Archive for January 2019

Medicare For All

January 30, 2019

As the 2020 Presidential Campaign season begins to bud early, a few candidates are stepping forward testing the publics reaction to them.  Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris have amped their entries with the battle cry “Medicare For All”.  Two unannounced candidates, Howard Schultz and Michael Bloomberg, have dismissed “Medicare For All” as too expensive.  No surprise then that Schultz and Bloomberg position themselves as “centrists”,  Hmmm.

T0 be successful, the accepted theory seems to be the Democrat candidacy must be more than simply “anti-Trump”.  Democrats must be for something, not just against the current President.  Hmmm.

Healthcare is, for sure, a mess and capitalism is stinking up the house.  Morally, it would seem unconscionable that any reputable healthcare insurer could put forth the notion of “pre-existing condition” as grounds for not insuring someone. And the well worn line of “don’t put the government between you and your doctor” seems ridiculous if the other options is putting the insurance company between you and your doctor.  What are people thinking?

The public’s demand for transparency of medical costs touches on another evil.  Hospitals are unable (and unwilling) to put numbers on the table.  Hospitals claim that there are insurance company discounts which means the patient never would pay the hospital full charge (if the hospitals knew what their costs were).  Drug companies use the same thinking to justify their greedy price increases.

What cannot be denied, however, is that Americans spend, without universal coverage, more than twice as much as anyone else in the world.  And if anyone googles healthcare, one can quickly determine that in comparison to other first world countries, Americans pays twice as much and receives only mediocre healthcare outcomes.  (Of course those Americans who utilize the Mayo Clinic or similar world class health care center, pay the high prices but do receive outstanding medical care.  These world class medical facilities serve only a small slice of Americans).

Schultz and Bloomberg’s “Medicare For All is too expensive” reaction may be missing a point.  Health care today is already too expensive for the average American.  Harris and Warren’s off the cuff reply that the rich will have too pay is just as out of touch with reality.  In fact taxing the wealthy is sure fired way to stimulate even higher healthcare costs.  (Free enterprise just loves situations where there is a payer.)

Healthcare systems found in Japan, Canada, Germany, or France, for example, emphasize preventive care, cost controls, and largely a national sales tax to fund the healthcare system, not taxes on a single segment of society.  The national sales tax (value added tax) coupled with negotiated health care services and drug costs keeps “cost control” front and center, and reminds everyone that healthcare is not free.

The 2020 campaign season does not get into full swing until later in 2019.  Hopefully by that time the candidates will have sharpened their stump speeches and gotten real about what’s possible.   

Koch And Education

January 29, 2019

The Koch network of conservative donors has announced a new initiative aimed at “improving” K-12 education according the Washington Post.  The announcement was made at the network meeting at a resort in Coachella, California.  The strategy was based upon working in 16 States first and then scaling up for the nation.  Hmmm.

Claiming that US K-12 education is broken is more a recognition of reality than a ground breaking insight.  National tests comparing high school students from the US to similar students in foreign countries have consistently ranked Americans mediocre.   Domestic comparisons, for example inner city schools versus suburban ones, or schools in affluent areas to those located in poverty areas show wide disparity in educational outcomes.  

There is not a lack of proposed descriptions of the problem and its causes.  Many propose home schooling or charter schools.  Others recommend private schools, especially religious based schools as the right approach to fix this problem.  Some blame the teachers and specifically the Teachers Union for poor results.  In this regard, a study which defines the problem in measurable terms and then proposes corrective steps could be a large service to future generations, especially if the cures could be demonstrated in these 16 States.

It is very difficult to keep from being cynical given the public positions already taken by members of the Koch network.  Funding religious schools is thinly veiled attempt to evangelize the bible (with the world is flat crowd in the lead), and according to the Washington Post, Arthur Pope of North Carolina expressed dismay that polls are indicating the the younger generation are more favorable towards alleged “socialistic” policies and feel that “capitalism” is at the root of many of the Country’s current problems.  Hmmm.

Religion and economic perspectives, IMO, should play no part in public education.  Studies aimed at developing critical thinking, knowledge of history (especially public education in America), and STEM driven programs which contain a healthy dose of liberal arts need to be emphasized.  How they are delivered is a subject of debate.

Teaching By Example

January 27, 2019

It is paradoxical for one to pick out a single domestic or foreign policy promoted by the Trump Administration which is over the top.  Pretty much everything the Trump Administration has advanced has been either dead wrong or woefully off target.  And even worse is that these actions are teaching the world what the United States values and in effect says to others, you are free (or maybe encouraged) to do the same.  Hmmm.

This week we heard tough talk from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo aimed directly at Venezuela.  There is no question that Venezuela is a mess and its economic policies have played a large part in the Venezuela’s hyperinflation and extreme shortages of consumer goods.  There is also little confusion that President Maduro has used non-democratic means to maintain his power and “elected” status.  To call for sanctions and isolation from its neighbors would seem a justified position for the US to put forth.  To call for a government overthrow is not.

Pompeo has intervened, on behalf of the US, and called for the world to recognize an opposition party leader instead of Maduro.  Hmmm.

For starters, where does Maduro stack up when compared to Kim Jong Un of North Korea, or Bashar al-Assad of Syria where the US has either attempted to befriend or remain silent over their legitimacy?  And what lessons does Pompeo send to Russia or China about acceptable behavior towards their neighbors?

There is a good chance that President Trump does not care a hoot about Venezuela simply because his base neither gain or loses over the fate of Venezuela.  For Pompeo and Senator Marco Rubio, they find pandering the Venezuela issue helpful to what they might hope their political base respond.  Regardless, calling for the overthrow sets poor precedent and teaches the wrong lesson.

The Anti-Vision President

January 25, 2019

President Trump has spent his first 25 months in office trying to show that life is much easier taking structures apart than building them in the first place.  The President most likely does not appreciate his actions are examples of entropy and the tendency for disorder.   Does the President think disorder is a natural state?

The President has not been shy about his intentions to withdraw from this or revoke that, or to fire this person or to promote that one.  Regardless of the issue, for instance the Paris Climate Accord, the Iran Nuclear Agreement, the Trans Pacific Pact, or the infamous “concrete wall” which would keep dangerous people and drugs from crossing the border, the President knew what needed to change and he was likely the only person who knew how to fix “it”.  Hmmm.

If one looks at what ever the President’s hand touches, there is not a hint of constructing something new.  Rather, the President’s actions are all about taking apart (and not replacing).  The reason for this phenomena is that the President has no vision of how things should be.  What?  Didn’t the President say he wanted to make America great again?  Doesn’t that prove that President Trump has a clear vision and his making steady progress towards it?

The short answer is NO.

Whether the President or his ardent supporters like it or not, the world is already “global” and only “losing economies” will play outside of the global community.  National security is also “global” and the days of simply being the biggest and toughest kid on the block, so to speak having more guns, ships and planes than anyone else, have passed us by. 

Human nature is regrettably prone to settle conflict with fighting (war).  The aim of our foreign affairs policies, therefore, must be to engage other countries in “win-win” trade and development deals while making clear America’s position on certain global requirements.  For example keeping key waterways (Suez Canal, South China Seas) open, restricting air and water pollution (at a minimum to within a countries borders), and facilitating trade arrangements where win-win is both side’s objective.

President Trump even while presiding over a partial Government shutdown, has pronounced his first two years a complete success.  The facts, of course, speak otherwise.  Domestically, the President’s actions have produced a tax cut which enriched corporations and already wealthy people at the expense of future generations (the tax cuts were unfunded).  The President instituted tariffs on steal and aluminum and reduced regulations around the use of coal.  The results are an angry group of countries who were exporters of steal and aluminum to the US, a coal industry still dying,  and not surprisingly, less jobs than when he began the Presidency.

On the international stage, most of the world leaders have by now figured him out.  His “smash mouth, take a hostage, then negotiate” modus operandi is no longer very difficult to detect and therefore to defend.   The TPP partners have signed their agreement and each member will have an inherent trade advantage over American farmers.  Thanks President Trump.  The Chinese have reduced American export purchases again hurting American farmers.  Thanks Mr President.  Climate change initiatives aimed at reducing global temperature increase have all but vanished predicting unchecked global warming and the dangers associated with a warner environment.  Thanks again Mr President.

Adding a cup of sawdust to a work horse’s feed brings no problems for the first cup.  Keep adding another cup each day until the feed is mostly sawdust will bring entirely different results.

Americans need to study closely the actions the Trump Administration continues to take.  Invariably, Trump policies will take apart existing policies in order to claim “action” and by definition, a “win”.  Almost assuredly, given time for  the dust to settle, Americans will see (1) the Trump actions are unrelated to some strategic policy, and (2) these actions, both individually and collectively, the will leave America “less great” again.

What ever happened to “Visions, Values, and Results”?

Confronting The Shutdown

January 21, 2019

This past weekend, across America, fellow citizens marched for women’s rights.  Some marched under the banner “don’t take my rights away”, and others marched “for the right to take other women’s rights away”.  Very peculiar perspective for women not to see their common interests and instead, square off against each other.

Pro-life and Pro-choice prefer to fight each other rather than advocating for the myriad other ways women are not treated equally.  It is baffling to me why women cannot see the wisdom of uniting under a common banner.  By remaining separate women marches, women are reaffirming their division. “Together we stand, divided we fall”.  

From a logistics perspective, planning for the Women’s March began many months ago, well before the Trump Government Shutdown.  If one could push back the hands of time, the Women’s March planners’ focus might have been better placed on demanding the Government reopening aiding the home lives of thousands of women government employees and spouses.  The Women’s March could also have made clear that President Trump should never try this childish stunt again.  Women lost an opportunity to clearly show they were the only adults in the room.  Maybe next year.

President Trump proposed a path for reopening the government this weekend.  His proposal was naked hostage taking and then trying to negotiate a settlement where he keeps his prize.  This tactic may work in the New York building trades but it has no place running the government of the world’s richest country. 

By the time the Huns and Vandals reached the gates of Rome, Rome had already withered to a paper tiger.  President Trump is strangely on a similar path and even stranger, a path destine to NOT make America great again.

Is Socialism A Real Fear?

January 20, 2019

Recently I got into a discussion with friends over what danger some of the new Democrat Congress members posed.  “Why that woman from New York wants free college education for everyone” one friend said.  “How is the country going to pay for it?”  The person added, “that woman wants to tax the rich to pay for it and that means we are going to have to pay more in taxes”.  Hmmm.

Where does one begin?

The friend making that statement probably lives in the 90th% income bracket which is about $150,000 in yearly income.  The couple probably have a pension, social security, and some income from investments.  They own a home and a vacation house.  They live comfortably but certainly not extravagantly.  Compared to average household income of $61,000, they are doing well.  So why the fear of free college?

My friend did not stop at having to pay higher taxes.  My friend quickly added, free college education would take the US to socialism.  And another friend said, “from socialism, communism was next.  And just look at Russia, Venezuela, and Cuba”  (I guess they had never visited China.)  Hmmm.

These two friends are both educated, well spoken, and otherwise reasonably charitable people.  From where could this disconnect from logic and reality come?  That’s a “foxy” question I think.

I wonder whether my two friends have thought why someone would advocate for free college education in the first place?  I wonder whether they realize that educated people are a resource just like rivers, roads, and electricity.  An educated work force drives prosperity.  In the US, unemployment, average income, and home ownership are all correlated to whether one has a college education or not.

Of course the likely reply would be, “I had to pay for my college education, so should the kids today”.  Hmmm.  I would quickly agree to that if there were options for kids to borrow at no interest the money to pay for their college education and depending upon what profession they chose or where they applied their college education, there were “forgiveness” provisions.  

In many respects, the free college education argument is a red herring with respect to the risks posed by socialistic regulations and laws.  And the connections between socialism and communism are faint if at all.  Socialism arises invariably to counter the excesses of capitalism.     Hmmm.

Most people are surprised to see how much in our daily lives is a form of socialism.  Public roads, libraries, and utilities are starters.  Social Security, the VA hospital system, and the host of consumer protection agencies are socialistic in nature.  All our discrimination laws, rent protection, and FHA loans in some way overcome excesses of unfettered capitalism and are a bit socialistic.

The question of why unfettered capitalism is not dangerous is deceptively difficult to answer.  Unfettered capitalism opens a world of possibilities for those who seek to succeed in business and accumulate wealth.   But given time, the entrepreneur becomes very wealthy and for most everyone else, life can become a little (or a lot) less good.  

In a wealthy country, like the US with abundant natural resources and protection from enemies by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, great wealth can be amassed though hard work and intelligence. Question… if all it took was hard work and intelligence, why would these entrepreneurs not go to the Sahara Desert or the North Pole and put their skills to work?  Capitalism’s success has a lot to do with the inherent natural resources, which in some way belong to everyone, and how these natural resources are harvested by the risk taking capitalist.  A hard working, risk taking socialist should be just as successful under similar circumstances, I would think.

But, one might ask, why aren’t socialist Venezuela and communist Cuba successful countries?

Does anyone think that if Venezuela or Cuba simply said “unfettered capitalism” is the way of the future, that life would change?  IMO, history has shown that all that would change is who the rich people were.  The poor would remain poor.  

There is no simple formula for accumulating national wealth.  Clearly abundant raw materials play a big role.  So does motivated entrepreneurs and an educated and skilled work force.  And, don’t forget “guns and butter”.  A country consumed with defending itself militarily will not have the time or ability to concentrate on economic development if it is preoccupied defending its borders.

With Venezuela and Cuba there is another factor which IMO outweigh all the others.  These countries lost their way when they cast aside “democracy”, rule of law, and free speech/free press.  Graft, corruption, and incompetent leader escape the natural consequences of their decisions when free speech and free press are suppressed.

One last observation.   Countries like Japan, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, or Canada all utilize more socialistic laws and regulations than the US.  None of these countries are teetering on the edge of communism.  And all these countries offer their citizens healthcare costs roughly 1/2 or less that the US with healthcare outcomes uniformly better.  Hmmm. 

Brexit and Trump

January 18, 2019

This past week the British Parliament has shown observers how divisive politics can send a message of impotence.  The Prime Minister lost an important vote (seeking to ratify Prime Minister May’s Brexit conditions) by the largest margin in over 100 years and then survived a vote of “no confidence” comfortably.  The underlying message seems to be “leaving the EU was mandated by the English people (referendum in 2016), but the Government’s plan is not what the English people had in mind, and oh by the way, the Government has no better suggestion which the EU would likely accept,  and “crashing out” of the EU (no agreement) is unacceptable since a “no agreement” exit will clearly hurt the UK economically”

How could the British Government have gotten into this paradox?

Hmmm. What if the original supporters of Brexit told voters something that simply was not true and then appealed to nationalistic blindspots so that voters did not take Brexit  seriously and never considered the possibility of adverse consequences?

So, as in the US, British voters own Brexit good or bad.  In the US American voters own the fruits of President Donald Trump, good or bad.  The insanity of the current US Government partial shutdown demonstrates this point well.  Candidate Trump appealed to the xenophobic nature of many Americans and caste the undocumented immigration of Mexicans and Central Americans as a serious, monumental problem.  “Drugs, criminals, and terrorists are streaming across the border” the Candidate said, “ and I am going to fix it”.  Hmmm.

In the face of facts to the contrary, the President claimed there was a crisis (border crossing are at a ten year low), drugs are flowing across the border (true but an estimated 80% of drugs smuggled across the border come through authorized points of entry), and 2000 terrorists have been apprehended trying to enter the US (probably true but not over our southern border with Mexico), therefore, there is a need for a large wall to prevent unauthorized crossings as well as smuggling (even though most drugs pass through ports of entry and smugglers have shown walls don’t work perfectly (smugglers are building tunnels where ever they think best.

As with Brexit, the President painted a picture which is simply not true.  Now escalating the political disagreement by shutting down a portion of the government and arguing “it’s my way or the highway”, President Trump has lost any rationality to the issue of border security.

The path forward for the US partial shutdown is unclear. Politically, Democrats can not submit to this type of bully-ism since the President can try the same tactics on future issues.  Some say the President won’t back down either but when air traffic controllers or TSA agents do not man their posts, or IRS workers do the same, the impact of no air travel or no tax revenue collection will shake the country to its core.  Impeachment might sound more appropriate and a Senate conviction more possible.

For Brexit, the most favorable option to avoid the ugliness of leaving the EU might be another referendum.  Were British voters to vote to remain in the EU, the British Government could live to die another day.

For President Trump, 2020 is coming quickly.  Each day the shutdown continues, Trump’s chances for reelection shrink.  Each day the Republican Senate members sit on their hands and do not act as a separate and co-equal branch of Government, the more likely the Senate will shift to Democrat control.  Hmmm.