Archive for the ‘Economics’ Category.

Why a Libertarian Supports Socialized Medicine – Part 1

I am a libertarian.

If I am not hurting anyone else I want to be left alone. At the core of this philosophy is the belief that I do not know what is best for you, and conversely neither you nor any external entity knows what’s best for me. This trips me up with conservatives who think the military or perhaps God knows what I need. It also separates me from liberals whose collectivist urges tend to gravitate towards more and bigger government.

But there are limitations to every philosophy, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. No idea is perfect and most are works in progress. No one says “Democracy is worthless because people don’t have time to make decisions about governing while raising families and holding down jobs.” Likewise I think that libertarian ideas such as “Do unto others…” should be followed until they no longer make sense.

For most of the past 2 decades I have witnessed the American medical system from the inside as the spouse of an American primary care physician. I’m the one who makes her a coffee and waves goodbye to her every morning, and I am the one who has dinner ready when she arrives home late at night after a long day at the office. I am the one who pays her medical school loans, cutting a mortgage-sized check every month that unfortunately fails to move the principle very much. During that time I estimate my wife has treated about 40,000 patients in a variety of settings, from poor inner city communities to wealthy boutique practices. She has even treated patients volunteering in rural communities in Africa.

Anyone who tells you they have a solution to the American health care system is frankly an idiot. The system is so big, so complicated, so riven with competing interests, contradictory regulations and demands that only here in America could we build such a huge, expensive, and f***ed up system. Our healthcare is such a disaster that it is hard to imagine anyone thinking it up from scratch. It combines the worst attributes of a single payer system with the dregs of capitalism to produce to produce the monstrosity we live with daily. No, such a system can only happen over a period of decades with the involvement of millions of decisionmakers.

And it is getting worse.

In the most recent attempt at cost-savings, patients are being asked to become consumers and are being tasked with shopping for health care in order to inject market forces into the system. This takes the process of say, buying a television, through comparison shopping and seeking the lowest price and attempts to squeeze visiting your doctor or a hospital stay into the paradigm. As David Shaywitz writing for Forbes notes, it won’t work. For one thing we are asking sick people with exhausting task of making decisions that are hard for healthy people to make. Think about the mental energy you put into a recent television or car purchase, then imagine doing that while sick. It’s unrealistic even for those of us who are relatively healthy, let alone for the 20% of the population who consume 80% of our healthcare. Take my late mother. It took my retired sister and her husband all their energy to make sure she received just the care she needed during all her bouts of pneumonia, her falls, and her failing kidneys. Now some expect them to have shopped around for the cheapest care on top of all. It’s not only unrealistic, it’s cruel. My sister spent the last few months with our mother in a constant state of stress and worry about providing my mother the care she needed instead of spending that time simply being with our mother.

Part of this “consumer driven health care approach” is the reliance upon customer feedback and surveys. Over the past year I have seen multiple doctors after almost killing myself in a dirt bike accident a year ago, and several times I have received emails and even robo-calls asking me to rate my doctor. There are several assumptions underpinning these surveys. First is the assumption that I have the knowledge necessary to grade him. My orthopedic surgeon has several medical degrees. I have a BA in political science. He has been doing surgeries for over 40 years. I have been working in IT for almost 20 years. He has performed thousands of surgeries like the two he performed on me. I can’t even carve a turkey without running to YouTube for instructions. To put another way, if your daughter needed a plate installed in her shoulder after a motorcycle accident, would you rather I did it or my doctor? If you answered the latter then why would you take my review of him seriously?

Next the consumer driven approach assumes that I know what I need. Say I need a new car because my old one broke down and I can’t get to work by public transportation. That’s a reasonable need that buying a new car fills, but even that comes with caveats. Why a new car? Why not a used one? What about a motorcycle or how about a bicycle? Patients walk into my wife’s office every day presenting with colds and demanding antibiotics. My wife examines them and diagnoses them with the common cold. She advises bed rest, symptomatic treatments like Ny-Quil, and explains that not only will an antibiotic not help them, it can cause severe side effects. My wife knows all about these first hand. She was prescribed a common antibiotic for the treatment of a minor infection and lost her sense of smell for almost 2 years. But she has faced irate “clients” (the word the corporation she works for advises doctors to use when referring to their patients) who will not leave unless they get what they want.

Doctors in this position face a predicament. Do they satisfy the patient by prescribing him or her drugs they don’t need, or do they risk complaints being lodged with the companies they work for, or on websites that grade doctors? These comments and complaints have been used by health care systems to deny their doctors raises and in some cases limiting advancement and even the renewal of their contracts. This stress is one of the factors behind physician burnout that drives doctors out of clinical practice, exacerbating the physician shortage.

Going to the doctor or hospital is not like buying something at Amazon or Ebay, and we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that it is.

(to be continued)

St. Louis to Start CalvinBall League

Well not yet, but here’s the idea:

St. Louis and the state of Missouri are itching to hand $400 million of their citizen’s money to Stan Kroenke, a billionaire seven times over, in order to induce him to keep his lousy underperforming football team from absconding to LA or San Diego. From a financial point of view football stadiums are lousy investments for cities. From an environmental standpoint they are monuments to man-made global warming since they consist of concrete, the making of which is one of the worst known emitters of carbon dioxide. From a utilitarian standpoint they are useless, being designed specifically for football which limits their utility at any other time than the 8 out of 365 afternoons they are used. There are clearly better ways to use the money.

So here’s my idea. Have the state, county and local governments pony up the $400 million. Then take that money and invest it with Stan Kroenke and his partners to help them mug invest in the publicly backed stadium in Los Angeles or San Diego. After all everyone knows Californians are rich, so let wealthy Californian taxpayers build Kroenke’s stadium but profit from his greed and chutzpah by backing him with $400 million. Kroenke will have no problem delivering a 10% return on the money, netting the state of Missouri and the St. Louis area $40 million a year from their investment. Figure that’s good for about 10 years until Kroenke gets cranky and decides he needs another stadium, but who knows? During that time maybe the San Diego Rams or the LA Weasels will actually become good teams, substantially boosting the value of the investment.

But in the meantime take that $40 million every year and start a new sports league. Given the nostalgia Gen-Xers have for Calvin & Hobbes, I vote for the creation of a CalvinBall league with the money. For those of you too young to know, CalvinBall is a game played between the young boy Calvin and his stuffed pet tiger Hobbes in the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon where pretty much anything goes. Think of it as a mashup of dodgeball, rugby, baseball, karaoke and the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Well maybe not so much the Rocky Horror Picture Show but who knows? The rules of CalvinBall are there aren’t any rules – and think of what entertainment value that would bring to a Sunday afternoon. While the Rams quarterback-du-jour is getting his clock cleaned  in Southern California by the Packer’s defensive line, just imagine the fun Missourians would have watching young athletes pretty much run around, wear masks and sing. It would be refreshing and maybe even entertaining.

I figure the government could fund an entire 20 team league, each having a 10 person roster out of the $40 million it earned from investing in Kroenke (just not in St. Louis). CalvinBall does not need singularly purposed billion dollar stadiums to be played in. It can be played pretty much everywhere, but to maximize attendance I would recommend it be played in existing venues like Busch Stadium or the Scottrade Center. After all, to St. Louisans football season is just the weeks between the World Series and Spring Training.

British Calvinball legend M. Montgomery Hughes jumping into The Must Be Airborne To Enter This Zone Zone to recover a lost Calvinball.

 

Welfare for Billionaires – St. Louis and State of Missouri Offer to Fund Stadium

My hometown and home state are being suckered into ponying up 40% of the cost of a new billion dollar football stadium necessary to keep the St. Louis Rams (formerly of Cleveland, formerly of Los Angeles) from moving yet again. That’s $400 million dollars for a building that will likely house happy football fans 4 times a year (assuming an 8-8 record for the Rams which is really fantasy). Figuring it’s likely 8 years before Stan Kroenke likely agitates for another stadium. Do the math and Missourians are going to shell out over $10 million a win.

Seriously?

Kroenke’s personal net worth is $7.7 Billion. That’s BILLION. He could build the stadium himself with the change in his sofa cushions.

So my next question is this: Since when did my hometown get so flush with cash so that it could waste $400 million dollars for a building that will be used AT MOST 8 times a year? St. Louis and Missouri politicians are evidently ready to transfer their taxpayer’s hard-earned dollars (Missouri per capita income, $25,649) to a billionaire. Are there no better ways to spend $400 million on Missouri’s 6 million residents?

I have a suggestion: Buy every Missourian a ticket to a baseball Cardinals game. The team is one of the league’s best, isn’t going anywhere and doesn’t bully politicians into subsidizing their hobbies.

The Razor Celebrates 14 Years (of Disgust)

14 years ago I bought an available domain name for Occam’s Razor, created a few HTML pages in the Dreamweaver editor, and figured out how to upload them, all because I felt that I had to express myself. There was grief and anger from the World Trade Center site, still a smoking heap of rubble and ash, and while my anger flamed white hot for the men who murdered thousands of innocents, they were not the focus of my writing and were incidental characters in my first published essay, “Rohrschach Test for the Left.” Instead that essay, and The (Occam’s) Razor that I slowly built around it, was inspired by the self-delusion and self-hatred of the politically correct Left that justified the attacks in the days immediately after the attacks.

Coming of age in the 1980s I was subjected to PC dogma in college, and watched it infect the Left that I identified with at the time and gradually change the American Left from a grassroots labor-based ideology rooted in classical liberal thought into an elitist derived identity-based movement we find today. This Left had little to do with the government programs that kept my family alive during the Depression or helped my father find a job after the War, but the draft-dodging elites of the 1960s who had prospered in the Ivory Tower and become ascendant by educating an entire generation of policy makers derived not from the working class but from the Bourgeoisie.

There was no shared experience between working class leftists like me and the leftists that controlled the college campuses at the time. They saw me as a “Reagan Democrat” and I saw them as arrogant, narrow minded fools who had been cocooned for so long from reality that they had no concept what the real world was like. The jump from America’s college campuses to the government by this elitist-derived Left was first attempted in Howard Dean’s candidacy of 2004, and was resurrected by his takeover of the DNC the eventually lead to the election of Barack Obama.

Obama is one of them. He was picked from Academia and pushed into increasingly higher levels of power by academics or their powerful acolytes in government. Obama represented them completely. For a group that is nearly all white but ashamed of their skin color (known euphemistically as “white privilege”) he was a minority. But unlike minority politicians like Jesse Jackson he had been educated by them and shared their belief that America is the root of all evil in the world, and that our nation could only be saved by a repentant America apologizing to the world for our sins, embracing our enemies, and dropping our allies who supported our evil doing.

Starting with his Apology Tour in 2009 Obama did just that, following it up with the “reset button” with Russia, an extended hand to Iran and rude gestures towards American allies such as the UK and Israel. He then let Iraq fall into Iran’s hands and ignored what he once called the “good war” in Afghanistan. He put into practice exactly the foreign policy the elitist Left had been demanding for years, using the power the Constitution grants to the Executive to achieve its aims, but was stymied by domestic opponents from putting into place their domestic agenda.

Today they control not only America’s campuses but they control our government, and worse, our military. If America is the root of all the world’s problems, why are the problems getting worse without American involvement? Shouldn’t they be getting better?

America is not the root of all evil in the world no matter how many books Chomsky writes or how many professors say it is so. America created a prosperity and peace unseen in the world since Augustus Caesar ruled 2000 years ago. Pax Americana was not perfect, but it did create an order that allowed smaller nations to prosper. The ranks of the world’s middle class grew under Pax Americana in ways that the average ancient Roman, 95% of whom lived in abject poverty, would marvel at. It also allowed the freedom of an elite to coalesce around an idea that would eventually lead to its demise.

Today a morally and economically bankrupt Russia invades any territory it desires without consequence. In the US a wealthy elite rigs the economic system against small business and the working class. A group of jihadis too radical for al Qaeda now hold sway over the very territory purchased through American blood a decade ago. Red-lines crossed in Syria and a “leading from behind” effort in North Africa results in failed states, creating a tsunami of refugees in Europe.  China extends its territory and influence without constraint. A decade ago the sound of North Korea rattling its cage would have made the headlines. Today it barely warrants mentioning.

14 years ago I saw the enemy and it was us – or rather the Left that I had once considered myself part of. At the time I was determined but hopeful that 9-11 would shake the Left off of its anti-American foundation, but it didn’t. And the results are self-evident.

I’ll admit I am pissed. Leftist ideology was always so naive and lacking in detail. The world could have been so much better if we had kept the levers of power from them, but we failed and now everyone from the retiree living on a pittance thanks to near-zero interest rates to the Iraqi Christian trying to stay alive in her homeland pays the price.

Happy anniversary.

Confessions of a Reluctant Cord Cutter

Last quarter 566,000 Americans quit cable or satellite TV. I was one of them. For the first time since 1981 living in this country I have gone without cable TV and you know what? I haven’t noticed it. That’s because for the past year I have been subscribing to Amazon Prime, Netflix and Acorn TV, adding HuluPlus just to cover some of the more popular networks. Total bill after I cancelled my service on June 23? Excluding the Amazon Prime membership which I bought for the discounted shipping, about $21. That’s 20% of my monthly satellite bill.

But honestly I was already relying upon Netflix and Acorn TV for my TV watching for a long time before I called DirecTV and told them I was leaving the country for awhile (to avoid the hard sell and begging to stay subscribed). Instead of turning on the TV and seeing what was available as I had done since I was a kid, I bought a Roku 3 and was binge watching quality shows like Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy, as well as British-only fare like Time Team and Doc Martin. Now we’re hooked on Game of Thrones, but for the price of subscribing to HBO I can rent almost an entire season of the show. When HBO Now becomes available, I’ll probably swap out HuluPlus for it (or not until I’m done catching up with the UK version of The Office). The Roku makes navigation  and selecting services easy, although searches within the apps range from tolerable (Netflix) to god-awful (Acorn TV).

The bottom line? I’m watching less TV, but the TV I do watch is of high quality, much better than 99% of the shows you will find on extended cable or satellite. Plus I’m saving money overall, even when I add in the cost of additional rentals.

I grew up with the TV an ever present sound in my childhood. I can sing the Love Boat theme or rattle off quotes from various shows of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s simply because the TV was always on. Now I spend at most two hours a day watching it, and what I watch just cannot be compared with the dross you find on TruTV or E!.

But it still took me months to work up the courage to cut the cord. “What if there’s a news event?” I asked myself. And I answered that I already get my news from the internet from several different sources including the British media including Sky News. “What about Walking Dead?” Available for rental at $3/pop as soon as the show airs. Still I dragged my feet until I opened my satellite bill, saw I was paying $103 a month and couldn’t remember the last time I had watched a show on it.

So I made the phone call and haven’t looked back. And the most illustrative fact? My teenaged son didn’t notice that DirecTV was turned off for over a month.

What My Taxes Could Buy

In a previous post I lamented the total my family paid in state and federal income taxes last year and suggested that with that money I could have hired my own public servant. Extending that idea some I decided to search USAJobs to find out which civil servant that money would get me. Here are some of the positions whose pay grade fell within the total my family paid. Note that this cost does not factor in fringe benefits which for federal employees are borderline ridiculous to those of us who never worked outside of the private sector where even the coffee isn’t free these days. But since that’s tough to calculate and would overcomplicate this simple blog post, I’ll assume the cost of intangibles like fringe benefits is not more than 20% of salary. We are also not wealthy so a high level civil servant like a secretary of state is out of the question. Even Hillary’s speaking fee would take several years worth of taxes to pay.

So what would our taxes buy us if the IRS decided to let us hire directly*?

1. Security Guard -  I’ve never understood why you pay a guy so poorly to protect you and your stuff. Either pay him well so that he’ll take a bullet or don’t hire one at all and go with a security system, a well stocked gun safe or both. While I like the idea of having my own private security guard even a well paid one we could really use the help in other areas.

2. Wildlife Biologist – Cool! I’ve always wanted one of these. In fact I was one (sort of) in a previous life and have a lot of respect for those who choose this profession. There’s lots of wildlife on our property and I’m interested in getting more. The other day I took the dogs out for a run in the upper field and heard a bobcat in the nearby woods. The dogs took off after the howl but the cat was too fast for them and called again far enough away that the dogs went back to sniffing each other’s pee. Several species of snakes, birds and other critters call our property home, and I’m sure we could keep him/her busy. While it’s cool to have one on staff, there are other pressing needs. Still let’s not rule this job out just yet.

3. Aircraft mechanic – Let’s rule this one out right now. Although I do plan on getting my pilot’s license before I shuffle off this mortal coil I could really use a lawnmower mechanic more than an aircraft mechanic at this juncture.

4. Foreign Service Employee – I wanted to be one of these so bad at one time but Life got in the way – most likely for the best because my deep debilitating shyness often manifests as arrogance, likely why I washed out of the interview process. Still with our taxes I could afford to hire my own diplomat. I could probably also send him or her to Switzerland to intervene in the Iran negotiations by shouting Persian insults at the Iranian negotiating team. “A mouse should eat you!” That would make the New York Times front page.

5. IT Specialist – You’re hired! There’s nothing worse for a computer professional than troubleshooting your own gear when you don’t feel like it. I need an Apple Support tech just to handle the Wife’s Apple products, and one with networking skills could rewire my home network so that I didn’t need 3 hotspots just to cover my 2,000 square foot house.

Unfortunately the IRS won’t let us hire directly, but I recommend everyone look at their total income tax bill – not just the refund. You might be surprised at how much you pay. I’ll also admit that I’m a bit jealous over the pay and perks of civil servants. Until recently I didn’t even have the benefit of paid time off, so the idea of working one day as a substitute teacher and getting a $30k/year pension for life does inspire a hint of jealousy, but even more outrage.
———

  • Before someone goes all freaky the above is satire. All taxes were paid and no public servants were harmed in the making of this essay. Satire used to be allowed in our society but over the past decades I’ve watched our freedom of speech get nibbled away by mice first on the Right during the Reagan administration then on the Left during the Clinton and Obama years. If you think I’m making this up watch a movie from the 1970s. The language is shocking and would never make it on screen today which is perhaps why comedy is dying in our country. Yes it is dying. Nothing made this century comes close to the humor of Blazing Saddles or Airplane! let alone earlier classics like The Pink Panther and A Night at the Opera.

Happy Pay Your Fair Share Day

Today is April 15th and for American citizens around the world it is the annual day of reckoning when all federal, state and local income taxes for the previous year are due. For conservatives and libertarians it is a day to despise but for liberals it is a day to celebrate. 49% of Americans do not pay any income taxes and benefit in many ways from the taxes paid from the 51% percent, so how you feel about today depends on whether or not you pay income tax.

My family is one of the 51% who does pay income taxes.  I know exactly how much we pay and we pay a lot. How much is that? Well without going into too much detail we pay enough to employ our very own government worker, one of America’s 22 million government employees. It would be nice if we could buy him outright. My grass needs cutting, some of the dogs baths and there’s always trees to fell in the forest. It would be great to have someone clean house or cook, activities that I usually end up doing after work.

I know I’m not the first to realize this, but if you don’t pay taxes why should you be allowed to vote? Shouldn’t those who actually have skin in the game by paying taxes elect those who create tax laws? We had a revolution with a slogan of “No taxation without representation,” perhaps the new slogan should be “No Representation Without Taxation.”

For more info on that idea check out this Forbes piece, worth it for the Benjamin Franklin quote you won’t see on a Toyota Prius anytime soon.

 

 

Gay Married Couples Subject to the Marriage Penalty

Having just finished filing the taxes for this family unit I got to wondering how gay married couples are handling the federal marriage penalty tax. For those who aren’t familiar, the marriage penalty is a tax on those who work, make roughly the same amount of money, and are married. Since the Feds now recognize gay marriage, this means that many gay professionals who get married now find themselves subjected to the same marriage tax that their straight friends are.

USA Today has a good breakdown on the Marriage Penalty for those who aren’t familiar with it. It notes, “For a single filer, this bracket ends at an income of $89,350. If you simply doubled that number to get the top amount for joint filers, you’d see $178,700. But, unfortunately, that’s not how it works. For 2014, the 25 percent tax bracket ends at $148,850 for married couples filing jointly. Thus, they find themselves penalized for their combined income.”

I’m not sure what the history of the Marriage Penalty is, whether it was an unintended side effect as more women joined the work force or whether it was intentional. Either way one thing’s for sure: the Feds are hooked on the Marriage Penalty income and won’t be changing it anytime soon. So to all those gay DINK couples, hope the fight was worth it.

Gander Sauce

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz wants America to discuss race, not his paycheck I guess since he makes over a 1,100 the average hourly wage of his employees. Prince Charles records an appeal to Brits asking them to turn off the lights to help cut greenhouse gas emissions, then hours later takes an 80 mile helicopter trip that pollutes the atmosphere with over a ton of CO2 instead of taking a car that would have emitted a twentieth of that. Apple CEO Tim Cook likens Indiana’s religious protection laws to the Jim Crow laws that kept the races separate a half century ago, then continues to do business in China, Russia and the Arab world where gays are subjected to official state-sanctioned discrimination.

Starbucks CEO Schultz: How about hiring some African-Americans to your board and beefing up the number of women? Think of it as a cost saving measure since both women and minorities tend to earn less than equivalent white guys. And since you are so keen on progressive causes, how about setting the floor for your staff at $15/hr, an effort you not-so-progressively fought? Maybe then you wouldn’t have to not-so-progressively bust their barista union.

Prince Chuck – Helicopters are cool, especially when piloted by guys with British accents, so I can understand your desire to use one. Heck, I would if I could afford it, but then again I’m not a priest in the Church of Global Warming like you are. Now I know you’ve purchased carbon offsets but the average bloke can’t afford the expense of those indulgences, so he has to sit in the dark or suffer lukewarm tea if he wants to remain a member of the faith. If you truly believed in what you preached you’d stay put in Buckingham Palace waiting for mummy to keel over and using telepresence technology to attend all the enviro-weenie forums you champion. Perhaps you’d even forgo the palace and rent a cozy flat somewhere where you and Camilla could have tiny carbon footprints together.

Apple CEO Tim Cook – How can a gay man live with the knowledge that your firm regularly does business with regimes who oppress gays in their countries? How can you sleep at night when the employees of the companies that make your gear throw themselves off buildings if they can’t tolerate the slave-like pay and working conditions? Doesn’t the cognitive dissonance of championing leftist causes while benefiting from the suffering of your global workforce ever get to you? You have the chutzpa to attack a state where women can drive, and where gays don’t have to worry about being hung or re-educated.

It seems only fair that we hold these rich and powerful men to their own standards. The stupidity is going to keep on coming until we force those who demand one thing from a group of people “the public”, “Indianans” or “Americans” while refusing to hold themselves to the same standards.

The Dagger In The Heart of Socialized Medicine in the US

Megan McArdle has an excellent post-mortem on the death of Single-Payer Healthcare in Vermont. In it she points out some of the difficulties the single-payer advocates face in implementing the solution in the United States. The main issue isn’t the explosive growth of health care costs in the United States today; it’s the growth of costs in the past. “The problem, as I wrote previously, is that America doesn’t have a health-care cost-growth problem; we had a health-care cost-growth problem. Right now, our health-care cost growth is right in the middle of the OECD pack. Our spending is indeed high compared with the rest of the world, but that’s because it started high.”

To put this another way, imagine you rack up $35,000 in credit card debt over a period of time. You finally wake up and realize that you can’t keep spending that way so you start using the card more carefully. You cut back to the point where you only purchase about $650/month – roughly the monthly average credit card spending of Americans. But doing so there is no way to reach the average American credit card debt of $7,500 because in the past you didn’t spend like an average American; you spent like a 16 year rich girl handed her daddy’s plastic. So while you may spend like an average person today, there is no easy way to achieve that $7,500 average by spending cutbacks. You’d have to cut spending to zero and hope for a bailout from the parents or the government.

As McArdle notes, in order to reach the level of health care spending that would allow us to consider a single-payer system like the Europeans have today we would need to cut entire swaths of health care system employment, and doing so would be politically impossible. “Health-care jobs are steady and well-remunerated compared to whatever else those workers could be doing. And that’s not just true of the much-derided “specialists” who do too many procedures and charge too much; it’s true of everyone in your hospital and doctor’s office, from your beloved family physician to the woman who draws your blood. All those people have spent long years working to get where they are. If you suddenly change the rules and take that all away, their rage will burn with the righteous fire of a thousand suns,” McArdle writes.

In 2014 the US spent 17.9% of its GDP on healthcare according to the World Bank. The UK spent 9.4%, France 11.7% and Canada 10.9%. If the US wanted to institute a Canadian-style single payer system, it would have to cut it’s health care spending by roughly 40%.

Think about that. Every doctor, nurse, and medical assistant would receive a 40% pay cut. Every paramedic, home health worker and dietician would do the same. Ditto every insurance claim processor, HMO CEO and malpractice attorney. Every worker who received at least part of their salary due to health care would see that part cut by 40%. And this wouldn’t be a one off event, no. It would be a permanent pay cut.

Nurses wouldn’t be able to pay their mortgages. Insurance claims reps wouldn’t be able to pay for their kids’ tuition. Physicians wouldn’t be able to repay their student loans. The ramifications would reverberate through our economy like an economic earthquake as banks failed, service industries collapsed and other businesses that relied upon that income from the healthcare system evaporated. I have no idea how much GDP would be lost through kn0ck-off effects of such a change. Of course our economy would suddenly have 7% of its GDP freed up, a massive amount of wealth that could eventually lead to some amazing things in our economy. Just hope you don’t get sick during the first several years of adjustment.

Anyone who claims that they know how to fix our system is either an idiot or insane. As someone who both consumes health care, and is married to a health care provider who works long hours under the constant threat of lawsuits dispensing health care to the entitled then laboriously documenting the encounter in electronic medical record systems designed by lawyers and health insurance bureaucrats, I have no idea what the solution is.

We need one, but single-payer isn’t it.

 

 

So Where’s the Inflation?

Reason looks at past predictions for the Qualitative Easing (QE) programs embarked upon by the Fed in 2009. Since then the Fed has flooded the world with dollars. So where is the inflation?

As Reason notes you can’t trust the CPI, so what can you trust?

How about your own senses. Remember the Subway ad jingle “Five…. Five… Five dollar foot long.” Subway used to sell several foot long sandwiches for $5. Then after awhile they limited their $5 special to certain months like February aka “Februany.” Now there aren’t any foot long subs on the menu for $5.

Or how about health insurance? Over the past five years the value of my house has declined yet it costs as much to cover just myself now as it did to cover my entire family 5 years ago.

While gas has declined recently thanks to the Saudi efforts to kill the US fracking industry, all other daily items have gone up. The government just doesn’t report it. Reason also notes that QE has exported US inflation to other countries, notably China and Philippines. QE is also feeding an asset bubble in the stock market and in high-end luxury goods and properties.

So the answer to where the inflation is is that it’s hidden for now, but the Fed can only defy gravity for so long before what it has built for the benefit of the wealthy comes crashing down. When it does, they won’t be able to hide Inflation any more.

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.