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What We Read Today 23 August 2016

Econintersect: Every day our editors collect the most interesting things they find from around the internet and present a summary "reading list" which will include very brief summaries (and sometimes longer ones) of why each item has gotten our attention. Suggestions from readers for "reading list" items are gratefully reviewed, although sometimes space limits the number included.

This feature is published every day late afternoon New York time. For early morning review of headlines see "The Early Bird" published every day in the early am at GEI News (membership not required for access to "The Early Bird".).


Every day most of this column ("What We Read Today") is available only to GEI members.

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Topics today include:

  • How Many Investors Have Discipline?

  • Possible End to Skin Cancer

  • Lawsuits for Excess 401(k) Fees are Succeeding

  • Guess Who's Fighting Electronic Reports for Mutual Funds

  • WTI Crude Oil Inventory Spike

  • Trump Narrows Gap Nationally

  • The Failure of Obamacare

  • Has There Been Attempted Extortion by Health Insurance Companies?

  • Will the Idea of a Pubic Option Make a Comeback?

  • UK Banks May Be Shut Out of EU

  • UK Factory Exports Surge on Lower Pound

  • Germany May Return to Conscription

  • Russia - U.S., No Deal Yet on Syria

  • Iraqi Shi'ite Militias Still Massacring Sunnis

  • And More

Articles about events, conflicts and disease around the world


Amid the volatility of crude prices, inventory levels, and headline hockey; API printed asurprisingly large 4.464mm crude build (against expectations of a 850k draw). Having spiked early in the day on Iran rumors (and failed to fall on denials), WTI kneejerked lower after the API data showed the biggest crude build in over 4 months (and a bigger than expected build at Cushing).



  • Pew poll: Clinton slightly ahead of Trump nationally (USA Today)  This report from late last week was widely circulated today.  Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has a small lead over Republican nominee Donald Trump in a new national poll released Thursday by Pew Research Center.  See also from Sunday:  Election Update: National Polls Show The Race Tightening — But State Polls Don’t (FiveThirtyEight).

  • How the Democrats Are Failing Obamacare (Slate)  The debate over the public option was the scene of much garment-rending and commie-punching last time around.  For Republicans, the health care wars never paused. Whether Democrats like it or not, and for all the good the Affordable Care Act has done for the sizable majority of its enrollees, Obamacare’s holes are being exposed, and Republicans are more than ready to fill them with the narrative that the law is beyond repair. If Democrats don’t rally around any ideas for a fix out of a craven wish not to summon the ghosts of 2010, the GOP will have succeeded in weaponizing its opponents’ political fear against their greatest accomplishment.

  • Aetna warned it would pull out of ObamaCare if government blocked merger (New York Post)  Aetna Inc. warned in July that it would exit much of the individual Obamacare health insurance market if the government challenged its deal to buy rival Humana Inc (HUM.N), according to a letter it sent to the U.S. Department of Justice.  The public release of the letter came after Aetna said on Monday that it would pull out of selling individual insurance on the government-run websites in 11 states, citing financial losses on the business.  The company’s withdrawal followed similar moves by UnitedHealth Group Inc (UNH.N) and Humana, representing a blow to the marketplace for the government-subsidized insurance plans created under President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare reform law.  See next two articles.

  • Aetna, Humana blast DOJ's merger challenge for ignoring reality (Modern Health Care)  Aetna and Humana fought back against the U.S. Justice Department's challenge to their proposed $37 billion merger, saying the feds' arguments ignore the fluid nature of Medicare Advantage markets.  The two insurers criticized the government's claims that their proposed consolidation would have anti-competitive effects for Medicare Advantage and Affordable Care Act markets, with Aetna saying the allegations “do not comport with reality.” While the government portrayed the healthcare markets as static and rigid, Aetna and Humana said private insurers would fill any competitive holes left in the marketplaces.

  • We Dirty Hippies Were Right About The Public Option (Mike the Mad Biologist)  Mad Mike, referring to what he wrote in 2009, says:

"We knew that without a government plan as a backstop, everyone’s health insurance would exist at the whim of privately-owned companies."

Forgive me for being cynical, but folks, until we address the democracy-stifling and status-quo protecting influence of Big Money in politics in this country, the Public Option – which the health insurance industry vehemently opposes – is not going to become a reality anytime soon. And the Democrats know it. 

In the end, the tough nut to crack is the politics. Republicans have effectively used the alleged threat that the Affordable Care Act poses to Medicare (which the ACA in fact made more generous) to appeal to senior voters and increase negative perceptions of the law. They would surely make similar claims about a public option that builds on Medicare. And the most consolidated parts of our private health industry aren’t going to let a strong countervailing power set up shop without a fight.

Still, the public option is one of those policy ideas that hits the trifecta: simultaneously simple, popular, and effective. It’s not the be-all and end-all of reform, but it would make a big positive difference. And its reemergence on the national stage suggests that so long as private plans and providers are consolidating and health insurance networks are contracting — and so long as there are lots of progressives who want to do more to make affordable universal health care a reality — it’s going to be a leading element of the national debate.

Closing the deal will require a Democratic president and a Democratic majority in Congress. It can probably be done, however, without the filibuster-proof majority that President Obama briefly had in 2009.

In case you had any doubts, here’s the real reason why insurance companies don’t want health care reform to include a so-called public option: These champions of free market capitalism know that they simply can’t compete with a government-run plan.

The insurance lobby is already trying to scare people off the idea of a public  option, warning that the government will leave all of us to die slowly and painfully as we try to wade through its bloated bureaucracy. (One example of the industry’s PR efforts appears at the end of this post.) But the truth is that on a level playing field, the government would probably drive private insurers out of business, because it can deliver health care more effectively and efficiently than any profit-driven corporation.

This isn’t something we need to speculate about, since we already have a government-run health plan on which to base comparisons: Medicare. For years, studies have shown a high level of satisfaction among Medicare beneficiaries. Last week, a new study released by the Commonwealth Fund revealed how Medicare measures up against private plans. It was bad news for the insurance industry.

Elderly Medicare beneficiaries are more satisfied with their health care, and experience fewer problems accessing and paying for care, than Americans with employer-sponsored insurance (ESI), according to a study by Commonwealth Fund researchers….The gap between consumers’ ratings of Medicare and ESI has widened since a similar survey in 2001….

Thirty-seven percent of elderly Medicare beneficiaries rated their coverage as excellent, versus 20 percent of the employer group. Meanwhile, only 8 percent of elderly Medicare beneficiaries rated their insurance as “fair” or “poor,” compared with 18 percent of those with ESI.

Survey results demonstrate that Medicare beneficiaries are less likely than those with private coverage to report negative experiences with their insurance plans — including having expensive medical bills for noncovered services, being charged a lot more than insurance would pay, and physicians’ not taking their insurance….


  • U.K. Banks to Lose EU Access After Brexit, Merkel Ally Says (Bloomberg)  The European Union won’t bend its rules to preserve access for the City of London once Britain leaves the bloc, according to German lawmaker Michael Fuchs, an ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel.  The legal and regulatory framework for so-called passporting is geared to banks based in an EU country, and negotiating any new arrangement promises to be “very difficult,” Fuchs said in a Bloomberg interview on Tuesday. Passporting rules, which allow a bank incorporated in any EU member state to sell its products and services throughout the $19 trillion integrated economy, are “not negotiable”, he said.

  • U.K. Factories Reap Export Benefits of Brexit’s Drag on Pound (Bloomberg)   U.K. manufacturers are starting to see the benefits of the pound’s decline, with export orders posting their best performance in two years.  An index of foreign demand rose to minus 5 this month, the highest since August 2014, from minus 22 in July, according to a survey published Tuesday by the Confederation of British Industry in London. It said the result is a “tentative sign that sterling’s depreciation is starting to filter through.”


  • Germany considers return of conscription for civil defence (BBC News)  Germany may reintroduce a form of national service for civilians to help the army deal with a future disaster.  The role of civilians is part of a new civil defense strategy to be discussed by the government on Wednesday.  Since the strategy was leaked to the media there has been intense debate about stockpiling food and water.  In a crisis civilians might be obliged to help direct traffic or provide fuel and accommodation for the military, German news agency DPA reported.


"We are continuing those discussions. We continue to make headway. We're not quite there yet." 



  • Putin’s Election Grip Is So Tight Even His Nemesis Can Take Part (Bloomberg)  The last time Vladimir Putin’s political party won national elections, ballot-stuffing allegations sparked the biggest protests of his rule.  Five years on, Putin appears to be so confident in his hold on power that even his most dogged adversary is welcome to challenge United Russia in next month’s parliamentary polls -- Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the London-based former oil billionaire who was charged with murder in absentia in December.

Other Scientific, Health, Political, Economics and Business Items of Note - plus Miscellanea

  • What Percentage Of Investors Have Discipline? Financial Advisors' Daily Digest (Seeking Alpha)  You can have the best portfolio, best mutual funds or ETFs and the best investment season of your life behind you, and blow it all in a moment - by selling in a panic, or by not selling before a panic - there are oh so many ways, depending on your unique personality and situation. It is this behavioral risk we've recently been discussing that may point successful people in the direction of a professional financial advisor whose role would essentially be to get between you and your money so you don't self-destruct.  But some cannot bring themselves to pay an advisor fees when they have done well managing for themselves - and can continue to obsess about self-management challenges even as they experience continued success.  What causes such (successful) behavior?  It maybe an innate behavioral characteristic which is found perhaps in 1/3 or less of all investors.  For the other 2/3 the self-discipline is lacking and its a question of hiring professional help of suffering undesirable consequences.

  • Could This Breakthrough Mean the End of Skin Cancer? (The Daily Beast)  Researchers from Tel Aviv University (TAU) with collaborators from the German Cancer Research Center and two other Israeli medical centers published an article in Nature Cell Biology Monday that could change the way skin cancer is treated.  Researchers have found it may be possible to prevent the spread of cancer causing cells from the initial melanoma site with a suitable drug.  They estimate that the early detectopn treatment with such a drug could raise the survival rate from the current 17% to more than 98%. 

  • Law Firms Risked It All on 401(k) Fee Suits, and It’s Paying Off (ThinkAdvisor)   Despite some major recoveries in class actions over excessive 401(k) fees, the group of lawyers litigating these cases remains small, as few are willing to put the whole firm at risk and that is what it takes to confront powerful, well financed financial giants.  But 21-attorney Schlichter Bogard & Denton took that risk a decade ago and now the cases brought are starting to settle.  With that history visible, other law firms are now getting into the arena.

Like many Americans, Ken Winterhalter wants the financial industry to pay for its past recklessness. His favored punishment, however, isn't jail time for CEOs or bigger corporate fines.

Instead, the president of Twin Rivers Paper Co. has zeroed in on something a bit closer to home: stopping a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission plan that would spur more investors to get mutual fund reports online.   Mr. Winterhalter wrote to the agency after it made the proposal last year:

“After the nightmare of the meltdown in 2007 where millions of shareholders watched their holdings evaporate, Wall Street must remain accountable with paper statements and printed information.”

  • Frank Li is Now Bronze Certified in Ballroom and Latin Dance (YouTube)  Frank Li, Ph.D., who writes a weekly political column for GEI, recently achieved bronze certification in both Ballroom and Latin dance.  The video below was recorded a few days ago as Frank and his professional partner performed a Viennese Waltz in a studio competition.

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