Saturday, October 17, 2009

Massachusetts Senate Race to Fill Kennedy’s Seat Update - See’s Brown, Capuano and Coakley Confirmed on Ballot - Analysis

Scott Brown, (R) for Mass. 2010 Senate - image

The race to fillthe late Senator Ted Kennedy’s seat, has three contenders confirmed as of October 16th. Scott Brown, the Republican State Senator, filed 17,000 (10,000 required) signatures with the Secretary of State’s office, with U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano filing “more than” 10,000 (according to the Springfield Republican), and State Attorney General, Martha Coakley, filed “approximately 17,000” signatures. The deadline for filing for party affiliated candidates is October 20th; non-affiliated candidates have until Nov. 20th to file with the Secretary of State. State primaries will take place on December 8th, with the general election taking place on January 19th, 2010. As of this writing, candidates Stephen Pagliuca, Boston Celtics Owner (Democrat), Alan Khazei (Democrat) and Bob Burr, Canton Selectman (Republican) have yet to file the necessary signatures, leaving Coakley and Capuano to face off in the Democrat primary.

Michael Capuano will face Coakley in Senate Primary - image Masslive

It’s all about the cash:

According to the Boston Globe, (full data not yet available on FEC Website for this election) Coakley has over 2 million on hand, Capuano $344,000 and Brown $179,000; (which may or may not include a maximum contribution from Mitt Romney's PAC, also of note Brown is the only candidate to date to receive funds from Romney) giving the Globe the nod to name Coakley as the clear front runner. In the battle for the hearts and minds of the disaffected and financially strapped citizens of the Commonwealth, most of whom are unenrolled (showing no party affiliation); a “reasonable person” would assume that the candidate with the most cash on hand automatically wins, especially if that candidate in Massachusetts is a Democrat.

That said looking at not too distant past race, the 2008 Republican Iowa Caucus brings that theory to naught. Mitt Romney spent millions in Iowa, drove a bus across the state, and was soundly trumped by little known (at the time) Mike Huckabee who spent a little more than $80,000 – total. It was a sound grassroots campaign that combined dedicated grassroots support with a savvy web team; that took down Goliath (Romney).

Martha Coakley (D) MA Senate Candidate, image:

Additionally, Coakley did pick up the endorsement of the SEIU, otherwise known as the White House “Union of Choice”, leaving one to conclude that Ms. Coakley is looked upon favorably as a “progressive”. Therefore, a primary between Capuano and Coakley, would, in all probability, place Coakley on the ballot to face Brown.

Name recognition and the media:

In the Suffolk University Poll conducted on September 15, (the only poll to include all candidates), Coakley, The State’s Attorney General, has the best showing, with only 12% unknown, 53% favorable, 16% unfavorable, and 19% undecided. Capuano received, 33% unknown, 16% favorable, 14% unfavorable and 37% undecided. Finally, Brown had a 39% unknown, a 20% favorable, a 13% unfavorable and 28% undecided. Looking at the favorable, Coakley has the clear lead, and is the best known (being the State’s Attorney General), that said, Brown, bests Capuano in favorable, and had, as of that poll, the highest unknown percentage. Both Capuano and Coakley are running television ads, most likely in the Eastern portion of the State, and having the larger budgets to date, need to first play to the base and those unenrolled inclined to vote for a Democrat in 2010.

How do the candidates stack up with the ever growing importance of social media? (Which, more than one social media firm suggest that the Obama campaigns use of social media networks secured his election.) Face Book: Martha Coakley (See SEIU), has 3,781 friends on her personal page and 4,681 “fans”, Capuano has 866 supporters and Brown, has 4,563 friends on his personal page, with 4,151 “fans”. This gives Brown, to date, a slight edge on Coakley. On the other major network site “Twitter”, Brown has 736 followers, with Martha Coakley at 794. While these numbers in Social Networking terms are miniscule at best, it is interesting to note that the two front runners are evenly matched.

The Election in General

First, Coakley must get through the primary against Capuano, who has time to get his message across the entire Commonwealth thereby increasing his name recognition, bringing up his favorability. Additionally, Massachusetts has yet to elect a woman to a major high profile office (Govenor, or Senate), therefore, despite cash and name recognition, Coakley also faces the Massachusetts Glass Ceiling within her own party first. Should she make it through the primary she will then face Republican, Scott Brown, who would have had the time to court the unenrolled, boost his name recognition with not only media buys, but grassroots county by county appearances. From the primary on December 8th to the General Election on January 19th, both candidates must secure their base, and more importantly the unenrolleds, Coakley has the additional burden of gender. Although Clinton did receive the most votes in the 2008 primary in the Bay State (a proud moment for Massachusetts), she was soundly rebuked by Kennedy and Kerry who came out with an early endorsement for Obama. Given this Scenario it is not a “given” that the next Senator from Massachusetts will be a Democrat, rather it would lend to a tighter race than anticipated. Harvard Law Apparently Agrees

Note on Polls
The Suffolk polls methodology, 8% of those polled are from Suffolk University, (which may or may not include a Conservative or two) and the voter registration makeup is slightly skewed: Democrats 39% (2008 actual 36.7%), Republicans 15% (2008 actual 11.62%) and Unenrolled 44% (2008 actual 50.75%) (source Mass. Secretary of State In the scenario according to Suffolk, both major parties were given a larger percentage - and the unenrolled, were underrepresented by 6% - with a margin of error of + or – “4.4%”.

Friday, October 16, 2009

No Raise for Seniors: Inflation Rate Higher than Zero? – It May Be– Economists Calculate 08/09 Annualized Rate of Inflation between 4.2% & 1.3%.

Those receiving Social Security Benefits will not be entitled to a “cost of living” raise this year due to a negative rate of inflation. A negative rate of inflation should mean that one’s paycheck should go further, yet, it appears that consumer goods and energy prices are constantly increasing, to the point, where individuals are making tough choices when it comes to essentials.

In reviewing the data available on how inflation is calculated, one is instantly confounded with a variety calculation methods, depending upon who is doing the calculating, the rate for 2009 is either -5 or +4.2%, with the later appearing most likely when one considers the ever increasing costs of groceries and utilities (The rise in utilities due to fluctuation in fuel and stateand federal fees and taxes affecting telephone, oil, etc.) The question then arises, what is the actual rate of inflation? The answer, even the economists don’t agree on the calculation of the rate, therefore, it is almost impossible for the person of average intellect to get a handle on which is correct. Obviously, if the rate of inflation were to be a negative, it would impact on an administration, and should there be several to choose from, it is quite possible that the lowest available data would be used.
The agencies that have the rate of inflation in mind:

The Department of Labor which calculates the Consumer Price Index, and may or may not, depending upon who one believes, be including consumer goods (which is sternly denied upon visiting the site). According to the Department of Labor, the U.S. is currently experiencing a negative rate of inflation due to lower than average fuel costs during the past few months.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis (data currently unavailable: comparison between BEA Personal Consumption Expenditures and the Department of Labors Consumer Price Index).

The Federal Reserve which uses a method of calculation which produces a “Trimmed Mean Inflation" (Definition below), and utilizes data from both the Department of Labor and the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the results herefrom August 2009, show a PCE with an annualized increase of 4.2%, when food and utilities are excluded, that annualized rate of inflation drops to 1.1%, when it is “trimmed”, the annual rate of inflation in August was actually 1.3%. (Based on a one month annualized rate of inflation.) However, to further complicate the matter, the rate is then calculated two more times, using August data, annualized at six months and then annualized at 12 months – which at 12 months, the “trimmed” rate of inflation, is a tad higher at 1.6%.

What we find is that three different government bodies, have three different methods of determining the rate of inflation – the two that make the most sense, and are easiest to follow, are the BEA (Bureau of Economic Analysis), and the Federal Reserve Method, (which in essence, finagles the numbers so that what one actually has is some sort of average between the BEA and DOL). In any wise, to suggest that the rate of inflation, for personal consumption and energy, is less than zero – is somewhat disingenuous, even for the President, (or one should say, his advisors.)
If one uses the uses the annualized inflation rate from the Federal Reserve, conservatively suggesting a rate of inflation in August of 1.6% coupled with an unemployment rate of 9.8%, the misery index is currently at 11.4% or chasing the 20.1% enjoyed in the last days of the Carter Administration. Therefore, the annualized cost of living increase that so many of the seniors and those on fixed incomes depend upon, may become of more import as 2010 approaches, should the rate of inflation increase.

“Trimmed Mean Inflation” Definition

In any given month, the rate of inflation in a price index like the Consumer Price Index or Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) can be thought of as a weighted average, or mean, of the rates of change in the prices of all the goods and services that make up the index. Calculating the trimmed mean PCE inflation rate for a given month involves looking at the price changes for each of the individual components of personal consumption expenditures. The individual price changes are sorted in ascending order from “fell the most” to “rose the most,” and a certain fraction of the most extreme observations at both ends of the spectrum are—like a skater’s best and worst marks—thrown out, or “trimmed.” The inflation rate is then calculated as a weighted average of the remaining components.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Shell Game - Obama Proposes Bonus to Seniors of $250 While Insurance Companies Cut Subscribers Over Medicare Cuts and Prescription Premiums Increase

Obama and Carter, Striking similarities in Approach to Governing - photo

The Obama Administration has called for a $250 per person stipend for the 2010 calendar year, in order to offset a zero cost of living increase in Social Security Payments. There will be no cost of living increase due to the “zero” inflation rate caused by a drop in fuel prices in 2009. Additionally, there is no plan on how to pay for the 13 Billion dollar “stimulus to seniors”; therefore, the monies will be added to the ever increasing deficit, increasing the risk to the U.S. dollar. Moreover, oil prices increased this past week, based on an increasingly weakened U.S. dollar which said increase will, in the end, be passed on to those consumers (seniors) through utility bills. It is reminiscent of the scenario under the Carter Administration, which saw a weakening U.S. Dollar coupled with increase in oil prices resulting in increased costs to to necessities such as groceries.

Additionally, cuts to Medicare already has several insurance companiescutting Medicare Supplement plans pushing those seniors to face an additional, often catastrophic, rise in health care costs – essential as Medicare alone is not sufficient. Add to the burden, the rise in Part D Prescription Drug Premiums in 2010 , which although slight, coupled with the threat of inflation, loss of medical coverage, increased consumer prices due to higher oil prices and a weakening dollar further adding to the mix, a $250 stipend appears to be more political than practical. The President is already under scrutiny over the 2010 general election; with overallpolls favoring the Republican Party in the majority of races. What is not addressed: the yet to be completed “health care reform” bill, which includes further cuts to Medicare

It appears, from the casual observers’ point of view, that the right hand does not know what the left is doing, either Obama is blindly following in Carter's footsteps or the President is still on the campaign trail; making promises and proposal designed to win hearts and minds, while having no clear method of delivery. Either scenario lends to a further erosion of confidence in this administration.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Pet Owners Don’t Hold Your Breath – Bill to Allow for Pet IRS Deductions Likely to Go to the Dogs

A billdrafted by Thaddeus McCotter, (R-MI) would allow for deductions for expenses related to pets. Proposed in July H. R. 3501, would allow up to $3500 in deductions for pet owners each year. The deductions would be based on veterinary care for qualified pets. In this bill, qualified pets include “legally owned, domesticated, animals”. Robert Davi, (Actor) and owner of four pets, contacted McCotter in the hopes of getting legislation passed that would encourage pet ownership. The decision to adopt a pet, especially in these uncertain economic times, is financial. According to the A.S.P.C.A., the costs of care for cats and dogs average $770 per year, per animals. The Humane Society weighed in noting that 69% of American households include pets. That and the fact that the majority of those pets are considered by their owners to be part of the family, and by most states and municipalities to be taxable, make this one interesting feel-good bill.

Why the bill is going nowhere? Apparently, both Houses are too busy spending money hand over fist on more important stimulus projects that have yet to stimulate the economy, whereas, this tiny little amendment would do just that. The excuse that adding more to the tax code at this point does not hold water, it is acknowledged that the current tax code is difficult and should be overhauled, but the chances of that happening are nil. Therefore, to give a viable deduction to 69% of households in the nation would appear, on the fact of things, to be a smart move, both politically and economically. Politically, because Congress is wasting so much and the nation, as a whole, is not thrilled, and economically, because that tax break would encourage more spending – on cats and dogs, which is one of the few industries making any money at this point.

Therefore, a note of thanks is due Thaddeus McCotter, Republican representative of the House from all pet owners nationwide. A tax break (cut) of any kind at this point would be welcomed.

Disclosure: Owner of 3 dogs.

So Long Harry – Polls Worsen for Majority Leader - Nevadans Say Enough is Enough

Harry Reid, (D-NV), Senator Majority Leader, is facing an increasingly difficult uphill battle to retain his senate seat. At the moment, the likelihood of Reed returning to the Senate in 2010 is zero, given the latest in a series of polls that show his approval rating in the tank and the lead widening between him and both of the Republican candidates for his seat. According to the poll, conducted by Mason-Dixon Research for the Las Vegas Review Journal, two Republican front runners, Sue Lowdown and Danny Tarkanian, are statistically tied, both beating read, by at least 10 points. Reid’s favorability is currently at 38%.

The State’s voter registration is an interesting mix with Democrats numbered at 579,950, Republicans, 468,396, non-partisan (unenrolled) 207,985 and the balance split between Green, Independent Party, Libertarian and “All Others”, (Nevada Secretary of State, these figures are current as of September 09), making those non-partisan voters key in this election. Mason-Dixon Research used a polling schematic that was concurrent with voter registration; which adds to the general conclusion that Reid is facing retirement.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Obama Heads to Boston Fundraiser for Embattled Gov. Patrick. Patrick Touts Obama Use of Bankrupt Mass. As Model For National Health Care Reform

Obama and Patrick on the Campaign Trail - "Yes We Can"

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrickannounced that President Obama will be in Massachusetts on the 23rd of October for a fundraiser to help move “the agenda” forward. The video (below) by Governor Patrick touts that Massachusetts has been the model for the Obama administration in decisions on universal health care.

Patrick, faces an uphill battle for re-election: A recent Suffolk University Poll gives the Governor a slight lead over three challengers, Timothy Cahill, Democrat running as an Independent, and Charles Baker and Christy Mihos, two Republican’s who will face off in a primary. What is not revealed is Patrick’s overall approval rating, which is at 29% and the fact that a huge percentage (26% plus) did not weigh in on any challengers. That said, the Suffolk Poll shows Mihos with an advantage over both Baker and Cahill. Additionally, a Rasmussen Poll, taken in late August, gives Mihos the advantage over the Governor as well both Baker and Cahill. In that poll, Patrick fares slightly better with a 39% approval rating.

What is surprising is that Patrick is singing the praises of the Massachusetts Health Care Model in the first place. Although initially put into place by then Governor, Republican, Mitt Romney; once Romney was on the Presidential Trail in 2008, the original model was stuffed with mandates, taxes and fees, that have continued to drive up the cost of health care premiums for those holding on to private plans in the Bay State An additional 7 to 12% increase is projected in 2010 – which have risen approximately 40% since Commonwealth Care’s inception. Not surprisingly, with such a high cost to the Commonwealth, Massachusetts is about to ration and/or limit choices for individuals as regards their health care options
Now, Insurance companies nationwide are weighing in on the debate on Capitol Hill, letting those that would move to a Massachusetts Model, that premiums are guaranteed to rise. The data is already in place, a working model in the form of Massachusetts’ Universal Health Care, which, as Deval Patrick has been kind enough to point out to everyone who will listen: is the model being used by the Obama Administration for proposed health care reform.

Surely there is a better model out there, such as opening up the industry to competition in order to lower premiums. This is something Patrick is also acquainted with – Massachusetts recently opened up auto insurance to competition with the result – a drop of approximately 7.7% premiums for insured’s the first year it was in place (rates are still regulated by the state, but Patrick plans, at some time, to allow insurers to set their own rates).

One additional point to be made: Should the President’s stumping (or fundraising) for Patrick fail to see his Chicago cohort reelected in 2010, in a State that is the model for the Obama administration’s policies (according to Patrick), (and at this point, all polls (including the Suffolk – one must look at the marginal’s to get the true picture in that poll – have Patrick out regardless of opposition; although Mihos has the lead across the board) one will not require a crystal ball to see that 2012 will herald total change in the House, the Senate and the White House.

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