Thursday, November 27, 2014

Return on Investment

In rational debate the parties will, at some point, discuss the return on investment as at least one of the factors in determining a course of action.  For example, let’s say you have bought a new aircraft and it has two engines.  You’ve planned that each engine should last at least 700 hours before it has to be taken off and refurbished.  When you start flying that aircraft you find it is only getting 50 hours between engine removal because the vendor didn’t know how bad the dirt was and what it would do to the engine.  So you look at a program to fix that problem and determine it will cost $100 million to design a new dust filter, but it will improve the engine reliability to about an average of 1,000 hours.  As you do the math the $100 million dollar investment will pay for itself by reducing the engine maintenance costs in only 5 years.  Since you expect to keep the aircraft for another thirty years this is a good return on investment since you will save over $600 million over the life of the aircraft. (BTW the exact math can be debated, but for illustration this is good enough).
So as we look at the government programs what kind of return on investment are we really seeing?  Has Head Start really prepared more disadvantaged pre-school children to perform to expectation in school, or has it only paid a lot of organizations to babysit?  Does the student loan program really produce a more educated group of young people capable of excelling in today’s world, or does it only create a group of people who’ve spent four years accumulating debt, only to find work at Sears as a salesperson?  Does raising the minimum wage create a better life for those who are affected, or does it just inflate the overall cost of goods and lead to replacement by automation?  What is the positive return on investment for these programs and can it be proven?
There are clearly programs that have had a wonderful return on investment, I am just not sure if they continue in a society were entitlement becomes the expectation.  For example, up until WW II veterans were returned to society with little thought of their injuries or needs.  This led to protest and riots after both the civil war and WW I.  After WW II the Congress and the President established the Veterans Administration to administer the hospitals, the home loan program, and the college loan programs.   As a result, a generation of individuals who would not have otherwise had the opportunity for college…went.  A generation who would not have otherwise been able to afford a house became homeowners.  As a result colleges grew, and whole towns sprang up.  The suburbs were invented.  Off-hand I’d say this was a measurable return on investment as the economy prospered and society found its way to new frontiers like space.

Does sending the majority of our tax dollars to the federal government really create better security and defense, better infrastructure, and better economy, or would those dollars be better spent close to home?  As we watch society devolve into one of special interest groups and racial divide, what is the next good return on investment?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

On Creating Wealth, or Taking from the Poor to Give to the Rich

It’s kind of funny how the President and the Democratic Party complain on the one hand about the 1% and then work so hard on the other to make the bankers and insurance companies richer then they were before.
I had a chat with a doctor in training the other day, talking about the hospital he works at in NYC and how the poor are able to get better health care without insurance than he can with it.  Now with the ACA, the first thing the hospital does is sign everyone up for Medicare so the hospital will be paid for the care they provide.  I think you will agree it is a wonderful idea that everyone has all the medical service they want for free, but it really isn’t free is it?
The ACA mandates that everyone have insurance or pay a tax if they don’t.  Either way they are paying a tax, only they are paying it to the insurance company.  The taxes individuals pay in lieu of insurance also go to the private companies as well; just through the supplemental payments the government makes for those who can’t afford the insurance.
So at the end of the day the ACA is really a government mandate that people pay the private insurance companies more money than they were before.  The noise about birth control, keeping your insurance, losing your insurance and all the other stuff is really there to mask the economic scheme to make the rich richer.  But as Mr. Gruber pointed out the average American voter is not very smart and can be easily fooled.
The Doctor to be pointed out that we really should have a single payer health care system and if we had that it would be better for everyone.  I love the idea of a single payer system.  I’ve lived with one my entire adult life, at least until I got out of the military in 1996.  I never had to worry about a doctor’s visit, but then I never really got to choose one either.  When my daughter had appendicitis it took over two weeks and a lucky visit to the emergency room after it burst for them to figure out what was going on, but it was a benefit we all appreciated.
The only problem I see with a single payer system is to whom do you complain if you don’t like the service? 
As a point of reference -- the VA is a single payer system and if you think another government run healthcare system charged with the care of over 230,000,000 Americans would be more efficient, honest, and caring than the VA you are wrong.  Government ineptitude does not improve with size.
If we do go to a single payer system the hospital corporations, both public and private, for profit and not, large and small, will still get richer for there will be no charity write-offs, every patient will be cared for with the bottom line and government payment schedules in mind.  The insurance companies won’t be disappointed for they will be contracted to administer the claims and payments and of course they will be offered a nice profit for their work as well.
In the end the government will take money from the middle class and redistribute it to the rich and throw a few scraps to the poor to keep them on board with the social welfare idea.  Think of it as kind of like the anti-Robin Hood.  Of course it is this same scenario that kept the serfs in their place back in Robin Hood’s time.
For those in favor of a bigger, all-powerful government please keep up the drum beat.  Wall Street knows a good deal when they see it and the market will continue to climb until the economy collapses like the housing market.  I saw a Facebook poster the other day showing how this administration is doing a bang-up job on the economy with the stock market up over 12,000 pts.  Isn’t this making the rich richer?  If you’re so much in favor of this why are you complaining about the 1%?
I used to worry about the national debt and the need to put balance in the amount we spend versus what we take in.  I figure I was wrong to have that concern because no one, and I do mean no one, gives a damn about balancing the budget.  Let’s just abandon the idea of limited government and jump with both feet into nationalization of all American industry, including health care.

By the way, those opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline… thank you.  I own a number of railroad stocks and since the oil won’t be flowing through a pipe (like it does in Alaska) it will be moving across the Great Plains on the railroads… like Warren Buffet's CSX.  Hopefully we won’t have any big derailments, I’d hate to cut into the bottom line over a few hundred thousand gallons of spilled oil from Canada.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Thoughts on Us.

Have you ever considered how nations fail? Are they destroyed by cataclysmic disaster or do they fail from small wounds quietly inflicted from within? I believe great nations are similar to mighty trees and suffer similar fates. Think about the American elm tree.  Reaching over 100 feet in height, with a trunk up to four feet in diameter they were once one of the most dominate trees in the country.  They were homes for nesting birds, woodpeckers, squirrels and others. Over the past 50 years they have been ravaged.  Not from over deforestation, but by Dutch elm disease and the bark beetles that carry the fungus from the sick to healthy trees.
Egypt, Persia, Greece, and Rome all reflect the ebb and flow of a nation-state.  In modern times we see Spain, France, Prussia, England, and the Austrian Empire reflect this truth.  They rise with purpose only to slowly decline from a breakdown of its core strengths until some small insignificant outside force eventually topples it over.  Without the internal blight… would the nation remain strong and capable of withstanding those outside forces?
I watched a movie that has given me reason to consider the lesson of the elm as it applies to me, and our nation. This movie, its obvious political message, and the nature of its portrayal recognized and understood for what they are – I still find the foundation of its premise compelling. There is a growing movement in this country to attack the founding principles of this nation, in the name of a variety of causes, but most generally disguised as some form of sensitivity or right.
Let’s start with the most basic of these attacks.  There is an idea that some religions must be tolerated, but others can be attacked.  We see this in the movement by those who are opposed to the Christians right to recognize Christmas as a celebration within our communities. As if the fact that since our independence we have been a Judeo-Christian nation is somehow an intolerable wrong that must be not only corrected, but erased from our memories.  We cannot tolerate the recognition of Christmas as the birth of Christ by public display and acknowledgement.  Schools must shelter children from the discussion of religion and God because atheist parents are offended and file civil actions. Our courts have expanded civil code and the premise of the constitution in the name of civil liberty to allow this to happen. Administrators strive to avoid conflict and allow the concerns of the few to override the value to the many.  They abandon the ideal of education, to expand the mind of the young, and choose instead to train our young not to think independently or question, just to  conform with their peers.
When we talk about liberty and our rights what do we mean? I see a lot of discussion about this from the left as liberals condemn the conservatives, but unfortunately it is generally in the form of some propaganda effort, and not intended as a serious debate on fundamental rights. On the other hand I see the conservatives referring back to the founding fathers as if they were demi-gods whose words must be strictly adhered to insure we remain steadfast and true to their intent. Hmmm, their intent, what was their intent?
When we gained our independence from King George, the men who risked all sought only the escape from a repressive government they had no voice in. Each was loyal to his community and viewed their colony as an independent entity. Each attempted to stand alone, but recognizing interdependence, they formed the Confederation of States.  After 10 years of what must have been extremely frustrating economic and political turmoil these leaders again came together in a constitutional convention to resolve the problems the confederation created.
We see in the writings of James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay the arguments for a stronger central government.  The Federalist Papers outline the causes of failure of the Confederation and the importance of a central government, checked by the division of powers, to secure the nation, and provide a framework to the nation.  The political leadership of the founding fathers became convinced that if this nation were to prosper there had to be a strong unifying force that could bring the various people to agreement.  They knew, as was the fashion of the time, that rigorous debate and argument was inefficient in the short-term, but ultimately led to a stronger acceptance of the final agreement.  The papers were intended to spur those debates in anticipation of the votes on the new Constitution.
So I come back to the question, what are our rights as citizens of these United States?  This has been the subject of lengthy debate and is really at the heart of the great conflicts we see in government today.  On the one side we have a group of people who believe passionately that whatever cause they believe in should be protected as a right by a strong and compelling central power that sides with them.  On the other we have a group that believes a overwhelmingly strong central government will do more harm and they as individuals should be left to lead their lives as they want.  Is this really any different than the positions our founding fathers were addressing?
We see in the Preamble of the Constitution the purpose our founder’s envisioned.  To “…establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty.”  Almost immediately after crafting the basic document they recognized a need to identify the rights of the citizen, and added what is known as the Bill of Rights as part of the original ratification.  This forms the basic understanding of our rights, and supports my opinion that amendments to the Constitution should expand, not contract, the rights of its citizens.
Let’s start with the first amendment:  Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Does the recognition of Christmas as a federal holiday violate the prohibitions of the first amendment?  Is Christmas Constitutional?  Clearly the argument was made that it does, but the amendment does not say the government can not recognize religion only it cannot write laws to establish or prohibit the free exercise there of.  Activists have twisted these words, and willing judges have agreed, that recognition of the celebration of Christ’s birth is somehow in violation of this amendment and must be condemned.  Yet the holiday remains for as the court has pointed out the term Christmas preceded the Constitution by a millennium, and even the atheists want every day off they can get away with.
How far will those who don’t know what freedom is go… as they labor under the false premise that a more powerful central government will protect them, or that litigating anything and everything that annoys them so that they feel some small victory is right?  Call me a cynic but I see nothing but personal self-interest propelling those who encourage the societal warfare we see in today’s America. 
When we condemn those who disagree with us, through humiliation, intimidation, or outright violence we weaken us as a nation, and by each small act we weaken our fundamental strength.

So as for me, I will continue with the ideal of Christmas and acknowledge it in my greetings.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sometimes Things Make Sense...

Sometimes things make sense, but mostly they don’t when it involves our Federal Government and the deliberative processes of the legislature.  I point to the issue before the Senate today.  The Honorable Ms. Landrieu, D-LA, fighting for her political life, got the Honorable Harry “I shall pass no bill” Reed to agree to bring the Keystone XL pipeline issue to a vote.  I am sure Ms. Landrieu was hoping she could claim her experience and seniority was critical to Louisiana and should therefore be returned to the Senate.  Of course the Democrats worked to make sure this bill fell one vote short of passage, so at the end of the day they effectively showed her as powerless and unimportant. 
And of course we then have the Democratic Party in the House, the Party that is for women and women’s rights unless it means they should make a special exception for one of their own who might upset Ms. Pelosi’s apple cart.  Of course I am talking about the Honorable Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill, a disabled American veteran (double amputee from the Iraq war), who is confined to bed while she is pregnant.  Ms. Pelosi refused to alter party rules to allow her to participate through a proxy.  Certainly within her right as ruler of the Party, but it does seem somewhat off message about how much they care about women.  Perhaps caring  is only in the sense of abortion rights and they are really not that thrilled with pregnant women.

And finally, Ms. Pelosi and Ms. Wasserman-Shultz wished Speaker Boehner a happy 65th birthday and welcomed him to social security eligibility.  Apparently neither realized the age for full SS eligibility is now 66 for Mr. Boehner.  Mr. Boehner thanked them and hoped they would be willing to help him save it so it was there for future generations.  I doubt he is holding his breath.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The History of Mankind (as best as I can figure) (part 1)

Billions of years ago (5,775 years on the Jewish calendar) there was a garden, everyone in the garden was happy until someone named Fig Newton dropped an apple and there was a big bang when it hit the garden shed’s steel roof.
Eve found the apple, and eating it she immediately realized she was naked.  She ran looking for Adam to complain about not having any cloths to wear.  She then got her girl friends to take her to the mall and get the latest in fashion. This is known as original sin. 
When the bills started coming in Adam realized gardening was just not a profitable line of work and went into hunting.  He and Eve moved around a lot chasing dinosaurs and rabbits, but still found time for a lot of begetting.  So their family grew and each one of them set out to do their own begetting.
Then at some point someone named Fanny May talked the Pharaohs into a building boom where everyone was supposed to have their own pyramid, but this led to a collapse of the pyramid market and Moses was elected to lead the Israelites on a 40 year tour of the Sinai looking for the promised land.  This was the beginning of the Democratic Party and it continues to this day to seek out the promised land of milk and honey.
Then, due to the burning of carbon based fuels the sun was blotted out and we entered the dark ages where the feudal system was invented.  Some guy named Machiavelli taught everyone how to be subtle in politics by killing off the opposition and is credited with the development of the Republican Party.  The feudal system was carried to its ultimate state when the Hatfield’s and the McCoy’s had their feud. After that the McCain-Feinstein act limited the amount of people could spend on feuds so Marvel Comics invented  Super PAC man.

Meanwhile, while all this was going on some of the other children of Adam and Eve figured out that Science was evil or that at least scientists were not to be trusted.  This led to the creation of the department of homeland security who were also known in the scientific world as peers.  These guys or gals were the only ones who were allowed to question the scientific theology.  Eventually the department began to question the people who thought science was evil, and this led to profiling.  To this day members of the department of homeland security can only be viewed from the side and can't see their image in the mirror.
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