FT172: “Damn the truth, promises and the Constitution,” said the politician. “I’m trying to get reelected.” —Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 31st, 2013

Fundamental Truth

The People ratified the Constitution only because George Washington would be the First President

George Washington did not want to be president.  After winning the American Revolutionary War his place in history was set.  If the first government following the Constitutional Convention failed he didn’t want history to remember him for that.  Also, Washington was an old man.  Most Washington men were already dead at his age.  Something he was very conscious of.  And he wanted to live out his remaining days, however few he had, at Mount Vernon.  With Martha.  But America’s Cincinnatus would, reluctantly, answer the call of duty again.

The new Constitution was not very popular.  The old patriots of 1776 hated it.  With a passion.  While Washington, Alexander Hamilton and others who served in the Continental Army were generally for it.  Because they saw how the weak Continental Congress had almost lost the war.  Starving the Continental Army of the supplies they needed.  Unable even to provide it with shoes and clothing during the long cold winters at Valley Forge and Morristown.  And then there was the inflation.  Worthless Continental paper dollars that forced the Army to take what they needed to survive.  Giving the people they took from IOUs for the Continental Congress to honor later.

With the British defeated the Americans lost the common enemy that held the states together.  And they were soon back to looking after their own interests.  Charging tariffs to other states.  Even sending militias to fight over disputed land.  The nation was falling apart before it even became a nation.  The Philadelphia Convention addressed these problems.  And over a long, hot, humid and horsefly invested convention they wrote a new Constitution.  Few loved it.  But understood that it was probably the best they would ever get.  Ratifying it was another brutal battle.  And all throughout this process people reluctantly got on board.  Basically because of one thing.  The first president would be someone that all the people could trust with such great powers.  The man who gave up power when he could have been king.  George Washington.  So Cincinnatus laid down his plow once more.  And went to serve his nation.  Again.

The most Important Precedent Washington set was not Exceeding the Limits of the Constitution

This is how it used to be.  When our politicians were men of the enlightenment.  Disinterested men who went out of their way NOT to profit from the offices they held.  Men who would rather have been back home.  But reluctantly served.  Because the nation needed the best leaders during that formidable time.  That’s why Washington served a second term.  Not because he wanted to.  But if he didn’t Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton would have paralyzed the government with their constant fighting and seething hatred of each other.  So Washington stayed on.  Father to these children that couldn’t get along.  And father to a nation.

Washington was never happier than when he left office.  This man who could have been king.  Sacrificing all of his wants and desires.  And putting the nation first.  This old man that was cheating death.  Living beyond his years.  Who was used to giving orders in the army and having subordinates dutifully following them.  He hated the political process.  The deal making.  The special interests.  Those things modern politicians live for.  Because it is the pathway to wealth and power.  Which is why people serve today.  Who do not understand the meaning of selfless disinterest.  For they’re in it for number one.  And when they leave office they want to have more wealth than they know what to do with it.

Whereas Washington kept true to the Constitution.  And didn’t make arguments about it being a living document.  Or questioned the intent of the Founding Fathers.  For he was one of them.  He was there in Philadelphia in 1787.  He sat in the chair with that sun on it.  The one Benjamin Franklin studied for so long while sitting in that stuffy hall.  Wondering if the sun was rising.  Or setting.  After they signed the Constitution Franklin was certain the sun was rising for the new nation.  A nation of laws.  Where no man was above the law.  And the supreme law of the land was there in the Constitution.  Washington was the first president.  Setting the precedent for all that would follow.  And the most important precedent was not exceeding the limits of the Constitution.  For he knew a strong central government was necessary for the nation to have any hopes of surviving.  But he feared that once anyone exceeded the limits of the Constitution the whole experiment in self-government would come crashing down.

Life is so Good in an Aristocracy that Politicians will do Anything it takes to Win Reelection

What Thomas Jefferson feared most was consolidation.  Fears of a strong central government turning independent states into federal districts of the new government.  With growing powers to administer these lands from afar.  Turning the people living on these lands once again into subjects of a distant ruling power.  Who are there to serve.  To be obedient.  And revere this distant power.  Giving the duly elected president king-like powers.  Who would further consolidate his power.  This was Jefferson’s fear.  A fear Alexander Hamilton did not share.  Because he assumed all men in the government would be disinterested men of the enlightenment.  Like the Founding Fathers were.  But Jefferson knew you could not trust men to refrain from using power given to them.  So it was best not to give them that power in the first place.

Today you can see all of Jefferson’s fears come to pass.  A federal government larger and more powerful than even Alexander Hamilton could have imagined.  And a new fourth branch of government.  The IRS.  Powerful.  And fearsome.  Which appears to be helping the current administration to suppress the political opposition.  By harassing anyone espousing Jeffersonian principles.  Limited government.  States’ rights.  Constitutional limits.  Etc.  Which are also Tea Party principles.  That set of principles that launched a great grassroots movement that helped the Republicans win back the House of Representatives in 2010.  Something the Democrats were very conscious of.  And have since pilloried the Tea Party with every invective under the sun.  To delegitimize the Tea Party.  To prevent another 2010 from happening again.

President Obama is the most liberal president to ever occupy the White House.  And he won reelection.  Which isn’t easy for a liberal to do on a national stage.  Because only about 21% of the people call themselves liberal.  While 35% call themselves moderate.  And 40% call themselves conservative (see Conservatives Remain the Largest Ideological Group in U.S. posted 1/12/2012 on Gallup).  So liberals are in the minority.  Yet they hold majority power.  Which begs the question.  How do they win elections when the majority opposes their ideology?   Well, you don’t do it by acting like George Washington.  You know, with integrity.  But, instead, with rascality.  You don’t exactly tell the truth.  You make a lot of promises.  Even if you have no intention of keeping them.  And you use the awesome power of your office to attack your political enemies.  For it’s a different mindset today.  Whereas the Founding Fathers were trying to destroy an aristocracy today’s politicians are trying to build and maintain one.   And life is so good in an aristocracy that once you get in you never want to leave.  Which is why politicians will do anything it takes to win reelection.  Anything.  And if they were honest you’d hear them say so.  “Damn the truth, promises and the Constitution.  I’m trying to get reelected.”  But they’re not honest.  So you will never hear them say this.  You’ll just have to see it in their deeds.  And how unlike the Founding Fathers they are.

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Preventing Future IRS Scandals is as Easy as Changing the Tax Code

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 30th, 2013

Politics 101

The Tea Party was the Driving Force in returning the House of Representatives to the Republicans

The IRS is very powerful.  It can seize your property.  It can throw you in jail.  It can ruin your life.  There is no other arm of the government honest people fear more.  Because it is so powerful.  America did away with debtor’s prison.  Because it was inhuman to jail a person over a debt.  Unless you owe it to the federal government.  Then all of that compassion goes out of the window.

The recent scandal of the IRS targeting conservative groups is especially chilling.  For the Tea Party was the driving force in returning the House of Representatives to the Republicans.  Infuriating the Democrats.  As well as the Obama administration.  When President Obama ran for reelection in 2012 he had little to run on.  The economy was horrible.  No one was talking about Obamacare because the majority of Americans don’t want it.  It was so bad that the Democrat president had to highlight his single national security achievement—killing Osama bin Laden—while ignoring his domestic policy achievement.  Obamacare.

Then Benghazi threatened to ruin everything.  An attack on an American mission that killed four Americans.  Including a serving ambassador.  Making matters worse was that it was an al Qaeda affiliated terrorist group that was responsible for it.  This did not play well with the campaign message.  ‘Osama bin Laden is dead.  And General Motors is alive.’  President Obama had already won the War on Terror.  So he couldn’t have a terrorist attack during his reelection campaign.  So they hit the Sunday morning talk shows and said there was an anti-Muslim video on YouTube that created a spontaneous uprising.  Where average Libyans on the street then pulled out rocket propelled grenades and mortar launchers from their back pockets.  And launched a military assault on the American mission.

The IRS silenced the Tea Party during the 2012 Election by Harassing them and their Donors

You don’t hear much about the YouTube video anymore.  During the 2012 reelection campaign, though, both the president and the secretary of state pushed it hot and heavy.  Even apologized for it in a video to play in Pakistan.  And arresting the obscure filmmaker on some other charge.  And it worked.  Benghazi faded into the background.  Despite the Obama administration denying the American ambassador additional security.  And issuing a stand-down order for forces that could have gone to help the Americans under attack.  This order coming about 7 hours BEFORE the last two Americans died.  To this day we don’t know who gave that stand-down order.  And we don’t know where the president was when all of this was unfolding in Libya.

But it worked.  The misinformation spun from the White House won the president a second term.  And people started talking about what the Republicans had to do to start appealing to women and Hispanics.  For the early postmortem said that was why the Republicans lost.  They turned off women and Hispanics.  But something was wrong with that conclusion.  Because the conservative base didn’t turn out on Election Day.  That’s why the Republicans lost.  To explain that some said the problem was that Mitt Romney wasn’t a true conservative.  And he turned off true conservatives.  But that doesn’t make sense, either.  Because Romney may not have been the most conservative Republican to run for president but next to President Obama the man was practically Ronald Reagan.  There had to be some other reason why conservatives didn’t turn out like they did in the 2010 midterm elections that returned the House to the Republicans.

That was the million dollar question.  What happened to the Tea Party?  Who were so instrumental in turning out conservatives to vote in the 2010 midterm elections.  It’s as if they sat out the 2012 election.  For we didn’t hear their voice like we heard it in 2010.  And now we have a plausible explanation for that.  The IRS.  They delayed and made it so difficult to get their 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status that some just gave up trying.  Finding themselves and their donors getting IRS audits both for their businesses and their personal returns.  As well as other arms of the federal government auditing them from the Department of Labor to the EPA.

Everyone wins with a more Simplified Tax Code except those in Power who use it to Attack their Political Enemies

Did the White House coordinate this?  We don’t know.  Yet.  The IRS commissioner visited the White House 151 times.  While his predecessor visited the Bush White House about 1 time.  So that looks suspicious.  And silencing the Tea Party did help the president win reelection.  For silencing the Tea Party sure didn’t help Mitt Romney.  So it looks probable that the Obama administration used the nonpartisan IRS to attack their political enemies.  As they were determined not to suffer another Tea Party uprising like that which lost them the House of Representatives in 2010.  Right now the circumstantial evidence is pretty damning.

This is not what the Founding Fathers had in mind.  That was the point of limited government.  So it didn’t have this kind of power over people it perceived as political enemies.  And the source of this power is the complex and convoluted tax code.  That serves those in power better than the people they serve.  Allowing them to reward friends and punish their enemies.  One would almost have to believe the reason why the current administration ran the deficit up to record highs is to further empower the IRS.  By creating the need for ever more tax revenue.  And the need for more strenuous collection efforts.  Not to mention using the tax code to facilitate a permanent state of class warfare.  For the government needs this complex and convoluted tax code to make sure the rich pay their fair share.  As well as using it to reward their friends.  And punish their enemies.

So perhaps it’s time to revamp the tax code.  Some are talking about it.  As they always do.  But there is so much resistance because of the power the tax code gives those in power.  And those in power quickly shoot down any talk about a flat tax or a national sales tax as being unfair.  Regressive.  Hitting low-income earners harder than the rich.  But perhaps this is exactly what we need.  So everyone feels the pinch of the taxman.  So people won’t be so quick to give the taxman more powers.  Because a lot of low-income people don’t stay low-income.  And one of the quickest ways of raising low-income earners out of poverty is with a better and stronger economy.  And there is one thing that does that better than anything else in the world.  Low tax rates.  So let’s take a look at different tax plans for a married couple filing jointly.

Federal Taxes Current Brackets Flat Tax National Sales Tax

(For the national sales tax we assumed everything above a certain savings rate is spent somewhere in the economy.  Those who earn more can save more.  In our example the saving rates are 1%, 8%, 15%, 20%, 25% and 30 %.)

Those earning only $15,000 will pay more under a flat tax or a national sales tax.  But the IRS becomes far less intrusive and far less powerful.  Because it will be so much simpler.  Giving honest people less to fear about.  And giving those in power less power to attack their political enemies.  Making it harder for them to cheat during elections.

Also, lower tax rates will bring money sheltered outside of the country back home. Which those rich people will invest here.  To get even richer.  And probably end up paying more taxes than they were before.  Because they won’t have any need to shelter it.  While all the new jobs they create will increase tax revenue further.  Because there will be more people working and paying taxes.  So everyone will win with a more simplified tax code.  Except, of course, those in power who use the tax code to attack their political enemies.

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Heart Attacks and Defibrillators

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 29th, 2013

Technology 101

Moving Electrons from one Atom to another creates a Positively and a Negatively Charged Atom

Too much humidity can make one uncomfortable.  It can labor your breathing.  Make you sweat so much that you stick to everything.  Making it feel hotter than it is (it’s not the heat; it’s the humidity).  And play havoc with well-coiffed ladies.  As excessive humidity can straighten the finest curl.  That’s why we like the spring and fall.  When there are warm days without the humidity.  Winters, on the other hand, are just too cold.  And uncomfortable humidity-wise.  They’re not too humid.  But too dry.  Giving us dried and cracked skin.  Bloody noses.  And painful electrical shocks.  As anyone can attest to who has slid out of a car only to get a big static spark when they pushed the door close.

What causes that static electric spark?  When you slide your buttocks over the car seat to get out of the car you are charging a capacitor.  By stripping electrons away from atoms.  Leaving atoms with fewer electrons than protons.  Giving them a positive charge.  And atoms with more electrons than protons.  Giving them a negative charge.  Atoms prefer to be electrical neutral.  Which is why when we reach for that metal door those excess electrons jump the air-gap as soon as they can.  So both atoms can return to a neutral state.  Until the next time we drag our buttocks across the seat.

These electric discharges can be painful.  And annoying as they scare the bejesus out of you when you’re not expecting it.  But this is not all that capacitors do.  As it turns out this charging ability has a lot of uses.  They are in pretty much every piece of electrical and electronic equipment we use.  We use them to condition power.  For power factor correction.  Signal processing.  Noise filters.  Tuned circuits (as used in a radio dial to tune in a station).  And energy storage.  Which is what we do when we drag ourselves across a car seat.  We’re storing energy that we discharge later.  In a car it just annoys us.  But it can act like a temporary battery when we change the batteries in something with a volatile memory.  So we don’t lose the songs on our MP3 player when we change the batteries.  And the energy they store can even save lives.

A Defibrillator sends an Electric Charge through an Irregularly Beating Heart to Shock it back into Rhythm

In the movie The Matrix the machines took over the world.  And used humans as batteries to power their machines.  Because a human is a little like an electrical battery.  It creates electricity that operates the human body.  For the human body is controlled by electrical impulses sent along our nervous system.  These electrical impulses even make our hearts pump.  The heart itself is ‘wired’ to transmit this pulse in a delayed mode to the various tissue in the heart.  First a pulse contracts the two top chambers (atria).  This contraction empties the blood they hold into the two bottom chambers (ventricles).  Then after a delay that same pulse contracts the ventricles.  Pushing the blood out and through the body.  When a doctor looks at an EKG he or she can see how that pulse propagates through the heart.  And determine if it’s healthy (showing a normal sinus rhythm).  Or if there was some cardiac event that has altered the normal sinus rhythm.

If a heart doesn’t have a normal sinus rhythm it can lead to cardiac arrest (i.e., a heart attack).  An arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) can be a fast heartbeat.  A slow heartbeat.  Or it may be an irregular heartbeat.  Which is due to abnormal electrical activity in the heart.  And can lead to ventricular fibrillation.  Where the muscles don’t contract in a coordinated fashion with the proper delays propagating through the heart tissues to pump the blood.  But instead contract without this coordination.  Causing the heart muscles to quiver instead.  If this continues more than a few seconds the heart may stop.  With an EKG showing a flat line.  With no blood flowing organs begin shutting down.  Causing irreversible damage.  And if a normal sinus rhythm isn’t restored within 90 seconds once a person goes into v-fib the chance of survival from this cardiac event are pretty much zero.

In the movies and on television when a patient goes into v-fib they sometimes show the patient flat-lining when they rush in the crash cart.  They rub gel on the paddles of a defibrillator.  Yell ‘clear’ and shock the patient.  Sometimes with the patient jerking wildly from the jolt from the paddles.  They may do this a couple of times until they hear the flat-line begin beeping again in a sinus rhythm.  It doesn’t really happen like that, though.  If a person is flat-lining a jolt from a defibrillator won’t bring them back.  Some medicine shot into the heart and chest compressions might.  But not an electric shock.  The use of a defibrillator sends an electric charge through a heart beating with an irregular rhythm to shock it back into a normal rhythm.  Sort of like banging on an electronic device to get it working properly again.  With the physical shock perhaps jiggling a loose component back into connection with something.  It can sometimes make the device work again.  But it won’t make it work if the cord is unplugged or if the batteries had been removed.

Portable Defibrillators have a Charged Battery that Charges a Capacitor

Early defibrillators were AC devices that plugged into a wall outlet.  They had a big transformer to step up the voltage.  But they were big and bulky and difficult to move around in a crowded room.  And they didn’t work that well.  Rarely pulling a patient out of v-fib.  And sometimes damaged the heart tissue as much as the heart attack.  In 1959 the AC defibrillator was replaced with one using charged capacitors.  This is the type we see in the movies and on television.  And use in real life.

If a patient goes into cardiac arrest they set the charge level for the given arrhythmia.  As the capacitors charge the person who will use it removes the paddles while someone else applies an electrically conducting gel to the paddles.  The person then places the paddles on the patient with force to ensure a good electrical connection.  And waits for the unit to finish charging.  Once charged anyone working on the patient breaks any contact they have with the patient so they won’t get shocked, too.  When everyone one and everything is clear the person will focus on the EKG for the appropriate point in the rhythm to press a button that discharges the capacitors.  Causing the stored energy to flow from one paddle to the other through the heart.  To reset the arrhythmia into a normal sinus rhythm.

Time is critical in surviving a heart attack.  So using a defibrillator as soon as possible increased a person’s chances of surviving from a heart attack.  Making defibrillators portable allowed paramedics to use them in the field.  Before they got the patient to a hospital.  These portable units have a charged battery that charges a capacitor.  Electronics and computer controls even allow ordinary people to use an automated external defibrillator (AED).  You will see AEDs in crowded areas like airports, shopping malls, casinos, etc.  Anywhere a large concentration of elderly men (the most likely to suffer cardiac arrest) may congregate.  This device often triggers a security alarm when removed to alert first responders.  Someone who witnesses a person suffering a heart attack can follow automated voice instructions from the AED and hook it up on the patient.  The AED will analyze the arrhythmia.  Set the appropriate charge level.  But usually requires someone to press a button for the shock.  To give everyone a chance to get clear from the person before the capacitor discharges its energy.  Because if they are in contact with that body when that charge hits it they may have more than a bad hair day afterwards.  Perhaps even sending their own heart into arrhythmia.  As this shock will be nothing like the one they get after sliding out of a car on a dry winter’s day.

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Medieval Barbers, Supplemental Insurance, the Baylor Plan and Blue Cross Blue Shield

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 28th, 2013

History 101

Barbers once Dressed our Wounds and Bled us when we were Sick

Awhile back one of our most beloved public figures suffered a serious accident.  The injuries required significant rehabilitation.  So he missed a lot of work.  People worried how he was going to pay his bills if he couldn’t work.  Groceries.  Rent.  Child care.  Etc.  Health insurance would pay his medical bills.  But what about that lost income?  What would replace that to allow his life to go on as before during his convalescence?  Thankfully he had Aflac supplemental insurance.  Which would pay his bills until his wings and beak healed.  Allowing the Aflac duck to continue on with his life.  Until he was able to return to work.

For a small insurance premium anyone can buy supplemental insurance.  This will allow them to pay their bills should there be an interruption in their earnings due to an illness or accident.  The Aflac duck probably did not pay for this coverage.  One of the perks of being the face of the company.  And the Aflac duck is fictional.  And fictional entities don’t have bills to worry about during any interruption in their fictional earnings.  But the duck is cute.  And it illustrates what the first health insurance policies actually did.  Replaced lost income.

Health insurance hasn’t been around for long.  For costly hospital stays haven’t been around for long.  Once upon a time you visited the local barber to have a wound dressed after an accident.  Or for a bloodletting when you were sick.  And if you had a toothache.  So he could yank your tooth out of your mouth.  As well as give you a shave and a haircut.  Things that weren’t really that costly.  But if you were a black smith with a lame hand you could go for awhile without being able to earn any income.  And this is what the first use of health insurance did for us.  Like that Aflac duck.  It paid our bills until we were ready and able to return to work.

Early Health Insurance didn’t pay for Hospital Stays or Medical Procedures but replaced Lost Income

Early hospitals bore little resemblance to what we have today.  In fact, most people preferred to stay out of them.  Choosing to recuperate at home.  The American Civil War killed over 600,000 Americans.  More than half of those were from disease.  Those wounded in battle feared the hospital.  Where you went to die.  Often by infection as surgeons went from one amputation to another without changing their bloody aprons or washing their hands.  This was in the 1860s.  Which isn’t that long ago.  There are people alive today whose grandfathers were born during the American Civil War.  Who were born into a world where surgeons still did not know that they should wash their hands before sticking them into someone’s body.

Medical care may not have been that good in the 1860s but we already had health insurance.  Introduced around 1850.  Thanks to the rise in rail and river transportation.  Which in their early days weren’t all that safe.  Hurting a great many people.  Brakemen fell off of moving cars.  And lost hands coupling cars together.  While steam boilers had a tendency to explode.  In fact, the greatest maritime disaster in U.S. history happened when a steam boiler exploded in the bowels of the S.S. Sultana in 1865 on the Mississippi River.  The American Civil War had just ended.  And the Sultana was carrying emaciated and frail Union POWs home after their release from Confederate prison camps.  Happy to be free.  And anxious to go home.  How sad that after all they had gone through that they would die not on the battlefield.  But on the voyage home.  The explosion killed 1600-2000.  A greater death toll than when the Titanic sank.

As the Industrial Revolution modernized the United States people got hurt in the machines of the Industrial Revolution.  Like brakemen losing hands.  And people getting hurt in boiler explosions.  Causing people to miss work as they healed.  Where they were unable to earn a living to support their families.  This is what our early health insurance did.  It didn’t pay for hospital stays or medical procedures.  You paid for that.  The health insurance replaced your lost income until you were able to return to work.

The Baylor Plan was a Prepaid Health Care Plan that gave School Teachers 21 Days of Hospital Services

But health care soon rose above the level of medieval barbers/surgeons yanking out our teeth.  And draining blood from sick people.  By the early 1900s medical skills and knowledge greatly improved.  We learned the importance of washing our hands before putting them into someone’s body by the late 1800s.  Making hospitals no longer the infectious deathtraps they once were.  We started taking x-rays.  Monitoring blood pressure.  Used newly developed medicines.  Medical training improved.  We developed standardized treatments for disease.  And procedures for emergency medical care.  People stopped fearing hospitals and stopped trying to avoid them.  They now sought them out when they were afraid of dying.  Not seeing them as houses of death.

All of this reduced supply as it took more training and equipment and licensing to become a doctor or to open a hospital.  And increased demand as people wanted to get better from what ailed them.  Low supply and high demand made health care, of course, expensive.  People were enjoying getting better.  But they sometimes had trouble paying their bills.  Something Dr. Justin Ford Kimball noticed.  School teachers having trouble paying their hospital bills.  So he developed the Baylor plan in 1929.  At the Baylor University Hospital in Dallas, Texas.  Participating teachers paid 50 cents a month.  In exchange they received up to 21 days of hospital services per year.  This brought in a steady stream of income to the hospital throughout the year.  And provided piece of mind for the teachers knowing that for a small manageable fee (i.e., a premium) they could go to a hospital when they needed to.

The Baylor plan was successful.  Other hospitals followed suit.  Health insurance spread.  Hospitals gained a steady source of income.  And people insured themselves from large financial losses by paying a little every month so they wouldn’t have to pay a large hospital bill at one time.  The system worked well.  For everyone using a given hospital didn’t get sick or injured and consume health care services at one time.  While the small premium everyone paid could pay for the few who did.  Hospitals then worked together to produce health insurance plans that could be used at more than one hospital.  In 1939 the American Hospital Association set the standard for these plans.  Plans that met the standard were called Blue Cross plans.  These separate plans merged in 1960 and became Blue Cross.  Physicians and surgeons also sold prepaid plans.  These plans merged into Blue Shield in 1946.  And in 1982 Blue Cross and Blue Shield merged into what it is today.  Blue Cross Blue Shield.  One of the largest providers of health insurance today.

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Cost of Health Insurance

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 27th, 2013

Economics 101

Making Health Insurance a Fringe Benefit removed Market Forces from the Equation

The reason why health insurance is so expensive is because it is not insurance anymore.  It’s more of a welfare program.  Where other people pay.  Whereas insurance mitigates financial risk.  People pay a small premium to insure against a large financial loss.  They may pay $250/year to insure something that may cost $25,000 to replace.  For something they may own for 10 years.  Because they would rather spend $250 each year (for a total of $2,500 over those 10 years) than have to replace it by paying another $25,000 should something happen.  Insurance reduces the amount of money you can lose.  In this case the greatest financial loss is reduced from $25,000 down to $2,500.  This is insurance.

Health insurance used to be like this.  When we paid for it ourselves.  But things changed when it became an employee benefit.  Where we no longer saw the true cost of that insurance.  This happened during World War II.  As FDR put in wage caps.  Why?  With all the men in the military and wartime production through the roof there was a shortage of labor.  And the last thing FDR wanted on top of the inflation they were causing by printing so much money to pay for the war was wage inflation.  Hence the wage caps.  But the problem with wage caps is that employers could not entice the best workers to come work for them by offering them higher wages.  So to entice the best workers to come work for them and get around FDR’s wage caps employers began offering fringe benefits.

This is the cause of all our health care woes today.  Making health insurance a fringe benefit.  For it removed market forces from the equation.  People receiving the benefit had no idea what the benefit cost.  And did not care.  Which wasn’t a problem at first.  But then the Sixties came around.  And women stopped having as many babies.  Causing the population to start getting older.  Worse (from the perspective of paying for health insurance), people were beginning to live longer.  So when a person retired from a company they lived a long retirement.  So companies who offered these generous fringe benefits began to suffer under the cost of them.  Between pensions and health care costs retirees were costing some companies more than their active workers.  Because they were living so long into retirement.  (Just as these long retirements are straining Social Security and Medicare).  And modern medicine just keeps pulling them back from the brink of death.  Prolonging this crushing financial burden.

Health Insurance is more Expensive than it once was because it now Pays for Routine Medical Expenses

Compounding this problem is how health insurance is no longer insurance.  Instead of a small premium insuring against a large financial loss people expect health insurance to pay for everything.  And get righteously indignant whenever they have to pay anything out of pocket.  From a prescription co-pay.  To a small co-pay at a doctor’s office.  This is not paying a small premium to insure against a large financial loss.  This is demanding a free ride.  If health insurance was actually insurance it would look something like this:

Health Insurance Cost - Insurance

This assumes a health group with 100 participants.  Of this 100 five people suffer a serious accident in one year.  Incurring a large and unexpected hospital expense of $6,000 each.  While three people suffer a serious illness that same year.  Incurring a large and unexpected hospital expense of $4,500 each.  The total for these large and unexpected costs is $43,500.  If we divide this over the 100 members of the group that comes to an annual health insurance premium of $435 each.  Or $36.25/month.  Or $8.37/week.  Which isn’t much.  If you were one of those suffering a serious accident you didn’t have your personal finances wiped out by an unexpected $6,000 hospital bill.  Instead you only paid a manageable and budgeted $435 each year.  In other words, spending $435 saved $5,565.  Not a bad deal.  This is insurance.  Because it only paid for the unexpected.  Not our routine health care expenses that we should pay out of pocket.  If we add these routine expenses into the health insurance formula we can see how they increase the cost of health insurance.

Health Insurance Cost - Welfare

Assume each person consume $750 in routine medical costs.  For office visits.  Allergy shots.  Vaccinations for the children.  Flu shots.  Seeing the doctor when you have a cold.  Annual checkups.  Physicals.  Cancer screening.  Prescriptions.  Etc.  Those things that can be reasonably expected each year.  When our health insurance policies pay for these routine medical expenses note the large increase in the annual insurance policy premium.  Going from $435 to $1,185.  An increase of 172%.  Everyone will pay $1,185.  Whether they consume $750 in medical costs or not.  Also, of the three things health insurance pays for (serious accidents, serious illnesses and routine medical) routine medical is the biggest of the three.  Explaining why health insurance is now so much more expensive than it needs to be.

It was the Pension and Health care Costs of Retirees that Bankrupted General Motors

This is why it is better to pay out of pocket for these routine costs.  Because if you’re really healthy one year and never see the doctor you will not consume $750 in medical costs.  So if you normally pay these out of pocket but don’t you would only spend $435 that year for real health insurance.  Not the $1,185 that pays for everything.  Whether you use it or not.  This is where market forces come in.  Instead of paying for a costly doctor’s visit when you have a cold you may just buy some over the counter cold medicine from the drugstore.  This is how we behave when we pay for stuff.  But when you introduce a third party it alters our behavior.

“Whether you use it or not.”  When people can get something more for no extra money they are going to take it.  Like going for seconds and thirds at an all-you-can-eat buffet.  It doesn’t cost anything more for the second and third plate.  In fact people will feel cheated if they don’t go for plates 2 and 3.  Because all-you-can-it is pretty expensive if you only eat one plate.  Because that one price pays for 2, 3, even 4 plates.  If you can eat that much.  It’s this mentality that causes people to go to the doctor when they have the sniffles.  So they can get ‘free’ antibiotics.  Because it doesn’t cost anything more.  Since their health insurance is already paying for it.

But it does cost more to those who are paying for it.  A lot more.  So much more that small business owners can’t afford to provide health insurance for their employees.  Because to do so would require that they greatly increase their selling price.  Which they can’t do and expect to stay in business.  Because the market sets the price.  Not them.  It’s up to them to figure out how to sell at a price the people will pay.  And if they raise it too high to pay for health insurance for their employees the people will stop buying from them.  Putting them out of business.  Even bigger businesses struggle with this.  For it was the pension and health care costs of retirees that bankrupted General Motors.  Which was one of those companies that started offering health insurance as a benefit during World War II.  Giving us all our health care woes today.

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A 15-Year-Old stabs his 10-Year Old and 4-Year-Old Brothers to Death

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 26th, 2013

Week in Review

With the Sandy Hook shooting, the Aurora theater shooting, the Tucson shooting, the Virginia Tech shooting, etc., the focus has been on the shooting.  Not the shooter.  The left is using these mass murders to advance gun control legislation.  Instead of addressing the mental health problems common to the shooters.  The focus is on the guns.  And nothing but the guns.  While people with mental health problems fall through the cracks.  Like that 13-year-old who tried to rape then killed his mother for taking away his videogame.  Who appeared to be well along in his mental health problems.  And then there’s this 15-year-old who was apparently just beginning his descent into mental health problems (see Utah boy, 15, arrested in stabbing deaths of brothers, 10 and 4 by Michael Mello posted 5/24/2013 on the Los Angeles Times).

“He’s an honor student, highly intelligent and never been in trouble with the law,” Poulsen told the Los Angeles Times. “According to the neighbors, he’s a little quiet, but they’re a great family.”

Late Wednesday afternoon, the suspect’s mother left him home to watch his 10-year-old and 4-year-old brothers while she took the family’s four other children to run errands. She returned two hours later, Poulsen said, and called 911 when she found the 4-year-old dead on the floor.

Deputies who arrived at the home found the 10-year-old’s body in the basement, but could not find the 15-year-old. Several local law enforcement agencies combed the area for the boy, and found him around midnight in a neighboring town about eight miles away.

We don’t know much about this yet but there may have been signs of mental health problems that people just missed.  Because it is usually a progression of withdrawal and isolation and a change in behavior before things like this happen.  Adam Lanza spent all his time playing violent videogames alone in the basement before shooting his mother and the Sandy Hook students.  James Holmes was working on his Ph.D. when he started doing poorly in his academic work and talked about wanting to kill people to a physiatrist before the Aurora theater shooting.  Jared Loughner’s strange behavior got him expelled from college before the Tucson shooting.  Seung-Hui Cho’s mental health problems were well documented before the Virginia Tech shooting.  Yet we missed these signs and failed to prevent these horrible acts.  Just as we may have missed some signs with this 15-year-old.  Because we’re still trying to push gun control legislation.  Instead of trying to address mental health issues that drive people to mass murder.

Guns have been a common factor in some of these crimes.  While mental health problems have been a common factor in all of them.  So it doesn’t appear to be the guns.  It’s the mental health problems.  For here we have another instance of some unsound person killing people.  But this one killed without a gun.  Perhaps we could have prevented this if the focus was on mental health.  And not the NRA.

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Student Loan Payments are Overdue because Universities sold Students Costly Degrees with no Market Value

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 26th, 2013

Week in Review

American companies have difficulty in filling positions requiring strong science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills.  So they turn to foreigners.  And the H-1B visas (see H-1B Visas and the STEM Shortage by Jonathan Rothwell and Neil G. Ruiz posted 5/10/2013 on Brookings).  Which means our colleges and universities aren’t producing enough of these STEM graduates.  Instead, what they are producing is a lot of people who can’t get a job.  And probably will never be able to repay their student loan (see Overdue Student Loans Reach Record as U.S. Graduates Seek Jobs by John Hechinger posted 5/23/2013 on Bloomberg).

Overdue student loans reached an all-time high as students struggle to find work after college, according to a government report renewing alarms about the rising burden of higher-education debt.

Eleven percent of student loans were seriously delinquent — at least 90 days past due — in the third quarter of 2012, compared with 6 percent in the first quarter of 2003, according to the report by the U.S. Education Department. Almost 30 percent of 20- to 24-year-olds aren’t employed or in school, the study found.

The research is being released amid concern in Congress and President Barack Obama’s administration about rising college costs and $1 trillion in outstanding student loans, the largest category of consumer debt besides mortgages.

So our colleges and universities pocketed a cool $1 trillion in return for giving our kids degrees that have little market value.  At least 30% of those degrees.  A trillion the U.S. taxpayer will probably end up eating.  Just like they had to eat the subprime mortgage mess.  Which begs the question.  Why are our colleges and universities selling our kids degrees that can’t help them land a job?  And don’t say it’s just the economy.  While the bad economy plays a part it doesn’t explain all those H-1B visas.  What these visas tell us is our colleges and universities are screwing us.  By conning our kids to go into great debt for worthless degrees just to bring hundreds of billions into their campuses.

If anyone bails out this student loan debt it should be those responsible for it.  The ones who sold our kids these worthless degrees.  In fact, in the future, we need to make some kind of eligibility scoring system for student loans.  Based on a survey of who businesses are hiring.  Those they’re hiring most (like those with STEM skills) should be eligible for the greatest student loan amounts at the best interest rates.  Because these graduates are most likely to get a job commensurate with their education.  And will be able to easily repay their student loans.  While those who businesses are hiring least (like those getting degrees in gender studies or drama) should be eligible for the smallest loan amounts and pay the highest interest rates.  Or simply denied any student loans.  Because they will be the least likely to get a job.  And will have the most trouble repaying their loan.

For those who feel they must have these degrees with no current market value to enrich the American tapestry they can still get these degrees.  They just need to pay for them out of pocket.  Or have their parents pay for them.  Which shouldn’t be a problem.  For they can demand colleges and universities lower the tuition costs for these degrees with no current market value.  I mean, why should they be charging so much and put a student into so much debt for a degree that won’t improve his or her economic position.  Which is the ultimate reason we go to college.  So we can earn a bigger paycheck.  Even the drama students dream of going to Hollywood where they can be rich and famous.

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Self-Esteem is out and a Useful Education is in at Schools in Perth, Australia

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 26th, 2013

Week in Review

I’ll never forget this classic episode of Gomer Pyle – USMC.  Sergeant Carter was feeling old.  Which depressed him.  Gomer wanted to help him recapture the vigor of his youth.   So on a long march Gomer emptied Sergeant Carter’s pack and filled it with straw.  Late into the march his men were fatigued.  But not Sergeant Carter.  He was fresh as a daisy.  Until he went into his pack and saw it was filled with straw.  Which made him feel old and depressed again.

Gomer’s mistake was making the pack lighter instead of heavier.  For if he completed the march and learned he had carried a heavier pack than everyone else he would have felt strong again like in his youth.  For making it through things when they are hard builds confidence.  Even if you fail once or twice along the way.  This prepares you for whatever the future has in store for you.  But making it through something because you had it easy or never faced criticism or suffered a failure doesn’t really prepare you for anything.  But extreme frustration as you are unable to handle adversity.  Or recover from failure (see Students to learn about failure by Bethany Hiatt posted 5/25/2013 on The West Australian).

One of Perth’s most prestigious and academically successful schools is cutting back on praise and rewards for students.

It has concerns that society’s focus on boosting self-esteem leaves many struggling to cope with failure on leaving school.

St Hilda’s Anglican School for Girls wrote to parents explaining why it introduced strategies this year to minimise praise, reduce reward stickers for participation and provide work that was deliberately too difficult so students could experience failure.

Junior school head Julie Quansing-Rowlands said the prevailing wisdom in schools for many years had been that building up children’s self-esteem would lead to high achievement.

But recent research showed this simplistic approach backfired.

Over-praising meant children were less able to cope with disappointments they faced later in life…

Heaping praise on students also gave them a false sense of their ability and led to a sense of entitlement…

“We’re beginning to understand that it actually damages children to constantly praise them, constantly tell them they’re special and build up their self-esteem,” he said.

“New research is demonstrating that it’s not self-esteem but self- respect and self-control that really are the best predictors of how well kids are going to perform in high school…”

WA Primary Principals Association president Stephen Breen said schools and parents had probably gone too far in puffing up children’s self-esteem by praising everything.

“As a consequence, a lot of kids don’t accept criticism,” he said.

This is what liberals did to the American public schools.  Ruined them by trying to build self-esteem instead of preparing our kids for life.  Which has fed into an entitlement mentality where kids today expect life to be handed to them without having to work hard to get ahead.  That’s why so many go to college and get worthless degrees.  Because they just expect to get a good job when they graduate. Even though they learned no marketable skills in college.  But they had a good time.  And have the student loan debt to prove it.  Which they’ll never be able to pay back working a service job that they could have gotten without a college education.

If you’re looking to move and you have kids you may want to consider Perth, Australia.  For I hear if your kids go to school there they’ll learn how to work hard.  They’ll earn good grades.  Maybe a bad one or two.  But they will be able to complete a degree program at a college that will have real market value.  Preparing them for the real world after school.  No matter what life throws at them.  So they won’t be coming back home to live in your basement.  But they will have you move in with them so they can take care of you in your golden years.  Because your parenting and a good Perth education allowed them to achieve more in life than you did.  The way it should be.  Not having future generations achieving less than their parents.

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Binge Drinking is yet another Example of Young People making Poor Decisions

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 26th, 2013

Week in Review

Border towns.  It’s where people can escape high legal drinking ages.  Laws against gambling.  And bans on totally naked girls at strip bars serving alcohol.  By simply crossing the border you can have all the fun your little heart desires.  Even get yourself into a whole lot of trouble.  Because most of this fun starts with young adults getting drunk.  And drunk young adults have a penchant for making bad decisions.

One of these border towns is across the river from Detroit.  Windsor.  A small city that thrives on that cross-border traffic pouring millions into their local economy.  But it’s just not the Americans having a really good time in downtown Windsor (see Health unit launches campaign to tackle binge drinking by Beatrice Fantoni posted 5/24/2013 on The Windsor Star).

Windsor is notorious for its busy bar scene but the public health unit wants to tone the binge drinking down just a little in the interests of long-term health…

A nasty hangover can last well past the weekend. Abusing alcohol today can have serious health repercussions years from now, in the form of increased cancer risk – most notably, breast cancer – or other serious illnesses such as high blood pressure, liver cirrhosis or stroke.

Using a set of guidelines for safe alcohol consumption developed by the National Alcohol Strategy Advisory Committee, the public health campaign – which eight other public health units in southwestern Ontario are also launching – involves the roll-out of a different poster every three months on topics such as what constitutes a safe serving size and the short- and long-term risks of heavy drinking.

The target population is the 25-44 age group and posters are being distributed to local bars, restaurants, gyms, workplaces, for example, McBeth said…

“The end result is going to be the same,” said Rich Kingsley, who used to own several restaurants in the city. When people head downtown for drinks, Kingsley said, they’re gonna binge.

Posters alone won’t help just like those graphic images on cigarette packages do little to dissuade smokers, he said. Policies like changing the legal drinking age or prohibiting smoking in public places have to go along with it, he said.

Raising the legal drinking age.  Makes sense.  Young adults make a bad decision to binge drink.  And when they’re drunk they make even more bad decisions.  Not to mention all of that health damage they’re causing.  So raising the legal drinking age to allow these people to grow up and become mature and responsible sounds like a good idea.  Good for them.  And good for us.  For our loved ones won’t make a bad decision with lasting consequences.  Nor will we have to see them suffer some horrible disease later in life.   Or pay the high costs of treating some horrible disease.  How can you argue with that?

Can you imagine leaving this up to the young people?  Say getting all the 15-21 year-olds together.  And have them determine the new legal drinking age?  Can you guess what they would say it should be?  I’ll take a guess.  They’ll probably say the legal drinking age should be 15.  For if they’re responsible enough to vote, they’ll figure, they’re responsible enough to drink.  Besides, what 15-year-old wouldn’t love to be able to walk into a party store and buy booze without a fake ID?

This is why we don’t let 15-year-olds vote.  And why we should never let 15-year-olds vote.  Because they are not wise enough, mature enough or responsible enough to do what’s best for them.  In fact, we probably should raise the voting age.  If people 25-44 are acting so irresponsibly by binge drinking perhaps we should just raise the voting age.  Maybe not to 45.  But definitely higher than 18.  For it’s obvious these people put their immediate wants before their long-term best interests.  Which explains how a country that is 21% liberal is being run by liberal Democrats.

Liberal Democrats get the youth vote.  And what’s important to the youth?  Having a good time.  Which means decriminalizing pot.  Free birth control.   And access to abortion.  Things the liberal Democrats tell these kids are the most important things in the world.  And that the Republicans want to take them away from them.  So they vote liberal Democrat.  Until they have children of their own.  Especially daughters.  Then an all-girl Catholic school doesn’t look that bad.  Because putting the fear of God into our kids is a good way of helping them make better decisions.  And it will help prevent some boy from knocking up our daughters.  Or giving them a venereal disease.

Perhaps we need a little less partying.  And a little more religion in our lives.  A little morality may make us drink less.  Smoke less.  Engage in sexual congress less.  Resulting in fewer unplanned pregnancies.  That will require fewer abortions.  If we do that perhaps our young people can focus on more important things.  Like getting a good education.  Establishing a career.  And starting a family.  Things that are in their long-term best interests.

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More Unions are Angry about the Unintended Consequences of Obamacare

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 26th, 2013

Week in Review

The unions and President Obama were tight.  Once upon a time.  They helped the president win two elections.  Dumped truckloads of campaign money into his coffers.  And the thanks for all of this?  Obamacare.  Which they once enthusiastically supported.  But now they are learning what the opponents have been saying about Obamacare all along.  That it will make health insurance more expensive.  And likely that people will lose coverage they like and want to keep.  It’s getting so bad that unions are now coming out in opposition of Obamacare (see Some unions now angry about health care overhaul by SAM HANANEL, Associated Press, posted 5/24/2013 on Yahoo! News).

…some unions leaders have grown frustrated and angry about what they say are unexpected consequences of the new law — problems that they say could jeopardize the health benefits offered to millions of their members…

“It makes an untruth out of what the president said, that if you like your insurance, you could keep it,” said Joe Hansen, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. “That is not going to be true for millions of workers now.”

The problem lies in the unique multiemployer health plans that cover unionized workers in retail, construction, transportation and other industries with seasonal or temporary employment. Known as Taft-Hartley plans, they are jointly administered by unions and smaller employers that pool resources to offer more than 20 million workers and family members continuous coverage, even during times of unemployment.

The people who work in construction may work for many different construction companies throughout their working life.  But they have consistent benefits because of the one constant during their union life.  Their union membership.  Which makes these jobs different than someone working in the same UAW assembly plant all of their life.  Who also work for the same company all their working life.

A lot of people will stay in a job they don’t like because of their health insurance benefit.  Construction workers don’t have to worry about being stuck in a job they don’t like.  If they don’t like an employer they can quit.  Go to the union hall.  And pick up another job.  All without any interruption in their benefits.

Construction companies collectively bargain contracts with these unions.  For example, electrical contractors will negotiate a contract with the local chapter of the union representing electricians.  And health care costs are a big part of those negotiations.  For it is these electrical contractors that pay for the health insurance plans managed by the union.  And it’s costly.  Raising a contractor’s cost when bidding new work.  Which is why union construction companies try to keep nonunion companies from bidding their work.  Because nonunion companies don’t have this massive cost to pay for this generous union benefit.  Which can provide uninterrupted health insurance for an unemployed worker sitting at the hall for months waiting for another job.  As well as for his wife and his children.  Something people don’t enjoy when they get laid off from most other private sector jobs.

The union plans were already more costly to run than traditional single-employer health plans. The Affordable Care Act has added to that cost — for the unions’ and other plans — by requiring health plans to cover dependents up to age 26, eliminate annual or lifetime coverage limits and extend coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

As it has added to the cost for ALL insurance plans.  There’s a reason why before Obamacare plans didn’t cover dependents up to age 26, had annual or lifetime coverage limits and excluded pre-existing conditions.  Because they add great cost.  Insurance companies aren’t greedy.  They’re just trying to provide insurance.  Having people pay a little bit for a policy to insure against a large financial loss.

For insurance to work you need a lot of responsible people paying a little bit for those policies.  Forcing plans to cover pre-existing conditions, though, makes people NOT buy health insurance.  For they think why should I pay years of health insurance premiums when I can just buy a policy when I’m sick?  Which they will.  So they will consume a lot of health care costs that have to be paid by people who are buying policies.  While contributing nothing to the pot for others.  Making those policies under Obamacare very expensive.  Because with preexisting conditions covered a few people will now have to a pay a lot.

Workers seeking coverage in the state-based marketplaces, known as exchanges, can qualify for subsidies, determined by a sliding scale based on income. By contrast, the new law does not allow workers in the union plans to receive similar subsidies.

Bob Laszewski, a health care industry consultant, said the real fear among unions is that “a lot of these labor contracts are very expensive and now employers are going to have an alternative to very expensive labor health benefits.”

“If the workers can get benefits that are as good through Obamacare in the exchanges, then why do you need the union?” Laszewski said. “In my mind, what the unions are fearing is that workers for the first time can get very good health benefits for a subsidized cost someplace other than the employer.”

You see, the Obama administration cannot give a subsidy to the unions.  Because they have to pay for subsidies they give to low-income people with a ‘tax’ on other insurance plans.  That is, the people who can afford to pay for health insurance have to pay the subsidies for those who can’t.

The ultimate goal of Obamacare is to put the private health insurers out of business so the government can step in and get what they want.  National health care.  Of course, doing that has one big drawback for these unions.  With national health care you don’t need to belong to a union any more for the kind of health care benefit that provides for you and your family even when you’re unemployed.

Labor unions have been among the president’s closest allies, spending millions of dollars to help him win re-election and help Democrats keep their majority in the Senate. The wrangling over health care comes as unions have continued to see steady declines in membership and attacks on public employee unions in state legislatures around the country. The Obama administration walks a fine line between defending the president’s signature legislative achievement and not angering a powerful constituency as it looks ahead to the 2014 elections.

The cost of unions has pushed most of U.S. manufacturing offshore.  Public sector unions are bankrupting city and state governments.  And even the state of Michigan, home of the automotive industry, has voted to become a right-to-work state.  The heyday of the unions is over.  And they’re struggling to hold onto what little they have.  Especially in the private sector.  Where their ranks have done nothing but fall since the Sixties.

The unions poured money into the reelection of President Obama because Democrats are supposed to make things better for unions.  Not worse.  At this rate unions may start voting Republican.  For though they may not have as generous union contracts they may at least still have union contracts.  Because with the business-friendly environment of the Republicans there may at least be a building boom.  And more union construction jobs.

As the 2014 midterm elections draw close you may see a louder voice for the repeal of Obamacare.  This time coming from one-time vocal supporters.  Perhaps giving Democrats a difficult time at winning their elections.  Unless they come out for the repealing of Obamacare, too.  For unions may have at one time thought about how nice it would be to get rid of that costly benefit from their benefit package.  Which will happen if Obamacare evolves into national health care.  But now they’re seeing that this outcome may make unions irrelevant.  And are likely thinking, “My God, what have we done?”

It just goes to show you have to be careful what you wish for.  Because sometimes those wishes come true.

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