Tag Archives: follow the money

I Feel Threatened (Part 2)

7 April 2015

Viagra for Bullies

J. S. Chavez

Let’s talk about the NRA, an organization of real men, though many of them appear to be craven cowards. How could they be anything else? Most of them live in neighborhoods where, like Oscar Pistorius (I Feel Threatened Part 1), the likelihood of their lives being threatened is miniscule.  Way more likely that they will die in a traffic accident or from heart disease or at the hands of a member of their own households who gets his/her hands on an unsecured firearm.  Look it up.

This is a favorite bumper sticker/t-shirt theme among the 2nd Amendment set.

Gun owner victim


I wonder where a reasonable person fits into this false dichotomy. For the NRA it appears that you are either predator or prey.  I don’t know about you but…

I Feel Threatened. And it’s time we Stand Our Ground.

Gun owners strike me as a particularly insecure lot. Unable to reasonably assess a threat they see every situation as threatening. And, tending toward cowardice, they are impotent to deal with these perceived threats unless they have at the ready a means of exercising deadly force. And it emboldens them—as it did Zimmerman, Dunn, and Reeves. 

Nobody picks a fight with someone he isn’t sure he can beat.

Bullies, for that is all that killers are, are nothing unless they have the advantage of force. Is there any question of what these men would have done had they not had deadly force at the ready? Does anyone believe that these men felt so cornered that they would have fought back with their bare hands, their fingernails even, because the situation was that dire? Far from it.

Not only did these killers fail to make an effort to mitigate the situations in which they found themselves, each man actually escalated the situation—each with the perfect knowledge of the excessive force he had at the ready. Is this not premeditation? “I don’t have to back down from this punk because I know something that he doesn’t know.” Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law relieves an individual who feels threatened of the obligation to retreat.  Does it also relieve him of the responsibility of being controlled or reasonable? Is feeling annoyed, disrespected, uncomfortable, frustrated, impotent, the same as feeling threatened?

Just after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, where 20 school children lost their lives to a psychotic gunman, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre declared that  “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” The NRA’s reponse to the Sandy Hook tragedy was to put armed personnel in all the schools. They blame video games, movies, the liberal media, and mental illness for gun deaths. (It certainly couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that there are 88 guns for every 100 Americans, right?)

They want a mental illness database. All mental health practitioners would be required to forward patient files to the “jack-booted government thugs” who conduct background checks for potential gun owners? No, that can’t be what they mean because the NRA is staunchly against strengthening background checks in any way.

Small wonder.  Consider this statement made by Wayne LaPierre (interview on FOX news, July 2012) regarding a supposed UN treaty which would regulate the global arms trade and, according to LaPierre, “says to people in the United States, turn over your personal protection and your firearms to the government.” What? That sounds a bit delusional—and  paranoid. Are you sure you want a mental illness database, Wayne? Really?

LaPierre has also famously said “by its lies and laws and lack of enforcement, government polices are getting us killed, and imprisoning us in a society of terrifying violence.”  It would seem that everyone is to blame for gun violence except he people with the guns. But LaPierre seems to be asking law enforcement, “the government,” to step up and assume a stronger role in curbing gun violence.  Is he advocating for a stronger police state? Isn’t the 2nd Amendment the NRA’s fortress of solitude, so to speak? Isn’t the main point of owning personal firearms supposed to be as a protection against an overzealous, overbearing, overreaching, over-muscled police state?

The NRA can’t have it both ways.  They can’t claim that citizens need free access to assault rifles and huge magazines as protection against the excesses of the state and then turn around and blame the government for the results of citizens exercising that free access. Granted, Wayne LaPierre is a lousy spokesman but, it’s difficult to see how the most  articulate debater could spin the nonsensical arguments the NRA promotes as logic.

What are these NRA people are so frightened of?

Just how terrifyingly violent is the life of the average NRA member, because I suspect that the lives of the NRA elite, the ones we always hear from, are quite comfortable indeed. They say they’re not afraid-just prepared. And men who take Viagra don’t actually have erectile disfunction? They’re just prepared?

To be fair, a large majority of NRA rank and file members say they would support more stringent background checks. Why is it, then, that those who govern the organization are so far out of step with their members? As always, follow the money. 

The NRA receives many millions of dollars every year in corporate donations and a lot of that money comes from gun makers. Also, the governing body of the NRA operates very much like the Central Politburo of the Communist Party of China; both are a one party system. The committee decides who runs so it’s no surprise when one of their own wins.  As far as the NRA elite 1% are concerned, I guess the 2nd Amendment trumps the 1st Amendment.

More Information

Bureau of Justice Statistics       NRA Membership  The Real Terrorists

The Morning After (Part 2)

16 March 2015

The Health Care Plan Republicans Always Wanted-Until They Got It

J.S. Chavez

As Robert Reich noted (link below) Obamacare is almost exactly the sort of health care reform that Republicans have said they always wanted, going all the way back to President Nixon. (Yes, that Nixon and yes, the situation is really that bad.) Reich points out that it is Republicans who have always insisted on private insurers rather than a Medicare-Social Security based system. 

It was Republicans who came up with the idea of an individual mandate, which Mitt Romney successfully carried through in Massachusetts. Reich concluded by noting that since Democrats had to pass the ACA without Republican support they could have held out for a single-payer, Medicare-based system that would have actually worked.  Possibly. But Republicans would surely be apoplectic over any health care plan that Obama (or any other Democrat) came up with. And there’s the problem, for both the Republican party and the people of the US.

Just about everyone you ask, Democrats and Republicans alike, will tell you that universal health care should be a right. 

So, if the ACA is essentially the plan Republicans would have come up with if they had to come up with a plan, how come they’ve lined up against it as though it were the anti-Christ? Follow the money: Health care in the US is a business—a very good business.  Average per capita spending on health care in the US is over $8,000 per year. Republicans don’t want health care reform, many even claim it isn’t needed.  They also claim that if market forces are given free reign then competition will drive costs down.

Medical care in the US is basically a cartel.

Insurance companies, not patients, are the consumers. And they’re part of the cartel.  They don’t care if Big Medicine charges exorbitant prices.  They can just raise their premiums.  Their cut comes off the top so they always get paid.

Try calling up a hospital and getting a price for a surgical procedure.  Ask about something  simple, like a hernia operation.  They won’t tell you because the real answer is “it depends.” (See the “possible exception to the rule” link.) Mostly, it depends on your insurance (like whether you even have insurance). If they were to be honest with you (they won’t be) they would tell you that the price is “as much as we can get.” In other words, it’s a negotiation—but not with you, because you aren’t the consumer. 

The negotiation is with your insurance company. Your insurance company decides what your co-pay will be.  Your insurance company decides which hospital you can use.  This is based on the deal the insurance company worked out with the hospital. You have no say in the matter, even though you’re paying for it.  There is no other business arrangement in the world where this would be tolerated.  Would you hire an electrician to rewire your house if the price he quoted was “it depends?”

There is a critical point that most people do not seem to understand:

Insurance companies are not in the business of paying for health care.  Insurance companies are in the business of collecting premiums.

Insurance companies are the consumers of medical care.   The insured (you) are the consumers of insurance.   All the money that goes into the pockets of insurance companies comes from you, whether you pay them directly or your employer pays a share. 

And about that; any insurance provided by your employer is part of your compensation as an employee.  It is not a gift provided out of the goodness of your employer’s heart.  When Hobby Lobby claims that they shouldn’t have to pay for contraceptives because it runs contrary to their religious beliefs, what they’re really trying to do is foist their religious beliefs onto you, forcing you to adhere to their religious principles as a condition of your employment. 

That’s the conservative version of religious freedom. You, as an employee, are free to adopt the religious beliefs of your employer.  Conservatives complain about the nanny state but they’re fine with the fundamentalist feudal state.

It’s pretty simple: Republicans hate Obamacare, mostly because Obama, a black Democrat, got it passed. The Affordable Care Act is deeply flawed, precisely because it is more of a Republican plan than a Democratic one—but it’s a start—an essential start. Republicans don’t want to talk about any kind of health care reform because they know that the only one that makes sense (based on our own experiences and those of just about all the OECD countries) is a single-payer system. 

Medicare, our Medicare, (the so-called “entitlement program” that we pay into all of our working lives) is way more efficient than private insurers, doing a much better job of containing costs.

Just prior to the implementation of the ACA, our “system” of health care was financially unsustainable.  And Republicans couldn’t have cared less.  They’re happy to ride us all into the ground and bleed us of every last dime.  That’s the Republican version of health care reform.

The fact is Republicans offer nothing.  Nothing. They are the party of “No.” The party of No obstructs, obfuscates, obliterates and offends.  The party of No does not solve problems.

The party of No is the problem.

So, why does health care in the US cost so much?  The graph below tells a big part of the story. Mid-life and end of life (EOL) care costs are far higher in the US than anywhere else.  In 2011, 28% of Medicare spending was for care in the last 6 months of life. Just what are we getting for these insane expenditures? Has anyone ever gotten out of this life alive?

Health-care-costs-by-age-and-country.png

(Source: Forbes.com)

Do you suppose that these huge EOL expenditures buy us more time and better quality of life?  It doesn’t appear so.   The US ranks about 33rd in life expectancy in the world (not far behind Costa Rica and Cuba). Average life expectancy in the US is 78 years.  Average per capita health care spending in Cuba is about 1/20 what it is in the US. Most Americans say they would prefer to die at home but 75% of us die in hospitals or nursing homes.

  Source Links and More Information: 

Robert Reich  Obamacare is a Republican Plan / Robert Reich Blog /  Kaiser Health Care / Co$t of Dying / Bloomberg / Rand /NIH /Bitter Pill /Exception to the Rule?

The Real Credit Card Frauds

23 February 2015

 You Can’t Afford Not to be a Deadbeat

Last summer I had the dubious pleasure of having my credit card declined—at a laundromat. Not so long ago such a scenario would not have been possible for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that laundry machines only accepted quarters or tokens.

But we live in a new age, the age of smart phones and bar codes and instant digital communication. Back in the day, credit card authorization required a long distance call and a tense, awkward wait at the cash register; it is now completed in seconds without any contribution from a live person.  And while I’m not suggesting this state of affairs is all bad it’s not without its drawbacks. 

If you’re younger than 25 or so (I’m not) you might not remember how things used to be “back in the day.” In the day I’m talking about, merchants were not inclined to accept credit cards for small purchases so they often, arbitrarily (and illegally), posted  “minimum purchase” requirements for their  customers paying with a credit card.

This practice was most common among low volume merchants and those whose profit margin was low (grocery stores, convenience stores, etc). You can see their point; credit card companies charge merchants a small percentage of each transaction and maybe even a flat transaction fee. On a small purchase, where there is a thin profit margin, the merchant could conceivably lose money on the transaction. Even so, until July of 2010, it was illegal for a merchant to impose a minimum purchase amount for credit card users.

I don’t believe that most consumers felt that this was a huge problem.  We had a different mindset back then.  We actually carried cash. (No, really.) Most people I knew would not have considered paying for a small purchase (say, under $10) with a credit card. Was this only because  the merchant would not like us for it?  I don’t think so.  For most of us there was a feeling that you shouldn’t use a credit card for things such as a cup of coffee (and it was nowhere near as expensive as it is today).  We tended to save our credit card accounts for larger, more significant purchases.

So, what happened to change our collective mindset? As always, we should follow the money.  After all, that’s what the banks do.  And if you think banks don’t understand how to separate you from your dollars then I suggest you give your credit card agreement a thorough, critical read through.

Bank fees net banks well over $150 billion annually, which comes out of your pocket, dear consumer, one way or another. ATM fees, late fees, overdraft fees, minimum balance fees, a monthly fee that relieves you of paying ATM fees (They create the fee then create another fee that gets you out of the first fee? Should we feel grateful?), a paper statement fee, lost debit card fee, returned mail fee, even a fee for using a human teller. (Google “bank fees.”)

Banks may still be reluctant to lend money but they’re creative enough to come up with other ways to squeeze a buck out of their customers. But credit card transaction fees are a different animal since these are charged to the merchant. They generally range from 1% to 3.5% of the purchase. Sometimes there is an additional flat fee per transaction as well.  These are mostly based on the volume of purchases so they are most onerous for small businesses.

Banks promote the use of credit cards for small purchases as a convenience. And it relieves the consumer of carrying around cash, which could be lost or stolen.  But hold on a minute.  While I would  not be happy about losing $500 cash through a hole in my pocket, that really isn’t what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about very small purchases. Rather than carry around five hundred or a thousand dollars to buy, say, a new computer, I’ll gladly put that purchase on my card.  Less hassle, less risk.

Think of it this way; would you prefer to lose the twenty you shoved into your pocket (the one with the hole you didn’t know about) on your way to Starbucks or would you prefer to lose your credit card? Your liability for the credit card charges would be limited to $50 in most cases, so maybe you feel like that’s a reasonable price to pay for years of convenient purchasing. 

But what about all the phone calls you’ll have to make? The monthly accounts with Netflix, iTunes, Hulu, etc. that have to be re-established? What about the rather  large copay to your OB-GYN that will now be denied and most likely incur a hefty penalty when the charge comes back on your doctor’s billing service?

And that’s only your personal stuff.  Who do you think pays the transaction fee the banks charge the merchants?  Do you think the merchants pay for that? Or do you think the merchants might, possibly, sneakily, hide those fees in the inflated cost of the item you just charged? If you’re one of those people who think that most merchants wouldn’t lower their prices if, suddenly, the transaction fees went away, well, you’re probably right.  If they can get that extra 3% now they will continue to try to get it. 

But this system has been in place for decades so it isn’t really fair to postulate a counterfactual. Look at it another way.  If the price of Florida oranges suddenly went through the roof because an unstoppable bacterial pathogen was decimating the orange groves (citrus greening) do you think that your local grocers would hesitate to pass on their higher costs for orange juice? Production costs matter—no matter where they come from.

Fortunately, I guess, when my credit card was declined I was at the laundromat and not checking into a five star hotel on the first leg of a European vacation—in which case I would have been in big trouble.  Another merchant whom I paid with my card had been hacked and my identity, or part of it, had been compromised, along with the identities of some thousands of others. This is no longer such a rare event and a lot of the responsibility for the problem of identity theft lies squarely with those who benefit from the (over)use of credit cards.  Banks, and merchants too, (think Redbox) have brainwashed us into believing that the convenience of card purchases is worth the cost. 

And the banks are winning. The percentage of small purchases (under $10) that are being accomplished with credit cards is steadily rising—as are the fees we’re paying to the banks.

You think inflation is someone else’s responsibility?

Don’t kid yourself.  Banks only value you as a customer while they make money from you. Google credit card deadbeats.” That’s how banks refer to cardholders who pay off their balances every month. What, you thought you were being responsible?  (Google “naive.”)

So, the next time your bank fails to honor a transaction because it is “outside your normal pattern of spending” and then when you frantically call them up, humiliated for being made to look like a real deadbeat, and they tell you that they refused the transaction “for your protection,”  remember who you’re dealing with.  They’re not your friends.

Things worth knowing:

  • Low utilization” using a smaller proportion of your available credit looks better to creditors (your credit score)

  • Minimum $10 purchase part of Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act

  • Beginning Jan 2013 merchants can charge swipe fee up to 4% (except in ten states)

Appalling:

NYTimes article July 2, 2013. Some employers are now paying lower wage workers with debit cards. This forces the workers to pay a fee to get get cash or accomplish other transactions. Saves the employer some payroll costs.