pray not to hit some turbulence while drinking hot coffee.

Why Do We Want to Re-live the past?

Last night, the NFL Network was replaying the Superbowl XXXVI between the Pats and Rams in New Orleans in 2002. George HW Bush was the honoree to toss the coin before the game. What a nice man, but what a mediocre president. It made me on earth did we elect his son to be president in 2000 (and more incredulous, again in 2004)?!?!?!?

It also makes me think about Hillary's run for the presidency. Why do we want to go back to the Clintonian era? Haven't we had enough of them? She is running a campaign of inevitability, but do we really want monarchical imperialism in the US? If she gets elected and then gets re-elected in 2012, it will be 28 years with either a Clinton or Bush as President (and HW was VP from 1980-1988).

Don't get me wrong...the Clinton era in the 90s wasn't too bad. The deficit was eliminated and the economy was booming. It was largely peaceful times, save Kosovo and Somalia.

But, was Bill Clinton SUCH a great president that we need to re-visit that type of managerial style?

Let's look at list of the failures of the Clinton Presidency...

1. Political, social and human failure in Rwanda and Somalia
2. The Monica Lewinsky Debacle and Clinton’s subsequent impeachment.
3. Failure to solve the health care problem
4. Al-Qaeda comes to the fore with the bombing of two US embassies in Africa
5. The Don’t-ask-Don’t-tell compromise for gays in the military
6. AIDS upswing on the rise especially in Africa.
7. The North Korean Safe Nuclear Technology debacle
8. Failure of negotiations between Israel and Palestine
9. The COLLAPSE of the economy and stock market in 2000-2002 (as much as I dislike Bush, it wasn't his policies that caused the 2 year slow-down...the recession started in the third quarter of 2000...Bush took office Jan 2001)
10. Failure to capture/kill Osama Bin Laden
11. Widespread corruption in his administration- 47 individuals and businesses associated with the Clinton machine were convicted of or pleaded guilty to crimes with 33 of these occurring during the Clinton administration itself

I think we need a whole new change in this country, a revolution. We need to change the bureaucracy and the old guard. It has nothing to do with Hillary being a woman. I think it would be GREAT for the US to have a woman president. But, we need CHANGE. Obama and McCain would be starts...although I would really like to see Bloomberg jump into the race as an Independent.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Hidden Facts on Bottled Water

The proliferation of the sales of bottled water over the past 20 years has been prolific. In 2007, 4 billion gallons of water in individual-portion bottles were consumed. A bottle of water costs more, per gallon, than gasoline.

Everybody assumes they are 'being healthy' when they drink bottled water. Well, maybe healthy when compared to drinking a bottle of Coca-cola, but what else are they doing by drinking water from bottles?

1. Creating a huge trash problem- Only one in five of these bottles ends up at a recycling center like this. The vast majority, some 38 billion last year alone, end up at landfills where scientists can only guess could take a thousand years for them to biodegrade.

2. Contributing to fossil fuel consumption and global warming- the price of a bottle of water goes for its bottling, packaging, shipping, marketing, retailing and profit. There is petroleum in plastic. Transporting bottled water by boat, truck and train involves burning massive quantities of fossil fuels. Just supplying Americans with plastic water bottles for one year consumes more than 47 million gallons of oil, enough to take 100,000 cars off the road and 1 billion pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

3. Wasting Money- If you bought and drank a bottle of water that cost $1.35, you could refill that bottle once a day for 10 years, 5 months, and 21 days with tap water before that water would cost $1.35.

4. Putting unwanted estrogens into their body- Plastic bottles contain a compound called bisphenol A that can act as a synthetic estrogen. Drinking bottled water for years could thus theoretically lead to breast and endometrial cancer.

The good news? The mayor of San Francisco has banned the use of bottled water at any city-run affairs. Only tap water is served at these events. Other cities, such as Los Angeles, Phoenix, Chicago, Salt Lake City, Ann Arbor, and Seattle are following suit and banning bottled water.

My advice? Save some money, the environment, and your breasts and buy a good reusable bottle (e.g., Nalgene) and refill it with fresh tap or Brita filtered water. If you do want to see drink bottled water, at least make a concerted effort to recycle the bottles.

Rudy Rudy Rudy

Rudy Giuliani essentially bypassed campaigning in the early states (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina). He put all his efforts into Florida. His plan was to win Florida and have that catapault him to victory on Super Tuesday (24 primaries) next week.

With 72% of the precincts reporting, Rudy is in 3rd place getting 15% of the vote, trailing McCain (36%) and Romney (31%).
Say goodnight Rudy. It's over.

What's his next move? I think he withdraws in the next day or two, endorses McCain, in a move to become his running mate for VP. McCain probably won't choose Guiliani though. He might need someone like Huckabee to take the ultra-conservative South.

Back Door Hillary

Both Michigan and Florida moved their primaries earlier than the Democratic Party was allowing, thus the DNC has stripped the states of their delegates. A total of 2,025 delegates are needed to win the Democratic nomination. For more explanation on this process, see the following link:

This past August, while campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire, Hillary signed a pledge not to "campaign or participate" in the Michigan or Florida Democratic primaries because of their manuevers. Both Obama and John Edwards withdrew from the Michigan primary to protest the unauthorized move up in date. Hillary did not withdraw and won the primary handily (she ran vs. the popular candidate name "uncommitted").

None of the candidates officially withdrew from the Florida primary, but they were banned from campaigning in the state, either live or via TV ads.

However, in the past week, Hillary Clinton held two closed door fundraisers in Florida. Tonight, Hillary is CAMPAIGNING in Florida, giving her acceptance speech, as she has won the primary. "I am thrilled to have had this vote of confidence that you have given me today," Clinton told supporters. "I promise you I will do everything I can to make sure not only are Florida's Democratic delegates seated, but Florida is in the winning column for the Democrats in 2008."

"I believe our nominee will need the enthusiastic support of Democrats in these states to win the general election, and so I will ask my Democratic convention delegates to support seating the delegations from Florida and Michigan," she said.

Obama's campaign manager accused Clinton of pandering.

What is she doing? She is pulling a "rope-a-dope" strategy. "Oh yeah, I will stand for the principals of the DNC and not run in these states that violated the rules...oh no, wait, let me stay on the ballot in Michigan, let me campaign in Florida, and then I will try to get all of the ruling on the delegates overturned at the convention. Ha ha suckers!" It's like telling people not to eat the last cookie on the tray because the cookies don't taste very good, and when the others turn away, reaching out and grabing the cookie and eating it quickly.

Not a smooth move by Hillary. If the race for delegates is close going in the convention, expect Obama's team to cry foul. This is a sneaky move that could further tarnish her image (e.g., Whitewater). And, it could cause a serious split in the Democratic Party. We'll see how this plays out.

The "Handshake"

Here are more links to more shots of the handshake and the 'dis' by Obama.

Obama and Hillary did not shake hands or talk to each other.

How could Hillary so enthusiastically shake Teddy's hand with a smile after he had just sent her whole a campaign a serious blow? What on earth could she have been saying to him? "Thanks a lot you big fat, womanizing, drunk, murderer?"

How uncomfortable did Obama feel next to her with Teddy, his new best friend and Clinton enemy, 2 feet away? He couldn't stand to watch the interaction.

BTW, no websites had the photo posted until today. I snapped the photo of the still shot shown on MSNBC. I was giving you all breaking news. There was no video of the action. Here are A PLETHORA of links with more shots of the handshake and discussion about the photo:

Et tu Brute?

In case you haven't heard, both Ted Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy endorsed Obama for the Democratic nomination today instead of Hillary. This comes after the Clintons openly campaigned for the support from the famous family.

Ted actually called Bill Clinton yesterday to inform him of his decision. That must have been an uncomfortable call.

And, speaking of uncomfortable, check out this photo of Ted and Hillary shaking hands just prior to the State of the Union tonight. Look at Obama turning away. This picture is going to win the Pulitzer Prize, mark my words. I scoured the internet to find a good copy of the photo, but it is no where to be found yet. So, I rewound the DVR recording of MSNBC tonight, and snapped the photo from the TV screen.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Are We Too Pessimistic?

Bush is out tonight giving his State of the Union speech. His last State of the Union address (thankfully). In general, it was a ho-hum speech. Not very inspiring, and it reminds us of how many false promises he made and how his Presidency has largely been a failure. There have been many lost opportunities on fixing the problems with health care, education, immigration, social security, medicare, and energy independence. The national debt and trade deficit have ballooned, and we're stuck in the middle of a quagmire in Iraq (and Afghanistan).

Also, of course, he urged congress to quickly pass the economic stimulus package worth $150 billion because of economic concerns.

I wonder if the media and government are blowing the doom and gloom of the economy out of proportion. Yes, no question the economy is slowing somewhat. Unemployment rates are creeping up slowly, but are still quite low historically, and we are close to full employment (full employment is about 3% per expert economists). There is always ebb and flow to everything. We cannot always have a raging economy. Also, look at this figure...unemployment is really not high at all compared to previous recessions.

Larry Kudlow calls it the "Goldilocks" economy (not too hot, not too cold). But, alas it is an election year, both for the Presidency and many seats in Congress. Thus, everyone is eager to get a plan and cash out to the people. But, it is such a short-term band-aid that will be placed on a large gash that will likely heal by secondary intention in due time. It is a temporary plan.

I think we are better served by enacting the monetary policy that the Fed has done recently (i.e., cutting interest rates), rather than this bogus fiscal stimulus. This plan is not going to result in much long-term incentive for economic growth, while in the short-term, is only going to increase the deficit. Better plans would be to keep capital gains taxes low to encourage new investment by businesses. Would should not try to tax and thus cripple American businesses/corporations...they are the entities that employ people!!

The inciting stimulus for this whole recession is likely the credit and housing crisis (people are spending less because they feel "less wealthy" because of the loss in value of their homes...consumer spending makes up 70% of GDP). However, maybe in the long-term, this "correction" is a healthy thing. Housing prices were increasing at an insane rate. It was unrealistic, and a bubble was called a few years ago...we have been waiting for it to "pop". Hopefully, now that this is all exposed, banks and mortgage lenders will have learned their lesson, and will not lend money to people who will not be able to afford to pay it back. Future mortgages will be more secure.

There are more "silver linings" from this correction/recession:

1. Americans get healthier as the economy gets worse. While unemployment tends to increase during recessions, economist Christopher J. Ruhm of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro has found that a temporary one percentage point increase in the unemployment rate leads to a 0.5 to 0.6 percent reduction in the mortality rate, or about 14,000 fewer deaths per year.

Why the health benefits? With more free time and less money on their hands, people tend to consume less tobacco, exercise more, prepare healthier meals and lose weight. In addition, they are much less likely to have car and other accidents, and to catch communicable and sometimes fatal diseases such as influenza. Among the top 10 causes of death in the United States, only suicide rates show a substantial unemployment-driven increase. Even deaths caused by heart disease fall substantially.

2. People just looking to enter the housing market will get some great deals

3. People wanting to enter the stock market are going to buy stocks "on sale" and also get great deals

4. The recession is likely going to be short (average length of recession in only 6 months). We probably have started the recession in late October/Early November. Thus, it is almost over. Sometimes you need to feel pain in order to appreciate the good times.

5. The stock market will start picking up sooner than the end of the true is forward looking. To wit, look at the railroad stocks...they have been skyrocketing in the past 2 weeks. These means demand for shipping goods is increasing or will be increasing very soon. Also, companies like Microsoft (MSFT) and Corning (GLW) recently reported excellent earnings and do not see much weakness domestically or globally.

Finally, let's come back to the economic stimulus plan. This check will probably be delivered in May or June...too little, too late. What is this small, one time tax credit check going to do for the economy? This brings out the 2nd poll....what are you going to do with your $600 refund check (or $1200 if you are married). There is a phase-out for those who make > $75,00o (single) or > $150,000 (married). Are you going to spend it, save it, or use it to pay off debt?

More Floss

Update on the flossing post from the other day.

I was at the grocery store tonight and was buying more floss (Johnson & Johnson woven). I actually had some trouble finding the woven flosh. While I was looking, I noticed that the J & J waxed floss packaging said that it is "40% more effective than Glide at removing plaque".

I tried to find the actual study. I couldn't find it. But, I did find this post on Chelsea Peretti's blog (I have no clue who she is, but at least she agrees with me):

Just got my teeth cleaned. Here's a warning for all you meticulous flossers: GLIDE DOESN'T WORK. My dentist just told me. She said use Johnson & Johnson, the kind that can fray. Glide is too smooth to be effective. I had plaque that she scraped off (love that gritty cleaning feeling!) and she says if I switch over I should be fine.

Of note, I was looking at the floss at the same time as some 50 year old guy. He said, "Never thought finding the right floss would be so hard." I said, "I know, I'm very particular too." He said he likes the "non-waxed" type so that it really scrapes in there. He hates Glide as well because it is too smooth. So, I've got at least two people on my side, Chelsea and some random guy at Stop and Shop.

I'm posting a poll on floss (first official poll for this blog). Please vote on the poll posted to the right on your favorite type of floss.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


Follow-up to Will's important comment on Big Pharma post in which he points out that health care is a failure of free-market capitalism and that instead, it should be treated as a public good, just as national defense, lighthouses, roads, etc.

I wholeheartedly agree with Will. The Republicans and the American Medical Association squashed "Hillary Care" in 1994 because they argued on the fundamental premise that free markets and competition will drive down the costs of health care. What has happened since then? The rate of increase in health care expenditures has been about 8-9%, greatly outpacing the rate of inflation (approx 2-3% per year). Health care expenditures are out of control, and account for 15% of GDP (and by 2020 will account for 20% of DGP).

The huge problem, is that too many parties are interested in making a profit in health care. There are at least 4 parties...hospitals, physicians, insurance companies, and the pharmaceutical companies who are all trying to make a buck. Who ends up getting the shaft? That's right...the patients. It is impossible for our health care system, regarding effectiveness and efficiency, to improve, with so many competing interests. This is not even theoretical. We already have empirical evidence from the last 15 years!!! It has been a failure. Our health care system consistently ranks near the bottom in actual quality of health care delievered when compared to other OECD countries, despite the US spending twice as much per capita than any other country in the world.

Several economic analyses reveal that universal health care would actually be less costly, both for the government, and net for the taxpayers (taxes would increase, but individuals would no longer have to pay for insurance premiums, deductibles, co-pays, and prescriptions).

Few other points:

1. Many don't want "goverment-run insurance". With Medicare, Medicaid and the VA Health Care System, 52% of the population in the US is receiving "government-run" insurance. That system seems to work pretty well.

2. The overhead costs on Medicare and Medicaid are about 3%. The overhead for private insurance companies is about 30% (they spend lots of money trying to deny claims).

3. Our current system places FAR too much dependency on one's employment situation. Some people get "Rolls-Royce" type health care policies, and other employers provide bare-bones coverage. Heck, my Yale Health Plan insurance policy is a complete joke. People should not have health care coverage be an important variable when choosing a place of employment.

4. The current "fee for service" system encourages overuse of diagnostic tests and procedures. Multiple studies have demonstrated that increased utilization does not improve outcomes, thus, money is wasted and patients are exposed to unnecessary risk for iatrogenic complications.

Here are some publications that support the assertion that increased rate of procedures does not improve outcomes:

Bottom line....Will said it. Health care is a public good, and should NOT be a part of the free markets. Imagine if the fire department or police department provided different levels of protection or service based on where one lives in town? The situation is analogous to having different levels of health insurance based on one's employer-sponsored policy.

Big Pharma

One thing that infuriates me is the way Big Pharma operates in this country. The costs for prescription drugs are completely out of control. This component is certainly helping to drive up the expenditures in an already overextended health care system in the US.

A few points that I want to make:

1. The common reason voiced for high prices by these companies is that they need the money for research and development. A recent study from York University found that only 13.4% of the money spent is on R&D. However, 24.4% is spent on advertising. That amounts to over $40 billion dollars spend on advertising. I cannot comprehend why drug companies need to advertise prescription drugs on television. Patients themselves cannot write their own prescriptions. The usage of suggestive imaging, and creative marketing platforms subtly shape the population's opinions about these drugs and bias them in a manner that has nothing to do with their true efficacy or cost-effectiveness.

2. Drug companies suppress information in order to continue to churn profits. Merck is at least a two-time offender. First, they knew of the increased risk for cardiovascular events associated with their arthritis drug Vioxx a few years before the information became public. There was suppression of data so that Merck could continue to sell it's blockbuster drug. Second, they also knew about the results of the recent study of Vytorin that demostrated that despite greater reductions in cholesterol, their drug Vytorin did not reduce the amount of plaque in coronary arteries (in fact, it may have increased the amount). If this result had been positive for Vytorin (reduction in plaque amount), these results would have been released immediately at a scientific conference and been propogated on the major news networks. Instead, the information was withheld for some time, so that sales could continue in the interim.

3. The proliferation of "me-too" drugs do little for advancing the practice of medicine and improving the health of our population. Millions of dollars are spent trying to tweak a drug to achieve an efficacy or side-effect profile that is just a shade better than a competor. How many proton-pump inhibitors are needed? How many ACE inhibitors are needed? Instead, these monies and efforts should be spent on disocovering new therapeutic targets.


It's time I talked about one of my passions that doesn't have to do with politics, the stock market, or sports.

It relates to the importance of dental hygeine. Fact is, humans only get one replacement set of teeth after our baby teeth fall out (elephants on the other hand get six and crocodiles get 40 sets over their lifetime). So, taking care of teeth is a priority. One of the best things to do for the health of your teeth is to floss.

I love to floss. It makes a tremendous difference for the health of your gums and teeth. I've always maintained that if I was stranded on a desert island and only had the choice between floss or a toothbrush, I would choose floss. Food particulate matter gets stuck between teeth and causes gum disease and bad breath. A toothbrush only goes over the surface of the teeth, but does nothing to get in between the teeth. You need to get into the nooks and cranies.

There is scientific evidence to support this notion:

Fifty-one sets of twins between the ages of 12 and 21 years of age were examined for gingival bleeding and halitosis. Each set of twins was then divided into two groups. One group of twins manually brushed their teeth and tongue twice a day for two weeks. The second group of twins was given the same instructions in addition to using dental floss twice a day. After two weeks, the twins were examined again for gingival bleeding and halitosis.

Researchers found that tongue and tooth brushing in combination with dental flossing significantly decreased gingival bleeding by 38 percent after a two-week oral hygiene program. Halitosis, or bad breath, was also reduced. In the group that did not floss as part of their daily routine, gingival bleeding sites increased by almost four percent.

My favorite floss is Johnson and Johnson Mint Woven Floss. Second favorite is J& J Mint Waxed Floss. Least favorite is Glide brands of floss. Why? I feel the Mint Woven Floss by J & J has the best scrubbing action. It really scrapes between the teeth. Glide on the other hand just slips in and out and is not performing effective scrubbing.

I also recommend an electric toothbrush. There have been many studies that have compared manual vs. electric toothbrushes. The verdict? A Cochrane review of 29 high-quality trials in over 2000 people found that many old-fashioned toothbrushes are just as good as electric ones at reducing plaque and gum disease. The only electric toothbrushes better than manual toothbrushes at reducing both plaque and gum disease were rotational oscillation brushes, where the head of the toothbrush rotates first one way and then another. These toothbrushes reduced the amount of plaque by 11% and gingivitis by 6% in three-month trials. Other electric toothbrushes, such as ultrasonic toothbrushes, which vibrate at ultrasonic frequencies, were no better than manual toothbrushes. Bottom line, get yourself an Oral-B toothbrush. You teeth will thank you for it!

Obama Rocks SC

Obama won in a landslide tonight in the South Carolina primary. The momentum is back on his side. Super Tuesday is only 10 days away.

Why did Obama win? South Carolina is 50% black, but it wasn't just the black vote. Obama won every category of demographics except white woman and people greater than age 65. I think people like "fresh" rather than "old establishment". The Clintons (yes, plural, since Bill is everywhere these days) are old establishment. They have been have very critical and terse lately, as poor old Bill keeps getting into fights with reporters out on the campaign trail. Hillary sounds shriekish and shrill when she gets fired up and wants to denounce one of Obama's positions or statements. People are tired of the status quo in Washington. For all that is made of the lowly approval ratings of Bush and Cheney, Congress is not better...approval ratings are consistently around 20%.

Obama is inspiring people. He has the intonation in his voice that transcends typical rhetoric. We will see if this holds up on Super Tuesday. What I am really hoping for is the race to be undecided going into the convention. How exciting would that be? There would be back room deals being made like in the old days. That hasn't happened in nearly half a century.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Bronzie Fonzie

Heeeeeyyyyy....guess what? Fonzie is getting a bronze statue erected in Milwaukee. Here's a quote from Henry Winkler, "I mean it's not often you have a dream when you're 7 lying in your bed, you get to live your dream out and then someone is going to erect a life-size statue of your creation." Pretty funny quote from Winkler. It's too bad he was type-cast the rest of his life. I think the only significant thing he did was produce the show "MacGyver".

Stimulus Shimulus

I've been silent on the "economic stimulus" package that congress and the President are trying to push through this week to 'save' this economy from recession. What a joke.

First of all, I am somewhat against this whole package given my predilection for free markets and capitalism. However, things look gloomy, the unemployment rate is creeping up, and the many major companies are seeing slowing demand for their products.

Congress has tried to quickly act and put a package together. Bottom line is that single people will get $600 each and married couples $1200, by May, supposedly. There will also be immediate tax write-offs for 50 percent of the purchase price of plants and other capital equipment and permit small businesses to write off additional purchases of equipment.

I do like the provision for investment is important to stimulate growth. But, the whole tax rebate check thing just isn't going to cut it. I think this a ploy to buy votes. How much of this money is going to be put back into the economy? Evidence from previous tax rebate checks demonstrates that only 30% of the money gets spent. The rest is put into savings or used to pay off debt/credit cards. Economists estimate that each dollar spent on this stimulus package will only return 70 cents on the dollar to GDP. Thus, this $150 billion stimulus plan will only increase GDP by about $100 billion. On the other hand, I heard an economist say that he estimated for every dollar that is put into food stamps, it will yield $1.70. That sounds unbelievable. I tried to look this up, but could not find proof. I think, if the government really wants to "give out" money and have it ALL go back into the economy, the best thing would have been 'gift cards'. Thus, the money would get spent at merchants and pump the cash back into the economy.

On the other hand, I do think that the fed rate cuts will result in growth in the economy. However, it will probably take 6 months to kick in, at which time we may be emerging from recession on our own. To wit, the transportation index, which is a classic economic leading indicator (shipping, etc), has been beaten up for the past 6 months, but rallied significantly this past week. This could be a positive sign that the economy is not so bad. And, of note, Buffett has been buying the railroad stocks heavily recently.

And how's this for an economic stimulus....get out of Iraq and spend the trillions that we are spending there in the United States!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Why Can't We Do this in the US?

Today, in Italy, Italy's prime minister, Romano Prodi, lost a confidence vote Thursday in the Senate and will be resigning his office. He was in office for 20 months, but quickly lost the confidence of parliament amid corruption charges.

Imagine if we could have done this in the US congress? We wouldn't have to wait until Jan 20, 2009 to replace Dubya.

Oh those crazy Italians!

Pig Spleen Meteorology

My friend Jeanette told me about this crazy story she heard on NPR tonight about a crazy old guy who predicts weather by looking at pig spleens. At first, I didn't believe her, but apparently, this is a system that has been used for some time. It is even in the Farmer's Almanac!!

Apparently, they look at the thickness of different parts of the spleen and can predict the average temperature and precipitation. Starting from the top to the bottom the length of the spleen represents the months of January to June. Any lumps found along the spleen means snow, rain, wind, blizzards or lightening storms.

There is a caveat: The pig spleen forecasting only works from January to June and only within a 200-mile radius of where the pigs are kept.

Don't believe me? Check out these links.

And here is a schematic of famed meteorologist Gus Wickstrom's predictions from the pig spleen in 1998.

NYTs Endorsements

The Times Editorial board came out with their endorsements for the Republican and Democratic presidential races today.

The winners? Here they are, with a summary on why they chose these two candidates.

Republican Party:

John McCain
-advocate for for battling global warming
-risked his presidential bid to uphold fundamental American values in the immigration debate

-genuine war hero

-critical of Bush and Rumsfeld in management of war

-opposes torture

-has character to stand on principle

Why not Guiliani, their once proud Mayor of New York?
-narrow, obsessively secretive, vindictive man
-saw no need to limit police power
-arrogance and bad judgment are breathtaking
-ran through surpluses, bequeathed huge deficits to his successor
-nominated Bernard Kerik Police Commissioner, who has now been indicted on fraud and corruption charges

Romney....forgettaboutit. As Ben Stein said on Larry Kudlow's show tonight, "he is not a flip-flopper. A flip-flopper changes his stand on certain priciples that he once believed in. Romney has no principles."

Democratic Party:
Hillary Clinton
-major issues, no real gulf separating the Hillary and Obama

-promise end to war in Iraq, more equitable taxation, more effective government spending, more concern for social issues, a restoration of civil liberties and an end to the politics of division of George W. Bush and Karl Rove

-potential upside of Obama presidency is enticing, but next president needs to start immediately on challenges that will require concrete solutions, resolve, and the ability to make government work

-Mrs. Clinton is more qualified, right now, to be president.

-Regarding Obama, more specifics are needed to go with his amorphous promise of a new governing majority- a clearer sense of how he would govern.

So, bottom line...they are choosing the most liberal (or perceived liberal) on the Republican side and they are going with experience rather than flash on the Democratic side.

Double Bottom

Great comment on my "Capitulation" piece last night from reader "Fat Bottom Boy". He asks, "How often is a double bottom turn around formed in 2 consecutive trading days? Not so sure."

I did a little research and found info on the size and tempo of "double bottoms" on the website

Analysts vary in their specific definitions of a double bottom. According to some, after the first bottom is formed, a rally of at least 10% should follow. That increase is measured from high to low. According to Edwards and Magee, there should be at least a 15% rally following the first bottom. This should be followed by a second bottom. The second bottom returning back to the previous low (plus or minus 3%) should be on lower volume than the first. Other analysts maintain that the rise registered between the two bottoms should be at least 20% and the lows should be spaced at least a month apart. Generally, the longer the time between the two lows, the more important the pattern as a good reversal. Schabacker warns investors off of a pattern where only a few days intervene between the two lows. Bulkowski suggests that best gains come from formations where bottoms are approximately 3 months apart.

So, maybe "fat boy" is right. This was too quick for a double bottom. Only time will tell. As a bull you are hoping it was a double-bottom. As a day-trader, it doesn't matter, because we should be good for a 10% move to the upside. Day-traders just need to ride the current wave in the right direction.

As the days progress, I will try to find more info on the technical analyses of the market and let you know what direction we are headed in.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Global Warming- Dogs, Cows, and Beckham

I haven't had any pieces yet on global warming. No point rehashing all of the data here, but there have been 3 interesting news pieces relating to it in the past week.

1. The Iditarod Race in Alaska- the start of the 1,100-mile race will move 30 miles north to Willow from the traditional site in Wasilla because of a lack of snow on the regular trail.

2. A Sweedish University is spending > $500,000 to study the methane-rich belches of cows. Yes, in case you haven't heard, it's estimated that livestock are responsible for 18 percent of the world's greenhouse gas problem.

3. David Beckham- the British-born soccer phenom now playing in the US, is responsible for 163 tons of carbon dioxide yearly. He may have the largest carbon footprint in human history ("that's what she said").

P.S. For those of you don't know about the history of the Iditarod. It was a race that was started in 1973 to commemorate a heroric effort in 1925.

In January of 1925, a diptheria epidemic threatened Nome, and the nearest quantity of antitoxin was in Anchorage. A 20-pound cylinder of serum was sent by train 298 miles from the southern port of Seward to Nenana, where it was passed just before midnight on January 27 to the first of twenty mushers and more than 100 dogs who relayed the package 674 miles from Nenana to Nome. The dogs and mushers had to battle extreme temperatures ranging between -50 and -60 degrees F. Many suffered frostbite on the historic race against time. The Norwegian Gunnar Kaasen and his lead dog Balta arrived in Nome on February 2 at 5:30 a.m., just five and a half days later. Only about 100 people died. They saved the town of Nome from extinction. The two became media celebrities, and a statue of Balto was erected in Central Park later that year.


Well, folks, I don't know if you were paying attention today, but it was a WILD ride on Wall Street. Yesterday, we were down to 1270 on the S&P. We closed down a little more than 100 points after the fed rate cut, but it was still a bad day. Apple got hammered after hours, and the futures were very negative again this morning. We opened down 250 points, rallied a bit, then were down by 350 points on the Dow in the early afternoon. It could've been disaster. The guys on CNBC this morning were saying that we need to hit yesterday's lows to make a double bottom and head upward (experts feel that there is no such thing as a "V" bottom, only a "W" or double bottom). At 12:50 EST, we did it. We hit 1270 again. The volatility index was spiking through the roof again. People were panicking. Oh, the drama! Do we go through and head down in free fall? Or, do we bounce on yesterday's low and rally upward?!?!

Well, rally we did! From those lows, the market (DOW) went up 650 points!! Unbelievable. The rally was led by the financials. The XLF (the financial ETF) was up 7%. Even beleaguered Citigroup, was up 10%.

On Mad Money tonight, Cramer said that this was a real bottom. The financials are down about 50% since their highs last summer. It looks like this is the turn.

Should we listen to Crazy Cramer?
Well, I have found other data to support that we have reached a bottom.

Consider these facts:

-For two weeks straight, 0 out of 42 Fidelity Select mutual funds had out-performed the return on cash (90-day T-Bills) over the prior quarter. This has happened 10 other times since 1986, with the S&P 500 showing a positive 3-month forward return all 10 times by an average of +7.8%.

-The smallest of options traders, buying 10 options contracts or less at a time, have finally turned excessively bearish. Last week they spent 24% of their volume buying put options, the most since mid-August (this is what is referred to as "dumb money").

-Other options gauges are showing similar levels of heightened uncertainty, with the 10-day average of the equity put/call ratio (via the CBOE) showing its 2nd-highest reading in history, behind only immediately after 9/11 (more "dumb money").

-Short sales by the public eclipsed short sales by specialists by nearly a 20-to-1 ratio as of earlier this month, a new all-time record (more "dumb money").

-Open interest in "smart money" OEX options has tilted heavily toward the call side. This has been a consistent predictor of future market strength.

-Corporate insiders continue to buy heavily.

Remember this day. Look at the chart of the S&P above. You see the turn that has occurred. This is a tremendous buying opportunity.


I'm sorry to everyone out there who may have bought Apple stock after my "Word on the Street" post a few weeks ago. Apple is getting demolished today after coming out with earnings after the bell last night. It is down 15% to $132. Just 3 weeks ago it was a $200 stock.

Why? They did beat the street on earnings. Apple posted a first-quarter profit of $1.58 billion, or $1.76 a share, compared with profit of $1 billion, or $1.14 a share, a year ago. Revenue for the quarter was $9.6 billion, compared to $7.1 billion a year ago. Analysts polled by Thomson Financial were expecting EPS of $1.62 on revenue of $9.46 billion. But it was the company's EPS forecast for the 2nd quarter, which was nearly 14% below Street expectations, that was disappointing.

Of note, computer and iPhone sales were strong. Apple shipped 2.32 million Macintosh computers, up 44 percent in units and 47 percent by revenue from a year-ago. IPhone sales were 2.32 million for the quarter (in line with expectations).

The biggest disappointment for investors was the slowdown in iPod sales. iPod sales grew only 5% in the last quarter compared with 50% in the year-ago quarter. Growth in U.S. sales for the iPod was nearly flat.

Of course iPod sales are slowing. The iPhone is eating into that customer base. The iPhone is an iPod plus more. This is not a surprise to me at all. I think this is an over-reaction. Steve Jobs always like to lowball the upcoming quarter's estimates. The Apple phenomenon is still alive and strong, and Apple is now 3rd in market share for home computers.

On the expert front, the S&P rating agency reiterates a "buy" on Apple stock (price target $199),

and Jim Cramer says owners should hold Apple here and not dump it.

In related news, the market is down AGAIN today, but there is some optimism on the horizon. The financials are up big today, and some of the banks (Wachovia, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan) are up huge (10% right now). Cramer always says that when a market is down, the first sector that has to recover to lead us back up is the sector that went down first, which is, of course, the financials. So, maybe we are putting in a bottom on the market.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Funniest Commercials

The SuperBowl is coming up, and you know what that means....lots of good commercials!

Here are the links to some of the funniest commericials on television from the past year or so.

Subway- Guy gives photocopy of big butt for expense report at "Burgertown"

Bud Light Language Class

AIG- Kids Schools His Parents on Financial Security

FedEx- Team of Losers

Fed Ex Coffee- Guys chugs a whole pot of coffee in anticipation of an all-nighter

Fed Ex China- Guy can't find China on a Map so he rips it down (this is hilarious, watch as he doesn't get it all down on first try and reaches back up for more)

Mastercard (This is a web-only commercial spoof)

Brady's Foot

Tom Brady will be quarterbacking the New England Patriots in less than two weeks in the Super Bowl against the New York Giants. Brady will be going for history...his 4th Super Bowl win in 6 seasons and a perfect 19-0 season.

However, it appears that there is some controversy about a foot injury. has photos of Brady wearing a foot cast when walking to his girlfriend's (Gisele) apartment in NYC yesterday. He was also walking with a limp.

Here is a photo and a link to the video of his apparent injury.

However, later that night he was spotted out at a NYC hotspot, and surprise, surprise, he was no longer wearing the foot cast.

Belichick has a long history of exaggerating injuries on the weekly injury report to confuse the other team. Is Brady playing a part in this great conspiracy???

Do Cuts = $ ????

As most of you know, I am an evidence-based enthusiast, especially when it comes to medicine. I have been offering a lot of commentary on the market, but have been using a lot of sentiment from other experts to help shape my opinions. I would be remiss if I did not apply some evidence-based principles to the market. Unfortunately, I don't have the time, intellect, or tools to do the analysis to answer the question that you must ALL be asking. The question is, "The Fed cut the fed funds rate today, what does that mean for the economy or stock market in the intermediate future?"

Thankfully, Chris Ciovacco has already tried to answer the question. Chris is the Chief Investment Officer for Ciovacco Capital Management, LLC.

I'll give you all the bottom line.

There have been 9 rate cutting cycles since 1970. But, Chris only includes data since the 80s in his analysis, since inflation rates were so high in the 70s. He has presented the data in 2 ways, and I will show you both.

First, the probability that the market will be higher after the rate cut (his analysis was run in September of 2007, so that is why the dates shown are from September):

As you can see, there is a 75% chance that the market will be higher about 3 months after the rate cut. The earlier time period after the cut is shaky at best.

In the next chart, he demonstrates what would happen to $100,000 invested in the S&P 500 for one year after the Fed rate cut.

Looks like 15% appreciation using data from 2001, and 25% appreciation for data excluding 2001. That would be great!!

Hang in there everybody.

Also, in breaking news, Thompson Finanical expects earnings to grow by 11.4% when not including financials for the 4th quarter reports (earnings down 19% if include financials in the forecast).

Blood on the Streets, Part Deux

Wow, what a bloodbath overseas these past two days. Asian markets were down 10+ percent in overnight trading Sun and Mon night, and Europe took a huge whallop yesterday (markets down 5-6%), due to worries about the US economy and recession.

The Dow Futures were down 540 points this morning!!! That is huge.

At 8:20 AM today, Big Ben jumped in and tried to put a tourniquet on the markets to stop the bleeding. He cut the fed funds rate by 75 bps and the discount window rate by 75 bps. The futures jumped to -100 immediately, but quickly fell back to -400.

Now, intraday, we have a small rally, and the Dow is down only 175 points. Of note, the volatility index (the "fear index") spiked up about 33% to 34 this AM, and is has cooled off somewhat to 30 (up 13% on the day). The commentators on CNBC this morning were saying that Bernanke should have waited to announce the rate cut until this afternoon so that it would wash everyone out, we would get a huge spike in volatility and then we can put in a bottom (prob needing a retest of the lows in 2-3 days). However, one person quickly replied and said that the volatility and huge down move in the international markets was enough to help wash people out and put in the bottom. Of note, the volatility index hit over 40 in Germany early this AM.

What does this mean for the markets going forward? Are we in a recession? Is this a true bear market or is it a big "correction" is a continued bull market since 2002? I really don't know. A lot of this is media hype and fear is being passed around like the common cold. We just started earnings season. Apple reports after the bell today. I don't know how they don't report strong earnings (see my "Word on the Street" post). IBM reported strong numbers last week and they do not see weakness in the global economies.

I think we do slow down (GDP growth only about 1-2% next 2 quarters), but then these interest rate cuts will have spurred on a big kick in the economy, and by the 2nd half of 2008, the US will have a raging economy again. The market is always forward looking, so we may have priced in most of the bad news about the economy over the past 2 months, and then we should start back on the upswing some time this spring after trading sideways to down the next few weeks.

I will watch Fast Money tonight and let you know what the boys say about the whole thing.

And, let's not forget my boy Sanjoy Ghose, who posted his long-term market outlook this weekend, and has all 5 of 5 indicators positive, giving us a continued long-term BUY signal.
Soon, I will be kissing Kramer's head again!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Candidate Match Game

Kathleen informed me about a very cool thing on the USAToday website. You can play "Candidate Match Game". You answer 11 questions based on various issues, and it matches you up with the candidates for president.

I just finished playing, and my results are a little troubling, because none of the top 3 that it matched me with are still in the race or are polling greater than 5%. My three? None other the Mike Gravel, Chris Dodd, and Dennis Kucinich. Wow. Not sure what to say.

Why don't you play and then post your results in the comments section.

Experience matters? Nah...

There is a great op-ed in the NY Times by one of the most intelligent writers on the Times editorial boards...Nick Kristoff.

He makes a very compelling argument (in favor of Obama over Hillary) that experience is a poor predictor of success as a President. In fact, he states, some of the presidents with the most experience (McKinley, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, HW Bush) were some of the worst presidents.

Check it out...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Blood on the Streets

Well, it was another terrible day on Wall Street. Stocks were pummeled, as Ben Bernanke spoke before congress, but could not assuage the markets. It appears that he is completely reviled, and he is not acting quick enough. In actually, there is likely little the Fed can do to prevent recession. The major roles of the fed are to control inflation and try to keep unemployment low. Otherwise, it is tough for the Fed to enact policies to fix this marked economic slowdown.

There was other bad news that sent the stocks into freefall today. The Philadelphia Federal Reserve said its survey of regional manufacturing activity registered a negative 20.9 from a revised reading of negative 1.6 in December. Also, housing starts fell 14%, marking the slowest pace in home building in 16 years.

Friends, we are entering, or likely are already in, a recession. It feels like we should just bail out of the stock market and put money into money market accounts and CDs. But, keep an eye on the long-term. This is really a tremendous buying opportunity. The guys (and gals) at my favorite show, Fast Money on CNBC, think the bottom is near. We really need a "shake out" for things to turn around. What I mean by this is that everybody has to be disgusted by the market, blood has to be on the streets, the "fear factor" has to be through the roof. As this happens, the VIX (CBOE volatility index) will spike up hard.

It was up over 15% today, a huge move. Then, when volatility is at it worst and fear is at its highest, is when all of the "smart money" (institutional investors) come in and start buying, signaling a bottom and the return to a bull market. You can see the inverse relationship between the VIX and the Dow in the chart. Is the bottom near? I'm not so sure. There is still a lot of bad news out there, and the poor earnings will be reported over the next one or two quarterly reports. But, the people on Fast Money (Jeff Macke, Guy Adami, Karen Finerman, and Pete Najarian) are experts, and they are right much more than wrong. I hope they are right in this case.