Is an Unfavorable Balance of Trade Really Unfavorable?

Are “unfavorable” and “trade deficit” just words economists use to describe what they are measuring or should we heed the negative connotation attached to these words?

Certainly President Trump thinks an unfavorable balance of trade is a bad thing.  You probably do too.  But what if we called it “favorable balance of goods and services” instead?  Would you still feel the same way?  Continue reading

How Not to Fix Obamacare: Part 2

What kind of choices do you want to have to make?

House Speaker Paul Ryan said, “What we’re proposing is a patient-centered system where patients get to decide what to do.”  He says the replacement bill for Obamacare would give consumers the power to choose their own health care plans in a more competitive marketplace.  We’ve been taught it’s always better to have choices, but what kind of choices do you really want to make with healthcare.  Choices are great when you’re buying a car or a house, because you know how you want to use it.  Continue reading

How Not to Fix Obamacare: Part 1

The Kamakaze Mission

In my editorial published September 26, 2013 I characterized the Republican attack on the (then pending) ACA or Obamacare as a “kamikaze mission” because of course the fate of the pilots is the same whether or not they succeed in blowing up Obamacare.  Now we get to see how that plays out.  While Obamacare has substantially reduced the number of uninsured, it has had little effect on the overall cost of healthcare at around 18% of GDP, which is expected to rise with the aging baby-boomer population.  The fact is that healthcare costs in the U.S. have risen far faster than inflation over the last fifty years (not just since Obamacare) while other wealthy nations provide the comparable or better health care at half the cost.  Of 17 high-income countries studied by the National Institutes of Health in 2013, the United States had the highest or near-highest prevalence of obesity, car accidents, infant mortality, heart and lung disease, sexually transmitted infections, adolescent pregnancies, injuries, and homicides. On average, a U.S. male can be expected to live almost four fewer years than those in the top-ranked country.  A 2014 survey of the healthcare systems of 11 developed countries found the US healthcare system to be the most expensive and worst-performing in terms of health access, efficiency, and equity.  The only conclusions we can draw from this is up to half of cost of health care  in the U.S. is a result of waste and somebody’s getting richer at our expense.  And from the number of wrong-headed ideas I’m hearing out of Washington, Congress remains oblivious to the back-door deals creating this waste.

Let the insurance company do it’s job

For example, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul in explaining his plan to replace Obamacare says, “There’s no reason why (a business owner) with four employees shouldn’t be able to join with hundreds and hundreds of other businesses that are small to become a large entity to get leverage to bring your prices down.” Paul is a physician and I’m sure he knows medicine, but he doesn’t know insurance.  I’m sure the arguments the insurance lobby gave him for letting them contract with such groups were very convincing; I’ve heard them all.

As someone who spent 30 years in insurance and served as COO of an insurance company I can tell you, “There’s no reason why (a business owner) with four employees should have to join with hundreds and hundreds of other businesses that are small to become a large entity to get leverage to bring your prices down.” It makes no more sense than saying the only way to get affordable homeowner’s coverage is to join with hundreds and hundreds of other homeowners to become a large entity to get leverage to bring your prices down.”

If we could do that we wouldn’t need insurance.

Using the law of large numbers to spread the risk is the health insurance company’s job, not ours. Continue reading

When you’re a star they’ll let you do anything

My letter to my representative.

Honorable Senator Grassley,

A life-long Republican, I am asking this on behalf of all your constituents regardless of party affiliation.  We deserve a clear answer.

My niece, Arianne Zucker who plays a lead role on the soap, “Days of Our Lives” greeted Donald Trump when he arrived on the their set in 2005.    Sure I was offended when I heard him say, “When you’re a star they’ll let you do anything …Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”  But we all know he wasn’t talking about my niece per se or just pretty girls or even women in general.  Don’t let this seventh grade locker-room talk overshadow his real message.

“When you’re a star they’ll (everyone will) let you do anything.”

Is he right?  Will you let him do anything?  Will Congress let him do anything? 

Atheists and Liars

I recognize but two religions, Atheists and Liars and I prefer the company of Liars, for it is they who weave the fabric that binds us all together. The time has come for Liars to step up.

Set aside those beliefs that would tear us farther apart and build on those that will make us whole again. You know the difference so stand up, join together and make your voices heard.

I can’t hear you!!!

Why Whites Can’t be Hate Crime Victims

Wow!  I didn’t expect anyone to actually come right out and say it.  It’s something that’s bothered me for a long time.  But during the July 13th broadcast of “CNN Newsroom,” Ebony Magazine Senior Editor Jamilah Lemieux stated that she disagreed with (President Obama’s) characterizing the shooting of Dallas police officers as a hate crime and using that term for “a group of people that have a history with African-Americans that have been abusive, and we can apply that to either police officers or to Caucasians, I think, gets into very tricky territory.”

Of course that isn’t what the law says.  But the tricky territory she’s talking about is how we all perceive the law.  For most of us we may say Civil Rights but we hear Black Rights.  Despite the awkward euphemisms her message is clear, “Whites can’t be the victims of a hate crime because they are the bad guys.”  She sees the law as a kind of declaration dividing Americans into two classifications, “the haters” and “the hated.”  What bothers me is I see the law that way too.  Now if an old white guy like me and a young black activist woman share the same perception of the law, perhaps everyone in between does too.

That would go a long way in explaining why we can’t heal old wounds.

The Sparrow Math Series

This video series is designed for students of all ages who want to improve their math skills.  Singapore Math has been incorporated in the curricula in many primary schools.  It has  proven that these skills can be mastered faster and retained better by teaching student to picture the solution.  The Sparrow Math series takes this principle above and beyond into higher levels of math.

Can Senator Grassley be Both Honest and Fair?

I’ve been a lifelong supporter of Senator Charles Grassley not because he is a Republican, but because I know him to be, above all, an honest man.  Champion of the whistle blower, he has been steadfast in encouraging others to come forward with the truth even against the most severe forms of intimidation from employers or peers.   As Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, Senator Grassley knows that above all, he must be fair and I trust that for the most part he has shown us that this “simple Iowa farmer” can chair this prestigious committee with dignity.

And I have no doubt that Mr. Grassley is loyal to the Republican Party, perhaps to a fault.  From all appearances, Mr. Grassley has agreed to take the heat for a controversial and politically charged decision so his fellow Republicans won’t have to.  Senator Grassley says he will not hold hearings on whomever President Obama nominates to replace Justice Scalia.  It does make sense; Chuck Grassley is the closest thing to a “sure thing” in American politics so he’s not risking his Republican seat in the Senate, while many of his colleagues can’t afford to be seen as blatantly partisan in this election year.  This is in fact a really strange election year where even within their own parties candidates call each other liars and where we might be just gullible enough to believe them all when they say it.  The stakes seem higher than ever and apparently lying is a small price to pay.

But the one constant is “Chuck Grassley will not lie” and I predict he will in the end allow hearings for the Merrick Garland nomination.  I’m not even going to ask him to reverse his decision; I’m just asking him to answer one simple straight forward question.

Would you block these hearings, if any nominee was being put forward by a Republican President, almost a year before the end of his term?

I don’t think he will answer this question, “Yes.”  Known for his straight forward language, I don’t expect him to evade the question.  Certainly he doesn’t want to let his fellow Republicans down, but he will.  You see, I don’t think it’s about his senate seat or his influence in the party and after all, his fellow Republican knew they might have to take the heat from their own decisions when they chose to run.

More than anything else Senator Grassley wants his legacy to be that he was both honest and fair and that he showed the same character as the whistle blowers he championed to come forward with the truth even in the face of intimidation. 

I’d like to add one final thought.  I was wondering if the Democrats really want him to allow the hearings; after all this gives them plenty of political fodder to chew on.  And wouldn’t it be ironic if the best way to negotiate and actually get things done was to call your opponents honest, fair and loyal instead of the nasty rhetoric we’ve grown accustomed to.

Keystone, the Jobs Pipeline to Texas

Sending our jobs to Texas in a pipe isn’t patriotic; it’s just stupid! As the Big Oil spokeswoman says on TV, “Now, that’s something we can all agree on.” Look at the map and tell us why we would want to pump crude oil from border to border when all the finished products have to be trucked back north again.
Continue reading

Can’t we all just get along?

I’ve been attending an interesting “Bucket Course” with this title at Grinnell’s Drake Library given by Dr. J.R. Paulson. This quote by Rodney King, actually, “Can we all get along?” poses some challenging questions about human behavior. One of Dr. Paulson’s main themes is,

“Belief comes first, explanations for beliefs follow.”

The only problem I have with this is it demonstrates what Dr. Paulson calls the “framing bias.” The word “Belief” implies we are talking about something the individual believes to be true. I doubt that I am only speaking for myself when I say my beliefs are hardly ever grounded in truth and almost always represent a concession I have made “just to get along” in society. This makes Mr. King’s statement more an enigma than a question. Continue reading