Tuesday, January 12, 2016

$2 or $4 gas - Which is better?

I have a serious question: Which is better for Americans, $2 gas or $4 gas?

I heard just a bit of a politician talking about our need to reduce Saudi oil production since this is keeping prices low.

This is a huge and complex worldwide issue so I’d like to pose some serious questions.

When gas is low, people travel more. Good. But more exhaust, bad. Tourism jobs are up. But jobs go away in places like the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota. But many folks decry the methods of finding and producing American oil (fracking for instance) so less production, less environmental damage. No need to argue about the pipeline (except of course to move Canadian shale oil down to southern U.S refineries.

Detroit (as a stand-in for the auto industry at large) sells more SUVs and larger trucks when gas is cheap. Good for that economic recovery and more (mostly) American jobs in production. Good for auto-makers since these are higher margin vehicles. Bad for the environment as the collective MPGs of these is lower. Means that automakers have to balance their fleets to meet Federal standards for their overall production lines. Fewer sales of hybrids and all electrics since the costs to buy far outweigh any future fuel savings. Bad for makers and possibly future bad for the environment.

Cheap gas, means the Saudis have more leverage overall in the geopolitical scene. Good on one sense in that they are perceived as a stabilizing force in the region. If their government were to topple, nobody really knows what might happen. But since they also support a particular Sunni brand of Islam, called Wahhabi, and fund the madrassas across the world where this is taught and ends up producing even more terrorists or radicals, bad.

But keeping the Saudis strong means Iran does not (yet) become a controlling geopolitical force. Good.

I’d really like to see some side-by-wide comparisons of what happens to jobs and our economy at both high-and-low gas prices; A U.S. comparison. Then a what-if geopolitical chart showing the impact of rising or falling oil prices on various countries and scenarios.

Personally, I like being able to fill my tank for less than $20. But if I need to pay a higher price to keep our economy stable and keep more Americans employed, then I’m willing to do that.

I know the U.S. has a strategic oil reserve that occasionally we tap. If we can subsidize corn producers to help encourage ethanol, is it possible to subsidize U.S. oil production and stockpile as much oil as possible for a possible future crisis or price hike? I know the idea that an oil company should be subsidized seems odd but worth thinking about if it would keep some Americans employed and help us prepare for a future event.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Nationwide is NOT on your or my side!

I've had life insurance with Nationwide since the 1980s - back then the small company was called Presbyterian Minister's Life (I wasn't one but somehow qualified for a policy) and then they were bought by Provident Life who was then somehow acquired by Nationwide.

It was always term (or rental-type life insurance) so I could keep the benefit high and the premium low.

In 2008 my agent called to say that because of my age, my term costs were about to take a big jump. He recommended a different kind of policy that would keep my premiums the same. Higher than I was paying right then but lower than they would be soon with term.

So I signed and moved over.

Last September 2014 he calls again to let me know that my policy wasn't making enough money to pay my premiums. Huh? I thought my premiums paid my premiums! And my coverage would run out before too long. I didn't grasp this and had other things going on, he said I had until 2015 to work things out so I decided to wait.

In Dec. (I think) my house and car insurance guy called to ask for a review of those policies. I put that off until one day picking up pizza right next door, I decided to drop in and set an appt.

We met and I asked him to look at my life insurance also. He pulled together a few quotes for my age and WOW! was I shocked! Almost triple what I'm paying now. So he suggested we also have Nationwide give me a quote. My life agent had not done that yet. So we conference-called them and requested a quote. A few days later an email came and N-Wide's price was about 5 times my current premium!

First of all I am upset at my agent for not doing what I wanted - which was to keep my premiums levels. Likely he'll say he told me and that this is just the way insurance works and I should have known or asked or ...

I was so mad I decided to cancel and I did! So please don't kill me now because I currently am uninsured for that sort of thing! I wrote N-Wide and my agent. I went to my bank to put a stop pay on my account for any future withdrawals of premiums.

That was more than a week ago. Today I get a notice from N-wide saying 1) I have to fill out a surrender form and 2) here's a bill for your next premium!


So having learned my lesson here, read the fine print and still ask questions. Don't believe ANYTHING your agent tells you if their is somehow a commission involved. You would not believe how much front and back end loaded these policies are with stuff that does NOT go for insurance. None of my premiums for several months paid for insurance in the beginning and there is of course a Surrender Charge to go along with my Surrender Form.

I know I won't win this one. I'd just like to break even. Rant now over.

Monday, September 15, 2014


Those who know and/or follow me or my wife on Facebook, Twitter etc., know that we were opposed to the recent Amendment 1 or the so-called "Right-to-Farm" amendment to the Missouri Constitution.

It was extremely close. In fact so close that a recount was conducted. But as usually happens, the outcome did not change. The Amendment passed by a narrow 2,500 votes or so. This in a state of perhaps 4 million voters.

OK, we lost. Life doesn't always turn out like we want nor is it fair.

I hope in the future, our legislature (Bob Dixon, Eric Burlison?) can change the way these things are presented, proposed and passed. They need to set a higher bar. We amended our State Constitution with just under 25% of registered voters actually voting.

By comparison, our U.S. Constitution (Article 5) has a much tougher road to be amended. First it takes a 2/3rds majority in Congress OR 2/3rds of ALL State legislatures to call for a Constitutional Convention just to get an Amendment underway.

Then if it makes it through one of the above, 38 our of our 50 States must ratify the Amendment. I can't seem to find if this State ratification stage takes only a simple majority or more but regardless, this is a much more rigorous process than simply getting something on a ballot and voting for it.

Maybe next time.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

What's wrong with emergency care?

I had an all-night experience in a local emergency room with my daughter - nothing life-threatening and she's fine.

 We arrived at the ER at approximately 11 PM. The place was packed. It didn't take as long to get checked in but then another couple of hours before anyone was even able to take vital signs. These were  done in one of the so-called triage rooms with a nurse.

About six hours later I went to the front desk and ask where we might be because by then the emergency room had begun to clear out considerably and there wasn't a lot of activity

From my vantage point I could not tell if there were ambulances coming on a regular basis bringing additional patients. These would obviously have critical needs and folks arriving that I could not see.

I did hear one helicopter land on the roof above us.

I approached the desk around 5 AM after having sat for 6+ hours I was told, we were next in line once a room in the back became available.

90 minutes later we were finally taken to one of these rooms. 45 minutes after that a doctor finally arrives. At this point things moved fairly quickly, although the doctor did get called out very early to deal with another patient and it was a while before she came back. To her credit she took time with Anna and paid attention to her. I can't fault her in any way.

On a trip across the ER looking for a restroom I noticed a sign-in board labeled "East Team" where all the nurses and staff were listed and at the top, the names of two doctors. Since the ER was laid out in a certain way I assume there was an east and a west side. We were on the west.

There appeared to be at least 35 of these rooms (by their identifying numbers) with beds that patients were checked into. There could have been more but we were in 34. 35 was right next door to us.

Do the math and you realize that one doctor would be taking care of somewhere at least eight patients simultaneously on an ongoing basis.

I have no idea what traditional numbers are across the nation at ERs but this seems like a pretty high ratio. Given that we waited 7 1/2 hours before we even got to a room and another 45 minutes to see a doctor, I have to conclude that this is part of the reason for the long lengthy wait.

I realize they can't predict how many patients nor the severity and type of injuries etc. that will arrive on a given evening but I'll bet they have enough data to predict fairly well what is likely to happen.

We got a real doctor. She seemed 30-ish, professional. In the past we have sometimes been attended to by PAs and DOs (no offense to either of them!). But what ever they are, and whatever they cost, why just four doctors on a busy weekday evening? Cost-cutting? Cost-savings?

I'll admit a large portion of the ER crowd last night were probably using it as their primary care because they can. And they are willing to wait hours for whatever care they might receive. Another contingent looked like the typical homeless population. Every few minutes a young orderly or nurse would walk amongst us and call out a name or two. Often they got no response.

Patti shared a story today about someone she met who was in a similar situation but decided not to wait. His bill was still $800! Is that crazy, or what? I was tempted to leave many times but figured Anna's little plastic bracelet could be an expensive one. Probably still will be!

This is a large not-for-profit hospital. I can not imagine the scenarios when the ACA kicks in full-bore and even more folks show up at the ER. If, and this is an unproven and big if, IF having more folks insured, keeps them OUT of the ER and showing up during regular hours and regular clinics and offices so the truly critical and injured can more quickly receive trauma care, then one part of the ACA will be working right. But I fear we'll only see longer waits. If the hospital has only enough financial incentive now to put (by my count) 4 docs on the ER, what's going to happen when they lose some of that incentive? 

The ER was freezing. But at least the hospital had a stash of blankets. If this keeps up, they are going to need cots and beds for people to overnite. Let me tell you, spending 7 & 1/2 hours trying to make a chair comfortable, is a tall order! My comfy bed awaits!

Monday, September 1, 2014

A Syria(us) Strategy for ISIS

Much has been made about Obama's so-called "lack of strategy" for what we should do in northern Iraq, Syria, etc. about ISIS.

I am no foreign policy wonk but here's my simplistic idea in three parts:

1 - We DO make a deal with Assad but it involves him stepping aside, leaving the country, turning over every last shred of chemical or any other WMD he might have. War crimes trials are possible.

2 - IN EXCHANGE we promise to obliterate ISIS from Syria and Iraq. This could stop the civil war that has claimed way too many lives in Syria and allow the millions of refugees to return (to what's left of) home.

3 - We will work with our allies to help establish some type of valid representative government in Syria to avoid a vacuum etc. We have to realize this might not be a democracy as we know and love them. Use whatever lessons we learned from Iraq and apply to Syria.

Finally and this is a bonus part. We also help establish a Kurdish nation in exchange for their help with removing any vestiges of ISIS, protection and movement of refugees off ALL faiths, protecting Iraq's northern oil supplies etc.

This would mean a massive air strike and no doubt some ground troops. But we don't go it alone. I think other countries would get on board and most Americans would like to see the Syrian crisis end.

Friday, June 20, 2014

redraw the map?

Per usual doing a lot more reading again about what is happening to/in Iraq. Especially the historical perspective. Two things that stand out for me so far are columns by Fareed Zakaria (here) and a recent blog by Ross Douthat of the NY Times (here).

Some people say "you broke it, you bought it" about our involvement in Iraq. I think it was broke when we got there. Afghanistan too. And I don't think any amount of troops or "advisors" (anybody remember the first people we sent to Vietnam?) is going to make a difference.

If we can use drones to specifically target key ISIS folks before they do any more damage then maybe that could be the extent of our involvement. But then again maybe we don't need to do any more.

I had pretty much come to the conclusion we should just let the Iraqis sort it out and if Iran could somehow broker some sort of deal, to let them, but just today I read another chapter in a different book/different subject, "My Promised Land" by Ari Shavit. He spends an entire chapter talking about the nuclear threat posed by Iran (not just to Israel but to the entire Middle East and ultimately the world). Mr. Shavit is not just another Israeli hawk, he is a liberal columnist/writer and from my read, is often critical of many of the things done by his country in the name of Zionism.

But germaine to this topic, he feels the U.S. and others failed to stop Iran soon/early enough from developing into a nuclear nation (and in the process stalled attempts by Israel to intervene in Iran as well) so the point here is that while we should not send in troops or get heavily involved, this is like a chess game and while the ISIS people move players around, so is Iran. They are involved in Syria now and would probably love being on the world stage as being able to "fix" things in Iraq that the all-powerful United States could not.

As to the history, remember, the names and borders we see now are mostly about 100 years old. Many of them were drawn up by the French and Great Britain in the aftermath of WWI and the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

I can't add much more (if anything) to the discussion but this one quote from Douthat sums it all up pretty well; "I wouldn’t want to be in the position of asking anyone, American or otherwise, to be the last man to die for the sake of a hundred-year-old map."

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Life, Animated

the book is Life, Animated by Ron Susskind; a story of sidekicks heroes and autism. 

It is a decades-long chronicle: young boy regresses into autism and with the help of many people and the unlikely resource of animated Disney movies, begins ever so slowly to find himself and to learn how as an autistic boy to live and function with remarkable insights in our very complex world. 

It is a long book and not always an easy or entertaining read but as a parent of a child with Asperger's, I'm always drawn to resources that might help; especially with the scary thing we call being an adult.

The most difficult part of the book for me to fathom was actually that the Susskind family is very well-off. NOt tha they are well-off but that somehow they can afford schools and therapists and costs that would exceed the total normal income of most middle-class families. One school cost $85,000/year! What happens to those without the resources or income to get this kind of help?

Every book has some quotable moments or thoughts; here are a few:

Finding the "hidden ears" as in Dumbo or finding the thing that makes (allows) you fly.

"find beauty in yourself, then you will be able to really see it in others and everywhere."

And finally perhaps the most important thought is that children with autism,  "... like so many, they are different, not diminished. So many folks are exactly like the rest of us; only more so and less so.