Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Trump's "Across State Lines" Baloney

By executive order President Trump "is expected to direct a trio of agencies to rewrite federal rules to allow trade associations and other groups [to] offer their own health plans" (link). "They will be able to buy, they'll be able to cross state lines and they will get great competitive health care and it will cost the United States nothing," Trump said today.

Baloney. Group insurance has been sold across state lanes for decades. The major kind is employers who buy insurance for their employees who live and work in multiple states. Employers with many employees all in the same state also buy group insurance. For decades state insurance departments or state legislation decided what makes a legitimate group. Now Trump and others want the federal government to decide what makes a legitimate group, and it's likely no rules at all.

However, this will have little affect on insurance underwriting. Insurers will continue to assess the members of very small groups individually. Imagine a group consisting mostly of people in very poor health, e.g. most have had heart attacks. A rational insurer will offer this group a very high medical insurance rate, one commensurate with the poor health of the individual members. There is no miraculous cheap rate as a result of simply being able to form a group. Why would a relatively healthy person -- even if he/she is a member the group -- buy this high-priced group insurance when he/she could buy much cheaper individual insurance?

Trump's move is not near radical enough. The medical insurance market for individuals is a lousy market because the risk pool is too small. The risk pool is too small because millions of individuals have medical insurance via his/her employer's group insurance. The radical move would be to change employer-paid medical insurance like I said here.

In contrast the individual insurance market for individuals over age 65 is large, vibrant and competitive. Many retired people buy Medicare supplement or Medigap policies because they don't have an employer buying post-retirement medical insurance for them.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Sports contests

I was very disappointed that the Cleveland Indians lost 3 games to the New York Yankees, and thus the series, after winning the first 2 games. The Indians had the best W-L record in the American League during the regular season, thanks in part to 22 consecutive wins, an all-time record, during late August to mid-September. Hopes were high for Indians fans.

The thrill of victory… and the agony of defeat - Jim McKay/ABC Sports.

Now it's Cubs vs. Dodgers and Astros vs. Yankees to see who plays in the World Series. Go, Astros!

I finished in first place in my CBS Sports Fantasy Baseball League this year.  I was in the middle of the pack until almost mid-season, suddenly jumped to first, and fell back to 7th in early September. I was fortunate to have Paul Goldschmidt, Carlos Correa, Willson Contreras, Corey Kluber, and Kenley Jensen all season (minus short stints on the disabled list). I grabbed Ryan Zimmerman as a Free Agent early in the season. Zimmerman had a career best year after disappointing ones in 2014-16. I also grabbed Trevor Bauer as a Free Agent for about the last 6 weeks of the season. During those 6 weeks he W5-L1 with an ERA of 3.19.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Amazon HQ2 #2

State and local governments surely want HQ2 for an expanded tax base and economic prosperity. They are willing to give tax breaks and other subsidies and/or privileges to Amazon to get what they want. How much they give in tax breaks and subsidies may make an overall good deal or bad deal financially speaking for existing residents. More often than not politicians will be more generous to Amazon or another company since they are spending other people's money, not their own.

See The Math Won't Add Up For Winner In Amazon HQ2 Contest by Jeffrey Dorfman at Forbes for more about this. An article in today's Cleveland Plain-Dealer about HQ2 is titled Like love-sick puppies, cities woo Amazon. The article begins with 52 cities that are the author's top 52 candidates. She narrows the candidates in stages and finally down to one. That is Denver because it has the space and "willingness to pay to play." Such willingness is to provide tax breaks and other subsidies and/or privileges.

Often the state or local government incurs debt in its effort to attract something like HQ2. The debt and interest thereon add to the burden of taxpayers.

Some locals may get jobs or higher pay at Amazon. Their net benefit will be high. Others may benefit indirectly such as increased revenue to local businesses. Of course, there will the nuisances of more traffic, higher real estate taxes for schools or other infrastructure, etc. Some folks, e.g. retired people on fixed incomes, may receive little or no benefits, or net disadvantage, from HQ2.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Amazon HQ2 #1

Amazon is looking to have a second headquarters (HQ2). It is expected to be a $5 billion investment and offer up to 50,000 jobs. The folks in many cities would like it to be in their city. In choosing the location for HQ2, Amazon has a preference for:
-Metropolitan areas with more than one million people
-A stable and business-friendly environment
-Urban or suburban locations with the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent
-Communities that think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options

HQ2 could be, but does not have to be:
-An urban or downtown campus
-A similar layout to Amazon’s Seattle campus
-A development-prepped site (link).

That is very sketchy. But several websites have given opinions about the leading candidates. According to BloombergView, there are six possible cities that are most likely to become the home of HQ2: Toronto, Boston, Washington, Atlanta, Dallas and Denver. Along with some candidates, this one shows a neat table of data for different criteria, such as tech talent rank and office price per square foot.

My metro area Cleveland is not a leading contender, but its Plain-Dealer on Sep 24 had an interesting article about some of the considerations that Amazon will face at some time. Cleveland's airport at present doesn't have the kind of capacity that could handle a big increase in flights and number of passengers.

Wherever HQ2 goes it will likely boost housing prices.

There is the issue of state and local governments providing incentives, especially tax breaks, to Amazon for locating HQ2 in their state or local area. Amazon has been awarded more than $1 billion in state and local subsidies since 2000, according to estimates by watchdog Good Jobs First.

My next post will consider the pluses and minuses of having HQ2 nearby at a more individual level.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Burns & Novick's The Vietnam War #3

Episodes 8-10 aired and covered events from April, 1969 on. The series is now complete. All episodes are now online here. The film was very well done. I enjoyed it a lot, even though it deeply saddened me a few times. Thank you, Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, and many others involved.

Episode 8 topics include:
-President Nixon starts withdrawing US troops but escalates bombing
-North Vietnam's treatment of POW and South Vietnamese
-Hispanics in US Army
-Fragging by US soldiers
-Ho Chi Minh dies and his successor Le Duan repeats his mission -- unification of Vietnam under one party rule by the Communist Party
-Start of lottery for draft
-Weathermen violence, more protesting
-North Vietnam leaders portray US as nothing but cruel invaders
-My Lai incident hits the media
-Antiwar protests increase, plight of vets
-Negotiations in Paris 
-US troops enter Cambodia, which reignites antiwar movement
-Kent State incident, followed by more campus protests
-Post traumatic stress disorder.

Episode 9, May 1970-March 1973, topics include:
-Treatment of vets after they come home from Vietnam
-Trial of Lt. Calley and others for My Lai
-North Vietnamese coerce prisoners of war to make antiwar statements and call USA a criminal nation
-Vietnam vets against the war, John Kerry testifies before Congress
-May Day tribe, Rennie Davis
-Pentagon Papers, which revealed US gov't leaders knew South Vietnamese were very weak and how strong the enemy was. 
-Documents stolen by Daniel Ellsberg and leaked to press
-Nixon formed "plumbers" to get info on Ellsberg and his co-operatives
-Use of defoliage Agent Orange 
-Rigged election in South Vietnam
-Nixon's great concern about war with the upcoming 1972 election
-Negotiations between US and North Vietnam, US withdrawal and POWs
-One POW, Dr. Kushner,  critical of Kerry testimony
-Dr. Kushner's wife had exceptional views, which North Vietnamese expolited
-1972 invasion by North Vietnam supported by USSR, China
-ARVN collapsing, US resumes bombing, which was very successful
-Huge loss of other Vietnamese lives didn't matter to North Vietnamese leaders
-Nixon orders land mines in water around Hanoi to halt incoming supplies. USSR protested but did nothing.  
-Famous photo of naked South Vietnamese girl  running after bombing
-Wife of POW Kushner speaks at 1972 DNC, supports and nominates McGovern.
-McGovern lied about intervening in peace negotiaions 
-Watergate breakin
-Jane Fonda in Hanoi denouncing POWs for war crimes and USA for aggression and atrocities
-1972 Republican National Convention. Nixon wins reelection

Episode 10
-POWs invited to White House.
-March 1973 last American troops left Vietnam, except a few Marines to guard the American embassy. Brutal civil war between North and South resumed.
-John Dean testifies about Watergate breakin.
-Russia and China more reliable allies to North Vietnam. South Vietnam too poor to alone withstand North Vietnam takeover. ARVN soldiers abandoned their duties. President Thieu resigned and fled country.
-Many South Vietnamese tried to escape Vietnam, expecting the worse from the North.
-North Vietnam established re-education camps.
-China invades North Vietnam.
-Post-traumatic stress disorder
-Vietnam Memorial. Many liked but one vet calls it a black scar.
-In 1985 a USA vet visits Vietnam. Economy regaining prosperity and people welcomed him. USA wanted accounting of POWs/MIAs and Vietnam refused. They relinquished in 1994 and USA lifted embargo.
-Another vet's return trip.
-What became of people interviewed for the film. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Burns & Novick's The Vietnam War #2

Episodes 6-7 covered the events of 1968 (an exception noted below). What a year! The Tet Offensive starting January 30, the mini-Tet offensive in May, North Vietnam's massacre of South Vietnamese in Hue, Martin Luther King's assassination, Bobby Kennedy's assassination, the Democratic National Convention in Chicago with the attending riots and violence, Nixon winning the presidential election, attempted peace talks including arguing about tables.

Mostly news to me was the extent of North Vietnam propaganda and lies to Vietnamese people, and the cruel treatment of them, hordes of women included, sending them off to battle.

The testimony of a Japanese-American U.S. Army officer in Episode 7 was very powerful.

Also in Episode 7 was a hilarious comment about General Creighton Abrams, who took over command of U.S. operations in the Vietnam War in 1968 (after General Westmoreland). Abrams was a "soldier's soldier", and "the kind of guy who could inspire aggression in a begonia."

The My Lai Massacre occurred in 1968 but was not included. There is a brief mention of it in the summary for Episode 8, covering April 1969-May 1970, which airs tonight. I suppose the film makers put it there because it didn't hit the news until about 18 months after it happened.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Burns & Novick's The Vietnam War #1

We have been watching the film series, The Vietnam War, Episodes 1-5 the latest 5 days, Sun-Thu. There will be 5 more episodes Sun-Thu next week. They can be viewed on PBS's website shortly after they are aired on television. The whole series is 18 hours.

I didn't care much for Episode 1, maybe because of the time span covered. But 2-5 have been excellent. I learned quite a bit from them, especially the USA inside politics the press didn't report at the time. LBJ was an awful human being. Yet he was funny with the colorful Texan language and idioms he used. I found some scenes unpleasant, even gruesome. I am amazed at some of the scenes captured by video cameras -- how somebody managed to be filming in those particular circumstances and Burns et al got and used their film. Episode 5's time frame ends just before the 1968 Tet Offensive. Having been there during that peak period of the war, the next episodes will be interesting.

Back in the USA, a coincidence occurred without my being aware of it at the time. I visited some friends in St. Louis about 2 weeks ago. I was headed home at the St. Louis airport, walking from the central part to the gate where my flight was to be. Walking toward me was Ken Burns. I didn't do anything to show that I recognized him. I didn't know then about the film series. If I had known, I probably would have said something to him and that I was a Vietnam vet.