Sunday, July 27, 2014

Save Money and Support Democracy?
A recent edition of the Akron Beacon Journal ran an editorial from Cass Sunstein, Professor of Law at Harvard, that is well worth thinking about, personally and as educators with students who waste their scarce resources in ways that the analysis here might help prevent.   
You can read the entire commentary at this link, and I hope this selection encourages you to do just that.

At CVS, a 100-tablet package of store-brand aspirin costs you $1.99. Bayer aspirin is three times that much. Nonetheless, millions of people end up buying Bayer. When it comes to headache remedies, salt, sugar and hundreds of other important products, many people choose national brands even when a cheaper store brand is at hand. Why?”

A very good question.

“For the first time, we have solid answers, thanks to a study by Dutch economist Bart Bronnenberg of Tilburg University and three colleagues from the University of Chicago. They found a simple correlation: The more informed you are, the more likely you are to choose store brands. Pharmacists, for example, are especially likely to buy store brands of headache medicines. Chefs are far less inclined to select national brands of salt and sugar than are nonchefs who are otherwise demographically identical. In other words, national brands are succeeding largely because of consumer ignorance.”

If living in a modern democratic society requires us all to rely on others expertise (we do not need to be a chemist to pick up our prescription or become an obstetrician to have a child or auto mechanic to drive a car, etc) than there are lessons we can learn from this study.  The experts are overwhelmingly buying the cheaper, generic, store brands (in their areas of expertise) and saving billions of dollars.

“It’s interesting that health-care professionals show no special interest in buying store-brand salts, sugars or baking sodas; for those products, their choices look a lot like most other consumers’. And while chefs do show a preference for store-brand headache remedies, it’s not nearly as great as that of health-care professionals. For the most part, people’s knowledge is domain-specific.”

The least informed, and those least willing to regularly and routinely rely on the expertise of others (and insist on structures, like a robust regulatory regime, that make this even more rational) are the most likely to waste their own money and support a system of branded information that misinforms (everyone, but even more so those same consumers) by design.

Friday, July 25, 2014

As the political spectrum shifts, suddenly the middle is on the left
The generally conservative Politico ran this very thoughtful commentary recently. 

Click on the link for full text, and here is just a taste to get you interested.

"Bailouts for bankers. When the economic bets made by the wealthiest Americans soured in 2008, the taxpayers picked up the tab….[read more at the link]

Democracy for sale. The wealthy, abetted by the most out-of-touch Supreme Court in many decades, also have been permitted to purchase an outsized voice in American politics….[read more at link]

Gun massacres. I am just sickened by our tendency to accept disturbingly more frequent gun massacres as the price of being an American….

This has all made me shift my thinking, not so much about partisan politics but in feeling a sense of disquiet about both major political parties—and about our entire system….

Where might this all lead? I am no better at predicting the future than anyone else. I think there are many others like me who are just as puzzled….

…At the very least, I hope we will cease to be a nation at ease with torture and inequality, a country that once again steers by its ideals."

Thomas E. Ricks is author of five books about the U.S. military, including Fiasco and The Generals.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Cecilia & Colton, seafood, salt and sand.  Hanging with Mom & Dad in the big room.  Red Sox games, card games, paddleball, body surfing, wiffleball, frisbee, and smores. Bonfires and wild turkeys and thunderstorms.

This year included visits to the Saltmarsh.

Dinner for 22 at Jim's.

Whole belly clams at The Old Mill Diner.

Ice cream at Brickley's.

Chowder at the Cove.

Noodles at Luk Thai.

Oysters at Matunucks.

Mom & Dad, Lori & Julie, Ray & Amanda, C&C, Tom & Sarah, Carolyn & Greg, Linda & Paula & Trevor, cousins...

There is something about the shock of diving into the cold surf that cleanses the soul, just for a wonderfully perfect moment

the first sip of a frosty belgian white

washing down that first bite of deep fried clams

amid the hubbub

about great fries, creamy chowdha, pass the wine

sitting next to Jules

Dad on the other side of her

sun setting bathing their faces in warm light

G is off hunting for crabs

Mom and Tom are laughing about nothing in particular

...first BBQ and bonfire at the round house!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Open hearts, Open minds
It is easy (and powerful people make it easier) to fall into a the heartless and mind-numbing trap where we only interact with people like ourselves, nodding appreciatively at our own ideas being repeated back to us with great passion.

If this cartoon made you feel like we need to interact more with people unlike ourselves, good.  If the cartoon made you pause, maybe the one below will do the job for you and cause others to pause and rethink.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Conservative Columnist Robert Samuelson On the CEO Aristocracy
In 1980 CEO compensation was 30 times what a typical worker earned.  Today it is 300 times.  While stock prices have gone up during the same period, according to this conservative economic journalist "little of the gains reflect better management."  This is a short article worth reading.  He concludes with this...

"Americans dislike aristocracy.  Unless companies can find a more restrained pay system, they risk an anti-capitalist backlash.  That is the ultimate danger."

I agree that this risk exists, but I wonder if there is not plenty of danger already in play for the millions of American working families whose real wages have stagnated since 1979, while increased worker productivity has generated explosive profits for the 1/3 of the 1 percent who are CEOs.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

When We Wonder Why
The British spend $3,400 and we spend $8,500 per person for health care…and the British system ranks #1 in quality…we ranked last.

The US is currently wobbling under the cumulative weight of a $17 trillion dollar national debt.  No one thinks this is a good thing, but it seems most of us think all sorts of things about this situation that completely miss the mark.

For instance, we have been steadily moving in the right direction, but opinion polls show an overwhelming number of us are not seeing this.  Our annual deficit (that creates the debt, one year at a time) peaked in 2009 as a result of the bank-driven near collapse of the economy and has been reduced by more than 50% this year…and it will be still lower next year. 

Polling data also shows that, while concerned, we remain both unwilling to cut programs and unwilling to raise taxes…the two steps we need to take if we want to increase the pace of moving in the right direction.  In fact, we only agree on one way to reduce the debt: reduce foreign aid.  Unfortunately, xenophobes have persuaded us that foreign aid is as much as 28% of our expenditures, when it is actually less than 1%, so that even eliminating foreign aid will have no impact on the debt.

When we wonder why so many of us are so misinformed, there are many culprits:  consumer culture saturating communication channels with a public pedagogy that encourages us to ignore science and forget our own history, our longstanding tendency to conflate irresponsibility with freedom, and elites willing to shamelessly mislead us…like our former Vice President Cheney did yet again this past week.

Cheney blamed our current president for the chaos in Iraq, because our current president implemented the withdrawal plan Cheney’s administration negotiated and signed, attempting to re-write history to erase his own errors that brought us to war in Iraq in the first place.  EJ Dionne reminds us…

On March 16, 2003, just days before the war started, Cheney sat down with the late Tim Russert on NBC’s Meet the Press for what still stands as the most revealing of the prewar interviews. Cheney was adamant that “to suggest that we need several hundred thousand troops there after military operations cease, after the conflict ends, I don’t think is accurate. I think that’s an overstatement.”

A Rand study commissioned by Cheney found that more than 2 million American soldiers fought in the Iraq and Afganistan.

“We will, in fact, be greeted as liberators,” he famously said, and proceeded to play down the very sectarian divisions that are plaguing the country now.

Think about exactly how wrong this statement is now and that, at the time, it is difficult to imagine anyone believing this statement to be true.  Meaning our VP was willing to simply lie to put our young men and women in harm’s way with no exit strategy or plan for how it might advance our national interest.  Fellow Republican, Rand Paul, claims that the billion dollar, no-bid, contracts Halliburton received for the war are the reason Cheney chose to ‘snooker’ the American public.

Russert asked: “And you are convinced the Kurds, the Sunnis, the Shiites will come together in a democracy?” Cheney replied quickly: “They have so far.”

Since we have to assume Cheney is not stupid and he understands the politics of the Middle East, this comment can only be interpreted as another willful effort to mislead, and to put millions of American lives at risk for decades in the process.

Ah yes, regime change would work out just fine — better than fine. “Extremists in the region would have to rethink their strategy of jihad,” Cheney had told the Veterans of Foreign Wars seven months earlier. “Moderates throughout the region would take heart.” Plus a bonus: “Our ability to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process would be enhanced.” This was the war that would cure all that ailed us.

Thanks to the Cheney op-ed, we can see how Obama’s hawkish critics are out to create a double standard. Whenever they are called out for how mistaken they were about Iraq in the first place, they piously lecture against “relitigating the past” and say we must instead look forward. At the same time, many of them feel perfectly free to trash the president in extreme and even vile terms.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Let's have an honest debate
Lt. Governor Mary Taylor, who has a history of misleading us on the ACA (see PolitifactOhio story at the link, finding her claims to be 'mostly false').

That same Mary Taylor put out a press release in August of 2013 to announce to Ohio residents that the cost of health insurance would go up 41% in the state as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

Headline news at the time, despite her documented struggle with accuracy on this subject.

Today, we know that the cost of obtaining health insurance has dropped nearly 50% for Ohio residents, as a result of Obamacare. But, the story was buried in section B of the hard copy paper and does not even appear in the online newspaper.

Nationwide, 8 million Americans have signed up for PRIVATE health insurance through the ACA exchanges.  Those receiving subsidies are paying an average of $82 per month, which is one-fourth what they would have paid without the ACA.

Why is this not also headline news? 

Why does Mary Taylor want to sabotage our debates about health insurance?