3.30.2010

Charles Schwab: No incentive for saving

Low Interest Rates Are Squeezing Seniors

Excerpt:

In February 2006, when Ben Bernanke was first sworn in as chairman of the Federal Reserve, the federal-funds target rate stood at 4.5%. That same year, the average yield on a one-year certificate of deposit was 5.4%. A retiree who diligently saved for a lifetime and had amassed a nest egg of $100,000 could count on an added $5,400 in retirement income per year. That may not sound like much to the average Wall Street Journal subscriber, but for a senior on fixed incomes that extra money improved the quality of his life.

Today's average rate for an identical one-year CD is roughly 1.3%. On the same nest egg, that retiree will now get annual payout of just $1,300—a 76% decline in four years.

Some would argue that today's low inflation rate offsets the decline. But even at an inflation rate of zero, a 76% decline in spending power is painful. And we're already seeing signs of inflation this year. The first two months of 2010 showed an annualized inflation rate of 2%, further exacerbating the spending power problem for retirees by eroding the value of their principal.

To be sure, the country's recent financial crisis required unprecedented action by the Fed, including lowering rates to levels not seen in more than 50 years. In particular, the infusion of capital into the banking system through historically low fed-funds target rates pulled many banks from the precipice of collapse. By that measure it has been a resounding success.

Yet these unprecedented low rates have now been in place for almost 18 months. As a result, banks have enjoyed virtually free access to money while retirees have been deprived of any meaningful yield on their fixed-income portfolios. For a large segment of our population—people who worked long and hard, who followed the rules by spending less than they earned and putting the remainder away to keep themselves independent in retirement—the ultra-low interest rate is more than a hardship. It's a potential disaster striking at core American principles of self–reliance, individual responsibility and fairness.

To put the scale of this problem in context, consider the fact that more than $7.5 trillion in American household wealth is held today in short-term, interest-bearing products such as checking and savings accounts, retail money funds and CDs. At today's low interest rates, the return on those savings is hundreds of billions less than it would have been at 2006 interest rates. Retirees feel the consequences disproportionately, but because much of that income would have made its way into the economy, spending and job creation also suffer.

...

It's not just retirees on fixed income we should be concerned about. Let's not forget that savers of all ages—even the young person opening his first savings account—need some incentive of future reward for saving. Today, there is none.


Comment: The problem is that if interest rates rise (and they will and they should!), the cost of money for the debt laden Federal government will also rise! But back to personal finances: there is little incentive to save. But save you must!

3.29.2010

Minnesota #6 most taxed state


Most Taxed States


Comment: Other highly taxed states: Hawaii (#1), Connecticut (# 2), Vermont (# 3), New York (# 4), Arkansas (# 5), Minnesota (# 6) , New Jersey (# 7), California (# 8), Massachusetts (# 9), Maryland (# 10)

3.28.2010

No ordinary tourist

More Questions About the Dubai Assassination - What was a senior Hamas figure doing in a city infamous for Iranian arms trade?

Excerpts:

When Mabhouh's body was discovered the next day in his room in the five-star Al Bustan Rotana hotel, it appeared he'd died in bed of natural causes. There were no wounds, bruises or other signs of foul play.

Room 230 had no balcony or windows that could be opened, and the electronic door latch appeared to have been locked from the inside. If an ordinary tourist died under such nonsuspicious circumstances, investigators would routinely assume he had died in his sleep from natural causes.

But Mabhouh was no ordinary tourist. He was a senior commander and a co-founder of Hamas's military wing, Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades. His activities included the abduction of Israeli soldiers, and he was wanted in three countries: Israel, Egypt (where he had been imprisoned for almost a year for his Muslim Brotherhood activities and was wanted on suspicion of subversion) and Jordan, on suspicion of terrorism.

Based in Damascus, Syria, Mabhouh was also a key intermediary in the covert arms traffic between Iran's Revolutionary Guard, the Syrian intelligence service, the Hamas government in Gaza, and other militants. He was ordinarily protected by a team of armed bodyguards. But they had not been allowed to accompany him to Dubai on Jan. 19 because there was no room on the flight, according to a Hamas spokesman in Damascus, Talal Nasser. So whether by design or accident, he was stripped of his protection, making his assassination easier to accomplish.

...

The key missing piece in the jigsaw remains Mabhouh's mission to Dubai—apparently important enough for him to travel there without his normal contingent of bodyguards.

Mabhouh arrived from the airport at his hotel shortly before 3 p.m., and after changing his clothes left for an unknown destination. He was gone for several hours. But even with its state-of-the-art surveillance cameras in Dubai, and extensive interviews with all the taxi drivers at the hotel, authorities claim they cannot determine either his whereabouts during these hours or the identity of whom he met.

The world-wide focus on the spooks—whose false identities allowed many of them to vanish in the intelligence netherworld—has diverted attention from the potentially embarrassing mission that brought Mabhouh to Dubai. The real intrigue here is not who killed a wanted terrorist, but what he was up to. Without this missing piece, any rush to judgment about who his killers were may be premature.


Comment: Hamas / Iranian link!

3.27.2010

Who are the barbarians?

The Visigothic Code

Comment: From The Visigothic Code Book VI: Concerning Crimes and Tortures - Title III: Concerning Abortion

Excerpt:

No depravity is greater than that which characterizes those who, unmindful of their parental duties wilfully deprive their children of life, and, as this crime is said to be increasing throughout the provinces of our kingdom and as men as well as women are said to be guilty of it; therefore, by way of correcting such license, we hereby decree that if either a freewoman or a slave should kill her child before, or after its birth; or should take any potion for the purpose of producing abortion, or should use any other means of putting an end to the life of her child, the judge of the province or district, as soon as he is advised of the fact, shall at once condemn the author of the crime to execution in public; or should he desire to spare her life, he shall at once cause her eyesight to be completely destroyed; and if it should be proved that her husband either ordered, or permitted the commission of this crime, he shall suffer the same penalty


On the sack of Rome in 410 by the Visigoths

What changed peppercorn from a spice you could pay a month’s rent with, to something that is given away free in small paper packets?

What Do Ancient Spice Traders and the Modern Financial Industry Have in Common?

Excerpt:

In the ancient world, the Arabs controlled most of the spice trade. They ran secret trade routes from the Indies and other eastern countries. The spices they gathered were then sold and traded for extremely high prices to the Greeks and Romans in Alexandria, the Wall Street of its time. The Europeans knew many of the spices came from the Indies, but they weren’t exactly sure where the Indies were and how to find the actual spices. This allowed the Arab traders to capitalize on the lack of information.

According to Herodotus in some of his fifth-century B.C. writings, the Arabs led the Greeks and Romans to believe gathering cinnamon was a matter of life or death. The story was told that Arab traders and merchants had to dress in full body suits of ox-hide to protect themselves from terrible winged creatures. They would have to leave a sacrificial cow to lure the winged monster bird off of its nest made of, wait for it…cinnamon. As the Arabs told the story, the winged creature would inevitably knock portions of their nest on the earth below as it flew to claim its offering. The merchants would then risk their life to grab the few pieces of cinnamon stick nests they could gather before the winged creature attacked them.

Herodotus also recorded stories of the Arabs regarding frankincense and ginger. According to the legends, frankincense grew in the tops of trees and was guarded by flying snakes. Arab traders would then cheat death by driving the flying snakes from the treetops while other merchants would quickly gather the frankincense they could. Ginger supposedly washed from the Garden of Eden.

What was the purpose of these ridiculous fantasies? Not only did the Arabs control the supply, they also manipulated the perceived value of their product and services by controlling all of the information of their origins. But the barriers of information in the spice trade began to fall around 120 B.C.

According to Tom Standage, business editor at The Economist, here’s how it went down: In 120 B.C., a ship wrecked in the Red Sea. One survivor was found and taken to the court in Alexandria. He told them he was on a ship traveling between India and the Red Sea and it went off course and wrecked. The court sat speechless because as far as they knew, there was no direct route from the known western world to India. (Common belief at the time was that to reach India, ships would have to hug the shore, sail all the way around the Arabian Peninsula, up the Persian Gulf, and back down towards India, past Persia and Pakistan.) The stranded Indian trader bargained to show the Alexandrian court this “secret” direct route if they give him a ride home.

Within a few years the new, shorter routes are known to all of the Europe, and the fantasy stories were found to be nothing but myths used to inflate prices and scare away those who may want to find the spices themselves. In time, the Romans industrialized the spice trade and flooded the market with spices. This changed peppercorn from a spice you could pay a month’s rent with, to something that is given away free is small paper packets in fast food restaurants today.


Comment: I learned a valuable lesson last year after I foolishly paid a broker a high commission to sell some stock - hey I can do it myself!

3.26.2010

More on Pro-Life Democrats

The House of Pro-Life Democrats Divided on Health Care Bill

Excerpt:

Lipinski (Ill.-3) joined 18 Democrats with mixed or complete pro-life records scored by National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) to vote against the Senate bill and for the motion to send the bill back to the Senate with changes. Those Democrats are: Reps. Bobby Bright (Ala.-2), Marion Berry (Ark.-1), Mike Ross (Ark.-4), John Barrow (Ga.-12), Jim Marshall (Ga.-8), Ben Chandler (Ken.-6), Charles Melancon (La.-3), Collin Peterson (Minn.-7), Travis Childers (Miss.-1), Gene Taylor (Miss.-4), Ike Skelton (Mo.-4), Mike McIntyre (N.C.-7), Heath Shuler (N.C.-11), Dan Boren (Okla.-2), Jason Altmire (Penn.-4), Tim Holden (Penn.-17), Lincoln Davis (Tenn.-4), and Jim Matheson (Utah-2).


Comment: NY Times graphic

Heath Schuler is a pro-life Democrat

Comment: a response to one of Tobin's comments.

Heath Shuler: Rare pro-life Democrat in Congress

Excerpt:

Heath Shuler is that rarest of Democrats in Congress –- the pro-lifer.

The congressman from western North Carolina established himself last year, his first in the House of Representatives, as one of the half-dozen most reliably pro-life Democrats in that chamber. Shuler and five other Democratic members compiled 85 percent voting records, according to the scorecard compiled by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), making them the top pro-life congressmen in their party.

In contrast, 197 House Democrats received ratings of 0 from NRLC.

Despite his status in a party that is overwhelmingly committed to abortion rights, Shuler, a Southern Baptist, says he feels no pressure to conform when a vote on a "life" issue approaches.

"They know who I am, how I stand, and they never ask any questions," he told Baptist Press. "They can go find someone else to push on, because they know they'll never get it out of me."


Article is 2 years old and I don't follow him closely. But if this is still true, may his tribe increase!

Sea of Red


CBO report: Debt will rise to 90% of GDP

Excerpt:

President Obama's fiscal 2011 budget will generate nearly $10 trillion in cumulative budget deficits over the next 10 years, $1.2 trillion more than the administration projected, and raise the federal debt to 90 percent of the nation's economic output by 2020, the Congressional Budget Office reported Thursday.

In its 2011 budget, which the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released Feb. 1, the administration projected a 10-year deficit total of $8.53 trillion. After looking it over, CBO said in its final analysis, released Thursday, that the president's budget would generate a combined $9.75 trillion in deficits over the next decade.

"An additional $1.2 trillion in debt dumped on [GDP] to our children makes a huge difference," said Brian Riedl, a budget analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "That represents an additional debt of $10,000 per household above and beyond the federal debt they are already carrying."

The federal public debt, which was $6.3 trillion ($56,000 per household) when Mr. Obama entered office amid an economic crisis, totals $8.2 trillion ($72,000 per household) today, and it's headed toward $20.3 trillion (more than $170,000 per household) in 2020, according to CBO's deficit estimates.

That figure would equal 90 percent of the estimated gross domestic product in 2020, up from 40 percent at the end of fiscal 2008. By comparison, America's debt-to-GDP ratio peaked at 109 percent at the end of World War II, while the ratio for economically troubled Greece hit 115 percent last year.

"That level of debt is extremely problematic, particularly given the upward debt path beyond the 10-year budget window," said Maya MacGuineas, president of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.


Comment: Keep watching the budget deficit clock tick away

Personal records retention policy

Retain Your Records No Longer Than You Must

Excerpt:

According to Catherine M. Williams, vice president for financial literacy at the credit counseling firm Money Management International, there are two main reasons to keep financial records. “It’s either for backup to a tax issue or for proof that you did something like make a payment,” Ms. Williams said.

The Internal Revenue Service requires that individuals be able to produce records proving any income, deductions or credit claimed for at least three years from the date of a return, the statute of limitations for how long the I.R.S. has to assess additional tax if all income was reported correctly. In addition, the I.R.S. requires that individuals be able to produce such records for six years if they fail to report income that is more than 25 percent of their gross income. There is no statute of limitation for failure to file or tax fraud.

Therefore, experts generally recommend keeping anything that verifies the information in your tax return for at least six to seven years. “My recommendation would be never throw away copies of your tax returns and checks made out to the government — anything else, I would say keep for at least six years,” said Jude Coard, a tax partner at accounting firm Berdon L.L.P.

Records that fall into this category include W-2 forms, 1099 forms, other tax reporting statements and end-of-year bank statements that show interest earned. As for brokerage statements, John W. Roth, a senior federal tax analyst with the tax information and software provider CCH, recommended keeping end-of-year statements as well as monthly statements and investment confirmation statements showing how much you paid for an investment and how much you earned for selling it. “The only time when you need to save the monthly ones is if that is where the confirmation is for a purchase,” he said.

In fact, for any asset or investment for which you one day could claim a gain or loss (a home or stock, for example), you need to keep records of how much you paid for the item, the costs of any improvements you made to it and how much you sold it for. Such information needs to be kept for at least six to seven years after the gain or loss is included in a tax return.


Comment: We have a folder in our desk called Current Taxes. The problem is that sometime stuff that is not tax related ends up in this folder. All of our statements are available on-line: 1099's, W-2s, etc. In the lead up to tax time I save all of these to PDFs and upload to Google Docs (and share with Kathee). Because we use Turbo Tax online our taxes (as long as we use this service) are stored by Intuit. After taxes are completed we print off all the documents to PDF and upload to Wells Fargo VSafe. One issue for us has been cost basis for stock purchases. We are closer to having all of this resolved by having all of our stocks at Wells Trade.

Doing a financial tuneup

Take a Few Hours and Unlock Some Cash

Excerpt:

How might you plan your own financial tuneup?

Today, we introduce an interactive checklist to give you some ideas. It includes things you should do each year, like rebalancing your investments, and others that you might have to do only once or, at most, once in a while, like raising your insurance deductibles. The checklist is a living document and one we hope to improve over time, so please send us feedback from the link on its home page.

And lest you think this is all drudgery, the tuneup period is as good a time as any to cash in all of your credit card rewards and frequent-flier miles. After all, they don’t get more valuable sitting around unused.

Not that many of you will need our help, as your own list of undone money tasks has probably been nagging at you for some time. Almost immediately after my first article about the tuneup concept ran last summer, I heard from readers who had set aside time to do their own.


Financial Tuneup Checklist


Comment: A really helpful checklist. We've done some of these. I recently met with my insurance agent (Allstate) to completely review our insurance.

Who’s White?

Who’s White?

Excerpts:

Nell Irvin Painter’s title, “The History of White People,” is a provocation in several ways: it’s monumental in sweep, and its absurd grandiosity should call to mind the fact that writing a “History of Black People” might seem perfectly reasonable to white people. But the title is literally accurate, because the book traces characterizations of the lighter-skinned people we call white today, starting with the ancient Scythians. For those who have not yet registered how much these characterizations have changed, let me assure you that sensory observation was not the basis of racial nomenclature.

Some ancient descriptions did note color, as when the ancient Greeks recognized that their “barbaric” northern neighbors, Scythians and Celts, had lighter skin than Greeks considered normal. Most ancient peoples defined population differences culturally, not physically, and often regarded lighter people as less civilized. Centuries later, European travel writers regarded the light-skinned Circassians, a k a Caucasians, as people best fit only for slavery, yet at the same time labeled Circassian slave women the epitome of beauty. Exoticizing and sexualizing women of allegedly inferior “races” has a long and continuous history in racial thought; it’s just that today they are usually darker-skinned women.

...

The modern intellectual history of whiteness began among the 18th-century German scholars who invented racial “science.” Johann Joachim Winckelmann made the ancient Greeks his models of beauty by imagining them white-skinned; he may even have suppressed his own (correct) suspicion that their statues, though copied by the Romans in white marble, had originally been painted. The Dutchman Petrus Camper calculated the proportions and angles of the ideal face and skull, and produced a scale that awarded a perfect rating to the head of a Greek god and ranked Europeans as the runners-up, earning 80 out of 100. The Englishman Charles White collected skulls that he arranged from lowest to highest degree of perfection. He did not think he was seeing the gradual improvement of the human species, but assumed rather the polygenesis theory: the different races arose from separate divine ­creations and were designed with a range of quality.

The modern concept of a Caucasian race, which students my age were taught in school, came from Johann Friedrich Blumenbach of G├Âttingen, the most influential of this generation of race scholars. Switching from skulls to skin, he divided humans into five races by color — white, yellow, copper, tawny, and tawny-black to jet-black — but he ascribed these differences to climate. Still convinced that people of the Caucasus were the paragons of beauty, he placed residents of North Africa and India in the Caucasian category, sliding into a linguistic analysis based on the common derivation of Indo-European languages. That category, Painter notes, soon slipped free of any geographic or linguistic moorings and became a quasi-­scientific term for a race known as “white.”


Comment: Interesting. Article has an interesting graphic. Two in our family are really light skinned. My sister in law who traces her ancestry back to Ireland, and my wife (whose maiden name is "White") who traces her's back to Austria. Kathee's sister is very olive skinned.

3.24.2010

“When the level of the trust fund gets to zero, you have to cut benefits”


Social Security to See Payout Exceed Pay-In

Excerpt:

This year, the system will pay out more in benefits than it receives in payroll taxes, an important threshold it was not expected to cross until at least 2016, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Stephen C. Goss, chief actuary of the Social Security Administration, said that while the Congressional projection would probably be borne out, the change would have no effect on benefits in 2010 and retirees would keep receiving their checks as usual.

The problem, he said, is that payments have risen more than expected during the downturn, because jobs disappeared and people applied for benefits sooner than they had planned. At the same time, the program’s revenue has fallen sharply, because there are fewer paychecks to tax.

Analysts have long tried to predict the year when Social Security would pay out more than it took in because they view it as a tipping point — the first step of a long, slow march to insolvency, unless Congress strengthens the program’s finances.


Comment: At the fiscal tipping point!

Some powerful magnets


Magcraft NSN0604 1-Inch by 1/8-Inch Rare Earth Disc Magnets, 4-Count


Comment: Used to attach No Soliciting sign to the front door. 4 came in the set. Were shipped with plastic spacers between. We used 2 to affix sign to the front door. I was messing with the other two at dinner and they just snapped together.

So much for Mr. Obama's claim that if you like your coverage, you can keep it—even at Fortune 500 companies.

Companies are already warning about higher health-care costs.

Excerpt:

Medical device maker Medtronic warned that new taxes on its products could force it to lay off a thousand workers. Now Verizon joins the roll of businesses staring at adverse consequences.

In an email titled "President Obama Signs Health Care Legislation" sent to all employees Tuesday night, the telecom giant warned that "we expect that Verizon's costs will increase in the short term." While executive vice president for human resources Marc Reed wrote that "it is difficult at this point to gauge the precise impact of this legislation," and that ObamaCare does reflect some of the company's policy priorities, the message to workers was clear: Expect changes for the worse to your health benefits as the direct result of this bill, and maybe as soon as this year.

Mr. Reed specifically cited a change in the tax treatment of retiree health benefits. When Congress created the Medicare prescription drug benefit in 2003, it included a modest tax subsidy to encourage employers to keep drug plans for retirees, rather than dumping them on the government. The Employee Benefit Research Institute says this exclusion—equal to 28% of the cost of a drug plan—will run taxpayers $665 per person next year, while the same Medicare coverage would cost $1,209.

In a $5.4 billion revenue grab, Democrats decided that this $665 fillip should be subject to the ordinary corporate income tax of 35%. Most consulting firms and independent analysts say the higher costs will induce some companies to drop drug coverage, which could affect about five million retirees and 3,500 businesses. Verizon and other large corporations warned about this outcome.

U.S. accounting laws also require businesses to immediately restate their earnings in light of the higher tax burden on their long-term retiree health liabilities. This will have a big effect on their 2010 earnings.

While the drug tax subsidy is for retirees, companies consider their benefit costs as a total package. The new bill might cause some to drop retiree coverage altogether. Others may be bound by labor contracts to retirees, but then they will find other ways to cut costs. This means raising costs or reducing coverage for other employees. So much for Mr. Obama's claim that if you like your coverage, you can keep it—even at Fortune 500 companies.

In its employee note, Verizon also warned about the 40% tax on high-end health plans, though that won't take effect until 2018. "Many of the plans that Verizon offers to employees and retirees are projected to have costs above the threshold in the legislation and will be subject to the 40 percent excise tax." These costs will start to show up soon, and, as we repeatedly argued, the tax is unlikely to drive down costs. The tax burden will simply be spread to all workers—the result of the White House's too-clever decision to tax insurers, rather than individuals.

A Verizon spokesman said the company is merely addressing employee questions about ObamaCare, not making a political statement.


Comment: I'm waiting for my premiums to go down $ 2,500 per year!

Dave's Floor Sanding


Dave's Floor Sanding

Comment: We just had our kitchen floor sanded and refinished. Dave did a super job and I highly recommend his company!

3.23.2010

"Wardriving": How the TJX hacker did it


Prosecutors to seek 25 years for TJX hacker


A computer hacker who helped orchestrate one of the largest thefts of credit and debit card numbers in U.S. history faces sentencing this week for hacking into computer systems of major retailers, including TJX Cos., BJ's Wholesale Club and Sports Authority.

Prosecutors plan to ask for a 25-year prison sentence for Albert Gonzalez, a former federal informant from Miami who pleaded guilty last year in three separate hacking cases brought in Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.

The sentence sought by prosecutors is the maximum under the terms of plea agreements in cases against Gonzalez brought in Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York. He will be sentenced in all three cases during hearings Thursday and Friday in U.S. District Court.

His lawyer will argue that Gonzalez should get no more than 15 years.

Prosecutors said Gonzalez victimized millions of people and cost companies, banks and insurers nearly $200 million. They said just two of Gonzalez's computer servers contained more than 40 million distinct credit and debit card numbers.

"The sheer extent of the human victimization caused by Gonzalez and his organization is unparalleled," Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Heymann said in a sentencing memorandum filed in court.

Gonzalez, 28, pleaded guilty in September to hacking into the computers of TJX Cos., BJ's Wholesale Club, OfficeMax, BostonMarket, Barnes & Noble, Sports Authority and the Dave & Busters restaurant chain.

In December, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to gain unauthorized access to computer servers at the Maine-based supermarket chain Hannaford Brothers; the convenience store chain 7-Eleven Inc.; and Heartland Payment Systems Inc., a New Jersey-based processor of credit and debit cards.

Gonzalez's Boston attorney, Martin Weinberg, did not immediately return calls seeking comment on his sentencing recommendation of 15 years.

Weinberg said during an earlier court hearing that he would ask for a lesser sentence based in part on a defense psychiatrist's report that Gonzalez shows behavior consistent with Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism. The report described Gonzalez as an Internet addict with an "idiot-savant-like genius for computers and information technology," but socially awkward.

Gonzalez, who was known online as "soupnazi," was a self-taught computer genius.

He was first arrested for hacking in 2003, but he became a government informant, helping the Secret Service find other hackers. But prosecutors said that over the next five years, he hacked into the computer systems of major retailers while continuing to be an informant for the government.

During that time, authorities said, he amassed $2.8 million and lived a lavish lifestyle. As part of the plea deals, Gonzalez must forfeit more than $2.7 million, plus his Miami condo, car, Rolex watches and a Tiffany ring he gave to his girlfriend.

Authorities said Gonzalez and two foreign co-defendants used hacking techniques that involved "wardriving," or cruising through different areas with a laptop computer and looking for retailers' accessible wireless Internet signals. Once they located a vulnerable network, they installed "sniffer programs" that captured credit and debit card numbers as they moved through a retailer's processing computers — then tried to sell the data overseas.


Comment: We had at least one card that was compromised. The card issuer contacted us, canceled the card and issued a replacement.

The Judge Rules on Bart Stupak's Executive Order!



Comment: There are no pro-life Democrats! It is the party of death!

3.22.2010

A Red River Floodway for Fargo - Moorhead?


10-year, $1.3 billion solution for Fargo floods?

Excerpt:

The 36-mile channel involves considerably more than just digging a big ditch, with some tricky engineering challenges that help explain why construction is expected to take nearly a decade.

As the channel splits from the river's main path and angles west of the city, it would cross three larger and two smaller tributaries.

It would pass underneath the Sheyenne and Maple rivers through some "extremely large culverts" while open channels — basically aqueducts — would carry the normal flows of those rivers above, said Aaron Snyder, a project manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in St. Paul, Minn. Another smaller river, the Wild Rice, would also require its own structure over the channel.

Upstream, a span resembling a highway bridge would have gates that would be lowered during high water to make the diversion.

Construction alone would take 8½ years, and that's just from when the corps gets funding and starts digging. More time will be needed to acquire some 6,500 acres of land, line up funding and take care of other pre-construction needs, Snyder said.


Comments:

20 Promises for $2,500: All Americans Now Await Lower Premiums Promised by Obama



Comment: Not gonna happen!

Virginia leads the legal challenges


Health Care: Cue Up the Legal Fights

Excerpt:

Folks in Virginia, according to the story, appear eager to challenge the bill on two other grounds as well — that Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce does not extend to a bill this far-reaching, and that the bill conflicts with a state law saying that no Virginian shall be compelled to buy insurance.

“This is such an incredible federal overreach,” said Virginia’s attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli. Cuccinelli added, however, that there was “no rush” to enjoin the bill from taking effect, as the so-called “individual mandate” does not take effect until 2013.


Comment: Sic semper tyrannis

A law firm's virus nightmare

One Very Small Law Firm; One Extremely Large Computer Virus

Excerpt:

By Saturday morning, the pace had picked up. We alerted the necessary authorities, but there was still the question of what to do with all the emails and phone calls. Our stock and trade is our reputation. It was important to me that I respond to each email and call as quickly as possible. I sent out about 80 emails from Florida and we made sure we changed our Web site as soon as possible.

I was with my kids, but I had to get back to Connecticut, where I live. So I got a flight back for first thing Saturday. This is where the story gets weird — on the plane I had internet access, and I got an email that my house had been destroyed in the storm that hit the night before; that a tree had fallen through my roof.

In the meantime, we can’t land at Laguardia because of the weather, so they route us to Harrisburg to refuel, where we sit on the tarmac for three hours before bringing us back. A two-hour trip was quickly becoming a nine-hour trip. So there I am, on the plane with my four children who haven’t been fed, trying to deal with this spam attack, also taking in the news that my house has just been destroyed.


Comment: A really interesting read!

3.21.2010

Fantasy in, fantasy out.


The Real Arithmetic of Health Care Reform

Excerpt:

ON Thursday, the Congressional Budget Office reported that, if enacted, the latest health care reform legislation would, over the next 10 years, cost about $950 billion, but because it would raise some revenues and lower some costs, it would also lower federal deficits by $138 billion. In other words, a bill that would set up two new entitlement spending programs — health insurance subsidies and long-term health care benefits — would actually improve the nation’s bottom line.

Could this really be true? How can the budget office give a green light to a bill that commits the federal government to spending nearly $1 trillion more over the next 10 years?

The answer, unfortunately, is that the budget office is required to take written legislation at face value and not second-guess the plausibility of what it is handed. So fantasy in, fantasy out.

In reality, if you strip out all the gimmicks and budgetary games and rework the calculus, a wholly different picture emerges: The health care reform legislation would raise, not lower, federal deficits, by $562 billion.

Gimmick No. 1 is the way the bill front-loads revenues and backloads spending. That is, the taxes and fees it calls for are set to begin immediately, but its new subsidies would be deferred so that the first 10 years of revenue would be used to pay for only 6 years of spending.

Even worse, some costs are left out entirely. To operate the new programs over the first 10 years, future Congresses would need to vote for $114 billion in additional annual spending. But this so-called discretionary spending is excluded from the Congressional Budget Office’s tabulation.

Consider, too, the fate of the $70 billion in premiums expected to be raised in the first 10 years for the legislation’s new long-term health care insurance program. This money is counted as deficit reduction, but the benefits it is intended to finance are assumed not to materialize in the first 10 years, so they appear nowhere in the cost of the legislation.

Another vivid example of how the legislation manipulates revenues is the provision to have corporations deposit $8 billion in higher estimated tax payments in 2014, thereby meeting fiscal targets for the first five years. But since the corporations’ actual taxes would be unchanged, the money would need to be refunded the next year. The net effect is simply to shift dollars from 2015 to 2014.

In addition to this accounting sleight of hand, the legislation would blithely rob Peter to pay Paul. For example, it would use $53 billion in anticipated higher Social Security taxes to offset health care spending. Social Security revenues are expected to rise as employers shift from paying for health insurance to paying higher wages. But if workers have higher wages, they will also qualify for increased Social Security benefits when they retire. So the extra money raised from payroll taxes is already spoken for. (Indeed, it is unlikely to be enough to keep Social Security solvent.) It cannot be used for lowering the deficit.

A government takeover of all federally financed student loans — which obviously has nothing to do with health care — is rolled into the bill because it is expected to generate $19 billion in deficit reduction.

Finally, in perhaps the most amazing bit of unrealistic accounting, the legislation proposes to trim $463 billion from Medicare spending and use it to finance insurance subsidies. But Medicare is already bleeding red ink, and the health care bill has no reforms that would enable the program to operate more cheaply in the future. Instead, Congress is likely to continue to regularly override scheduled cuts in payments to Medicare doctors and other providers.

Removing the unrealistic annual Medicare savings ($463 billion) and the stolen annual revenues from Social Security and long-term care insurance ($123 billion), and adding in the annual spending that so far is not accounted for ($114 billion) quickly generates additional deficits of $562 billion in the first 10 years. And the nation would be on the hook for two more entitlement programs rapidly expanding as far as the eye can see.


Comment: As they vote today .... consider how this mess will impact the next generation of Americans: more debt, more entitlements! Title - "Fantasy in, fantasy out" - is a play on Garbage In, Garbage Out

Spring: “otherwise known to Al Gore as proof of global warming.”

Clinton Returns to Washington, Needling Himself, Obama and the Press

Excerpt:

Elsewhere in his remarks, he noted he was speaking on the night before the start of spring, “otherwise known to Al Gore as proof of global warming.” Of the current vice president, he said: “Vice President Biden, God bless his mouth.”

He praised a speech given earlier in the dinner by the night’s Republican speaker, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, thusly: “Orin, he’s the wittiest of all the Republicans. That ‘s sort of like saying he’s the tallest of the Seven Dwarfs.”

Mr. Clinton managed to get in a plug for his economic record as president, in a backhanded kind of way: “My only regret in creating 23 million new jobs is that two million of those jobs were for right-wing pundits.”


Comment: Funny!

Cheap imports undermined Haitian food production

U.S. policies encouraging low tariffs on imports destroyed local agriculture

Excerpt:

Decades of inexpensive imports — especially rice from the U.S. — punctuated with abundant aid in various crises have destroyed local agriculture and left impoverished countries such as Haiti unable to feed themselves.

While those policies have been criticized for years in aid worker circles, world leaders focused on fixing Haiti are admitting for the first time that loosening trade barriers has only exacerbated hunger in Haiti and elsewhere.

They're led by former U.S. President Bill Clinton — now U.N. special envoy to Haiti — who publicly apologized this month for championing policies that destroyed Haiti's rice production. Clinton in the mid-1990s encouraged the impoverished country to dramatically cut tariffs on imported U.S. rice.

"It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake," Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 10. "I had to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else."


Comment: a rare admission of culpability by former President Clinton!

I's time we talked about adult toys

I Won't Buy Toys. Unless I Really Want Them.

Excerpts:

Don't turn necessities into toys. A car is a tool, I've told them; buy anything nicer than a midrange Honda and you're buying a toy.

...

The truth is that my parents have taught me, through example, not to buy anything just because it is appealing. I've learned that it's important to deliberate, to rationally weigh whether something is really worth the money. To think before I buy.

But they also taught me, through example, that buying some toys, even if they aren't necessary at all, is OK if they have a high payback in education or entertainment.


Comment: An interesting read about a family discussion about needs vs wants

3.20.2010

Retirement math: a simple five-step approach

Do You Have Enough to Retire? Do the Math

List from Wall Street Journal article:


  1. Find the target
  2. Estimate Social Security
  3. Subtract pensions and other income
  4. Subtract income from your target
  5. Multiply the result by 20


Why 20 times? It's simple math. You don't want to run out of money, so to be safe you should really save enough to last for several decades. Many of those turning 65 in decent health these days should plan on lasting into their 90s. And when you are retired, you should probably plan on the basis that your investments may only earn 3% a year above inflation, maybe even less.

Investors may earn more, but those in retirement are probably going to want to play it reasonably safe. Based on those assumptions -- they are, I admit, conservative -- you will need to save about 20 times the annual income you need your savings to generate. Those who want to be even more secure could save 25 times.



Comment: Article has a simple worksheet. As for me I know that no true servant of God truly retires .... just has different opportunities. I haven't sorted out the whole "will I be able to fully retire?" question.

John Piper has some good thoughts on retirement:

Should I invest for retirement?


I want to bless those who lean away from big fat retirement accounts and big fat savings accounts. I want to bless the leaning away from those things and towards generosity and immediate-need-meeting.

The reason I don't think we can paint with a broad brush here and say that all savings and all investments are wrong is that it becomes extremely difficult to draw the line as to what is saving for the future and what is spending on a present need.

If you get paid once every two weeks, should you give it all away the day you get it and trust God for the other thirteen days? Or would keeping some of it in the bank for thirteen days—because you know a bill is coming in twelve days—be distrusting God for his provision twelve days from now?

That sounds silly, right? But it's not silly: it's an analogy. God ordains that we work for our living and that we use what we earn to pay our bills, whether it's food, clothing, housing, education for our kids, or whatever.

Those bills don't arrive simultaneously with our paycheck, which means that everybody saves if they pay their bills. Everybody does. Some just do it more consciously and briefly than others.

Then the question becomes, "Should you save for the replacement of your car?"

Suppose you're a traveling salesman and you have to have a car. You know this car: you bought it when it was eight years old with 80,000 miles on it. You've had it for seven years and it's starting to have problems. Should you put any money away? Should you have been putting money away? Or should you borrow?

Some may think it's just stupid to borrow for a car, but if you don't borrow for one then you've got to save for it! There's no other way! And so now you're in to a seven-year savings plan for a car. But why not trust God to give you a car? Now he very well might, and I wouldn't kick anybody out of my church for saying that they don't save for cars but trust God to give them to them, but that's just not the way the Bible demands that you do it.

Now just unpack that analogy into the retirement situation of our culture.

Retirement is forced for a lot of people. When you get to sixty-five or seventy you have to step back. Finding another job at age seventy that might support you or your invalid wife is not an easy thing. The way our culture is dealing with that is having you earn your money for the post-working years while you're working. And what do you do with it? You just set it aside.

Why should we assume that the post-working years should be provided for from heaven and the working years should be provided for from labor? I don't assume that.

The way I think about retirement—though I don't believe in "retirement" if you can avoid it—is that you should start doing different things for Jesus. And if you can do them without having to be paid by people because you've set it aside, then that's all the more wonderful.

I think of that like this: I don't want to get rich. I don't want to sit on a pile of money. I just want to be able to survive between the ages of sixty-five and eighty-five. And I'd like to be spent for the kingdom. So if I can have a house and have my bills paid and pour my life out for the kingdom, I would be thrilled.

Laying up treasures for yourself on earth is reflected in the man who built the barns. He had many goods. "What shall I do with them?" he said. "I'll build more barns." But he didn't need all those barns. He said, "I will eat, drink, and be merry." He shouldn't have been eating and drinking and being merry, he should have been using his money strategically to meet needs. But he was just cavalier about having all this money.

So it is the indifference to needs and the storing up of way more than you need that comes under the accusation of laying up for yourselves treasures on earth.

People are going to call this differently from family to family and person to person. I, for one, labor not to maximize my retirement. My employer here, Bethlehem Baptist Church, is constantly creating ways for us to maximize our retirement, because they (our financial guys) think that a lot of pastors here are not preparing for their families well.

I look at some of those things such as the option to contribute three-percent more to retirement savings and have it matched. But I don't do it, because I look at what I'm putting away and say, "That's enough!" I've got Social Security that I've been paying the government for all these years, and I've got this little retirement plan that I started when I joined the Baptist General Conference. I could put away more, but I look at what I have already and say, "That'll do. That'll bring in enough to live on."

I don't want to be an all-or-nothing type person here. I want people to think soberly and maximize their generosity.

I hardly put anything away for cars either, because we always get used cars. But I know it's stupid to not put some money away, because when trouble arrives I'm always scrambling to find a way to take care of the refrigerator that's broken or the car that's having issues. And I don't think it's an honor to my wife to be careless about that.

So, all that to say, Put a governor on your life. Make as much as you can, give as much as you can, and save what you need to in order to be a responsible non-borrower. Then do retirement with some minimalistic plan that frees you up for gospel ministry till the day you drop.

12 Angry Men


12 Angry Men (1957 film)


Comment: Home sick (cold) enjoying Turner Classic Movies.

Milton Friedman: The origin of our medical care morass

A Way Out of Soviet-Style Health Care: Solzhenitsyn's prophetic warning about the depersonalization of medicine

Excerpt:

For the first 30 years of my life, until World War II, that kind of practice [private medical practice] was the norm. Individuals were responsible for their own medical care. They could pay for it out-of-pocket or they could buy insurance. "Sliding scale" fees plus professional ethics assured that the poor got care. On entry to a hospital, the first question was "What's wrong?" not "What is your insurance?" It may be that some firms provided health care as a benefit to their workers, but if so it was the exception not the rule.

The first major change in those arrangements was a byproduct of wage and price controls during World War II. Employers, pressed to find more workers under wartime boom conditions but forbidden to offer higher money wages, started adding benefits in kind to the money wage. Employer-provided medical care proved particularly popular. As something new, it was not covered by existing tax regulations, so employers treated it as exempt from withholding tax.

It took a few years before the Internal Revenue Service got around to issuing regulations requiring the cost of employer-provided medical care to be included in taxable wages. That aroused a howl of protest from employees who had come to take tax exemption for granted, and Congress responded by exempting employer- provided medical care from both the personal and the corporate income tax.

Because private expenditures on health care are not exempt from income tax, almost all employees now receive health care coverage from their employers, leading to problems of portability, third party payment and rising costs that have become increasingly serious. Of course, the cost of medical care comes out of wages, but out of before-tax rather than after-tax wages, so that the employee receives what he or she regards as a higher real wage for the same cost to the employer.

...

The best way to restore freedom of choice to both patient and physician and to control costs would be to eliminate the tax exemption of employer-provided medical care. However, that is clearly not feasible politically. The best alternative available is to extend the tax exemption to all expenditures on medical care, whether made by the patient directly or by employers, to establish a level playing field, in terms of the currently popular cliche.

Many individuals would then find it attractive to negotiate with their employer for a higher cash wage in place of employer-financed medical care. With part or all of the higher cash wage, they could purchase an insurance policy with a very high deductible, i.e., a policy for medical catastrophes, which would be decidedly cheaper than the low-deductible policy their employer had been providing to them, and deposit all or part of the difference in a special "medical savings account" that could be drawn on only for medical purposes. Any amounts unused in a particular year could be allowed to accumulate without being subject to tax, or could be withdrawn with a tax penalty or for special purposes, as with current Individual Retirement Accounts—in effect, a medical IRA. Many employers would find it attractive to offer such an arrangement to their employees as an option.


Comment: Written in 1996 by the brilliant economist Milton Friedman

The vote is really about who commands the country's medical resources.

The ObamaCare Crossroads

Excerpts:

The consequences of this bill will not only be destructive for the health-care system and the country's fiscal condition, though those will be bad enough. Inextricably bound up in a plan as far-reaching and ambitious as ObamaCare are also larger questions about the role of government, the dynamism of American enterprise and the nature of a free society. Above anything else, this explains why Democrats have had such trouble convincing the public, let alone their own Members.

...

In our world of infinite wants but finite resources, there are only two ways to allocate any good or service: either through prices and the choices of millions of individuals, or through central government planning and political discretion. This choice is inexorable. Stripped of its romantic illusions, ObamaCare is really about who commands the country's medical resources. It vastly accelerates the march toward a totally state-driven system, in contrast to reforms that would fix today's distorted status quo by putting consumers in control.

Friedman lays out how the country arrived at our current pass, starting with the World War II-era decision to offer tax subsidies for employer-sponsored coverage only. Like the company store, this inefficient and inequitable preference encourages workers to be paid in kind rather than cash, and over the years the third-party payer system it entrenched has inhibited competition and desensitized patients to the costs of their own care. With the 1965 creation of Medicare for seniors and Medicaid for the poor, government has come to play the leading role in shaping the way care is paid for and provided.

Naturally, the result has been high and rising costs. Since 1962, the share of the economy devoted to health care has risen to about 17% from 6%. Today, health entitlements account for about 5% of GDP but on current trend will rise to 7% in 2025 and about 15% in 2062.

...

Once the health-care markets are put through Mr. Obama's de facto nationalization, costs will further explode. The Congressional Budget Office estimates ObamaCare will cost taxpayers $200 billion per year when fully implemented and grow annually at 8%, even under low-ball assumptions. Soon the public will reach its taxing limit, and then something will have to give on the care side. In short, medicine will be rationed by politics, no doubt with the same subtlety and wisdom as Congress's final madcap dash toward 216 votes.

As in the Western European and Canadian welfare states, doctors, hospitals and insurance companies will over time become public utilities. Government will set the cost-minded priorities and determine what kinds of treatment options patients are allowed to receive. Medicare's price controls will be exported to the remnants of the private sector.



Comment: Interesting how wage price controls after WWII created system whereby employers offer health insurance. See next post for Milton Friedman 1996 article

On Mr. Mucus and Digger the Dermatophyte



Slimy sales agents

Excerpt:

He's a funny-looking guy, sloppy and green, decked out in a jaunty hat and suspenders. A little like Shrek on a bad day. He fronts a band of similarly weird backup dudes and dances around as if he were opening for Sinatra at the Sands.

This is no kiddie cartoon character. He is a walking, talking glob of computer-animated phlegm. His name is Mr. Mucus, and he sells Mucinex decongestant. Frequently during the TV evening news broadcasts.

He's not the only one. Afrin nasal spray offers unnamed blobs of green goo, shown closing up bank vault-style doors in a sufferer's nasal passages. Let's not forget Digger the Dermatophyte, a creepy bit of toenail fungus hawking Lamisil tablets.

Cute animated characters representing some of the most disgusting bodily afflictions you can imagine.

All during what for many people is the dinner hour.

What is going on here?

"It was immediately clear that by giving mucus a character and showing exactly where mucus is causing the problem in a humorous way, it served as a great visual," said M'lou Arnett, senior vice president of marketing at Adams Respiratory Therapeutics, makers of Mucinex and the creator of Mr. Mucus.

"There's an art to making sure that we do that in a tasteful way . . . characters like Mr. Mucus and Mrs. Mucus, and Junior Mucus," added Arnett, who said the company spent months developing the characters, testing the concept with focus groups to ensure it was entertaining. "We think they publicize the product in a lighthearted way."


Comment: Effective advertising. Using the Walgreens version of Mucinex (AKA Guaifenesin) this week.

Is the "Slaughter" rule constitutional?

The Health Vote and the Constitution

Excerpt:

n just a few days the House of Representatives is expected to act on two different pieces of legislation: the Senate version of the health-care bill (the one that contains the special deals, "Cadillac" insurance plan taxes, and abortion coverage) and an amendatory bill making changes in the Senate bill. The House will likely adopt a "self-executing" rule that "deems" passage of the amendatory bill as enactment of the Senate bill, without an actual vote on the latter.

This enables the House to enact the Senate bill while appearing only to approve changes to it. The underlying Senate bill would then go to the president for signature, and the amendatory bill would go to the Senate for consideration under reconciliation procedures (meaning no filibuster).

This approach appears unconstitutional. Article I, Section 7 clearly states that bills cannot be presented to the president for signature unless they have been approved by both houses of Congress in the same form. If the House approves the Senate bill in the same legislation by which it approves changes to the Senate bill, it will fail that requirement.

Rep. Louise Slaughter (D., N.Y.), chair of the House Rules Committee and prime mover behind this approach, has released a letter from Yale Law School's Jack Balkin asserting that a "rule which consolidates a vote on a bill and accompanying amendments, or, as in this case, a reconciliation measure and an amended bill, is within the House's powers under Article I, Section 5, Clause 2."

But that does not actually address the point at issue. No one doubts that the House can consolidate two bills in a single measure; the question is whether, having done so, it may then hive the resulting bill into two parts, treating one part as an enrolled bill ready for presidential signature and the other part as a House bill ready for senatorial consideration. That seems inconsistent with the principle that the president may sign only bills in the exact form that they have passed both houses. A combination of two bills is not in "the same form" as either bill separately.

Defenders of the Democratic strategy say that a self-executing rule has been used many times before by both parties. But never in this way. Most of the time a self-executing rule is used to incorporate amendments into a pending bill without actual votes on the amendments, where the bill is then subject to a final vote by the House and Senate. That usage may be a dodge around House rules, but it does not violate the Constitution. I am not aware of any instance where a self-executing rule has been used to send one bill to the president for signature and another to the Senate for consideration by means of a single vote.

Self-executing rules have also been used to increase the debt ceiling by virtue of adopting a budget resolution. That procedure is questionable, but because budget resolutions are not laws, this usage does not have the feature of using one vote to send a bill to the president and at the same time to send a different bill to the Senate. There may have been other questionable uses of self-executing rules, but not often enough or in prominent enough cases to establish a precedent that would overcome serious constitutional challenge.

Whether the courts would entertain such a challenge is a harder question. The "enrolled bill doctrine," announced by the Supreme Court in Marshall Field v. Clark (1892), holds that the courts will not question whether a bill certified as having passed both houses of Congress was properly enacted. More recently, in United States v. Munoz-Flores (1990), in a footnote, the Supreme Court stated that Field concerned only the "evidence" the courts would consider in such a challenge and that when "a constitutional provision is implicated," the enrolled bill doctrine would not apply. These holdings are not easy to reconcile. The D.C. Circuit, in a 1995 case, essentially said that it did not understand the Munoz-Flores footnote and thus would not follow it.


Comment: Sure stinks but this is what we have come to expect from Pelosi!

Lindsay! Name-O Blame-O

Lindsay. You Know. Lindsay.

Excerpt:

She's got a way about her. I don't know what it is, but I know that I can't say Lindsay without her permission. Kind of here, kind of now: Lind-say. Kind of young, kind of Wow! Lind-say ...

All that was illegal, therefore, even if it did swing. Eight unapproved uses of Lindsay. Nine.

Illegal and expensive. Billable hours for saying Lindsay all those times, and now again: $325,584. Treble damages for unauthorized use of Lindsay: $300 million, or $325 million with that one there. Saying Lindsay repeatedly with your three-year-old: Priceless. He'll do it, too, and won't let you stop.


Earlier post: Lindsay sues E-Trade

Cute .... Author's name is "Peter". He continues:

As Peter, I can sympathize. I think it's pretty clear that that bizarre pepper-picking piper is meant to be me. Isn't it interesting that he is "Peter," and that he picks the peppers continually, obsessively. And that they are "pickled." It's interesting to my lawyers, I can tell you that.

Online Banking ... ING featured

Online Checking: Are the Lower Fees Worth the Hassle?

Excerpt:

To some people accustomed to face-to-face service, online banking isn't an easy sell. To address such concerns, ING Direct promises its Electric Orange checking account holders that they will speak to a live rep within 20 seconds of calling customer service. The bank, which offers 0.25% interest on checking accounts, says it has seen an 80% jump in new accounts in February and March to date from the previous two months.

Another potential hassle: depositing checks. With a traditional checking account, customers can stride into a branch or deposit a check via ATM. Those who opt for an online-based account must mail in paper checks and wait a day or two for the funds to go through.

Federal savings bank USAA has devised another solution. It offers an iPhone and Google Android phone application that lets customers scan an image of a check to make a deposit. One caveat: This feature is currently available only for eligible USAA members, typically military members and their families, though its online checking account is available to anyone. Analysts expect other banks to roll out similar technology soon.


Comment: My brother and sister-in-law use USAA (she is a retired army major). As for depositing checks .... I don't think I deposit more than 4 checks a year (because we use direct deposit for paychecks).

3.19.2010

Xavier 65 - Gophers 54



Comment: Hope I am wrong on the other one

Democratic Shell Game




Excerpt:

Democrats are planning to introduce legislation later this spring that would permanently repeal annual Medicare cuts to doctors, but are warning lawmakers not to talk about it for fear that it will complicate their push to pass comprehensive health reform. The plans undercut the party's message that reform lowers the deficit, according to a memo obtained by POLITICO.

Democrats removed the so-called doc fix from the reform legislation last year because its $371-billion price tag would have made it impossible for Democrats to claim that their bill reduces the deficit. Republicans have argued for months that by stripping the doc fix from the bill, Democrats were playing a shell game.

“Most health staff are already aware that our health proposal does not contain a 'doc fix.' … The inclusion of a full SGR repeal would undermine reform’s budget neutrality. So again, do not allow yourself (or your boss) to get into a discussion of the details of CBO scores and textual narrative. Instead, focus only on the deficit reduction and number of Americans covered,” the memo, sent Thursday to Democratic staff, said.

“As most health staff knows, leadership and the White House are working with the AMA to rally physicians for a full SGR repeal later this spring. However, both health and communications staff should understand we do not want that policy discussion discussed at this time, lest (it) complicate the last critical push to pass health reform,” according to the memo.

The memo helps explains why the American Medical Association has supported reform even though their top legislative priority, the doc fix, was left out. The group is working behind the scenes with Democratic leadership and the White House to fix the cuts later this year.

Indeed, in a statement this afternoon, the AMA announced its support for the reconciliation bill -- and hinted that the debate is not over with reform's passage.

“This is not the last step, but the next step toward real health system reform. We will remain actively engaged with Congress and the administration to ensure that before Congress adjourns there are additional important changes to our health system," AMA president James Rohack said. "Congress must act to preserve access to care for seniors and military families by permanently repealing the Medicare physician payment formula that will cut Medicare payments by 21 percent next month.”

The memo also repeatedly advises Democrats not to discuss the details of the CBO score.

We cannot emphasize this enough: do not allow yourself (or your boss) to get into a discussion of the details of CBO scores and textual narrative. Instead, focus only on the deficit reduction and number of Americans covered," the memo says


Comment: Wiki: Shell game

Buy Kubota!


Caterpillar: Health care bill would cost it $100M

Excerpt:

Caterpillar Inc. said the health-care overhaul legislation being considered by the U.S. House would increase the company's health-care costs by more than $100 million in the first year alone.

In a letter Thursday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio, Caterpillar urged lawmakers to vote against the plan "because of the substantial cost burdens it would place on our shareholders, employees and retirees."

Caterpillar, the world's largest construction machinery manufacturer by sales, said it's particularly opposed to provisions in the bill that would expand Medicare taxes and mandate insurance coverage. The legislation would require nearly all companies to provide health insurance for their employees or face large fines.

The Peoria-based company said these provisions would increase its insurance costs by at least 20 percent, or more than $100 million, just in the first year of the health-care overhaul program.

"We can ill-afford cost increases that place us at a disadvantage versus our global competitors," said the letter signed by Gregory Folley, vice president and chief human resources officer of Caterpillar. "We are disappointed that efforts at reform have not addressed the cost concerns we've raised throughout the year."

Business executives have long complained that the options offered for covering 32 million uninsured Americans would result in higher insurance costs for those employers that already provide coverage. Opponents have stepped up their attacks in recent days as the House moves closer toward a vote on the Senate version of the health-care legislation.

A letter Thursday to President Barack Obama and members of Congress signed by more than 130 economists predicted the legislation would discourage companies from hiring more workers and would cause reduced hours and wages for those already employed.

Caterpillar noted that the company supports efforts to increase the quality and the value of health care for patients as well as lower costs for employer-sponsored insurance coverage.

"Unfortunately, neither the current legislation in the House and Senate, nor the president's proposal, meets these goals," the letter said.


Comment: And we wonder why American manufacturing is on the decline!

3.18.2010

Decades of health care wars

The Health-Care Wars Are Only Beginning

Excerpt:

On Dec. 7, 1941, an announcement was made during the football game between the hometown Washington Redskins and the Philadelphia Eagles. All the generals and admirals at Griffith Stadium were instructed to report to their duty stations. Little did they know their lives would be changed forever and America would be at war, or on war footing, for the next half-century. Pearl Harbor had been attacked.

America will be in a constant health-care war if ObamaCare is enacted. Passage wouldn't end the health-care debate. Rather, it would perpetuate ObamaCare as the dominant issue for decades to come, reshape politics, create an annual funding crisis in Congress, and generate a spate of angry lawsuits. Yet few in Washington seem aware of what lies ahead.

We only have to look at Great Britain to get a glimpse of the future. The National Health Service—socialized medicine—was created in 1946 and touted as the envy of the world. It's been a contentious issue ever since. Its cost and coverage are perennial subjects of debate. The press, especially England's most popular newspaper, The Daily Mail, feasts on reports of long waiting periods, dirty hospitals, botched care and denied access to treatments.

A Conservative member of the European Parliament, Daniel Hannan, last year in an interview on Fox News denounced the NHS as a "60-year mistake," declaring he "wouldn't wish it on anybody." As prime minister, Margaret Thatcher bravely cut NHS spending in the 1980s, but current Tory leaders regard criticism of the NHS as too risky. "The Conservative Party stands four square behind the NHS," its leader, David Cameron, said in response to Mr. Hannan.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi believes ObamaCare would have a more congenial fate—that it will become as popular as Social Security and Medicare with voters. She's kidding herself. Social Security and Medicare were popular from the start and passed with bipartisan support. ObamaCare is unpopular and partisan. It's extremely controversial. Its passage is far more likely to spark a political explosion than a wave of acceptance.

Democratic leaders believe the public doesn't focus on the process of how legislation is enacted. But in this case they're wrong. I've been amazed at how many people understand "reconciliation"—a process that allows budget and spending bills to pass in the Senate with only 51 votes, instead of 60. Many voters are also now studying the details of the "Slaughter solution," which would allow the House to "deem" the Senate health-care bill to have passed without actually voting on it and then to vote through changes to the Senate bill. These legislative shortcuts are already infuriating ObamaCare's opponents.

If ObamaCare passes, sooner or later the backlash against it would morph into a movement to repeal it. Republicans would likely make repeal a top issue in congressional elections this November. The GOP is expected to win a substantial number of seats in Congress this fall. If Republicans take control of the House or Senate or both, clashes over health care would be unavoidable.


Comment: It will bankrupt the US .... if SS doesn't first

The IRS as health care enforcer

Republicans assail IRS provision in health care bill

Excerpt:

Subcommittee on Oversight ranking member Charles Boustany (R-La.) said the IRS provision in the bill "dangerously expands, in an ominous way the tentacles of the IRS and it's reach into every American family," he said today during a press conference.

"This is a vast expanse of power," he said.

Boustany said the bill would allow the IRS to confiscate refunds if there are penalties for not buying health care.

Lawmakers have questioned whether the IRS can handle the increased workload to oversee, administer and collect penalties for people who don't buy health insurance.

"This is increasing tax liability and tax scrutiny," said Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.).


Comment: Earlier post

My new No Soliciting Sign


retroplanet.com

Comment: Detail on sign here. I don't mind (normally don't mind!) unsolicited visitors but Saturday morning at 10 am J/W's were at the door. Enough already!

If you appreciate satire

Blog post critical of Kevin Bauder and Central Seminary: A Letter from *Dr. Richard V. Clearwaters to Kevin Bauder

Excerpt:

No doubt you are a bit familiar with me and the ministry God gave me in the not too distant past. I had humble beginnings, being born in Kansas into a Christian home. However, I turned from God in my teenage years. He lovingly brought me to Himself through the tragic loss of my brother and through an old fashioned, three week evangelistic meeting in Washington State.

God led me to train for ministry at the Moody Bible Institute. It was there I learned the essentials of Bible Institute training – The English Bible, gospel music, and personal evangelism. At this school, I heard the men who shaped my philosophy of ministry – men like R.A. Torrey, Billy Sunday, G. Campbell Morgan, and Griffith Thomas. From here, I received further training at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kalamazoo College, and the Chicago University.

From my early days as a Christian, I knew God had called me to the pastorate. As you may know, The Lord allowed me to pastor in Wilton Center, IL, Kalamazoo, MI, Cedar Rapids, IA and then Minneapolis, MN. My last pastorate spanned over four decades and was certainly full of God’s rich blessing. Many great revivals took place during my tenure as the pastor! Many people were saved! God even allowed me to found the Pillsbury Baptist Bible College and the school which you now lead.

It may seem strange that I am writing to you since my decease, but it is not nearly as strange as some of your recent writings are to me. I have noticed with great consternation, the e-posts you have placed on sharperiron.org and other places. As the founder of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, an Independent Baptist Seminary, it is not a little troubling to me.


A response: A Letter from *Dr. J. Frank Norris to Kevin Bauder


Excerpt:

No doubt you are a bit familiar with me and the ministry God gave me in the not too distant past. I had humble beginnings, being born in Alabama.

God led me to train for ministry at Baylor University and then at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. It was there I learned the essentials of filtering out what wouldn't help me become powerful.

From my early days as a Christian, I knew God had called me to the pastorate. As you may know, The Lord allowed me to pastor in Fort Worth, Texas, and amazingly, in Detroit, Michigan, at the same time. That's a trick no one had perfected before, or since. It's only now that these NEW EVANGELICAL ratbags are doing their 'campus' churches as a big TV screen preaches to their folks.

It may seem strange that I am writing to you since my decease, since it is tough for dead folks to get decent DSL, to say nothing of how my fingers crumble on the keyboard. But it is not nearly as strange as some of your recent writings are to me. I have noticed with great consternation, the e-posts you have placed on sharperiron.org and other places.



Comment: Read both! There's more than a laugh here!

2 predictions (I hope I'm wrong!)


  • Minnesota will lose to Xavier tomorrow
  • Pelosi's health care debacle will pass

Prosper Loss = $ 38.13



Comment: My 8th charge off .... lost $ 38.13 on this one. I am still net positive

Standard & Poor's 500 components

Index Component Weights of Stocks in the S&P 500

Comment: Index trades as SPY

3.17.2010

What do the Nexus One and IPad have in common?

Google's 'Nexus One' Trademark Application Denied

Excerpt:

Google Inc.'s trademark application for its Nexus One cellphone has been denied, according to a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruling filed last week.

The ruling, which has been noted on several blogs and news sites, says Google's application was denied because of "a likelihood of confusion" with a related trademark held Integra Telecom Inc., based in Portland, Ore.

Integra's "Nexus" trademark was registered in 2008, according to public records. The company offers a telecommunications service under that name, according to its Web site.

The ruling noted trademarks can be denied based on a likelihood of confusion over appearance, sound and meaning. Google now has the opportunity to submit further evidence in support of its application, according to last week's ruling.


Comment: See earlier post about the IPad

Absolutes Convictions Opinions and Questions



Comment: From ESV Study Bible "True Theology: Knowing and Loving God"

Excerpt:

Where an issue falls within these categories should be determined by weighing the cumulative force of at least seven considerations:


  1. biblical clarity
  2. relevance to the character of God
  3. relevance to the essence of the gospel
  4. biblical frequency and significance (how often in Scripture it is taught, and what weight Scripture places upon it)
  5. effect on other doctrines
  6. consensus among Christians (past and present) and
  7. effect on personal and church life
These criteria for determining the importance of particular beliefs must be considered in light of their cumulative weight regarding the doctrine being considered. For instance, just the fact that a doctrine may go against the general consensus among believers (see item 6) does not necessarily mean it is wrong, although that might add some weight to the argument against it. All the categories should be considered collectively in determining how important an issue is to the Christian faith. The ability to rightly discern the difference between core doctrines and legitimately disputable matters will keep the church from either compromising important truth or needlessly dividing over peripheral issues.

Baseball still played at the Metrodome

Winter Ball Never Sleeps or Shivers at Metrodome

Excerpt:

Ron Petrich, now an assistant professor of education at Augsburg, a small Minneapolis college, doubles as the scheduler and matchmaker for college baseball games at the Metrodome. Since 1984, he has kept the Dome humming with games, practices and scrimmages almost around the clock from February through April, when winter finally eases. The Metrodome may have said goodbye to major league baseball, but for now, it remains a Teflon-roofed lifesaver for more than 100 college, high school and other amateur teams throughout the upper Midwest.

And no more so than this winter. In February, Petrich said, he was receiving five or six calls a day from coaches with snow-covered fields as far away as Kansas and Illinois. That made for some creative scheduling.

Nebraska-Kearney, where the Yankees’ Joba Chamberlain once pitched, played two doubleheaders in 17 hours over two days. Valley City State, an N.A.I.A. program from North Dakota, scheduled two doubleheaders on one day — at 7:30 a.m. and 9:45 p.m. Kansas and Eastern Michigan shifted their Feb. 22 doubleheader to the Metrodome from Lawrence, Kan., to avoid a snowstorm.

The Metrodome had more available dates than usual this year because two trade shows canceled and it will not host an N.C.A.A. men’s basketball regional. Even with the University of Minnesota playing 28 baseball games and 16 softball games at the dome, Petrich said he had enough slots to accommodate a record 240 college games and 420 over all without booking any between 2:30 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. That, he said, was a first.

“This year, everything broke right,” he said.

For more than two decades, the Metrodome — the home of the Twins until their move to Target Field this year and of the Vikings, who are still residents — has provided Midwest colleges a place to play early in the season.

Using the dome allows leagues like the Division III Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference to spread their regular seasons across four months instead of backloading games in April and May.

“It’s a very nice convenience for us,” said Chris Olean, the interim coach at St. Thomas, an M.I.A.C. member from St. Paul.

The field is used so much that the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which operates the Metrodome, covers the dirt base cutouts with artificial turf to reduce wear and tear. Although the Dome’s future is in doubt, a proposed plan calls for tearing it down and building a retractable-roof stadium for the Vikings that could also accommodate baseball, said Bill Lester, the commission’s executive director.

Petrich books time in four-and-a-half-hour blocks, so teams usually play doubleheaders with seven-inning games. Rent ranges from $300 to $500 an hour for high schools and small colleges to $2,000 for a single University of Minnesota game. Admission for small-college games is $5 for adults and $3 for students. Concession stands are closed, so some fans bring coolers.

With so many teams wanting the field — 55 colleges used it last year, according to sports facilities commission records — not all the start times are prime. Olean said St. Thomas played a game last year at 5 a.m., and Augsburg Coach Keith Bateman remembers a 4 a.m. doubleheader.


Comment: Sad to think that some want to tear it down