Startups in America: Beware of Geeks Bearing Gifts

Authors note: This blog, for the most part, is focused on Healthcare and related topics. Perhaps I am stretching the concept of related topics a bit with this post because so much of the Silicon Valley startup industry has rapidly migrated to healthcare.  I now get numerous calls, or Linked-In requests, every week to look at some healthcare or health-tech startup. I have been interested in writing a paper on the state of the startup industry for a long time and this has provided a good excuse to put my ideas down in pixels.

StartupPaperCover

Click the image above to download this paper for free

I have spent many years in the fabled Silicon Valley, working with startups and investors to develop new businesses in many different industries. Along the way I have seen a lot, some good and some not so good. I have seen good entrepreneurs and investors, and I have lived through a few really bad ones as well.

While much has changed, much has not. Some things have gotten better and others much worse. What has stayed the same is that it is still very difficult to conceptualize, finance and build a business to maturity in a way that is good for founders, employees and investors.

To a great extent I think that the system today is simply stacked against all of us.

I have come to the conclusion it could be much easier and much more effective if we simply did a few things a bit differently. This paper is a little of what I think! Click the graphic above to download your free copy.

America has long been a land of invention and innovation. Having lived through the entire PC revolution, I can see that we have been blessed with massive change to the U.S. and the world due to both technological innovation and a business climate that supported risk capital investment. For the past 30 years or so, this engine of change has been based on the startup business industry. In more recent history the engine has showed signs that it no longer may be what it seems. Some have said as early as 2012 that it is fundamentally and forever broken. Yet, from the pace of young entrepreneurs out trying to start businesses to again change the world, one would never know there is a problem. You’d never know, that is, unless you actually looked a little below the surface.

Entrepreneurs trying to raise money in order to start a business are faced with numerous pitfalls, posers, crooks, charlatans and RPRTrs (Right Place Right Timers) all scattered along what is, for many, little more than a boulevard of broken dreams. We have a cast of characters in both the good, and not so good meaning of the word. We have entrepreneurs, serial entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, angel investors, angel investment groups, super angels, crowd funding, facilitators, “consultants,” deal syndicators, incubators, accelerators and many others. All of these entities want the entrepreneur, or the investor, to think they are “The Answer.”  Some of them may be — many more end up being their worst nightmare.

In this paper I try to give an overview of where these characters came from, what benefits they can bring and the kind of harm they can render if we are not careful. I also try to track come of the changes and show how they have built the current dynamic environment. I also ask some questions for you, the reader to think about.

In my opinion, from the entrepreneur’s perspective, the access to smart money has never been easy. More importantly, from the investor’s perspective, it has not been hard enough. We believe a lot of things about the value of the hi-tech, biotech and Internet industries. We also believe that startups are key to our economic future.  I am not sure that all we believe is correct. I do think there are some fundamental questions we should answer.

First and foremost, if we are going to have a robust startup business industry, we need to understand not only why startups fail, but how to help them not fail and to bring them longer term viability. You will find, if you read this paper, that there are some things we can do to improve how we develop startup businesses that I thank can have significant long term effects and are relatively simple to do.

This paper reflects on my historical perspective working with startups and investors, what I have observed that worked, and what I have learned that does not.  I have condensed a number of very good research papers as to both the evolution and current state of capital access from VCs, angel investors and other sources as well as some excellent reports on why startups succeed and why they fail.

Overall, my conclusion is there are a number of things we should do differently if we want to continue to have a robust startup industry in the years to come. I make a few suggestions at the end.

I hope you will either click the link above or the title and download your free copy.  I only ask one thing!  If you feel this has merit, forward to people you know and let them read it also.  As I said this paper is free and I hope it will circulate and open up some needed discussions.

Startups in America – Beware of Geeks Bearing Gifts (revised)

And as always, I appreciate you reading my blog and hope you find things of value here.

— Tom

Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean?

Introductory Note:

First let me apologize for the personal tone of this article. I typically try to focus on issues and solutions and not on my own personal reflections. This past week, among other things, I have been working with a group of parents from the school where our 8th grade children are about to graduate. We are working to create a video that captures the 8th grade class’ experience from kindergarten to graduation. In essence, to marvel at the growth and maturation of these modern examples of humans as they move from cute cuddly yet blissfully ignorant small animals, into wonderful, intelligent motivated, caring examples of the best of humanity. And, to wonder at this progression as it prepares them for the next steps of their own lives and time Continue reading

Stupidity or Duplicity: WE pay anyway!

Click to link to original ABC News Article

Do you think they just don’t get it? In a supposed attempt to find some “middle-ground” in order to make the “middle-men” whole as to the cost of birth control, the administration is acting like we are in the “middle-ages”—all poor and uneducated. First, the administration’s talking heads took the position that the cost of free birth control would be a savings for employers, now forced to pay for it because, pregnancies and abortions are much more expensive. The employers now have to pay for a product, to prevent a cost that their health plan is paying. The premise is that paying the lower cost birth control will lower the plan’s coverage cost and the health plan will then, in turn, lower the premium cost to the employers—not hardly!

Also, there is a big assumption that the rate of single mother and unwanted pregnancies will decrease because of improved access to birth control. I am not sure I agree with this either. Free or subsidized birth control is widely available, it just is not conveniently available everywhere. I am not attacking a woman’s right to have access to birth control. We have a very strong habit, of late, of confusing the discussion of access with no-cost access. It is the no-cost access I have the most problem with. The cost is not free, we all end up paying for it anyway, and the system that is based on mandates, despite the method of the mandate naturally inject inefficiencies and vagaries of control, so that a significantly reduced percentage of dollars spent actually go to pay for the good or service. Look at the healthcare debate numbers from the president’s round table at Blair House with republicans in 2010. By numerous authorities, from both sides of the aisle, only about 35 – 45 cents on the dollar ever make it to real care. So why do we do it this way?

The government now classifies birth control as preventative care, because the ACA or Obamacare requires health plans to cover prevention at no cost. Exercise prevents heart disease, so this should be classified as prevention, as well. Health plans really should cover gym membership at no cost. And, you know having fresh fruit prevents scurvy, health plans need to cover free fruit. Listening to peaceful music lowers stress levels, and therefor prevents high blood pressure and the risk of stroke so good music systems are preventative and should also be covered for free. And of course a warm, comfortable home is clearly preventative to lots and lots of health related problems so I guess “health plans” should provide this as well. This is the same issue I have with the insurance purchase mandate and the rationalization of its constitutionality by the extension of federal power justified by pointing to prior extensions of federal power under the commerce clause.

It is not the idea of helping people; women in this case, get access to care that is the issue. It is the duplicitousness of the need for access by extension to now mean everybody else needs to pay for it, and the effort to obscure the nature of the extension logic that I am finding most troubling. The argument that is being used, now over and over again, goes like this . . . Someone, or some group, needs access to something—or for political gain, we can convince them that they are being discriminated against because they do not have this access and we want to give them access so they will see us as looking out for them, what we are providing is now considered preventative, we passed the law that says if its preventative it must be provided at no cost, ipso facto, you have to pay for this group to get it because it’s the law.

The straw that is breaking the back of many on this issue is now that this administration is saying well, since you are objecting to assuming this cost, we, the government, will find some way to make you whole here, you won’t have to shoulder the cost. Everything the government does cost the people of the United States money. No matter how they try to spin this, it costs us money. We are the government and we are the only source of money. So nothing they can do at the federal level is going to make anyone whole without laying it on the backs of all of us in the long run. Simply saying OK we will let you get a credit to reduce something you pay us over here, just reduces the income the federal government needs to pay what is already spent ten years ago. Do they really think we believe they will not increase fees somewhere else to get the money? If they lay it on the back of some other industry, they are going to increase prices that we all pay so once again it is out of our pockets. There is no escape from zero-sum economics. Even if they just print new money out of thin air, as they have been doing for forty years now, it reduces the buying power of our currency and prices go up, again we pay.

Finally, it is time we realize that we only have finite resources, and everything we do costs us in one way or another. Paying for birth control for everyone is just reducing the money we need to pay for everything else. People are now living much longer and as we crossed from average life expectancy at the mid-seventies to where we are not in the eighties, the average cost of care has rapidly increased. Now we demand that heal plans no longer just cover basic life-saving procedures, we expect they also cover quality of life items as well. The technologies we have developed to make this real gain in median life span is based on very expensive technologies adding to the costs, and the magic bio-chemical bullets we have developed to fight the war with the other species, like bacteria, and viruses, etc. are increasingly costing more and causing more side effects as these species have evolved to be resistant. All of this, with some other reasons as well, is causing the steadily increasing cost for our healthcare. Sometime soon we need to begin to discriminate at what point people are individually responsible for at least some of these costs.

So I wonder are the people coming up with these ideas really this stupid. If they are not stupid, then do they think we are this stupid? Or are they simply Machiavellian? My initial reaction is they are not smart enough to be this duplicitous, but perhaps I am mistaken!

I long for a Citizen Politician

Where have all the good men gone?

As I watch the current primary political spectacle, and await, with more than a modicum of trepidation, the coming presidential election of 2012, I long for the emergence of a “citizen politician” like those that founded, what once was, this great nation.  Where have they gone?  What has happened to our national values, that we no longer can produce such remarkable and dedicated individuals?  Have we so corrupted the elegant system, designed by the framers, that we simply cannot find those truly fit to serve the nation, instead of serving their own, or some subgroups desires and wishes.  Has the process been so corrupted that the simple citizens we most desire, and who would best serve, will not stand up to our current infinite scrutiny, or will not run because they do not want such public ablation of their character? We once had a collection of people, who felt that it was either their destiny, or their obligation, to serve their neighbors to build a better life for all, and to develop systems to assure that character, integrity, and nobles oblige, were the justifications for their fitness.

Recently, I have wondered, what were the characteristics that defined this group of remarkable men, those who risked and sacrificed so much to build this nation? Over the past year I have read a number of biographies of our founding fathers; men like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin.  Each in its own way revealed bits of what united these men in such a grand and ambitious undertaking.  In another way, it has led me to wonder if we still have the tools in place to create others like these men, or if the circumstances of our modern world, our changed mores, faith, family, values, and education system have been altered so profoundly that we no longer build the necessary combinations of character, strength, conviction, patriotism, and dedication to generate leaders with a sense of purpose, responsibility, and faith in something grander than themselves with unshakeable and selfless commitment to their country and fellow citizens.  I guess the real question is, are we lost?

Our First President

George Washington was a complicated and interesting man.  All of us, who have studied history in modern schools, have read about Washington as the father of our nation, but the image of Washington that I learned in school both understates his contribution to the birth of this nation and fills our head with minor and false facts (like the story of the cherry tree) that do not provide a true measure of the man. To the continental colonists at the end of the revolution, George Washington, was more than any other, the father of this nation.

As the country was being forged, Washington, and many others just like him, felt a profound sense of duty to the rest of Americans to fight to the death against tyranny and eventually to build a great form of government to perpetually protect the nation’s people from the resurgence of tyranny from both abroad and within.  Today, we often hear as to what the framers felt was the role of faith and God in the creation, prosperity, and future of our nation.  Today, in our modern world of agenda based spin, we hear polar opposite views.  On the one hand, it is stated that the founders believed there is no role for religion in government.  Religion was not to have any part in the governance of the nation. And at the fringe, there are those that profess that it is a violation of the constitution to even allow and discussion, mention, or intimation of religion in any public venue, action, or event.  On another hand, we hear that religion is a clear part of our government, and became the basis for the governing system we chose. Further, at the fringe of this side, we hear that this, or that, religious view was inculcated into the constitution to promote this or that moral value.  Like everything else today, the truth is much more complicated than a sound-bite, and lies somewhere, nuanced, in the middle of the argument.

President Washington felt that National Policy needed to be rooted in private morality, which relied on “the eternal rules of order and right . . . ordained by heaven itself.” It was in consideration of the grand opportunity wrested by the sacrifice of the American people, through the providential victory of the revolution against England, that Washington’s held the view that this opportunity was granted by the unknown machinations of an almighty God. Washington wrote, “The sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly and considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”

Washington and many of the other founders were big believers in the hands of some higher power guiding them to their destiny.  They also felt that only good and just men could reap the benefit of these grants from some higher power.  They believed in strength, justice, and the power of courage and conviction.  They were humanists, who felt it was their duty to help the downtrodden and the weak.  But, we should not confuse this humanistic view with their additional view that people were also individually responsible for their own destiny and lot in life.  As an example, Washington also wrote,

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity; religion and morality are indispensable supports.”

Washington also wrote,

“Let no one go hungry away . . . provided it does not encourage in them idleness.”

The New Constitution

In 1787, as the continental congress was meeting to establish the foundation for a new and necessary form of government to control this new nation, there was significant controversy.  Read either of the recent biographies of George Washington, Washington, by Ron Chernow, or of John and Abigail Adams, First Family, by Joseph Ellis and you will see that the current level of histrionics, division, diatribe, and intrigue are nothing new.  Further, most of America had no knowledge of what was transpiring inside the State House in Philadelphia, in 1787, or what kind of government was being developed by the men who had assembled to compose our new nation.  The mystery was so complete that after the vote by the members of the congress in approval of the new constitution, Benjamin Franklin reportedly was approached by Elizabeth Powell as he left the State House.  When she saw Franklin, she is reported to have inquired as to what form of government had been produced by the members inside the convention.  Franklin responded, “A republic, madam, if you can keep it!”

Like politics today, this new constitution was not immediately revered by all.

George Mason, a friend of George Washington, declared that the new form of government “. . . would end either, in a monarchy, or a tyrannical aristocracy.”

Looking at the current state of America and its politics I think many would argue it has met Mason’s fate. It just depends on which side of the political spectrum one is, as to whether or not it is now ended as monarchy or tyrannical aristocracy—Occupy Anywhere anyone?

Citizen Politicians

I think we need to find a way to alter the current political selection process, and fundamentally eliminate the position of professional politician from our culture and revert to the original concept of government of the people, by the people, and for the people.  The “by the people” part was not designed to be rule by a professional political class as we are today.  Just what was the concept of citizen politicians at the time of the founding?

Many of the founders regarded any open interest in power as unbecoming of a gentleman. As a result, people like Washington, Adams, and Jefferson preferred to be drawn reluctantly from private life by the irresistible summons of public service.  Ron Chernow writes in his book, Washington, “George Washington felt even to say the word, president, or to merely broach the topic, even in the strictest confidence with friends would seem to betray some secret craving for the office on his part.” Chernow reports that Washington confessed his quandary to Alexander Hamilton in a letter where he said,

“For situated as I am, I could hardly bring the question into the slightest discussion, or ask an opinion, even in the most confidential manner, without betraying, in my judgment, some impropriety of conduct.”

John Adams and most of the founding presidents, all felt that nobles oblige, should be the guiding sentiment for their service.  As such, they did not believe that a candidate should campaign for the office.  They felt that people should be elected because their prior contributions and actions were so remarkable, as to render the populace unable to see any another as capable of assuming and performing in the office. As such, it was the fact that they had to go and actively campaign for such a position of power innately under-scored their lack of suitability for the job in the first place.

The solemn and grave nature of properly taking this almighty gift of independence and effectively creating and implementing a new government, worthy of the people who had sacrificed so much for this opportunity, led James Madison to create a strong metaphor for Washington to use to captivate the populace.  Madison wrote,

“. . . to be shipwrecked in sight of the port would be the severest of all possible aggravations to our misery.”

Meaning, that after we had collectively sacrificed so much, cut our ties to England, and now were left with such difficulty and strife if we fail to provide a just form of government for the people would just be the worst sort of failure and pain.  Madison’s view was predicated on the sacrifices and misery suffered by the new Americans in 1787.  How much more has been sacrificed and suffered in this quest to live up to our potential, and love of country and its promise in the past 225 years? Are our current politicians living up to the sacrifice of those who have gone before?

Nobles Oblige Often Led to Financial Hardship and Ruin.

For most of the first 152 years, elected public service was a significant economic burden. Many left political office with their business and personal financial interests in significant disarray.  These individuals accepted the service to their nation as a patriotic duty or to establish a historical place for their family name.  As an example, at the time Washington became our first president, his prior service in obligation to the needs of his forming country had left is estate on the edge of financial ruin.  As he was being elected president, he was left with no choice but to put his extensive land holdings in Ohio up for sale and to seek a loan of 500 pounds from Captain Richard Conway of Alexandria Va. Shortly after he made this initial request, he had to ask for an additional 100 pounds from Conway, to defray the cost of moving to New York and the cost of lodging so he could assume the new presidency.  So committed to the service to his nation, Washington still felt it was his duty, as he had throughout the Revolutionary war, to forgo any salary. Despite his dire fiscal situation, Washington informed congress of his intent.  Luckily for Washington, congress insisted that he accept his salary, so in some small measure, the fiscal burden was somewhat ameliorated.  Once again, when Washington left office, his personal fortunes had continued to suffer as a result of the demands of service to his country.

The Coming Storm

As I look at this year’s presidential primary election, and listen to both sides of the debates, I wonder if we have, in Madison’s words, been left shipwrecked in sight of our port.  I find myself more and more longing for a Washington, an Adams, a Jefferson, a Madison, a Monroe, a Jackson, or a Lincoln to emerge.  I yearn for some citizen politician, motivated by their love of country, their own nobles oblige, some sense of destiny to arise from the depths and steer us from the fate of the looming rocky shore. I desire the rise of a true citizen politician, one who feels it is unbecoming of the character of a gentleman to seek power or political office.  I know there are those who believe that in this larger and more expansive world, politicians must campaign actively and very extensively and obtrusively be in our face to gain election. I wonder, is this really and sadly the case?

We have had a few this political cycle whose names have been floated for office, individuals apparently not overtly seeking election—people like: Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, and Marco Rubio.  Each of them to date has rebuffed the invitation to lead their party in this election for various reasons.  Despite their apparent reticence, there are some who are still actively interested in wresting them as candidates to the national stage.  Despite their resistance, feigned or real, sadly, they are also firmly entrenched as members of the professional political class.  Where are the real citizen politicians?  The ones who would be dragged to this lofty, powerful perch as a result of their sense of duty and obligation?  Can we not find some method to identify them and bring them to the national attention without the need for a popularity contest composed of little more than national character assassination? Though I do which this is not the case, perhaps it is simply a pipe dream to believe once again we have and can find such men.

I now most fervently hope that we will not soon be laying plans for all of our children to be reading Daniel Defoe’s, 1919 work, Robinson Caruso, as our new national survival guide!

Rising Gas Prices: Welcome to the global economy

Like most things in which our federal government has inserted itself, the issue over the rise in U.S. gasoline prices has become a very complicated one.  Like almost everything else in history, the more that the government inserts itself, the perceived benefits are overwhelmed by the unintended consequences.  Here is yet another cautionary tale.  

(Note: I am analyzing from a California perspective in order to understand the combined effects at the highest level and since this is where I live at the moment, I experience the issue in this way every day—your state’s fees may vary but I would guess your personal experience will be the same!)

Source: GasBuddy.com

In 2004, then California Attorney General, Bill Lockyer, updated his 2000 report on Gasoline Prices in California.  Looking back this is an interesting read as we watch gas prices rise beyond $4.00 on their way to, as some are predicting, to as high as $6.00, if not even higher.

Evil Oil Companies Reap Big Profits Cause Gas Prices to Spike!

What is fascinating about both the current concern over the rise in gas prices and the report published by AG Lockyer is the consistent amount of spin on what it was that was causing the rise in prices.  As we move into the next few weeks and months, once again, we will hear from the media, and many talking heads, how this is all the “evil” oil companies fault.  How they are making record profits and they are simply preying upon the people of California, or on the national scale the U.S. citizens, to enrich their shareholders and continue to pay huge salaries and bonuses to the 1%’ers and leaving the 99%’ers in a continually worsening position. But there is a big problem with this spin!  For the most part, it is just not true.

Look, I have no vested interest in the oil companies and I am by no means a fan of some of what they do sometimes.  Sure, oil companies make a huge amount of profits when you look at the overall dollars but, like other such vilified industries and their executives including, big Pharma, and insurance companies among others, the percentage of profit is ridiculously small, when compared to other businesses and most small businesses.  More telling, however, is that the real profit built into the gas and oil supply chain has reduced significantly since Lockyer published his updated report in 2004.  The enclosed chart shows the break out of costs for a gallon of gasoline as reported by the California Energy Commission in 2004 and again as of today in 2012.  What is startling is that the “evil” oil companies’ and refineries have reduced the cost and profit part of the price over 27% while the state of CA has increased their percentage per gallon over 42% and the federal government has also increased their take per gallon by 20%.

Source: Author

Another, great misconception—perhaps misrepresentation?—is that the cost per gallon is driven solely by the per barrel price of crude oil.  Well again, if you look at the table I prepared, you see that if that logic was, in fact, correct, the price per gallon would now be $6.02 per gallon already instead of the $4.04 it is today.  So, there is some disconnect in the price per barrel equivalence to the price at the pump.  Clearly, there is not a direct corollary.  While it likely does have some impact, I suspect there are a number of other things at work that drive the price at the pump. So, one may want to question if the conventional headline as shown at the beginning of this section is true?

What else could be driving up gas prices in California?

One other interesting segment of the Lockyer report is the change in 2004 from MTBE to ethanol.  For many who don’t know, and for those that do not remember, MTBE was the additive to California gasoline to reduce pollution as demanded by the environmental movement.  In 1990, with a large amount of money, and huge political activism, environmentalists lobbied the U.S. to amend the Clean Air Act requiring 2% oxygenating additives (typically MTBE) to lower pollution.  The cost of refining gas for use in California went up and so did the taxes on gas to help pay for the increased bureaucracy required to monitor compliance.

Now like most things driven by ideology, a number of years later the same environmental factions now came forward to demand the removal of MTBE from our CA gas as it was polluting the environment (it had been found in high concentrations in the water table of Lake Tahoe and in the water table).  So once again Californians had to foot an increase in the cost of gas as a result of this change and an increase in the cost of the additive (ethanol) as well as an increase in the bureaucracy to manage compliance—oh and let’s not forget increase in fees and taxes. So far I have yet to see an acceptance of responsibility for the initial inclusion of MTBE in the first place, no offer to pay for the removal, and no apology for the mistake from those that promoted the MTBE solution in the first place! (If you would like to read an interesting article on this read MTBE: A PRECAUTIONARY TALE by Thomas O. McGarity, June, 2004 in the Harvard Environmental Law Review)

On a side note, you will also be hearing how the profits made in California by the evil oil companies surpass the national average!  Well the percentage is actually less but the price per gallon is a lot more, so of course the total dollars will be higher.  Further, the costs of operating a business in California are intrinsically higher due to higher labor, infrastructure, legal, regulatory and insurance costs.  When you look at all the costs, what is surprising is that overall California gasoline retailers, distributors and refiners have fought to lower their costs significantly over 27% since 2004.  Not the work of evil geniuses!

The Law of Supply and Demand

Recently, some news outlets are questioning why since the general demand for gas and oil in the U.S. is down significantly and we have had a surplus in supply; prices are still rising—not falling as predicted by the law of supply and demand.  Welcome to the One World Economy.  There are those in the progressive movement, evidently our President included, that have long desired the U.S. to become a member of the One World vision—a One World Economy.  For the past 20 years, much of Europe has been experimenting with this grand vision of utopian fairness.  Looking at the status of Europe today, particularly Greece, France, Italy, and Spain one would really want to ask how this is working out for the citizens of those countries!

The problem with the One World Economy is now supply and demand for our U.S. refined products, regardless of their in-ground point of origin, is based on demand anywhere in the world.  One can take a narrow view and determine that oil refined in the U.S. should stay in the U.S. but economically that doesn’t work because when “evil” oil companies ship this product to other markets, that will pay a higher price, it is actually a good thing for the economy because the U.S. adds revenue to its export sales, reducing the amount of money we need to print to pay for our international purchasing deficit.  We must remember that the U.S. is a net importer of products; therefore more of our dollars flow out of the U.S. than we get back in sales of our goods and services outside of the country.

As an example, suppose you live in a house with your wife and one child.  Your mortgage is $1,000 per month, your other expenses are $1,000 per month, you and your wife both work and you both get paid $1,500 per month.  You are selling your services in excess of what you are spending and each month you gain real asset value of $1,000 each month.  Let’s assume one of you loses your job.  Now, each month you are buying $500.00 more in goods and services than you are taking in.  All things being equal you can do this for twice the amount of time of when you were both working. When you get to the point that you have spent all the money you accumulated (saved), you look in your checkbook and see you still have checks.  So you keep writing them.  It won’t be long before someone comes and knocks on your door.  We have for the last fifty years been ignoring this very  problem of just writing checks because they were in the book and now have a $12 trillion accumulated trade deficit and have over $16 trillion in currency in circulation.  Not only is this a big problem for our general economy, it is a big problem when it comes to commodities that have real tangible value like gasoline and oil.

Since we eliminated the international gold standard in 1972, countries whose economy is based on net exports of predominantly tangible goods and services (like manufacturing and raw materials production) have currencies, like China’s Yuan, that are based on increasingly real tangible values.  The U.S. economy, being a net importer, with little manufacturing and raw production, has an economy whose currency is more and more based on intangible, perceived value like debt against real estate or financial securities.  While the U.S. dollar is still the benchmark currency, perception of many in the world is changing.  Oil is perhaps now the single most valued commodity—not in price per se but in need.  Its price, like gold before it, is set by world demand. There are those who argue that “petrol dollars” should become the new world benchmark.  In other words it would be the new gold standard.  The day that the dollar is replaced, the U.S. currency will simply get crushed! If you think gas is expensive now…

So companies selling products today have an interesting problem when it comes to U.S. customers.  They can take their production and sell it to us and get paid in a currency that has a total amount of money in circulation of $16 trillion dollars with arguably a real tangible value of only $5 to $6 trillion. Remember they will be selling this valuable commodity to a country that each year is buying much more than it is selling so the tangible value of the assets backing its dollar are continuing to slide down or, they can sell them to China whose currency is now internationally recognized, is relatively stable, and is backed by a constantly increasing national asset base due to huge net exports and low manufacturing costs.  Barring a simply patriotic reason, most will sell to the increasing asset value country.

Drill Baby Drill

We can increase domestic production, we can drill more, and we will find that we will reduce local prices somewhat.  While the President says, that drilling will not solve the problem, he is not telling the whole truth.  We can’t mildly increase our production; if we do then he is correct.  We have to significantly increase production to have the effect we seek. The break-point for lowing domestic costs is when we get enough production to reduce the dependency on foreign oil to such a level that the vagaries of their price gaming become meaningless.  There are enough oil reserves in the U.S., with existing technologies to get to it, to replace most, if not all, reliance on foreign sources.  What is necessary to get there, is time and the will of the people.  Unfortunately, we are coming to the point when we simply must face the reality that while protection of the environment is a noble goal it cannot be the only, or preeminent, factor in all our decisions on the energy issue.

Finding alternative sources for energy is definitely a necessary step and is a proper goal.  But, the solutions found in the alternate sources, can neither cost more than the available domestic oil, gas and coal sources, nor can they require us to collect taxes from some, or all, to subsidize the price to pay for us to use it.  Following the subsidized route as we are increasingly doing in this and other industries, is the height of lunacy.  The money we need can no longer come out of thin air as it has for the past forty years.  Taking money from ‘us’ to pay for purchases by ‘us’ from ‘us’ is not only a zero sum game, it is simply increasing our costs as a nation and making us further uncompetitive with other nations who in turn are happy to produce the goods that we can actually afford to buy.  In the end, we will at the same point we are right now with gas and oil today.  We can produce it, but we just can’t afford to buy it.  So then we have to sell it to countries that can afford it like China.

Do you think we will ever learn?

Headline screams – Once-hot profits may be cooling for big business: Is there more to the story?

Associated Press reporter, Bernard Condon, wrote an interesting piece this morning. My local paper, the San Ramon Valley Times, headline was “Once-hot profits may be cooling for big business.” The US. News and Word Report picked up the article as, “Corporate profits aren’t what they seem.” The subtitle is the telling point.  Growth appears to ebb as firms find less to cut, dollar strengthens.

This is a good article because the author correctly brings to light that the once mighty engine of America’s prosperity is faltering.  It is not a great article because the author misses the real cause of the decline in profits, and like most others,misses the point that we critically need to understand in order to rectify the real problem. America’s prosperity engine faltered quite a while ago.  We have been living on years of the banks and the Federal Reserve, steadily increasing the amounts of money in circulation with no regard for real value.  While many of us feel like we have prospered because we have continued to get more money and buy more stuff, the amount of our “prosperity” has not kept up with our spending and has left us a very large hole to fill.  As my brother-in-law, who was a farmer and a waterman, used to say, “It ain’t no good to want them Cadillacs when you can barely afford one of them Ford Pintos.”

As you have seen me report many times before.  We have raised the total amount of money in circulation from $500 billion in 1972 to over $16 trillion today with no real and equal corresponding increase in the total asset value of the U.S. As a result, we have drastically increased the perception of constantly rising profits, because we have simply increased the amount of the benchmark item, U.S. Dollars, that we use to measure our worth.  Lest we start to think that perhaps we really have increased the relative net worth of all the value of the U.S. in excess of thirty-five times since 1972, let us remember that we have been buying from other countries much more than we have sold to the other countries since 1972 accumulating over $12 trillion in trade deficits.  In other words, our collective house spent $12 trillion more than it took in in the same period.

Thank God for the banks, huh? Their ten-to-one fractional-reserve lending system, and the Fed’s ability to just inject whatever amount of cash was necessary into the banks to make everyone feel like they were earning more money and getting richer has really saved the day—don’t you think?.  Without the drastic program of printing new money with no governing checks and balances, we would have faulted long ago—right?  It’s just a great thing that they could keep printing money with no real tie to tangible values—wasn’t it?

So in case you did not clearly get the sarcasm… NO,  it was not good!  In fact, our economy did fault long ago.  We have been living on dreams, wishes and baseless valuations for at least forty years. Depending on how you consider the issues, the problems that caused our decline could be argued to trace back almost seventy years.

In order to conceptually grasp the issue let us simplify the problem.  Let us go back in time to when there were just a few settlements in America.  In this hypothetical example I will use a place near and dear to my heart, St. Mary’s, Maryland founded in 1632.  In our hypothetical example, the year is now 1636.  The colony has grown to 100 people.  The money was Maryland dollars that were acceptable in England at an exchange rate set in agreement between the King and Lord Calvert—the founder of the Maryland Colony. (yes, I know this is not historically accurate, none of it is, this is all made up to illustrate a point).  There were only a total of $10,000 printed Maryland dollars available to the residents of St. Mary’s, there was no credit, no electronic money, and no barter.

Since they had been living in the area, they had been focused on building out their community.  As such, they had harvested resources like trees, clay, iron, etc., and converted those into lumber, bricks and nails to build their structures.  They had planted and harvested crops, hunted and raised animals for food and generally eked out a basic existence. While they had been able to make many things, they had had to purchase as many more through Lord Calvert’s Maryland Company to vendors back in England. Items like dishes, glasses and tankards, patent medicines, fine tools, cloth, clothing, and many others had to be ordered and shipped from other countries to the Maryland colonists.

Since they had been completely consumed with building the infrastructure they need for basic survival, they had yet to develop any industry.  They had , as yet, had no excess production of any kind and as such they had been sending their money to England to pay for their goods and, had not sold anything to England to bring these dollars back to the colony. Pretty soon, the colony had spent almost the entirety of their $10,000 Maryland dollars in England and there were only a few hundred Maryland dollars left collectively among all the colonists.

The leaders in St. Mary’s called a meeting of the town to discuss what to do about the pending disaster.  In the meeting a member of the town council, Mr. John Connally—a pig farmer and great speaker, suggested they use their last $300.00 to buy a printing press.  Then they could print more dollars and they would be able to pay for more goods in England and avoid the pending crisis. Since, Mr Connally’s words were so well spoken and the solutions seemed so simple almost all immediately agreed. All, that is, except Mr. Burns—a clerk, who said that he was concerned that this would not work.  As he began to explain his concern, the Governor, Mr. Nixon, interrupted him, told him they would proceed with the purchase since the majority had agreed, and that Mr. Burns would now report directly to Mr. Connally with any of his concerns.  Mr. Connally would not longer be a pig-farmer, he  would now be in charge of all the money.

The printing press was ordered from the Gutenberg company in Germany, it arrived in time and all seemed to be working perfectly.  Mr. Connally, no longer a pig farmer was now the chairman of the central bank and was printing money as fast as it was needed.  The new money was going to England to buy goods and everything looks just hunky dory. By about the third purchase of goods in England, with about $2,000 in new money printed and sent to England to pay for the purchases, the settlers were informed that the prices of the goods were going up by 25%.  No matter, said Mr. Connally, I will print us some more money and again all will be right with the world. A few months later, another $2,000 is put in circulation, more goods are purchased and the price once again increased by 25%.  Again, Mr. Connally printed $2,000 more, they bought even more goods and the prices went up another 25%.

Every time, they got to the point that only $300.00 was remaining, Mr. Connally printed another $2000. All the people were happy!  They had been able to buy bigger windows, more and better china, flat screen TVs, new sound systems, GPS for their fishing boats and buggies.  They were starting to really feel like they had finally arrived.  With all the building and purchasing they still had not gotten around to producing much to sell back to England.  In fact, they now wanted to get some indentured servants to do the manual labor because working in the fields, on the water, in the brick yards, and the forests, was hard dirty work and the constant tracking of dirt and grime into their new larger and much finer homes was making their new furniture, and clothing dirty, uncomfortable, and it wore out much faster. The women-folk were getting tired of keeping up these bigger homes and their nice clothing really did not lend it self to domestic work.  They wanted more time to get together with the other women-folk to discuss new ways to improve their lives even further. It became fait a’ compli that now that they had money, they could simply get some immigrant workers to do all the hard and dirty work.  Getting these indentured servants from other countries, who will be glad just to get out of their slums, would free the colonists and their wives to focus on this productivity thing, that they needed to do, and they wouldn’t have their fine homes and goods soiled and and their wives wouldn’t get so worn out. Evey one was much happier!

Sometime in early 1639, Lord Calvert was informed that his company had in their safe $26,700 Maryland Dollars.  Lord Calvert was now very concerned because he had no idea where the extra money came from.  His deal with the crown was that Maryland could have $10,000 and the King would back that against 10,000 ounces of gold.  That meant that each Maryland Dollar was worth one ounce of gold.  The King only provided the 10,000 ounces of gold, no more and no less. Calvert was responsible for any other costs.  As the Marylander’s demand for goods increased, the vendors in England charged more so he was getting less and spending more dollars, this was a big problem because the difference was coming out of his pocket.  His accounts were in effect making up the short fall and he was losing big money.  Let’s take a look at his calculations;

Lord Calvert’s Accounting

Date Maryland $ Kings Gold in oz. Exchange Rate in oz. of Gold Demand Price Inflation Lord Calvert’s Loss in Gold oz.
1632  $  10,000.00    10,000.00 1.00 0  0.00
1634  $  10,000.00    10,000.00 1.00 0  0.00
1636  $  12,000.00    10,000.00 0.83 25%     5,000.00
1640  $  17,600.00    10,000.00 0.57 95%   12,000.00
1642  $  26,700.00    10,000.00 0.37 209%   23,375.00

So Lord Calvert books the first ship he can find to come visit the good citizens of Maryland and find out what the hell is going on.  When he gets there he finds out about the press, the the leaders decisions.  He is told by the citizens about how great everything is going.  He sees that they have bigger houses, servants, Flat Screens, GPS systems, he is told how all this is helping production.  He sees the new servants toiling away and while he initially was pissed, he starts to see that it may all work out.  Feeling comfortable, he books passage back to England, and tells his partners and the King don’t worry these guys got it all together.  This is going to be just great!  You should see all the fine stuff they have, all the people working in the fields and factories.  They are going to do just great.  We will have so much new stuff to sell back here in England, we will all be rich!

Then the goods start to arrive from Maryland; tobacco, corn, pork bellies, cotton, iron, and many more.  Initially, the people of England purchase everything they can get because it is all new and hey, it is from Maryland and everybody knows those guys got it goin’ on! But then it all starts to unravel.  First with tobacco.  New plantations in other places, like Virginia, start to grow more of it.  And their quality is just as good and the cost is much cheaper because they are not paying the laborers as much. Soon no one wants to buy Maryland tobacco. Rapidly the costing problem extends to the other products as well.  Fisheries, Lumber, Grain, Steel, Textiles, Oil, and the other core exports from Maryland stop selling because they are too expensive.  Even the people in Maryland are importing some of the same goods from the other places because they cant afford to buy the stuff they are producing.  And it is all getting paid with the dollars they are freely printing.

The next thing Lord Calvert knows, no one wants Maryland goods nor Maryland dollars. They all want to redeem their Maryland dollars for something that has real value. Now, there are over $934,500 Maryland dollars in circulation around the world and Lord Calvert has to come up with gold, or something just as valuable, to pay everybody back for the now worthless dollars they have. When all is said and done he has to come up with 1,158,124 ounces of gold, plus he has to pay back the King an additional 10,000 ounces of gold plus interest.  Lord Calvert feels perfectly and totally screwed!

He agrees to “lend” the Marylanders the gold to pay for the debt.  Since he is on the hook anyway he has no real choice.  The Marylanders agree to pay taxes to Lord Calvert and to  pay all the money back with interest.  And where does the money come from?

Mr. Connally prints it—of course!

For this fictional Maryland story, as you can imagine, there is no happy ending!

Since in the last 50 years America has purchased $12 trillion more in goods than we have sold, you need to ask yourself one more question.

“Where did all the reported large profits in recent years actually come from?”

To quote the famous song,

There was a farmer had a dog, And Bingo was his name-o.

California AB171 & AB254: And we wonder why healthcare costs in CA continue to increase?

One of the largest drains on every states budget is healthcare cost.  California has historically been in the top of state healthcare expenditures due largely to its past of providing one of the most generous sets of program benefits in the country.  Both Governor Brown and Secretary Dooley deserve a tremendous amount of credit for acknowledging the mounting problem of healthcare costs and taking steps to begin the process of addressing it.

Healthcare costs in the U.S. are estimated to top $3 trillion this year.  That is a significant increase from the estimated $2.4 trillion in 2009.  The Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka Obamacare, is supposed to be lowering the costs and improving efficiencies for healthcare.  While it can be argued, and it has vociferously, that it is early in the process and the projected savings will begin in the next four to five years, there are some significant indicators from the administration in Washington DC that more and more of the promised savings will not happen.  This will spell further disaster for states like California that already shoulder a disproportionate share of the healthcare burden of our population.

Before we can discuss AB154 and AB171, let’s review some broader recent decisions and data that have a direct impact on California’s projected healthcare costs.

Part of the plan to afford the care under the Affordable Care Act was to appropriate revenue from the purchase of healthcare and penalties for non-purchase of policies.  The governing method to assess the fees and assure collection was the IRS.  Within months of its passage the government had to admit that the idea of the IRS administering this program’s revenue would not work and that segment of the legislation was repealed.  This now begs the question how will this revenue be assured?

As we are all painfully aware, there is some disagreement over whether or not the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to purchase insurance is constitutional.  Scholars, pundits, and constitutional lawyers on both sides are already at polar opposites over the issue with each side quoting chapter and verse as to why, or why not, it will be upheld or declared unconstitutional. The reason for the gulf in the interpretation of the underlying law is its base on a prime case called Wickard v. Filburn from 1942 that started the justification for the federal government’s expansion into what had prior been clearly state jurisdiction.  Any non-lawyer’s reading of the case simply defies common sense—this will be a very sticky wicket indeed. If the Supreme Court declares the mandate unconstitutional then much of the insurance reform inherent in the bill falls apart. Another large segment of projected saving will revert to increased expenses ultimately burdening the state both directly and indirectly.

The U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, has recently ruled that the CLASS Act—a segment of the bill that was designed to expand options for people who become functionally disabled and required long-term services and support—is not affordable by the definition under the act and therefore it has been suspended.  Where will these costs fall if the federal government stimulates the expectation but fails to provide the funding?

A major part of the projected savings was though the requirements of Accountable Care Organizations (ACO’s).  In the bill they were projected to provide a savings of approximately $333 million per year, or just about $1 billion over three years. The CBO recently announced the results of a 20 year study focused on disease management and value based payment methods that fundamentally negate most, if not all, of the assumption on which these projected savings were based. In fact the study indicates they will potentially increase costs.

Another main point of the Affordable Care Act was to eliminate treatment disparity.  Who wants to argue for disparity? No one!  But even CA Secretary of Health and Human Services, Dianna Dooley, has said publically that “…we all need to get used to the idea that disparities will exist.”  I commend her for this statement because it is unequivocally true.  There is a basic law of diminishing returns that says that you will spend 80% of your money trying to arrest 20% of the problems.

Another key segment area of the ACA savings plan is Insurance Rebates. The act maintains that it has teeth to control the insurance industry profits because of its ability to mandate rebates for fees in excess of the medical loss ratio that the U.S. Secretary of HHS sets.  In the first place, the rebate amount is a mere trifle compared to the $3 trillion national expense.  More importantly, rebates have been mandated by the federal and state governments of Pharma for years.  Rebates do not lower costs at all.  Rebates in this bad play are methods to redirect money from the general consumers of the products, prescription drugs in this case, to other areas that the federal government, or the state, wants to spend them.  They do nothing but increase the cost in an arbitrary and specious way and obscure the real cost of care in America.  If monies flow in payments to the drug companies, and then flow back to the states, and the states, like California, can redirect these monies back to the programs or the general fund to fund more patients, it amounts to nothing more and a consumption tax.  A look at the California budget shows that about ½ of the drug spend for some programs comes through mandated rebates.  Sure this is a good thing for the participants in the programs, if like California the moneys flow back to services—not all states do this, some pay for other infrastructures—but it is not good for understanding the real impact of these programs economically as the myriad of convoluted funds flow become impossible to track or account effectively.  Frankly, the $3 trillion in health costs for the U.S. is not likely even close to $3 trillion because it is an unintelligible mix of both invoice pricing and actual reimbursement payments.  And for those who do not know, a healthcare provider typically is getting reimbursed from eleven cents on the dollar to twenty-two cents on the dollar for services they bill—and they seldom can predict the amount.

Yet another key segment of savings under ACA was the premise that hospital readmissions will reduce.  The plan is to select a series of specific disease states and for the government to begin to select measures that will allow for adjustment, read penalties, to hospitals that have higher than the selected measures for readmission.  Houston, we have a problem.  One of the biggest drivers of healthcare cost is age related illnesses.  Since 1964, when we created Medicare and Medicaid, the lifespan has increased from about 70 years old to almost 83 years old today.  The effect of this increased lifespan has been to significantly increase the cost of care in one’s life and shift the cost curve of lifetime health expenses to our last few years of existence. A recent Kaiser study now indicates that almost 85% of our lifetime expense for healthcare will be made in the last 5 years of life—and the trend is still increasing.  We are aging, our culture of how we manage our elderly relatives has shifted from family responsibility to outsourced solutions (nursing homes), and we now are more focused on quality of life than just life as the basis for our expectation of care.

Let’s stay on the topic of re-admissions for another moment because this is a big one.  One of the assumptions that drive the belief that we can reap savings by setting measures and penalties is that and assumption is that the reason for the readmission is that hospitals get more money for readmissions. As a result, they are not doing much, or enough, to improve the outcomes in the first place.  But this is a false assumption for many reasons.  To illustrate the issue, let’s discuss Hospital Acquired Infections.  The premise is that Hospitals are sloppy or slipping when it comes to hygiene and if they simply do a better job following antiseptic protocols to reduce infection, then these unnecessary costs will go down.  The people drawing this conclusion do so from the basis that healthcare is more of a cause and effect system, a static system, where we have fixed cures for most of what affects us.  This is one of the main cores of why we keep thinking we can make progress if we just keep doing X process more and better…. But the problem is, the practice of healthcare, after all, actually is largely a war with other species (bacteria, viruses, and other complex pathogens), a war with our environment, (accidents, violence, and pollution) and also a war with ourselves (diet, exercise, work habits, and sleep). From time to time, we can see gains for ourselves in these battles, but our mortality assures us that we will all eventually lose the war. Basic biology and the laws of nature have stacked the deck against us. Innovations in technology, science, and medication have helped many of us delay the day of our ultimate surrender, but these advances have also fostered the false belief that no price is too high to pay for an extra day or week of life. Related to infections, we are losing this war as our chemical and biological weapons have continued to become less and less effective. The protagonists, other species, have evolved resistance to our weapons and the remaining available chemistries’ at our disposal have become more toxic to us who take them. Hospital readmissions will likely continue to increase.

Lastly, ACA relies heavily on projected savings from the mandate of conversion to Electronic Health Records (EHR’s).  While EHRs are a good thing and will very likely improve patient outcomes, any projected savings, should they even materialize, will be negligible.  How can I predict this so definitively?  If you look at where the healthcare dollar is spent only about 12 cents is spent in administrative costs today as it is.  The percentage that may be gained in efficiency from conversion to electronic records will likely be 10% to 20% of that number which would yield about 1.2 cents, to 2.4 cents, for every healthcare dollar.  The current plan for EHRs does nothing to change the current HIPPA regulations and as such the sharing or coordination of care though the transportability of these records between providers and sponsors is very expensive and practically prohibitive.  The application of technology has always been made with the promise of increased productivity and lower costs but an honest assessment of the past 40 years shows that overall lower cost and significant gains in productivity are the exception not the rule.

The largest cost drivers, where EHRs could have a major influence, are in the areas of duplicated services, defensive medicine, fraud, and abuse.  By many estimates, on both sides of the political spectrum, only about 33 cents of the governmental healthcare dollar is realized in services—about 60 cents is lost in these areas.  There is little debate on this total number across the aisles.  There is large debate as to whether the costs are larger in the fraud and abuse area or in the duplicated services/defensive medicine areas.  This debate is moot as EHRs could have the potential to drastically reduce these aggregate costs if, and only if, they are coupled with mandated coordination of care and benefits across all available sources.  By the way, I don’t mean single payer.   Single payer is a great sound bite but the term likely does not really describe what people are seeking.  Do we really want all care to come from a governmental source—eliminating choice, volunteer treatment, faith based programs, non-profits, philanthropic sources, corporate sources, etc.?  When I have had this discussion with various legislators, both state and federal, the answer invariably has become; well no, of course not!  What most really seem to want, and what is necessary to make this all work, is a central point of administration with the ability to connect the providers around the patient as the center point in a kind of virtual care team.  This is relatively inexpensive, does not initially even require full HER implementation to achieve significant savings, and provides a great role for state government to play.

With this as a backdrop, we come to the last big issue facing why healthcare is continuously increasing in cost and the issues with AB154 and AB171 drastically put at risk California’s healthcare future.  AB154 is legislation recently approved by the Assembly that will require private insurers to cover diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses (it appears all mental illnesses on the books).  AB171 requires coverage of developmental diseases such as autism.  The Assembly also approved legislation to cover oral chemotherapy and mammography regardless of age.  While I applaud the sentiment, these kinds of actions that constantly increase the overall coverage of anything, and everything, which can ever affect anyone as they perpetuate their long risky walk through life to older and older age, in conjunction with the items previously discussed, are setting California up for a perfect storm.  As the ACA projections continue to fall apart and as the federal cost for healthcare programs like Medicare and Medicaid continue to increase, states like California will be left in the crosshairs of larger expectations for treatment and less, perhaps no, federal money to pay for it. Already the president refers to Medicaid as a state program.  I guess he forgets that both Medicare and Medicaid are just parts of the federal Social Security Act of 1964.  Of course, the states consider this a federal program and due to the increasing drain on state budgets some are trying to figure out how they can again opt out of this federal program.

Our largest issues come down to the following things.  We no longer truly insure health care to preserve basic life.  More and more we are requiring insurance to cover “quality of life.”  We have extended though technological gains the amount of time we can spend on the planet to the point that we are now on average way beyond the period where our bodily systems effectively fight the healthcare war.  As we have gained the additional ten more years of life from the past forty years of technical and medical accomplishments, we have moved into a new reality that to preserve our quality of life during this extended period we are consuming consuming more and more of our resources.  Unfortunately, much of what programs like Medicare and Medicaid are now paying for are not the actual costs of care.  They are paying for the things we purchased during the former years to improve our quality of life way beyond the realm of healthcare.  These programs are really funding the earlier purchases of larger screen flat panel televisions, vacations, 2nd homes, new cars.  They fund the things that, prior to 1964, we typically did not purchase because we knew we needed the money for our elderly rainy day funds.  We were worried that we would need to pay for the catastrophic accidents and illnesses that fate dictated we would face as we aged. Today we are all free to make these lifestyle purchases because the threat of elder catastrophe is now covered by entitlement.

This is not an argument to go back to the way it was, not an argument to eliminate these programs, not an argument that we should die earlier.  I know of no one that wants to see people die younger, suffer more, or live in destitution.  The point of this article is to bring to the front the dilemma.  It is here we need to develop a better dialog and, as Ben Franklin said, “find compromise, through tolerance.”  It is here we also need to start to focus our hard decisions on where personal responsibility ends and our safety net begin.  Until we do this, California faces the coming perfect storm and like all other state will likely face it alone without federal help.  The decisions we make on items like AB154 & AB171 while laudable are significantly increasing expectations and hence our risk of future economic collapse.  Remember it was Albert Einstein who said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  Wait, is this why AB154 is being passed?

I commend the Governor and the Secretary for their effort to begin to address this dialog.  While there are many who want to lay blame for everything at their feet, I find in both inappropriate and counterproductive.  Both have had long records of public service.  Both began, perhaps, more on the side of idealism but they have each arrived at pragmatism based on hard one experience and dedication to effective solutions.  I can’t think of any I would rather have trying to help California move these issues forward.  That said it is time we all begin to recognize the depth and diversity of the problems, reset our expectations and all become responsible for the solutions!

Delusional Ravings of a Lunatic Mind receives good reviews!

Praise for the Delusional Ravings of a Lunatic Mind

“Outstanding reasoning. I was surprised to find out you weren’t a lawyer in the middle of the text. It is chock full of interesting insights and observations.”
–Kyle Becker, Author and Publisher of Rogue Government Blog

“Wow, You have too much common sense!.”
–James P. Finn, Author and Publisher of Thought Continue reading

Ron Paul:The Republican’s Pall

Recent Pitts Article

Perhaps it is just me, and apologies to those Ron Paul supporters out there, but I do not understand the fascination with him as a candidate.  Yes, there are things he says that I agree with, but there are also many things he says that I find, quite frankly, astounding. Yes, he has a number of concrete plans, but his unbending ideology takes his positions to a ludicrous (I don’t mean the rapper–Ludicris) level.  Yes, he is a non-Romney candidate but given his positions in some areas you could say the same about Michael Moore. Because in some cases, I am not sure I can find much difference in the level of both extremes. I am not saying he and Michael Moore share the same views, just that often I see Mr. Paul taking his ideas to the same level of incredulity.

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

In a article by Leonard Pitts Jr., Ron Paul’s consistency doesn’t make him right, He sums up what it is about Ron Paul that has confounded me for so long.  I am fiscally conservative and often socially moderate and given the correct circumstances, sometimes socially liberal.  So I should be attracted by a committed Libertarian, but in this case I am not. To confound the problem, I don’t understand how he could have rated so high in Iowa. While there is an old joke that Iowa stands for “Idiots Out Walking Around,” I know many people in Iowa and I have traveled there many times over the years and conducted business in Iowa as well. I find the people of Iowa to be highly intelligent, dedicated, perhaps slightly more conservative, and very hard working. In short, I see nothing that would explain to me why so many have gravitated to someone who is often so far in the extreme.

I find myself in agreement with Mr. Pitts.  Something that is not a common occurrence.  This in itself gives me pause!  But Mr. Pitts summed up my exact sentiments about Ron Paul when he said, “Ralph Waldo Emerson, meet Ronald Ernest Paul. He is the very soul of a foolish consistency. Meaning that he is willing, often to a fault, to follow his ideology to its logical and most extreme conclusions.”

I also do not find some of the extremes of Ron Paul to be that conservative.  I know a few other very conservative people who refer to Ron Paul as really one of the most “liberal” people in the presidential race, some proclaim he is to the left of President Obama in many areas.  I am not sure that I would draw the same conclusions. I do, however, think his brand of extremism is more than confusing; it is at least very risky–perhaps even dangerous. It is in any event at least dangerous for the Republican party.

One pundit last night suggested that perhaps Iowans were sending a message to the Republican leadership. Well if so, it is to my way of thinking a very problematic message.  This election, more so than any others in recent history, will be decided by independents, and moderates in both parties.  Non-Republicans, and some Republican moderates, tend to worry about the extreme views of the Republican party and the potential extreme conservative segments of its platform, just as non-Democrats and Democratic moderates then tend to worry about the extreme liberal segments of the Democratic platform.

Sending such a message and ignoring Paul’s foolish consistency in the areas of civil rights, Iran and their nuclear ambition, and the recognition that there are some areas where the federal government must play a role to promote the general welfare, if in fact that is what is being done, is not going to go far toward endearing independents and moderates to the benefits of a Republican executive branch and congress.  Not since the period of the 1880s to the early 1900s have we seen such a divided ideological ocean between the parties.  With it has come a broad distrust of the professional political class and significant suspicion as to motivation and potential corruption in their platforms and agendas.

In the end, Ron Paul’s finish in the race last night in a virtual dead heat with Romney and Santorum worry’s me.  If the Republican party members in the U.S. now are willing to accept such a level of foolish consistency in their candidate in order to adhere to other desired ideals, we will run the risk of ignominious defeat in the presidential election.  Independents and moderates will likely see Republicans as a party driven so far by  ideology that these key voters will not be able to accept their perceived risk of this foolish consistency.

Perhaps the pundits are correct and Iowa is a Paul anomaly, and as we move through the remaining caucuses he will once again fade into history as did James G. Blaine in the election of 1884 or Alton B. Parker in 1904.  If not, I fear, in about one year, we will be recalling the Paul pall of 2012.

Heaven on our Minds: Politics as usual.

The following is written with all respect to Andrew Lloyd Webber….

I would suggest you read as you listen and then perhaps listen again as you read the lyrics below.  That way you may get a better flavor of the utter absurdity.

Today I went for one of my periodical walks. Something my wife constantly advocates for and something I typically find very low on the priority list much to her justifiable chagrin. But being a student of the esteemed barrister, Horace Rumpole, who practiced his art in the ‘Old Bailey’ and recited the humorous and often very insightful words penned by his creator John Mortimer, I learned a long time ago it is best to be mindful of our wives as “She, who must be obeyed”. So, with that in mind, and when I feel the real need to clear my mind, on occasions I will take a walk.

During my walk today I decided to listen to songs from my iPhone. This is also something that is very rare as I am finding more and more as I get older, there are certain habits that I am just not assimilating. Listening to music in some sonic cocoon as I move through my day is not an activity where I have found comfort. In fact I was about to turn the music off when one of the random songs—isn’t shuffle a wonderful thing?—played that I have not heard in quite a while.

Years ago a friend of mine named John Colleary and I were scheduled to take two beautiful women to see the premier of Jesus Christ Superstar at the newly opened Kennedy Center in Washington DC. Being in high school, and growing up in St. Mary’s County, we were of the opinion that to go to the theater required high fashion. We were to rent tuxes and the girls were to wear their finest long dresses to attend this Saturday afternoon matinée.
Providence, being what it is, my friend John driving home from a party the weekend before decided he was a herpetologist and as such was capable of picking up a snake off the highway at 11:30 at night. I am sure he was not drinking and alcohol played no part because we were law abiding respectful youths at this period of our life and of course as such would not drink!

So in his non-inebriated state, John the newly anointed herpetologist tried to pick up a copperhead in the black of night off of the black road bed. Needless to say, the copperhead got the better of the situation as his eyes were not clouded by the dark or the presence of alcohol—excuse me no alcohol, that John may have—excuse me HAD NOT, imbibed.
This action inured to my benefit. By the time the long awaited trip to see JCSS came John was still in the hospital trying not to lose his finger from the swelling and threatening gangrene. In the best redneck tradition, I did what any good friend would! I took his girlfriend and mine to the theater.

Picture this, a pimply faced, redneck kid from St. Mary’s County, dressed in a rented tuxedo, waking up the steps to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts with two strikingly beautiful women in evening gowns, one on each of his arms—for a Saturday matinée. Yep!!! We were the only people dressed up. Despite this momentary fit of panic and embarrassment I quickly took note that those around us were trying to figure out who this kid could be with the two gorgeous companions. I rapidly regained my composure and we strutted in to see the performance. Needless to say, I enjoyed the experience immensely and it is one of the fonder memories of my youth.

So why is this important? What does it have to do with my walk? Well I’ll tell you…. The song that made its random appearance was “Heaven on Their Minds,” by the writer of Jesus Christ Superstar, Andrew Lloyd Webber. This was one of my favorite songs from the play, and I always have felt it was one of Barron Weber’s better efforts (he was knighted by the queen I think).

It immediately struck me that these lyrics were particularly apropos in this current political season. You see you can take the name of Jesus out of the song and replace it with any of the presidential contenders and you get a very appropriate story. It works for the current occupant of the casa blanca, as the Spanish call the White House. So with apologies to Sir Webber I have rewritten his lyrics. I chose to use the current president and some of the republican contenders just to show you how prescient it may be and how ludicrous our current system has become.

Click the player above and read the altered lyrics below along with the song. Make up your own if you want. Perhaps if we try to find some humor in the situation a solution will reveal itself. We can only hope.

My mind is clearer now
At last
All too well
I can see
Where we all
Soon will be
If you strip away
The myth
From the man
You will see
Where we all
Soon will be

Obama!
You’ve started to believe
The things they say of you
You really do believe
This talk of God is true

And all the good you’ve done
Will soon be swept away
You’ve begun to matter more
Than the things you say

Listen Gingritch
I don’t like what I see
All I ask is that you listen to me
And remember
You’ve been your right hand man all along
You have set them all on fire
They think they’ve found the new Messiah
And they’ll hurt you when they find they’re wrong

I remember when this Cain thing began
No talk of God then, we called him a man
And believe me
Our admiration for him hasn’t died
But every word he said that day
Got twisted ’round some other way
And they dumped him cause’ they think he lied

Romney our most famous son
Seems to-have have stayed a great unknown
Like his father making cars
He’d have made good
Rambler, Nash and AMC
Would have suited Mitt the best
He’d have caused nobody harm
No one alarm

Listen Bachmann, do you care for your race?
Don’t you see we must keep in our place?
We are occupied
Have you forgotten — one percent we are…?
I am frightened by the crowds
For they are getting much too loud
And they’ll crush us if we go too far
If we go too far

Listen Perry to the warning I give
Please remember that I want us to live
But it’s sad to see your chances weakening with ev’ry hour
All your followers are blind
Too much Ron Paul on their minds
It was beautiful, but now it’s sour
Yes it’s all gone sour
Ah — ah ah ah — ah
God with Obama, it’s all gone sour

Listen People to the warning I give
Please remember that I want us to live
So come on, come on, listen to us.
Ah — ah
Come on, listen, listen to us.
Come on and listen to us.
Ah — ah

Do you think the Andrew Lloyd Webber was having a vision of our destruction in the 60’s? Perhaps that is why the Queen knighted him in 1992. Maybe this is all a British plot to get back the colonies? Maybe Barak Obama is the Manchurian candidate after all—Maybe Ron Paul is the love child of Twiggy and Prince Charles. That could explain the slim physique, different viewpoint and ears!
Nahhhhh. Even England would not want us back at this point. They have enough problems of their own!

Latest Book: Delusional Ravings of A Lunatic Mind by Tom Loker

new book by Tom Loker

As I wait for the eventual completion of my book on health care, currently in rewrite, I have put together a book of my best articles from this past year on this blog. The book is now available as an e-pub on Kindle and Amazon and others in the growing list below. (check back here as the list grows) The paperback version will be available in the next few weeks so stay tuned. I will put up the various links as they become available.

We put this book together for those of you how like the blog and Tom’s articles to share with your friends and relatives. And if you don’t like Tom’s writings we would like to point out this book will also make a great gift for those people you don’t like as well! Inside the pages you will find articles about healthcare, history, politics, the economy and a few creative pieces centered on St. Mary’s County Maryland, where Tom grew up. We do hope you enjoy the the stories!

e-Book Links:

Amazon – Kindle http://www.amazon.com/dp/B006G2Q9OC

Barns & Noble – Nook http://tinyurl.com/7cg9mew

Powell’s Books http://tinyurl.com/83ven8p

Diesel Bookstore http://tinyurl.com/74agmps

eBookMall http://tinyurl.com/7jbhl9s

Printed Book Links

Just released to print… Dec 15, 2011

NOW available at Amazon B&N and other booksellers.

U.S. District Court of Appeals “Reaches” for the answer to the purchase mandate

Click to open DC Appeals Court Ruliing

Yep, I Probably Need to Get  a Life!

The past few days, I decided I really needed, no I really-really needed,  to read the opinion of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruling on the case of:

SUSAN SEVEN-SKY, ALSO KNOWN AS SUSAN SEVENSKY, ET AL.,
APPELLANTS
v.
ERIC H. HOLDER, JR., ET AL.,
APPELLEES”

Appeal from the United States District Court
for the District of Columbia
(No. 1:10-cv-00950)

The court decided this case on November 8, 2011.  And from new reports you would think that the case made clear that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) was in fact constitutional and would lend credence to a affirmative finding of the validity of the law and purchase mandate by the U.S. Supreme Court soon.  Like most, media revelations, or more precisely-media invectives, reading this case neither answers the question of the constitutionality of the purchase mandate nor makes clear a constitutional argument that it will be affirmed by the Supreme Court.  Actually, for me it bolsters the base arguments not only on why it should not be upheld by the Supreme Court, but also why the underlying supporting rulings of prior cases like Wickhard v. Filburn and Miles v. Park need to be reassessed.  To see a background on these cases you can read my article on the Health Care Mandate and the Commerce Clause.

The truth be told, I had some very minor surgery and during recovery needed something to read!

Overall this is a relatively short ruling – just 103 pages – including the majority and minority (dissenting) opinions. I would advise all to read it, (click here to read the ruling) particularly the dissenting opinion even though the base argument for the dissent has little to do with constitutionality of the mandate.  Much of the concurring majority opinions are centered on the ability of the courts to hear this case at this time due to the Anti-Injunction Act.  In reading the concurring majority opinions I was repeatedly struck by the lengths they were willing to go in defiance of what I see as common sense; by ignoring, assuming or obfuscating the issues to arrive at their decision. The majority of their argument is centered on the Anti-Injunction Act, with little argument given to the principal issue of the constitutionality under the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause. The basis for the dissent is that the court did not have jurisdiction to hear this case at this time.  What is interesting in reading the dissent, written by Justice Kavanaugh, is the apparent length Justices Silberman and Edwards are willing to reach to ignore the argument that they do not have  jurisdiction and timeliness to even hear this case.  While I am hopeful this case should be heard at the soonest possible date by the U.S. Supreme Court, the argument by Kavanaugh is clear, concise, and compelling on the law and its prohibitive effect.  His argument, which I found both persuasive and full of common sense, is that due to the Anti-Injunction Act, the judicial branch is barred from hearing such a case until after there is an enforcement action.  Justice Kavanaugh cites:

Enacted in 1867, the Anti-Injunction Act, with a few exceptions, denies courts jurisdiction over pre-enforcement suits that would restrain “the assessment or collection of any tax.” 26 U.S.C. § 7421(a). The Supreme Court has strictly interpreted that Act as a firm bulwark against premature judicial interference with tax assessment and collection. As the Court has stressed time and again, although the Act may seem an inconvenient technicality in the context of a particular case, it is essential to the overall system of orderly and prompt federal tax administration.

Under the Anti-Injunction Act, a taxpayer seeking to challenge a tax law must first pay the disputed tax and then bring a refund suit, at which time the courts will consider the taxpayer’s legal arguments. Or a taxpayer may raise legal arguments in defending against an IRS enforcement action. But a taxpayer may not bring a pre-enforcement suit. In this case, the individual mandate takes effect in 2014, so taxpayers without health insurance must start paying tax penalties on their tax returns in 2015. The Anti-Injunction Act means, therefore, that a suit challenging the individual mandate cannot be entertained until 2015, unless Congress acts before then to exempt these suits from the Act.

The Anti-Injunction Act applies here because plaintiffs’ pre-enforcement suit, if successful, would prevent the IRS from assessing or collecting tax penalties from citizens who do not have health insurance. To be sure, the Affordable Care Act labels its exaction for failure to have health insurance as a tax “penalty” and not as a “tax.” But the Anti-Injunction Act still applies. That’s because the Affordable Care Act requires that the tax penalty for failure to maintain health insurance “be assessed and collected in the same manner as an assessable penalty under subchapter B of chapter 68” of the Tax Code. 26 U.S.C. § 5000A(g)(1). And penalties under subchapter B of chapter 68 in turn must “be assessed and collected in the same manner as taxes.” 26 U.S.C. § 6671(a) (emphasis added). It follows from those two provisions, taken together, that these Affordable Care Act penalties must be assessed and collected “in the same manner as taxes.”

Readers should also note that in contravention to the arguments or the majority opinion, the Federal Government themselves, in numerous early challenges, cited that, despite the language in the PPACA calling the assessment a penalty it was for all purposes a tax. And as my grandfather, a respected country circuit court judge used to say, “Once the animals are out of the barn, it does no good to close the door!”  So while I have been of the opinion it would be best for the Supreme Court to settle this issue, it appears to me that Justice Kavanaugh is correct and the Anti-Injunction Act clearly denies the courts the ability to hear this case until sometime in 2014 or 2015.

Ramifications and Unintended Consequences

The ramifications of the constitutionality of the purchase mandate stretch way beyond health care and should be seen as the proverbial “slippery slope” for concerned people on both the right and the left of the political spectrum.  Just like everything else the government does, an affirmation of the constitutionality of the purchase mandate will have the potential for many unintended consequences.  Justice Kavanaugh, in his dissenting argument, notes;

“But the Commerce Clause issue is extremely difficult and rife with significant and potentially unforeseen implications for the Nation and the Judiciary. Cf. Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One, 129 S. Ct. at 2513.

To uphold the Affordable Care Act’s mandatory purchase requirement under the Commerce Clause, we would have to uphold a law that is unprecedented on the federal level in American history. That fact alone counsels the Judiciary to exercise great caution. See United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549, 580, 583 (1995) (Kennedy, J., concurring) (“The statute before us upsets the federal balance to a degree that renders it an unconstitutional assertion of the commerce power, and our intervention is required. . . .”

If upheld, the exercise of power contemplated under the PPACA purchase mandate would not be clearly confined to health care.  Under the theory argued by the Government, the Government could impose imprisonment or other criminal punishment on citizens who do not have health insurance.  This is far beyond the taxing authority apparently granted in the language of the PPACA.  The PPACA has language restricting the IRS’s ability to use all of the same measures it has claim to under the U.S. Tax code.  But in oral arguments, the Government freely acknowledged further penalties and impositions by the Government beyond the limitations imposed on the IRS as the primary enforcement authority.

Once such actions are taken to enforce the right of the government to mandate the purchase of insurance under this theory, there is little to stop the government to extend such rights beyond health care to include other things like mandating the purchase of retirement accounts, housing, college savings other insurance, etc.  If fact Justice Kavanaugh opines;

“…there seems no good reason its theory would not ultimately extend as well to mandatory purchases of retirement accounts, housing accounts, college savings accounts, disaster insurance, disability insurance, and life insurance, for example. We should hesitate to unnecessarily decide a case that could usher in a significant expansion of congressional authority with no obvious principled limit.”

Once Again Back to the Commerce Clause

There were two primary point of challenges to PPACA by appellants:

Appellants, four United States citizens and federal taxpayers, seek declaratory and injunctive relief to prevent various U.S. Government officials and agencies from  enforcing the minimum essential coverage provisions. They argue that the mandate exceeds Congress’s authority under the Commerce Clause and substantially burdens appellants Susan Seven-Sky’s and Charles Edward Lee’s religious exercise, in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Since I am not a lawyer and must rely on my “every-person’s” common sense approach, the concept of being forced to purchase insurance is a step too far for me when it comes to the argument that it restricts religious freedom.  I am sure there are those that will quote me chapter and verse as to why this is a religious issue but unfortunately I don’t see it, and neither did any of the courts so far.  The prime argument has been, and remains, the authority of the Federal Government to regulate, nee mandate, the purchase of health insurance and to assess a penalty/tax if you don’t purchase insurance.

Clearly, congress has taxing authority under the constitution.  This undisputed fact is why at the outset of these challenges the Government argued that despite the word penalty’s use in the PPACA, it was for all intents and purposes a tax.  But, while that argument perceptibly granted them authority, it raised the questions related to if you can be assessed a tax for NOT doing something.  Further, it creates the problem of judicial authority at this time if this is a tax under the Anti-Injunction Act. It is interesting to note that the Government no longer is arguing so vociferously that this is in fact a tax.

Having exhausted my preamble, I will now turn my discussion to the issue of the Commerce Clause and the rights under the constitution of the federal government to regulate commercial activities of individuals within or between states.  To me this is both the main crux of the argument related to the purchase mandate and the center point of what I think is one of the most heinous and or ingenious – depending on your point of view – extensions of federal authority over the past 100 years.

The concurring majority bases their opinion of the Governments right to regulate commerce on precedent rulings beginning with a ruling where the court decided in 1945 that the Government had the right to seize and destroy a farmers wheat crop because it was in excess of the acreage the farmer was allowed to plant under the National Recover Act (NRA).  The fact that the farmer in question intended it for his own use on his farm and the wheat was not for sale, nor the fact that he likely would not have purchased wheat on the open market from out of state sources-but would more likely have bartered for it from another local instate source-did not sway the decision that this transaction affected interstate commerce and as such was now subject to federal authority. This landmark case, Wickard v. Filburn, and my feelings about this ruling are adequately described in Health Care Mandate and the Commerce Clause so I will not rehash them further here.  If you are not familiar with this history you should be.  Suffice to say, I believe the extension of the government’s regulatory authority as upheld in Wickard v. Filburn are much more than simply problematic.  The ruling endemic in the Wickard case needs a fresh review.  That said, I also think that there are many other problems in using even the logic of Wickard v. Filburn in upholding the insurance mandate.

Unlike Wheat – Health Care is Not Even Remotely Interstate.

While the U.S. Supreme Court, in 1945, stretched the fabric of imagination in tying personal wheat growing to an interstate commerce act subject to federal jurisdiction, health care is even more of a step too far.  Representative Melvin Watt (D), North Carolina during a House of Representatives Judiciary Committee hearing in the early part of 2011 on the need for Health Care/Malpractice Tort Reform commented that he was a strong advocate of states rights, and that in his entire life he had never seen an example of where the provision of medical services, health care, went across state lines.  He further said, he knew of no instance where a hospital existed simultaneously in two states, and that health care was so specifically regulated in each state as to make the provision of health insurance across state lines so problematic that it was in effect impossible.  He continued, that health care was clearly an issue relegated to the states and not subject the federal encroachment under the Commerce Clause and therefore the subject of federal tort reform over this issue, he felt, was out of order and beyond the jurisdiction of the Judiciary Committee.  This seemed like a very good argument to me at the time and still does.  Perhaps Representative Watt should write an amici curiae to the US Supreme Court on this specific topic.

In fact, in my opinion,  Rep. Watt is correct in almost all regards.  During the debate over the PPACA, it became clear that most of the country did not want a national health care option despite the best advocacy, efforts, and in some cases, obfuscation by many in congress.  A review of health care in America, shows that health care is, in fact, a state by state regulated industry.  Many, if not most, insurance providers have specific offices within each and every state to deal with the specific regulations, policy requirements, demographics, and actuarial within the state.  While one can buy policies from companies whose main headquarters may be outside of the state of residence of the purchaser, they can’t buy a generic policy that does not conform to the regulations of the state of residence of the purchaser.

So, even if Wickard is based on sound constitutional principals, health care is clearly not wheat.  While the case was made that wheat was a national commodity, and there was a national commodity market for wheat sales, and that poor Filburn by growing his own wheat and not buying it on the open market was affecting demand and therefore the national price of wheat; the same cannot be said for health care.  To amplify this argument, even the federal government through CMS recognizes at least the regional vagaries of the health care market by providing various rates for reimbursement of services based on geographic location.  There are numerous points of authority that will show that health care is, unlike almost every other industry you can think of, a state based economic system.  Again unlike wheat, affecting the sale or cost of a health care product or service in one state has little to no effect on any other state.  It is also likely true that the cost of care in San Francisco has little to no effect on care in Oakland let alone Petaluma, Sacramento, or Los Angeles.

Clearly, there is a national market for pharmaceuticals and medical devices but again each state regulates these items quite closely.  What a pharmacist pays for a specific drug in one state or region is so different for other states or regions that whole businesses like Foxmeyer Health have sprung up over the years to play games of arbitrage between local pricing variance for pharmaceuticals.  In my “every person’s” common sense approach health care is one clear example of a non-national market.

The consenting majority make the point that,

“… Because virtually everyone will, at some point, need health services, no one is truly  inactive, and the health services market is inextricably intertwined with health insurance. Congress found that those who do not purchase health insurance, and instead self-insure, almost inevitably take health care services they cannot afford. Hospitals, by virtue of federal law and professional obligation, provide these services, and as a result, $43 billion in annual costs are shifted to the insured, through higher premiums. That, in turn, makes health insurance less affordable and increases the total number of uninsured.”

While, this argument may be true, and then again it may not be true either, for this to have some form of sway the $43 billion would need to be a cost to all the federal taxpayers would it not?  Not state taxpayers under state regulations because that would not be interstate would it?  For this to be truly a national issue, the $43 billion would have to be almost exclusively a federal cost.  My reason is that since each state offers medicaid under their own authority and their own programs-and even President Obama has specifically referred to Medicaid as state programs-if private health care is also state specific how can this cost shift be a national issue.

One may argue that, Medicare is a national program, and they may also argue that the federal government subsidizes Medicaid at the state level.  But states remit money to the federal government, some of which they receive back, so I question the true source of the funding.  Someone should look at the  funds flow to determine, if possible, if the sources are local or federal.

Lets further assume that the Federal Government provides some funding to state medicaid systems, reimbursements/stimulus to hospitals, to offset uninsured care mandated by the federal government, and other federal governmental programs created by the federal government to subsidize the costs of the poor and the uninsured.  I don’t think it flows logically or constitutionally that this is now interstate commerce just because the federal government voluntarily created a program to provide money to citizens funded by taxpayers and that the costs that are shifted by the under-served drain on these funds makes it is now a national market.  If that is the case, then any time the government wants to take over an industry or regulate something we do, they will just decide to subsidize it and then claim it is now subject to the Commerce Clause and they can regulate it.  Does anyone really believe this is what the founders intended?

It is also good to note that the consenting opinion states that;

“The Government concedes the novelty of the mandate and the lack of any doctrinal limiting principles; indeed, at oral argument, the Government could not identify any mandate to purchase a product or service in interstate commerce that would be unconstitutional, at least under the Commerce Clause.”

So, even the Government acknowledges that his is tantamount to a preemptive right if it is upheld, but they basically then say, Trust Us  – heath care is so unique we would not think of doing this anywhere else!  I am sure the founders would never have contemplated that Mr. Filburn would have had his crops burned by the federal government only because he chose NOT to purchase wheat on the open market thereby maintaining the price the federal government deemed important.

The Majority opinion goes on to analyze the text of the Commerce Clause itself, including a contemporaneous definition from the Dictionary of the English Language of 1773;

“We look first to the text of the Constitution. Article I, § 8, cl. 3, states: “The Congress shall  have Power . . . To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several  States, and with the Indian Tribes.” (emphasis added). At the time the Constitution was fashioned, to “regulate” meant, as it does now, “[t]o adjust by rule or method,” as well as  “[t]o direct.” To “direct,” in turn, included “[t]o prescribe certain measure[s]; to mark out a certain course,” and “[t]o order; to command.” In other words, to  “regulate”  can mean to require action, and nothing in the definition appears to limit that power only to those already active in relation to an interstate market. Nor was the term “commerce”  limited to only existing commerce.”

The last line of this extract, again for me is one of the steps too far.  How can you come to the conclusion that the framers in 1787contemplated regulating commerce that was not in existence therefor justifying the argument that you could regulate a non-action? To my simple mind this is word parsing and wordsmithing in the extreme.

The majority go on in their logic strained argument to state that the distinction between interstate and local commerce has been largely eroded and they cite the case U.S. v. Lopez as an example. This case was the “Gun Free School Zones Case” and much of the argument of that case was backward dependent on our old friend Wickard v. Filburn.

Since the concurring majority justices endeavor to find the original meaning and intent of the framers related to the Commerce Clause, perhaps they should weigh if the framers would approve of the federal government, in effect usurping the power of the states by creating national entitlement programs funded by federal tax collections, then using the argument that the lack of purchase of some good or service by the public was inordinately increasing the reliance on these programs and therefore costing the government, and hence the national taxpayers, more money and therefore it was an interstate commerce issue and effectively then subject to total federal control!  I do not see Thomas Jefferson, or even John Adams buying the argument that the Government can voluntarily create a program – that it could also cancel at any time if it got too costly – and then use this argument to claim further encroachment into state and personal rights under the very clauses they constructed to significantly and specifically limit the authority of the federal government and put those un-enumerated powers specifically in the hands of the states.

It should be noted that in this case the Appellants did not argue that Health Care and Health insurance are uniquely state concerns, but this has been argued successfully in other challenges to the PPACA.

Another frightening theory proffered in the majority opinion is based on this quote;

“Appellants’ view that an individual cannot be subject to Commerce Clause regulation absent voluntary, affirmative acts that enter him or her into, or affect, the interstate market expresses a concern for individual liberty that seems more redolent of Due Process Clause arguments. But it has no foundation in the Commerce Clause. The shift to the “substantial effects” doctrine in the early twentieth century recognized the reality that national economic problems are often the result of millions of individuals engaging in behavior that, in isolation, is seemingly unrelated to interstate commerce. See Lopez, 514 U.S. at 555-56.”

Once again this is predominately based on the original Wickard ruling and its extension under Lopez.  If it stays true and the opinion as proffered by the majority stands, there is nothing that stops federal intervention in anything we do or do not do.  I suppose they could argue that they can force us to drink alcohol to excess, then to drive – so the police can stop us, give us tickets, charge us with DUI, pay fines, take remedial classes, and then pay to retake a drivers test because in each case it was stimulating a national economy or it was helping defer the costs of dealing with the problems that were being born by the government, hence the taxpayer, hence it is all an interstate commerce issue under the Commerce Clause. And if we refuse to drink and drive, by extension we are not consuming the services in the interstate market and therefore affecting the prices of those goods and services and the resulting loss of market will cause an increase in the subsidies to those industries by the government, hence a drain on the taxpayer, hence interstate commerce and therefore properly regulated under the Commerce Clause.

My Conclusion

I think that the underlying case law here starting with Wickard v. Filburn, through U.S. v Lopez and other Commerce Clause related rulings dependent on Wickard up to today need to be reviewed.  I doubt this will happen absent a constitutional congress and an amendment to affect the vagaries purposely attributed by the Judicial Branch as justifications to expand federal reach.

I think that we need to focus our arguments in three additional areas:

  1. That health care, and the provision of services thereof, is and are not an interstate market system nor should they be.
  2. Someone needs to raise the constitutional question if the federal government can create programs that effect national markets and then use that effect to justify expanded reach under the Constitution.  If the answer to this is affirmative then this could be the biggest slippery slope of all.
  3. Was the ruling in Wickard v. Filburn correct?  And If not how can this ruling be challenged outside of the question of the Insurance Purchase Mandate.

Like everything else, I want you to ask your own questions and not rely on my opinions?  I do not know that I am correct.  What I do know is I have to read these things myself and attempt to understand them and then do what I think is right.  In effect, I need to be a Mugwump.

Headline Screams – Wealth gap hits record levels: But is this significant?

Click Image to Link to Article

Reading my local paper I was struck by the headline, “Wealth gap hits record levels” by Hope Yen.  The secondary headline “Divide between younger and older adults widens as lengthy downturns erodes net worth of those under 35” also raised my curiosity.  In both cases I did not find either statement unusual.  Why would there not be a gap in net worth between people 65 and older and people under 35?

The article further states that there is a 47-1 gap between the old and the young, and states it is the highest ever recorded.  The article cites that the median net worth of a household headed by a person 65 or older is $170,494 and that the median net worth of  households with people under 35 is just $3,662.  I really just want to say – Yea – So what’s your point?

I am more or less astounded that anyone would find this remarkable. All of my life experience indicates that there should be a substantial gap in net worth between the ages under 35 and those 65 and older.

Yea-So what’s your point?

I mean, after all wouldn’t it make logical sense for someone who has worked 40 or 50 years longer to have accumulated much more net worth?  In fact the statistic of the gap in the relative net worth of 47 times actually seems low to me – I will tell you why.  I am starting to knock on the door of the upper age quoted in the article.  From my own history, I had no where near the net worth when I was 35 or younger that I have today. Nor would I have expected it.  Let’s take a look at why that might be – shall we?

When I was 35 and younger, I did not earn anywhere near as much as I have during the period after 35, nor should I.  When I was under 35, I was learning my trade, earning my stripes, gaining experiences that helped me make fewer mistakes and become more valuable.  In those years I was just starting out.  For part of that period, I was renting a home, then later purchasing one.  As such, I was not yet rapidly building equity.  When I did purchase a home I had to buy stuff to put in it; so instead of building net worth I was spending money.

In the years under 35, I was also living a more – I can live forever and worry about retirement after I do and get all the things I want – lifestyle.  I guess you could say, I was less responsible with my money.  Also, this is the period that we go from spending money to attract mates and practice the art of procreation to actually procreating.  For those of us who have both practiced procreating and then later actually procreated, I think we can all attest to the fact that both of those things cost money – sometimes a lot of money.  These costs significantly reduce what we can save and therefore our net worth.

Age - Net Worth Table (by author)

From the age of first procreation to the age of 35, the actual procreants got older and the worry of looming higher education cost came home to roost.  So not only did I have the expense of  increasingly ravenous, and growing children to contend with, I had the resulting increases in costs to go along with said children.  So increasing net worth was still not that much of a viable option.

So you see, maybe I am not typical, maybe I was just irresponsible, maybe it is simply my generation, but I don’t see how at the age of 35 and younger one would even begin to have the net worth of someone in 65 or older.  Another factor for the younger households among us is that the percentage of inherited wealth likely does not befall them until they break the 35 year barrier.  Since the average life span for a person in the U.S. has been between 73 and 83 years old throughout my life time, I would have typically been between 47 and 58 when I received an inheritance assuming that a.) my parents had me as their first born at the age of 25 and they lived the average lifespan.  Even if I was second born and my parents had a 5 years gap between their children,  I would have been over 40 before I received an inheritance. And to push the statistic one more level, If I was third born with another 5 year gap I would have been 37 upon receipt of inheritance.  So Inherited wealth, which can add to net worth, and should from my point of view, would not arrive till after the age of 35 years old.

I put together the above chart, simply to see how much a person would have to save each year from the age of 18 in order to achieve the 47 times multiple quoted in the article.  I used the number of periods to earn the multiple as 47 more for convenience than anything else.  I also chose it because it is exactly 47 years from 18 to 65 years of age.  I could not forgo the irony of the calculation.  You will see, that it is very possible for one to achieve this net worth from simple savings of $2450.85 cents per year at an annual interest rate of 1.5% alone.  Forget appreciation in home ownership, forget increasing value and salary in the workplace, forget lowering of cost as children grow and move on, forget inheritance, forget any other factor that could affect the rate of appreciation of net worth as one ages.

The point of the article seem to be saying there is some base inequity between the older generations and the younger generations.  Perhaps, it is laying the groundwork for elimination of social security and medicare because after all older people have had lifetimes to accumulate their wealth and the younger, under 35 have not – but they will won’t they? The article states, that it is the result of the economic downturn that the multiple has arrived at its worst in history.  But I simply do not believe that statement.  I want to see some indication of what the historical period of record is.  I suspect we will find that this measure is a relatively new one and its history does not go back that far.

The author states that Social Security accounts for 55 percent of the income of people 65 and older.  Duh – what would you expect to see as many over 65 are retired and rely now on Social Security, retirement, savings,  and pensions to pay their expenses.  And this measure they are arguing is NOT earnings, it is net worth –  apples and oranges.

In the article the author cites, Sheldon Danzinger, a University of Michigan public policy professor, who says,

“The elderly have a comprehensive safety net that most adults, especially young adults, lack.”

Again, I hope this was not some government funded study to come up with yet another “Duh” moment.

Paul Taylor, director of Pew Social & Demographic Trends and co-author of the analysis, said,

“the report shows that today’s young adults are starting out in life in a very tough economic position.  If this pattern continues, it will call into question one of the most basic tenets of the American Dream – the idea that each generation does better than the one that came before.”

Tell that to those who suffered growing up during the great depression.  I am sure they felt the same way.  The realty is that many generations have not done as well as the previous generation.  The history we learned in school simply ignored many of these facts.  Our history was written to drive the concept of American Exceptional-ism.   So these historical pronouncements often are based less on facts than perception.

Other findings:

-Households headed by someone under age 35 had their median net worth reduced by 27 percent in 2009 as a result of unsecured liabilities, mostly a combination of credit card debt and student loans. No other age group had anywhere near that level of unsecured liability acting as a drag on net worth; the next closest was the 35-44 age group, at 10 percent.

-Wealth inequality is increasing within all age groups. Among the younger-age households, those living in debt have grown the fastest while the share of households with net worth of at least $250,000 edged up slightly to 2 percent. Among the older-age households, the share of households worth at least $250,000 rose to 20 percent from 8 percent in 1984; those living in debt were largely unchanged at 8 percent

We have been preaching, some would say irresponsibly, buy on credit since the 1970s.  We have spent much of the past two decades allowing banks to market credit cards to students in college.  We have been stimulating everyone to go to college ignoring the very visible unintended consequences of a reducing labor pool, lowering income level for college graduates, and massive education debt load upon starting their early life.  Adding insult to injury, or stupidity upon ignorance, our own government practically has forced these individuals to purchase homes in those formative years where they could have perhaps saved a small bit, maybe $2,500.00 per year.  Instead, our government manipulated the market using Fannie and Freddy, stimulated the myth of viable ownership with steadily increasing money supply, and in some cases, forced banks to lend to these young people who were really not yet ready to assume such debts.

So what now?  Along with the class war Occupy Wall Street, you know the 99% against the 1% crowds, who are angry with the people who make large amounts of money through the form of legal gambling called the stock market and who are angry with banks for now wanting to collect on those student loans and mortgages they can’t or don’t want to pay back – will we have another group wage “age war”?  Will we see a new slogan the 27% (those under 35) vs the 12.3%(those 65 and older).

So what is the point of this article?  Is it to amplify a point of how capitalism doesn’t work?  Well it fails there because clearly it has worked for the elderly.  Is it to make the point that it won’t work any more?  Again it fails when you look at the gains simple savings will yield over time.  Is it to make the point that the young have it so tough?  Tell that to the people who grew up in the late 70s and 80s when mortgage interest rates were 14% and 16%!

Perhaps it is time to really look at the lessons from this study.  They are not how inequitable the world is and how unfair it is for the coming generations.  The lessons are imbedded in undoing some of the things that have caused the current problems.  Instead of preaching how all Americans should spend more, and use their credit card more, perhaps we need our government to start to preach austerity for the average citizen!  Perhaps, we should correctly instruct our youth on the real history of America.  You know they still may see America as a great nation!  Perhaps, we should once again tell our youth they need to save and become responsible for their retirement years.  That relying on the government to collect a dollar in taxes that will ultimately end up as less than 30 cents of benefits for them in the future is not a good formula. Perhaps, we need to eliminate the death tax so that what people save and gain in their net worth can actually go to help benefit their procreants – you know their children, their heirs and assigns – the ones who are now worrying so much about their future!

Whatever the point of this article, I submit it is not good for America, unless it was written to point out the fundamental systemic problems and address them in some way other than promoting more income redistribution, and more entitlements for all.  The approach seemingly inherent in this article will not be good for We – the People of America. Of course, maybe I am just reading it wrong. Then again maybe not!

Post a comment if you agree or disagree!  As I am declared a Mugwump, I hear both sides.  I try to decide what I think is best – not what any party tells me.  So tell me what you think!

FIX THE ECONOMY NOW, but don’t touch mine: Too late its already gone!

Shrinking Dollar

A Sorry State

We, America, are in a sorry state. This appears, on the surface, to be something with which most people agree. But the surface can be quite deceiving. Pierce the flesh of America’s electoral body and you start to see massive disagreement as to what is needed. Most importantly, and currently very concerning, is that everyone feels the solution involves steps to be taken by the other guys – you know, those who are not in OUR group! You know – The O T H E R guys; the non-white, non-black, non-Hispanic, non-immigrant, non-migrant, non-middle class, non-union, non-civil servant, non-farmer, non-medical professional, non-patient, non-majority, non-minority, non-lawyer, non-judiciary, non-legislative, non-administrative, non-professional, non-politician, non-unemployed, non-under-employed, non-employed, non-disabled, non-enabled, non-educated, non-uneducated, non-tolerant, non-intolerant, non-poor, non-rich, non-government, non-private sector… you know the Other Guys! – The ones whose fault all this is!!!

You know – everyone other than us! All those (whispered) other people, who have (caused the problem) (profited at our expense) (stolen our money) (spent too much) (worked too little) (think they are smarter than us) (are uneducated and lazy) (expect too much) (do too little) Circle the correct answer(s).

Also disturbing is that we are allowing our professional political class to drive, not only our debate, but out thinking as well. All you need to do is read the news and you will be fed the continuous supply of sound bite, talking points so you yourself can help frame what needs to be done to make the OTHER guys do their fair share. And of course, these talking points – these would be mantras for us to recite each day ad infinitum until they become ingrained in our psyche and we think nothing else – are not just in conflict with each other, they are diabolically and diametrically opposed. They are crafted to foment the most discontent and the most innate conflict. This is what our political process has become. Led my our professional political class; stirring up a minority to a feverish pitch so the bulk of the country will become afraid, or simply exhausted and in the end capitulate with what ever patch, or band-aid, the politicians decide to apply.

Community activists know that the way you get big gains for minority positions is to frighten or exhaust the bulk of the population. You see activists understand that most people don’t really care about much beyond their own day to day lives and basic existence. They know that when the average person feels threatened, or if the story gets annoying and tiresome – in the end they will just want their leaders to make it go away. They just don’t want to hear it anymore! This process is not about the right solution – it is about any solution that delivers me peacefully back to my mythical happy life. And you know what? It has worked every single time! It is all predicated on the right rhetoric -the right mantras.

The Current Mantras

  • We need to cut pensions costs We need better retirement benefits
  • We need higher wages We need lower manufacturing costs
  • We need more high paying jobs We need more labor jobs
  • We need universal health care We need low cost health care We need more free health care
  • We need to help people keep their homes We need to have the market sort itself out
  • We need to lower health insurance cost We need better insurance benefits
  • We need to stimulate the housing market We need the banks to lend more
  • We need to raise housing prices We need more affordable housing
  • We need more money We need less federal debt
  • We need more social assistance programs We need to lower government debt
  • We need a higher minimum wage We need competitive prices
  • We need to eliminate illegal immigration We need more cheap labor
  • We need to get the top 1% to pay more We need the top 1% to spend more
  • We need to lower government spending We need more government spending
  • We need more charitable giving we need to raise taxes and eliminate charitable deductions
  • The poor are getting poorer The rich are getting richer
  • The middle class is suffering We all need to sacrifice

Debunking the Myths

Most of the mantras in the list imply that fixing or making a change in one of these areas will repair what is wrong and remand us once again to the peaceful day-to-day happiness (even if it is just an illusion) that we all desire. While, depending on your personal political profile of course, all of these mantras appear reasonable, there is one underlying problem with each and every one of them. There is a set of fundamental myths that needs to be debunked. In debunking these myths, we give rise to the lies that are inherent in these supposed solutions.

To understand these fundamental myths we need to take a look at some assumptions.

Assumption 1

The poor are getting poorer! Who are the poor? We often use the term under-served, interchangeably with the term poor. Historically, we really have not wanted to clearly define the poor for a whole host of reasons. Defining a problem, or a segment of a problem, is not politically attractive. Well defined problems either yield impossible solutions, or easy solutions, and make it difficult for redefinition on the fly without political consequence. For a family to be described as poor and eligible for social programs the must fall within the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) or some multiple of the FPL.

The FPL for a family of four for the year 2011 ranges from $22,350 in the 48 contiguous states, to $25,710 in Hawaii and $27,940 in Alaska. Seems simple enough doesn’t it? well like most things governmental, its really not. So if the poor are those who earn less than, lets say $25,000 to keep it simple, than all aid for the poor would be for this group of people. About 18.79% of the U.S. population earned less than the FPL in 2010. This equates to about 58,332,000 people. But the provision of social programs is not targeted just at the poor. They are in fact often predicate on 200%, 300% even 350% of FPL for eligibility for some state and federal program eligibility. So most programs eligibility starts at $50,000.00 in income to as much as $85,000 in some cases. This in turn equates to almost 79.8% of the population according to the latest census data.

Now in reality, not all of the population draw programs support at 350% of the FPL. Only a smaller amount of programs offer eligibility at that level. The number today falls at about 50% of the population of the U.S. is eligible for federal and state program subsidies and currently takes advantage of these programs. Either alarming, or relieving, depending on your point of view, this 50% is getting slightly more than 1/2 of their annual income from programs and/or subsidies provided by the federal government. 84.1 million people (27.1% of the population) earned under $50,000 per year (200% of FPL). Together they earned in aggregate $1,591,640,000 of the U.S. total personal income economy of $4.915 trillion in 2009 – about 32%. So 32% of the money earned went to the lower 27% of the population and about 1/2 of their earnings came from money paid directly or indirectly by the federal government that came from taxes paid by the rest of the tax payers.

The biggest assumption of all with this segment of the population is that they are suffering more than they have in the past. While it is true the poor in America earn significantly less than much of the rest of the population, they also have the largest amount of eligibility for programs to offset what they don’t or won’t earn. In realty, while they earn less in real income, they have at least as much if not more in discretionary spending income because few if any of their needs go unmet. They receive a wide availability of care options, both Medicare, Medicaid and state based, as well as other federal and state programs for housing, mental health, addiction, job counseling and training, as well as numerous faith based and institutional charity programs as well as philanthropic programs. This is not to say it is pleasant to be poor. Simply to point out that the “poor” have a large array of services that are making up for what they actually do or do not earn. It is better to be poor in America than in much of the rest of the world.

Assumption 2

The Poor are the Under-served, is the core of assumption number 2. Anyone who has spent time working or volunteering in the areas of public health will quickly tell you that the under-served are not the poor we classically think of. The poor in America, as we discussed in the last assumption, are neither under-served, nor are they un-served. The bulk of the under-served are people earning between $50,000 and $110,000 per year. They have jobs, pay some taxes, send their kids to school, pay their rent sometimes late, or have a home, likely upside down in equity, and perhaps bordering on, or in default. Historically, they are two person family earners, and one of them has recently lost their job, increasingly one of their adult children is still living at home and has earnings insufficient to support independence, are still on their parents insurance, and one of the family members has a chronic illness.

The under-served are “working poor.” They don’t make enough to pay for all that they need and want. They make, or have made short term decisions regarding purchases, vacations, and or investments, that have come back to haunt them. If they have a chronic illness, they are making weekly, sometimes daily decisions between the proper treatment, or medication, and food, education, housing or clothing for their family. Often, health related costs are playing second priority, as a result their illness is getting worse, or in the worst case scenario, the untreated disease, bacteriological or virus infection is not becoming more resistant to the medication due to improper treatment levels – a potential public health hazard.

The under-served in America are squarely in the middle class. There is typically only one small incidental difference between basic prosperity and tragedy. A loss of one income, a chronic illness, a catastrophic accident, an unplanned pregnancy in inopportune bit of extravagance. Even without one of these incidental differences, the middle class are finding they have less and less discretionary income. More and more, even with raises, company healthcare, bonuses and perks, they just have not been getting ahead. They are earning more but are also more and more at risk.

The 29.6 million (about 9.55% of the population) under-served (a majority of the middle class) earned a total of $2.282 trillion (46.4%) of the personal income in the U.S. They earn on average $76,650.00 per year.

Assumption 2 is one of the main tell-tails to one of the major fundamental problems that if we do not come to grips with, will be the undoing of our economy, society, and ourselves.

Assumption 3

The rich are getting richer on the back of the middle class and the poor. Said another way the 1% are taking, through inappropriate or ill-gotten means, what is rightfully the 99%’s. Clearly the rich have taken in much more cash in the past 40 years. But when you look at the percentages they have gained it is not really a significant difference, as a percentage, than in previous years. But first let’s take a look at the top 1% and find out how they stack up against the rest of the population. The top 1% (about 3.9 million people) earn on average 275,000 per year. The total combined earnings for the top 1% equals $850 billion per year or about 16.5% of the combined total. Conversely the 99% earned a total of $4.103 trillion or about 83.5% of the combined earnings.

Clearly there is disparity, but I was surprised to see that the disparity was not quite as large as I expected it to be given the rhetoric. As Dianna Dooley, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services for the State of California, said in one of her first public meetings after assuming office in 2011, “We all need to understand that disparity will exist.” Ms. Dooley was making the point that we cannot legislate away disparity. Disparity does not exist simply because of ill treatment or lack of opportunity. Sometimes disparity exists because people have made choices to not do certain things, not work, not get an education, not apply for available services. What percentage of the U.S. population does this characteristic apply to? It is had to say statistically because the census data does not measure motivations. We can use some numbers from a Thompson Reuters report in 2009 on the national health cares spend and we will find that about 20% of the monies spent go to people that have made such choices. I can’t say whether or not this is a valid measure for the economy as a whole. If I had to hazard a guess based on my life’s observations, I would think this is a reasonable estimate.

It does not seem to hold true that the rich are statistically getting richer, nor are the poor getting poorer. Both segments are getting more and more currency each year. The problem is not the amount of money they are receiving it is in the real value of the money they have. This is another clue as to the major fundamental problem, we will discuss shortly.

Assumption 4

We have had up until recently a vibrant economy, America has been very prosperous, and if not for the actions of this political party or their policy (depending on your political affiliations it is always the other party and their policies), all would be just fine. Said another way, when so-and-so was the President (again, depending on your political affiliations it is always the other party and their policies) everything was just fine!

In my last article Republicans & Democrats: Division destroys WE, I outlined a series of events since 1935 that have had major impacts on the current state of our economy. It was not meant to be all inclusive. In fact, I have heard from a number of readers who have suggested numerous other events, legislation, decisions, policies and actions that they also feel should be included. I prepared this article to point out that it was not one parties policies that have brought us to the precipice. It has been both parties. In effect it has been us, our decisions, our demands for more of this and that, and it has been our willingness to accept a gradual migration from the citizen politician, envisioned by or founding fathers to a professional political class whose rule we embrace today.

Those of us who learned American history after 1937 have been indoctrinated with the belief of “American Exceptional-ism.” As President Franklin Roosevelt prepared America to enter the war he needed to break the back of the isolationist tendencies we have developed after WWI. Part of the method to do this was building pride, patriotism and the belief that America was innately exceptional. As a result the history that was taught after 1937 was quite different from the history we would have learned before. I have advocated in earlier articles using Google Books, and searching for history tomes written before 1900. There as I was writing, “The History and Evolution of Health Care in America” I found a very different recollection of America than the one I carried in my head.

America has had a long history of economic trials and tribulations. Almost immediately upon the signing of the armistice at the end of the American revolution, the United States went from waging physical war to suffering under an economic war waged by England, France, Germany and other European nations and banking interests. By 1800 the American dollar had dropped to worth about 48 cents. It was the War of 1812 and our decisions to temporarily drop the international gold standard that allowed us at the end of the war to reset the dollars value when we went back on this standard. We dropped out of the gold standard a number of times based on the excuse of War all the way through World War I.

The first time we did not drop off the gold standard as a result of war was World War II when the Federal Reserve refused Presidents Roosevelt request to do so. FDR’s first request came at the beginning of the depression and also was refused. Some economists believe this single action is what caused the great depression, others simply believe it increased the severity. As a quick note, it was not the the Stock Market Crash of 1929 that caused the depression but the great dust bowl and drought. The stock market had recovered much of its losses within 4 months. Once again our history, post 1937 often seems to not reflect the realities of the past.

If we go back and take a good look at our real history, with the exception of the benefit we gained from the massive amount of gold reserves we accumulated during World War II, the real source of our prosperity into the mid 1960’s, America’s economy has not been as stellar a performer as we have been lead to believe.

The Dirty Truth

There is a fundamental problem with our economy. It is truly fundamental in every sense of the word. And although is not “Fun” you are guaranteed to feel both brain dead “Duh” and “Mental” if you try to understand it.

We believe that we have had a robust and growing economy though most of our lives. Even at the current limits of human life span most of Americans were born after 1928. Most of us have come of age after World War II. And almost all of us working today were born after 1950. We have for the most part lived through what we believe is the hay-day of America’s economic history. And our perception is false!

While we had significant prosperity after World War II, it was largely the result of the cash and carry policies that FDR put in place with western Europe for the sale of war materials by America. FDR enacted two major policies; lend-lease, and cash and carry. Under Cash and Carry, much of what we sold to the allies was paid for in gold. By the end of the war America held in Fort Knox a majority of the gold in the world. I have seen estimates of as high as 82% of the world’s gold. After the war and as we moved into the 1950s America was booming and we had a large amount of room to expand the amount of currency in circulation since we had most of the gold. But by the 1960s, our policy of allowing other countries to redeem U.S. Dollars in gold had seen our reserves significantly depleted as most of our Allies, England, France and Germany had systematically redeemed their dollars for our gold. By the mid 60s we again were having problems maintaining enough currency to support the perception of our growing economy.

By 1972 President Nixon had a cash problem. We did not have enough currency in circulation for the government to continue to pay its bills, including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as well as pay for the war in Vietnam, and the ongoing cost of the cold war with the soviets. As a result, the Federal Reserve advised the President to remove the American Dollar from the gold standard. In doing so we gained the ability to create more currency to fund the cash needs of the government and the nation. But, there was still a problem.

While the elimination of the gold standard, did free the economy from the physical limits of the gold standard, it did not free the banks, where new currency, actually is created, from the limitations of the fractional reserve banking system. Banks under our form of banking can create ten dollars of currency for every dollar of assets (or debt) they have of record. While this was far better than the practical physical limit we had on the gold standard, the growth of debt by the government and obligations under federal programs, defense, logistics and entitlements were growing much faster than the asset base. Debt, the other method to grow the amount of currency became the main method.

Money Supply vs Trade Imbalance and Federal Spending

In 1972, America had, according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve Banks, about $500 billion of currency in circulation. Currency, prior to this period had grown on a fairly steady low growth rate from the $73.7 billion in circulation in 1940. While the rate of new money in circulation increased from 1940 to 1972 increased over the prior years the growth was still predicated on the tie back to the gold standard and as such most of the growth was real in relation to the bulk of the world currency and tied directly to the asset base of the U.S. In other words it was mostly real economic growth.

From right after 1972 to about 1986 the growth in currency supply was driven by increases in credit card debt and the ability of the Federal Reserve and banks to leverage that debt growth with new money at the rate of ten to one. You will also see from the above chart that we were steadily increasing both federal spending and accumulating losses due to the ongoing trade imbalance. The main restriction on the growth of new money was the fact that the bulk of the main debt in the U.S. (mortgage debt) was in the hands of S&Ls and other non-banks. You can see from the chart as the S&L’s failed as a result of the changes in rules for realizing asset values, like the mark to market rules, and the banks gained control of these mortgages – and the underlying ability to leverage them at ten to one, much more currency came into existence. Of course as the currency materializes the federal spending increases as well. By the time we get to 2010 we have increased the amount of currency from the meager $500 billion in circulation in 1927 to over $15 trillion in 2009, a thirty times increase. One simply needs to ask themselves did we really increase the values of all the assets of the U.S. thirty times since 1972? I don’t see how!

And of course by 2009 we have also accumulated a combined debt based on federal spending and the steadily accumulating trade deficit of over $11 trillion. Even harder to imagine a thirty-fold gain in relative net worth of America isn’t it?

So where did this new money go?

As I discussed in a previous article entitled, President Obama’s Speech: Critical Question Continued, this new money was disproportionately spent in the areas of federal program spending and housing costs. The effect this has had on our economy has been catastrophic. If you look at the chart in the prior section, the amount of spending has almost equaled the new money created. An interesting statistical note is if you look at a simple projection of what our economy would be today if we had stayed on the Gold Standard it would be about a $5 1/2 trillion economy instead of $15 trillion or more as we currently see it. This could just be a statistical coincidence, I will leave it to the professional economists to explain this – although when they do I seldom trust them.

So one of the fundamental problems is that our economy is simply not worth the paper we have printed to count it. We have significantly overvalued our economy, alnong with much of the rest of western Europe. If everyone in the world did this the same way it would be irrelevant. But China and Russia, among a few smaller others, have not banked this way. While we like to complain that China is “manipulating their currency” the truth is they simply are allowing their currency to stand at its value and are not increasing the amount of their currency and thereby artificially inflating salaries or benefits in the country. As a result, China, and many others cost significantly less to make stuff for the rest of the world.

You see what we have been lead to believe about our prosperity over the past 30 years has been an artifice, a mere contrivance. While we have all felt like we were getting richer, and our elected officials have been telling us to spend more, and borrow more on credit, and how we should all buy houses. The reality is what they were doing is getting us to go further and further into debt to provide fuel to the fire of our own economic destruction. So while our borrowing, spending and mortgage debt allowed them to increase the amount of money in circulation, the new money had no more value. It was all a facade.

This brings me to the current argument of the 99% against the 1%. The reality is, it is not the 1% who have done anything to take the value from the 99%. I think we effectively debunked most of that myth in the prior sections. The real issues effect the middle class the most. The poor and the rich have been effected exactly the same but they have not felt the effect the same as the middle class – the under-served.

The reason the middle-class have been so devastated is a result of the following two points. First, the rich have larger amounts of discretionary monies. These are monies that are not consumed by the cost of basic day to day living. The rich also have more savings and a larger portion of their earnings come from investment. Therefore when the purchasing power of their dollars falls they have a lot more drop to go before the true value falls below this basic day to day cost level, even at their higher costs as a result of more lavish life styles. In other words, they are not taking more they just don’t show the effects because they are not yet felt.

Second, the poor, as we discussed before, get at least half of their income from the federal government, so as the value of the dollar drops, the government is just printing more money and providing more benefits to the poor in America. The source for the spending is only in part taxes. So while it is clear that even if you took 100% of the earnings from the top 1% it would not even put a small dent in the economic issues we face, and taxing the rich politically sounds really good, in the end it is not solving the problem.

Taxes are neither the problem nor the solution. The problem is we have simply created at least twenty times more currency that we have real value in the economy. And as such the middle class, equaling 19.2% of the population, 59.8 million people, are feeling the crunch. Our professional political class, with the best of intentions at every singe step, have gotten them to take on debt they could not afford, buy homes they could not afford, hire employees companies could not afford, pay salaries we cant afford, provide free stuff, that we can afford, and purchase products and services that we can’t afford. They have built a national economic system that is predicated on federal subsidies – through the creation of more valueless dollars – to lull us into a false sense of security.

Americans today, cost too much, spend too much, borrow too much, expect too much and often work and produce too little per capita relative to the rest of the world economy. We speak of creating more jobs, but then we focus them in areas that do not bring our nations strategic value. Yes paying people to fix decaying infrastructure is necessary, but it is not the same creation of new value as when FDR created the WPA in the 1930s. Having an entire nation of college graduates makes us all warm and fuzzy and makes us feel really superior to countries like Mexico, and Singapore, but they have cheap labor and less per capita expense for laborers. As a result their goods cost less and we buy much more than we sell as a nation from these nations.

We make all our companies provide tremendous benefits for being an American employee but these also increase the cost of the development of goods and services and price our products out of the world economic market. We tout our abilities as the innovators of the world, yet the profits from innovation are dwarfed by the profits from the manufacturing of the products we have innovated. And now other countries are surpassing us as innovators. Their education systems are producing superior students because not everyone goes to college. Some are tracked for labor, some skilled labor, and only a few go to college – often American colleges. We have no labor pool to speak of and we have invested way too much in many of those that end up in labor related jobs because we sent them to college only to find there were no jobs for their level of education. Further, there is an argument that we have weakened the quality of an American college education because so much of our dollars are spread across so many.

Yes, overall we are in a very sad state. I am not an economist – just an individual who has asked some questions and tried to find my own answers. Are my answers the right ones? – the only ones? Perhaps not! But for me they have begun a path – so I can draw my own conclusions. I do know this! Until we address some of these fundamental questions, most particularly the big one of our highly inflated economic values, we will continue our decline, and likely will continue to seek solace by letting our professional political class print more money and lull us back to sleep.

It is time to wake up from our 40 year dream of profligate prosperity and face reality. The concept that the other guys need to sacrifice but not me is a false one. The sad part is we already have sacrificed. Our prosperity is already gone. The only thing left is the counting! Oh yea, and class warfare, revolution and destruction if that is what we really want?

What do you want?

Republicans & Democrats: Division destroys WE

This article is in response to a recent letter to the editor in my local paper.  In this letter entitled, ” GOP debt”, the writer makes his point that the U.S. debt is the Republican’s fault – that most of the debt incurred has happened under their watch, as a result of their programs.  He blames the current problems of America and its economy on thirty years of their dominance over Washington DC.  This article is not intended to challenge any of his assertions, or to attack the credibility of any of his arguments.  Fundamentally, it will not make any difference whether or not, he is correct as to who was actually controlling our government during the past 30 years.  The end point would have been the same.

Instead, I think it is time for all of us to take a hard look at a timeline for the past 76 years.  I have assembled a brief one here.  This is not meant to be inclusive of every single event, nor could it, as many would debate the events themselves.  I also have not intended this to try, by the volume or magnitude of events for either side, to lead anyone to the conclusion that one side is more at fault than the other – although I am sure some who read this will still complain of bias and that intent.

WE is us – We the People.  Not Republican, Not Democrat – neither liberal nor conservative.  It is simply WE.  Unless, or until, WE again congregate as one in purpose, we all will lose!

I have simply taken my own personal stroll through history and picked the particular events I felt were important, pivotal, in our long and involved – often entangled process – to arrive at the door of what may be America’s economic collapse.  We are at this doorway as a result of numerous decisions and actions.  We have made many many decisions in this period.  Most of the decisions were originally contemplated to fix contemporaneous problems of the day.  In this time we have developed a nasty habit of enacting short term programs with an intention to replace the programs with other solutions later, only to have the replacement step get lost along the way as we allowed the growth of a professional political class and the virtual elimination of the citizen politician on which the country was founded.

I don’t know if a professional politician is better for us in the long run than a citizen politician.  I can see advantages on either side.  History and the electorate soon will make that determination.  I do believe that at each step, for the most part, the politicians were attempting to fix the problem in a way they thought was best both for the country as a whole, their constituency, and their own re-electability.  While I can idealize a desire for so much more in the decisions of my representative, I must concede and accept the nature of humanity after all in this process.  It becomes my responsibility to elect the best person in support of the best solution. In effect to be a Mugwump.

In the end, it makes little difference.  Until we truly understand the mechanisms and fundamentals of our current situation – and correct them, we will continue to glide through the open door of disaster – slipping at some point into the empty maw of the economic abyss.

A Time-Line of Key Events

  • 1935: Social Security Act – Franklin Roosevelt (D)
  • 1965: Extension to Social Security Act (Medicare & Medicaid) – Lyndon Johnson (D)
  • 1972: Elimination of the Gold Standard – Richard Nixon (R)
  • 1974: Equal Credit Opportunity Act – Stimulates credit purchases – Gerald Ford (R)
  • 1977: Community Reinvestment Act – Jimmy Carter (D)
  • 1980: Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Act – Jimmy Carter (D)
  • 1981: Initial Application of the Mark to Market Rule – Ronald Regan (R)
  • 1985: Home State Savings Bank begins to fail – Ronald Regan (R)
  • 1986: Tax Reform Act – Ronald Regan (R)
  • 1995: End of S&L Collapse – Assets sold to Banks – RTC cost $87.9 Billion – Bill Clinton (D)
  • 1995: National Homeownership Strategy Announced – Bill Clinton (D)
  • 1999: Fannie Mae eases the credit requirements to encourage banks to extend home mortgages to individuals whose credit is not good enough to qualify for conventional loans.
    The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act repeals the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 – Bill Clinton (D)
  • 2000: Lenders originating $160 billion worth of subprime, up from $40 billion in 1994. Fannie Mae buys $600 million of subprime mortgages, primarily on a flow basis. Freddie Mac, in that same year, purchases $18.6 billion worth of subprime loans, mostly Alt A and A- mortgages. Freddie Mac guarantees another $7.7 billion worth of subprime mortgages in structured transactions.
    Credit Suisse develops the first mortgage-backed Derivative (CDO).
    Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 declares credit default swaps (and other derivatives) to be unregulated, banning the SEC, Fed, CTFC, state insurance companies, and others from meaningful oversight. – Bill Clinton (D)
  • 2003: Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan lowers Federal Reserve’s key interest rate to 1%, the lowest in 45 years – George W. Bush (R)
  • 2008: Global Financial Crisis Begins – Feds Take over Fannie Mae Freddie Mac and guarantee $6trillion of mortgages, Fed Reserve Lends $85 Billion to AIG, $700 Billion TARP Program goes into effect, Fed lends $1.3 Trillion to companies outside financial sector – $900 Billion loans to banks and buys $540 billion in short term mutual find debt – Fed Loans 133 Billion to foreign banks, Fed pledges $800 Billion more to buy mortgage bonds from Fannie and Freddie – George W. Bush (R)
  • 2009: Fed increases support of AIG by $182.5 Billion, U.S. Government supports various Auto Manufacturers with $34 billion bailout package, Fed Injects approximately $2 trillion into the economy in new currency under term Quantitative Easing. – Barack Obama (D)
  • 2010: Federal Reserve continues injecting money into market under quantitative easing of $1.5 trillion, Banks begin to repay Govt. Loans, Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is passed – Barack Obama (D)

Whats The Point

When I was contemplating writing this article, I had thought I would explain the relevance of each of the events I have listed.  In the end, I decided it is not up to me to tell you what to think.  It is your right, your privilege, and your obligation to find that out for yourself.  Should any of you wish to ask my opinion, or to tell me what you think, you may feel free to post in the comment section.  I will tell you my thoughts and conclusions and of course listen to your point of view.  Perhaps along with the others who read here we can continue to refine and get closer to a solution – get closer to WE.

The aforementioned timeline is by no means each and every issue that has drawn us into the potential collapse of our economy that we face today.  What is evident from even this brief review, is that the bad decisions were all short term fixes to solve contemporaneous imminent problems of the day – they span all parties and administrations.

My Conclusion

Our economic problems are neither Republican nor Democrat, they are only American.  We have done this to ourselves.  Only if we are united in this purpose, can truly fix them!

My Request of You

I ask each of you, who are kind enough to read my writings, to please circulate this to others if you feel it is valuable.  I believe we can all make a difference if we come together.  I know I can’t do it alone.  I ask you, my readers, to help at least get others to consider that there is something here bigger than ourselves and our politics.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it! Well do we remember?

Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás 1863 - 1952

The title of this piece, a quote from George Santayana – a Spanish American philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist, is a familiar refrain to all.  Most of us have heard this many times throughout our lives.  So much so, that I think many of us choose to ignore it as a tired and hackneyed phrase seemingly irrelevant in our modern and “enlightened” state of mind. Yet, this is one of those ‘old saws’ that continues to cut deeply into our collective bodies when we do fail to remember the lessons of the past. We need no more evidence than both our current economic condition and our political climate that we are in dire need of this lesson.

Yes, in fact we have all seen this before – many times – throughout our history.  Some of it we should know because we supposedly were taught it in school.  Some of it we don’t know because we were not taught it.  As we approached the mid-point of the last century we had a world conflagration and we had a good President that rightly knew he could not get our great nation united to fight yet another war unless we all recognized the exceptional nature of America and its people.  So with the best, temporary, intention we rewrote our history – American Exceptional-ism was born and our nation’s youth gained the will to enter World War II. Like most of FDR’s temporary government measures, this one too became permanent and we still experience both its consequence and benefit today.  One thing we should regret is an accurate view of our great history has been lost – along with the many lessons we should have learned.

If you would like to read some of the historical views of America’s history that were prevalent prior to 1935, Google Books has some reproduced on line.  They are a very interesting read with a significantly different and in come cases contemporaneous perspective as to who we believed our selves to be, what we were aspiring to become and where we honestly were at key points in our own evolution.  Here are some sources I recommend, with links on Google Books:

  1. The History of the United States of America by Henry William Elson: 1904
  2. The History of the United States of America by Henry Adams: 1889
  3. The History of the United States of America by Rev Charles Goodrich: 1823
  4. The History of the United States of America (an 8 volume set) by James Ford Rhodes completed in 1920

Having spent a lot of time reading this history as I was preparing to write, “The History and Evolution of Health Care in America,” I came quickly to realize that people back in the day really did know the key to prosperity and happiness! Although long under siege by both President Roosevelt – who initially stimulated the growth of Unions to foster job creation and later reconsidered his actions – and then President Truman in an attempt to reign in the Unions growing power, even the venerable Unions understood on which side their bread was buttered.

“When anybody preaches dis-unity – tries to pit one of us against the other through class warfare – race hatred or religious intolerance – you know that person seeks to rob us of our freedom and destroy our very lives!

And We Know What to do About Him!

The previous quote takes on a whole new relevance when you realize it was stated in a propaganda cartoon in 1948. Forwarded to me by Pam M., one of my oldest friends, the following cartoon is not only entertaining, it is quite prescient.  I hope you enjoy, “Make Mine Freedom”

Thanks Pam for this entertaining reminder of George Santayana’s very important life lesson!  I think it reinforces our collective need to be Mugwumps!

As always I look forward to your comments below.

“Pass My Job’s Bill NOW!”: Unions and Immigration – two sides of the same coin

Unions and Immigration dominate news along side of jobs

Reader Warning, this may be a long one! Please be patient.  No sound bites here!

The Argument

In his speech today, President Obama, once again called for congress to pass his jobs bill – NOW!.  The President stated that if they do not pass his jobs bill, which he views as perfect – without any flaw – and will, in his opinion, inevitably return us to prosperity, then the American people, who he states are overwhelmingly on his side, will harshly judge the republicans who are simply resisting for idealistic reasons.  He implied that the American people are tired of the republicans looking out for millionaires and billionaires.  He chose his words very carefully to imply that the Solyndra loan was the result of the prior administration’s programs – that he doesn’t own this one.  In doing so, once again he uses language to obscure this administration’s role in this specific loan. A loan that was denied by the prior administration and recommended by his own administration as not ready to be funded – but yet was funded anyway!

If one were to challenge the Presidents statement based on the inference inherent in the phrasing and timing of the language he used, his administration will seek the cover that was carefully crafted into this statement.  Jay Carney likely will respond, “that is not what he said…”  “What he said is that the “loan program” was begun under the prior administration…”  Continuing with the obfuscation, the President then presents “his” argument that this program is designed to make America competitive again.  As he makes this statement it is phrased so that he now owns this ideal of making America competitive. He would like us to believe that now “He” is making America competitive again. But is he?

He also repeated his mantra that, we need to make education more accessible and affordable and make sure every American goes to college.  His Education tzar, Arnie Duncan, in a recent radio interview, stated, that it is the U.S. governments responsibility to “provide a cradle to career assurance!” Is it?

In his speech he goes on to state that they are funding these loans to subsidize industries in order to get us “competitive” in a world where we no longer can compete.  He continues to state that we can’t compete against China who “subsidizes” their industries.  But if you talk to the manufacturers in China, as I have, – who the President claims the Chinese communist government is subsidizing – they will laugh at this assertion.  Again if you dig below the Presidents rhetoric, or if you challenge him on this statement, you find again that his words have been chosen most carefully.  The President’s administration will tell you that what he means is that China, through its Central Bank, is unfairly manipulating its currency.  Why, because they refuse to artificially inflate their currency, and overpay or over-benefit  their workers to become uncompetitive in the one world economy?

The Truth

In a whitepaper published by McKinsey & Company – September 14, 2011, written by Lowell Bryan, Sven Smit, and John Horn; They state that the current economic fundamentals remain unfixed.  Some of their main points include:

  1. Even if the developed governments, including the U.S. government, had been able to pass greater stimulus measures earlier – including isolating toxic assets – this would not have fixed the longer term fundamentals.
  2. The recent focus on debt ceilings in the U.S. and the sovereign debt crisis in southern Europe has also overwhelmed the public debate and shifted away from the failing economic fundamentals.
  3. In the U.S., the downward trend in labor participation has become pronounced.
  4. Structural economic fixes are needed such as;
    1. Stimulating private investment and savings
    2. Undertake an orderly de-leveraging of households (i.e. get Americans to stop borrowing and start saving – the exact opposite of what we are doing)
    3. Increase participation of labor (production level jobs) in the economy (as opposed to middle-level management and non-producing jobs)
    4. Reform long-term entitlement programs and tax policies to reduce the uncompetitive economic cost structure of American Businesses
    5. Reform education to produce more skilled labor
    6. Reform legislation to simplify and speed commercialization of innovation
    7. Rebuild failing infrastructure.

Like the Affordable Care Act, the President wants us to force congress to pass this legislation quickly before, as former speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, said we can read what is in it.  More importantly, it is not the reading – but the understanding of whether or not this will work.  The President is becoming very long on his implied -“trust me” plans.  He seems to either not recognize, or not care, that the majority of Americans no longer trust him or his advisers as their track record is putrid at this point.

While the focused effort at fomenting insurrection based on converting class envy into class warfare is getting quite a bit of play in the main stream media, it is not really playing in Peoria, or Winnemucca.  How will Americans feel if this concerted effort to stir up hate and discontent in the willingly disenfranchised boils over into a true insurrection?

The Presidents Jobs Bill, is being resisted, not because of republicans love for millionaires and billionaires or a reliance on them for campaign funding.  All of our professional political class (republicans AND democrats) loves, courts, and whores themselves to the so called millionaires and billionaires.  The bill is being resisted because most economists – outside of the presidents supporters – and good common sense find serious flaw with much of the underlying logic of his plan.  Further, history, including very recent history, shows that many of these approaches are not addressing the fundamentals and do not work.

The Kaiser Excuse

The Solyndra loan is one that this administration, the President, and the Vice President, own  lock-stock-and-barrel!  The prior administration had clearly and distinctly passed on this “so-called” investment.  Upon arrival in DC, and after some very in-judicious meetings with the lead investor – and big Obama bundler – George Kaiser; the administration decided not to simply revive this investment opportunity, but to expedite it and use it as a major public relations asset for both the Vice President and the President.

Now that this issue has blown up in the face of the President, his press secretary has characterized the meetings between George Kaiser and the President as discussions on his “non-profit ‘family foundation'” gifts program.  Once again they use carefully constructed phraseology to obscure the issue.  In this seemingly simple statement, most Americans will draw the connection to the Kaiser Family Foundation.  The Kaiser Family Foundation is a venerated non-profit known for its tremendous philanthropy and commitment to health care and the primary legacy of Henry J. Kaiser.

Houston we have a problem!  George Kaiser is no relation to Henry J. Kaiser nor is he connected in any way to the Kaiser Family Foundation.  He does have a family foundation, and he is a big contributor to charities including his Tulsa Community Foundation.  It is perhaps simply convenience that the administration chose this term to refer to his meetings and our own bad judgement to draw the conclusion that it was not “the” Kaiser Family Foundation – our bad!

All Jobs Are Not Created Equal in Fixing the Economy!

As the President is pushing his Jobs Bill he is really pushing Union jobs.  He is speaking about infrastructure, make work jobs.  Yes, it is true the infrastructure in America is in disrepair and needs to be rehabbed but this does not translate into making America competitive.

In his lecture to America this morning, he stressed the need to make us competitive again in the new world economy which he strongly supports.  We clearly need to become competitive again. And it is also very clear, that we are not competitive with China, Singapore, Taiwan, India, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Mexico, and many other nations around the world.  But will Union jobs and government subsidies really bring us back to being competitive?  The short answer is, no!  Looking at the U.S. Economy on the whole, taking tax money from the U.S., in any form, and passing some of that money back to companies to lower their specific costs or to provide incentives to people in America to buy their products does not make America any more competitive to the rest of the world.  It is just a zero sum game.

Think of this as your own piggy bank.  You have ten pennies in the bank.  If you pull 5 of them out of the bank to give to your friend to buy a stick of gum from you (that you paid three cents for) and you put them back in your piggy bank.  You still have only ten pennies in that bank.  Yet, you not only did not make a profit on the gum, you lost three cents overall.  This is the same shell game.  Lets take a look at some more realistic numbers.

The cost per man-hour to build a car varies widely in the world and even here in the U.S.  No matter whether you are building a luxury car or an inexpensive bare bones vehicle, the cost per man-hour is relatively the same.  It is the number of man-hours, and the price of the basic materials that changes the total cost of the car.  If you look to Detroit, the estimated costs for labor are approximately $85.00 per man-hour to make a car in this shining star of American manufacturing (at least according to the current administration).  If you look to Japan the per man-hour cost averages about $46.00.  If you look to Alabama, where some Japanese car manufacturers have moved their manufacturing the cost is about $28.00.  And some estimate the cost in India, at $18.00.  Is it any wonder that Detroit cars are not competitive in the world market?  And why the difference between Alabama factories and Detroit?  Can you say Unions?

Now I am not against unions – nor am I against union workers.  Unions have done some very good things historically for America’s labor pool – particularly related to dangerous employment conditions and mistreatment.  But Unions have also done some very bad things, perhaps knowingly, to America’s ability to compete in a one world market.

To coin a phrase, this is something we are “fundamentally” ignoring!  Our problem with being labor competitive comes in two basic areas:

  1. We have almost no natural labor pool left
  2. The labor pool we have costs way too much compared to the rest of the world.

There are other things that impact our competitive position in the world like, we no longer produce much in the way of raw materials, much of our business is based on middle-man transactions. And most of what we produce at the higher costs are sold at home doing little to reduce the steadily increasing trade deficit.  While these things are also very important, let us hold them for a later article.  The intent of this article is to focus on jobs and labor and the Presidents increasingly unfathomable position.

Why no labor pool?

Along with the focused drive, since 1972, by the banks and government to get us to stop saving and start spending, and the modification of the push to foster credit based purchasing, we have also been purposely closing trade schools and tech centers and redirecting those who would have gone into the skilled labor category to go to college. We are now a nation that does not value  the base laborer.  The person who creates valuable goods and services with their own hands has been left in the dust and become a second class citizen in a nation of college educated plumbers, welders, carpenters, cabinet makers, taxi drivers, and fast food managers.  I have repeatedly seen companies requiring a college degree for many professions like basic sales that should be more reliant on people skills simply to reduce the number of applications.  Most of the top sales people I have know in my career were without a college degree.  They learned their skills at the school of hard knocks.  I saw at least one such individual rise to one of the top sales positions in one of the top tech companies.  He almost single handedly took this company from a start up spin out to one of the premier producers in its class. In the end he was displaced by a policy decision that now required all executives to have a college degree.  It is no coincidence that within a few years they fell from favor in the market.  In some cases “book learnin'” does not compensate for real in the market experience.

While it is emotionally fulfilling to know these people have gone to college and perhaps studied the teachings of Confucius, or the writings of Chaucer; but has this made them better plumbers of has it just added to the expense of training them and increased their expectations and lifestyle and driven up their cost structures?  Is there value to them from this education?  Of course there is, but is there really value economically to America in their labor role?  No, it is in fact an unnecessary expense economically. Please remember I am not making a moral judgement here and I am not saying people who choose to, or end up forced to, practice a trade should not be allowed to go to college.  I am simply pointing out that this may not be the best economic solution for our world competitiveness problems.

While America has fostered the “everyone goes to college” mantra, closed its labor and trade schools and become dependent on immigration, legal and otherwise, to provide the required base level workers; places like Singapore still track a large percentage of their youth into labor and trade related programs.  Only a select few get stimulated to go to college.  Is this better morally?  Who knows, let the philosophers sort that out.  But economically, they are one of the countries kicking our asses, and we can’t blame that on the “subsidies of communism.”  By the way, kids that really want to go to college can choose to do that in Singapore, they are simply encouraged to go into trades and they venerate their trade workers and laborers.

So why is the President fostering class warfare, cradle to career assurance, union based infrastructure jobs and subsidizing industries to be competitive in the one world market?  Come to think of it why is the President such a supporter of this one world view?

The Reason

To start with,  who is this guy we elected?  Was he a prominent businessman?  No!  Was he a skilled civic executive?  No!  Was he a well  know economic theorist? No!  Was he a person who was well schooled in international relations?  No!  Was he an accomplished leader of any sort?  No! Well Maybe, if you consider he was elected as a state senator and then as a U.S. senator – in both capacities he quickly focused on the next step of his career but he had few accomplishments other than electability.

Look, I am not saying President Obama is incompetent!  I am pointing out that in the related experience he has little to qualify his views on this subject or to make some of the decisions that he appears to be making.  He is in fact relying on others to tell him what to do and these others, like most of our professional political class are corrupted by hidden agenda.

The President was trained as a community activist.  He apparently was very good at that.  What is the primary tool of a community activist?  It is to disrupt the status quo by using class envy as the pivot to foment unrest.  By convincing those that have less, that the ones that have more have attained it to their detriment.  In propagating this issue they gain the leverage, the power, to force changes.  These forced changes do not come about because they have been derived based on reason, due diligence and careful consideration.  They are forced into the stream based solely on the emotion of the moment.  Good community activists can get the minority so agitated that even the mere mention of due diligence or careful consideration becomes more evidence of the supposed evil intent of those who have more.

So why are we surprised to see this now?  And more importantly, why are we so blind to the real implications and the lack of focus on the economic fundamentals?  Could it be that another fundamental issue that is failing us is our education system?  McKinsey seems to think so, but I am not sure their reason coincides with mine or perhaps yours.

Additionally, our President has aspired, in fact worked hard, to become part of our professional political class.  He has in fact obtained the pinnacle of this class.  By doing so, he has assured that his future is taken care of by, and on the backs of, the same people that elected him to this office.  He is beholding to all that got him elected in the first place and is further constrained in his actions by those he will need to get himself reelected.  As I have said before in a prior article “Our Professional Political Class: An Island Cannot Rule a Continent!“, his currency is votes, and he appears willing to pay all of our collective equity in order to continue to gain these votes.

The Reality

I started this essay with the supposition that Unions and Immigration are two sides of the same coin.  While it has taken me much longer than normal to come back to this point, I feel in this case the preamble was both necessary and poignant.  Further, I think that the preamble is where we will find solutions – if we really want to solve this.

Since we have all but eliminated our labor class through the closure of trade schools, technical schools, and primary production industries (like farming, fishing, mining, oil and steel) and attrition through the aging of our population.  We have created a false expectation that everyone should go to college and our economy can not only absorb the expense but also have appropriate jobs available for these college graduates who all expect to be doctors, lawyers, Indian chiefs etc. – anything but “common laborers.”

We are left with no where to go but immigration to find those willing to work in the jobs we don’t want and at wages we can afford to pay, and still find you college educated plumbers willing to buy America’s goods and services.  We have unions who are, by their own claims – their own mantras, only looking out for the workers not American competitiveness.  But many of the workers they increasingly represent are not laborers but middle managers and low level executives.  The Unions, it appears, are dead set against immigration to solve the labor dilemma and they are dead set against relying on one world competitive wages as it would decimate the wages of the working class and the resulting stream of dues the leadership survive on.

Caught in the middle is the President. If our hypothetical coin is a quarter, then the President represents the low grade copper core.  On one side he has the silver representing the unions, the silver on the other side – immigration.  He can actually solve neither and have the solution be in the best interest of Americans.  He is left with obfuscation, and diversion.  He is in crisis mode as his pole numbers collapse.  And in crises he is falling back to the tried and true tool-set of community activists world wide – class warfare. We cannot count on this President, nor this congress, to solve this one.

In the end if we don’t solve it – we will all suffer!  At least he has acknowledged, that we are not competitive in the one world economy.  That is a step.  Not a step for the President, who can’t see or refuses to see the real implications of what he is advocating.  It is a step in that it take one more vague disingenuous argument off the table.  It takes the recently repeated ad nauseaum statement that “we are the most competitive nation in the world” – off the table.

We, now recognize that we need to become competitive again or we lose to those throughout the rest of the world who are willing to do the menial, tough, hard, exhausting jobs that we wont.  We also recognize that most of the rest of the world will do the jobs that we are actually willing to do for far less than we will! .  Until we begin to again rebuild primary production and manufacturing in America, and are able to staff the jobs with workers that are willing to not only do the job efficiently, but also at a pay rate that allows the American production to be cost competitive in the one world economy, we will fail.  No amount of robbing Peter to pay Paul, to build it, or buy it in America, will bring us back to successfully compete with those that will do what it takes for less.

America has an inordinately long row to hoe to get back to where we were.  We need to discontinue myth building, and begin to focus on the pragmatic.  We need to reject the community activist play book of class envy – come – class warfare and focus on resetting expectations.  We need to retrain many workers in production level jobs.  We need to review our educational policies and reopen trade schools.  We need to change the mind-set that everyone should go to college.  Not everyone should go to college.  Sending everyone to college lowers the standards of a college education and in the end lowers the value of education in general.  It is not necessary to get a good base education through the end of high school if everyone is also going to go to college. Also, after we send these kids to college they expect to be pad at rate commensurate with their education and its expense/investment. We need guidance counselors to again guide students into the most appropriate occupations.

Finally, we need to venerate the workers in America – the laborers in America.  We need to reduce the occupation of these required labor jobs by those expensive, excessively educated and overly trained persons with people appropriately costed and trained.  We need to once again elevate the community value of the individuals that convert the raw materials to valuable products, who convert their raw talent and effort to desired commodities. We need to have the unions and all groups, cartels, associations and members to recognize that unless we begin to put our nations ability to compete ahead of entitlements, grants, gifts, gimmes, and subsidies, we will become yet another backwater on the road of history.

I will leave you with this final thought.

It has been estimate that over 1/2 of all Americans receive at least 50% of their compensation directly or indirectly from the federal government or government sponsored programs.  By 2016, it is also estimated that this number will grow to a whopping 65% of the population receiving over 70%.  Our combined trade deficit since 1972 is almost $12 trillion.  In other words, we have purchased from the rest of the world $12 trillion more than we have sold to them.  How long can the business, that is the United States of America, continue to take in so much less than we sell.  This has been the case since prior to 1972, and in order to survive we simply increased the $500 billion in total currency then to over $16 trillion today.  But our piggy bank is empty, since most of this newly created currency has just gone to pay, by today’s numbers, 50% of the population 50% of their wages so they didn’t really notice there was a problem and the professional political class could continue to get their votes.

As Hot-Rod Swales said to me one day in 1965, “It do make you think – don’t it?”

State and Federal Budget Crisis Solved: Professional Political Class Finally Provide Value

OPresient Obama leaving Air Force One upon arrival in San Francisco on fundraising tour

"A picture is worth a thousand words." -Fred R. Barnard: Its about the money.

Please bear with me on this article.  in contrast to the best advice for writing, I have not put the conclusion at the start.  I am assuming you are all thinking Americans, and you are willing to make a short journey with me to find your own answers at the end!

Unequivocally, we have developed a professional political class.  We, the people, have created this new ruling class of professional legislators – or at least allowed them to evolve – over the past 72 years.  Like most of our entanglements in modern history, this consequence  was driven by little more than a series of short term decisions that were made to accomplish short term goals with no thought to the long term impacts of these actions.

Why not a national sales tax on all political sales(contributions)?

Up until the early 1900s, politicians were citizens first.  They were regular people, living and working alongside their neighbors.  They had local jobs, farms, or businesses and each and every piece of legislation they passed affected the citizen politician exactly the same way it did their neighbors.  Since the wages and expenses that they derived from their service in state or federal government was both part time and not meant to provide a living wage; their motivations were to be productive members of their localities, emphasis on production in whatever capacity, as it was the best path to wealth and prosperity.

Since these citizen politicians, could not make their livings relying on the payment from government, the various legislatures were part-time with the sessions restricted to just a few months each year. While in session, citizen politicians also made sure they got as much done as possible, and their supporting staffs and expenses were kept well in check because often the governmental stipends did not adequately support them, so the citizen politicians often came out of their own pockets for at least some of their staff. A great way to assure dedicated representation.

As we move through the early 1900s we see a gradual and steady increase in the salaries, perks, and reimbursable expenses that our legislatures received.  Like all of our historical short sited decisions, there was strong rationalization to such increases.  Some of the citizen politicians, living with the constant drain on their personal funds, were susceptible to graft and corruption by the men hanging out in the lobby of the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC (origin of the term lobbyist) – where most stayed during the legislative sessions. Of course, it was argued by the legislators that if they received better wages, more liberal expense budgets, and perquisites in office, they would be less susceptible to corruption.

Commerce (n)

(Business / Commerce) the activity embracing all forms of the purchase and sale of goods and services

[from Latin commercium trade, from commercārī, from mercārī to trade, from merx merchandise]

Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged

The next step, taken in the middle of the 1900s, was to extend the legislature.  Again, it was rationalized that the part-time legislatures, were critical to the growth and prosperity of the country, or the states, and there was so much work to be done that they needed to increase their time in session.  These arguments, like all of the rationalizations before them, were seen as reasonable and necessary.  As a result, buy the end of the century, we have, with few exception, full-time state and federal legislatures, and most importantly, a full-time, professional political class.  Their livelihoods significantly disconnected from the legislation passed and its effects on their local communities.

While in the past, our citizen politicians life and liberty was supported by their own personal productivity in their local communities as farmers, shop owners, business owners, manufacturers, and professionals like doctors and lawyers; for the most part today’s professional political class trades in votes and legislation for the specific benefit of those who can get them re-elected.

It is an easy statement to say that there is a direct relationship from big corporate money and the payments the professional political class receive, through various means both legitimate and illegitimate.  While corporate interests play a part, the aggregation of small money interests plays at least as significant a role through unions, political action committees, professional organizations, and the strength of the various parties, among others.  Regardless of the source, the money alone is not the focus of the trade – in the end it is about the votes!

Votes themselves are the stock and trade of professional politicians.  All the money paid into the various campaigns is exchanged for this tangible, valuable item – the vote.  Since we no longer have citizen politicians and most of our state and federal legislatures are the full time employers of this new professional political class – who employ by far much more than half of all the people in America, why don’t we recognize this for what it is?  This is nothing more than a commercial enterprise! No different than Google, Linkedin, Facebook, the AARP, or many other national organizations.  It can be argued that the parties themselves as simply franchisors.

“Obama visit nets millions: Next stop – LinkedIn for town hall meeting”
– Contra Costa Times, 9/26/2011

President Obama, arguably the top franchisee of the Democratic party, was in the San Francisco Bay area this weekend selling his wares.  He collected, somewhere between, $3.5 and $5.5 million in back to back fundraisers.  Think about all the money that is being paid for these goods and services sold by our professional political class.  It begins to boggle the mind; does it not?

When we had part-time citizen politicians it was appropriate to call these campaign contributions.  But I think today we can all agree that calling them political sales is more accurate in this day and age.

Perhaps we should have a national sales tax!  But it may not be necessary to assess this tax on all segments of commerce in our economy.  We only need to assess a “National Political Sales Tax” (NPST) on the one segment of the economy that is clearly generating most of the “commerce” in the nation.  We should implement a national sales tax on these political sales.

In the long run we may get some real benefit.  We could see a significant reduction in our state’s and national debts in the short run as the massive amounts of money flow into the various coffers. We may also begin to see the reduction is the constant din of political advertizing, direct marketing and evening phone call solicitations.  If for some reason this benefit does not rise, or rise fast enough, then we could extend the NPST to cover all political purchases as well.  At a 10% tax rate, the purchase of one of those $19.00 muffins would yield $1.90 in revenue to the federal and/or state coffers.  How many muffins do these guys consume in a year?  Looking at Jerrold Nadler, Barney Frank, Chris Christie, Haley Barbour, and many, many others this alone could wipe out lots of debt!

Of course many are just not going to like this idea! No one wants to see their livelihood threatened by taxes.  I would suggest that if they object to the tax then we should demand a return to the citizen politician, and the part time legislatures of the past.  In the long run I think it could be one of the most beneficial changes we could make for our country.

Hey, I’m just asking!

Our Professional Political Class: An Island Cannot Rule a Continent!

Abigail and John Adams

Recently, I have been reading, “First Family,” by Joseph J. Ellis.  This book, based largely on the letters between John and Abigail Adams shared throughout their lifetimes from shortly after their first meeting, through the American Revolution and continuing into their later years, is an excellent reminder of the insidious nature of tyranny and the tendency of good men and women to accept the status quo regardless of its inherent hardships.

In one passage, I was reminded of something originally written by Thomas Paine,  writer of “Common Sense.”  I agree with Mr. Ellis who states that “Common Sense, was arguably one of the most influential pieces of journalism in American history.  Mr. Paine wrote:

“An island cannot rule a continent!”

Paine’s quote brought to my mind a question.  Is this not the insidious tyrannical situation that is causing our inherent hardships today?  Not from the island of Britain, and the isolated Parliament and King George III, noted by Paine, but the island of Washington DC and the isolated professional political class residing in less than the ideal temporary residence there.

At the beginning of the difficulties with England, John and Abigail Adams were firmly in the camp that reconciliation was not possible.  At the beginning of the first continental congress, John knew that their views were in the minority and considered radical by many of the other delegates.  In his letters to Abigail, it is clear he took the approach to move slowly with patience and tolerance, allowing circumstances to unfold while applying deft and delicate pressure to those who did not share his views.

The dominant view at the early stages of our revolutionary period was that of the moderates, willing to live with the status quo, who viewed England’s transgressions as misguided blunders by disconnected and uninformed policy makers in London and Whitehall.  In contrast, John and Abigail, and at the time a growing group of others, saw King George and Parliament’s  acts as purposeful  subjugation leading to enslavement.  The stark contrast of motives in the end became irrelevant as they yielded the same effect on the population of the colonies.  The effects of the punitive actions by King George, and the ever increasing subjugation of the prosperity of the colonies by England derived the same end point.  Quickly, the divide over the attribution of the motive was replaced by the pragmatic need to solve the problems.  In the end, the results, despite the motives, were the same.

Our nation was founded based on the recognition, as Paine so succinctly put it, that an island could not rule a continent.  It was not the motive that drew this conclusion. but the pragmatic recognition that disconnected, misinformed leadership – not tied to the lot and life of their constituents – could not govern but in the end could only enslave.  Adams, and the rest of the founding fathers, created Washington DC – not as a state – but as an island, an independent locus for our national seat of government giving no advantage to any state.  They felt this island could rule this continent because its leaders would be part-time citizen statesmen, fully connected by family and livelihood to their communities and constituents not as professional inhabitants of this particular island.

Today, few will argue that our full time professional politicians have evolved to a growing often disconnected, uninformed ruling class.  Their fortunes are no longer tied to their successful relationships and local community businesses.  Their current business model is based on votes tied to personal gains.  Increasingly, this full-time professional political class is now often exempted from the rules and laws they so freely and prolifically propagate on the rest of us.

John and his wife often wrote that it was not government that would affect the necessary changes but a united people.  Perhaps, like John and Abigail, we are again at destiny’s doorstep.  Maybe we should review the original decisions of the founding fathers and once again revise the controls on our government and elected leaders.  It is incumbent on all of us to find the changes necessary to again ensure the promise of America.

Perhaps it is time for us to remind ourselves and our leadership that,

An island cannot rule a continent!

Opinion – Image – NYTimes.com: Understanding in Three Steps?

Opinion – Image – NYTimes.com.

Understanding Step 1

This chart from the New York Times, is very interesting.  The data presented is very telling but perhaps not in the way the author intended.

When you look at these charts what do you see?  After you look and answer the question for yourself go to the next step.

Understanding Step 2

See this article for more information: President Obama’s Speech: Critical Question Continued.

What I see when I look at the data is very different from what I think the author’s point is.  We are all tainted by our biases.  We look at data, compose charts and in the end we see what we want and often construct the defense of the reality we want to see.

What I see when I look given the discussion in my prior article is first that Productivity tracks point for point with the increases in currency from 1972 on.  This should not be any surprise.  The way we measure Productivity is directly related to currency.  The question is in this case the old one, “which came first the chicken of the egg?”  In this debate one side will say chicken and the other will say the egg.  One side will be firmly of the mind that the productivity drove the increase in currency according to economic theory,  the other side will say the increases in currency inflated the productivity numbers.  Either may be correct and both are at this point irrelevant.  Which drove what now pales in comparison to the question of is the current net value of the U.S. supportive of the amount of currency (value) we have applied to it.  This is 1/2 of the most important questions.  The other 1/2 is – if not, how do we fix it?

The next thing I see in the charts, is that Wages did not track to the rise in currency nor did the gains of the wealthy.  While you see some trending with the increases in either prosperity or currency, you should expect to see that.  Wealthy people have the ability to derive more of their worth from long-term gains and theoretically should capture more of the currency in the economy.  Again the argument of fair or not fair, while a fun and spirited debate does not change the fact that the trend-line of the data does not correlate to the Currency in circulation chart in the prior article anywhere nearly as closely as Health Care Costs or Housing Costs.  It is these subtle differences that suggest an alternate cause for the increases of prosperity.  Further it is the timing of the trends.

Finally, I see that the debt line that is shown in the chart is not indicative of the true debt but in fact the result of the application of the increased capital to pay off part of the debt that accumulated from 1972 due to the trade imbalances.  We have accumulated over $12 trillion in trade deficits to the world since 1972 when we dropped the gold standard.  If you plot that curve against the Currency in Circulation curve again they are almost a point for point match.  The debt curve reported is not a point for point match.  It is the result of result of the combination of the two.

Understanding Step 3

Remember Mark Twain said, “there are lies, damn lies and statistics!”  All of these numbers need to be suspect – mine included.  But in the end this is not a republican issue nor democrat issue – it is an American issue and it will take all of us to address it.

President Obama’s Speech: Critical Question Continued

In his speech last night president Obama asked a key question.

President Obama asked, “Where would America be if we had not passed Medicare and Medicaid?”

As I said in my post last night, “President Obama’s Critical Question,”  the president’s question should not have been be a feel-good throw-away line, as it is the underpinning of the base argument, that Medicare and Medicaid have been good for us as a people and for the country. Clearly, the president believes that the answer to these questions is in the affirmative. But, what if the answer is not?  These are areas that I think many need to analyze.

Those who have been reading my articles know that I have a strong concern that the underlying issues in our health care system and our economy are systemic and the areas we are focusing on are, in effect, addressing the symptoms of the problems – not the root causes.  In my upcoming book, “The History and Evolution of Health Care in America: The untold back-story of where we’ve been, where we are, and why health care needs more reform!” I look at the relationship between the rising costs of health care and trace in part one cause to the large expansion of government programs like Medicaid and Medicare.  I also found correlations between the rapid increase in the amount of currency we created, after we jettisoned the gold standard in 1972, and the disproportionate allocations of these new monies to health care and other government subsidized programs like housing.

The relationship of the Total Money Supply (M3) to our current economic issues I will cover in a later article, but for now look at the direct, almost point for point, correlation of the rise in the total health care spend in the U.S. and the increase in the money supply.  I think there is no doubt that the significant increase in the amount of currency in circulation and the rapid rise of health care costs run hand in hand.  It is very clear, as Sancho said to his master, Don Quixote de la Mancha,

“Whether the stone hit the pitcher or the pitcher hit the stone – it was going to be bad for the pitcher!”

In this case, we can argue later whether the increase in currency drove the increase in costs or the increase in costs drove the need to increase the currency, it was the expansion of Government programs like Medicaid and Medicare that drove the increase in costs.

Housing also rose in a point for point correlation as well.  Unlike with health care, you can see it was an advance indicator.  This make sense, according to economic theory and the basic premise of fractional reserve banking because our the engine of economic expansion (the creation of new money) is debt.  Most preferably mortgage debt.  If housing prices did not rise and new homes and the resultant mortgages did not happen then the banks would have become rapidly out of covenant if the new money existed before the new mortgages were there to leverage against.

Lastly in this article, I include a chart of a few other cost histories, lest we think that all parts of the economy had the same correlation to the increase in the money supply.  Clearly, wheat corn and eggs did not experience the same effect from the increase in the money supply – nor does it appear they led the need to increase the supply.  I believe that most peoples practical experience is that not all things have risen in value twenty times in the past forty years.  Herein is the potential rub!

I will continue the discussion related to the presidents key question in my next article.  In that I will focus on how the creation of Medicaid and Medicare changed our personal character related to our view of our personal responsibility for our health care and how this change has affected our fiscal habits and our purchasing patterns and trends.

Please feel free to comment on this article or send it to others.  As I have said many times this is not a republican nor democrat issue.  I think this is an American issue.  I am not an economist just someone trying to understand why these things are happening now.  We need pragmatic solutions not demagoguery so lets find out what is the truth and then how we can fix it!

President Obama’s Critical Question

Tonight president Obama asked a very key question. This is one of those great moments where one question that really is one of the key questions was used as a throw-away, feel-good line.

President Obama asked, “Where would America be if we had not passed Medicare and Medicaid?”

This is really a key question, is it not? This question should not be a throw-away line, as it is the underpinning of the base argument, that Medicare and Medicaid have been good for us as a people and for the country. My opinion is this is, in fact, one of the major differences in the grander debate. Clearly, the president believes that the answer to these questions is in the affirmative. But, what if the answer is no? What if the truth is, that Medicare and Medicaid, have driven up our health care costs, disproportionately? What if these programs have fostered an era of unprecedented lack of responsibility? What if these programs have been one of the significant contributors to the base cost of business in America, and are one of the key underlying reasons that America is no longer able to manufacture goods cost-competitively for the rest of the world to purchase from us? What if these programs have so changed the nature of our economy that we now have accumulated a trade deficit in excess of $12 trillion since 1972 and we can’t become a net exporter because our goods are too expensive?

I think these are the key questions that need to be discussed. I submit the president will not like the answer. I also submit neither Presidents Obama nor Bush, nor republicans nor democrats are to blame for the problem. I further submit it is this issue that is the key problem we need to pragmatically solve.

President Obama should get some credit for asking this key question. He should also get some critique for using it as a throw-away feel-good line to rally his base – particularly if the answer is not as he is assuming!

I hope others will help tackle this question in the next few days. I know I will be continuing this dialog in the next few days specifically on this topic. It has been key to my research and understanding on the crisis we have in our health care system, if is one of the core issues discussed in my book and something that I feel we must address.

What goes around may be wrong: ‘three charts to email to your right-wing brother-in-law’

‘three charts to email to your right-wing brother-in-law’ « The Obama Diary (Photos, Videos, Words).

There has been a bunch of reposts of three charts showing the relative deficits and spending increases from Both President Obama and President Bush. While this gives great fodder for the let’s bash each other and show just how bad the other guys were crowd, the charts themselves are a waste of ink and lung power to debate.

While the charts, are interesting, and like most statistics represent the adage that,

“there are lies, damn lies and statistics”

popularized by Mark Twain and originally a quote from Benjamin Disraeli; they are irrelevant to the bigger problem. While we can argue about one president solving the budget problem and the other one making it worse, all were relying on the underlying bad economic engine to make it all right.

Those who have read my posts on the subject, know I believe there is a deeper problem. The massive increase in currency since 1972, which in my opinion has given rise to a national crisis of false and inflated values and costs for subsidized programs, health care costs and housing I believe, is the real problem. Perhaps, it is our own underlying valuation of our economy and our assets that are the problem?

M3 With 1972 Gold Standard Trendline

Since we all seem to like charts, I will pose my own here. I am not posting this to assign blame, we have way too much of that going around. Nor, am I saying this is an infallible calculation – as I myself am not sure. I will leave it to others to wrangle with that debate. I am posting it to have you see what I saw as I was studying the rising costs of health care and started looking at other segments of the economy. I have a number of charts that will appear in my book. In the meantime here is the one that started me thinking.

This chart is relatively simple. It is the M3 (the total money supply calculated by the Fed) from 1900 up to 2010. From 2006 on the Federal Reserve decided to no longer report the M3, the M3 then had to be estimated.  There are a number of different estimates, their only variance is the shape of the curve after 2007. And they don’t make much difference in the current problems.

There was about $500 billion in currency in 1972. Today estimates put that number at somewhere between $10 trillion and $15 trillion. What doesn’t change much regardless of the trend, forecast or growth calculation you apply is what the projected economy would be if we had remained on the trend-line as it was prior to 1972. This line will project about $3 trillion on the baseline economy for today – assuming we had continued on the Gold Standard. If you factor in the gains we would still  likely have had in the technical sectors as a result of the investment in NASA, the curve shows additional growth to somewhere between $5 and 6 trillion.   This is still a far cry from the unbelievable 20 to 30 times we have multiplied the economy during this period.  Remember,  “lies, damn lies and statistics!”  I hope you treat this projection with the same scrutiny as all the others!

I am simply suggesting that we need to look deeply at this issue and diligently consider it’s effects if this supposition is even remotely correct!

The Blame Game: A Recent Letter to the Editor

“…it is thus compromise on the basis of tolerance for others’ opinions that lead us to good solutions….” – Benjamin Franklin

In a recent letter to the editor, yet another writer wants to make the point that the current economic problem is President Bush’ fault. He uses all of his 200 words to carefully craft a picture of why it was Bush’ fault.

Yesterday, I saw the same thing as to why it was President Obama’s fault. Again, all two hundred words carefully selected to make this seemingly very important point.

Having written a few letters to the editor, I can tell you from first hand experience it is not usually for me a five-minute thing. Two hundred words is a very narrow field to present a counterpoint to some point you are debating. Usually it takes almost half of the space to frame the issue in the first place.

These two writers are not alone. I see tens, if not hundreds, of these dialogs each day. Each side spending an inordinate amount of time to present the case why this person, or this party was wrong, wrong, wrong…

Clearly, the sheer volume of people, and the amount of time, bandwidth and ink devoted to this subject would indicate it is of the most extreme importance. Well it’s not!

The big issue at the moment is solving the problem. And solving this in a pragmatic way – not partisan way. unfortunately, it is not just the new mayor of Chicago who thinks no crisis should go to waste. It seems to be the philosophy of many of us if not most of us.

Each issue appears not to be an issue we need to solve – more it seems they are issues we should exploit for some other benefit. This has been the pattern since the early 1960s. The Great Society was not just to find solutions to help the poor, it was as stated by Lyndon Johnson on a phone call with Wilber Mills and Carl Albert,

“something that we (democrats) can run on for the rest of the century.” (listen to the President Johnson Tapes online, search on medicare)

And we can’t leave republicans out of this either. They have played the same games over the years.

Since everyone seems to think we need to assign blame before we solve the problem, let’s do this. Lets agree to start at the beginning of the root causes…

  • It is Franklin Roosevelt’s fault for describing Social Security in 1935 without recognizing that the transition to a private annuity system as he described would be lost to the winds of entitlement fever.
  • It is Truman’s fault for both extending the coverage and not addressing the concerns of the legislators at the time that argued about future insolvency.
  • It is Eisenhower’s fault for also increasing benefits and coverage while again not addressing the growing concerns over solvency
  • It is Kennedy’s fault for again extending the coverage and entitlements and getting assassinated before he could begin to affect some of the changes he saw needed to be done.
  • It is Johnson’s fault for extending the original act to include Medicare and Medicaid, ignoring the advice of the experts in congress including Wilbur Mills who repeatedly warned this scheme would not work, and then codifying the grants and gifts to the poor as the method to ensure democratic election and instituting the class warfare approach that is now the norm.
  • It is Nixon’s fault for removing the country from the gold standard instead of extending the standard to all precious metals.
  • It is Carter, Regan, Bush and Clinton that further reduced the restrictions on the banks, changed the regulations like the Mark to Market Rule and eliminated the Glass Steagle Act that multiplied the fiscal problem and continued the course of expanding entitlements.
  • And it was both Bush and Obama that again compounded the problem by consenting to the short-term solutions and compounding debt based fixes.
  • Further, it is all the congresses, bankers and federal reserve leaders that are also at fault for not addressing the issues, using them to fulfill other agenda and promulgating their self interests ahead of strategic solutions.
  • And finally, it is us for not paying attention and reveling in the constant, and unrealistic, expansion of our wages, home values, benefits, and desire for more without looking for or listening to concerned opinions.

Did all of these actors in this damnable play behave badly for their own self-interest? Not really. Where there certain hooks that were included at each phase to get our consent that were in their best interest? Of course! In every case there was justifications for why, and many times good arguments on why in the short-term this solution, or that solution, made sense. The problem was, they also knew in the long-term there would be a problem and did, or could do, nothing at the time to fix it. Of course, once the issue was temporarily solved – no one else chose to address it so it was pushed to the future to deal with it. And now it is ours. And it is, in fact ours. It is not our children’s as we like to think. We have run out of time and circumstance. That is why the symptoms of the disease are again raising their ugly heads with a vengeance.

Now that we have discussed blame, let us all tolerate the blame assigned to our favorite figures as we relish the blame in those we don’t like. If we simply agree the blame is inclusive and historically almost all-encompassing, then perhaps we can stop the blame debate, at least for some of us, and focus on solving the current dilemma.

This problem is a collective problem. One – many years, many parties and many administrations in the making. It is at our doorstep and will either define the next stage of our prosperity as a nation or our inevitable decline. We must all stop trying to focus on who it was that is at fault and how we can use it to foist our “pure” ideology on the other side. We simply must find a good pragmatic solution.

As Ben Franklin said, ” it is thus compromise, based on tolerance of others opinions that leads us to the best solution!”

ACA, Politics, Mandates and the Commerce Clause

Focusing on the insurance mandate in the Affordable Care Act, (Obamacare) a few months ago I wrote a series of four articles for a publication, reproduced here as, “Health Care Mandate and the Commerce Clause Articles.”  In these four articles, I explored why I found the base argument that the government could regulate activities like these in a state difficult to fathom by reading the commerce clause in the constitution.

[The Congress shall have Power] To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes;

In my original look at this issue, I examined  the precedent cases cited by many as the basis for the idea of why the Federal government had, in this case, a superior right to the sovereign rights of the states, something that all agree was expressly limited by the framers of the constitution.   Reading these historical rulings made this concept that this is a Federal right even more difficult to swallow because I found that these earlier rulings often were even less convincing and often more startling in the extent that the arguments became even more extracted and remote in their nature.

In reading  the arguments and the rulings of the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, I found an additional reason why I find the base idea that the Federal government has the right in instances like this to regulate the action of individuals in a state even more specious.  This is actually the simplest argument against such a right, and likely it would even hold the same effect at a state level.  It is part of the many arguments that have been made in the numerous constitutional challenges over these past few months.  But like much of these debates, the nature of the arguments has become complicated by excess verbiage and legal flanking obscuring for most of us the basic concept.

This additional argument comes in to points.  First, let us look at the definition of the word commerce.  In reviewing the many variations of the definitions available there are some basic common elements throughout.  They combine into the following.

com·merce
(komerse)
NOUN:

  1. The buying and selling of goods, especially on a large-scale, as between cities or nations.
  2. Intellectual exchange or social interaction.

Second, we simply need to ask a very obvious question, and one that while it has been raised by the legal scholars in the various debates in one form or another, it has been lost in the myriad levels of complexity provided more, it seem, to delight the ears than to illustrate the point. 

If commerce is either the act of buying or selling something, and depending on whether or not the activity was international, with the indian tribes or among the several states it could either be regulated by either the Federal government or the states.  How is NOT buying anything then an act of commerce in the first place?  And, if it is in fact NOT commerce then the argument on who regulates the action under the commerce clause is moot.

Of course legal scholars will use tangents of the “Wickard vs. Filburn” case to argue that not buying is an action that reduces the commerce among the states and therefore in reducing the revenue is itself something that impacts commerce and therefore can be regulated.  I guess this is the kind of argument our parents made for us to eat lima beans.

As a child my parents, who were good and nurturing parents, used to make me eat lima beans.  Every time I took a mouthful of lima beans, I had to rush to the bathroom to vomit.  And of course when I came back to the dinner table, I had to have yet another mouthful of lima beans, promulgating the same response.  Their justification was they were good for you.  Of course, the loss of the rest of the contents in my stomach and the various fluids and electrolytes that went along for the ride, did not enter into the equation – lima beans are good for you, we have lima beans, ergo  you need to eat the lima beans because they are good for you!

My father, a lawyer and son of a prominent judge, I suppose was simply adapting some of the arguments from the prior court rulings justifying the extension of the federal powers under the commerce clause, when he said, “There are people in other lands who are starving and it would be a sin for you not to eat those lima beans while they starve.”  He must have chosen this argument because it is so similar in the base points made in the historic extensions of federal power under the commerce clause.

In “Wickard vs Filburn,” the court ruled that poor old Roscoe Filburn’s wheat had to be destroyed because he grew more than the law, at the time allowed, even though he was using it on his own farm to feed his animals.  In the case against Roscoe, it was deemed against the law because his flagrant activities of wanting to feed his animals this ill grown wheat, reduced the grain he would have had to purchase from other states if he had not committed the heinous act of growing it himself.  Of course the fact that he likely would have bartered with the farmer down the road in his same state and that Roscoe, during the depression, likely did not have any cash to pay for the wheat in the first place was not relevant.  Roscoe, was not buying wheat from other states and as a result he was affecting interstate commerce and therefore the Federal government had the right under the commerce clause to regulate him so his wheat had to go.  Now Roscoe, eat those lima beans because they are good for you!

We have a strong habit in this country to stretch quite far to make the points we want to make.  We will obscure, misdirect, abstract and extend, often by many more than the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” in order to get the result that we want.  In doing this, either in the desire to accomplish an end we know people otherwise would not support or to appear brilliant by the use of flowery language and abstract argument, we often forget the simple and common sense argument.  The one we can all understand.  The one that actually stands up to quick and continued scrutiny.

Throughout these articles I have not wanted to argue whether or not we as a nation should require all to purchase insurance.  There are very good arguments both for and against this practice.  I simply am saying making these further and further abstract arguments, whether by legislative action, or judicial injection is not the way to achieve it.  In the end we spend billions of dollars arguing points that any person working in the fields or factories would screw up their faces and say, “What?”    If you related the “Wickard vs Filburn” issues to anyone working for a living they would have a simple answer.

In the end it is not hard to subvert intentions.  In the case of our current political motivations regarding the Affordable Care Act , so called Obamacare, we see exactly the extent that politicians and governments will go to get the outcome they want.  It takes years of very expensive education and hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars, to arrive at the decisions that have been rendered based on the various political governmental and abstract interpretations of the commerce clause!  Only we can ultimately stop this and force those we elect to find the simple and most pragmatic answers.

Semantics: Its just not for politicians anymore.

America Circling the Drain

America CTD?

Word games – we all love to play them. On occasion it is fun to pit ones intelligence against another and use words to obscure what we are saying or twist another’s words into something they clearly would never have said. But, has an intellectual challenge for some, become a threat to our national existence?

 we have lost connection with the little engine that for over two centuries made us, that little engine that could…

It seems the word games we all learned to play as children have become the weapons of war on ourselves, wrought by others for their own gain and power. The diatribe that is now offered as debate in all phases and venues of our public discourse – from the popular media to the halls of our congress (once the proud battlement of high ideals and lofty goals) has become a bitter, petty and self-serving process. Its practitioners now use language to obfuscate, confuse, deflect, disguise, denigrate, excoriate, and disrupt anyone and anything, usually in pursuit of goals that no clear majority would support.

As a result of this semantic game, we have lost connection with the little engine that for over two centuries made us, that little engine that could. By using words to cloak and obscure the faults in our economic systems, created by years of short-sighted decisions and weak temporary corrections, the economic crisis some have long predicted appears to be on our door step at last. But unlike 70 years ago, the “our” is no longer the American “our.” It is now most of the world’s “our!”

 A reader commented – without the government subsidizing this purchase, regardless of the long-term economic sense of the investment, the industry would not exist…

In 2007, Ellen Hodson Brown, J.D. published a book titled, “Web of Debt.” In it she chronicles the rise of the fractional reserve banking systems, how this historical standard architecture was flawed, and how we could expect to see evidence of its predictable mathematical failure. This book is a very good read, whether or not you are an economist or even mathematically inclined. It will get you thinking, and whether you agree with Ms. Brown’s conclusions or not, she will help you see some things you have yet to see about one of the main processes that provide us our modern existence.

Recently, in a brief post I wrote relating to a local news article on the purchasing of solar panels for Yosemite National Park, a reader responded with the comment that I was failing to see the whole picture. He stated that, without the government subsidizing this purchase, regardless of the long-term economic sense of the investment, the industry would not exist as no one would be able to afford the products and therefore we would not get the benefits from them or have these options for future generations.

This got “me-to-thinkin’” as they used to say where I grew up. Is it possible that, what I see as desperately flawed logic could make some sense? Even though many of my recent posts appear to be more based on our economy, what I am most focused on is our health care system, or lack of a system to be more precise.

As I researched my upcoming book, “The History and Evolution of Health Care in America: The untold backstory of where we’ve been, where we are, and why health care needs more reform,” I learned that many of the drivers of our currently unsustainable health care system have their roots in; semantic based obfuscations, bad economic policy decisions of the past and the political fostering of the entitlement philosophy we have today.

In the area of health care, and retirement, we are now of the mind that these are our due. We believe we should be able to receive any care we want, at any time that we want, and if we can’t afford it then the government, i.e. everyone else, owes this to us. And just between you and me – we never really can afford it, can we? I mean, with all the modern conveniences we also want; like the large flat panel, and the vacation every year, and the new car, and the second home, and for all of our kids to go to college and become doctors and lawyers; I mean it’s not right to expect us to not have these things in order to pay for retirement or health care later now is it?

…have the government subsidize the cost of the product so we can buy it. Now, in a vacuum this logic can make some sense…

Thinkin’ more on this, I also came to the belief that another flaw of this logic is the base economics of the decision itself. To recap, we can’t build the product at a price that people are willing, or able to pay. Therefore, we need to have the government subsidize the cost of the product so we can buy it. Now, in a vacuum this logic can make some sense. If the consequence of these decisions was not exclusionary to other things we need then, assuming we all agreed, taking some money from each of us to pay the cost of a non-sustaining industry with the hope that it would become sustaining, may be something we would choose to do. But we are not in a vacuum. Every decision we make in our economy to subsidize one industry is taking monies we need for other things-like health care and retirement.

The larger problem today, is that we have inflated our domestic costs so much already, in this new world economy, few, if any, of the things we build here in the U.S. are cost-effective. Solar is yet another great example. Comparing the cost of U.S. designed and built solar panels with those made in China shows a stark reality. We are in the long run subsidizing a business we will never gain from. This is exactly what we have been doing for the last 75 years. First Japan, then China, next Indochina, now India, we have subjugated ourselves to being pioneers in technology, and letting the rest of the word dominate by base production. Their base production margins dwarf our pioneering margins. In this new world economy, we are now in competition to all others. Throughout the past 75 years we have either lost, or purposely abandoned, many of the market segments that gave rise to our industrial and economic power.

So in our semantic fed delusion, first, let’s tax, or fine, some group, who we can use semantics to argue has more than us and if possible demonize how they got it from us unfairly in the first place. Next, since, according to the semantic, they abused us in some way to get it, the government needs to subsidize it because a different, and semantically disadvantaged, abused, and often relatively small group wants it be paid for, at least in part so they can have it. One other key to this semantic process of entitlement is this group must be, or have a semantic appeal to another group, large enough to represent a significant voting bloc.

Now, just like the Yosemite solar panels someone, actually all of us, must pay for them. Some say, “We all pay for them!” Others say, “Oh no! We will make the ‘Rich’ pay for them!” This brings up other faults in this tortured logic tree. Whether it is taxes, fines or fees, the additional costs reduce profits, increasing prices, decreasing discretionary spending, lowering domestic sales, increasing relative costs, lowing profits, driving down wages, and shifting higher margin to other countries production. This very observable and familiar Zero Sum Game process now requires more subsidies. This progression is referred to by a very technical term (CTD) “Circling the Drain.” If you have any difficulty grasping this problem, you can go back to the beginning of the paragraph and repeat, reading until it becomes clear. For some this clarity happens just after they hear the big flushing sound! Woooooooooooossssssshhhhhh!

As I thought more about this issue, I realized if Ellen Brown is correct, and I suspect she is, continuing to apply this logic is not only dangerous, it is fatal economically. Normally, when a government prints new money, it is not inflationary, but stimulative, as historically this new currency is offset by real work product with real value that has a lingering effect in our domestic economy.

I just wonder if this new world economy, combined with our current lack of competitive margin based productivity, exacerbated by the governments current practice of allocating new currency to be created for non-value based activities like paying interest, or for goods and services where the bulk of the effect of the capital is being transferred to those countries manufacturing the goods. These are the same countries where the components or primary materials yield high margins due to their significantly lower costs.

I am starting to wonder if this process is causing that WOOOSSSSSSHHHH’ing sound I am hearing? Or maybe it’s just the semantic wind, whistling though the solar panels.

If you are starting to find the overall situation increasingly frustrating and perhaps scary come check out http://www.mugwump.co (yes that’s CO not COM)

Be A Mugwump Site is Live

Ever since I read Mark Twain’s Autobiography, I have come to realize that the form of political activism he and others of his time practiced is needed now more than ever.  Nothing is a better indicator of that need than the actions of congress in the past two years on both sides of the aisle.

I have yet to speak to anyone, in any are of the political bell curve who is not disgusted, and even more concerned with what is transpiring.

I invite you all to come take a look at the site and if you find your frustrations and views in line with mine – please join. You can choose to join and not have your name listed (you will still receive updates from time to time on interesting articles related to true political independence) . What I am hoping is you will list your name and we can build a groundswell.

This is not a political party, and it is not driven by one candidate or ideology. Find out more and come visit the site: http://www.mugwump.co(yes that is CO not COM. Someone has the dot-com name already but does not appear to be using it. Maybe one day I can get that and make it easier.

I hope to see you there soon.

Of Volks-latures:Our future – Sold – to us, by us.

Volks-lature vs Maybach-lature

These early citizen statesmen, tended to relate the effects of everything they did to the impact on themselves, their family and the community.

The collective display that was put on last night by our elected officials shows that we have allowed political privilege to supersede the role of elected legislator. Historically, our elected officials were for the most part volunteers. Up until the mid-1930’s congress operate largely on an alternating 3 month then 6 month period in order to allow the legislators to go back home and tend to their farms, and businesses. As such, they stayed quite engaged in community and reality.

These early citizen statesmen, tended to relate the effects of everything they did to the impact on themselves, their family and the community. Their ideals appeared larger and more discrete. Likely to our mind they also had more character and commitment since they served, often and significant cost, not benefit, to family and business. Of course there was corruption, but that form of corruption was more visible, as the delta between those partaking in graft, stood out like beacons from those who did not.

A citizen statesman returning home to a significant increase in prosperity as a result of his short time in Washington tended to send tongues ‘a-waggin’ if you know what I mean. Today our professional class politician is tacitly expected to find his fortune in the words and ideals he may sell to the most or the richest. Like comparing a Maybach to a Volkswagen Beetle, we have politicians who are the ‘Volks-Vagon’ the people’s car; and those who are the Maybach Laundolet the car where “the customers’ wishes come first.”

In the case of the ‘Volks-lature’, they focus their message and sales pitch more towards the masses. They chose the low-cost high volume strategy and offer to convey as many as possible to the nirvana they seek. On the other hand, we have the ‘Maybach-lature’ who have selected to sell to a very few with much higher margins. Unlike the Volks-lature who feed in the troughs with the rest of the masses, the Maybach-lature have chosen to feed in the food chain of the rarefied air, at the table with the best linen and the finest wine. And in realty they are no different, just existing in a different part of the econ-system.

In the end it is we who are providing their existence and much of the things they do are in fact self-fulfilling activities, calculated to continue their reign and enhance their equity.

You see, for the most part, they both exist to do one thing. Sell us our dreams in return for their livelihood and existence. Sure, some still have ideals and the drive to make a difference, but it is more the sirens song of wealth and power that has captured most of their hearts minds and more importantly – practice. Even the most ideological fall rapidly under the spell of the professional political class in Washington, who control their moments, provide their thoughts and calculate their longevity with a keenness that would have made Mr. Gillette very proud.  The tools of each, are one as with the other, as their weapons are all class focused. For one it is envy – for the other – fear.  In either case, it is the other classes that are the fault, and only theirs can save those that matter!

Overall, it ends up the same for us all regardless of whether we eat at the trough or at the fine table. In the end, it is we who are providing their existence and much of the things they do are in fact self-fulfilling activities, calculated to continue their reign and enhance their equity. It is we who pay for it and it is we who are now suffering for it.

This is one reason I have declared: I am a Mugwump. Further frustrating is the fact that the overall debate continues to be focused on who should get what from whom as opposed to what we need to do for ourselves and our neighbors. There are those that argue anyone that has more should be forced to give it up to all of those that have less. Then there are those who also argue that there are some who need a safety net and that we should provide systems and some government intervention for those who can’t – not those that won’t. See Was Shakespeare Correct.

Looking sharply at the debate you see similar ideals in the grand area but in the graphite at the point of the pencil the line is obscure – not so fine. The real debate is in the definition of who should get the benefits of government intervention and at what point personal responsibility ends and public responsibility begins. Further debate centers on the dividing point between personal philanthropic charity and government mandate over personal property redistribution.

In the end, the biggest problem is that we have allowed our political system to degenerate to the point where the body politic, once a largely part-time and voluntary collection of average citizens – making laws and regulations for themselves as well as their neighbors – and in whom little direct benefit of the laws they passed held influence, has been replaced by a full-time professional class legislature with little influence from the laws they pass and maximum influence, in fact their livelihood, comes from the direct (in the form of compensation), and indirect (in the form of votes and campaign contributions).  It is this that is their lifeblood driving the legislation they make – specific to any and all vested interest.

So whether you are a conscript of the Volks-lature or an acolyte of the Maybach-lature, we have all ended here at the same point. We have been sold a significant bill of goods by those we trusted to protect us and it will, regardless of what they do or don’t do in the next few days, be on our shoulders to again pay the bills. All of our shoulders! Because never in the history of mankind has a political system been able to provide a way for everyone to get everything – with no one doing nothing.

It is a damnable shame!

Was Shakespeare correct: is the fault within ourselves?

Cassius:
“Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world.  Like a Colossus; and we petty men walk under his huge legs, and peep about to find ourselves dishonorable graves.  Men at some time are masters of their fates:  The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141)

Historically, the interpretation of this dialog has been, Cassius, a nobleman, is speaking with his friend, Brutus, and trying to persuade him that, in the best interests of the public, Julius Caesar must be stopped from becoming monarch of Rome. Brutus is aware of Caesar’s intentions,  and is torn between his love of his friend Caesar and his duty to the republic.  Cassius continues by reminding Brutus that Caesar is just a man, not a god, and that they are equal men to Caesar. They were all born equally free, and so why would they suddenly have to bow to another man? On another level this phrase has been interpreted to mean that fate is not what drives men to their decisions and actions, but rather the human condition.

In this case, Cassius was arguing that the problems of Rome’s people were a result of the human condition.  And that if the avarice of Caesar, and his cohort, could be eliminated then the condition would itself improve.   This historical diatribe is truly the argument of the ages.  If frames the argument of many, if not all, of the issues of our time.

Whose responsibility is _________?
(fill in the blank with almost any word or phrase)

Is our health care – our responsibility or that of the collective society?  Is our survival in terms of food, housing, clothing, creature comforts of heat and air conditioning that of ourselves, or the responsibility of those that have more than we?  On whose shoulders does the success of our society reside – to each according to their need from each according to their ability/initiative – or – to each according to our ability/initiative and from each to those in need according to our humanity and generosity?

Looking across our political landscape, today, we clearly are a nation divided by our ideologies and views of how the world should work.  We seldom exercise compromise either, outside our ideological castle (see my article On Tolerance) or, it seems, even within it (see my recent article, Consider a Mugwump).  For quite a while, I have felt we were a nation of thirds:  one-third hard left, one-third hard right, and a third in the middle, the middle drifting either way based on the issues and ideologies at hand.  But is that really the case?

For those that confidently inhabit the edges of the bell curve, they have the utmost convictions that their ideological purity is what is important for solutions to be correct and just.  RINO and DINO labels tarnish anyone foolish enough to consider a position with even the slightest hint of grey.   To argue such a grey area can often lead to more than chastisement, but often to banishment. How have we arrived at this locus?  Is it that the middle is growing, and the tea-party despite the attempts at marginalization or reinforcement from both sides is representing a new and still defining set of values and frustrations?

Macbeth:
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
creeps in this petty pace from day-to-day,
to the last syllable of recorded time; and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.  Out, out, brief candle!  Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Is it possible that the root cause of our problems is in fact ourselves?  That our economic and ideological problems are an extension of our innate nature?  Are we now so enamored with our own Colossus, that we believe we are due all?  That we should all have anything we want, whenever we want, and the consideration that achievement of these things rests firmly in the divine rights passed from the stars and our own demands and that all others who have should – no,  must – grant part of their ‘haves’ to the rest of us who don’t and remain wanting?  Clearly, for some, this is not the case – I do not intend to damn any segment of mankind in this discussion.

Is this who we are today?  If so, when did we change?  Did we ever change, or have we really been like this all along?  Interestingly, the discussion has been alive and in debate throughout recorded history.  From Socrates to Aristotle, from Shakespeare to Twain, all have debated the relative merits and shortcomings of man.  Are we improving, degrading or simply continuing our journey with lots of sound and fury – signifying nothing?

While for the most part, I do not know much – in the end, I do feel I know this!  With all the talk of the crushing federal debt, and for many states like California crushing state debt as well, and the debate over tax cuts for the rich, or the role of unions in our demise – or their role in our success, or entitlements vs. safety nets, or our trade deficit or competitiveness in the world – whatever the topic; we are doomed to the creeping and the sound and the fury if we don’t change our own dynamic.  If we continue to pay, as an example, $68 dollars per man hour to produce a widget in the U.S. that others in the world are willing to produce for $28.00 per man hour, we will remain an acquiring not supplying nation.  If we continue to demand ideological purity, then the best men, or women, for the jobs will never come into office.  If we abdicate our own responsibilities to ourselves and each other in favor of some small group, who will for the most part be corrupted like all who gain power and control are corrupted, we will end up as we are today and as it appears we have been for all time.

We can continue to allow our elected officials to flummox us with the same pandering, platitudinous, piffled phraseology like;

  • the deepest recession since the great depression; or
  • this will provide business the certainty they need to...; or
  • we will continue quantitative easing and strengthen the economy… (Fed-Res speak for inflating the currency)

Each of these phrases, and many, many more just like it, are geared to obscure, conflate and confound the public into continuing to creep in our petty pace from day-to-day and not upset the status quo.  But it is the status quo we must upset or we come once again to the sound and fury part.  Like a big circle, or perhaps a loop by Dr. Moebius, we always seem to be ending right back at the same point.

At the beginning I asked a question.  It is clear to me that I cannot answer the question for anyone other than myself.  I ask you to find your own answer to this question.  And if you find the same answer as I, then let us all change ourselves.  In doing so we may change others and perhaps cut through the creeping, the sounds and the fury and signify something after all!

Afforable Care Act and Disease State Programs: What is the future?

As the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) continues the trek down the long tortuous hallway to become implemented law, a misquoted line, from Hunter S. Thompson, comes to mind. (I am using one of the misquotes)

“Hollywood, a long tortured hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason. There is also a bad side” – mis-quote of Hunter Thompson

We have all become complacent as to the unintended consequence of government deeds.  In researching my book, “The History and Evolution of Health Care in America: The Untold Backstory of Where We’ve Been, Where We Are, And Why Health Care Needs More Reform,” In a small way, I have become some kind of dubious expert on the historical record of the unintended consequences of the actions taken by our government, and many others, related to healthcare in America.  For some time now, I have been concerned that there may be very significant unintended consequences of the Affordable Care Act, particularly relating to special disease state programs offered by both states, and the federal government like; HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, heart disease, COPD, diabetes, etc.

ADAP as an Example

(While mandated rebates sounds like a great thing for consumers – it is not.  Federally mandated rebates are one of the drivers increasing the cost of medications to all of us and a major cause of the lack of transparency in drug pricing. I discuss this extensively in my upcoming book.)

An example of the kind of program I am referring to in California, would be the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP).  The California AIDS Drugs Assistance Program is a prescription drug coverage program funded, in part, by Title II of the Ryan White CARE Act created in 1990 by the US Congress and reauthorized in 1996, 2000, 2006 and 2009.

The ADAP program, provides medication purchase assistance to people suffering with AIDS, based on specific eligibility criteria.  The program sets limits on income, viral load, CD4 count, etc.  Depending on the criteria, eligible participants receive assistance ranging from; payment of insurance co-pay – up to and including full coverage of the medications proscribed, as long as the drugs are covered under the state’s extensive ADAP medication formulary (the approved list of medications).

You may be eligible for California ADAP services if:

  • You are a resident of the State of California
  • You are at least 18 years of age
  • You have a HIV/AIDS diagnosis (Requires Physician’s Letter and recent CD4 Count and Viral Load)
  • ADAP will only process prescriptions written by a licensed California physician/prescriber
  • You have limited or no prescription drug benefit from another source
  • You have a Federal Adjusted Gross Income of not more than $50,000.

ADAP is not all that California provides under the Ryan White Care Act to Californians suffering from AIDS, but it makes up the largest of the Office of AIDS’ (OA) expenditures – roughly $434 million of $1.3 trillion in total budget.  Of the $434 million number about 30%, approximately $126 million, comes from the California State General Fund, approximately 23%, $100 million, comes from the Ryan White Care Act funds, and 48%, $210 million, comes from mandated rebates from drug manufacturers

The Ryan White Care Act ¹

The Ryan White Care Act is the United States largest federally funded program for people living with HIV/AIDS. The act sought funding to improve availability of care for low-income, uninsured and under-insured victims of AIDS and their families.

Unlike Medicare or Medicaid, Ryan White programs are “payer of last resort”, which fund treatment when no other resources are available. As AIDS has spread, the funding of the program has increased. In 1991, the first year funds were appropriated, around US$220 million were spent; by the early 2000s, this number had almost increased 10-fold. The Ryan White Care Act was reauthorized in 1996, 2000 and 2006. The program provides some level of care for around 500,000 people a year and, in 2004, provided funds to 2,567 organizations. The Ryan White programs also fund local and State primary medical care providers, support services, healthcare provider training programs, and provide technical assistance to such organizations.

In fiscal year 2005, federal funding for the Ryan White Care Act was $2.1 billion. As of 2005, roughly one-third of this money went to the AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAP) which provides drugs for 30 percent of HIV-infected patients. The primary activity of ADAP is providing FDA approved prescription medication.

 So,  why should we be concerned?

One of the major reasons for the enactment of The Ryan White Care Act, and the subsequent creation of ADAP programs in the first place, was the inability of those with this tragic disease to get adequate coverage from their insurers.  A diagnosis of HIV/AIDS became a red flag to insurers that either precluded coverage, if it was a pre-existing condition, or HIV/AIDS patients found their policies dropped for a myriad of other reasons mostly due to lifetime limits and trumped-up problems.  As a result, people with a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS could not get insurance.  The Ryan White Care Act and the various ADAP programs offered under this federal program through the 58 states and territories have done a wonderful job of helping treat, help to arrest the spread, and improve the quality of life of those with this horrible disease.  I think, this is undisputed.  The Ryan White Care Act and ADAP have been unqualified successes.  One of those rare occurrences within governmental programs.

President Obama’s 2012 HIV/AIDS budget requests $21.4 billion in funding for  Domestic HIV/AIDS activities. – Kaiser Family Foundation Report on HIV/AIDS Policy 

Having spent a good deal of time, for the past few years, in Washington, DC traveling the same long tortured hallway Hunter was claimed to have spoken about, I have developed a pretty good understanding of what is making things work there now-a-days.  The main issue on everyone’s lips, not just Republicans, is reducing spending.  The last re-authorization of Ryan White, in 2009, was a heated, and anger riddled, argument.  There were those then (including many leading democrats like Senator Kennedy) that did not want to reauthorize the existing legislation.  They were advocating creating new legislation that better dealt with the realities of the disease as it stood today.  But like most entitlements, the constituents, and their very vocal advocates, did not trust the government to bring them the program that they wanted.  While, they all agreed that the Ryan White Care Act was not great, they felt it was better than what they might get.  In the end, the political pressure drove the legislation to be reauthorized and extended four more years.  Determined to not see this, in their view, unwieldy and ineffective Act reauthorized one more time, Kennedy’s staff made sure that the 2009 re-authorization legislative language included a sunset provision that prohibited another re-authorization down the road.

 Well Things Have Changed – Haven’t They?

The biggest problem with AIDS today is that people no longer feel guilty nor afraid of the disease!
– Britt Weinstock, Senior Health Policy Advisor – Congressional Black Caucus

Well they have and have not.  Illustrated in the statement made by Britt Weinstock (one of the brightest and dedicated individuals I have met in Washington DC) in a meeting with me in 2007, the overall nature of the nations focus and funding for HIV/AIDS had changed.  It was then getting increasingly difficult to get attention in congress and squeeze out the necessary funding.  When the Ryan White Care Act was originally conceived the nature and treatment of HIV/AIDS was that of a terminal illness on the rise to a national epidemic.  Today it can be a treatable, if chronic, condition.  Then people diagnosed with AIDS had an expected lifetime of a few months to 8 years.  Today, with treatment, they can live mostly full and productive lives.  Like most other chronic diseases we face today, as the prognosis for HIV/AIDS has improved the lifetime cost of treatment has increased many fold.

As far as the Affordable Care Act goes, if this legislation continues to be enacted, it will prohibit insurers from barring HIV/AIDS patients from getting insurance to cover their needs – a seemingly good thing.  In fact, many states have already set up special funds for patients with pre-existing conditions and temporary high-risk insurance pools as an interim solution till the ACA takes full effect.  In the May revision of California Governor Brown’s 2011-12 Budget, the Office of AIDS are projecting saving some money by changing ADAP eligibility so that some of the covered patients shift into the states Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP).  This program is a federally funded program and does not, at this point, receive any funding from the California State General Fund.  With cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security now in open discussion, will such programs be deemed as necessary?  With Ms. Weinstock’s statement in mind will American citizens agree with the priority of additional funding?

As a result of the historical empathy and generosity of Californians, HIV/AIDS patients in California currently receive some of the best program benefits in the US today, and as a result, the public health crisis from HIV/AIDS has been contained and almost all patients in California have access to quality care and the required medications.  The question is – for how long?

As was seen in the 2009 re-authorization of Ryan White, many politicians did not want to be on the wrong side of the HIV/AIDS or GLBT activist communities and as such even the lion of the senate yielded and agreed to their demands for re-authorization.  But the game has definitely changed!  Before the choice for politicians was either, I agree to fund these programs or, since there was no insurance or other option for HIV/AIDS patients – they would die.

Today, the question politicians have to answer from the general public is; “Why do we need these types of programs? We just passed ObamaCare and everyone now gets insurance, or subsidies to buy insurance!”  The question for HIV/AIDS and other special disease state patients is, will politicians, having many fiscal-crisis related issues now the focus before them – without the ability to just print money to pay for them as we have in the past – have the strength to stand up to the rest of the fiscally troubled middle-class and say…

“Well you see…  Ahhh…  Well…  the Affordable Care Act…  aaaa, really didn’t cover everyone they way we thought…  And you see…”

Or will they just not re-authorize Ryan White and other special disease state programs like it and push it all off to MediCare, Medicaid and the ACA or the states.

How long can politicians in Washington, DC and Sacramento, continue to fund these needed programs?  How long will the politicians have the courage to stand up and continue in light of the looming fiscal crisis and its impact on seniors, disabled, children and under-served middle class and lower class Americans?  The question to the politicians really will be,

“Why do we need these programs if we just passed ObamaCare and spent trillions on it?”

“Politicians could use the answer, “Well….  Ahhh…  You see – aaaaa…..  Well it’s like this, you see, the Affordable Care Act really didn’t protect everyone!”  Some politicians may see it as a safer action – a more re-electable action – to not reauthorize these programs because; unlike before, when the choice was either we authorize these programs or people die because they can’t get insurance; now, to the vast majority of Americans, it seems no longer necessary because we just spent trillions to ensure that everyone has health care –  didn’t we?  Can a politician stand there and tell Mr. and Mrs. Middle Class America that the health needs for this increasing but still minority population of Americans is greater than their own fiscal needs?  And more importantly will these middle class Americans have the willingness to accept it.  Do we truly think, that we can fund everything we want by just taxing the richest 1%, 5%, or 10% of Americans?  If you look at the numbers, despite the rhetoric, we probably can’t.

This is a tough one!  Regardless of how anyone feels about the ACA – and almost no one actually likes it on either side – just like most other government programs, it is designed for somewhat near the lower-middle of the bell curve.  The people on the extreme edges of the bell curve get either poor or no benefit from these programs.  This is a fiscal reality.  The cost of the benefits for the people in the covered range of the bell curve where the programs are offered, has to be born by all the rest of the population.  The fringes never really get completely covered, even though the center of the bell is not in the middle-point of these curves.  So, we will always likely need specialty programs if we are going to commit to have the government take care of the most fragile among us!

It remains to be seen if this will be the case.  As I said, I am very concerned at this point that the Givernment of the People, By the People, and For the People is still able to do this, unless we rethink what this commitment means and more importantly, how to accomplish it.  We need to fundamentally restructure healthcare and rework, from scratch, the supply chain.  Perhaps we need to look not just at the government, but beyond government as well, to our individual relationships with, and responsibilities to, each other if we hope to find some answers.

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¹ Wikipedia contributors. “Ryan White Care Act.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 19 May. 2011. Web. 8 Jul. 2011.