James Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

John Wayne Syndrome: Americans like tall, square-jawed presidents during tough economic times

Aug 18, 2009 15:58 UTC

Will Americans go big in 2012? President Obama is a smidgen under 6’2″, Mitt Romney is 6’2″, Sarah Palin is 5’5″ … Tell us more, New Scientist:

When the going gets tough, the presidents get taller. So says social psychologist Terry Pettijohn of Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina.

He looked at the heights, ages and facial attributes of the 11 elected US presidents over the past 75 years, and compared them with economic and social indicators such as unemployment and birth rates. “What we’re seeing is that taller candidates are preferred when times are more difficult,” says Pettijohn.

Hard times also make for presidents with larger chins and smaller eyes, says Pettijohn. He thinks that voters associate these features with strength and maturity – qualities that could be perceived toprovide security in troubled times. The results were presented last week at a meeting of the American Psychological Association in Toronto, Canada.

I usually don’t read comments, much less respond to jejune remarks, but the pure ignorance of the citizenship arguments are getting obnoxiously embarrassing: Whether Obama or McCain were born in Kenya, China, or the middle of the Sahara, the fact that one of their parents was a US citizen at the time of birth automatically makes them a natural-born US citizen!

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America’s new love affair with Treasury bonds

Aug 18, 2009 15:15 UTC
The always perspicacious Andy Busch of BMO Capital Markets notes how US households are suddenly into bonds — and then looks around the corner:
This has been the major, major shift in the structure of the US Treasury market that was unanticipated. From Q1, US households held $643.9 billion in Treasury debt and that is up from $256.6 billion in Q4 2008. Households bought an astounding 84% of new US Treasury issuances in Q1. The total holdings represent about 1% of US household assets. According to the WSJ, “Although that is the highest since 2001, Treasurys regularly made up 5% of assets in the 1950s, and as recently as 1995 they were 2.6% of assets. History suggests there is plenty of room for households to increase their holdings.”

With the US current account shrinking, the US is less dependent on foreigners to fund it’s deficit as the trade red ink has slowed to below $10 a month ex oil. In the medium term, this is a strong positive for the US dollar as it means the United States is funding itself more domestically. The longer term issue is whether the United States continues down the fiscal path of becoming the Japanese where domestic savers fund a fiscal deficit that is above 180% of GDP.


Gee, maybe the American public is smarter than most think. Real yields on the 10-year are at a 16-year high. We can sell them to the “experts” for a tidy capital gain when the yield hits 1% and the S&P is sitting at 575.

And yes, American savers will finance our debt just like the Japanese have. Not busting up Citi, BofA and GS gives them no other choice.

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Best campaign tag line …

Aug 18, 2009 14:28 UTC

… comes from my pal Dan Proft who is running for governor of Illinois: “Illinois isn’t broken. It’s fixed.” Nice.


is that a concession, or a declaration that he’ll win?

Why Medicare is a beloved fraud

Aug 18, 2009 14:04 UTC

First a few numbers on U.S. healthcare, courtesy of Ed Yardeni:

1) Federal spending on Medicare combined with Federal and State spending on Medicaid over the 12 months ending July totaled a record $923.5bn.

2) Medicare totaled $439.9bn. Federal spending on Medicaid was $241.8bn. To derive the grand total, we doubled this last number to reflect that Medicaid spending is split roughly evenly between the Federal and State government.

3) Personal consumption expenditures on health care services and prescription drugs totaled a record $1,837bn over the 12 months through June, and the government picked up a record 48.6% of the tab.

4) Medicare outlays per senior citizen totaled a record $11,582 during July, up 50% since July 2000. Over this same period, the CPI rose 24.2%, while the CPI for medical care goods and services (covering urban workers) rose 43.9%. The PCED for medical care goods and services (covering all consumers) was up 31.5% from July 2000 through June 2009.

Yardeni’s bottom line:

Proponents of ObamaCare repeatedly ask senior citizens if they are happy with Medicare. Not surprisingly, they love it. It’s free, and places few restrictions on the services and drugs that are covered by the program. Medicaid works the same way for non-senior citizens who are too poor to pay for health care insurance. So why don’t we all get Medicare? Because it is a fraud.

Ask doctors and hospital administrators about Medicare and Medicaid and they will tell you that it amounts to a theft of their services because the government doesn’t pay them enough to cover their expenses for the care they provide. So they pass those costs on to patients covered by private health insurance. This is why medical care prices are rising faster in the CPI–which includes workers’ out-of-pocket expenses, but not the government’s costs of coverage–than in the PCED, which includes both. Then the audacious proponents of more government in health care have the audacity to claim that costs are rising too fast because of waste, inefficiencies, and fraud in the privately-run system!


why do you say Medicare is free? We are charged $90.00 each a month. It’s taken from our social security

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Is this what a U.S. third party would look like?

Aug 18, 2009 13:46 UTC

Thinker extraordinaire Joel Kotkin gives an outline:

Given this sad political picture, the best hope now is to build an alternative perspective that focuses on the basic economic issues. This would not be the media celebrated movement of moderates–Democrats-lite and Republicans-lite–who seek kumbaya through compromise. It would, instead, require a radical third tendency–neither strictly left or right–that would draw on long-term American priorities and values.

These new radicals would focus on basic issues like improving infrastructure, and primary education and bolstering the nation’s productive economy. Their inspiration would come from a long tradition of federal successes–from the Homestead Act and the WPA to the Interstate Highway and the space program. They would view the financial crisis not as an imperative for protecting the well-connected but for financial reform, decentralization and innovation.

Such an approach would address what the British author Austin Williams calls our ”poverty of ambition.” Americans historically have rejected a future constrained by entrenched hierarchies. Most, I believe, would support spending money and paying taxes, if it was spent to achieve big things that would lead to a greater, more widespread prosperity and opportunity.

Just imagine if the upward of $1 trillion spent guaranteeing Goldman Sachs and Citigroup executives giant paydays had instead gone into roads, bridges, subways, buses, port development, skills training, energy transmission lines and basic scientific research. And imagine if instead of protecting Citigroup and Bank of America, we encouraged stronger local banks and solvent financial entrepreneurs to fill the breach left behind by gross failures.

Me: I think this sort of approach would have tremendous appeal. The $800 billion stimulus plan will go down as a tremendous missed opportunity. The most important thing here is the focus on the “productive economy.” If America doesn’t have that, nothing else works.


The 2 party system leads to endless “compromises” where both sides get everything they want-all take, no give. A true 3rd party would need to battle the entrenched political class and that is one tough goal. It would need to include: term limits, balanced budgets, entitlement reform (elimination of current pyramid / ponzis like Social Security)smalller government, referendums, business experience for executive positions and a moratorium on “blame America” nonsense.

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