Friday, May 30, 2014

VA Scandal Explained ... Public Sector Unions and Bureaucrats Run the VA Monopoly ... Veterans and Taxpayers Suffer the Consequences

Ever wonder why nonperforming VA personnel can't simply be fired for not doing their jobs?

Or why veterans can't go to other facilities of their free choice and be given vouchers to get prompt and adequate care when the VA is unable to provide it in a timely and patient centered manner?

Or why these common sense measures are frowned upon and openly opposed by the people who apparently run and work at the VA?

Or why compensation bonuses for VA leadership personnel are routinely awarded while employees lie about wait times and such?

Or why Democrats support the VA as it is and don't insist on employees being held accountable for gross negligence and shameful neglect of the needs of our veterans under their supposed care?

Well, wonder no longer, my fellow Americans. It's the government sanctioned public sector union officials who are in control of the politically motivated VA officials, and union leaders aren't primarily interested or focused on either (1) taking good care of patients, aka their veteran customers, or the bill payers, aka the citizen taxpayers.

Sadly for all of us, the government sponsored unions, with the active support of their Democratic party allies in Congress and at the White House, are obviously in this strictly for themselves and to hell with everybody else, including veterans and taxpayers alike.

Big Labor's VA Choke Hold is subtitled 'How Democrats put their allies before the well-being of veterans:'

"We know with certainty that there is at least one person the Department of Veterans Affairs is serving well. That would be the president of local lodge 1798 of the National Federation of Federal Employees.

The Federal Labor Relations Authority, the agency that mediates federal labor disputes, earlier this month ruled in favor of this union president, in a dispute over whether she need bother to show up at her workplace—the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Martinsburg, W.Va. According to FLRA documents, this particular VA employee is 100% "official time"—D.C. parlance for federal employees who work every hour of every work day for their union, at the taxpayer's expense.

In April 2012, this, ahem, VA "employee" broke her ankle and declared that she now wanted to do her nonwork for the VA entirely from the comfort of her home. Veterans Affairs attempted a compromise: Perhaps she could, pretty please, come in two days a week? She refused, and complained to the FLRA that the VA was interfering with her right to act as a union official. The VA failed to respond to the complaint in the required time (perhaps too busy caring for actual veterans) and so the union boss summarily won her case.

The VA battle is only just starting, but any real reform inevitably ends with a fight over organized labor. Think of it as the federal version of Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan and other states where elected officials have attempted to rein in the public-sector unions that have hijacked government agencies for their own purpose. Fixing the VA requires first breaking labor's grip, and the unions are already girding for that fight.               

Federal labor unions are generally weak by comparison to state public-sector unions, though the VA might be an exception. The VA boasts one of the largest federal workforces and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki bragged in 2010 that two-thirds of it is unionized. That's a whopping 200,000 union members, represented by the likes of the American Federation of Government Employees and the Service Employees International Union. . . .

{T}he VA in 2012 paid 258 employees to be 100% "full-time," receiving full pay and benefits to do only union work. Seventeen had six-figure salaries, up to $132,000. According to the Office of Personnel Management, the VA paid for 988,000 hours of "official" time in fiscal 2011, a 23% increase from 2010.

Moreover, as Sens. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) and Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) noted in a 2013 letter to Mr. Shinseki, the vast majority of these "official" timers were nurses, instrument technicians pharmacists, dental assistants and therapists, who were being paid to do union work even as the VA tried to fill hundreds of jobs and paid overtime to other staff.

As for patient-case backlogs, the unions have helped in their creation. Contract-negotiated work rules over job classifications and duties and seniorities are central to the "bureaucracy" that fails veterans. More damaging has been the union hostility to any VA attempt to give veterans access to alternative sources of care—which the unions consider a direct job threat. The American Federation of Government Employees puts out regular press releases blasting any "outsourcing" of VA work to non-VA-union members.

The VA scandal is now putting an excruciating spotlight on the most politically sensitive agency in D.C., and the unions are worried about where this is headed. They watched in alarm as an overwhelming 390 House members—including 160 Democrats—voted on May 21 to give the VA more power to fire senior executives, a shot over the rank-and-file's bow. They watched in greater alarm as Mr. Shinseki said the VA would be letting more veterans seek care at private facilities in areas where the department's capacity is limited. . . . The union fear is that Democrats, in a tough election year, will be pressured toward reforms that break labor's VA stronghold."

Summing Up

The VA is a bloated and inefficient government run monopoly. No competition allowed.

And the public sector government supported unions are in control. Very much so. Because it's government funded, satisfying customers isn't even a small part of the equation.

Meanwhile, most of the Democrats in Washington are fully supportive of the situation as it exists. It's politics as usual.

So our so-called VA leaders have let the bonuses flow to undeserving and lying managers and have made sure that union officials have 100% of their compensated "on-the-job" and taxpayer funded time to do "union work" instead of doing the much needed patient centered work for veterans.

That simply means that deserving veterans and unsuspecting taxpayers have been a mere afterthought, if that, of the people who really run the VA.

Until now, that is. We the People are the ones really in charge, and now we're both informed and pissed.

That's my take.

Thanks. Bob.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

More of the Market Pundits and "Experts" are Getting Serious about Providing Worthy Investment Advice to Individual Investors

More and more investment advisory services are finally accepting and openly acknowledging the fact based reality that index funds are the most attractive vehicle for most people saving and investing for their retirement years. It's about time.

The externally provided expertise needed will be in the long term planning and executing, and not in the day-to-day doing. In other words, most individuals need help in acquiring the knowledge that inflation beating returns over time are to be found in stocks and that a well diversified portfolio of passively 'managed' index funds will almost always beat active fund managers and stock brokers who advocate in-and-out active trading. For the long haul, stocks are safe and the only way to go down the road to retirement security.

That's the fundamental reason I've long recommended a dollar averaging low cost S&P 500 index fund as the best approach to long term investing by us 'amateurs.'

How Charles Schwab got religion on retirement indexing tells about the growing trend of experts advising that index funds are the best way to achieve long term investing success:

"What do Charles Schwab, Warren Buffett, Jim Cramer, Larry Fink, Ben Stein and John Bogle have in common?  . . . they all think that most Americans, up to 98% of us, should be using index funds to build a retirement nest egg .                                        

Schwab appears to be the most recent convert to the passive approach, telling reporters that tracking the indexes is far better than stock picking , even better than manager picking. "There's somebody out there, I know, who can pick the best managers. It may not be me," Schwab said. "That's why I stick to index funds."

You might find Schwab's candor a bit dumbfounding at first. After all, isn't he in the business of telling people how to "win" at investing? Hasn't the message been that trading is the way to go?

Sure, but he's also a smart businessman . . . . that book of business increasingly is to promote passive investing through portfolio management services, not hotshot online trading tools. . . . 

A few small, high-end trading services are still out there, catering to that 2% of investors who think they've got an edge on Wall Street and the few thousand individual money managers who work for them. They're deluded, but it's a free world. . . .                                       

That leaves behind 98%, the balance of investors who very much should avoid the siren call of trading.                                                

Right about now you might be thinking, Jim Cramer? The "Mad Money" guy? Yes, indeed. Here's a key quote from his book Stay Mad for Life , on page 126:
"The job of an index fund manager is simply to make sure the fund matches the index. These funds are universally cheaper than actively managed funds, and any index fund will consistently beat the vast majority of mutual funds, if only because the fees are so much lower."

Yes, Cramer advocates stock picking on TV, but when asked directly he falls back on the Schwab argument, that trading and manager picking is reasonable for a select few but not for most people and definitely not for anyone who has other things to do in life, such as focus on a career and raise a family. . . . The business opportunity in investment management isn't the tiny fraction of active investors. . . . 

No, the real money is that 98% of people who want expertise and guidance on how to minimize risk and ensure that they reach retirement with plenty of savings. Millions upon millions of Americans need exactly this kind of trustworthy guidance, and exceedingly few of them have access to it.

That's why . . . folks such as Charles Schwab seem to have suddenly gotten religion on passive investing.

Because it's past time for a serious approach to a serious problem — how to retire safely and on time."

Summing Up

So listen up, fellow amateurs. Here's how we beat the pros.

For the long haul, saving regularly by dollar cost averaging and then investing those savings in a passive S&P 500 index fund may not be exciting, but it is the 'winning way.'

The real effort is to become sufficiently knowledgeable about why saving and investing regularly in substantial amounts is essential to arriving at old age with enough money to take us to the end of life's road.

And besides that, today's younger workers will have more years in retirement than they will spend working. And their financial comfort during those retirement years will likely be dependent on their own success in a 'self-managed' 401(k) plan and not an employer managed and guaranteed pension plan benefit. Those days are either gone or going fast.

So the best advice of all for individuals entering the work force is perhaps that given by the Boy Scouts: --- Be prepared!

That's my take.

Thanks. Bob.

Friday, May 23, 2014

John McCain's Sincere and Straightforward Remarks Concerning Memorial Day, the VA Scandal and President Obama .... And a Personal Note About My Old Friend "Ratz"

One of my good friends from college was Dick Ratzlaff.

Dick grew up in Aberdeen, South Dakota where he played high school basketball. Upon graduation he attended and graduated from the University of Nebraska's Navy ROTC program. He then became a Navy pilot and was shot down in Vietnam. Dick was a POW for almost seven years from March 21, 1966 until his release on February 12, 1975.

I was walking through Chicago's O'Hare Airport in the spring of 1975 and heard someone call my name. It was Dick and he was returning from a visit to the White House. Dick was the same old Dick to me, but of course he wasn't. We saw each other only a few times after that and talked on the phone a few more times as well.

Dick was awarded the Silver Star, went to law school and served as a JAG lawyer in the Navy until 1980. He died in 1981 from an illness first contracted and then left untreated for those long years while he was a POW in the "Hanoi Hilton."

Like Dick, Senator John McCain has served his country well, was a Navy pilot and was a long time POW --- almost as long in captivity as my friend "Ratz." I don't know Senator McCain, but I always think of Dick when the good Senator comments on military matters.

I know Ratz would agree with what Mr. McCain has to say in The Scandal That Shadows Memorial Day. The editorial is subtitled 'The government has failed in its responsibility to veterans. Where is the administration's sense of urgency?' Now let's see what Senator McCain has to say about all this:

"Memorial Day is a sacred observance in America's democracy—the day that the nation honors and thanks those who have worn the uniform of the United States and have served and sacrificed in its defense. We all love our country and the values it embodies. But there is no greater demonstration of that love in a democracy than those who freely bear arms and head into harm's way, willing to lay down their lives for the sake of their fellow citizens. For the citizens on whose behalf this sacrifice is made, there is no greater responsibility than to care for those who have returned from the fight, to help them bind up their wounds and carry on.

It is therefore the height of shame and tragedy that on this Memorial Day the nation is seized with the unfolding scandal of the government's failure to meet its highest responsibility to veterans and wounded warriors. At least 26 Department of Veterans Affairs health-care facilities are under investigation for chronic mismanagement, deceitful and self-serving behavior, and inadequate provision of care.

Whistleblowers allege that these and other failures at VA facilities may have led to the deaths of some 40 veterans. Simply put, America's veterans are losing confidence in the one government agency that exists solely to care for them.

This is more than a government failure. It is a violation of a solemn vow. And the buck stops with the president of the United States.
Department of Veteran Affairs headquarters in Washington Reuters

Unfortunately, as this scandal at the VA escalated for nearly two months, President Obama was nowhere to be seen. There were expressions of anger through presidential proxies, but nothing from the commander in chief himself. And when the president finally did speak about the crisis on Wednesday, there was only a recitation of talking points, expressions of confidence in the system, without a real sense of emotion and urgency.

A VA official resigned shortly before his planned retirement, and a White House staffer with no relevant VA or military experience was tapped to look into the crisis. But no meaningful action has been taken.

The sad fact is that the same charges then-Sen. Obama levied against his predecessor's stewardship of the VA in 2008—that it was "an outrage," "a betrayal," that "we are all dishonored"—are no less true today, just as Mr. Obama's vaunted campaign promises to reform the VA system had few results. The VA is arguably in worse shape more than five years into his presidency than when Mr. Obama took office. Yet even today, the president seems to be treating this as a political problem to be managed, not a national crisis to be solved.

The VA undoubtedly has many committed, talented employees who do valuable, lifesaving work every day. But it is also undeniable that the VA has many serious, long-standing problems. On behalf of Arizona veterans, as well as whistleblowing doctors and nurses, my office has handled some 2,000 cases since January 2013 alone, helping veterans to navigate the sometimes soul-crushing Veterans Affairs bureaucracy. But the allegations being discussed today, some of which were reportedly known to administration officials for many years, go well beyond what we have seen in the past.

What is needed now is real action and systemic reform of the VA. As a first step, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki —a career soldier, a Vietnam combat veteran and a man whose career of service I have long admired—needs to carefully consider whether the best thing he can do now to help restore the nation's confidence in the agency he leads is to stand down from his post.

More broadly, Sens. Richard Burr, Tom Coburn and I are working on legislation that would strengthen the ability of VA administrators to hire and fire those charged with providing care and, most important, give far greater flexibility to veterans to get the care they need and deserve, where and when they want it, whether in the VA system or not.

Veterans have earned the right to choose where and when they get their medical care, and it is our responsibility to afford them this option. Continuing to require that they rely on a system riddled with dysfunction, while waiting for broader reform, is patently unacceptable.

As Americans gather this weekend for Memorial Day picnics and parades, in cemeteries all across the country a bugler will sound "Taps" to remind us of the sacrifices that the holiday is intended to commemorate. As we do, let us all remember Abraham Lincoln's challenge to the country, an axiom that describes the VA's solemn obligation today, "to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan."

Today, the president, our nation and government, are failing that test. We must all do better tomorrow—much better."

Summing Up

Our veterans deserve the treatment and medical care from our country that the North Vietnamese didn't provide to my old friend Dick, aka Ratz.

There's no excuse for this crap coming from too many of the Washington politicians today, including President Obama.

So here's what I say --- gut up and do the right thing, Mr. President.

You wanted the job of Commander-in-chief and now you have it.

So try doing something nonpolitical for a change and just do what's right.

Take good care of our veterans or give them enough money so they can take good care of themselves.

That's my take.

Thanks. Bob.

A Memorial Day Commentary .... Thanks, America's Veterans .... It's Not We the People Who are Ungrateful for the Service and Sacrifices of our Honored Veterans .... It's the Government System, Stupid! .... Our Government is Nuts .... Problems with the VA, ObamaCare and Elsewhere .... A Government Bureaucracy is a Government Bureaucracy .... Nothing Productive or Customer Centric About It

There has recently been a bill introduced in Congress which would allow the head of the VA to fire employees for gross incompetence. WOW!

For far too long now our government bureaucracy has ceded its responsibility to conduct operations efficiently, effectively and fairly. (And lest we think it's only a VA issue, we all also know that it's virtually impossible to fire a teacher or most other government employees for anything short of being convicted of a major crime. The public sector union officials are too often in charge and the politically connected inmates are all too often running the asylum. That's the plain truth.)

Yes, we can all sleep well at night knowing that our duly elected public servants and taxpayer representatives are being vigilant about spending taxpayer dollars carefully and responsibly and assuring that our government employees are conducting themselves and acting in the absolute  best interests of We the People. NOT! What a catastrophe!

But wait. There's even more. President Obama sternly says that eventually he may even try to hold someone accountable for the VA scandal, depending on an official government investigation and the resulting report's contents to be released at a later and unspecified date.

{NOTE: Here's what I believe based on several decades of work in the private sector trying to please both customers and shareholders while working closely with my fellow employees. My performance was undoubtedly aided over the years by knowing that I didn't have "tenure." I was an employee terminable at will, if you will. That simply means that my employment could have been ended at any time at either the will of my employer or myself, and for any reason. Over several decades that 'terminable at will' arrangement worked out well for both my employers and me, and I was undoubtedly a stronger performer for having been held "accountable" to get the job done. But that's enough about my past. Let's return to the issues du jour in the public sector in general and the VA in particular.}

The VA's overall performance record is shameful, the issues are very real, and the problems of accountability and customer care have existed for a long time. And the inability or unwillingness of government officials to hold other government employees  responsible and "accountable" for their derelict actions over the years has contributed greatly to the fiasco.

And with respect to the alleged shortage of funds, my bet is that there will never be enough money for government as it is to do the job properly for our veterans, productively and in a high quality and cost effective manner. That's simply not the way government bureaucracies function. They cost too much and do too little for the benefit of their purported customers. Thus, taxpayers pay and the customer suffers.

But before continuing, let's make one thing perfectly clear ---- It's not the people who work for government who are at fault; it's the bureaucratic and non-customer focused and unproductive system within which they work. It's the system, Stupid!

The Bureaucrat Sitting on Your Doctor's Shoulder is a sad but true tale of woe about government and its sorry ways. While the article tells a specific story about medical care, it also exemplifies the way the government bureaucracy works or, better said, doesn't work for the benefit of both the health care system's customers and principal payers, aka We the People:

"The bond of trust between patient and physician has always been the essential ingredient in medicine, assuring that the patient receives individual attention and the best possible medical care.

Yet often lost in the seemingly endless debate over the Affordable Care Act is how the health-care bureaucracy, with its rigid procedures and regulations, undermines trust and degrades care. In my pediatric ophthalmology practice, I have experienced firsthand how government limits a doctor's options and threatens the traditional doctor-patient bond.

I recently operated on a child with strabismus (crossed eyes). This child was covered by Medicaid. I was required to obtain surgical pre-authorization using a Current Procedural Terminology, or CPTcode for medical identification and billing purposes. The CPT code identified the particular procedure to be performed. Medicaid approved my surgical plan, and the surgery was scheduled.

During the surgery, I discovered the need to change my plan to accommodate findings resulting from a previous surgery by another physician. Armed with new information, I chose to operate on different muscles from the ones noted on the pre-approved plan. The revised surgery was successful, and the patient obtained straight eyes.
However, because I filed for payment using the different CPT code for the surgery I actually performed, Medicaid was not willing to adjust its protocol. The government denied all payment.

Ironically, the code-listed payment for the procedure I ultimately performed was an amount 40% less than the amount approved for the initially authorized surgery. For over a year, I challenged Medicaid about its decision to deny payment. I wrote numerous letters and spoke to many Medicaid employees explaining the predicament. Eventually I gave up fighting what had obviously become a losing battle.

Every surgeon must have the option to modify and change a surgical plan according to actual anatomical findings that only become apparent during surgery. For example, if a general surgeon operates on a patient with a suspected acute appendicitis and finds that the patient is actually suffering from an ovarian cyst, that doctor must be free to change the plan and do what is best for the patient. The physician should not be denied payment simply because of a rigid government requirement to follow only the pre-approved plan.

We all expect that doctors will do what is best for us according to their best judgment. This is part of the oath that doctors take when they graduate from medical school. When the government interferes with the doctor's right to select the treatment course and perform a necessary procedure, the integrity of the entire health-delivery system is compromised.

This same rigidity affects the dispensing of medications. I recently had to contend with a pharmacist's unwillingness to go against Medicaid rules and dispense a prescription for an eye drop medication for my patient, a teenager with glaucoma. This disease, involving high intraocular pressure, threatens sight if it is not controlled by medication.

My patient's glaucoma had been well controlled by a particular eye drop dispensed in a bottle available only in one size containing a dosage that would last for two months. Medicaid regulations only allowed the pharmacy to fill a prescription for a one-month supply. Medicaid did not want to approve my prescription.

The pharmacist asked me if I would change the prescription to order another Medicaid-approved medication that would satisfy the one-month-only supply policy. I refused because my patient's ocular pressure was well controlled by the particular medicine I had requested. Her vision was preserved because of that drug's effectiveness. Only after numerous contentious calls with the pharmacist and Medicaid was I able to obtain the prescription. Why should a physician have to struggle with the government for the most effective care for a patient?

Another example involved a life-threatening situation. I examined a 14-month-old child with the symptoms of Horner's Syndrome, a condition that can be caused by a neuroblastoma (a malignant tumor). I ordered a CT scan of the neck and chest, as these are the two most common sites where this tumor appears. Medicaid approved a CT scan of the chest only. I spent several hours on the telephone pressuring my state's Medicaid officials before I received permission to have both the chest and neck scanned. The scan of the chest was negative, but the scan of the neck revealed a malignant tumor. A pediatric surgeon removed the tumor and the child is doing well.

Had I accepted Medicaid's protocol and only obtained a scan of the chest, that child might not be alive today. Is that battle with government bureaucracy one that you are comfortable having your doctor fight when your child's life is at stake?

People of means, as well as those who need substantial financial assistance, must be able to trust their doctors. When government sets up rigid protocols that control the surgical procedures a doctor may perform, that limit the medicines approved for treatment, and that deny a critical diagnostic scan that may save a patient's life, the bond of trust is broken."

Summing Up

When I worked in the private sector, we used to joke that the reward for doing a good job that day was that we got to keep our job and come back and do it again the next day.

That kind of talk, serious or not, sure wouldn't fly in the public sector.

As a taxpayer and citizen, however, I like the customer centered and shareholder focused ways of the private sector much more than the sickness of the government knows best bureaucracies. Again, it's not the people but the system that matters. And government bureaucracies suck.

Productivity, cost control, customer focus and customer satisfaction reign supreme to the private sector. In fact, they're all absolutely essential ingredients if a company and its employees are to succeed and have high paying and fulfilling jobs over a lengthy period of time. The market works its magic and customers rule the roost.

In the public sector, however, that's not the way it works. Not at all. Again, it's the system.

And that, my friends, is why things like the VA scandal happen, why the educational system sucks, why ObamaCare won't work out well, why Doctors are upset, and why government is so needlessly wasteful and costly.


And there's lots more to say, but you get the message. And here's another message.

Happy Memorial Day weekend to one and all, aka We the People. And a special and heartfelt thank you, America's Veterans, one and all, from a grateful fellow citizen for a job well done.

I only wish We the rest of the People and our elected officials and government employees had done our jobs and fulfilled our obligations to you half as well as you have performed your duties and fulfilled your obligations as Americans.

On this summer starting Memorial Day weekend, may God Bless America and may He especially bless America's Veterans!

That's my take.

Thanks. Bob.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

VA Issues ... Rationing, Waste, Lack of Customer Care and "Big Brother" Government Control .... Vouchers Would Solve the Problem ... ObamaCare's Headed the Same Way as the VA

The following editorial, albeit lengthy, is too good to quote only in brief excerpts. Thus, please take the time to digest its contents fully with respect to government knows best "help" and the broader meaning of the various VA and related ongoing issues being covered in the media. Politics sucks.

Our veterans and the rest of We the People deserve better service and overall value (received benefits in relation to the cost thereof) from those who purport to serve us. Much better.

Had enough yet of Big Brother government knows best control, waste and utter neglect of the best interests of We the People and our veterans? Troubled by the fact that gross incompetence by government officials goes unpunished and can't even be punished, given today's bloated and costly bureaucracy and public sector union rules?

Vouchers, anyone? Freedom to choose? Individual control? Market based health care?

The Government Health-Care Model is subtitled 'The Veterans scandal shows where ObamaCare ends up:'

"President Obama addressed the Veterans Affairs scandal on Wednesday, saying he's waiting for an Inspector General "audit" of what went wrong. And the press corps is debating whether VA Secretary Eric Shinseki should be fired. These are sideshows. The real story of the VA scandal is the failure of what liberals have long hailed as the model of government health care.

Don't take our word for it. As recently as November 2011, Paul Krugman praised the VA as a triumph of "socialized medicine," as he put it: "What's behind this success? Crucially, the V.H.A. is an integrated system, which provides health care as well as paying for it. So it's free from the perverse incentives created when doctors and hospitals profit from expensive tests and procedures, whether or not those procedures actually make medical sense."

Ah, yes, the VA lacks the evil profit motive. What the egalitarians ignore, however, is that a government system contains its own "perverse incentives," such as rationing that leads to treatment delays and preventable deaths, which the bureaucracy then tries to cover up. This isn't an accident or one-time error. It is inherent in a system that allocates resources by political force rather than individual consumer choices. The VA is ObamaCare's ultimate destination.


The VA operates on a "global budget" that Congress sets each year to provide veterans a guaranteed level of benefits. All veterans are entitled to free preventive screenings, immunizations, lab services and EKGs. Most are required to pay little to nothing out of pocket for medical appointments, hospital care and drugs.

All of this creates an ever-growing demand for more services, but in a world of inevitably limited resources. As in every government-run system, the only way the VA can provide universal, low-cost health care is by rationing. At the VA, this means long waiting lists to see doctors and get the "free" treatment veterans are entitled to.              
So it's no surprise that allegations are spilling out that VA facilities keep secret waiting lists to hide queues that exceed the government's targets. A retired doctor at a veterans hospital in Phoenix last month charged that staff concealed months-long delays for as many as 1,600 veterans, allegedly resulting in 40 preventable deaths. Excessive wait-times have also been reported in Fort Collins, Durham, Cheyenne, Austin and Chicago, among others.

A new Inspector General report is all but certain to reaffirm the conclusions from its 2005, 2007 and 2012 reports. To wit, VA centers fudge their data. The VA has consistently boasted in its performance reviews that more than 90% of patients receive appointments within 14 days of their "desired date." Yet according to the IG's 2012 report, the measures "had no real value" because the VA "does not have a reliable and accurate method of determining whether they are providing patients timely access" to care.

VA officials claim backlogs are due to difficulty hiring and retaining staff, but that's another problem endemic to government health care. Compensation is often too low to attract doctors, particularly in high-demand specialties like physical therapy and gastroenterology. While VA medical centers can refer patients for private consultations to reduce backlogs, they rarely do.

Last year the IG reported that the VA had given $1.02 million in September 2011 to a medical center in Columbia, South Carolina, for private colonoscopies to address a backlog of 2,500 patients. But in January 2012—by then the wait list had grown to more than 3,800—the Columbia VA's business office instructed staff not to "send out anymore non-VA care GI requests for endoscopy until further notice" since they were "attempting to internalize" procedures.
The Columbia VA referred only 100 patients between January and March 2012 to outside physicians and spent just $275,000 of the $1.02 million on private colonoscopies. Yet in-house colonoscopies decreased. As a result, the IG found that 52 patients who were later diagnosed with GI malignancies received delayed treatment.

Call it another "perverse incentive." Maintaining long backlogs can help VA centers procure more funding. Like other government institutions, VA centers have a financial incentive to keep services in-house.

The inevitable liberal defense—it's coming, we guarantee it—will be that Congress isn't spending enough money. Yet as the nearby charts show, funding soared by 106% to $57.3 billion in 2013 from $27.7 billion in 2003. Yet over the same period the number of VA patients has increased by only 30%. Congress rubber-stamps the VA's requests for more funding, and Mr. Obama's budget this year requests $2 billion more.

Yet throwing more money at the VA hasn't improved accountability, and neither have Congressional attempts at reform dating to the 1980s. In 2009, President Obama signed legislation that he promised would ensure "better access to the doctors and nurses" and "promote accountability." Yet according to the Center for Investigative Reporting, the VA has settled more than $200 million in wrongful death claims since 9/11. The Cox Media Group calculates the VA's malpractice tab at $845 million over the last decade.

House Republicans on Wednesday passed legislation to streamline dismissal for malfeasant VA staff and are calling for Mr. Shinseki's head. Yet rearranging the deck chairs won't fix the VA's core problem, which is that a government-run system inevitably leads to wait lists and reduced access to quality care.

The modern VA is a vestige of the flood of veterans coming out of World Wars I and II, but it is as unnecessary as a health-care system dedicated solely to police or firefighters. The best solution is to privatize the system. At the very least veterans ought to receive vouchers that allow them to seek subsidized care from private providers that removes the VA as the choke point. Why are politicians punishing veterans with inferior government health care?"

Summing Up

Government care?

Are you kidding me?

Is this the best we can do?

Are you kidding me?

Big Brother sucks.

Politics does too.

Let freedom reign.

Let individuals decide for themselves in a free and privatized market.

Vouchers make sense.

That's my take.

Thanks. Bob.

The Four Year Course Life 101 is Continuously in Session at College of the Ozarks ... Paying for College Tuition the Old Fashioned Way ... By Earning It

College attendance has become prohibitively costly for many of our young people absent government assistance, aka taxpayers, in the form of grants and loans.

The money from those grants and loans is mostly used to pay high salaries to college administrators and the accompanying bloated and unproductive bureaucracy, including buildings, but that's another story for another time.

And of course, too many of the students who enter college are ill prepared and thus incur these needlessly high costs and associated debt before dropping out without graduating, but that's also another story for another time as well.

So today let's focus on paying for college tuition the old fashioned way ---by earning it.

What 'Hard Work U' Can Teach Elite Schools is subtitled ''We don't do debt here' says College of the Ozarks President Jerry C. Davis:'

"Point Lookout, Mo.

Looking for the biggest bargain in higher education? I think I found it in this rural Missouri town, 40 miles south of Springfield, nestled in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. The school is College of the Ozarks, and it operates on an education model that could overturn the perverse method of financing college education that is turning this generation of young adults into a permanent debtor class. . . . 

At College of the Ozarks, tuition is free. That's right. The school's nearly 1,400 students don't pay a dime in tuition during their time there.

So what's the catch? All the college's students—without exception—pay for their education by working 15 hours a week on campus. The jobs are plentiful because this school . . . operates its own mill, a power plant, fire station, four-star restaurant and lodge, museum and dairy farm.

Some students from low-income homes also spend 12 weeks of summer on campus working to cover their room and board. Part of the students' grade point average is determined by how they do on the job and those who shirk their work duties are tossed out. The jobs range from campus security to cooking and cleaning hotel rooms, tending the hundreds of cattle, building new dorms and buildings, to operating the power plant.
A College of the Ozarks student hard at work.

The college was founded in 1906 . . . . From the start, the school was run on the same work-for-education principle as it is today. . . .

"We don't do debt here," Mr. Davis says. "The kids graduate debt free and the school is debt free too." Operating expenses are paid out of a $400 million endowment. Seeing the success of College of the Ozarks, one wonders why presidents of schools with far bigger endowments don't use them to make their colleges more affordable. This is one of the great derelictions of duty of college trustees . . . .

In an era when patriotism on progressive college campuses is uncool or even denigrated as endorsing American imperialism, College of the Ozarks actually offers what it calls a "patriotic education." "There's value in teaching kids about the sacrifices previous generations have made," Mr. Davis says. "Kids should know there are things worth fighting for."

He says a dozen or so students will be taking a pilgrimage to Normandy in June to commemorate the 70-year anniversary of D-Day and the former College of the Ozarks students buried there. . . .

The emphasis on work in exchange for learning doesn't mean the classroom experience is second rate. The college has a renowned nursing program, business school and agriculture program. . . .

These aren't the highest academic status kids (the average ACT score is 21), but there is an unmistakable quest to succeed. To gain admittance, each student must demonstrate "financial need, academic ability, sound character, and a willingness to work." Elizabeth Hughes, the public-relations director, says: "We don't have a lot of rich kids . . . they have plenty of other schools they can choose from."

That doesn't mean the school is not in high demand. Unlike many small liberal-arts schools that are suffering a steep decline in applications, last year College of the Ozarks had 4,000 applicants for about 400 freshman slots, which makes this remote little school among the nation's most selective.

All of this raises the question: To bring down tuition costs elsewhere, is it so unthinkable that college students be required to engage in an occasional honest day's work? . . .

At Hard Work U, the kids actually do the dishes and much more while working their way through a four-year degree. Nearly 90% of graduates land jobs—an impressive figure, given the economy's slow-motion recovery.

"If I were an employer, I'd take our graduates over those at most any other schools," says Mr. Davis. . . . Our graduates don't expect to come into the company as the CEO." But they certainly join a company knowing the value of work.""

Summing Up

What's not to like about College of the Ozarks and its approach to granting the 'real world education' associated with work while also holding down the costs of getting a coveted and valuable college degree?

And why aren't there more institutions of higher learning out there taking the same approach?

And why aren't We the People demanding more value for the money we're spending at the majority of these so-called institutions of higher learning?

Earning our way through college makes sense to me, and it also helps teach valuable life lessons.

The four year long course Life 101 is highly educational, alive and doing very well at the College of the Ozarks. That's for sure.

And that's my take.

Thanks. Bob.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The VA Scandal and Its Even Bigger and Broader Financial Ramifications ... What It Teaches Us about Washington and Our Future as a Nation

The VA scandal is bad, and now even the President is addressing it, albeit belatedly and probably ineffectively. See Obama Vows a Forceful Response to Veteran Car Issues. He wants to keep it from becoming a political football.

Fat chance of that happening these days, no matter who's in charge or what the subject matter may be. You see, the money pot is drying up and there's simply not enough to do what needs to be done and has been promised. And sadly, that includes our Veterans. It's a disgrace, but it's true.

The Veterans Scandal Is Only the Start is subtitled 'If the country can't meet basic needs now, wait until the looming deficit disaster finally strikes.'

{NOTE: You see, the bigger and broader disgrace is all about Washington politics, debt, the lack of money and winning elections, and that's exactly why politics sucks in America these days. So now let's take a look at our nation's sick financial condition and why the VA scandal is merely the tip of the iceberg.}

"The recent revelations about the Department of Veterans Affairs point to serious problems. But the root of the scandal is not what self-serving bureaucrats failed to do or tried to cover up; it is a federal budget that prevents us from meeting even the national needs on which our polarized political parties can agree.

Whatever the disagreements about the long wars of the past decades, Democrats and Republicans agree that we must fully honor the debt we have incurred to the tiny fraction of the population that does the fighting for the rest of us. Yes, the budget for the VA has risen sharply since 2002. But the number of returning veterans has risen even faster. Many live with grievous wounds from which they would have succumbed in previous conflicts. Many others struggle with the multiple effects of repeated deployments. Aging Vietnam-era patients require more care, and new responsibilities such as coping with Agent Orange add to the VA's burden.

In 2002, reports the Financial Times, 46.5 million veterans made outpatient visits to VA facilities. In 2012, the number of such visits had risen to 83.6 million. Between late 2010 and the summer of 2013, average waiting times for veterans' claims soared from 100 days to 375 days.

Roughly 42%—$66 billion—of the VA's budget is subject to annual appropriations. That's the nub of the problem. Our inability to agree on a sustainable approach to long-term fiscal policy has led, by default, to a relentless squeeze on discretionary spending that will hobble us at home and abroad....   
                   catThe Congressional Budget Office's latest budget projections showed that between 2013 and 2024, discretionary spending—defense and nondefense—is scheduled to fall from 7.2% of GDP to 5.1%, the lowest share since at least 1962. With only five cents out of each dollar of national income, we are supposed to defend the country, care for veterans, address the needs of children and the poor—and invest in the research, education and infrastructure on which America's future depends. It can't be done. . . .

Ten years from now, the funds available for the military and domestic programs will buy less than they do today. Meanwhile, costs in both categories are likely to rise faster than the rate of inflation. "Doing more with less" is a catchy slogan, but it only diverts attention from the real problem: the contradiction between our needs and the resources we commit to meet them.

The current structure of the federal budget makes this outcome inevitable. By 2015, federal revenues will recover from the Great Recession and stabilize at about 18% of GDP over the next decade. By 2024, however, we are on track to spend fully 17% of GDP on just two items—mandatory programs and interest on the debt—leaving almost nothing for discretionary spending. It only gets worse in the following decade. . . .

We know roughly how many veterans the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will add to the VA's rolls, and we can estimate what they will cost per capita. Non-magical thinking would budget the amount required to meet their needs. We would have an honest public debate about the size and shape of the armed forces in coming decades, and we would appropriate what is necessary to make that blueprint a reality.

We would ask ourselves how much the government should invest in areas that promote growth, and we would stop pretending that shortfalls won't have consequences. We would also stop pretending that meeting the needs of the poor would be cheaper if we transfer programs to the states, and that cutting waste, fraud and abuse would solve our problems. And then, finally, we would be forced to confront the fiscal and economic consequences of putting revenues and mandatory programs on autopilot."

Summing Up

The VA scandal is real and appalling.

Perhaps even more real and appalling, however, is what our politicians are doing to the future of our great nation and our kids and grandkids.

We simply can't put ten pounds of anything in a five pound sack.

And we simply can't pay for what we promise without economic growth which will generate the funds to pay for those now largely empty promises.

Yes, the VA scandal is a national disgrace. Sadly, however, it's not the only one coming out of Washington. Not by a long shot.

That's my take.

Thanks. Bob. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Financial Advice for 30-Somethings ... 401(k)s and Your Long Life Ahead Make It Imperative that You Begin NOW to Take Good Care of Your Future Selves

Advice given by oldsters to the younger among us can be particularly practical when it comes to saving and investing for our retirement years.

Of course, due to time's passage, the same advice is not so useful for those who are nearing retirement age.

Time lapsed or remaining is the differentiating factor.

Retirement strategies for 30-year-olds contains solid advice from various oldsters to the young. Let's pay close attention to what they have to say:

"It’s never too early to start planning for retirement. With this in mind, we asked The Experts: What retirement money tip do you wish you’d given yourself when you were 30?                                         

Investment tips nobody told me                                        

William Reichenstein: If you have not already begun saving, begin saving now! Adhere to the adage: Pay yourself first! Moreover, every time you get a salary increase, have some of that increase go toward more savings until you have maxed out your eligible contribution to your 401(k) or other savings vehicle....                                        

Furthermore, I wish someone would have told me to maintain a heavy stock allocation — probably at least 90% until my early 40s ....                                               

Finally, I wish someone would have encouraged me to pay careful attention to mutual-fund expense ratios. If available then, I should have invested in low-cost index funds.                                        

William Reichenstein is the Powers Professor at Baylor University and head of research at .

What I wish I had known about stocks when I was younger

William Bernstein: The riskiness of stocks is dependent on where in an investor’s life cycle they are; they’re the least risky early on, since large price falls are actually beneficial to those with ongoing savings, and the most risky in retirement, when the losses can’t be made up with further saving. I wish I had realized this when I was young.

William Bernstein is a neurologist and co-founder of Efficient Frontier Advisors, an investment management firm. . . .

The one word I’d like to tell my younger self

Maddy Dychtwald: How many of you remember seeing the movie “The Graduate” starring Dustin Hoffman? It not only made him a huge star, playing Benjamin Braddock, a recent college graduate who wasn’t sure what to do with his future, but it introduced a few memorable lines, including, with some paraphrasing: “One word: plastics. The future is in plastics.”

Those might have been wise words back in the day, but not so much anymore. If I were to provide my younger self with the secret to a successful future, it would be “Longevity. Be prepared to live a long life.” And one of the best strategies to living a long life successfully can be summed up in one word: “Compounding.” In order to live a long life, it’s going to take money. A lot of money. The secret weapon to getting there is to take advantage of compounding.                                         

Think about it. We’re the first humans who will live to 80, 90, and even 100. If we knew this in advance, we’d quickly realize that this requires some long-term planning....                                        

Money isn’t everything, but it can oil the wheel so we have more opportunities and choices in how we live our long life. And so, here’s what I would say to my 30-year-old self:
  1. Start early. To leverage the power of compounding, start saving as early as you can, at least 10% of your income.                                  
  2.  Make it automatic. If you don’t have to think about it, you barely notice the money is gone.
  3. Save, save, save. No matter what. . . .                                                                           

Maddy Dychtwald is an author and co-founder of Age Wave , a think tank and consultancy.

For a happy retirement, pay yourself first

Ed Slott: That’s easy. Put more money away for retirement. I would tell myself what I am now advising other young people to do. Take it off the top, what some people call “paying yourself first.” This way, you never get your hands on the money. There’s always a reason to say you cannot afford it or something came up. If you don’t pay yourself first, something will always come up and you’ll be missing out on valuable compounding years. I often say that the greatest moneymaking asset anyone can possess is time, and young people have more of it. That needs to be capitalized on as soon as possible. . . . 

In addition, max out all you can in your company retirement plan or in your self-employed plan if you have one. Save all you can. You will need all you save, and probably more.                                         

Ed Slott provides retirement education and analysis at his websites, and and Ed created the PBS program, “Ed Slott’s Retirement Rescue 2014!”

Seven retirement financial tips for 30-somethings

Martin Frost: So much has changed since I was 30 that it’s hard to know where to start. I will answer this in the context of advice that I would give to my three daughters — all of whom are now over 30. This will include some advice I have already given them.

First, start putting a little money aside now for the college education of your children, no matter how young they currently are. Getting a jump on the cost of college will make it easier for you to do some retirement planning for yourself.

Second, if you have time, take a course on retirement planning through your local junior college or some neutral organization. Don’t sign up with someone who will want to pressure you into buying their particular retirement package.

Third, fully explore the retirement investment options offered by your current employer. IRAs and 401(k) plans didn’t exist when I was 30, but many employers will offer at least a partial match for what you set aside on a regular basis. . . .                                       

Make an initial investment in the stock market (it doesn’t need to be very large) so that you will start following the market and learn what equity investing is all about. . . .                                        

Once you can afford to do so, buy rather than rent so that you are building up equity in a house. The real-estate market can be fickle, but over the long haul you will probably come out ahead. {NOTE from Bob: The key words are "Once you can afford to do so .... See Mortgage, Home-Equity Woes Linger}.                                       

Avoid credit-card debt like the plague. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you have a big debt service each month and have nothing left to save. I know that credit-card debt is tempting because it is so easy to get multiple cards these days, but don’t paint yourself into a corner.

Finally, save a little something out of each paycheck. You can start small, but get in the habit. Once your income goes up you can start saving a little more. And once your savings reach a certain amount, invest what you have rather than earning next to nothing in interest. Be conservative in your investments, but put your money to work for you."

Summing Up

The foregoing contains lots of good advice for all of us.

But especially for the 30-somethings and younger out there, I urge you to take the time to consider each of the comments carefully, reflect on their common sense and simple approach, and then take the appropriate savings and investment actions  for the long haul.

And do it NOW.

And to my fellow oldsters, I say this --- please pass this good advice along to someone young, just like many of us undoubtedly wish someone had passed it along it to us when we were 30-somethings and still in a position to take the necessary steps to provide adequately for our future financial selves.

That's my take.

Thanks. Bob.

Monday, May 19, 2014

401(k) Investing Advice for the Young .... Make "Today's Self" Take Good Care of "Tomorrow's Self" ... Get Some Help Getting Started

Investing in our future financial well being should begin as early as possible. Accordingly, we should acquire knowledge about the benefits of dollar cost averaging and investing in blue chip stocks with growing cash dividends. This will provide us over the long haul with inflation beating results in 401(k) plans. In the end, knowing about and taking advantage of the rule of 72 regarding compounding is the primary key to successful investing.

Even if some of us (especially public sector employees) aren't required to do so today, soon we will all have to learn how to save and invest wisely in a 401(k) plan. Pension plans are on their way out, and plan provided guaranteed benefits will soon be no longer be the case. And since we're living longer and longer as a society, having enough money socked away for our old age years is becoming increasingly critical. In fact, it won't be uncommon to spend more time in our retirement years than we spent working.

The solution to all this is a quite simple one for the young --- have your "today self" do the right thing for your "tomorrow self." Down the road, "he'll" be glad you did. So will "you."

Now let's switch gears and talk about getting help for "today's self." I'm a proponent of not paying excessive fees for professional financial advice. In addition, I'm also convinced that most "experts" aren't experts at all. An intermediary is an intermediary, whether he's a real estate broker, an insurance agent, a stock broker or any other kind of financial adviser.

Money not spent is money earned and that money can be invested and earn returns over a lifetime. That said, the Pogo factor (We have met the enemy and he is us.) comes into play when investing, and fear and greed are also powerful enemies of "today's self." Thus, sometimes it's best at least initially to engage someone on our behalf who can help us, doesn't charge much and also adds real value to the investment process.

And that's just what a new study reveals on the go-it-alone versus find-a-friend approach to financial advice over time. Of course, some are equipped to go-it-alone, but for those who aren't or at least aren't yet capable of doing so, it's appropriate to consider getting some assistance, idea sharing or just plain old hand holding from time to time, especially during those times when the market is gyrating wildly in a downward direction.

Your 401(k) plan's secret weapon tells a compelling story about the need for advice when investing for the long haul:

"When it comes to building retirement wealth, growing numbers of 401(k) participants are seeking help from online advice programs and professional money managers. But is that advice worth paying for?

According to a study released today, the answer is an emphatic yes. Between 2006 and 2012, participants in 401(k) plans who paid extra for advice earned an average of 3.32 percentage points more per year, after fees, than those taking do-it-yourself approach. If continued over 20 years, that annual performance edge would boost retirement wealth by 79%, according to the report, Help in Defined Contribution Plans: 2006 through 2012.

The takeaway: “If your employer makes professional investment help available to you, you should use it,” says co-author Wei-Yin Hu, vice president of investment research at Financial Engines, a Sunnyvale, Calif., company. Financial Engines specializes in managed accounts, which allow 401(k) participants to hire professionals to advise them on how to invest their assets. “You will end up doing better, on average, than a do-it-yourselfer,” Hu said.

Of course, Financial Engines has a vested interest in having people pay for advice. Clients with its managed accounts typically pay from 0.15% to 0.7% a year, in addition to the fees of the mutual funds they invest in. The study’s co-sponsor is Aon Hewitt, a record keeper for 401(k) plans.

The study, which looked at 14 defined contribution plans with a total of more than 723,000 participants, found that those using help now account for 34.4% of all 401(k) participants, up from 30% in 2011. Within 401(k) plans, investment advice typically takes three forms. The first, and most popular, is the target-date fund, which allows investors to pick a fund with a target date that matches their projected retirement year.

Most people don’t think of owning a target-date fund as “getting help,” but in a way, it’s like having a financial adviser: Over time, the portfolio becomes more conservative as its managers reduce stock holdings and increase bond and cash positions. About 50% of all 401(k) participants use these funds, which are often the default investments for employees whose employers automatically enroll them in the 401(k) plan; but only 17% use them in the way that the study’s authors think is optimal. (More on that a little later.)

Other forms of help are managed accounts, used by 12.1% of participants, and online advice provided through the plan, used by 5.4% of investors.

On average, managed account portfolios outperformed target-date funds by 0.5 percentage points a year, net of fees, the study says. Participants also save more in managed accounts—7.5% of pay, on average, versus 4.4% for those in target-date funds.

But that doesn’t mean managed accounts are right for everyone. Rob Austin, Aon Hewitt’s director of retirement research, says target-date funds often work best for younger investors, who are just starting out in the workforce and have yet to amass significant assets. Managed accounts, in contrast, often are best suited to those ages 40 and older with growing assets and complex financial lives. For such people, more customized help can make sense, he says. Online advice often works well for younger investors who are diligent savers and want more personalized advice than they can get from a target-date fund.

“As long as you use help in one form or another, you are going to come out ahead,” says Austin."

Summing Up

I'm convinced that going it alone, especially if we have a knowledgeable helper or friend, is the optimal answer for most individual investors over time.

And that's especially true after good personal financial habits are established, meaning simply that debt is minimized, and that healthy amounts of regular savings are being invested in a diversified basket of blue chip stocks (or in an S&P 500 Index Fund) consistently in a dollar cost averaging manner.

Knowing the long term history of stock investing will help individuals commit to buying stocks in both good and bad times, and enable us to achieve over time solid investment returns on an inflation adjusted basis. 

If we start early and save consistently and in substantial amounts, time then becomes our ally and not our enemy.

The world for individuals is a 401(k) world now, and guaranteed pensions are rapidly becoming a thing of the past. And that need not be a bad thing. In fact, it should be a very good thing.

First, however, we need to make up our minds to take charge of and require "today's self" to commit to securing a solid financial future for "tomorrow's self." We owe that to ourselves and our families too.

So for those who are now squeamish about DIY investing, get started and work hard to acquire the knowledge that will cause you to do the right things for the long haul and still sleep well at night in the here and now.

And if that means getting a friend to help you get started down the road to acquiring the knowledge which will lead to long term financial security, do it.

It's simply the right thing to do. And if no help is necessary now or in the future, that will provide an even better return on your investment (of both time and money).

That's my take.

Thanks. Bob.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Freedom of Choice, Hard Work and Income Inequality

Income inequality is real.

So is the inequality of results we achieve based on what we do as well as the amount of preparation and hard work that we employ to be in a position to do what we do.

So which road will We the People choose to travel for our future selves, our kids and grandkids?

Will it be the disciplined time management and doing what's necessary to take care today of our "tomorrow self" or the eat, drink and be merry "today is all that matters" approach to life?

In 1976 economist Friedrich Hayek nailed it when he wrote the following in "Law, Legislation and Liberty, Vol. 2: The Mirage of Social Justice" (1976):

"Nobody capable of useful work need today lack food and shelter in the advanced countries, and for those incapable of themselves earning enough these necessities are generally provided outside the market. Poverty in the relative sense must of course continue to exist outside of any completely egalitarian society: so long as there exists inequality, somebody must be at the bottom of the scale. But the abolition of absolute poverty is not helped by the endeavour to achieve 'social justice'; in fact, in many of the countries in which absolute poverty is still an acute problem, the concern for 'social justice' has become one of the greatest obstacles in the elimination of poverty. In the West the rise of the great masses to tolerable comfort has been the effect of the general growth of wealth and has been merely slowed down by measures interfering with the market mechanism. It has been this market mechanism which has created the increase of aggregate income, which also has made it possible to provide outside the market for the support of those unable to earn enough. But the attempts to 'correct' the results of the market in the direction of 'social justice' have probably produced more injustice in the form of new privileges, obstacles to mobility and frustration of efforts than they have contributed to the alleviation of the lot of the poor."

Summing Up

So which will it be?

(1) An emphasis on 'social justice' by pursuing a paternalistic big government knows best approach or (2) a society based on equal opportunity where individual freedom reigns, including the freedom to fail or succeed, depending on the choices we make, the effort we exert, the work we do, and even the luck we have?

Equal results or equal opportunity?

Less or more for ALL?

Socialism or freedom?

Government choice or individual choice?

World follower or leader?

As a nation of free people, the choice is always ours to make.

We'll ALL be the better for it if we make the 'correct' choice, and we'll ALL be the worse for it if we make the 'incorrect' choice.

That's real JUSTICE FOR ALL and that's my take.

Thanks. Bob.

Life 101 ... Financial Advice for the "Young Self" ... Take Good Care of the "Old Self" ... Because The Old Self Will Be Here Sooner Than You Think

It's graduation time, and that means that class "Life 101" is again in session.

The course Life 101 always contains lots of advice for new graduates and will be forthcoming from lots of older "life teachers," all of which is well intentioned and some of which may even be worthwhile. Best of all, it's free.

After all, we oldsters have pretty much been there and done that. Thus, it's life lessons sharing time again, so bear with us, young folks.

We oldsters know that time flies. And that tomorrow is never today 24 hours later. And that things and circumstances change over time. So 'be prepared' is always good advice, even if it's not often heeded.

In my view, one Life 101 subject matter that doesn't get enough attention is how to handle our finances and expenditures in the early years. Today and tomorrow aren't treated with equal consideration, and that's a big mistake we make. They're linked and they're both critically important.

In other words, we don't take the time to take care of our "future self" in our younger years, and then too often too many of us find that life goes by quickly, ready or not, and we discover that our "today self" has robbed our "tomorrow self."

In simple terms, while working we don't adequately prepare financially for our 'mature,' aka oldster status or elderly years.

Life Advice for the Class of 2014 is subtitled 'Spend Your First Working Years Getting Your Finances in Order:'

Here's advice that one father of a new graduate has to offer, and it's very much worth passing along, so here goes.

"My best shot at parental wisdom:

1. If you aren't careful, you will spend your life pursuing goals that you think will make you endlessly happy but, in fact, will give you the most fleeting of pleasures. You'll hunger after the next promotion and pay raise. But a few months later, it'll be just another paycheck. You'll lust after the bigger house and new car.

But after six months, the house will be just a place to live and the car will be just a way to get around town.

At issue here is a phenomenon known as the hedonic treadmill. We pursue these goals, sure that they'll bring us great happiness. But instead, we quickly become dissatisfied and start hankering after something else.

2. You could live an extraordinarily long time. . . . You're part of a vast experiment, where we have millions of people not only spending unprecedented lengths of time in the workforce, but also an unprecedented number of years in retirement.

3. Twenty years from now, you'll likely be less happy than you are today. Our satisfaction through life tends to be U-shaped, with our reported happiness hitting bottom in our 40s.

It could be that our happiness declines through the first few decades of our adult lives as we come to realize that our youthful ambitions won't be realized. In midlife, we come to terms with this, and that's when our happiness rebounds.

4. You want to design a life for yourself where you can engage in activities that you're passionate about. Often, we're happiest when we're striving after goals that we think are important.

It's OK to want the promotion and pay raise, so you can buy the house and the car. But if the price paid is working at a job you hate, you have set yourself up for misery. It's crucial to do work you're passionate about. The journey is indeed more important than the destination. . . .

And the striving doesn't stop when you quit the workforce. In your 50s and early 60s, you should think hard about what will give a sense of purpose to your retirement.

5. The secret to getting rich is no secret: You need great savings habits. . . . most wealthy Americans get there by saving diligently month after month.

6. Money buys a lot of happiness initially—but, after that, not so much....

7. The reason to accumulate money is so you don't have to worry about money. It's sort of like health. It's only when you're sick that you realize how great it is to feel healthy.

Similarly, it's only when you don't have enough money that you realize how great it is to be on a solid financial footing. More money may not make you happy—but not having money could make you extremely unhappy. You want to get to the point where money isn't something you worry about.

My advice: Spend your first few decades in the workforce getting yourself in great financial shape so you have the freedom to pursue whatever career you want.

That means saving like crazy. And, no, you won't be missing out on much. All those possessions you want will give you so little pleasure. Instead, what will give you pleasure is striving after the things you're passionate about. I would encourage you to manage your financial life so you can do just that."

Summing Up

That's some great advice.

Now here's some advice from me to my fellow oldsters. Do your best to teach the young the "Life 101" lessons, even if the young don't want to hear it, which they don't.

At least, you'll feel better for having done so, and it just may do some ypungsters some real good as they go through life.

Living within our means and making sure that "today's self" is paying enough attention to, and taking good care of, "tomorrow's self" is a critically important life lesson which is well worth the effort, and the sooner the better.

Along those lines, so is acquiring a basic understanding of personal finance, and especially the benefits of saving, investing and the debilitating burdens of onerous debt.

That's my take.

Thanks. Bob.