Archive for March, 2010

There Is Nothing New

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

This verse is telling us that history repeats itself, but I believe that it takes a certain amount of history (i.e., age and experience) for each of us before we can really believe this.  I’ve seen this principal in our social arena, as well as in economics and politics.

I remember the tumultuous decade of the 1960s, when so many people (especially our youth) were rebelling in so many different ways.  I watched as people fought for civil rights, and as the sexual revolution unfolded.  Many of the things I saw seemed unprecedented at the time.  However, as I subsequently learned more about history, I realized that history was simply repeating itself, sometimes from when our nation was younger, and sometimes from other societies many centuries ago.

When the stock market turned down in the year 2000, many analysts warned of a coming depression.  At the time, most analysts (and traders) were relatively young, due to the rapid growth of Wall Street during recent years.  However, some of us could remember the “crash” of 1987.  Although the market lost 20% of its (over-inflated) value in one day, what followed was the huge bull market of the 1990s.  By the time of the downturn in 2000, this bull market was the only market that most traders had known.  However, to those with more experience, this pull pack was a reasonable expectation after such a run up.  Once a person has lived through both bull and bear (and stagnant) markets, then he begins to see the bigger picture.  Likewise, those with more experience were less rattled by the next downturn in 2008.

As a result of my personal experiences, I have come to learn that we should be careful with our use of the word, “unprecedented.”  Many times something seems unprecedented to us only because of our limited knowledge.  After a little more experience, aging, and education in history, we see that there was some precedent for what we were seeing after all.

The economic situation in 2008 resulted in major changes in the political world.  Democrats blamed the “unprecedented” economic downturn on the previous Republican administration, and we witnessed a Democratic sweep in the 2008 elections, including both the presidency and the Congress.  Then, only one year later, the Republicans are citing “unprecedented” spending and low approval ratings of the President and our Congressmen, sparking hope among themselves for the 2010 elections.  Again, those with more years of experience and observations can more easily view these changes as more of the normal ebb and flow of politics.

Rest assured that we will see more changes in society, economics, and politics.  The economy will bounce back–we just don’t know when.  Meanwhile, in just the last 30 years, I’ve seen the market move from 700 to 14,000, so the current level of 11,000 doesn’t seem like such an “unprecedented” disaster.  I’ve seen Democrats and Republicans swap power time after time.  The fact that the Democrats currently have so much power only reinforces my expectations that the Republicans will once again return to power someday, only to move the country so far to the right that the people will then vote them out of office, etc., etc.  Indeed, “there is nothing new under the sun.”

Biblical Investing Concepts

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

Did you know that the wisdom books of the Bible include some sound concepts for investing?  Consider the following:

1) Proverbs 13:11 says, “Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow.”

The best way to invest our money is to do so “little by little.”  A good example of this is to contribute to a retirement account via payroll deductions.  It’s best not to get impatient, just steadily investing a little here and a little there.  Just keep it up, and your nest egg will grow.  This concept also teaches that we should avoid wild speculation, investing in a long shot, or gambling, hoping to get rich quick.  That’s not the Biblical way.

2) Ecclesiastes 11:6 says, “Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let not your hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.

This verse teaches the concept of diversity.  We shouldn’t keep all of our eggs in one basket.  It’s best to spread our investment funds around a little bit.  Some will do better than others, although we don’t know which ones.  We just need to keep working at it, and exercise patience.

Lessons Learned From the Health Care Summit

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Health Care Costs Are Too High

Sen. Coburn:  “Cost is the number one thing that’s keeping people from getting care.  We should go to those areas where the cost is wasted, with a patient-centered, market-oriented approach.  Just on fraud and tort reform, we could cut costs by 15 percent tomorrow, and that’s for everybody in the country.”

Rep. (Dr.) Boustany:  “We need to simplify, streamline, and standardize all the paperwork that’s involved because … it you away from patient care. It interferes with the doctor-patient relationship. It runs up cost in medical practices.

Doctors are Performing Bad Medicine

Senator (Dr.) Coburn:  “… actually performing bad medicine…  We get stuck in the idea of treating the symptom rather than treating the disease.  One out of every three dollars that gets spent doesn’t help anybody get well and doesn’t prevent anybody from getting sick.  33 percent of the cost in health care shouldn’t be there…  We don’t do a good job of prevention.”

Government Intervention is Driving up Costs

Sen. Coburn:  “The government now directs over 60 percent of the health care in this country.  And if throwing money at it and creating new government programs could solve it, we wouldn’t be sitting here today because we’ve done all that, it hasn’t worked.”

We Need to Reduce the Fraud

Sen. Coburn:  “15 to 20 percent of government-run health care is fraud ($150B).  If we fixed fraud, we could cut (total) health care costs by 7.5 percent.”

Congressman Andrews:  “We should have a database–if you’ve committed fraud against Medicare once, you can’t make a contract again.”

Sen. Schumer:  “How many times, when you look at your medical bill, you’ve undergone a minor procedure, and you see Dr. Smith, $4,000, and you sort of vaguely remember he just waved and poked his head in the door?”

“Right now there’s some salesman talking to some doctor and saying, hey, my company will finance a machine for you for a million dollars, so you don’t have to pay for it, you can gradually pay it. We’ll show you how to fill it up all the time and you’ll increase your income by $200,000. And there’s another machine three blocks away that’s already working and available.”

We Need Tort Reform

Sen. Coburn:  “A large portion of the tests we order every day aren’t for patients, they’re for doctors.  The reason they’re there is because we are risk-averse to the tort system and extortion system.  Between $625 billion and $850 billion a year of health care dollars are wasted.”

We Need to Be Better Consumers of Health Care

Sen. Barrasso:  “Sometimes the people with catastrophic plans are the people that are the best consumers of health care.  A lot of people come in and say, “My knee hurts.  Maybe I should get an MRI.  Will my insurance cover it?”  That’s the first question.  And if I say, “Yes,” then they say, “Okay, let’s do it.”  If I say, “No,” then they say, “Well, what is it going to cost?”  And what it costs ought to be the first question.  And that’s why sometimes people with catastrophic health plans ask the best questions, shop around, and are the best consumers of health care.”

Half of all the money we spend in this country on health care is on just 5 percent of the people. Those are people, for the most part, that eat too much, exercise too little, and smoke. And as a result, we need to focus on those people. So the focus ought to be on the best possible care.
People are happy with the quality of care they get, the availability, but they sure don’t like the affordability because it’s not affordable.

This Bill is Not Equitable (Transparency)

Sen. McCAIN:  “This product was produced behind closed doors with unsavory deal-making: the ‘Louisiana Purchase,’ fining them $300 million for one state; the ‘Cornhusker Kickback,’ which has, I understand now, been done away with… the carveout for 800,000 Florida seniors exempt from cuts in Medicare Advantage program. There’s 330,000 seniors under Medicare Advantage in my home state of Arizona. They’re deeply concerned about that. They’re deeply concerned about the carveouts for Vermont, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Michigan, and Connecticut.”

Sen. Kyl:  “You don’t help small businesses by raising the Medicare payroll tax on them, which is what this legislation does. Besides that, it’s a job killer. ”

This bill raises taxes on the middle class.  Currently, medical expenses are deductible only to the extent that they exceed 7.5% of one’s adjusted gross income, and this bill raises that to 10%.  Of all things, 100% of medical expenses should be deductible–even before a mortgage, charitable giving, etc.

Insurance Companies Aren’t the Main Problem

Sen. Alexander:  “If we took all the profits of the health insurance companies entirely away, we could pay for only two days of the health insurance of Americans.”


– We need to lower health care costs, through reduction of fraud, tort reform, choice and competition in the free market, purchasing insurance across state lines, and using (high) risk pools to deal with preexisting conditions.

– We shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that the President’s health care summit suddenly added transparency to this issue.  As Rep. said, “Never have so many members of the House and Senate behaved so well for so long before so many television cameras.”

– We need to hold our politicians accountable.  The President told Sen. McCain that “we’re not campaigning anymore. The election is over.”  Sen. McCain should have replied, “Yes, but elections don’t release politicians from the promises that they made during their campaigns.

Who Has the Best Health Care in the World?

Friday, March 5th, 2010

In the health care debate, we often hear both sides touting the “fact” that the U.S. has the best health care in the world, but the facts show that this simply isn’t true.  According to the most recent study by the World Health Organization, the U.S. ranks 37th, behind most European countries.  (See below for the list of the top 37 countries.)

Now, we can say that we’re in first place in terms of health care spending per capita.  This also puts us in first place for getting the least return on our health care dollars–spending so much to get so little.   (See  No doubt we also have the wealthiest doctors and insurance companies in the world, and the most complex system of acquiring and using our health insurance.

If our health care system was the best in the world, we wouldn’t still rank 39th for infant mortality, 43rd for adult female mortality, 42nd for adult male mortality, and 36th for life expectancy.  Among developed countries, the U.S. ranks last in limiting preventable deaths (2008).  Why do we still have so many impoverished patients?  We simply need:  lower costs, easier access, and more bang for our buck.

So, here’s who has the best health care in the world: 

1         France
2         Italy
3         San Marino
4         Andorra
5         Malta
6         Singapore
7         Spain
8         Oman
9         Austria
10        Japan
11        Norway
12        Portugal
13        Monaco
14        Greece
15        Iceland
16        Luxembourg
17        Netherlands
18        United  Kingdom
19        Ireland
20        Switzerland
21        Belgium
22        Colombia
23        Sweden
24        Cyprus
25        Germany
26        Saudi Arabia
27        United  Arab  Emirates
28        Israel
29        Morocco
30        Canada
31        Finland
32        Australia
33        Chile
34        Denmark
35        Dominica
36        Costa Rica
37        United States of America

For more info, just Google “best health care in the world.” 

Airport Security vs. Airport Stupidity

Monday, March 1st, 2010

OK, I may have just discovered the epitome of stupidity concerning airport security.  Just how stringent does security have to become before we start applying a little common sense to the process?

The plethora of restrictions and procedures have already vastly changed the air travel experience.  It used to be a pleasurable and convenient way to cover a lot of miles in a short amount of time.  Now, if the trip is less than 500 miles, it’s probably faster (and far less stressful) just to drive, instead of arriving at the airport two hours early, waiting in multiple lines, sitting on the tarmac, etc.

Sure, we’ve gradually become accustomed to inconveniences, such as:

– Showing our photo ID up to four different times while walking through the same line.

– Throwing away a beverage container because it contained more than 3.4 oz. of natural spring water (and then paying $5 for a “secure” bottle of water, after passing through the security checkpoints).

– Taking off our shoes before walking through the metal detector, and then leaning up against a wall to put them back on again–increasing the delays for billions of passengers over the years, ever since one guy set his shoes on fire.

Well, this morning, our daughter-in-law was passing through a security checkpoint with our ten-month-old granddaughter.  Have you guessed it yet?  At the security checkpoint, she was required to remove the baby’s shoes and pass them through the X-ray machine!

Now, let’s even put aside any thoughts about inconvenience, or even health considerations for the baby.  For a moment, let’s consider only common sense.  Obviously, the baby’s shoes are miniature versions of adult shoes.  They’re only about three inches long.  Even if someone did have ill-conceived plans for those shoes, and even if the shoes were large enough to somehow establish a threat, two thoughts came to mind:

First of all, any adult could have easily dropped this pair of shoes into his/her shirt pocket, and walked through the metal detector, without having the shoes subjected to the X-ray machine.

Also, if the thin soles of the baby shoes had indeed imposed some threat, then the same threat could be imposed by a variety of objects that routinely escape the X-ray machine, such as belts, shirt collars, etc.  What’s next?  Will these items soon be scrutinized just as closely?

Oh, no!  That brings to mind the “Underwear Bomber” whose plans were thwarted last Christmas Day.   I wonder if plans are underway to outlaw underwear.