A Fidget Spinner Without a Plan

If you are a parent you certainly know what a fidget spinner is. They are everywhere. A year ago no one had even heard of them. Yet, walk into any gas station and you’ll find them displayed right out in front. What happened? People started buying and companies started supplying without any guidance or plan. Money was to be made! This is the beauty of the free market. It perceives what people want and then others move in to supply that demand.

So why, in any problem related to the public good, do politicians and the media clamor for “a plan?”  Why do they go endlessly in search of a plan that will fix infrastructure, public education, healthcare or whatever needs correction? Why does there always have to be a plan? Why don’t we deal with issues the same way the market dealt with fidget spinners?

Healthcare has been contentious for years. Admittedly, a certain segment of the population was uninsured or un-insurable (albeit it a small one proportionally speaking ). So, the politicians decided to come out with a plan to fix it. The Affordable Care Act (so misnamed!!!…also dubbed “Obamacare”) was forced upon us all so that every person in the U.S. could get insurance. So how come even with a law and a plan, there are still millions without insurance?

One of the key parts of the Obamacare plan was to insure people who had pre-existing conditions. Previously, one of the biggest criticisms about insurance is that if you had cancer no insurance company would cover you. The often unpalatable reality is that this is exactly how insurance works. Insurance is defined as “A practice or arrangement by which a company or government agency provides a guarantee of compensation for specified loss, damage, illness, or death in return for payment of a premium.” If you already have the loss (i.e. cancer) it is not an insurable item. This is no different than someone getting into a car accident then attempting to buy auto collision insurance after the fact then demanding damages and/or loss payment from the insurer!

The sales pitch was that with the Obamacare plan, even those with a pre-existing conditions would be covered. However, this is not insurance. Its a subsidy. Someone else must provide the funds to pay for a subsidy which is, essentially, a give-away. Those burdened with that obligation, it turns out, are people who get sick the least and have the least amount of money…the young.

(Lest anyone think I am hard-hearted, such an approach can include provisions for that relatively small number of persons truly destitute or who have pre-existing conditions.  Its simply a scare tactic and red herring to say that if you are opposed to government run healthcare you want to see the poor, sick and elderly die. In fact, if you’re opposed to greedy, lying politicians making personal life decisions for you and others, you’re probably more rational, informed and compassionate than not).

The young, to whom I refer,  are finally beginning to understand their economic predicament as it relates to Obamacare. The  have begun to revolt. Yet, last week,  Congress n its infinite wisdom, refused to repeal Obamacare. Naturally, Obama along with many other Democrats, was elated. Most of the media critiques went like this: “The Republicans hate Obamacare but they have no plan of their own.”

The success of Obamacare rests on the young but they don’t like paying for things they don’t use. Look at the cable business which relies on bundled services. Cable subscriptions are in serious decline because the younger generation hates paying for one hundred channels when they only watch six. They don’t understand why they are paying to watch M.T.V and the History Channel, for example, when they only watch H.B.O. They get it. They only wanto pay for things they use. Well,  Obamacare, like cable TV,  is premised on the notion of bundled services. If they are already unwilling to pay $30.00 a month for HGTV, what makes the proponents of Obamacare think they will pay for healthcare services for people they do not know and services from which they receive no benefit?

The members of the mainstream media are also big proponents of getting the government involved to fix the issue and selling the plan to the public.

Sixty Minutes entire show format revolves around investigating  problems that society can’t solve and then asking why nothing has been done to fix them.  John Stossel, the libertarian pundit on Fox started off as a Left-leaning journalist reporting on the evils of big business just as Sixty Minutes still does. He would do reports on how these entities had failed the public at large and needed to be reined in. Plans and government regulations needed to be expanded to fix whatever the issue was. But as time went on, Stossel realized that he was the one causing the most damage. He came to the conclusion that over time free markets correct and provide the needed product or service at the best price. No amount of reporting he did ever solved the problem.

Perhaps the real fault in government plans is that those elected to Congress who devise them have rarely ever run a business or successfully worked in the private sector. They are novices, at best, and ill-equipped to deal with the realities and practicalities of what it takes to supply goods and services.  The premise that government needs to supply “plans” to fix the problem is a false premise that always results in loss of individual rights and freedoms.

In the real world, individuals faced with a problem in their lives needing a solution tends to figure it out for themselves. No group meetings, no theory, no pilfering of someone else’s financial resources to solve their problem.

Markets aren’t perfect. But history verifies that nothing distributes scarce resources more fairly and efficiently than free markets. We already have government run healthcare at the Department of Veterans Affairs Hospitals and it has failed miserably. Let’s put patients in tandem with their treating physicians in control of healthcare and let freedom work.

 

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

 

Trump To End War Against Nuns

One of the most vile things of ObamaCare was the contraception mandate that all organizations  provide contraception and abortion services in their plans, including religious organizations. For Catholics abortion is a mortal sin and one of the most heinous crimes one can commit. In addition contraception is not allowed and any serious practicing Catholic knows this.

Instead of the Obama administration allowing exceptions under religious beliefs, the administration was adamant that groups like ” Little Sisters of the Poor” , provide these services. Clearly anybody in this organization does not need to offer any of these services but the administration was relentless that groups like this cave.

The Obama administration took the Nuns to court where it ended up on the Supreme Court and where he lost by a unanimous decision.

“The Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision forcing the Obama Administration to “arrive at an approach going forward that accommodates [the LSP’s] religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered petitioners’ health plans ‘receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage.’”

It was a no-brainer case; that’s why it was unanimous. The accommodation should have happened from the beginning. But it didn’t. Even after the decision, as you can see by the news reports now, the government continued to drag its feet, unwilling to set the sisters free. It is a mark of shame on President Obama’s legacy that he left office without relieving the Little Sisters of the Poor.”

Donald Trump has finally relieved the sister of this burden. For more on the story:

http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2017/06/07/penny-nance-trump-set-end-ridiculous-war-nuns/

The Death of Compassion

Twenty years ago I saw a play called An Inspector Calls.

The premise was that a police detective is called to investigate the death of a young lady who works for a prominent family to discover how she died. The family is horrified, and initially confused, as to why the Inspector is called to interview them. What follows is a tense and uncomfortable investigation. In the end, the family discovers that they were all, in fact, caught up in this poor girl’s death.

Although no one in the family actually killed her each, in their own way, was complicit and responsible for her death. Through neglect or indifference, the combination and culmination of all their actions led to her untimely demise.

The play has stayed with me over the years because it touches on how each of our seemingly separate lives is intertwined. There is no escaping our responsibility to one another. There are always consequences to our actions. I was starkly reminded of this when, a few weeks ago in my home town of Austin, TX, a man shot and killed three people. He fled, was hunted by police and, near capture, killed himself. Although I did not know him, I knew many people who did.

What I do know is that he was behind on his bills as many of his customers had not paid him. Normally, he could cope with financial pressures; but, with his wife diagnosed with cancer and no medical insurance, his needs were more pressing.  Add to that a daughter ready to go to off to college, and I would imagine his lack of receivables and worries put him over the edge.

As a contractor, he had recently done a great deal of work for a local family who refused to pay him. He killed the couple and their neighbor. The couple he killed had a reputation for “stiffing” contractors…getting free work any way they could. Two weeks ago their luck ran out. Perhaps had his other customers paid him timely he might have been able to shrug off that particular insult. Clearly he could not. The result of it all is four dead people. Yes, the contractor is responsible for the deaths of four people. But, as I am reminded of that play many years ago, it seems all the others were quite complicit in this tragedy as well.

Not one of us is disconnected from the whole. None of us fully, or necessarily ever, knows the damage we do to other people through carelessness, insensitive, neglect or maliciousness. In this case, it was not paying bills on time for work received.

In the Catholic faith, we believe not only are there sins committed through our actions but also by our inaction (sins of omission). This theology supports the reality that we are not bystanders in life. We will be held accountable for what we do… and what we fail to do.

The recent story of attacks on Jews in Europe triggered my thoughts on this subject. Recently, in Europe, there has been a sharp uptick in attacks on Jews. This has been well documented and tied to the influx of new, poorly vetted immigrants. Yet, there has been no coordinated effort anywhere, by Jews or non-Jews, to stop this. I am not Jewish; but, I have many friends who are. Most of them carry a fury about what happened during the Holocaust and have vowed “never again. Yet, all of them go on with their lives…work, play, dinner with friends etc. None of them have boarded a plane to France to help defend their brethren. They are all bystanders. For all of their talk, none of have taken action to help their brothers in faith.

Still, I am no different. The ongoing, global attacks on Christians and Catholics have also been on the rise and I’ve not taken up arms to help them. Although I served in the military and fought in a just war, throwing the Iraqi’s out of Kuwait, and did my duty, I have been remiss in my duties to my fellow Catholics who are being slaughtered all over the Middle East. I am a spectator from afar. And yes, it pains me that I am like everyone else. I have my own responsibilities with six kids to feed, clothe and take care of and so I tend to what is in front of me and push to the back of my mind, and my priorities, what is not.

However, we have examples of people who take up the fight. In the Bible we have the story of Moses, who fled his homeland and settled down to start a new life. But the gnawing feeling of the oppression he witnessed in Egypt stayed with him. After nine years, he left his wife and son to return to Egypt to help his People.  In more modern times, there was Gandhi, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King. When reading their stories, all I can think of is, “Would I be able to make such a sacrifice?”

Even at home, here in the U.S., when give the chance to defend our rights we do not. In the recent United Airlines scandal, not one passenger intervened when a fellow passenger was assaulted and forcibly dragged from the aircraft. They acted like sheep. Maybe instead of watching they could have tried to stop the police from doing something illegal. Or maybe all of the passengers could have disembarked from the plane to protest the egregious act. Yet, they did none of that. They all sat on their rear ends because they had things to do elsewhere and places to go. They were weak because they did not want to complicate their lives.

United Airlines dragged a passenger off the plane because they knew the other passengers would do nothing. The airline knew they could get away with it. Even our government knows this as they brazenly pass laws and regulations contradictory to our Constitution. They know it when they empower TSA agents to exceed their boundaries and terrorize passengers with what are clearly illegal searches. The architect of Obamacare brazenly said the Administration lied to the public and then bragged to the press about how it passed the Affordable Care Act…because he and they knew Americans were “too stupid” and too lazy to fight, or even challenge, the law. This is our state of affairs.

We are getting close to a tipping point as our public and private institutions continue to treat the general public with revulsion and disdain. It hurts me to say we deserve it. If we, as individuals, are not willing to fight for our rights, why should we expect it from others? There irony is, of course, that in forgetting how connected we all are, and how action and inaction affects us all, our silence as individuals in the face of oppression will be the undoing of us all.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

Trading The Truth

I use to trade emerging markets debt for a living.

What's wrong

Every morning traders and salesman were given the economic data for the countries that we traded. We would get the latest economic numbers from countries like Brazil and then, we would evaluate how the news would affect the debt. Put simply, if the numbers were better, showing more growth in the country, the bond prices would rise signaling that the country had a better chance of paying off its debt.

Any decent finance professional can read the data and give you his or her take on the probable financial outcomes for country and the movement of  debt prices. For example, if a country started to spend too much on certain projects that would hamper the country’s ability to pay, the bonds would trade lower.

What always fascinated me were the end of the day conversations that would inevitably  center around back to the U.S. political system and its policies. Given that I worked with many left-leaning and left-of-center political Progressives, they were always happy to see Obama’s expansion of government programs such as Obamacare. These same business professionals, who hours earlier, would be slamming Brazil for spending or wasting too much money on bloated government programs, would cheer and applaud these same programs when implemented here in the U.S.

It always struck me as odd because their analysis would be so prescient when it came to the analysis of foreign countries; but, when it came to applying the same standard here in the U.S, they were incapable of doing so. Given that the U.S. is such a wealthy country, there is this belief having more money than other countries obliges us to spend more on social programs.

I spent large parts of my childhood in Ecuador. I grew up seeing first-hand the tragedies that result from failed economic policies. Whenever I see the move to more Socialist programs here in the U.S., I always connect it to the devastation and tragedy that befell Ecuador when it tried Socialist measures.

In general, I have found that immigrants who fled from  Communist countries such as Russia, Cuba and Ecuador are acutely aware of politicians’ intentions well ahead of their American brethren because they have already seen these same promises and their failed, and oftentimes deadly, results.

When President Obama called for medical reform, it seemed he had significant support to do so. On the surface, saying that you will reform medical deficiencies and inequities by providing coverage “to all” sounds like a worthy undertaking. However, if the government had really wanted to improve the medical system, it should have allowed insurance companies to sell their policies across state lines. That would have immediately added a lot more options for consumers.  But it wasn’t even a consideration because the real aim of Obamacare, like all government programs, was more control of the economy. One-sixth of the economy…to be exact.

As I said earlier, this looked eerily familiar to immigrants from Communist countries. They knew, all along, what the unstated goal of Obamacare was even if most Americans did not. Control. Control. Control….not improved or more inclusive healthcare.

The premise of Obamacare is that we had the economic ability to help those not covered. That premise is a lie. The U.S. is a debtor nation with over twenty trillion debt!!!… and roughly another forty-five trillion!!!! in unfunded liabilities. The promises made by the federal government regarding healthcare will never be realized. We will default on our debt and, at some point, all of the promises made will go up in smoke.

No country in history has ever been as indebted as we are.

The reason that the U.S has been able to pull this charade of financial solvency longer than any other country is that the U.S. dollar is the reserve currency for the world. Because the U.S. dollar is always in demand, our currency has an underlying strength which most countries don’t enjoy. Another reason the dollar remains strong is that all commodities (think oil) in the world trade in U.S. dollars .

For example, whenever France has to buy billions of dollars of oil to fuel its economy, it has to trade euros for dollars to fund the transaction. The sheer fact that it settles in U.S. dollars creates a tremendous demand for those dollars.  Further,  these excess dollars end up in our treasury market creating natural buyers of U.S. treasuries.

Because of this demand for U.S. dollars and treasury bonds, these financial instruments are artificially inflated. This has given our politicians the false confidence to enact policies and embark on spending programs that other countries don’t have the ability implement.

When Zimbabwe’s economy began to crater, it enacted many of the same monetary policies of the United States. The rationale seemed logical…copy the economic policies from the strongest country in the world. The results were disastrous. The economy tanked, the country defaulted and the currency is worthless. Zimbabwe failed to realize that there never was any demand for their currency. In light of this, Zimbabwe decided to inflate their money and the markets penalized them for it.

The United States isn’t the only country hellbent on defying the laws of economics. The list of countries committing economic suicide are too numerous to mention; but they’re all racing to fix their economies by adding more debt to them.

Currently, there are $11.7 trillion bonds globally with negative-yield sovereign debt. Jim Grant posed a tongue-in-cheek question: “If these are the first sub-zero interest rates in 5,000 years, is this not the worst economy since 3,000 BC?”

Just as U.S. traders could not, or would not, see that Obamacare was never going to have sufficient financing, central banks have failed to realize, or ignored the fact, that what happened in Zimbabwe can happen anywhere. Now, the elites are scared because they designed and perpetuate this mess. They know there is no way of fixing it. Yet, as unfathomable as it may seem, both candidates for the U.S. Presidency are clamoring for more government intervention.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Failure as a Guide

In 1992 I first entered into an Aikido dojo and took my 1st class,at the time I was in the best physical shape in my life. In my first class of doing Aikido I was horrendous, I couldn’t even do the most basic of movements. I had always considered myself athletic, I had been an athlete in high school and in college- playing football, wrestling and doing a variety of marital arts  so for me to go into an Aikido class and fail stupendously caught my attention.

aikido

The hardest part of Aikido is that it is unnatural, when you move to the right it is done by first shifting your weight on the left. In Aikido the 1st motion is to defend and not to strike, to move back instead of forward and this is unlike other sports where moving fast, forward and with power is required. In my 1st year alone I must have taken over 300 classes and was only marginally better after the year. When I looked around the mat,  I always noticed how gracefully all the senior students moved. It was only on further inspection that the majority had been training for over 10 years. It was the time, work and consistency of practice that made them good. And as such, I emulated their regimes and after 10 years I finally became a black belt.

If I had known starting out that it would have taken over 10 years to master Aikdio I probably would never have started. It would have seemed too long, too time consuming to master, but after 10 years in training I became a black belt. The joke in Aikido is that once you obtain your black belt it is only then your education really begins. For me getting my black belt in Aikido only left me with the feeling how inadequate I was in the sport, and that was the paradox of the sport. It is analogous to reading a book on a subject you think you really know only to realize how little you do know.

To get good at any technique in Aikdio is a long arduous process as at 1st you really can’t do anything; but it is the process that really helped me understand success. In that in order to get good at something I first had to risk to be really bad at something. Most people never master Aikido because they don’t want to look foolish but it is this vulnerability in any new endeavor that makes us grow and become better versions of ourselves.

We see this all the time in business where the media loves to portray people as overnight successes but when the veil is uncovered we usually find out that person had  put in lots of time and effort to become a success. Success takes time. In the realm of business, owners find out right away what works and what does not and are punished for the mistakes they make. It is the process that makes them become good at their craft. In a sense it is rewarding to get that instant feedback if your efforts are being fruitful or not.

Contrast this to politics where failure and continued failure is rewarded.We all seem to understand that success in business takes skill and mastery but when applied to the field of politics we all seem to throw out our common sense. Take the latest government foray into health care otherwise known as ObamaCare. Crafted by Barack Obama who is not a Dr and never worked in health care or for that matter the private sector. If he tried to implement this plan in the private sector he would have been laughed out of the room for one reason— he had no experience and thus no way to gauge if his plan would work. But yet in politics, people can fail miserably time and time again and be rewarded for their failures. Why else would he have been re-elected? His signature piece of legislature was a failure. Our collective political biases allows us to  hope and believe in a certain political party will enact  plans that work. But believing in political fantasies can have disastrous results.

Detroit has been governed by the 1960’s by radical leftists and have not elected a Republican candidate in over 50 years. Detroit use to be one of the most prosperous cities in the US but it is now considered the worst. Houses that use to fetch thousands of dollars now can be bought for less than a used car. Entire areas of Detroit are now being destroyed and being given back to nature because no one wants to live there.  One would think a change in party might bring a different result but that is not to be as people would rather believe the political fantasy that Democrats are for the people.

Better to bet on people who failed, lost and then succeeded as they all give us guide posts on how things can work.

Steven Clark

ObamaCare A Success

Last week the Obama administration claimed that Obama Care was now  a success and had signed up 8 million people. I claim he is going to regret he made that statement the same way George Bush lived to regret his “mission accomplished” speech in the 1st year of the Iraq war. ObamaCare

 

 

 

 

First if Obamacara is the law of the land and every citizen is suppose to have health insurance in a country with over 330 million people, 8 million people is only 2% of the entire population. Secondly the law states you have to buy it and if you don’t you will be fined, again 8 million people seems like an awfully low number and a lot of people would rather be fined then sign up. Finally, due to the problems on the web site, the government is not telling you if the 8 million people that signed up actually paid for the insurance. This would be the equivalent of going to an online store adding an item to your cart but then not checking out and paying for the item. If an online public company reported that number to the press, they would probably be sued for misrepresentation.

One of my friends actually posted the 8 million signups on his Facebook page as a sign that Obama had done a good job and that the program was now a success. When I pointed out the obvious problems with his statements he accused me of being a Republican. The reality is that my party affiliation should have nothing to do on whether a statement is true or not, facts are facts. My friend wanted to believe the political fantasy for whatever reason.

Clearly my fried was a Democrat and wanted to believe the president but when facts state otherwise, he should have been able to see the truth. We as humans like to label ourselves and put ourselves  into categories and then that label becomes our identity and any assault on that identity becomes an assault on our selves. Men are especially prone to this as their profession becomes how they define themselves: banker, salesman, doctor but when men lose their jobs, many time their identity gets lost as well.

My point was not to attack my friend because he was a Democrat but rather to point out the flaws in the president’s statement. If my friend had a bigger identity of who he was he wouldn’t have felt slighted by my statements.

 

Steve Clark