Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Small Scrapes and Bruises (Poem – “Powerpoint Poetry”)

1968 • Twelve years old • Cool, sunny morning • Brilliant blue sky • Greet a morning with limitless possibilities

So much energy • No fear • Black Schwinn Typhoon • Coaster brakes • No GPS


Gone all day • Miles from home • No ID • No cellphones • No adults knew where we were


No boss • No bills • No schedule • No money • No worry • No boredom
Fall off • Skin scraped • Small amount of blood • Burned only a little bit, only a little while • Right back on bike


Home around 6 • Bactine • Family dinner • Scabs on knees • Sleep • No worry • New day • New possibilities

A Look at 2009

It seems like it’s the time of year when we look back at what was accomplished, or not accomplished. This time of year and birthdays…

As usual, it was mixed, but overall not bad. Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way. The stock market did OK, but I’m still way “behind” where I thought I would be at this time in my life. However, I’m still quite fortunate. I lost my brother in law Dave this year. The Packers and the Bears won decisively this weekend and I know we would have discussed that. I miss him.

On the good side, my web business had some success. I have paying clients. I have performed well in the local search arena – my clients can be found on Google and Yahoo using the search criteria that we agreed was appropriate. The sites are functional and attractive. I have so much to learn still – and it wouldn’t hurt to get a better feel for graphic design and color matching.

I wrote some fiction this year – the first since college. I even wrote a poem – perhaps I’ll post it here. I was berating myself for not writing enough this year. I wanted to write a piece per week on my blog. I guess I wasn’t paying attention – this will be post 49 for this year (not counting the posts I ghostwrite for other people’s blogs), so I only missed three weeks. I guess I’m allowed 3 weeks of vacation at my age.

Despite the economic turndown, we had nice vacations (Tahoe, Florida, my RV trip…) and got home improvements accomplished.

Overall, not a bad year. Back to doom and gloom in the new year.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

American Competitiveness: An Educated Work Force

It takes three components to make a country competitive in the world economy: an educated work force, a sound infrastructure, and pro-business policies. I wish to address the make up of the work force.

The nation needs a workforce with a range of capabilities, but there are minimum standards that should be attained when a person graduates high school. Everyone should be able to read a newspaper and comprehend what was written. Everyone should be able to read and understand instructions for the common things they will encounter in their lives: cars, refrigerators, computers… They must have a basic understanding of math. Arithmetic should be second nature, with the ability to spot an obvious mistake. Everyone should have some grounding in algebra and geometry. Some understanding of statistics is important, at least so they can understand what they read, hear and see  in the media. They should be able to speak and write grammatically correct English. Lastly, they must be as comfortable with computers as possible. This is the minimum necessary for economic competitiveness; I do feel more is necessary to make people good citizens – but not much more.

Post-high-school education should consist of two tracks. One track should teach the technical skills necessary to teach people how to grow, make and fix things. The other track (which today seems like the only track, or the only “desirable” track) should train people for the professions: engineering, law, medicine… As I’ve said in many other posts, we need more people who can figure out how to grow things, make things and move things than we do MBAs, lawyers, game programmers, YouTube video contributors, and – dare I say it – creative writers.

However, education is not the silver bullet to increasing American competitiveness. It is necessary, but not sufficient. Other countries have plenty of smart people – and in the case of China and India, way more of them.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

American Competitiveness: An Educated Work Force

It takes three components to make a country competitive in the world economy: an educated work force, a sound infrastructure, and pro-business policies. I wish to address the make up of the work force.
The nation needs a workforce with a range of capabilities, but there are minimum standards that should be attained when a person graduates high school. Everyone should be able to read a newspaper and comprehend what was written. Everyone should be able to read and understand instructions for the common things they will encounter in their lives: cars, refrigerators, computers… They must have a basic understanding of math. Arithmetic should be second nature, with the ability to spot an obvious mistake. Everyone should have some grounding in algebra and geometry. Some understanding of statistics is important, at least so they can understand what they read, hear and see  in the media. They should be able to speak and write grammatically correct English. Lastly, they must be as comfortable with computers as possible. This is the minimum necessary for economic competitiveness; I do feel more is necessary to make people good citizens – but not much more.
Post-high-school education should consist of two tracks. One track should teach the technical skills necessary to teach people how to grow, make and fix things. The other track (which today seems like the only track, or the only “desirable” track) should train people for the professions: engineering, law, medicine… As I’ve said in many other posts, we need more people who can figure out how to grow things, make things and move things than we do MBAs, lawyers, game programmers, YouTube video contributors, and – dare I say it – creative writers.
However, education is not the silver bullet to increasing American competitiveness. It is necessary, but not sufficient. Other countries have plenty of smart people – and in the case of China and India, way more of them.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Town considers eyeing crime from the sky -- chicagotribune.com

I read this article today: Town considers eyeing crime from the sky -- chicagotribune.com

The concept is that there will be an aircraft (I couldn't tell from the article if this was a drone or a manned aircraft) filming virtually everything in the town - 24 / 7. Is this what we are moving to? Is this what we want? Our every move monitored? Our cell phones can track our movements. Our iPass can record where we've been and how fast we got there. Our credit and debit card transactions leave a trail of our whereabouts and actions. And now, we're being filmed from the sky. If this becomes the norm, will this still be the "the land of the free and the home of the brave"?

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Manufacturing in America: A National Catastrophe

I read an editorial in the NY Times by Bob Herbert (11/21/2009 edition) recently that echoes a theme I’ve posted here many times: too many of our best and brightest have been making up exotic financial instruments rather than making things people really need.  Today’s Chicago Tribune also had an article about manufacturing’s decline in our country. Lastly, 60 Minutes recently had a piece on cyber-terrorism. Part of the piece was about how generators could be destroyed through hacking into the software that controls them. As creepy as that is, I was even more bothered by the fact that NO electrical generation turbines are made in the US anymore. The same country that might be committing the terrorism (China was suspected) might also be the country we have to turn to for replacements. We are so short-sighted, so foolish.
From the article:
Detroit was the arsenal of democracy in World War II and the incubator of the American middle class. It was the city that taught mass production to the rest of the world. It was a place that made cars, trucks and other tangible products, not derivatives.
“We’ve been living with the illusion that manufacturing — making things — is so 20th century,” said Mr. Shaiken, “and that we could succeed by concentrating, for example, on complex financial instruments while abandoning the industrial base that sustained so many American families.”
I can hear my friends on the right now: government should not be picking winners and losers, BUT we need a industrial policy in this country that promotes making things here over shipping jobs and manufacturing expertise overseas. Perhaps we can start by NOT giving corporations tax breaks to open up shop in foreign countries. Give us something to keep, and create, jobs here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Support Main Street, not Wall Street

My rants against business are aimed at big giant corporations and the gigantic "too-big-to-fail" financial firms on Wall Street. I don't understand the big corporations that make millions or billions in profits, yet still lay off thousands. Why can't they bite the bullet for the good of the economy and make less money? Don’t they see the connection between unemployment and lower sales? I don't understand the thinking behind the huge bonuses on Wall Street, when it's the taxpayers that kept those businesses afloat. If they really earned those bonuses, why did we have to shell out almost a trillion dollars to keep them solvent? It is socialism! Socialism for the rich.

Yet, some of our local businesses here have been hiring! I know of a couple in my town of Batavia that have hired employees recently. I see people volunteering to help in my local community. I see people from "Main Street" USA trying to help the situation. I see very little of that same attitude from Wall Street or other big corporations. Why is that?

Support your local businesses. In the aggregate, they employ a lot of people. If there's innovation or a future high-flier, there is a good chance it will come from a struggling local business. Who would have thought a few geeks in an office in Albuquerque would turn out to be Microsoft and create thousands of jobs? And that one of those geeks would become the richest man on the planet?

Positive Thinking Leads to Poor Preparation

Those of us who went through Boy Scouts remember the motto: Be Prepared! We should hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Our constant urge to unrealistically think positive often causes us to "stick our head in the sand" and leaves us ill prepared for the nasty things life can put in our way.

Monday, November 16, 2009

American Positive Thinking

Our American tendency to always think positive is responsible for many of our ills:

 
  • Give them a mortgage regardless of their income - houses will always increase in value. What can go wrong?
  • CEOs and corporations can be trusted to do the right thing for the shareholders and customers. There's no need to burden them with laws and rules.
  • We should be tolerant of other cultures - they'll stop hating us if we show tolerance.
Unrealistic expectations due to the positive thinking mantra led to the 2008 - 2009 financial meltdown.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

I’m Sick of the Positive Thinking Industry

Are you sick of the positive thinking crowd? Are you tired of hearing people tell you that if you just think positive thoughts everything you've ever dreamed of will come your way? Have you read the The Secret and thought: what a pile of crap?

The positive thinking industry is huge. It fills the self-help shelves of bookstores nationwide. This industry peddles dreams - the dream that if you just think enough of the "right" thoughts - success will be yours. You will attract money, a spouse, success - regardless of your capabilities and preparation. I'm sick of it.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Wall Street / Business Community Idiots

The Dow Jones Industrial Average went down 249 points on Friday. I was watching CNBC and the "analyst" they were interviewing said that "the market" was worried that consumers would not start spending. Maybe that's because consumers are worried that the business community would not start hiring?

It seems we're in a vicious circle here! Which "side" is going to blink first? There was a time when the business world realized that people had to work, had to have an income in order to afford the stuff they make and sell. Now it seems the business community wants us to just run up a pile of debt again to buy the stuff they make and sell. They need to do their part, show some cojones and start hiring again. Quit expecting the government to continually bail you out!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Over-Capacity

I think part of the problem in our world is that there is too much money chasing too little worthwhile stuff. The people with money now use it to play games – to see how much more money they can make. Many, particularly on Wall Street, no longer invest money in productive enterprises that supply us with shelter, food, transportation – the things most of us need to live. Instead, out of boredom maybe, they have invented increasingly obscure and complex derivative financial instruments that border on gambling games – to amuse and enrich themselves. They have way more money than they know what to do with, but they are hooked on making more and more – and good old fashioned investments like steel mills, transportation, agriculture is just not exciting or lucrative enough.

Monday, October 26, 2009

It was as Far as I Could Go (Fiction)

It was as far as I could go. Every man has his breaking point.

We were about 40 miles west of Los Alamos, New Mexico. We had driven for hours in the pouring rain. The sky was dark gray at noon. The 30 mile an hour gusts shoved my rig toward the gravel shoulder of the road. The drive required my constant attention and I was bone tired.

I was driving with Moira, a woman I met at a bar in Austin called Jake’s. She seemed like she was in trouble and I was always a sucker for a great looking woman with a bowie knife strapped to her leg. She asked me for a ride and I said yes. It didn’t seem to matter too much which direction I was headed.

The cab was cozy, bathed in gentle light from the monitors. Moria had her reading light on. She had laid her book on her lap and I could see an inverted pentagram on the worn leather cover. I would never have guessed she was into that sort of thing – crystals and witchcraft. But, I was often misled by first impressions.

“I can influence the weather,” Moira said.

“I wish you’d hurry up and get around to it then. I could use a break from this wind,” I replied, “According to my weather radar I should be clear of this storm…well…never.” Weather was just one of the things that had turned odd since the Takeover.

“Thanks for taking the back roads. I know you’d have an easier time on the toll roads,” she said.

“I got the impression at Jake’s that you were in some sort of trouble.” All the toll roads were privately owned now, and heavily monitored. We were on the old state roads – two lanes, narrow, not the best choice for a rig this size.

I looked over at her, but she was staring out the window, looking out at the gray, barren New Mexico high desert. “It might help if I knew what kind of trouble.”

I had to strain to hear her response over the soft piano of Thelonius Monk. “I saw something and I shouldn’t have.”

A gust hit the rig hard and almost blew me into the gravel shoulder. I fought the wheel and brought it back into the road. Normally I would stop in these driving conditions, nap in the bunk in the back and wait out a storm like this. But, my gut told me I had better keep moving.

“And now… you’re on the run? From who?”

“I’m not sure. Sometimes I’m sure I’ve lost them, but they seem to always find me.”

“Maybe I should have asked a few more questions before agreeing to haul you west.”

I saw her smile reflected in her window. I also noticed headlights in the passenger side mirror. Out of habit, I reached down on my left and felt the comfort of cold steel. Be prepared – I learned that as a scout. And, if there’s trouble coming, a Mossberg 590 Persuader is pretty good preparation.

Sunday Morning Walk

It was a beautiful fall morning in the Fox Valley.




Friday, October 23, 2009

Capitalism Wall Street Style

Here's the problem with the way capitalism has recently worked in the financial arena: the gains go disproportionally to a very small group, but the losses go to everyone.

When I first started investing in mutual funds, the mantra was "more risk, more reward". If you had an appetite for risk, you could invest in a more aggressive mutual fund and possibly reap greater rewards. Of course, you also had to be aware that you could lose more when things turn bad. I understood that.

Now, fast forward 30 years. I no longer have the same appetite for risk and have invested less aggressively. However, it hardly mattered. Because others chose to take on enormous risk, my accounts suffered an almost 50% decline when those esoteric derivative investments tanked! I didn't sign up for that risk! But I sure participated in the losses.Did I receive the enormous gains when those derivatives were doing well? Some may argue I was a beneficiary of the good times, but not to the extent I declined when things turned bad. A relative handful of people made huge profits (plus the bankers who made millions in bonuses), but all of us suffered when those same investments turned bad.

The administration is trying to set compensation rules to restrict pay in the financial sector to reduce the incentive to take such outsized risks. Philosophically, I'm against government getting this involved in business. But, I sure would like to see them find a way to restrict the losses inherent in such risky ventures to the people that knowingly signed up for that amount of risk. Privatized gains; socialized losses - it's just not fair.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sunday Morning Drive on a Beautiful Fall Day

I really do love fall. Fall shows off crisp weather, beautiful blue skies, gorgeous trees and football. What's not to like? Lots of people focus on winter's onset, but I enjoy the fall for what it is. I took a drive this morning to enjoy the sun we haven't seen for a few days. I took some pictures of the countryside.








Monday, September 28, 2009

Bar Named Jakes (Fiction)

There's a bar in Austin, Texas, called Jake's Place. Jake's was a large bar, with a typical Texas cowboy decor. Prior to the invasion it would have been jam packed at this time of day. Now, with work and good liquor hard to find, Ben had the place to himself.

"What is this stuff?" Ben asked the bartender.

"It's some moonshine from Arkansas. We might get some beer in from St. Louis next week, if the deliveryman makes it through."

Ben understood. A deliveryman himself, he knew the route west from Missouri was dangerous. The only secure driving was from Arizona to the coast where the ChiMex had more patrols on the main highways.

"What are you hauling this week?"

"I have a load of golf balls for some resort in the California desert. The Chinese do love to golf."

The door opened, letting in a blast of Texas heat. A car engine roared and the sound of gravel spitting from the tires overpowered the sound of an old Hank Williams tune playing on the jukebox. Ben noticed the bartender's eyebrows shoot up and he swiveled on the stool to see who walked in. She was solid, not skinny - short brown hair with some gray, tight jeans, a black Harley-Davidson t-shirt, and a beautiful stag and leather handled bowie knife strapped to her leg. She walked over to the bar and took the stool on my left.

"That your rig out there?" she asked.

"It is"

"Where are you headed?"

"I'm delivering a load of golf balls to Palm Springs."

"I need transport. Do you have room?"

Ben stared down at his shot glass. He took a slow sip. He turned to face her.

"What's in it for me?” he asked.

Friday, September 25, 2009

How Much is Twitter Worth?

I read this article today: How Much is Twitter Worth? I too wonder about Twitter, just as I wonder about the long term viability of a lot of social media. 140 characters - that's all I get to use at a time on Twitter. How can anyone consistently put anything of value into 140 characters? Can anyone's Twitter stream pull in enough quality viewers to entice advertisers? Will people pay to Twitter? How will it ever earn money? Obviously, I'm a fan of the blogosphere - this I get. There are things of value available on blogs. Twitter? Even Facebook? I'm not sure.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fewer foreign-born people are in the U.S., census says -- chicagotribune.com

Wow - go figure! If you reduce the demand (the ability to get jobs) the supply (illegal immigrants) dries up. What a concept. Guess they weren't here for the welfare payments after all.

Fewer foreign-born people are in the U.S., census says -- chicagotribune.com

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Expectations are the Root of all Unhappiness

Expectations are the root of all unhappiness.

The universe is not against you. It just does not care. It knows nothing about you, your desires or your plans. This applies to everything in the universe: natural forces, man-made forces, and other people.

If you expect a certain outcome, positive or negative, that guarantees some degree of unhappiness.

If you always expect positive outcomes, you will be disappointed when they do not happen that way. Optimism, taken to an extreme, can result in a feeling of entitlement – and then disappointment turns to anger when things do not turn out as expected.

If you are a pessimist, you may not be disappointed as often, but your constant negative expectations will turn off those around you. Pessimism, taken to the extreme, can certainly result in depression if you never experience happiness, but only relief that the negative outcome you imagined did not occur.

It is better to not have any expectations at all. But, how can we accomplish this?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Her Red Hair Lit the Wall (Fiction)

"It's Thursday. Did you remember to put the garbage in the driveway?" she asked.

Chuck sat up in the recliner and swiveled his body toward his wife. "Her red hair lit the wall? What the hell are you talking about now?" he shouted. He turned his attention back to "Dancing with the Stars" and settled back into the recliner.

She got up from the couch and walked into the kitchen.

"Where are you going?" Chuck asked.

"To put hearing aid batteries on the shopping list," she replied.

"Enroll in a photography class at the Arboretum? I just don't understand you anymore."

Some Economists are Idiots

I am not an economist. I took economics in college, and then again as part of my MBA program. The professor droned on about mathematical equations while I wanted to discuss the philosophy of economics: the assumption underlying the "science". Back in those days I was too timid to confront my teachers.

I read an article by Paul Krugman. He is an economist who writes for the New York Times. The article is pretty long by today's standards, but if you're interested in economics, it's worth reading. You can read it yourself here:
(http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/06/magazine/06Economic-t.html) The article is entitled "How Did Economists Get it So Wrong?". Here's the first few lines:

"As I see it, the economics profession went astray because economists, as a group, mistook beauty, clad in impressive-looking mathematics, for truth. Until the Great Depression most economists clung to a vision of capitalism as a perfect or nearly perfect system. That vision wasn’t sustainable in the face of mass unemployment, but as memories of the Depression faded, economists fell back in love with the old, idealized vision of an economy in which rational individuals interact in perfect markets, this time gussied up with fancy equations."

After reading it, I did not feel so stupid. The neo-classical camp of economists have been running the show since at least the 1980s. This is the "free market does no wrong" crowd. Now their little theories are proving to be a bunch of BS.

I knew that in college.

First, how can a mathematical model take into account all the variables in something as complex as the economy? It amuses me that the same crowd that thinks climate is too complex to predict apparently thinks that free-market economists are infallible in something as complex as our economy.

Second, the assumption that we're all rational and act in our best interests is a bunch of crap too. Everyone knows we make economic decisions based on emotions that are far from rational. The assumption in economics is that no one wishes to deceive us, so that we enter transactions with "prefect knowledge" - which is obviously wrong. People get ripped off every day. Buyer beware!

Lastly, why do we assume that what is in my best interest is in the best interest of society as a whole? Or even in one other person's best interest? If I hoard all the food in a small town and then sell it at enormous profit to the townspeople, that is clearly in my best financial interest. But, not so much for everyone else.

Now there's a new thing called "behavioral economics". Maybe it's better - I don't know much about it yet, but I'm going to try and learn.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Can Health Care Costs Bankrupt You?

Here's another clause from my Blue Cross Blue Shield policy. Once again, I don't think my policy is unique, nor am I picking on Blue Cross Blue Shield. Read your policy! You probably have a clause just like this (the CAPS is their emphasis, not mine):

"Blue Cross and Blue Shield will make the decision whether hospitalization or other health care services or supplies were not Medically Necessary and therefore not eligible for payment under the terms of your Policy. In most instances this decision is made by Blue Cross and Blue Shield AFTER YOU HAVE BEEN HOSPITALIZED OR HAVE RECEIVED OTHER HEALTH CARE SERVICES OR SUPPLIES AND AFTER A CLAIM FOR PAYMENT HAS BEEN SUBMITTED.”

I've read in the Chicago Tribune that some people have had claims denied even after going through the proper pre-approval procedure. The policy isn't 100% clear on that, but this clause sure seems to say that even if I get the proper pre-approval they could deny my claim if they deem the procedure "medically unnecessary! No wonder people with insurance still end up declaring bankruptcy!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Health Care Rationing - Being Done Now

Have you ever read your health insurance policy? Here's a quote from my Blue Cross Blue Shield policy (bold is their emphasis, not mine):

Remember that your Blue Cross and Blue Shield Policy does not cover the cost of hospitalization or any health care services and supplies that are not Medically Necessary. The fact that your Physician or another health care Provider may prescribe, order, recommend or approve an Inpatient admission or continued Inpatient hospitalization beyond the length of stay authorized by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Physician does not of itself make such an Inpatient Hospital stay Medically Necessary. Even if your Physician prescribes, orders, recommends, approves or views an Inpatient admission or continued Inpatient hospitalization beyond the length of stay assigned by the MSA as Medically Necessary, Blue Cross and Blue Shield will not pay for an Inpatient admission or continued hospitalization which exceeds the assigned length of stay if the MSA and the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Physician decide an extension of the assigned length of stay is not Medically Necessary.


My policy is not all that unique - yours probably has this clause too. In effect, the decisions that you and your doctor make may be deemed "medically unnecessary" by the free-market insurance bureaucracy.

I am no more comfortable with a free-market, profit oriented bureaucracy interfering with my doctor's recommendations than I am with a government bureaucrat doing the same thing. Something needs to change.

Next post: the clause that drives insured people to bankruptcy.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Anniversary


Seventy years ago today Nazi planes, tanks and troops poured across the Polish border. The immense violence of the Second World War began – and it would end six years and approximately 60 million lives later.

The Insurance Industry & Medicare

Do you notice that the insurance industry does not lobby heavily for the elimination of Medicare?

My previous post outlined how insurance works. The insurance industry needs more payers than collectors. The less collectors they have, the more profit they make. Why would they be interested in taking on guaranteed collectors? People over 65 are guaranteed to collect in a relatively short time! Plus, it is currently reported that the end-of-life costs (your stay in the intensive care unit at the end) tends to be the most expensive hospital stay you will ever have. Why not hand those people over to the taxpayers?

So, the insurance industry gets billions in profit by insuring relatively healthy people and the taxpayers get ever more red ink from insuring people guaranteed to cost more. Sounds, yet again, like privatized profit - socialized risk.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Free Market Insurance = Socialism

I am convinced that most people really don't understand how insurance really works.

The insurance industry needs a large pool of people to pay and pay, to subsidize the minority who collect and collect. "From each according to his ability; To each according to their need." Sounds like free market socialism to me!

Take auto insurance, for example. The majority of us pay, year after year, our auto insurance and rarely make a claim. I have made 3 claims (all relatively small) in 30 years. I have paid way more in premiums over those years than I have collected in claims. I am subsidizing the careless or chronically unlucky minority of drivers who have multiple claims - for far more money. That is how insurance works.

It works for auto and homeowners insurance though - for the most part. Why? Because everyone is required to have insurance. Auto insurance is required by law (in most, if not all, states). Therefore, even if I were inclined to take a chance and go without insurance because I'm a safe driver, I am not allowed to by law. Therefore, the insurance companies are guaranteed a large pool of payers to cover the collectors. Same with homeowner's insurance. The majority of us have a mortgage and are required to have homeowner's insurance. Once again, the insurance companies have a large pool of payers to cover the relatively small number of collectors. And if the collectors become too large a number, they simply deny those folks insurance - like homeowners on the Florida or Gulf coasts.

This is why the insurance lobby likes the proposal to make health insurance mandatory - it increases the pool of relatively healthy payers to cover the more sickly collectors.

Next post: why the free-market insurance wants nothing to do with insuring seniors.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Something's Burning (Fiction)

I remember some things from that day vividly. Other things are still fuzzy. I remember the warm sunshine and crisp air of a Minnesota summer morning. I was in Minneapolis to speak to a client about their new software system. I was sipping coffee in front of my hotel, waiting for a cab to take me to that client.

The cab pulled up the hotel driveway. I got in on the driver’s side.

“Where to?” the driver asked.

I gave him the address. He pulled out of the driveway. I took another sip of coffee.

“Where is this place?” he asked.

“Don’t know. First time here,” I said.

“Dammit!” He hit the steering wheel hard with his right hand.

I jumped. Coffee spilled and burned my hand.

“I expect my fares to know where the hell they’re going.”

I slid to the passenger side of the cab to look at the driver. He was a big guy with long brown hair, maybe in his thirties.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” I said, “Do you have a map?”

“You’re a smartass. You’re from South Dakota. I’ll bet anything. I hate people from South Dakota. You hicks come here in your Sears suits thinking you’re better than the rest of us.”

“Uh…I’m from Chicago,” I said.

He angled his body toward the dashboard. I heard a click.

“I don’t think you are. I think you’re an asshole from South Dakota.”

I looked out the window. We were on an expressway. We had been moving this whole time. He knew where he was going. He was just messing with me.

I felt a searing hot pain on my left thigh. Faster than I thought possible, he had reached around and pushed the cigarette lighter into my leg.

“Damn”, I yelled.

I grabbed his hand, but he kept pushing down. He was very strong. The pain was incredible. A hole had burned in my pants. Smoke was rising from my leg. I was in shock – unable to move.

Instinctively, I made a fist and swung with all my might at his head. I just kept hitting in a blind rage, slamming his head into the doorjamb. His hand left my thigh, but the pain did not stop.

I heard horns, screeching tires, an incredibly large sound. Then blackness – nothing.

All that happened twenty years ago. I still glance at the scar on my thigh where the lighter burned me.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Health Care Bill

Looks like I wasted my time downloading the 1018 page health care bill. It looks like there's some major changes coming as the administration has decided to reconsider the "public option".

I searched the PDF version of the bill and did not find a hit for: "malpractice", "lawsuit", or "tort". It seems to me that we should address the issue of lawsuits and malpractice insurance in any discussion about healthcare reforms.

I also searched "death panel" - didn't find it.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Try Something New: Think for Yourself!

Instead of relying on media blowhards to tell you what to think, try this instead. Read the health care bill yourself and generate your OWN opinion. It's fun! You can get the current version of the health bill by going to: http://energycommerce.house.gov/Press_111/20090714/aahca.pdf. Download all 1018 pages and go for it. Make it interesting... pick a page at random and see what you get! I chose page 143 this morning and here's what I found:

  • SEC. 246. NO FEDERAL PAYMENT FOR UNDOCUMENTED ALIENS.Nothing in this subtitle shall allow Federal paymentsfor affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States.

I'm not sure what this really refers to, but it's good to know that it has the words "NO", "PAYMENTS", and "UNDOCUMENTED ALIENS" all in the same sentence!

I really do not think we should be passing laws that are 1018 pages long. That just seems like a bad idea to me. The current IRS code is 3.4 millions words, 7500 pages (http://www.fourmilab.ch/uscode/26usc/) and we all know how simple paying taxes is. In general, it seems that laws this complicated are doomed to create an immense bureaucracy to adminster them. Surely we can consider other alternatives.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ignorant Obama-Care Protesters

These shouting protesters at town hall meetings are not contributing to a solution to the health care problem.

  • Legislators have heard pleas to not let government take over Medicare, which they like. That level of ignorance is astounding.
  • Rationing? Doctor choice? Have these people ever read their current insurance policies? Every health insurance policy I've ever had (including my current one, which is not through an employer because I'm self-employed) includes:
  1. A list of in-network doctors I am allowed to use. I'm free to go elsewhere, but at far higher cost.
  2. Pages of excluded treatments.
  3. Pre-existing conditions - in my case I paid all of my own doctor bills for the first year and not a penny of that went toward my deductible.
  • "Death-panels"? Insurance companies deny treatment approval all the time. 17-year-old Nataline Sarkisyan, a leukemia patient from Glendale, Calif., died in December 2007 while her parents, her doctors and their insurance company (Cigna) were arguing about the procedure. It's rare, but it has already happened.

I don't think that government run health insurance is a good idea. There are lots of arguments I could make about too much government influence in our lives. But, the issues these people bring up are really the problems that started all this.

I'd bet many of us would love to know who insures these protesters who seem to have insurance that allows them to see any doctor on the planet and never denies them treatment approval or claims. I want some of that!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Cantigny Gardens & Museum

We took a little ride to Cantigny Gardens & Museum today. The gardens are lovely and the military museum is really interesting. A number of pictures were taken.













Sunday, August 2, 2009

Land of the Free; Home of the Brave?


As a result of the recent arrest of Henry Louis Gates in Cambridge, MA a number of people have written in the media asking if it's against the law to show anger to a cop. Is it? This led me to wonder where I can find the laws that I'm supposed to live by. I have heard the phrase "ignorance of the law is not a defense", but how am I supposed to know them all? Are they online? Are they in the library somewhere? Are there city, county, state - federal - laws that I'm expected to be aware of and follow? Are they vague and broad as "disorderly conduct" appears to be?


I bet we'd each be shocked to discover how many laws we are expected to obey. And if we obeyed each law to the letter, would we still consider ourselves free men and women living in the land of the free, home of the brave?




Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Financial Bailout Exposure

The Chicago Tribune reported that the watchdog overseeing the federal government financial bailout says the government's maximum exposure to financial institutions since 2007 could total nearly $24 trillion, or about $80,000 for every American.

That's $80,000 for every man, woman, and child!

  1. Surely this staggering figure is not just the result of giving mortgages to minorities that could not afford it.
  2. I still can't believe that not one of the Wall Street wizards responsible for a mess this huge has been held accountable. In fact, Goldman Sachs is doling out big bonuses ($700,000, on average) to many of the very people who made our country poor!

Where's the outrage?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Kane County Fair

I went to the county fair today. I learned a few things:

1. Sheep are judged in a couple of categories: for the quality of their wool and in a category called "meat". Farmers are very matter-of-fact about the sources of our food.



2. Goats can be cute. Plus, some of them have rectangular (horizontally oriented) eye pupils that make them look like creatures from another planet. I was told that the ones at the show are quite friendly because they tend to be bottle-raised. And, they were.



3. There are some really beautiful chickens. Plus, roosters make way too much noise.



4. Cows can be really large. Enough said.



Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Socialized Medicine

We are currently suffering under socialized medicine. I do agree that the technically correct definition of “socialized” would mean controlled by a government bureaucracy, but our medical system is under the control of a private, profit-oriented insurance bureaucracy and the effect on our lives is virtually the same, perhaps worse.

  • Our individual choices are limited by insurance company bureaucrats.
  • Doctors have large administrative overhead to deal with the insurance company bureaucracy.
  • The true costs of medical care are both hidden and amplified by the insurance smoke screen.

There are those who argue that it would be worse if the government ran health care. Perhaps. I consistently read that Medicare is far less costly to administer than private insurance, but I don’t know who to believe any more.

However, why not consider a system that REALLY uses the free market? Eliminate the insurance middleman! Make medical pricing, direct from the providers, transparent. Open up true competition between providers of medical services rather than providers of insurance. Take a chunk of the cost out of the health care system by reducing all the overhead imposed by insurance programs. Where is it written that only insurance companies should pay medical bills on our behalf?


What we all really need is access to health care, not access to health insurance.

Monday, June 1, 2009

I Wouldn't Start From Here - The 21st Century and Where It All Went Wrong by Andrew Mueller


I just finished reading I Wouldn't Start From Here - The 21st Century and Where It All Went Wrong by Andrew Mueller. This is a good read. This Australian went to all the places in conflict on our planet (Serbia, Bosnia, Kosovo, the Middle East, Northern Ireland, Africa) and somehow made the absurdity of their conflicts humorous. It does end on an optimistic note:

"We have heard a lot in the twenty-first century to date, not least from your
outgoing president, about a grand global struggle between good and evil. I'm as
certain as I can be that no such dispute is occurring. The universal human
conflict is, as it ever was, between the smart and the stupid. In general, I'm
still betting on the smart, even if it does often seem that the stupid have the
numbers."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Good Book

Just finished a good book: On the Water - Discovering America in a Rowboat by Nathaniel Stone. This guy (Not the guy in the picture) rowed from Brooklyn, NY east to Lake Erie, down the Allegheny, Ohio and Mississippi to New Orleans, east to Florida along the Gulf, around Florida and up to Maine. Great story about the kindness of strangers and the primacy of experience over the accumulation of stuff.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What are Memory Bears?


I helped a lady with her website yesterday. She makes memory bears. At first, I thought it was a little creepy, but now I see it's not really creepy at all. The teddy bears wear clothing that used to belong to someone who passed away. Sometimes the clothing is ratty, worn - but that probably doesn't matter to the bear owner. I was told sometimes the clothing still smells like the loved one. People get through grief in different ways. And if this works for folks - why not? It is sort of like a memorial to someone lost, and that's not a bad thing at all. She also makes personalized teddy bears to promote or commemorate an event - it's not all about grieving. So, what I initially thought might be a little creepy turns out to be a sweet thing, a good thing. Check out her site at: http://www.hadibears.com/.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Another New Site Up


I put a cute little tavern here in town (Stop Lite Inn) on the internet yesterday.


I used Blogger as the platform. They didn't want to spend any money, and I couldn't really see a reason they should. However, it is a bit unconventional and I am curious to see how it works out.

Does putting a small, local brick and mortar business on the web really generate more business? What is the ROI? I couldn't find any hard facts to build a case. My intuition tells me there is a cost to NOT being on the internet. I believe the internet is the 21st century version of the Yellow Pages. But I don't have a strong story for spending a lot of money on a website for these small retailers.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Great Bar & Grill - Batavia, IL


My favorite place to stop for lunch, or sometimes just a drink, is OBriens in Batavia. The bartender is always friendly, the food is good and the atmosphere is mellow. There's outdoor seating when the weather is nice. It's close to the east side of the bike path, so it's a great place to stop for a refreshing drink. Give it a try.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Springtime in Batavia, IL

It's a stunning morning. I have been fretting the last few days about where to go to take some pictures before springtime ends. Silly - all I needed to do was take my camera for a walk in my own neighborhood this morning.

















Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Latest Website Went Live This Morning

I brought another client live this morning. Check it out at www.confidentaire.com. This one was more involved than the other sites, there's lots more to it. I also am counseling Tom to do blog posts (using Blogger) to drive traffic to his site.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

My Latest Website

I worked on a website for a friend of mine who is going into business as a consultant to resellers, channel partners, and services partners. It went live today. Check it out at: http://www.ajbadvisors.com.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

A New Project

I volunteered for the Batavia Mainstreet organization recently. There's a link for it on my list to the right. The organization works to enhance and promote my town's downtown area. Because of my background, I began to work on getting some of the retailers in town up on the web. My first "client" was Mary Marconi-Popiel, proprietor of Special Occasions on the Avenue. It's a dress shop - prom dresses, party dresses. Those of you who know me probably figure I got the heebie-jeebies just walking in there. Initially I did, but I got over it. I might even learn something about fashion! The site is up. Take a look at: www.specialoccasionsontheavenue.com.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Thaw at Last!



The temperature soared to 60 today and an awful lot of snow has melted away. Finally, the ice dams in my gutters are gone and I can stop worrying about leaks in the roof.
I went to the Morton Arboretum and took some pictures.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Finally - Something Nice About Snow in the Flatlands

It's been a long winter. Snow, cold and ice have been with us since early January. We never did get a January thaw. This week it is expected to get into the 50s, so all this snow will probably be gone. Well, before it all melted I took a couple of pictures of some snow sculptures sitting in the parking lot at a local shopping center. Finally, some positive use for snow here in the flatlands!




Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Read Ghost Radio by Leopoldo Gout

I read an interesting book called Ghost Radio by Leopoldo Gout. It was a series of flash fiction stories – little vignettes arranged as chapters – that came together to make a coherent and entertaining story. Books are supposed to have chapters that stand alone, that tell a story within a story. But, this is the first book I’ve read where it seemed nearly each chapter could be published by itself and maintain my interest. Pretty neat. I don’t know if this was the author’s intent, but it came out that way to me.

Friday, January 9, 2009

New Quilting Related Software

I added a link to a new website: www.mywebquilter.com. Why? Am I a quilter?

No. But, my friend and business partner has started this site because she is into quilting and she has come up with a good idea. You can design your quilt online and print your quilt pattern, including fabric requirements.

So, if you are into quilting, check her site out.

GOP and the Budget Deficit

I read some of the controversy regarding the huge Obama "stimulus" proposal (which scares me). The Republicans are worried about the budget deficit NOW?

"You know, Paul, Reagan proved deficits don't matter" - Dick Cheney, 2002, to soon-to-be fired Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill who tried to warn the Bush Administration about looming budget deficits.

The reason that the GOP has lost its luster is not due to its stance on social issues. In my opinion, they haven't really taken a broad enough stance on social issues, but the reality is they can only do so much about them anyway. Economic issues and small government, on the other hand, is an area where they could have made an impact but chose not to. Even during the 6 years they controlled the executive branch and had majorities in the House and Senate (though not fillibuster-proof majorities) they did not do the things they told us they would: cut spending, reduce the size of government, and reduce the involvement of government in our lives. Let's not lose sight of the fact that the Bush administration initiated the first $700 billion bailout of the financial industry - an investment that now no one can account for.

Who can small government, fiscal conseratives vote for now? Where are our choices?