Author: Contrarian Marketplace

32% more honey in Smokey Bear’s fire fighting budget

Fire.png

Utterly unnecessary comments from Trump when he threatened to slash the Forestry Service budget due to supposed Forestry Management incompetence being behind the devastating fires in California. The budget of the US Department of Agriculture Forestry Service does prove that he has a point in that monies directed at “preparedness” and “suppression” will have risen 32% since he took office. No fire is alike and there have been plenty of deaths and property destruction from the terrible conditions. What is to be gained by knocking the leadership of the Forestry Service when the brave fire fighters and volunteers still put their lives on the line to prevent the spread of fires? Hardly motivational. While there maybe grounds to improve operational efficiency, the timing couldn’t have been more inappropriate.

CalPERS unfunded pension deficit approaches $1 trillion. Who is counting?

calp.png

California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS) lost around 2% of its funds in 2015/16. The fund assumed an aggressive 7.5% return. Dr. Joe Nation of Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research thinks unfunded liabilities have surged to $150bn from $93bn in the last two years. He suggested the use of a more realistic 4% rate of return last year. At that rate, CalPERS had a market based unfunded liability of $412bn (or the equivalent of 2 years’ worth of California state revenue). At present Nation now thinks the number is just shy of $1 trillion using a 3.25% discount rate. He expects that the 2017 data for CalPERS will be out in a week or so which should give some interesting perspective as to how much deeper the pension hole is for Californian public servants.

N.B. California collects $232bn in state taxes annually in a $2.3 trillion economy (around the size of Italy).

 

Ocasio-Cortez’s DC dilemma

3A8B38D5-989D-427B-B742-94BE78010FBE.jpeg

One would hope that newly elected Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would be quick on her feet when it comes to dazzling her colleagues. She is complaining she can’t afford a property in DC before her $172,500pa salary kicks in 3-4 months down the line.

She could do three things:

1) ask her multi million dollar gated mansion, rent-a-cop guarded Democratic colleagues to let her stay in one of the spare rooms. Obama has an $8.5mn 8-bedroom mansion in DC. Surely she won’t cramp them too much especially with Malia at college and Sasha likely to move out soon.

2) crowd fund for the 3 months which will likely win her millions  so she can buy a place of her own.

3) or in her own words to justify everything that costs money  – “you just pay for it”

How long will it take to learn from Chuck, Nancy, Maxine, Elizabeth and so on that some pigs are more equal than others? My guess isn’t very long. First world problems for someone with third world policies.

 

Does the data show Donald in the dumpster?

Midterm

This is a simple schematic of first term presidents and the results at the ballot box of their first mid term. Since 1910, the incumbent parties have invariably lost ground. More interestingly, Democrats had control of either/both House of Reps and Senate during Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Bush Sr – all Republicans. Republican Presidents Taft, Harding, Hoover, Eisenhower and Trump lost the House at the midterms. Truman, Clinton and Obama suffered the same fate for the Democrats.

Trump achieved the highest number of Senate seats taken by a first term Republican president for over 100 years. George W Bush achieved rising numbers for HoR/Senate  post 9/11 but only Democrats have achieved the feat – Woodrow Wilson, FDR and JFK. Perhaps the irrelevance of the outcomes in the mid-terms is that despite the floggings Wilson, Truman, Ike, Reagan, Clinton, Bush Jr and Obama all were comfortably reelected for a second term.

Given the headwinds Trump was facing from the mainstream media, his unorthodox outbursts, twitter tirades and so forth, the electorate didn’t grant the Democrats a huge gift  they were expecting. Even worse they gave Trump a bigger authority to appoint SC justices should an opportunity arise by bumping his numbers in the Senate. Not surprising given the shocking gutter level political theatre over Justice Kavanaugh, vindicated by  victims confessing they had lied.

The Democrats should still be concerned that the $70mn spent on Beto O’Rourke came to nothing.  Beyonce also endorsed Beto. Oprah endorsed Abrams in Georgia – who is likely to lose. Taylor Swift endorsed Bredesen – who also lost. All four candidates openly supported by Obama lost. So much for celebrity power swaying electorates. It probably had a counter effect.

Even worse, in Nevada a brothel owner and reality TV star won his race despite dying last month. It is hard to work out what is the bigger tragedy. Voting for someone dead or being the competing Democrat to lose to a dead person. A Republican is to be appointed to the seat by county officials.

We shouldn’t forget that the Republicans had the highest number of sitting member retirements at a first midterm in the House of Representatives for 88 years. 25 seats had a new face. Republicans won re-election as governors in New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Maryland – three of them deep blue states. Where was the mainstream media on that?

Midterm VT.png

Turnout was good (for a mid term). 48.1% voted in 2018. In the last 100 years the average has been 41%. Only in 1966, did the first midterm of LBJ exceed this level at 48.7%. So much for either party causing a red or blue wave. Less than half of eligible voters showed up on November 6th 2018. More cared, but not enough.

Felons make for an interesting outlier subset. While it is hard to know their exact voting intentions, for the Gubernatorial in Georgia, would 219,431 felons have made a difference for Abrams? She trails Kemp by just under 100,000 votes. So if 55% of felons (the Georgia midterm turnout ratio) voted, 120,687 votes were up for grabs. Were it legal for Georgian state felons to vote, she would have been wise to campaign there.

Felons

Now that the Democrats have the lower house, one wonders why they have put Nancy Pelosi in charge of the House? This is possibly to be contested. Up to fifty Democrat congressmen might oppose her for Speaker. Trump couldn’t wish for a better adversary as her litany of gaffes will undoubtedly embarrass her party. Pelosi represents pretty much everything Americans have come to despise about the Democrats.

More worryingly, Maxine Waters is being put in charge of the Financial Services Committee. At a point in the cycle where financial acumen is probably most required, this is an embarrassment, made worse by her open calls for payback.

The Democrats need fresh faces. Ones that will look for bipartisan support. If the Democrats embark upon a cocktail of revenge politics and look to push for investigation after investigation in order to impeach Trump but end up with nothing they will be seen for what they are – a party completely self-absorbed with petty vendettas. The toxic Senate debacle should have given them warning enough that voters won’t tolerate more political roadkill like that going forward.  Yet Pelosi will likely use her subpoena powers to drag everything through the gutter instead of working to improve things for Americans. Failure here will only lead the electorate to conclude they wasted two years and gift wrap 2020 for Trump.

This mid-term election was anything but a slam dunk. Put aside personal hatred of Trump, look at the data and see that Americans did not write him off as many pundits predicted. It should be more scary to realise that he is probably more Teflon-Don than he was in 2016. Second biggest mid-term turnout in history, highest net gain of seats in the Senate in 100 years for a first term GOP president, record dollars thrown at Democrat candidates backed by Trump-hating billionaires. At the end of the day folks, this is just the data talking.

Mid Term Turnout.png

Tommy trouble

「british tommy propaganda」の画像検索結果

It seems the UK Armed Forces are finding it difficult to recruit their own. So much so that they have lifted a 5-yr waiting period for Commonwealth citizens to join up. The National Audit Office states the armed forces are suffering the worst shortage of new recruits since 2010, being short 8,200 from desired levels. Therefore Aussies, Canadians, Indians and other Commonwealth citizens can sign up.

According to official Ministry of Defence (MOD) in the year leading to November 2017 1,759 of the 15,325 regular troops quit  because their time was up. Nearly half (7,439 ) quit early because of worsening conditions and falling morale. 3,325 were kicked out on disciplinary grounds and another 2,337 were medically discharged.

The MOD’s UK Regular Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey 2015 revealed,

-The number of personnel stating that they are dissatisfied with Service life has risen to 32%, up from 27% in 2014. Not a good start.

-There has been a fall in the number of personnel reporting that they are proud to be in their Service, from 81% in 2014 to 77% in 2015.

-25% “state that they plan to leave as soon as they can, or have put in notice to leave” (+9% on 2011).

-Satisfaction with pension benefits has dropped 18% since 2011

– Less than a third (27%) of Service personnel agree that the level of compensation is enough

-In 2015, job security was the top retention factor, followed by dental and healthcare provision, pension and opportunities for sport.

  • Individual morale 40% (-6% on 2011)
  • Unit morale 21% (-6% on 2011)
  • Service morale 14% (-4% on 2011)
  • Service life satisfaction 47% (-10% on 2011)
  • Job satisfaction 56% (-8% on 2011)

UK morale.png

Apart from the appalling trajectory of morale, it is clear that care once out of the military doesn’t fare much better.

While the MoD total budget will increase from GBP23bn to GBP50bn by 2020, data about how it is spent is highly opaque. More is learnt by some of the history surrounding the treatment of Tommies.

Support of  veterans has been so lacking that charities such as Help for Heroes has been active picking up the shortfall. It raises over GBP30 million per annum to support the 2,500 British veterans discharged for medical reasons every year to cope with civilian life.

Despite the American Psychiatric Association acknowledging PTSD in 1980, it took the UK another five years to officially recognize PTSD after the sharp increase in veterans suffering from mental health issues post the Falklands War of 1982. Of the 30,000 troops that were sent to fight, the UK armed forces allocated only one psychiatrist to the far away battlefield.

The problem was compounded in the 1990s with widespread closures of UK military hospitals as a cost cutting measure. Seven of the eight military hospitals had been shut or transferred to the NHS by 1999.

The UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) wrote in its recent report on those deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan about how low suicide rates were. It stated, “While rates of mental disorder are lower in the military (3.1%) than the general population (4.5%), the MOD routinely carries out research into those who have served on large scale combat operations, in order to more accurately assess the effects of deployment.” Note there is no data on veteran suicide in the UK.

The UK MOD’s ‘Defence People Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy’ is supposedly in place to challenge the stigma surrounding mental health issues, to ensure that all who serve, and have served, can enjoy a state of positive physical and mental health. The MOD has committed £22 million a year on mental health with the establishment of two 24/7 helplines for serving personnel and veterans. How is it a charity funds 1.5x what the government does?

To put that in context, Australia spends 20x this amount every year just on veterans counseling services. America, albeit a larger veteran base, spends $9bn on mental health for its soldiers.

One wonders why the MOD doesn’t listen to the surveys and act. Then it wouldn’t have to go down the mercenary route.

Losing my Virgin-ity to the veteran community

va-logo-2018

Virgin Australia has copped a lot of flack over its unsolicited offer to prioritize veterans when boarding and to announce gratitude for their service. Sadly the plan has been savaged in the media as virtue signaling and riding the political wave of the PM to back discounts for those who served. Many veterans have come forward saying they have not asked to be saluted in this manner. Many of them wish to be thought of like you and I.

We can sit back and criticize the airline for not doing more due diligence with the veteran community, yet we should not overlook that CEO John Borghetti would have made this decision with absolute rock solid sincerity, thinking of the vets, not how he could win free publicity which is often the norm these days. Had preferential boarding treatment been given to an oppressed minority community he would have probably been championed as a hero of social justice. All of the media that smashed the airline – The Guardian, Fairfax et al would have praised the progressive action. Let us not forget that Virgin’s move was above all made with “good intentions.”

My first recollection of John Borghetti happened almost 20 years ago after some utterly dreadful Qantas service, where he happened to be working at the time. Despite receiving a relatively textbook letter of apology from the Chairman, John personally called me to “connect” with this disgruntled customer. No excuses were given. No attempts were made to cover up the pitiful customer service. He listened because he wanted to learn. He was authentic. No training manual could have taught John what he did. You cannot learn sincerity from a textbook. You either are or you aren’t. The veteran community should know that they will undoubtedly get the exact same ‘ear’ from the CEO to best address needs going forward and I encourage them to speak frankly to him.

As a civilian who is now working alongside veterans I’ve learnt more this year about how wrong many of my preformed notions were with respect to former service men and women. I’ve met veterans suffering from PTSD. I’ve met a war widows who lost veteran husbands to suicide. I spent a week at the Invictus Games seeing how these amazing warriors were ‘unconquered.’ I’ve met veterans, young and old, who are struggling to reintegrate into the workforce at an event. The issues are real. I have seen the amazing work done by veterans trying to find unique ways to help their former mates reintegrate into society. I suggest we embrace Virgin and refocus their positivity.

I am honoured to be given the opportunity to work alongside veterans to make this journey and learn every day. In a sense my mission is in part to represent the civilian community to make them understand veteran needs. There are so many positive ways to affect change and move away from the growing negativity thrown at events like Anzac Day as a celebration of warmongers where our media can be as brazen to criticize brave diggers as rapists, murderers and thieves.

Put simply, we civilians absolutely owe a debt of gratitude to those who have served. How we do it is open to debate. This is at its very roots of the Virgin move. To see the board cower to public pressure and look to rescind the offer on the basis of the constant negativity so prevalent today is the wrong move. Better still, Borghetti’s sincerity should be front and centre here. There is no market collapsing “damage control” risk for Virgin at stake. It is doubtful that veterans will desert the boarding gates of Virgin to punish it.

It would be nice to see that corporate governance today teaches that holding firm on the courage of their convictions is paramount. If the board learns that it must do more due diligence, then so be it. Learn and move on. Don’t wave the white flag. I sincerely hope that the Virgin board doesn’t flake. The board represents shareholders, not the mainstream media.

If I know John Borghetti from my own personal experience, Virgin Australia can achieve what it set out to do. Helping vets.  Does Virgin divert its planes to alternative airports when bad weather arises or do they ditch the aircraft into the sea?  The board should approach this episode with the same attitude.

It costs HOW MUCH?

VAbudget

The mind boggles. War is expensive to conduct. Once wars finish, the cost of looking after veterans is massive. In 2000, the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) in America spent $43.6bn to look after returned servicemen and women. In 2020 it is expected to exceed $212bn (c. 5x), the equivalent of what the Chinese currently spends on its military.  Digging deeper into the data reveals that the cost of the aftermath of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation New Dawn (OND) on veteran treatment keeps growing in a straight line.

VAOIF.png

Total obligations for OIF/OEF/OND patients has grown 19-fold in the last 14 years to over $7bn. Total veterans from those campaigns now totals 965,000 and is expected to hit 1.1mn by 2020. Cost per veteran patient over the 2006-2020 period will virtually treble.

VAOIFPatient.png

Expenditure on prosthetic devices (e.g. limbs, hearing aids) has near as makes no difference quadrupled in that period.

VAprosthetics.png

Spending on pharmaceutical products is up 1.9x since 2006.

VApharma.png

Drugs such as Oxycontin which contain opioids have found their way to creating problems in the US armed forces. 15% of Army troops admitted to taking illicit drugs (cocaine, heroin, marijuana) and opioids back in 2008.

IMG_0378.PNG

Spending on programs to prevent substance abuse is up 1.8x since 2006.

VAsubstanceabuse.png

The VA notes key clinical metric trends from Quarter Four of 2012 to Quarter Four of 2017 show:

• 67% reduction in Veterans receiving opioid and benzodiazepine together;
• 44% reduction in Veterans on long-term opioid therapy (> to 90 days);
• 38% reduction in Veterans receiving opioids;• 56% reduction in Veterans receiving > 100 Morphine Equivalent Daily Dose;
• 51% increase in Veterans on long-term opioid therapy with a Urine Drug Screen
(UDS) completed within last year to help guide treatment decisions.

Spending on mental health programs is up almost 4x since 2006. The VA plans to promote the development of skills in VA providers to diagnose and assess PTSD
by developing a computer-based training using simulated virtual patient
technology that will allow clinicians to practice and receive customizable feedback
on giving CAPS-5 to a lifelike virtual patient.

VAMH.png

The 2019 VA Budget requests $8.6 billion for Veterans’ mental health services, an increase of 5.8% above the 2018 current estimate. It also includes $190 million for suicide
prevention outreach. VA recognizes that Veterans are at an increased risk for suicide and
implemented a national suicide prevention strategy to address this crisis. Veteran suicide in the US is at a 22/day clip.

The price of freedom. All said and told the US over the last 20 years will have spent the equivalent of $2.476 trillion with a “T” on veterans. That is the equivalent of one entire year of UK GDP.

Smart technologies are an absolute must for the VA. The cost of veteran health is the equivalent of 29% of what the US spends on defence, up from 14.8% two decades ago. Asking for yearly increases is a band aid solution.