Archive for the ‘Economics’ Category.

The Razor Celebrates 13 Years

For 13 years I have used this medium as my soapbox, to stand and shout into the Void known as the Internet. 2,352 posts. 6,048 comments. Over that time I have swung from righteous anger in the months following 9-11, to optimism and hope in the years after the Iraqi invasion at a time when I was personally trying to change the world, to disappointment following the economic collapse of 2008 and the election of Barack Obama, to the despair of the Benghazi and IRS scandals, ending finally in the cynicism shrouded nihilism of today.

What can I say, but I’m simply stubborn. While I may no longer wish to change the world and simply want to be left alone in my current libertarian exile, there are still things I need to say and this is the only medium I have found to say them.

I have failed at essay writing, and authoring fiction and non-fiction books. I have failed at numerous small businesses and enterprises. Many of my predictions made in this journal and the positions I have argued have been proven wrong. In 2006 I said Google wouldn’t be around in 2011 and that Lindsay Lohan would die tragically in 2007. 8 years later Google is still my homepage and Lindsay Lohan is still alive, although whether her career is alive is arguable.

But my marriage of 24 years has never been stronger. I have helped raise a child over these 13 years, and while he’s not heading towards a full scholarship at MIT or Harvard, he is a very decent human being whose future in this world concerns me. I have built a writing-based career and nurtured the Wife’s education so that together we are comfortable. We have put money to work in our community, buying local products and hiring local workers whenever possible so that our success is shared with others. Our choices have allowed us to take an active role in animal rescue, saving dozens of unwanted animals from miserable deaths.

I was also right about some things. In 2005 I predicted the real estate bubble was becoming unsustainable. I was right that the soaring oil prices of 2008 would succumb to economic gravity and fall. And I was right in 2011 that removing Khaddafi from power was a bad idea.

The world may be indifferent to my existence yet I am confident I have made it a better place. So I may not be as respected as Charles Krauthammer or popular as Matt Drudge, I do occasionally write something worth reading.

I’ve picked one post from each year that is still worth reading today. Enjoy.

2001 -  Judging News Sources: Truth or Trash

The problem with bias is that it assumes the average reader or listener will believe everything that he or she reads or hears regardless of its source. However for Americans exposed to everything from sightings of Elvis to alien abductions to Clinton scandals, developing a “truth detector” (or its crudely named opposite, the “bullshit detector”) becomes an important skill. Such a skill starts early as children take on the media preferences of their parents, and is refined later in high school and often college when critical thinking skills are emphasized (one purpose of this journal is to save these skills from their demise at the hand of the Politically Correct). (Read the entire post)

2002 – October 2, 2002 – No Prize For Jimmy

President Carter’s crowning achievement was the Camp David Accords which returned the Sinai to Egypt in exchange for the end of a state of war between Israel and Egypt. While the accords ended a shooting war between the two countries, it is worth noting that the agreement was not even negotiated by the Americans – most of the diplomacy having been done by the King of Morocco and the Ceausescu regime in Rumania. Washington DC was simply the money to fund the deal. (Read the entire post)

2003 – May 25, 2003 – Censorship Today

It is important in a society for people to follow the same code of behavior. Americans are notorious for being more unmannered and direct than many other nationalities. Recent events show the impact a slow-death of civility in our society has. It is why President Ford’s saying that “We can disagree without being disagreeable,” remains a shining example that allows us to protect our rights to free expression. (Read the entire post)

2004 – June 25, 2004 – Cognitive Dissonance and Islam

The Saudi royal family has spread Wahabism around the globe, and now are about to be consumed by it. All the makings are in place for a jihadist overthrow of the kingdom: a corrupt government infiltrated by jihadists, a dying king, a large yet effete royal family containing many supporters of the jihadists, and the cognitive dissonance which prevents the leaders from recognizing the true enemies within their own ranks caused by their own inflexible understanding of their religion. (Read the entire post)

 2005 – April 12, 2005 – Visiting the Funeral Home

“These ceremonies are for the living,” the funeral director said. I commented that her job seemed more like a cruise director or wedding planner. “My job is to…” I almost got her to say it but she didn’t. She wanted to say:

Put the “fun” back into “funeral” but she artfully stopped herself from saying that although I knew deep down she wanted to. What followed was a more politically correct explanation of her duties and how much she enjoyed her job.

Well, I suppose it takes all types. (Read the entire post)

2006 – August 10, 2006 – We Are All Israelis

I stand for Israel because I see it as a desert that has bloomed through the hard work and brilliance of its people. I see a people that has suffered unjustly for thousands of years continue to suffer today. I see a people who refuse to accept the status of victims. I see a people who value peace but aren’t willing to trade it for annihilation.

I stand for Israel because Israel is a nation where Arabs, Jews and Christians live together in peace – next to states where religions and their books are banned outright. I stand for Israel because it values everyone. It holds gay pride rallies next to nations where gays are hung from forklifts. It treats women as equals in all ways, while the women in nearby nations can’t even leave their homes alone.

I stand for Israel because it is at the frontier of civilization, an outpost of honesty in a region mired in corruption. I stand for Israel because in the fight to preserve the light from the darkness, we are all Israelis. (Read the entire post)

2007 – October 7, 2007 – The Kiwi And the Eagle: Anti-Americanism in New Zealand

I recently wrote about my Wife’s experience while serving at a hospital in Tanzania with a 24 year old New Zealander. The girl was well versed in anti-American propaganda and felt compelled to heap abuse on my Wife. The Wife is quite capable of defending herself, but she lacks my background knowledge of American foreign policy and world history. During our brief phone call, I provided her with some basic facts to combat the Kiwi’s propaganda regurgitations. Afterward I decided to dig deeper into the youngster’s bigotry and did some research into New Zealand’s attitudes towards Americans. What I found changed my mind about wanting to visit the place anytime soon. (Read the entire post)

2008 – October 20, 2008 – The Good Daughter

Fenwick Island was different; our family was different. There was nothing left to do but accept these truths.

I took the box containing the ashes and at the Wife’s request I opened them and removed the plastic bag that held them shut with a twist tie. Inside were the mixed remains of both the Father-in-law and the Mother-in-law. The Wife cradled them under her pullover as we climbed the dune and walked to the waterline of the beach. As the Kid took the dog upwind, she undid the twist tie and allowed the bag to billow open. (Read the entire post)

2009 – November 19, 2009 – The Weak Horse Named Obama

A friend who voted for Obama last year (and regrets his decision BTW) asked me why I opposed the civil prosecution of terrorists and supported military tribunals. He thought that treating them as run-of-the-mill criminals was an insult, and that by convicting and sentencing them in a military tribunal elevated their status from terrorist to warrior. Here are the reasons I gave him for why I believe that Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision is the worst political decision made since President Ford pardoned Nixon in 1974. (Read the entire post)

 2010 – August 10, 2010 – Riders in the Storm

As with the storms, my instinct tells me that something is seriously wrong with my country. That same paralyzing fear that I had during the storm is with me everyday. The skies are ominous, yet Obama and the Federal Government are driving us deep into the storm and there is nothing much we can do it about it since both are deaf to our concerns. All we can do is listen to our instincts and take every chance we can to limit the danger to ourselves and loved ones the President and the Feds seem determined to visit upon us. (Read the entire post)

2011 – September 6, 2011 – A Short List of Lessons Since 9-11

Islam is Problematic And Our Ruling Elite Doesn’t Understand It
9-11 and the events over the past 10 years have taught us that Islam is different from all other world religions. It is not Christianity with different traditions unless the comparison is made to Christianity prior to the Renaissance. Then Christianity was a political and cultural defining force that determined all aspects of life for the lowliest peasant to the greatest emperor. It determined when each arose, what he did prior to work, his job, how he dressed, how he ate, and his relationship to his superiors (in the case of the emperor, to the Pope). There were no concepts of freedom in thought or deed at that time. The identify of “self” as inviolate would not become accepted until the Enlightenment in the 18th century. Tolerance of other cultures, ethnicities and especially religions simply did not exist at all. (Read the entire post)

2012 – January 17, 2012 – In the Belly of the Swan

Assess the situation. Keep calm. I tend to speak quickly and loudly when I’m nervous so I intentionally slow down the cadence of my words. Keep everyone calm. Crack a bad joke even though no one feels like laughing. Talk about the weather. Whatever it takes to keep everyone – including myself – from panicking. As a writer by instinct I feel myself observing myself, but that is also a task for the future; better to stay in the moment, the now. Time stretches, knees knock, keep scanning the darkness. “Safeties off?” “Yes,” I command. We are locked and loaded. The past is written, the future no longer exists. In the dense fog, in the belly of the swan, waiting for what must happen to happen. (Read the entire post)

2013 – April 3, 2013 – We Are Idiots

The system is corrupt yet we do nothing about it. We are told happy days are here again, that the stockmarket is at record highs, yet those of us who dabbled in the market prior to 2009 have still not recovered from the losses suffered then, leaving us on the sidelines of this rally. Small investors piled into the market and out of the market late back then, proving they were the “greater fools” and some are doing so today as the market skyrockets and smart money looks for the exits. Sure our 401K’s are expanding, but the numbers are meaningless for anyone other than those planning to retire in the coming months before this bubble bursts. Self employed people and contractors like myself don’t have 401K’s, we just have our wits and an ever sharpening skill set that we use to stay employed, but both are slowly being eroded by time as we age and the younger cohorts below us grow hungrier and more competitive. (Read the entire post)

NFL: Not For Long?

I gave up watching American Football last year, although it was too late to cancel my DirecTV NFL Sunday Ticket. During the Superbowl I watched Downton Abbey. This year I canceled the subscription in time, telling the African-American guy who tried to convince me to continue the service that I was tired of supporting a bunch of rich white billionaires.

This year the NFL is having an awful year.First the first openly gay player Michael Sams complicated things by being drafted then a few month later cut by the St. Louis Rams. Late round draft picks are always the equivalent of lottery tickets for teams, so it was unlikely Sams would make it onto the playing field this month, but that didn’t stop the politically correct minded commissioner Roger Goodell from making a big deal about his signing. Of course that blew up in his face when he was cut. Only the crazy meddling Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys and alleged assaulter of strippers, could save Goodell’s bacon by mercy-signing Sams to the Cowboys’ practice team.

Then news broke that Ray Rice laid out his girlfriend in an elevator, 6 months ago, but Goodell covered it up until now. And there was a child abuse allegation against Adrian Peterson in Texas. Now there’s another one against him in Minnesota for sending his 4 year old to the hospital after “disciplining him” in the car for swearing at his sister. This led one ESPN commentator to opine that “we need to reprogram how we raise men.” Since most of these men were raised by single mothers, a demographic the PC police have elevated to sainthood after having demonized traditional marriage for decades, I’m not sure how much traction that’s going to get among the progressive faithful especially since few of them actually watch NFL football.

Goodell has been slowly erasing the differences between the NFL and the Legends (formerly Lingerie) Football League for awhile now in an attempt to protect the investments of his paymasters. He dragged his feet researching chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) then did his best to discredit the results of independent research, all the while changing the rules of the game in an attempt to limit injuries. The problem is the research so far suggests even mild hits cause irreversible brain damage, so even wrapping the players in bubble wrap will not prevent fans from seeing their favorite players gradually leaving their brains on the field. Not only has the sport become boring, with yellow flags being thrown like confetti during each play, but it’s tougher for those of us with consciences to watch these men throw away their lives even for millions of dollars. I guess there’s a little bit of a raging liberal in me who doesn’t like seeing men from humble backgrounds destroying their bodies on the field while the bulk of the financial gain goes to a clutch of billionaires in the boxes.

With billions of dollars at stake we can be sure the NFL owners will do everything in their power to protect their income streams. Whether that produces a safer game played by paragons of virtue as well as a more interesting one to watch remains to be seen – just not by me.

It’s Jews All The Way Down

The name of this journal is in honor to Occam’s Razor, the tool of logic used to decide when faced with two theories having the same evidence the simpler theory is most likely true. I selected this name because of the explosion of conspiracy theories that followed the 9-11 attacks. Occam’s Razor is to a conspiracy theory what a can of RAID is to a cockroach. In the immediate aftermath of the attack there were a multitude of explanations and justifications, from Bin Laden striking the blow to protest America’s refusal to curb global warming to the controlled demolition of the towers by the US government itself. Like cockroaches these theories managed to survive and evolve into what we now call 9-11 Truthers, a movement that has become a cottage industry where the only people not responsible for the 9-11 attacks are the ones who actually claimed responsibility for committing them.

Every generation has its tin-foil hat crowd, as do both sides of the political spectrum. FDR knew about Pearl Harbor well before the Japanese launched the attack. JFK was killed by the CIA, mob, Cubans or a conspiracy involving all three. The moon landings were faked as was Elvis’s death. Reagan was killed by Hinkley and replaced with an imposter. The CIA was behind the AIDS and Crack epidemics of the 1980s. Vince Foster was “suicided” by the Clintons.

There’s an anecdote where a great scientist delivers a lecture on cosmology in which he remarks the earth orbits around the sun. At the end of the lecture an old woman stands up and shouts, “That’s poppycock. Everyone knows the earth sits on the back of a giant turtle.” The scientist then asks the woman, if that were true what is that turtle resting on? “It’s turtles all the way down,” she answers.

I’m reminded of this anecdote whenever I visit sites like Zero Hedge where it seems the vast majority of posters are advocates of one conspiracy or another, and often many. Whether its the downing of Malaysian Flight MH17, the rise of ISIS, the civil war in Ukraine, rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza or the Ebola outbreak, some insidious group is behind it – and it’s never the obvious the person or group claiming ownership. Instead that person or group is claimed to be a shill or patsy.

Take for example the Ukrainian civil war. Although Russia is the obvious aggressor because it has the most to lose by having an independent and prosperous Ukraine on its border, the Russian government is not to blame. Instead a belligerent undercover NATO forces are massacring Russian speakers in the East and goading Russia into the war. NATO also bombed Flight MH17 and fabricated the telemetry and satellite data showing the plane was downed by a missile fired from Russian controlled territory. The whole purpose of this exercise is for the West to ignite a war with Russia, one that will cause the price of fuel to skyrocket for the benefit of American energy companies.

Then there’s al-Qaeda and its off-shoot ISIS. It’s a common belief that these groups are under the control of the CIA and the Mossad. All the terrorist attacks committed by these groups, all the beheadings and massacres are manufactured by bureaucrats in Langley and Tel Aviv, operating “false flag” divisions devoted to creating mayhem that then provides justification for their governments to meddle in the Middle East on behalf of the TPTB, the Powers that Be.

Mind you there is not a scintilla of proof behind any of this, and when proof countering this narrative is raised the conspiracy theorists simply move the goal-posts onto another area where the proof is not as definitive. Or they claim the proof offered was itself manufactured, making it impossible to disprove their position. Conspiracy theorists believe such maneuvers make their positions stronger, but the impossibility of disproving a theory actually weakens it from a rational point of view. For example a single piece of evidence could disprove Evolution; simply find the fossil of a modern animal such as a human or horse in sediments dating from the Jurassic Period, and the theory would be gravely weakened. Yet there is no such evidence that can possibly refute the theory that the World Trade Centers were destroyed through explosives set in the structures by the CIA or Mossad as many Truthers believe. The fact that we have video and thousands of eyewitness accounts of the airliners slamming into the buildings does not weaken their convictions. The dearth of such acceptable contrarian evidence forces these ideas out of the realm of factuality and into faith.

And who are the TPTB? It depends on whom you ask. For many it’s the extremely wealthy oligarchs that run the world’s economies, men of unimaginable wealth whose faces are not known, but who control the fates of Man in the same way the gods controlled the fates of the Greeks and Romans. But then one could ask, well, who controls The Powers That Be? Inevitably we run into the Jews. The Jews are the world’s favorite Wizard of Oz, the man behind the curtain that controls everything Evil. If something bad happens there is inevitably a Jew behind it.

But why stop there? Who’s behind the Jews? And then the lady at the back of the room stands up and says “It’s Jews all the way down…”

Over the past 5000 years of their existence other tribes and their religions have come and gone but the Jews remain. They have survived countless persecutions, pogroms, and the greatest mass-murder in History and still they remain true to their faith and identity. Over that time Jews have risen to the heights of power in every civilization they have lived in, wielding power in service to Ottoman sultans, defining Communism in Russia, and serving the cause of freedom and democracy in the American senate. Their success in the Arts is unparalleled. Countless writers, actors, directors and musicians hail from the ethnic group. Their importance to finance, established during the middle ages due to the prohibition of usury by the Catholic Church, gave them the control of wealth that lays at the heart of most anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. This survival and even thriving at times is historically unusual, and when you put success together with survival over 5 millennia, you have a recipe for those of weaker minds to fall for conspiracies involving favoritism or treachery.

And I must emphasize that anti-Semitism is the purvey of weaker minds. It takes much effort to understand History and its complexities, and that is simply too much for many to employ. It is much easier to fall back on conspiratorial beliefs that are simplistic but with a strong history of their own. And that I think is the problem with facts: they take more effort to put together to create the Truth than to weave falsehoods into a great Lie. It is much easier to dream up a conspiracy theory that explains the loss of Malaysian Flight MH17 than it is to objectively examine the evidence. It is also a much more compelling story. But just because it’s compelling doesn’t mean it’s correct, and that apocryphal lady’s belief in turtles will not pluck the Earth from orbit around the Sun and set it upon an infinite column of reptiles just as the Jews are as guilty or innocent as any other ethnic group for the sins of this world.

How My 2006 Nissan Xterra Became a Lawn Ornament

 

In 2005 to celebrate her impending graduation from medical school the Wife decided that she wanted to buy a new car. Since she is obsessed with Africa, her idea of transportation is this:

(photo credit: Muda Mrefu)

Of course we didn’t have the money for a Land Rover, particularly one that comes with dents from rhinos, so she ended up settling on a Nissan Xterra. I wasn’t very keen on the truck. Although I had nothing against Nissans the Xterra got terrible gas mileage (17-19 mpg at first) and seemed to be more truck than she needed. But Wife gets what Wife wants, and so we used the USAA car buying service to find and price the Xterra she wanted. We drove to the dealer after settling on a car and price, but as we sat down the dealer refused to sell us the truck at the price negotiated by USAA. Our first mistake was not walking out, but with a youngster in tow and a crest-fallen wife I tried to negotiate the deal myself on the spot – which means I got screwed. I ended up paying about $2,000 more than planned for a stripped down model instead of the fully appointed one USAA promised.

At first things went okay.  The Wife took the truck up to northern Pennsylvania on her rural rotation and the truck seemed to enjoy the rough roads. We quickly learned that while the exterior of the truck was pretty tough the interior suffered from flimsy plastic and vinyl. Within weeks there was our first casualty: the cupholder snapped off from rear of the passenger console.  On one of the maintenance runs to the dealership we asked for a replacement. They said since we broke it, it wasn’t covered by the warranty. They wanted to charge us $500 for the cupholder. A few months later the dog’s claws had punctured through the vinyl cover of the console; also not under warranty – but we spent $400 replacing the vinyl.

The sound system that came with the truck was terrible. Everything that played sounded flat and almost mono. First I replaced the speakers, and there was no change. Then I replaced the car stereo with the exact same Panasonic model I used in my ‘99 Honda. While music sounded better there was something about the truck’s acoustics that just ruined it. It didn’t matter if you were listening to Bach or Bad Brains the sound always seemed smashed together with no bass or treble highlights to speak of.

But hey, we’re adults. We can live with bad sound. What we couldn’t deal with was the gradual decline of the car as soon as the warranty expired. The wheels ate bearings like tic-tacs to the point where once the mechanic needed to heat the axle in order to free them. All four wheels had their bearings and associated control rods replaced at least twice during our 8 years of ownership.

For some reason the car couldn’t maintain alignment which caused me to burn through tires, a problem I exacerbated by buying larger alloy wheels. Yes I am an idiot. I thought that bigger tires would provide the Wife a better ride. All I did was jack up the cost of each tire by $30; there was no change to the ride. I tried to rotate the tires every few months and had the truck aligned about twice a year but never managed to get the treads to wear evenly. Several times I had the car aligned and brought it back to the shop immediately afterward only to be shown the computer printout stating the truck was aligned. It reached a point where I simply thought the roads were made concave and maybe higher center of gravity trucks were more sensitive to this than my Honda.

Small problems continued. I ended up downloading the manuals on the Xterra and hanging out on internet forums, doing the repairs myself. But then the big hits started coming.

First it was the rear differential, setting me back $2400 and a week of a car rental. Soon after that the check engine light started glowing and a trip to the dealership confirmed I needed new catalytic converters for $3,000. At this point the truck was just over 120,000 miles. I ended up replacing the catalytic converters elsewhere with non-OEM cats for $600 but that didn’t fix the problem with the codes. An investigation determined that the 2nd generation Nissan Xterras have cast iron exhaust manifolds bolted onto a cast aluminum engine. Since aluminum and iron expand at different rates, the manifolds tend to develop cracks which allow air into the exhaust. This extra air passes through the catalytic converter and makes the oxygen sensor report the catalytic converter is bad. Another $1000 problem.

On March 30, 2014 while on a business trip the heater stopped blowing warm air. A few minutes later the engine temperature spiked but then returned to normal, and after another 50 miles the heater began blowing warm again. After returning home I took the car to a local mechanic who discovered the transmission cooler within the radiator had failed, allowing radiator coolant to mix with transmission fluid. $600 replacement of the radiator and two system flushes later the transmission slips out of gear, often at critical moments like while turning in intersections. The car suddenly became undriveable, and I had to park it in my field.

It turns out the Nissan Xterra has a transmission computer that actually sits in the transmission fluid pan. As some of you PC geeks may know it is possible to submerse computers in oil or distilled water and have them work just fine. That’s because many oils and distilled water are non-conductive, so while it may look scary, as long as the computer is designed properly for the cooling medium, all will be well. Nissan engineers in their ultimate wisdom decided this was a good idea in the second generation trucks, although the computer was outside the transmission in the first generation trucks. Also they decided to embed the transmission radiator within the engine radiator. This should be no big deal; my Honda has the same configuration. What my Honda does have that the 2nd generation Xterra lacked was a well-made radiator. Nissan’s radiator was defective, and Nissan knows it.

So you have a computer embedded in transmission oil that is cooled through the radiator which uses a 50-50 mix of ethylene glycol and water. The transmission radiator within the engine radiator failed, allowing the antifreeze to sink into the transmission. This caused the overall fluid level to dip. Since the engineers also designed the heater to pull warm coolant from the top of the radiator, the drop in fluid kept the heater from warming up. Only when the engine had warmed up in the cold March air did the fluid expand enough to feed the heater.

But the damage was done. Transmission oil is non-conductive but antifreeze is, and the mixture shorted out the computer. The mixture of green radiator coolant with transmission fluid has even earned a name in the Nissan aficionado community: the Strawberry Milkshake of Death (SMOD) – because that’s exactly what it looks like. Pop off your radiator cap and you’ll find a milky reddish mix. But it’s far from delicious, and Nissan got sued over it.

In 2012 Nissan reached a class-action settlement whereby it extended the warranties of Nissan Xterras and Frontier pickup trucks to 80,000 miles full coverage, 90,000 miles with a $2,500 copay and 100,000 with a $3,000 copay. The meager offerings to Nissan owners only prove what I’ve always believed of class action lawsuits: they are income makers for lawyers and not for the plaintiffs. I never received notice of the settlement nor was I notified of any recall related to the problem.

By this point I was well past the settlement terms. So I did what I’ve done successfully many times in the past: I wrote a letter. I wrote to Jose Munoz, head of Nissan North America.

 

Mr. Muñoz, I grew up loving Datsun. When I see a 280z on the road I notice that I’m not the only one who turns his head to watch that legend slide passed. My very first car was a 1983 Sentra that I bought and taught myself how to drive stick on while leaving the dealer. I put 90k on that car while in college and it never let me down. So as I grew older I always considered Nissan whenever I needed to buy a new or used vehicle.

I like my Xterra. It’s a good solid car with the exception of the damage caused by a poorly engineered transmission cooler. Living in rural North Carolina I need the Xterra to safely take me and my family where we’re going on and off the roads. But the cost of the repair just doesn’t make economic sense and is too much for me to justify putting into the vehicle no matter how much I like it. Still, the idea of scrapping it just offends my environmental sensibilities. This car has many miles left on it before it ends up in a landfill, but I can’t risk driving it until it’s fixed.


 

Weeks passed and on Friday I heard back from Nissan North America.

 

Actually I didn’t get this letter in the mail, although that was the gist of a curt call I had from Meghan at Nissan North America.

So now the Xterra sits in the field waiting for me to decide what to do with it. Replacement of the transmission would run about $3,000. Then there’s still the check engine light issue to deal with plus  new tires for another $2000. $5,000 into an 8 year old car with over a 150,000 miles doesn’t make sense.  I’m driving my ‘99 Honda with close to 200,000 miles on it to dealerships pricing Toyotas and Hondas, and when asked whether I have a trade-in I don’t mention the Xterra because I don’t even know how I’d get it to the dealer to trade in.

As I wrote to Jose Munoz, she is a good looking truck. I can see her from where I write. No rust. No paint issues that a good buff couldn’t fix. She loves the dirt and the North Carolina dust, and she doesn’t look like a suppository the way other SUVs do. When the wife heard about my dealings with Nissan she texted me, “So sad I loved my Xterra but she has broken my heart.” But the wife has a new romance in her life, an Italian Fiat 500 convertible. And I have my trusty Honda CRV which I had ordered specially built for me from Saitama Japan. I’ve sworn the Honda will leave me through my cold-dead hands considering how little trouble that car has given me in 15 years of ownership.

I grew up in an era when few cars made it to 100,000 miles. I’ll never forget pushing my 1983 Dodge Omni into the Toyota dealership in 1987 at 45,000 miles. The car my mother bought with that trade was still going when she traded it in at 150,000 miles. Today used cars often have over 100,000 miles on them. But there are some around like the Nissan Xterra which might look good on the outside but just aren’t built to last the way Toyota 4Runners and Honda CRVs are. It’s been a long, expensive lesson for me.

If I had run that truck into the ground rest assured I wouldn’t  have wasted time writing Nissan, but the fact that it has been a money pit since the warranty expired shows Nissan cannot stand up to its Japanese and European competition in terms of quality.

When I pushed that Dodge into the Toyota dealership I swore off American cars. Almost thirty years later I have not purchased a car made by Ford, GM or Chrysler. Nissan now joins that list.

Why complain? Why waste my time with all this writing? Because the only reason why we don’t pitch cars at the 100,000 mile mark today is because we stopped putting up with badly made cars in the 1970s and 1980s. Today there are many high quality vehicles on the road, but they are only there because consumers expect and demand them. If we let the automakers get sloppy the way the US automakers did in the 1960s and 1970s and don’t hold them to a higher standard of quality, then we’ll have only ourselves to blame.

Bandaging a Finger in New Jersey Shows Rot at Heart of US Healthcare

A NJ teacher cut his finger. After it wasn’t healing properly he visited the ER. No x-ray, MRI or anything more than a bandage, a tetanus shot and some ointment. He didn’t even see a doctor and was instead treated by a nurse practitioner.

He was billed $8,200 for the visit.

He called around and found the going rate at most clinics and hospitals was between $400 and $1000.

I’m not sure which is worse: the $8,200 bill from the ER he went to or the fact that the other hospitals and clinics he contacted charge $400-1000 for the same thing.

The cost of the bandages and sterile supplies was probably a few dollars max. I’ll guess $10 for the tetanus shot.  NPs in NJ probably pull in about $120k with benefits, and that’s on the high side. So if he spent 10 minutes bandaging the patient and another 20 minutes writing up the charge sheet and documenting the visit, we’re looking at $60 for labor. Add in hospital overhead consumed by the patient – everyone he spoke to that helped him in his visit, and the visit likely cost the hospital about $120.

In a free market system we could draw the line there and say, “So how do you justify netting $8000 for the visit?”

But our health care system is nowhere near a free market system.

Consider the fact that hospitals cannot legally turn anyone away due to their inability to pay. I’m not a lawyer and I do believe there are limits to this, but from the hospital’s perspective they can’t have lawyers triaging patients in the ER. So they end up providing free care – free to those who receive it but paid by everyone else.

So we have to add on an “indigent care” tax to that $120. How much do we add? That’s a very good question and one that’s not easily answered, but for fun let’s say $130 – turning the visit into a $250. We’re still a long way from $8,200 but you should begin to get a sense that things aren’t as clear-cut as they should be.

Then there’s the issue of Medicaid. Hospitals have to take it, but the reimbursement costs are notoriously below the cost or providing care. Therefore to keep the hospital profitable (for the few progressives who stumble on this post substitute the phrase “from not going bankrupt” for the “P” word) we need to add the cost of treating the medicaid recipients. How much should that surcharge be? How about $50. So now we’re at $300.

The particular hospital the teacher visited is a for-profit (progressives: substitute the word “evil” here) hospital. At this point the hospital can pretty much charge what it wants, so why not $8,200? When’s the last time you walked into a hospital or doctor’s office and seen a board with a list of services and fees on the wall? That used to be a common site but now it’s almost unheard of. Go into any body shop or auto repair mechanic and you will see signs telling you how much the business charges for labor and for common procedures to your car. Yet when you walk into a doctor’s office or clinic you have no clue to what your treatment will cost even if it’s something minor like bandaging a wound or getting a tetanus shot.

This may make it seem like the doctor is doing her work because she loves it, and that the nurses are taking care of you because that’s just the kind of people that they are. But the doctor has $200k in medical school debt and a mortgage, and the nurse has a kid in day-care that needs to be clothed and fed, and “kindness” doesn’t pay back student loans, mortgages or day-care bills. You are paying a high price for that ignorance but you just don’t know it.

The people who do are the ones without insurance or the under-insured who get hassled by bill collectors, and the few people like the New Jersey teacher who think $8,200 is ridiculous regardless of who pays it.

Americans need to grow up and become responsible for their own care, but that’s the long-term solution. The issue is how do we get there? We can start by mandating transparent pricing wherever medical care is offered. The mere fact this hospital would be forced to put “Bandage a Cut – $8,000” on the wall would likely drive down the costs of the service at that particular institution. Eventually people would become aware of the limitations of their insurance and act accordingly, just as people are aware that they pay more to get their cars fixed at the dealership rather than the local mechanic down the street.

The US healthcare system is such a mess that such a simple solution isn’t going to solve everything. The key is to “do no harm” and make the system worse such as what Obamacare has done.

 

Open Borders Hurt Poor Americans the Most

Something tells me if we were facing an influx of corporate CEOs or a flood of journalists into this country willing to work for less than minimum wage the illegal immigrant invasion would be portrayed differently. In Bracing for Amnesty Matthew Vadum writes,

Although amnesty remains deeply unpopular among the American public at large, the activist Left wants the low-ball estimate of 11 million illegal aliens present in the U.S. to be processed because they see them as future Democratic voters. In addition, many labor unions, such as SEIU (which has executives focused solely on immigration issues) see today’s illegals as future union members. Business lobbies favor amnesty because they crave the cheap, largely unskilled labor.

Vadum captures the unholy trinity pushing for opening our borders to cheap labor. Lost in the rush is the impact on those who will suffer the consequences, the working poor. Those who claim to represent them aren’t. I happen to live in one of the poorest counties in North Carolina. The chicken tender scorers at the local Tyson chicken processing plant won’t be seeing higher wages paid for their dangerous and soul-killing work, not when the county is filled with Mexican laborers. But it’s great news for Tyson shareholders and the management who has to keep them happy.

Yet I am perceived on the Left as a racist for pointing this out.

Bubble? What Bubble? This Bubble – CYNK

You may not know it but there’s a greater than zero chance that your 401k is invested in the following company: CYNK

CYNK “was founded as a web based social network that allows individuals to post a profile and link their profile to other friends and organizations.”

According to official filings it has 1 employee, no revenue, and no assets. Until June it was a stretch to call it a penny-stock. Today though it’s trading between $12-15 a share. It is at the time of this writing worth over $5 billion.

In case you are curious to what this looks like, here’s a quick chart of the stock.

What scares me is that someone is buying this stock, and while that person/algorithm may not lose his job, someone is going to get hurt once reality reasserts itself. When you have some commentators at ZeroHedge suggesting it would be immoral to short the stock, you know the situation is bizarre.

Update 7/11/2014: Trading has been suspended by the SEC. It is unlikely to resume. There are firms now holding around $5 billion of worthless stock in their portfolios. Those portfolios represent the sweat and hard work, money earned by real people that cannot be recovered. Let’s just hope that most of that $5 billion was instead owned by the idiots blowing up the current stock market bubble.

Update 7/15/2014: This trader lost his job by shorting the stock too early and getting burned on it the next day during a short squeeze. Of course he doesn’t blame himself; he blames the SEC even though, to quote the now unemployed trader, “My 10-year-old knew it was a scam. It was a complete joke.” Yet neither he – nor the investors who paid for his stupidity – are laughing.

SCOTUS Hobby Lobby Decision Proves Flaw of Employer Based Health Insurance

Although I support the Hobby Lobby decision rendered by the US Supreme Court, the decision merely points to a bigger problem: employer based health insurance. As an IT professional I have frequently switched jobs or worked for myself, and the health insurance coverage available to me is expensive and often non-existent. I have bought health insurance on the individual market exactly as I do with my car insurance, and the fact that the individual market is regulated to death, provides little competition unlike the auto insurance market and is outrageously more expensive is puzzling. I can spend 15 minutes to save 15% on car insurance yet it would take me twice as long to find a provider in my area and determine which insurance products were available to me then cost me twice as much just doesn’t make sense.

Paul Waldman writing for the Washington Post points out that employer based health insurance is rare in the industrialized world and is the result of an accident of history.

 

The system has its real roots in World War II, when the government imposed wage and price controls. Although there had been some health insurance plans sold through employers before, when companies couldn’t offer increased wages during the war, they began offering health benefits instead. When the IRS ruled that those benefits didn’t count as income and so were tax-free, the momentum toward employer-sponsored insurance was all but unstoppable (the deduction for employer-provided coverage is now the largest tax expenditure in the federal budget, dwarfing even the mortgage interest deduction).

 

Waldman points out that through employer based health insurance I use pre-tax dollars to pay for the insurance whereas when I buy on the individual market I have to use post-tax dollars. This makes any health insurance I purchase on the individual market more expensive depending on my tax bracket.

Now we have the IRS involved in our health insurance system. What next? The EPA to regulate the amount of carbon dioxide we exhale? The NSA to handle our medical records? How about the VA to handle appointment scheduling?  It seems to me you couldn’t design a worse health insurance system than the one we have today.

So conservatives shouldn’t cheer the Supreme Court’s decision to loudly and liberals should stop freaking out. Instead they should work together to end this crazy legacy of World War 2 so that companies can focus on making money and employees can take care of themselves as they see fit.

Update: Laurie Rice, writing for the Atlas Society, adds this:

(G)overnment involvement in the market is the reason why so many women have to get insurance through their employer in the first place. That government involvement in women’s health means today’s contraception victory is tomorrow’s political bargaining chip, to be traded by people like Kathleen Sebelius. That state power is more inescapable, more inflexible, and more insidious to women’s freedoms than any Hobby Lobby conservative craft store could ever be. Feminists need to embrace free-market capitalism.

 

Feminists need to embrace free-market capitalism? Given the alliance with Big Government and Leftism I’m not holding my breath.

Immigration For Idiots

Because Evidently Smart People Have Gotten Really Stupid About the Subject

Imagine you arrive at work one morning to find a group of people standing around your desk or workstation. You notice similar groups standing around the desks of your colleagues. Everyone is perplexed. Finally your boss arrives and explains, “These are your potential replacements.” She points to one, “See Miguel here? He’s actually a harder worker than you are and is willing to work for half of what I pay you. Sure his English isn’t the best, but Rosetta Stone Spanish is half-price on Amazon right now, Eso es mucho, ¿eh Miguel?” Miguel nods vigorously.

“The only thing holding me back from hiring him is immigration reform,” she says, “But since both parties are committed, I guess it’s only a matter of time…” She walks away, then says over her shoulder, “Oh, and until it’s passed you might want to remember Miguel and his amigos when you come to my office for your next evaluation.”

We like to believe we are indispensable in our jobs, that the company cannot run without us. The truth is that unless you work for yourself your company CAN run without you, and in many cases may do so better. The only reason you have a job is that the company you work for gains more from your labor than the cost of employing you. So if it pays you $20 an hour, it expects to make at least that back through your labor. If it doesn’t you won’t have a job for long because the company will go out of business. Say it makes a 25% return on your employment, netting the firm $5 an hour after paying you your wage. Would it pass up an opportunity to pay less for your position, say turning that 25% return into a 100% return by paying $12.50 an hour?

This is an oversimplification of course. Many employees don’t make their firms any money at all. If you are in infrastructure, whether a middle manager or an IT developer, you are only employed until your company figures out how to get rid of your position. Somewhere within your company someone is trying to figure out how to do away with your job in the name of “streamlining” or “efficiency.” It’s no different to what you do at home when you look at your bills and try to figure out how to make your money go farther. Your position is an expense, and right now it’s necessary, but it won’t be forever of course. And in the meantime your firm will do whatever it can to maximize profits while minimizing costs, and your salary or wage is a cost that it will work very hard to minimize.

The Labor Market is no different than any market. The price of anything on the market is determined by its supply and demand. If the supply is plentiful, it’s price will be relatively cheap. As it becomes rarer, the price rises. For those of us who have grown up in free(ish) market economies we take this fact for granted for everything from gasoline to gold. But for some reason when it comes to jobs we get stupid about it.

In a free market whenever there’s a shortage of something, whether it’s pork bellies or Playstations, the price skyrockets. For the past 15 years high tech firms have been complaining about labor shortages in the STEM fields, and call for increased numbers of H-1B and J visas to fill the supposed shortage. If this were true we would expect that the salaries for such jobs would be sky-high.

The Chronicle for Higher Education investigated the STEM field labor shortage claims and concluded the STEM labor shortage is a myth. Salaries in these fields have been stagnant and in many cases, in decline. So why do so many people believe the myth? “The claims about STEM shortages come from employers, along with their lobbyists and trade associations, claims Michael Teitelbaum, who a fellow in science policy at Harvard University and a senior advisor at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.”

There is no labor shortage, just a shortage of labor willing to work for the wages set by companies. Companies want to pay their employees less, and the only way to do that in a free(ish) market economy is to boost the potential supply of its workforce. Why wouldn’t it support immigration reform if it meant more aspirants for your job? This potential pool of applicants allows it to find a cheaper replacement for you or at the very least keeps you from asking for a raise.

Why Unions Support Immigration Reform

Today’s unions aren’t your father’s grandfather’s unions. Back in the day unions raised wages and working conditions for their members because they controlled the supply of labor either directly, by determining whether their members worked, or indirectly by making crossing a picket line dangerous to one’s health. They also fiercely resisted immigration, viewing immigrants as increasing the labor supply and driving down wages for their members.

Today’s unions are pale shadows of their former selves, representing only a sliver of the non-government workforce. Because they can no longer control the supply of labor in most industries, it only makes sense for them to focus on the low paying service industries where they can still exercise some control. These industries happen to employ the most illegal immigrants, so starting a decade or so ago, the unions gave up their resistance to immigration and embraced it.  Now unions like the SEIU see each illegal immigrant from Honduras or Mexico as a dues paying member. Since the minimum wage provides a floor to wages, the unions no longer have to worry about decreasing labor supply to boost wages; they’ll just push for a higher minimum wage, and that’s exactly what the unions have done. The primary weapon of unions is no longer a picket line, but the cash desperately needed by politicians to win elections.

By expanding their rank and file with immigrants, the unions then have the cash to provide to politicians who can then raise the minimum wage to boost the salaries of its members. From the perspective of the rank and file, the union leadership and the politicians who receive their cash, everybody wins. The only losers are the middle class consumers who pay more for goods and services provided by unionized companies as well as pay the higher taxes required to support the large cheap labor pool, and the constituents of the politicians who are in the pockets of the unions.

 Why Liberals Support Immigration Reform

Let’s face it, these immigrants aren’t coming from places where Ayn Rand and Adam Smith are cultural icons. They are coming from collectivist societies where Che Guevara is more than an image on a t-shirt, used to living under strong states, albeit ones with failed policies bad enough to drive them to risk everything to cross our border. The teeming masses awaken the natural impulse within liberals to help, and that help in the liberal’s mind can only come through a strong, all-encompassing State. Liberals also don’t like borders, viewing nationalism as a scourge that will eventually disappear along with such barbarities as the Plague and GMO food. Modern liberals are by nature trans-nationalists, and nothing is more trans-national than a bunch of brown people who have suffered under the neo-colonial policies of the Western Powers flooding into the USA. Each Mexican or Honduran represents a chicken of past colonial aggression coming home to the United States to roost.

Additionally, hard core Leftists believe the Marxist interpretation of Capitalism that inequality deepens as wealth follows its natural tendency to accumulate with the upper class, and that it’s the job of the State to confiscate that wealth and redistribute it to the lower classes. Marx himself viewed this as an untenable state of affairs that would eventually lead to communism and the concept of wealth would disappear and vegan unicorns would frolic in a low-carbon world.  Until that time the State would tax the bejeezus out of the wealthy and hand it over to the poor in welfare payments. More poor immigrants require more taxes from the wealthy, helping make that Communist Paradise one-step closer to reality.

Of course all liberals aren’t steeped in liberation ideology and the politics of identity. To Democrats each immigrant is a potential Democratic voter. Immigrants traditionally vote Democrat at least for a generation or two until they assimilate. Pew Research finds 31% of illegal immigrants self-identify with the Democratic Party vs. 4% for the Republican Party. Converting those illegal immigrants into voters has the potential to make the Democratic Party the majority party in the US and consign the Republican Party to History’s wastebasket. Given the potential payoff Democrats would be stupid not to support immigration reform, and for all its faults the Democratic Party has never been known for its stupidity.

The Stupid Party of American Politics

And why is the GOP establishment keen on immigration reform? Because the Republican Party is the Stupid Party in American politics. The GOP’s Big Business/Big Government wing is determined to push through reform in order to provide its corporate base with the cheap labor it demands even if it means the party’s suicide. While the libertarian/populist/small government wing of the party fights back in primaries, showing its power in Eric Cantor’s primary loss, the GOP establishment believes that it must pass immigration reform to continue receiving support from its corporate patrons and to counter the Democrats charge of racism. It pins its hopes on the social conservatism of the Hispanic community, that the community will see what swell, non-racist guys the party is and will switch party affiliation. This has about as much chance of happening as Joe Biden winning the presidency in 2016.

So there you have it. Hopefully this article adds some clarity to the issue. Where your opinion falls should reflect whether you compete with immigrants for your job or not. If you don’t, then you should favor their arrival. But if you do, you should think twice about supporting immigration reform you racist.
———————-

In 2003 after being forced to train his own replacement on an H-1B visa, Scott Kirwin made the cover of Wired Magazine and founded the IT Professionals Association of America and worked for 3 years to counter the myth of the high-tech labor shortage. In 2006 he threw up his hands and quit, having received little support from IT professionals and lots of badly written though amusing threats from Indian workers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guess I Am Racist Too

Allison Pearson writing for the Daily Telegraph lays out the end result of political correctness run amok in her piece, Are We All Racists Now. She starts with a conversation between her children, her mother and herself when  her kids call her mother “racist” for using the term “negro spiritual.”

“Grandma is not racist…“Heinrich Himmler is a racist. Grandma, not so much.”

“Who’s Henry Himmer?”

“Heinrich HIMMLER was a foul, Jew-exterminating, Nazi fiend whom your grandmother’s parents and their whole generation fought a world war to defeat in order that she could sit here 70 years later and be called racist by her sanctimonious and ungrateful grandchildren. Anyone for crumble?”

She then takes on the rising tide of the European Right which makes me wonder whether Great Britain’s experience be the future of America’s.

As shell-shocked politicians from the main parties struggle to discern the causes of Ukip’s deafening electoral success, here’s a tip: look in the mirror, chaps! It is politicians, not the British people, who are to blame for a resurgence in racism; politicians who have ignored public opinion and created the conditions in which resentments fester and grow. Specifically, though not exclusively, it is New Labour who welcomed workers from the new, accession countries of the EU at a time when countries such as France and Germany wisely exercised their right to keep them out for another seven years. According to Jack Straw, this was a “spectacular” error. And Jack should know, because he was Home Secretary at the time. The plan of Tony Blair’s government, as laid bare by Andrew Neather, then a Blair speechwriter, was to banish that old, hideously white, retrograde England and usher in a new, vibrant, multicultural country which, rather conveniently, would vote Labour. Mr Blair now works in international conflict resolution, having stored up enough conflict in his homeland to keep future generations busy for centuries.

America appears to be on the cusp of granting millions citizenship. The government is scrambling to care for tens of thousands of children crossing illegally into the US apparently in the hope of being granted citizenship. Pearson suggests that the elites in Europe have lost touch with the common people, and that the common people are beginning to revolt. And the Democrats and their Republican allies aren’t ready for it.

The Democrats see the demographics of the immigrants and become positively giddy. These immigrants aren’t coming from libertarian meccas like Switzerland. They are coming from collectivist societies where they were taken care of by the government so they’re expected to vote Democrat, although if that worked so well, why are they leaving? Big labor sees more dues paying members in the few remaining private sector unions.  The GOP supporters are in the pockets of big business. They see the world in purely supply and demand terms. By boosting the supply of workers the cost of labor will go down, which is just peachy for businesses that employ lots of low-skilled labor in the food processing, service and manufacturing industries.

Because of the demographics in my area, I tend to associate with some very decent people from humble circumstances. These people will be directly impacted by the immigrants. They will compete directly with them for jobs and will have to suffer lower wages as a result of the increased supply of labor. At the same time their taxes will go up to pay for the increased services consumed by the newcomers. Now imagine a situation where America was flooded by lawyers, businessmen and wealthy immigrants. The price of attorneys and salaries of company leaders would tumble, while at the same time the costs of beach homes in the Outer Banks and prime properties in the Hamptons and Cape Cod would skyrocket. One wonders whether the elites would brand themselves as “racist” for questioning the flood of immigrants as those on the Right here and in Europe have been.

Such a wave of high-skilled, wealthy immigrants isn’t possible. The door has always been open for those, and there simply is fewer of those than there are low-skilled and unskilled poor people in the world. But it would be nice if the elites experienced life as an ordinary citizen or even TRIED to imagine life. I suppose it’s much easier to turn them into non-entities, vaporizing them in a flash from their thoughts with the term “racist.”

No Sympathy for Fast Food Worker Strike Here

Today fast food workers are striking in several US cities according to USA Today. “Naquasia LeGrand, 22, of Brooklyn, says this was her sixth strike since 2012… “These corporations are taking everything from us. They are making all this money.”

Like many Americans I have worked jobs for minimum wage, and once was held up at gun point for the trouble. But also like many Americans, I got an education and developed skills that were worth much more to an employer than minimum wage. And even as I approach the mid-century mark I’m still learning. I recently added a skill to my resume that should make me even more attractive to potential employers in the future.

If Ms. LeGrand used the time she spent on striking (6 strikes in 2 years? I doubt UAW workers struck that much back in the ‘70s) to learn marketable skills instead of striking she wouldn’t have to worry about the government setting her wage; she would be able to set her own.

And that brings up a second point. Ms. LeGrand and her striking comrades betray a failure to grasp basic economics when they say corporations are “making all this money.” According to Entrepreneur less than half of food franchise earn profits of more than $50,000 per year. This may sound like a lot to someone earning minimum wage, but it’s not when you factor in start up costs of $500,000 to $1,000,000. To get that start up capital fast food franchisees often cash in their 401ks and borrow against their homes. If their store goes bust it’s not Subway or McDonalds who loses their retirement nest eggs and homes. Risking financial ruin for $50k a year doesn’t seem worth it to me, especially when considering the long hours franchise owners put in often working for free.

There’s something wrong with making a career out of minimum wage jobs. These jobs are meant to be a starting point in one’s working life and provide supplemental income for those who have retired and want to remain active. They provide flexible hours that students and retirees need but those in their working prime don’t, and teach basic skills like customer service and basic professionalism that are needed in better paying jobs. Unionizing might appeal to union bosses whose salaries come out of the checks of workers, but it shouldn’t to anyone who wears a name tag and says “Would you like to supersize that?” as part of their job.

Update: Some in favor of  raising the minimum wage point out the average age of a minimum wage earner is 35, and 36% are 40 or over. What they don’t say is the number of retirees making the wage, which would skew the average age upward, nor do they state the median age of a minimum wage worker. Another useful statistic would be the average length of time these older workers spend earning minimum wage.

We are not a feudal society. There is social mobility between classes. Instead of providing anecdotal evidence of 35 year old mothers of 4 making minimum wage they should determine why these people are making minimum wages in the first place. If they are stuck earning minimum wage, figure out why. Do they lack education? Adequate child care? Are they recovering from addictions or returning to society after being imprisoned?

If we as a society want to improve the lot of the working poor, we shouldn’t be flooding the market with low-skilled immigrants who compete for the jobs of American citizens and keep wages low. Yet the very same voices calling for a higher minimum wage are the ones calling for amnesty for illegal immigrants.

 

The Coming Two-Tiered Medical System

Scott W. Atlas, writing at the Wall Street Journal, warns about the coming two-tiered medical system.

About one-third of primary-care physicians and one-fourth of specialists have already completely closed their practices to Medicaid patients. Over 52% of physicians have already limited the access that Medicare patients have to their practices, or are planning to, according to a 2012 survey by Merritt Hawkins for the Physicians Foundation. More doctors than ever already refuse Medicaid and Medicare due to inadequate payments for care, and that trend will only accelerate as government lowers reimbursements.

In order to cut costs insurance plans are narrowing their networks, removing access to the best hospitals in the country (including Barnes Hospital in my hometown.)

For cancer care, the overwhelming majority of America’s best hospitals in the National Comprehensive Cancer Network—including MD Anderson Cancer Center of Houston, New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering, Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance uniting doctors from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, UW Medicine and Seattle Children’s—are not covered in most of their states’ exchange plans.

Elements of this are already in place. The best paying jobs on physician job boards are “closed practices” run by large companies for their employees, or concierge practices that do not accept insurance.

Meanwhile, concierge practices are increasing rapidly, as patients who can afford it, along with many top doctors, rush to avoid the problems of an increasingly restrictive health system. The American Academy of Private Physicians estimates that there are now about 4,400 concierge physicians, 30% more than last year. In a recent Merritt Hawkins survey, about 7% to 10% of physicians planned to transition to concierge or cash-only practices in the next one to three years. With doctors already spending 22% of their time on nonclinical paperwork, they will find more government intrusion under ObamaCare regulations taking even more time away from patient care.

Moving towards socialized medicine inevitably leads to a two-tiered system. Having lived for 5 years under socialized medicine in Japan, I’ve seen the both tiers, and the quality of care diverged significantly between them to the point where we chose a private hospital for the birth of The Kid. The only question will be whether the quality of care good enough for the vast majority of Americans, or the care will stagnate and decline as the best and brightest health care providers move into the higher-paying private practices and hospitals.

A Concise Review of Flash Boys by Michael Lewis

Wall Street is rigged more than you thought and at lightning speed.

Obamacare Tax Is Here for Individuals Too

Pity the small business. The federal government treats small business owners as cheats and shows them no mercy. Every month small businesses regardless of size must file payroll taxes which include the other 7.5% of each employee’s FICA plus withholding taxes. Every quarter the business also must file estimated taxes for the current fiscal year. Life is simpler for W-2 employees. Most of the work is hidden from them because if the average worker was responsible for carrying his or her share of the burden to comply with local, state and federal regulations, there would be riots in the streets. So instead governments burden the employers who must write it off as the cost of doing business in our society, and workers believe their tax refund is a “gift” from a benevolent government.

Much is being said about Matt Drudge’s “Liberty Tax”, and it’s clear that none of the critics have ever had to file a small business corporate return. If they had they’d understand how taxes are collected in this country and would recognize that Drudge isn’t lying. One issue I haven’t seen mentioned, however, is the individual penalty. Although Congress has raised the issue of delaying the individual penalty for those who opt out of Obamacare, it doesn’t appear likely to pass anytime soon, meaning that the penalty is already in force. We just don’t feel it yet.

Those who opt out, or carry a policy that doesn’t meet Obamacare’s minimum criteria of providing maternity care to men or Viagra to women, should increase their withholding amounts immediately or risk a surprise tax bill next year. How much will the penalty be? Here is an ACA Penalty Calculator that will estimate the amount due next year. For example, if you are filing as single with no dependents and make $75,000 this year, you will pay an additional $649 in 2014 rising to $1,339 next year and $1,725 the year after that (assuming 3% wage growth). Assuming the worker didn’t want to be stuck with that bill and was paid 26 times a year, she’d have to boost her withholding amount by another $25 a check this year, another $26.50 the next, and another $15 in FY2016. Things get complicated real quick with other permutations. Nothing the IRS does is simple, and handling Obamacare penalties is no different.

Most people don’t think about taxes until a few weeks before they are due, so I don’t expect this issue to get much airplay until early next year. But if you don’t have employer-sponsored health care or your plan isn’t qualified, then don’t kid yourself. You’re paying the penalty now.

 

What Pro-Life Groups Can Learn From Death Penalty Opponents

NPR ran a story about the difficulty state governments are having acquiring the drugs they need to execute criminals using lethal injection. No American pharmaceutical companies make the drugs, and the EU bans their sale to US authorities because capital punishment is illegal in the EU. The sensible choice would be for states to source the drugs from China, which executes more people than the US and harvests their organs to boot, but currently the quality of the drugs is below standard.

Perhaps the Pro-Life movement could learn from the EU and target the makers of equipment used in abortion. Companies are very sensitive to bad publicity, especially over sales that provide a tiny fraction of their profits, and it wouldn’t take much effort on the part of Pro-Life groups to make it more difficult for abortion clinics to buy or repair equipment.

As for the states, they can get by on firing squads, the gas chamber or the electric chair. Sure the condemned prisoners will suffer more but at least death penalty opponents will be able to sleep at night, at least until the Chinese pharmaceutical companies take over.