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100. Basic Causes of Greatest Concern

10 Mar

In my 100 blogs to date, I have tried to cover important governmental, social, medical, and related issues, that profoundly affect our way of life. In this, my 100th blog, I will list some of our most significant current issues, and maybe some possible solutions. I know that my blogs are sometimes imperfect and not very original, but my purpose is to increase the number of voices urging important changes and understanding. So here is a list of ideas to emphasize:

Our American founding fathers when creating the Constitution and other rules, were afraid of the kind of populism that we see today. So they tried to move important decisions away from the ordinary citizens and towards more responsible and intelligent leaders. Here are two examples supporting this lack of trust:
1. The establishment of an electoral college, to prevent direct citizen voting.
2. Until 1913, senators were elected by state legislatures, and not the people.
The founding fathers were afraid that ordinary people could be scammed by unscrupulous politicians. They anticipated someone like our current President.

Societies that over emphasize capitalism and the importance of financial success, foster corruption so that clever manipulators accumulate vast wealth, much of which belongs to the people. It is apparent that anyone (or party) in office for a long time will drift away from the people’s needs and develop methods for increasing their wealth. These methods include donating to Congressmen who will legislate tax loopholes and unfair subsidies.

An age requirement for U.S. President is not enough. Tax returns must be required and other financial and business details provided. It is too easy for very rich people, once in office, to make decisions best for their businesses and not for the country. A notable example is the transport minister for Azerbaijan, formerly a part of the Soviet Union. His covert construction contracting, participation in money laundering schemes, and wide-ranging contacts made him extremely rich at the expense of the citizens.

Corruption and unjustified accumulation of wealth, is not limited to politicians. Almost every vital service needed by the people, such as healthcare, education, and insurance, has cheated the citizens and made administrators (and others) hugely wealthy. Many of these rich people donate to Congress and through resulting legislation, make themselves even richer. Donations to congressmen has shifted vast amounts of money away from ordinary citizens, to undeserving administrators (making many millions of dollars). For example, median total compensation for ceos of major teaching non-profit hospitals is 1.35 million. Many make much more. Is it right that many millions of dollars are given to hospital administrators while poor people are being rejected (even die) for lack of insurance? Important services should be provided by the government at little or no cost. I feel that administrators and certain others should be allowed to become somewhat rich, but not extremely so.

Clarification: All “Western” or developed countries are a combination of capitalism with some socialistic features. Pure capitalism allows the unlimited accumulation of wealth with no financial protections for the citizens. Pure socialism is an economy totally controlled and owned by the state. In the USA (and many other major countries) capitalism is primary, and there are “social programs” in areas such as healthcare, education, and supporting the poor. Shifting some funds from the very rich to the very poor through taxation changes and programs like Medicaid is not “socialism,” it is simply the addition of a “social program.”

Last but not least, is the unethical and self-serving practices of many doctors, dentists, and other healthcare practitioners. Diagnoses and treatments are often are more determined by cash-flow than by what is most beneficial for the patient. Here are some examples. In the area of severe back-pain, diagnosis is usually a defect in the spine, and the possibility of simple excessive muscle strain and tension is ignored. Procedures for spinal defects are very expensive whereas procedures for muscle tension simply involve (at no cost) frequent muscle stretching. Here is an example from dentistry. Several years ago, my teeth would develop a dark blue hue, which could be removed by a professional teeth cleaning. Two dentists I went to urged me to double my teeth cleaning sessions, and spent little effort in trying to determine the cause. Fortunately, I was able to figure this out myself, and saved a lot of expense. The blue colored mouthwash I was using, dyed the teeth, and there was even a warning on the label. I could provide a lot of other personal examples, and many are described in previous blogs. An excellent book on this subject is “Confessions of a Medical Heretic”, 1979, by Robert Mendelsohn, MD. This is an old book, but still very applicable to many current physicians (but definitely not all).

Is there a quick fix for all of the forementioned issues? No, but major efforts to improve education could be transformative. Knowledge is important, but developing an ability to reason and research is even more relevant. Still, I have a sneaking suspicion that our current administration would fear a well-informed electorate.

99. Change Yes, Trump No

4 Mar

I think our country needs some radical changes to preserve it, and make it exemplary again. Forget Trump’s “great  again”, let’s make it admirable, honorable, and respectable. This blog is “BasicCauses” and I want to look at some of the fundamentals of our system.

I am going to make some major criticisms so I want to make it clear in advance, that I am happy to be an American, vote every election, served in the U.S. Army, and enjoy free enterprise, having created two successful businesses. I generally support the fundamental features of our current governmental system, but believe we need some significant basic changes. The arrival of Donald Trump as our country’s leader, emphasizes the need for  re-thinking.   Please consider the following:

1. The Primary Process and Voting does not yield the best leaders. This is hard to fix, and probably the best solution, better education, may not be effective for a long time. Many poorly educated voters do not have the reasoning and research skills to make the best judgments. Long held and obsolete beliefs are barriers to better choices.

2. Congress is organized so as to promote gridlock. Our current system has too many barriers to completing legislation. There are many different changes that could speed up law making. One thought that I have had is to have one large legislative body and require 52% of votes to pass a bill. Filibustering would not be allowed, but short speeches from many would be allowed.  The quality of legislation could be improved by adding to this body,  various specialists such as University representatives. A major reorganization will not occur in my lifetime, but starting to think about it is important and I may discuss it more in future blogs.

3. The “fourth branch of government”, the press, is being oppressed. It appears now that we need to pass laws or find other means of protecting the press and allowing them to criticize without recrimination. Also, the citizens should clearly support freedom of the press.

4. Rich donors should not have powerful control of our government. I suggest a maximum donation of $100 for all citizens and no donations allowed from corporations or other organizations. Let’s abolish the super pacs and have a true democracy.

5. Our middle-class is not benefiting enough from our nation’s success. We need to abolish tax-loopholes and increase rates for the very rich.  Many wealthy corporations and individuals pay no tax at all because of loopholes.  Even the Pope has criticized “trickle-down” approaches, which rarely work, but are advocated by the GOP.  (“Trickle-down” means: give lots of money to wealthy businesses and simply hope that some will trickle-down to the rest of us.)

6. Congress should not police and regulate itself. An independent body should do this. (The same goes for all Healthcare organizations and many other service areas.) Unfortunately, with today’s polarization, it is not easy to find truly independent persons.

7. A potential problem is “privatizing.” This means moving a function run by the government, to a private, for profit company. A consequence is that some rich person (and staff) will make huge amounts of money and emphasize profits over proper services. In most cases, the benefits of competition do not make up for all the money lost to over-paid executives. For example, privatizing prisons was a failure and was abolished. Politicians sometimes threaten Social Security and Medicare with privatization, which would decrease benefits.  I have said more about this in previous blogs.

89. Some Tweet-like World Observations

2 Feb

1. Privatizing means creating a system that has a private owner as opposed to a government-run institution. Examples are schools and prisons. The latter has been tried but is now diminishing. In privately run systems a concern for profit can cause neglect in providing required services. Often, civic-minded people working as a public governmental body can be more effective, and with less expenditure. There is a fixed budget so that workers can focus on quality work.  Some would argue that privatizing creates beneficial competition, but in fact there is little competition in areas where privatizing is being promoted.

2. Do we need insurance companies that develop extreme wealth for their executives, paid for by you and me, while benefits are diminished. Why should our world be configured so that a few can become very rich at the expense of the rest of us? Our more advanced civilization has been around for 150 years or so. In that time, the “royalty class” has become entrenched in our system — robbing many ordinary people of their means of survival. I am not against the concept that hard-work and intelligence should be financially rewarded, it is the extremes and abuses that concern me.extreme we Being rich is OK, wealth is not. I also want to make clear that I owned two businesses and believe in our form of regulated capitalism.

3. The arrival of Trump marks the creation of a new entity resulting from social/business evolution. The new creation is what I shall call the extended governing family unit. The Trump version consists of himself, his offspring and their spouses; each having a specialized function. But to clarify, effective and powerful family units are not really “new”, but a unit this large, with necessary distributed functionality, has never before been our “president.” My next blog (no. 90) will explain this further.

4. Diagnosis of all types should be separate from treatment. The fees for various treatments can be very different, and the Dx could be biased towards better income. For example, the exact diagnosis for a cancer could lead to expensive and profitable surgery or a much less expensive radiation or drug treatment.  Dentists have tough decisions in deciding what is actually a cavity that require a filling.  Any healthcare, other service, or repair company can be jaded by this factor. How to fix this is a real dilemma.

5. Our U.S. government may be doomed to failure, because of powerful relationships between very rich folks (donors) and governmental leaders. The best cure would be a great improvement in education so that we can break the donor influence. Remember that our current leaders arose to power under this system and, as you would expect, want to preserve it. Many of those at the top have little interest in teaching logic, reasoning, and correct history to our students and potential voters. We are caught in a powerful loop and will need to be coordinated and industrious to have a chance of breaking it. The current massive demonstrations in many cities is on the right track and encouraging.

6. Ironically, a thousand years from now, the invention of email may be identified by witty history professors, as the cause of the downfall of our Earth civilization. Take away email, and there would have been much less abuse of Hillary Clinton, and she could have been elected. If that had happened, a strong NATO, great international relations, better climate change efforts, fair treatment of the middle-class, control of nuclear weapons, careful communications, and other factors could have saved the world from numerous disasters.  Trump has already alienated some of our closest allies.

7. Governmental officials generally set their own salaries and rules of operation. They are only people, after all, so how can we expect them to be fair. It seems that most people in power long enough will eventually become corrupted (at least somewhat). We need a better system, but change is difficult. The press should help us, but are often limited by some very real vulnerabilities. A tough leader with violent supporters can be an awesome force that discourages needed criticism and modification.

8. I suspect that most of Trump’s early supporters voted for him for various reasons, including: his power, likability (for many), promises of jobs, identification of scapegoats, prejudices, anti-terrorism statements, etc.  What probably was overlooked, was a good estimation of what he would actually DO and SAY after taking office.  Many of us had hoped that he would change after a couple of weeks as POTUS, but he has not.

43. GOP Tax Nonsense

14 Feb

Republican candidates of 2016 have promoted three main ideas for income tax rule improvement:

1. A lowered tax rate for all, but continuing the current general system.
2. Simplification of income tax code.
3. A single “flat” income tax for all.

Where details on plans have been supplied there are some variations within each plan.  All three ideas are seriously flawed and all three provide great benefits for the wealthy, which is why Republicans propose them. And they provide great benefits to their rich campaign contributors.

1. Any lowered tax rate for very rich people will result in either higher taxes for the non-rich or reduced services for them. Its always a see-saw: reducing one causes increase for the other. People at the lower end of the pay-scale pay little or no taxes at all, and so do not benefit. But lowering general tax rates always makes the rich richer.

2. Republicans always love a really simple tax code because they would avoid all of the rules that prevent them from abusing the system. Ordinary workers with salaries already have a simple code and can finish their returns in a couple of hours; or can pay someone a few bucks to do it for them. On the other hand, rich people usually have complex incomes, expenses, deductions, stock trades, salaries they pay, business entertainment, IRA’s, bonuses, subsidies, etc. Rich people like fewer rules because rules limit what they can get away with. It is similar to their dislike of regulations. The more flexibility they have in preparing their taxes, the easier it is to game (cheat) the system. It takes a lot of code to cover all the possibilities. For example, there are many ways to describe what constitutes a valid “business meal expense”. Buy one of those cheap, tax code summaries and you will see all of the situations that need to be covered. I personally ran two small businesses so I understand why the tax code complexity is needed.

3. Most Republican candidates have advocated a single “flat” income tax with a rate of 10 to 15 percent for all. With that plan, rich people greatly benefit: a reduction of the 35% rate to say, 15 percent. Poor people who can barely survive on what the earn, would pay more than their current zero payment. One Republican candidate said: that’s OK because everyone should have some skin in the game — and this candidate is an avowed Christian.

Finally, why is it wrong to make the wealthy wealthier, and the poor poorer? The main reason is that over the last few decades, as the rich profited, they were more and more able to “bribe” congressmen with contributions, so that they would create tax and subsidy laws to make the wealthy even richer. Another reason is that when extremely rich banks and insurance companies failed, the ordinary tax payers had to bail them out. It is also true that most very rich people use a lot of resources such as extra policing, government services, military protection, etc. And they have accountants and lawyers to help them make even more money. Its Ok to be rich, but when some people are homeless and/or starving, the extremely rich need to give some back.

42. Questions for Trump?

12 Feb

I have watched numerous interviews of candidate Donald Trump and I usually feel that the important questions are not asked. Mostly he is asked about his relationship with other candidates and bizarre statements like baning all Muslims from the U.S. Fundamental ideas like his general economic orientation or his general foreign policy are neglected. Here are a few questions that should be asked:

1. In your published proposed budget, you provide lower taxes for rich people. Does this seem right, given that rich people have done exceedingly well, while the rest of us are stagnant or at serious poverty levels.

2. Do you advocate a “trickle down” economic policy? For several decades we have had just that, rich people and corporations getting more and more money, but it never seems to trickle down to us non-rich folk.

3. You keep saying that you want to make “America great again.” What does that mean? We already have a military that is far superior to that of any other country, so it can’t be that. Would it be improved education, infra-structure, health-care for all, abolishment of poverty, better movies, more fashion shows, healthier people, lower cost of living, or what? It seems that greatness for you, is just a more powerful “Royalty Class.”

4. You criticize your fellow candidates, brag about your successes, ridicule anyone who opposes you, criticize Democrats, Obama, and many others — but we hear very little about how you will help and improve the lives of ordinary citizens. We can get some idea about your values, because you do not want to raise the minimum wage of $7.25. You have very little understanding of poverty, because you started life out with a “small” family loan of only one-million ($1,000,000). I guess you regret disclosing that “small” gem.

5. Like all GOP candidates you hate ObamaCare, but none of you make specific proposals or present a detailed replacement plan. And if you abolish ObamaCare, what will happen to millions of people who have gone from uninsured to insured, and are now covered with “pre-existing conditions” and with exceeded life-time limits, and all the other vital improved coverages? And even more important, why do we need a third party, the private insurance companies, who make fortunes by withholding benefits from unfortunate patients. How many people will die as a consequence of losing ObamaCare benefits? Does this make America great?

6. I suspect your best answer about America’s greatness would be: better manufacturing, better balance of trade, and lower national debt. But to achieve these goals, would the middle-class have to provide all the sacrifices?

7. You emphasize that being already extremely rich, you cannot be bought or corrupted by rich contributors. But commentators never say: so what! you already have “royalty class” values and it is clear that you will implement their goals. No need to corrupt you.

Final thought: Could it be that TV moderators and commentators are all part of media systems run by the rich Royalty Class.  And so are reluctant to ask questions, such as: should very wealthy people pay more in taxes (increased tax rates and/or closing loopholes)?   Being rich is Ok, but extreme wealth for the one percent, while many others are in poverty, is unconscionable.

39. Dem Dual Debate

5 Feb

I am an ethusiastic supporter of Bernie S. but I figured the debate to be a long snooze. Well I am really glad that I tuned in, because in spite of the fact that there really were no new ideas, the interaction between the two was well worth observing.  There was some competition, a lot of respect, and some warmth.  And that satisfied my main goal, which was to have a debate where both sides to showed friendship.  If these two were not competing, you can imagine them working together to promote progressive goals.  The contrast between the Democratic Party debates and the vicious, inane Republican debates is incredible.

I should also remark that I like Hilary Clinton and think she would make a good President, but I really like the optimism and idealism of Bernie Sanders.  Sanders and everyone else knows that he might not succeed in dramatic progressive changes, but it is nice to know that someone is willing to make a great and innovative effort to do this.  I think Sanders has some exciting ideas about implementing his goals, but feels this is not the time to describe them.

Overall  Bernie has done really well in speaking and debating.  I think he would have done better if he had avoided certain difficulties.  One is labeling himself as a “socialist.”  “Social Democrat”, which he later used, is better.  Regarding ObamaCare, he should have made clear that it would not be abolished until a “Medicare for All” plan was formulated and made into law.  Logically, there should be some overlap to avoid loss of insurance.  In spite of some minor imperfections, many of us feel that Bernie offers more hope for substantial positive change.

 

 

 

36. Capitalism Corrupted

25 Jan

The current Republican candidates represent an advanced stage of a transformation taking place in the USA; and many other countries. This transformation is an erosion of intelligent thinking and action; replaced by crude manipulations of the citizens designed to benefit the extremely wealthy “royalty class”. The Republican candidates try to manipulate voters by making them more fearful, by providing dangerous simple solutions to important problems, by lying about historical events, and by blaming scapegoats for our problems. They all do most of this, but admittedly, one of them is so crude and offensive that he stands out from the others. He shows what this harmful changing system can ultimately lead to.

How did this erosion take place?  It is, in fact, a kind of evolution. For the past hundred years or so, there have been dramatic changes in the Earth’s population of humans.  The factors that have developed and changed include: technology in general, the Internet, powerful weapons, increased communication among all of Earth’s citizens, consumer goods, etc.  In this recent period of human history, an evolutionary process took place. Clever persons learned how to make fortunes and became better and better at doing this. After a certain level of extreme wealth was achieved, wealth was further enhanced by, in effect, “bribing” government officials (like Congressmen) to make favorable laws. The process is similar to biological evolution where the fittest (often the most intelligent) survive and grow stronger. Favorable laws for rich people include: lower tax rates, unfair subsidies, and tax loopholes, which allow income to be hidden or taxed at a low rate.  Tax simplification is an agenda of the GOP, but it only helps rich people by allowing more tax loopholes.  Lower taxes for one group will always result in higher taxes for others, or fewer services.

What are the dangers of a powerful royalty class? Simply put, as more money is shifted upward, the number of desperate poor people increases. Desperate people commit more crimes and eventually resort to violent revolution. The “Arab Spring” illustrates what can happen when an extremely rich and clever group run a country. But even if a revolution never occurs, it is simply reasonable and fair, that more average citizens should enjoy prosperity, not just the wealthy. After all, wealthy people use all the rest of us for the enjoyment of their money. We provide the military, police, firemen, construction workers for their houses, repairmen, garbage men, maids, cooks, doctors, therapists, accountants, and so forth — all necessary for the enjoyment of wealth.

Personally, I do believe in capitalism, but a version that is appropriately limited to benefit all of the citizens. I have owned two small businesses. My concern is with extreme wealth, not with prosperity resulting from hard work and innovation. Capitalism in the USA can be reformed by careful voting (please see my next blog).