Archive | July, 2013

Time to Increase the US GDP Numbers

31 Jul

If you follow the S&P 500, you’ll know that the companies that comprise this list are not the same as those in the 1950’s, or 1930’s, or even last year. As time marches forward, often companies that have lower and lower market caps, among other reasons, are replaced with ones that are rising in value. This has a distorting effect on S&P 500 charts over time. From a practical standpoint, you need to keep the list current to accurately reflect what the current market is like. Also it does not make sense to keep some companies on the list that are no longer viable. (an example)

Well, it appears that the way the government measures the US GDP is in for a similar, but not the same, update. Today, July 31, 2013, the changes will be announced.

    For the first time in four years, the Commerce Department will revise its estimates of U.S. gross domestic product — the value of U.S.-made goods and services — back to 1929. 

For the first time, money spent on R&D and on the Arts will be included in the GDP. It appears the international community had already accepted the changes to increase their respective GDP numbers.

    The biggest share of America’s R&D spending goes to develop new drugs

The government says the difference between that final growth estimate updated annually, and the initial GDP estimate released within a month of a quarter’s end, can be as much as 1.3 percentage points in either direction.

It will be interesting to see how the new numbers impact the national GDP, but this is probably done in an attempt to offset the downgrade in the GDP numbers posted last month. The total impact looks likely to be in the $400B range annually. That works out to be about 2.7% of the $15 Trillion GDP number for 2012.

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National Cancer Institute May Soften Up Cancer Definition

31 Jul

There are now a group of experts who feel that the current cancer screening tests are too suggestive. Their proposal to the National Cancer Institute is that the word cancer be removed from the conversation with patients after performing some cancer screening procedures. The proposal is a result of the experts’ opinions that many cancer procedures performed are unnecessary and cause undue stress on the patients. The mention of the word cancer to the patient causes the patient to expect treatment and possible death.

“We need a 21st-century definition of cancer instead of a 19th-century definition of cancer, which is what we’ve been using,”

Procedures performed after hundreds of thousands of routine screening tests result in disfiguring and needless suffering. A change in the definition of what is considered cancer is the proposal.

“While the policy change, announced on Monday but not yet made final, has the potential to save 20,000 lives a year, some doctors warned about the cumulative radiation risk of repeat scans as well as worries that broader use of the scans will lead to more risky and invasive medical procedures.”

This comes at the same time a federal panel is suggesting that all smokers and ex-smokers get annual CT scans to detect cancer. This would affect millions of patients.

Cancer is the 2nd leading cause of death in the US, and decisions made by the National Cancer Institute can have a profound impact on the health of the US population. Below is a list of the leading causes of death in the US during 2010, when the official CDC data is merged with data from the book: Death By Medicine released in October of 2012.

Rank Leading Causes of Death in the US in 2010 Deaths Source

1

Heart disease

597,689

CDC

2

Cancer

574,743

CDC

3

Outpatients

199,000

Starfield(12), Weingart(112)

4

Chronic lower respiratory diseases

138,080

CDC

5

Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases)

129,476

CDC

6

Accidents (unintentional injuries)

120,859

CDC

7

Bedsores

115,000

Xakellis(7), Barczak (8)

8

Malnutrition

108,800

Nurses Coalition(11)

9

Adverse Drug Reactions

106,000

Lazarou(1), Suh (49)

10

Medical error

98,000

IOM(6)

11

Infection

88,000

Weinstein(9), MMWR (10)

12

Alzheimer’s disease

83,494

CDC

13

Diabetes

69,071

CDC

14

Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis

50,476

CDC

15

Influenza and Pneumonia

50,097

CDC

16

Intentional self-harm (suicide)

38,364

CDC

17

Unnecessary Procedures

37,136

HCUP(3,13)

18

Surgery-Related

32,000

AHRQ(85)

Genetically Modified Bees to Save the Bees

29 Jul

Worldwide there are concerns about the health of bee populations. The threat to the bees is tied to neonicotinoids among other things. Monsanto in 2012, purchased Beelogic and apparently plans to genetically modify bees in order to save them from the chemicals.

In a related development, the Agriculture Department of Illinois took the bee population from a renowned naturalist who had been developing bees that naturally were resistant to RoundUp/ Glyphosate. Of particular note is that the bees were taken without a warrant or a court hearing. It is suspect that Monsanto had made the request although the State of Illinois claims they were taken due to a routine inspection that uncovered bacteria in the colonies. Terrence Ingram, the naturalist, can be seen on this YouTube video.

Terrence had his day in court, but was convicted and fined $500. The only problem was that he was unable to defend himself, by proving the bees were not infected with foulbrood, as the bees had been confiscated and (apparently) destroyed.

On another note, in Europe, Monsanto has decided to give up their push into genetically modified seeds and limit the sales of seeds in Europe to those that are not GMO. The popularity of GMO seeds was not being met with enough business success, especially with the beekeepers in Poland.

The Flexner Report

29 Jul

In the 19th century, and probably before then, there were two camps within the medical community. There were those who promoted the use of herbs and natural solutions (homeopathy) to ailments and those that thought it better to use pharmacologically active agents (allopathic) in obtaining a treatment or cure. Although there are still people that fall into each camp today, their visibility is not as transparent as it was even into the 20th Century. This is due, in thanks, to The Flexner Report of 1910.

    “Flexner sounded the death knell for the for-profit proprietary medical schools in America.”

At the time, the for-profit proprietary medical schools in America were all homeopathic. The Flexner Report single handedly replaced homeopathy in America with allopathic, and removed the dialogue that had before then distinguished between the two. In effect, The Flexner Report replaced the for-profit, homeopathic medical schools in America with the for-profit allopathic medical schools we have today.

Two Gauges of the Economy – Unemployment and S&P 500

26 Jul

Printing money by the Federal Reserve and handing it to the bankers is not going to bring economic stability to the US or the world. The single visible impact it has is the creation of a rising stock market which for a lot of people is their only gauge of how well the economy is doing. And on that measure, the S&P 500 is on a rate of return of over 28% for the year, and 34% taken from the last day of 2012.

S&P 500 (SPY)

The market historically is a precursor to the health of the economy as measured by GDP.

“….shows a clear positive correlation between equity returns and GDP over the last ten years ….”

Based on that thesis, the good times have only begun. When you take a look into one other indicator within the US economy, you have to wonder what is happening.

Unemployment

Within the confines of Keynesian economic theory, the jobs are either created by the private sector (in good times), or the public sector (bad times). The rising stock market should be signifying good times, so the unemployment should be dropping, as it is, based upon the Federal government numbers. As the public sector is reducing jobs, the newly created jobs are from the private sector, due to the “good times”. Unfortunately, the only jobs being created in the US today are low paying service sector jobs.

The median household income in America increased from 1945 to 1999, where it went from level to a peak in 2006, into a steady drop into 2013. The US has lost its ability to manufacture products worthy of export due to its lack of international competitiveness, so this trend will never end. (Dr. Paul Craig Roberts: The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism and Economic Dissolution of the West )

“When you lose the ability to make things, you lose the ability to invent things.”

The unemployment may be dropping by official numbers, but the purchasing power of the American worker is dropping. It is hard to see this as a driver to higher GDP numbers and a rising stock market. Perhaps there is some credence to the notion that the market is being driven up by the Federal Reserve printing presses.

US Food Additives

22 Jul

When it comes to food additives you have to give credit where credit is due. In the US, industry has determined that intervention into natural processes will lead to lower costs, more consumption, and ultimately higher profits.

MSN’s Healthy Living segment listed what they think are the top 10 things the US diet includes that are banned in some other countries. Not listed in order are:

  1. Arsenic
  2. BHA and BHT
  3. Brominated vegetable oil
  4. Colors and dyes
  5. Olestra
  6. Potassium bromate
  7. Ractopamine (Banned in Europe, Japan, China, Russia and Taiwan)
  8. rBGH and rBST (bovine growth hormone, genetically engineered from Monsanto)
  9. Hawaiian papaya (now genetically engineered)
  10. Canthaxanthin (Farm-raised salmon coloring… soon to be genetically engineered)

In each instance, the risks may be acknowledged by the American Cancer Society, FDA, The Center for Science in the Public Interest, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, or the food industry, but whatever the risks may be, they are deemed acceptable for the American diet.

The Huffington Post’s Big Ag’s Gifts for 2012 brings to bear another additive of concern, antibiotics. The fact that over 70% of all the antibiotics in the US are pumped into animals for human consumption should in itself be a concern. Add to that the increasing lack of effectiveness in antibiotics due to their overuse and you’ve got a real problem.

If you want to make a difference in your own health, and improve the health of the planet, choose to not consume animal and dairy products.

Learning Online

20 Jul

The value of the internet cannot be overstated when it comes to providing an education for those that pursue it. If you are not concerned about an education, and prefer to simply own a degree, knowing that the “learning” part is not important, check out the Forbes article by John Tamny. He makes the case that learning is not important, only the degree and most importantly the “where” that degree comes from.

For those looking for an education online, there are the never ending availability of YouTube videos or the Google search results that provide the education. For others, there are the online lectures available from iTunes U or such Universities as Stanford and not to be left out, edX (recently the focus of The Colbert Report).

Now entering the online education arena with a new boost to their funding is Coursera. This clearly adds some credibility to an online education, as Coursera also provides a Signature Track program that verifies the student’s identity, achievements, and exams.