Archives For In The News

Things happening in the world today

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The U.S. spends the most of any country on its health care system, and yet it ranked the lowest out of 11 industrialized nations in overall healthcare quality, according to a report published Monday by the Commonwealth Fund.The report, which covered the years 2011-2013, compared more than 80 indicators of U.S. health care spending, quality and performance to the likes of Australia, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, and Sweden, among other developed nations. The UK, which was ranked highest, blew the U.S. out of the water, despite the fact that the country spends less than half as much on health care per capita $3,406 on average, compared to $8,508 in the U.S.. The U.S. also spends the most on health care as a percentage of GDP 17% than any other nation.

SOURCE: US continues its losing streak in health care quality comparison – Yahoo Finance.

I am about to finish one of the six or so  books I read at the same time; this one about the culture of the United States. It shows numerous places where we are the most creative people on earth. But then comes our ideas of healthcare. We just can’t seem to understand that our current system of taking care of our citizens is a loser and a big waste of money by almost all standards. We spend twice as much as anyone but get so little for our dollars.

It seems idiotic but it seems we are opposed to doing what has proven to work. Why,  because much of the rest of the world already has it figured out and therefore the solution would not be an “American idea”? We need to get over the idea of shunning anything not invented here and simply go with what works. We need to be as much pragmatists as we at least used to be inventive.

We need to get over the idea that somehow anything socialist is un-American.  We presently allow our government to handle our healthcare needs for about half of us but going all the way seems to be a big problem. Perhaps the most socialist healthcare system in the world is from Britain and of course from the above graphic we learn that they also provide the best care by most standards.

A person working sixty hours a week at a minimum wage job will earn about $21,000.  But according to the above they would likely spend about half that amount just for their family’s health insurance! I know I seem to harp on this topic often and that is because it is an obvious solution that is for some reason vastly ignored by so many of us. We need to take a big bite out of the humility apple and learn what the rest of the world can teach us.

 

 

 

Americans tend to score poorly on financial literacy tests, but it’s not entirely their fault: School systems don’t generally require personal finance classes, and many parents feel ill-equipped to pass on big lessons about spending, saving and investing to their kids. Here are ten basic tenants you should know in order to navigate today’s financial world:

You have to earn more than you spend.

SOURCE: 10 Things Everyone Should Know About Money – Yahoo News.

When I was in high school many decades ago we had various life skills courses that we were expected to take.  I don’t specifically remember a course on home finance but I do remembers some lessons about that subject. Credit cards were not very available to the masses back then so if you didn’t have the money you didn’t buy the item.

But I do remember that when I graduated college at least a half-dozen credit cards were automatically sent to me in the mail. They didn’t need permission to give you a credit card as they do today. I have always been a pretty frugal guy so I didn’t see a need for them. They usually ended up in a drawer someplace.

Now days it seems that every institution has its own credit card and who can blame them.  Most of the items that we buy today have a low profit margin, while credit cards charge an outrageous interest rate. The money you might manage to save gets you less than 1% interest and  credit cards are at 10- 20% interest!  That was called usury in my day and it was illegal. I don’t know when that changed.

Getting back to the subject of this post I can understand how kids today are ill-equipped when it comes to credit card debt.  Our capitalist system depends on consumer spending so it is drilled into us that we can have it all now and pay for it later. Of course for too many that means huge debt that will inevitably come back to destroy many people.

Without some parental guidance, either from parents or teachers, that teach you that you have to earn more than you spend, kids can too easily get into financial trouble. Why isn’t this topic covered in our school system?

SCOTUS Said So…

July 21, 2014 — 2 Comments

2014-07-07_08-52-54My religious belief strongly oppose war. I think our military budgets are totally outrageous! We, 5% of the world’s population, spend more on our war machine than the rest of the world combined.  With the latest ruling SCOTUS (Supreme Court Of The United States) tells us that religious groups can pick and choose which laws they choose to obey. Thanks to you my tax bill just got smaller. Thanks Mr Scalia and your co-conspirators for making it happen.

You guys never fail to amaze me as to how far you are willing to go to reshape this country to your views. You say you are against “activist judges” but you end up being the epitome of that category by your very rulings. First you upend our voting practices and now you are giving religions power they were never intended to have.

As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wondered aloud in her dissent, “Would the exemption … extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions Jehovah’s Witnesses; antidepressants Scientologists; medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus?”

SOURCE:  8 Other Laws That Could Be Ignored Now That Christians Get To Pick And Choose.

I certainly align with Justice Ginsburg’s comments. If a corporation says we are aligned with a religion that believes that God will take care of all our medical needs does that give them the right to ignore ACA? The whole argument just reeks of possibilities.

For any IRS  or NSA folks who might read this blog I am only kidding about not paying taxes so don’t come after me. ;)

2014-07-05_11-00-20A stagnant economy has undoubtedly put a lot of financial stress on the middle class. And that is bumming out America’s 1 percenters. “Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society,” entrepreneur Nick Hanauer wrote recently in Politico, in an open letter to “my fellow zillionaires….

“If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us,” he writes. “One day, somebody sets himself on fire, then thousands of people are in the streets, and before you know it, the country is burning. And then there’s no time for us to get to the airport and jump on our Gulfstream Vs and fly to New Zealand.”…

The economic trends Hanauer identifies are, in fact, real problems. America as a whole will suffer if the fortunes of the middle class don’t improve. There are solutions, however, and they’ll probably materialize in the usual American way — right before disaster strikes. It’s nearly inevitable there will be government spending cuts and, yes, tax hikes, when the government’s finances become unsustainable, which could take a decade or more. When it happens, the politicians in Washington will find ways to spread the pain around and America will muddle through. The rich will have to pay more, but they’ll still be rich. And they still won’t have to worry about pitchforks.

SOURCE:  The rich can stop worrying about a middle-class revolution | Daily Ticker – Yahoo Finance.

This is an interesting article about the words of a rich guy and the income inequality.  If you want to skip the commentary and go to the original article click here.

I think to some degree Mr. Hanauer has it right. He talks about things that need to be done to stifle a possible revolution against people like him and that includes returning to pre-Raegan tax rates for his segment of society. We as a country have at least in the past  been able to avert crisis right before disaster strikes but I kind of think if we count on that strategy working every time we are might be in for a severe disappointment.

It might appear otherwise from some of my posts  but I personally don’t have anything against rich guys, at least those who earned their riches themselves. I do have a certain degree of disdain for those who came by their wealth through the work of others, even family members. To me that is unearned income and should be very thoroughly taxed as such.

People like Bill Gates become rich by discovering a “better mousetrap”. He gave us a means to quickly advance our business technology.  I grew up near the Army Finance Center at Fort Benjamin in Indianapolis. The building was a huge complex. It took hundreds of thousands of square feet of desks for thousands of workers to process and pay military wages. Today, thanks to Mr. Gates and others that task is now handled by a mere handful of working using computers. Mr. Gates deserves every penny, minus taxes of course, that he earned.

 

 

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1. You will spend your life chasing a net worth number you think you will make you happy, but never get there.

People talk about their “number,” or the amount of money they think will make them happy and content. I’m convinced these numbers are what most people live for.

But they’re dangerous. People are bad at forecasting almost everything, but trying to predict how you’ll feel in the future is a whole different level of delusion….

2. A lot of what you know is wrong, incomplete, distorted, and subject to revision

There’s a bias called the “end of history illusion.” It says that people think changes in taste, new ideas, and learning in general occurred in the past, but today we’ve got it all figured out.

The truth is we’re always learning how wrong we were in the past…..

3. People are less impressed by your success than you think

Most people in the developed world are about as comfortable and safe as they’re going to get in their lives. Their incentive to get richer is to impress other people.

But while people spend their lives trying to impress their friends, a trait they find most attractive in those friends is humility. Few of us ever connect these dots….

SOURCE: Unfortunate Realities You Should Get Used To.

The folks over at Motley Fool have struck another chord with me. Here is a post about worrying on your wealth. Let’s take them a number at a time.

Number 1 – I don’t think I have ever spent any time chasing my net worth number. Money has just not been an important a topic with me. But of course that is probably because I had a fairly good career path and put away enough to now be comfortable. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not some closet millionaire but I am pretty sure I have enough to last out my years.

Yeah, people are usually very bad at forecasting anything. I am a planner at heart and of course most of those plans change because of circumstances. Nothing ever goes as planned. The ability to adapt is what is important.

Number 2 - I don’t know how many times in my life that I figured that I now had all the needed knowledge of life. Of course that was, and will continue to be, just naive thinking. I am still learning many of life’s basic lessons when I was sure I would have it all figured out by now. Learning how wrong we were in the past, how true that is.

Number 3 - I am a contrarian and in this regard because I am just not impressed with the wealth of a person. At least in monetary terms.  Personally, trying to impress others with wealth is way way down on my radar screen and anyone who IS impressed by wealth is usually not going to be much of a friend of mine. Humility  and how you treat others is way further up there for me….

Hope vs Cynicism…

July 14, 2014 — 9 Comments

2014-07-09_08-34-43WASHINGTON AP — To hear President Barack Obama describe it, there’s a creeping case of cynicism setting in across the country, leading Americans to suspect that not only is Washington broken, it’s beyond fixing.

If that line of thinking continues, it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy with dire long-term ramifications, Obama says. If compromise-minded Americans get so frustrated they just tune out, lawmakers will feel even less pressure to work together for the good of the country.

SOURCE: How ‘hope’ became Obama’s fight against cynicism – Yahoo News.

Hope vs cynicism? Of course everyone wants to be on the hope side of that choice. But in order to be there we must be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Yes, someday I “hope” we get over all this extreme partisan bickering and get back to a healthy dose of compromise. I really hope that but I am very doubtful that will happen until we run off the cliff so to speak.

I dread the possibility of a totally Republican controlled government. To me that would mean abandonment of almost everything I hold dear. All brother’s keeper issue would be flushed down the toilet. We would likely become a nation intolerant of any religion except Christianity. The rich would get even richer while the poor were left to the scraps of the table.

No, I don’t see a lot of hope on America’s horizon. I have maybe another decade on this earth and I “am” hoping that we can hold it together for at least that long so I don’t have to see the consequences of going down the tube. It won’t be pretty. But I still hold out hope that we can, like we have done several times in the past, get to the edge of the cliff and then manage to step back instead of forward.  We have had a good run of luck in that regard but as always luck, however you want to define it,  eventually runs out.

I am holding out hope that someone will come along to lead us to a better way. I am now convinced that the black intellectual person currently in office is despite his hopeful rhetoric is unable to do that. Maybe there were just too many prejudices in his baggage to ever make that possible? Hillary is part of the problem in this area due to her own baggage. If she is elected the Republican establishment will likely get even more stubbornly in opposition than it is now, if that is even possible.

Just give me a slight glimmer on the horizon and I will try to grab onto some form of hope. Just give me a glimmer….. please…..

86 percent of strident conservatives think the poor ‘have it easy’ Illustrating the deep divide between GOP versus Democratic support for policies most benefiting the poor, a new Pew survey finds that a whopping 86 percent of steadfast conservatives think the poor “have it easy.” Similarly, business-minded Republicans 77 percent and young Republican-leaning adults 81 percent feel the same way.

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That sentiment underpins Republican arguments that programs like food stamps and unemployment benefits should be cut because they disincentivize work. And indeed, the same survey finds that at least eight in 10 Republicans from all three aforementioned demographic subgroups agree with the argument that government aid to the needy “does more harm than good.”

SOURCE: 86 percent of strident conservatives think the poor ‘have it easy’ – The Week.

This kind of information never ceases to astound me. I sadly think this mentality is due to ignorance rather than all these folk having a hardened hearts. The poor “gaming the system” is all that they have been exposed to. I am a firm believer that until you put a face on something it continues to be an abstract thing. Very few of this group has likely come face-to-face with anyone who is poor. If these folks want to see how “easy” it is maybe they ought to try and live on $1200 a month or less.

I really don’t know how large the “strident conservative” population is but I suspect it is something in the neighborhood of 20% of the overall population and of course most of those in that group are ardent Fox News viewers. That fact goes a long ways in telling us why they have the beliefs that the poor have it too easy.

I know one strident conservative who basically parroted the above beliefs but then went on to say that his sister was on welfare and Medicaid. He says she is an exception to all those others in those programs. She needs the help and all the rest are just gaming the system.  I wonder how many in this polls have similar experiences?

Many say that religion and politics don’t mix but this is one of those areas that I thoroughly mix them. Jesus made it abundantly clear that we are to be our brother’s keeper. We are to literally give him the shirt off our backs if he needs it.  Being a follower of Jesus I therefore align with helping those less fortunate in life than myself. I don’t see how I could do otherwise.

I know there are those, especially in the above group, who say it is the church’s job to help the poor not governments. While I don’t necessarily disagree with that I know it is not even a remote possibility. I am very aware that most churches spend more than 90% of their income taking care of the church/clubhouse and keeping their congregations comfortable. Even if they managed to reverse that ratio they would be quickly overwhelmed by the needs.

I think of my government as doing the people’s business.  That is the things that we as individual citizens can’t do for ourselves.  Taking care of those who struggle in our society is part of that business. I pray that my strident conservative friends some day come to realize this fact.

2014-06-29_08-08-44Consider this headline from a recent survey of retirees: “Many Regret Decision to Take Social Security Early.”

Sounds ominous, right? Well, the problem is that the title isn’t entirely supported by the survey’s actual results, which found that only 38% of respondents “say they wish they would have waited” longer before taking benefits. According to this, in other words, somewhere along the lines of 62% of respondents, or a large majority, evidently don’t regret the decision.And why should you?

As Motley Fool contributor John Maxfield explains in the following video, the Social Security Administration has designed the benefit formula to pay the same amount of total benefits over the life of a typical person irrespective of when they elect to take them. Additionally, as John goes on to discuss, taking benefits sooner rather than later can facilitate an earlier retirement, which allows retirees to escape the physical and psychological wear and tear associated with many jobs.

SOURCE: Social Security: Why You Shouldn’t Regret Taking Benefits at 62.

The source of this article is “Motley Fool”. I readily admit that they are on my daily read list. They, like me, have a somewhat contrarian philosophy. Maybe that is what draws me to them.  I don’t know why the topic of the article isn’t talked about much. Since I know that many of my readers are approaching or are in retirement, I thought I would talk about this again.

The fact is if you have a relatively normal or shorter life line in your genealogy then it makes good sense to take Social Security early. As the article mentions SSA has a formula that basically gives you the same overall amount independent of when you take it. I think the calculated age at death is currently 78. If you die before this age you will come out ahead if you take social security early. If you live longer than you may come out ahead if you wait.

The other thing that even this source article doesn’t mention is that if you take it early and  are able to invest the money profitably you will bank even more. Now I know in the age of almost zero percent bond rates and very fluctuating markets investing anything for a substantial profit takes work and some risk but even a small return will allow you to come out ahead.

In my case I look at the family tree and I see parents, grand parents, and great grand parents dying before the 78 year mark so I took it early and like usual I am not looking back on that decision.  I am among those 62% who don’t regret that early decision. It allowed me to bank about an additional $75,000 that is still growing today six years later.  If I live to be an old ornery fool of ninety I  would have been better to wait but at  ninety I probably won’t even be able to appreciate that fact. :)

Driving Me Nuts…..

July 7, 2014

2014-06-28_08-23-07“Republicans are mad at me for taking these actions. They’re not doing anything and then they’re mad at me for doing something. I’m not sure which of the things I’ve done they find most offensive, but they’ve decided they’re going to sue me for doing my job,” Obama said in his speech at picturesque Lake Harriet….

Obama likes to joke that he is like a bear breaking out of his cage. On Friday, he said Republican inaction “drives you nuts … and it drives me nuts.”

“Sometimes I’m supposed to be, you know, politic about how I say things, but I’m finding lately that I just want to say what’s on my mind,” he said.

Other presidents have actively invoked executive actions. During his first four years in office, Obama signed 147 such orders. In comparison, George W. Bush signed 173, Bill Clinton enacted 200 and Ronald Reagan ordered 213 in their first terms.

SOURCE: Obama blasts House Republicans over lawsuit threat – Yahoo News.

After my recent vacation I am feeling more stress free than I have for a while so I thought I would do a more political post here. Yeah, I am aware that President Obama’s ratings are below 50% and in fact I am one of those who are just not impressed with his actions.  To me he just seems to be too timid, or maybe a better word is intellectual, when it come to his actions. We need a ball-buster like LBJ in the Oval Office instead of an intellectual to do battle with all those Republicans who are totally frozen by their various fears.

Congress won’t do anything to help us attack our 21st century problems and now they want to also prevent the president from doing anything. I certainly can relate to his comment in that it drives me nuts.  As he said, he just needs to say what is on his mind and maybe more importantly act upon it. I think Mr. Obama is a good guy who has a compassionate heart for all of us who are struggling but…

I can’t understand how those GOP in Congress can say things that are so easily disproven by the facts.  I guess they don’t think that anyone bothers to research what they say. I am sure that is true for many of the Fox News viewers but I hope the other 90% of us who don’t watch that vitriol news channel take the time to know what is real and what is pure hype. Of the four previous presidents Mr. Obama has used his executive authority less than all of them. The problem is not too much but too little action.  To me the problem is that the president needs to grow a pair and get on with the business of the country. Unfortunately he just seems unable to do that….

The GOP Brand….

July 2, 2014

2014-06-27_18-22-44The GOP brand has become a foul-tasting stew of wars against women, insults against seniors, alienation of Hispanics, dog-whistle undertones of racism against blacks, abusive congressional hearings and internecine warfare of Republican against Republican.

Thank you, Karl Rove. May pundits extol your brilliance and Republicans applaud your sleaze.

SOURCE:  Rove, Benghazi Lift Dems | Brent Budowsky.

It seems that the Republican party is hell-bent on becoming extinct. Fox News is the face of the GOP for most of us. We know that the median age of viewers of that channel is above seventy years of age. We also know that the viewers are generally predominately white and male.  As a result of this knowledge when I think of the GOP  the following picture gets stuck in my head.

I think of grumpy old white guys hunkered down in their homes looking out through the curtains on the world that simply terrifies them.  They see more and more “people of color” in their neighborhoods. They see women in positions of authority.  All of this simply terrifies them!!

The Republican brand is a dying brand. They are fighting among themselves as to who can be the most conservative. They think that If only we could get back to the good old days where everyone knew their places everything would return to their John Wayne or maybe Dirty Harry like world.

As I said this is the picture I see when I think of the GOP.  Now I realize that there are many who still cling to that brand that don’t fit this scenario but it seems that even those moderate Republicans who don’t see the word “compromise” as being a treasonous are quickly being disheartened by the GOP.  Many are now calling themselves “independent”. In other words they are seeking an alternative.  I once considered myself a Republican but the Republican I was has long ago been driven out of the party.

This whole scenario reminds me of one other group now extinct and that is the Shaker religious sect. I certainly admired them. They prospered for a period but became extinct due to some of their rigid beliefs.  Here is a little of what Wikipedia says about them.

The Shaker movement was at its height between 1820 and 1860. It was at this time that the sect had its most members, and the period was considered its “golden age”. It had expanded from New England to the Midwestern states of Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio…..

There were only 12 Shaker communities left by 1920. The Shaker communities continued to lose members, partly through attrition, since believers did not give birth to children…

The only remaining active Shaker community in the United States is Sabbath Day Lake Shaker Village in Maine, which as of 2012 had only three members…

At one time the Shakers were a thriving well thought of community but now there are only three remaining members. I kind of think that some day, maybe not in the too distant future, there will be only three remaining Republicans someplace still dreaming of the good old days.