Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorializing Memorial Day

It is 3 PM on Memorial Day. A time designated by Congress as a moment of silence. Therefore, just for a moment, let’s stop and remember the soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that this great nation remains the brightest beacon for hope and opportunity in the world. Despite our political beliefs and differences, today, right now, we can join in appreciation and remembrance.

I am sincerely thankful to be an American. Having traveled to 18 countries on four different continents, I have become convinced of one thing. America remains the greatest country on earth. This is only possible because of the freedom provided by the sacrifice of so many men and women. Men and women who decided to pursue a higher calling, something greater than themselves. Men and women who were willing to sacrifice their lives for not only family and friends, but for people that they have never met, people like me, present and future generations.

My Uncle, LT Robert Miller, was killed in Vietnam while leading his men as an Infantry Officer. He was a member of the 5Th Marine Regiment, which is the most decorated in Marine Corps history. On his memorial at the Marine Corps Museum is a sobering quote, “WHEN YOU GO HOME, TELL THEM OF US AND SAY, FOR YOUR FREEDOM, WE GAVE OUR TODAY.” 

Thus, let's enjoy a break to spend time with family and friends while not losing sight of the true meaning of Memorial Day. The price of freedom is high. Sadly, war often takes our best young men and women. Today, I salute the fallen soldiers and their families, as well as our veterans and those currently serving this great nation. It is our responsibility that their sacrifice is never forgotten.

Along those lines, here is a touching video worth watching:

MIDN Matthew Miller
United States Merchant Marine Academy
Class of 2017

Friday, May 27, 2016

Memorial Day Break

I'm taking a break from blogging for at least this long Memorial Day weekend.

Ours is indeed a great country.

For the warriors who belonged to America's Greatest Generation, and who fought and gave their all for us in World War II, their sacrifices and contributions must never be forgotten. They must forever live on in We the People.

And for the remaining members of that Greatest Generation who didn't fight and die, but also did their parts to bestow on us the many blessings we enjoy as free Americans, thanks to you as well.

As the beneficiaries of all you did, we'll do our best to pass on to future generations the freedoms you fought so hard to protect and preserve.

God Bless America!

And to one and all, Happy Memorial Day weekend and the onset of summer.

Thanks. Bob.

Our Nation's Ever Growing Debt Bomb and the 'Value' of a College Degree

The economies of the world, as well as our own, are in a highly indebted and slow growth muddling through position.

This has been the case for the past several years, and it looks like it will represent the 'new normal' for a long time to come.

In America we have accumulated a boatload of debt and are following the lead of European and other nations around the world by developing a growing preference for the public sector and an increasing disdain for private sector led initiatives.

And while that has made the situation worse, as it inevitably has and will continue to do so, we look to more government as the solution.

Meanwhile, and as a result of all this wasteful government growth at the expense of the productive private sector, the indebtedness issue has become bigger than anyone wants to admit.This combination of debt and slow growth will negatively impact economic growth and investment for years to come.

For a quick overview of the nation's debt bomb that's getting bigger by the day, see Inattention-to-the-Deficit Disorder. Its scary subtitle is 'By one estimate, the government will spend $117.9 trillion more than it takes in this century.'

And that's not all the bad news that awaits this year's graduating class of young Americans.

Tricky Timing for the Class of 2016  tells another realistic but sad story:

"This year’s high school graduates were 10 years old when the economy hit the skids in 2008. Many college graduates in the class of 2016 were 14. Yet, their economic prospects remain darkened by the enduring effects of the Great Recession.

That is not to say there has been no improvement. The class of ’16 has more and better-paying job opportunities than earlier post-crash graduating classes, according to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute. But for the most part, today’s graduates still face employment conditions that are worse than in 2007, the year before the recession, and are much worse than in 2000, when the economy was last at full employment.

The recent unemployment rate for college graduates ages 21 to 24 was 5.5 percent, compared with 4.3 percent in 2000. Their underemployment rate — which includes the unemployed, those who have briefly left the work force and those stuck in part-time jobs — was recently 12.3 percent, compared with 7.1 percent in 2000. And in 2015, nearly 45 percent of college graduates ages 22 to 27 were in jobs that did not require a college degree, compared with 38 percent in 2000. Over the same period, student debt has soared, which means that many of today’s graduates are trying to pay off more debt with less secure jobs.

The situation for new high school graduates is far bleaker, in part because many lower-wage jobs are being filled by college graduates. Among high school graduates ages 17 to 20, unemployment is nearly 18 percent, compared with 12 percent in 2000. . . .

The soft labor market has depressed wages, with average hourly pay for young college graduates, recently $18.53, barely higher than it was in 2000, adjusted for inflation. Young high school graduates are averaging only $10.66, lower than in 2000, adjusted for inflation.

Without full employment to help push up pay, wages and salaries for all workers lag even as corporate profits rise. But the consequences for young people are particularly severe, because early bouts of unemployment, underemployment and low pay can continue to harm job prospects and earnings over a long period. One’s pay and position starting out has a big impact on subsequent raises and promotions, and thus on accumulated wealth over a career.

This trap is especially dangerous for racial minorities and women, who even in the best of times have to combat bias in hiring and pay. For young black college graduates, the recent unemployment rate, at well over 9 percent, is double that of young white graduates."

Summing Up

I wish the news were better, but it's time to face facts.

And the politicians won't do that unless we force them to admit to this debt bomb and slow growth reality.

We're not doing our kids and grandkids any favors.

That's my take.

Thanks. Bob.

Minimum Wage Laws, Unions and a Certain Famous 'Road' That's Always Paved with Good Intentions

There is a famous 'road' that we all know is paved with good intentions.

But what we often don't know about that road is that sometimes even the intentions, although represented as being good by all supporters, aren't that at all when the special interests of unions are at stake.

Minimum wage laws, well intentioned sponsors and their allied labor union officials provide a solid illustration of the foregoing.

A timeless 1975 quote by the Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman says the following -- 'One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results:'

"One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results. We all know a famous road that is paved with good intentions. The people who go around talking about their soft heart . . . I admire them for the softness of their heart, but unfortunately it very often extends to their head as well. Because the fact is that the programs that are labeled as being for the poor, for the needy, almost always have effects exactly the opposite of those which their well-intentioned sponsors intend them to have. . . .

Take the minimum-wage law. Its well-meaning sponsors—there are always in these cases two groups of sponsors, there are the well-meaning sponsors, and there are the special interests, who are using the well-meaning sponsors as frontmen. You almost always, when you have bad programs, have an unholy coalition of the do-gooders on the one hand, and the special interests. The minimum-wage law is as clear a case as you could want. The special interests are of course the trade unions. The monopolistic craft trade unions in particular. The do-gooders believe that by passing a law saying that nobody shall get less than two dollars an hour, or $2.50 an hour, or whatever the minimum wage is, you are helping poor people who need the money. You are doing nothing of the kind. What you are doing is to assure that people whose skills are not sufficient to justify that kind of a wage will be unemployed. It is no accident that the teenage unemployment rate—the unemployment rate among teenagers in this country—is over twice as high as the overall unemployment rate."

Summing Up

Friedman said that in 1975.

The more things change, it seems to me, the more they stay the same.

That's my take.

Thanks. Bob.

Governor Bruce Rauner and the 'Fighting Illini' ... Maybe There's Hope

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner is one elected official who really takes the idea of being a genuine public servant seriously. To him it's not just lip service.

And that posture taken by Mr. Rauner seems to be driving the long-in-command Illinois Dems, and their joined at the hip allies the state's labor union chieftains, crazy.

That's because things like fiscal responsibility and doing the jobs for which the Illinois taxpayers elected them to do are now on the agenda for the first time in what seems like forever.

Rauner's Illinois Progress is subtitled 'The Governor isn't bending under union and liberal pressure:

"Governor Bruce Rauner has the most thankless job in politics: trying to rescue Illinois from its economic and fiscal morass. But someone’s got to do it, and this week he won another small but crucial victory in his trench warfare with Democratic legislators and the government unions that own them.

Democrats hold supermajorities in both houses of the legislature, but they failed for a second time to override the Governor’s veto of a bill to let the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (Afscme) cut Mr. Rauner out of negotiating its contract. The union wants to return to the days when it was on both sides of the negotiating table—that is, when it negotiated with politicians who want to please the union rather than represent taxpayers.

The Illinois Policy Institute says state workers are the highest paid in the nation, even after controlling for cost of living. Average state pay in Illinois is $59,088 not including benefits. The average is $41,555 in Indiana and $45,689 in Wisconsin. That’s how the once great Land of Lincoln became the high-debt, slow-growth laggard of the Midwest.

Mr. Rauner won in 2014 on a reform platform, but the political lifers in Springfield are fighting him like they’re defending Stalingrad. Assembly Speaker Michael Madigan wants to help Afscme outlast Mr. Rauner so it can refuse to accept the Governor’s attempts to cut state spending with reforms that include a wage freeze and merit pay.

Democrats are also looking to pass a budget that would force Mr. Rauner to sign a big tax increase. On Wednesday Democrats in the Assembly rushed through a vote on a budget proposal that ignored Mr. Rauner’s reform requests and planned to spend some $7 billion more than the state is projected to take in. The budget passed 63-53 with seven Democrats voting no.

To pay for it, they’ll spin the tax wheel. They’ve floated the idea of a millionaire’s tax, or raising the state’s flat income-tax rate to 4.85% from 3.75%. Senate President John Cullerton suggested taxing Illinois drivers by the mile, then backed off.

The Governor, a former businessman, may have been born at night but it wasn’t last night. He says he won’t consider raising taxes without wholesale changes on issues like pensions, collective bargaining and prevailing-wage mandates that raise state costs, among other reforms to make Illinois a better place to invest and hire.

Rather than compromise, Democrats are trying to shut down the government so the public rises up in anger. But Mr. Rauner has used legal duct tape to keep essential services running, and the state has managed to spend some $35 billion even without a budget. Illinois citizens don’t seem to miss the nonessential services, though the state comptroller says Illinois has a $7 billion backlog in unpaid bills.

Mr. Rauner’s reform ambitions are as large as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s, but Mr. Walker has GOP legislative majorities in Madison. The good news for Illinois voters is that they elected a Governor who isn’t cracking under liberal pressure. If Democrats were smart, they’d negotiate with Mr. Rauner now before the city of Chicago goes belly up and they have no choice but to seek the Governor’s help."

Summing Up

Just maybe the ideas of public service and leadership aren't yet dead in Illinois.

But then again, the fight won't be an easy one as the Dems and the government unions have been in charge for a very long time.

And as a result, Illinois and Chicago remain on financial life support. They have become our nation's version of Puerto Rico and perhaps even Greece.

Will Rauner score a big 'come from behind upset win for the 'Fighting Illini,' and thereby make it possible for the good citizens of Illinois to finally have a chance at winning as well?

Let's hope so because if he does, then just maybe some so-called political 'leaders' in other cities, states and even our national government will sit up, take notice and start acting in the best interests of We the People.

That's my take.

Thanks. Bob.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Robots, Globalization, Employment, and Government Mandated Beginning Wage Levels

My first payroll job in the late 1950s was as a 14 year old carhop at a local drive-in restaurant. It paid 35 cents per hour and tips.

It was 'good money' for a teenager and I thought myself fortunate to have such a good job. Of course, that was 'way back when' and before the McDonald's drive-through facilities.

And one more element of luck helped me land that first work experience --- I was not 'helped' by government minimum wage legislation.

Government may soon be requiring McDonald's and other fast food and related outlets to increase their beginning wages to $12-$15 per hour, and that will prevent many young people from landing their first 'good job.' In fact, I wonder how many young people WON'T get their first jobs as a result of this legislation-aided-by-labor unions 'help.'

In other words, will raising the minimum wage level be a good or bad thing for the employers and many would-have-been employees? Of course, that 'good or bad' thing answer will depend on the prices free-to-choose customers are willing to pay as well as the cost/benefit analysis for employers after fully considering the cost of automation compared to the higher wages.

In that regard, Foxconn replaces 60,000 humans with robots in China contains much food for thought:

"The first wave of robots taking over human jobs is upon us.

Apple Inc.supplier Foxconn Technology Co. has replaced 60,000 human workers with robots in a single factory, according to a report in the South China Morning Post . . . .

This is part of a massive reduction in headcount across the entire Kunshan region in China’s Jiangsu province, in which many Taiwanese manufacturers base their Chinese operations.

Roughly 600 companies are reportedly looking to reduce headcount with robots, as part of an effort to accelerate growth and reduce costs . . . .

While (it) does present higher upfront costs, machines are seen as more predictable and stable over the long term versus humans, potentially leading to personnel cost savings over the long term. With such high pressures placed on these manufacturers, which assemble much of the world’s consumer technology products and are often under strict deadlines, it also alleviates some of the ethical issues that arise when working people too hard for too long to meet demand....

The trend of replacing humans with more efficient robots is not confined to China.

As of February, there were more than 260,000 robots working in U.S. factories, according to industry trade group Robotic Industries Association. A total of 31,464 robots, valued at a combined $1.8 billion, were ordered from North American companies in 2015, a 14% increase in units. Inc. is one such U.S. company that has been increasingly employing robots, with thousands shuffling around and sorting items in its fulfillment centers. Auto manufacturers have used robots to assemble cars in the U.S. for years.

At the moment, robots are expected to be used for lower-paying jobs that require less sophisticated skills, such as product assembly. But they are increasingly targeting more sophisticated and social roles that require customer service skills.

SoftBank Group’s humanoid consumer robot Pepper was rolled out to several Chinese retail stores over the last year. This week, Pepper also got a job at Pizza Hut, with the pizza chain unleashing the robot at certain stores in Asia to take customer in-store orders. . . .

Also read: Donald, Hillary and Bernie are lying to us about those lost manufacturing jobs "

Summing Up

Gasoline .... In the old days, attendants pumped our gas, washed our windshields and checked our tires.

Now we engage in DIY 'self service.'

Fast Food .... DIY 'self service' may be in our future sooner than later. Inside McDonald's perhaps we'll have self ordering and kiosks where we can pick up and pay for our order.

The higher the minimum wage, the easier to cost justify and the quicker the payback for investments in automation. And the fewer entry level jobs for teenagers and others needing that 'low paying' job which the government intends to make disappear.

Entry level jobs for teenagers and others in need of work are in serious jeopardy due to government 'help,' and which 'help' is being aided and abetted by labor unions seeking greater unionization.

At least that's my take.

Thanks. Bob.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Many Young Americans Advocate More Socialism and Becoming More Like Europe ... Is That Really What We Want?

Socialism used to be a dirty word in America. Now for many Americans, and especially the young among us, it seems to be our role model.

The Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and even Donald Trump speeches say they will protect us from the world of competition. But they can't.

And they say that they will make things easy and free for us. But they can't.

And good and safe well paying jobs will be given to us for the asking. But they can't do that either.

Let's see what socialism and protection can do to us by looking at the facts on the ground in Europe today.

Europe's unemployment crisis is much worse than we thought is worth spending some time reading and then reflecting upon. It's subtitled 'Vast army of available workers means millions will be jobless for years:'

"Unemployment is running at more than 24% unemployment in Greece. It is above 20% in Spain, and in France and Italy it is well above 10%, and has been stuck at those levels for many years. Given those terrible numbers, you might think that the eurozone’s jobless crisis couldn’t be any more crushing.

But unfortunately you’d be wrong. In fact it is even worse than most people realize.

Why? Because the official statistics only capture people who are actively looking for work. There are millions more who would be working — if the economy were capable of generating jobs....

We have known for years that Europe has a serious unemployment problem. A mixture of weak demand, punishingly high payroll taxes, and restrictions on hiring and firing that favor insiders over outsiders have combined to create one of the most dysfunctional labor markets in the world.

In most countries the rate goes up and down, but in much of Europe it ratchets ups and then stays there. In France, for example, the jobless total went above 9% all the way back in the mid-1980s and it has bounced around that level ever since. In Spain it went from under 9% at the height of the last boom to above 25% after the crash, and, although it has come down a bit since then, it shows no sign of getting back to a level most advanced economies would regard as acceptable.

Initiatives come and go, but the army of the jobless remains in place.

What is also starting to emerge, however, is that Europe has a serious underemployment problem as well....

In Greece, for example, 72% of part-time workers would like more hours. In Spain it was 54% (which knocks on the head the myth — popular in Germany — of the lay-about Greeks and siesta-loving Spaniards).

Even worse, it found a huge army of people who could work, but are not seeking employment. In the dry language of the economics textbooks, they are known as “discouraged workers.”. . .

Europe is still in denial about the extent of the crisis in its jobs market. It not only has a huge army of officially jobless, and an even worse one of youth unemployment – let us not forget that in Greece, the jobless rate for the under-25s is above 50%, in Spain is it more than 45% and in Italy and France it is above 24%. {See also Eurozone debt crisis isn't Italy's biggest worry.}

It also has an even bigger reserve army of people who would like to work more but who have effectively been shut out of the jobs market.

That has important consequences for the economy that are too often overlooked. Such as? First, it means that the ECB has virtually no hope of ever getting the continent out of deflation and depression. . . .

Across a whole generation, the habit of working is being lost, and the skills that would be learned if people had jobs will never be acquired. Little by little, countries with those levels of unemployment and underemployment lose competitive advantage to nations where work is more plentiful."

Summing Up

Europe is a basket case.

We have lots of American leaders and college students who want us to become more like Europe.

Opting for socialism, an ever growing debt load, not emphasizing productivity, not allowing school choice (while creating more unproductive government jobs), and putting in place additional government programs which will only add to our long term debt, unemployment and underemployment issues, are not the answers to our many but still soluble problems.

It's time we face the facts and start dealing with them.

More government control and corruption, free stuff and private sector bashing will only make things worse for all of us.

And politicians seeking votes by pitting us against each other won't help by advocating free stuff and ignoring the evils of unnecessary debt and the absolute necessity to compete globally.

Yes, facts are stubborn things.

That's my take.

Thanks. Bob.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Message to Our Youth and 'Politically Correct' Americans About Free Speech ... Is It a Privilege, a Right or Is It Our Duty?

We have the right to speak freely as Americans, of course, but we have much more than the right to speak up when the occasion warrants it.

In fact, I would argue that we have the duty as citizens to follow the dictates of our conscience, even when what we have to say will be unwelcome or make us unpopular with those listening to our words.

But all too often we surrender that privilege, right and duty as citizens of the greatest nation in the history of the world, and we do so to the detriment of both ourselves and the overall health and well being of our American society.

In the following quote, Cuban dissident and hero Armando Valladares says that 'Even when we have nothing, each person and only that person possesses the keys to his or her own conscience, his or her own sacred castle:'

"From remarks by Cuban poet and human-rights activist Armando Valladares upon receiving the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty’s Canterbury Medal in New York, May 12:

When I was 23 years old I did a very small thing. I refused to say a few words, “I’m with Fidel.” First I refused the sign on my desk that said as much, and after years of torture and watching so many fellow fighters die, either in body or in spirit, I persisted in my refusal to say the few words the regime demanded of me.

My story is proof that a seemingly small act of defiance can mean everything to the enemies of freedom. They did not keep me in jail for 22 years because my refusal to say three words meant nothing. They kept me there that long because it meant everything.

For me to say those words would have been spiritual suicide. And though my body was in prison and abused, my soul was free and flourished. My jailers took everything from me, but they could not hijack my conscience.

Even when we have nothing, each person and only that person possesses the keys to his or her own conscience, his or her own sacred castle. In that respect, each of us, though we may not have an earthly castle or even a house, each of us is richer than a king or queen.

For many of you, particularly the young people, it may seem I come from another time and from a remote place. Young friends, you may not be taken away at gunpoint, as I was for staying true to my conscience, but there are many other ways to take you away and to imprison your body and your mind. There are many ways you can be silenced.

I warn you: Just as there is a short distance between the U.S. and Cuba, there is a very short distance between a democracy and a dictatorship where the government gets to decide what we believe and what we do. And sometimes this is not done at gunpoint but instead it is done one piece of paper at a time, one seemingly meaningless rule at a time, one silencing at a time. Beware young friends. Never compromise. Never allow the government—or anyone else—to tell you what you can or cannot believe or what you can and cannot say or what your conscience tells you to have to do."

Summing Up

So when you have something thoughtful to say or not say, as the case may be, even when doing so is likely to be unpopular or politically incorrect, please feel free and even obligated to say or refrain from saying it.

Free speech is both our right and duty as free Americans. It's our 1st Amendment Constitutional guarantee as well.

We can't change anything if we can't change our minds, and we aren't likely to change our minds unless we are first willing to hear and then consider new information.

And that new information often first originates with others who speak their minds and offer new ideas or different ways of viewing old things.

That's my take.

Thanks. Bob.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Value of a College Degree and the Dangers of Debt

While growing up, most of us were told the familiar but incorrect tale that 'if we get that college degree, we can write our own ticket. And college is a great investment, regardless of the cost, aka debt incurred, in getting that degree.'

Or if not that exact story, at least we were told some version thereof.

As an oldster who is both a college and law school graduate who successfully served as CEO of several companies for several decades, let me tell you the truth in plain language. That 'graduate at all costs and you can write your own ticket stuff' is a myth.

Now that is not to say that a college degree isn't helpful in landing that first full time job. But it's no guarantee of either job or financial success.

Instead it's best to think of that college degree as a minimum qualifier or condition precedent (an event or state of affairs that is required before something else occurs -- such as first the degree, then the job) to getting many jobs. Because without the degree, you may not even be considered for the job sought. So by all means, get that degree and start down the road to career success.

But it's not the finish line --- it's actually nothing more than the starting line. Thereafter what happens is largely up to you, how hard you work, how you relate to people, and how well you perform on the job.

All that said, today's graduates won't have it so easy in this slow growth and highly competitive debt ridden global economy. So here's my advice --- work hard to prepare for college, work hard while in college, stay away from expensive schools, don't borrow money, and get part time and summer jobs while in college.

Doing those simple things will make a huuuuuuge difference when it comes to 'ticket writing.'

Still, it's much tougher out there today than when I started. How tough is it?

The Broken Bargain With College Graduates has this to say:

"In his recent commencement address at Rutgers University, President Obama focused on the noneconomic reasons for going to college. . . .

It was an important reminder, well suited to the times and the occasion. But it also came across as if the economic benefits of college were a given. In fact, the familiar assumption — graduate from college and prosperity will follow — has been disproved in this century. College-educated workers have not seen meaningful pay raises, and public policy has failed to address the stagnation.

It is true that as a group college graduates make more than high school graduates. . . . Since 2002, however, inflation-adjusted pay for college graduates has risen a measly 64 cents an hour .... That’s surely better than the 49-cents-an-hour drop for high school-educated workers in the same period .... But standing still while others regress is no cause for celebration.

The problem is that the economy does not produce enough jobs that require college degrees. Private-sector white-collar jobs can increasingly be moved offshore and automated, while public-sector jobs that require degrees, notably teaching, have been decimated by deep layoffs and feeble hiring.... One sign of the downshift is that much of the recent job growth has been in lower-paying occupations. Worse, there is little evidence of a turnaround. . . .

The result is lower-quality jobs and lower pay for college graduates. Take, for example, the roughly one-third of college graduates who spend their work lives in jobs that do not require a degree. In 2000, 55 percent of them made at least $45,000 a year. In 2015, only 44 percent were in jobs that paid that much."

Summing Up

Technology, globalization and immigration are huuuuuuge issues facing today's work force, including our college graduates.

And for the foreseeable future, good jobs will be all too scarce for those graduating from college.

They'll be even tougher to get for those without a college degree.

And whatever else today's high school and college graduates decide to do, unnecessary debt obligations should be avoided.
That's my take.

Thanks. Bob.

Friday, May 20, 2016

New Study Concludes Lifestyle Is Primary Cause of Cancer

Cancer is a killer. Many individuals and families have experienced its devastating effects, and many more will in the future. But there's reason for optimism.

New research reveals that cancer isn't a matter of bad luck and frequently can be avoided by adopting better personal habits such as maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise, stopping smoking and reducing alcohol consumption.

Yes, the conclusions reached in a just released study are provide realistic reasons for hope.  

Lifestyle gets blamed for 70% to 90% of all cancers is subtitled 'For the most part, 'bad luck' isn't responsible for cancer:'

"Do most people who get cancer simply have bad luck? Or is cancer something they might be able to prevent? Two new studies suggest the latter.

A study published online Friday in the Journal of the American Medical Association Oncology found that between 40 - 70% of cancer cases could be prevented if we changed our lifestyles by doing things like staying at a healthy weight, quitting smoking, reducing alcohol consumption and getting 2 ½ hours of exercise a week. “A large proportion of cancers are due to environmental factors and can be prevented by lifestyle modification,” the authors concluded.

Another study, whose results were recently published in Nature, revealed that it is mostly environmental and external factors like smoking, drinking, diet, getting too much sun and exposure to toxic chemicals that cause cancer, rather than intrinsic factors like random cell mutations.

Intrinsic factors accounted for just 10% to 30% of people’s lifetime risk of getting cancer, while extrinsic risks accounted for 70% to 90% for most common cancer types, the study showed. “Cancer risk is heavily influenced by extrinsic factors,” the study researchers, who work at Stony Brook University in New York, concluded.
Source: Nature
That’s good news for many, as it means that cancer might be more avoidable — through changes in our lifestyles — than we previously thought. “Environmental factors play an important role in cancer incidence and they are modifiable through lifestyle changes and/or vaccinations,” the researchers write in Nature. Or as the researchers in JAMA Oncology put it: “A substantial cancer burden may be prevented through lifestyle modification.”

Many experts cheered this finding. “There’s no question what’s at stake here,” John Potter, a doctor who studies cancer at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, told Nature. “This informs whether or not we expend energy on prevention.” The authors of the study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Oncology noted that “prevention should remain a priority for cancer control.”

These conclusions do fly in the face of other cancer research.

A report in the journal Science published earlier in 2015 concluded just the opposite: that roughly two-thirds of cancers were caused by intrinsic factors. (These findings came to be known as the “bad luck” hypothesis.)

But the Stony Brook researchers concluded that the incidence of cancer is too high for that to be true. “The rates of mutation accumulation by intrinsic processes are not sufficient to account for the observed cancer risks,” they write in the study published in Nature.

Summing Up

I just saw these findings and wanted to share the good news.

We often can create a better future for ourselves just by knowing the knowable and then using that knowledge to adopt behaviors which are in our best interests as well as those of our families.

And that 'knowledge is power' thing goes for oh so many things, including the avoidance of cancer.

That's my take.

Thanks. Bob.

Why We're Rich Americans ... Ideas, Freedom and Humanomics .... Homework Reading Assignment for College Students and Professors

The weekend homework reading and thinking assignment for all the Bernie Sanders college supporters, including many of their parents, as well as all other concerned Americans, is the uplifting essay Why the West (and the Rest) Got Rich.

It is subtitled 'The Great Enrichment of the past two centuries has one primary source: the liberation of ordinary people to pursue their economic betterment.'

Selected excerpts follow:

Why are we so rich? An American earns, on average, $130 a day, which puts the U.S. in the highest rank of the league table. China sits at $20 a day (in real, purchasing-power adjusted income) and India at $10, even after their emergence in recent decades from a crippling socialism of $1 a day. After a few more generations of economic betterment, tested in trade, they will be rich, too.

Actually, the “we” of comparative enrichment includes most countries nowadays, with sad exceptions. Two centuries ago, the average world income per human (in present-day prices) was about $3 a day. It had been so since we lived in caves. Now it is $33 a day—which is Brazil’s current level and the level of the U.S. in 1940. Over the past 200 years, the average real income per person—including even such present-day tragedies as Chad and North Korea—has grown by a factor of 10. It is stunning. In countries that adopted trade and economic betterment wholeheartedly, like Japan, Sweden and the U.S., it is more like a factor of 30—even more stunning.

And these figures don’t take into account the radical improvement since 1800 in commonly available goods and services. Today’s concerns over the stagnation of real wages in the U.S. and other developed economies are overblown if put in historical perspective. . . .

Nothing like the Great Enrichment of the past two centuries had ever happened before.... A revolutionary betterment of 10,000%, taking into account everything from canned goods to antidepressants, was out of the question. Until it happened. . . .

What enriched the modern world wasn’t capital stolen from workers or capital virtuously saved, nor was it institutions for routinely accumulating it. Capital and the rule of law were necessary, of course, but so was a labor force and liquid water and the arrow of time.

The capital became productive because of ideas for betterment—ideas enacted by a country carpenter or a boy telegrapher or a teenage Seattle computer whiz. . . .

The ideas sufficed. Once we had the ideas for railroads or air conditioning or the modern research university, getting the wherewithal to do them was comparatively simple, because they were so obviously profitable. . . .

The answer, in a word, is “liberty.” Liberated people, it turns out, are ingenious. Slaves, serfs, subordinated women, people frozen in a hierarchy of lords or bureaucrats are not. . . .

You might call it: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. To use another big concept, what came—slowly, imperfectly—was equality. It was not an equality of outcome, which might be labeled “French” in honor of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Piketty. It was, so to speak, “Scottish,” in honor of David Hume and Adam Smith: equality before the law and equality of social dignity. It made people bold to pursue betterments on their own account. It was, as Smith put it, “allowing every man to pursue his own interest his own way, upon the liberal plan of equality, liberty and justice.” . . .

Economists and historians from left, right and center cannot explain the Great Enrichment. Perhaps their sciences need revision, toward a “humanomics” that takes ideas seriously. Humanomics doesn’t abandon the economics of arbitrage or entry, or the math of elasticities of demand, or the statistics of regression analysis. But it adds the study of words and meaning and their stunning contribution to our enrichment.

What public policy to further this revolution? As little as is prudent. As Adam Smith said, “it is the highest impertinence…in kings and ministers to pretend to watch over the economy of private people.” We certainly can tax ourselves to give a hand up to the poor. Smith himself gave to the poor with a liberal hand. The liberalism of a Christian, or for that matter of a Jew, Muslim or Hindu, recommends it. But note, too, that 95% of the enrichment of the poor since 1800 has come not from charity but from a more productive economy."

Summing Up 

Facts are stubborn things.

They're worth knowing as well.

And the truth is worth spreading.

It's all about freedom, human nature and equality.

And it's not all about the government or our so-called political leaders.

We the People are the key.

That's my take. 

Thanks. Bob.

Remembering the Korean 'Conflict' ... America's Still the Greatest

When attending elementary school in the early 1950's, we'd often play 'war' during recess and lunch time.

Often our play involved the then ongoing Korean War or Korean 'Conflict,' which was the more politically correct term sometimes used.

Notable & Quotable: Korea is subtitled 'If the U.S. had not come to the aid of the Korean people, or if we in the South had lost the war, I would not be standing here.'

For me the story brings back strong childhood memories of that long ago time. It also reminds me why America then was and still is the greatest nation on the face of the earth.

"From remarks by Kwon Oh-joon, chief executive officer of the South Korean steel manufacturer Posco, on receiving the Korea Society’s Van Fleet Award, named for U.S. Army Gen. James A. Van Fleet, in New York City, May 18:

During the Korean War, Gen. James Van Fleet brought not only an exceptional military record but also leadership of great stature with the highest ideals. He courageously commanded the U.N. troops at the very forefront during the Korean War, with the steadfast goals of defending the people of the Republic of Korea and preserving democracy on the Korean Peninsula.

His own son, Lt. James Van Fleet Jr., also volunteered as a combat pilot but tragically went missing in action during his mission near the Yalu River. Gen. Van Fleet suspended the search-and-rescue operations for his son out of concern for putting additional soldiers’ lives at risk.

Although his son James never made it back home, his noble spirit of self-sacrifice will be remembered forever by those of us with any connection to the Korean War conflict.

In fact, this is the story I read in the social-studies book when I was in the fifth grade in elementary school. That was also my first encounter with Gen. Van Fleet. The name of Gen. Van Fleet has remained embedded in the hearts and in the minds of the Korean people, symbolizing the strong bonds . . . between our two nations.

In today’s modern era where self-centered egoism is often the generally accepted norm, James Van Fleet’s legacy of bravery and sacrifice continues to serve as a valuable moral lesson for today’s young generation of Koreans.

Tomorrow, I will be traveling to Washington, D.C., to visit Arlington National Cemetery and pay homage and tribute to Gen. James Van Fleet and the fallen soldiers who gave their lives on Korean soil.

On a personal note, I was born just 20 days before the outbreak of the Korean War, in a small town in South Korea. One of the fiercest battles in modern history was recorded near the Nakdong River close to my hometown, and this battle forced my family to evacuate southwards. The evacuation trail stretched 200 kilometers or 125 miles, and my parents had a hard time carrying a 20-day-old newborn baby enwrapped in blankets.

I still recall, when I was studying metallurgical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh some 40 years ago, how fortunate and privileged I felt to have the opportunity to come to the United States to further pursue my studies and career ambitions. If the U.S. had not come to the aid of the Korean people, or if we in the South had lost the war, I would not be standing here."

Summing Up

By the way, the Korean War came just a few short years after America had successfully led the world's fight for freedom in World War II.

That's why lots of younger people aren't familiar with what happened in Korea.

And that's also why today many of us oldsters shake our heads in amazement at young America's movement to embrace Bernie Sanders, Hillary and socialism ---- and President Obama's 'stay-out-of-it' stance and the Donald's 'go-it-alone' isolationism.

Meanwhile, ISIS marches onward and North Korea does the unthinkable to its citizens.

God Bless America.

Thanks. Bob.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Market Timing ... People Often Act Contrary to Their Long Term Best Interests When Buying and Selling Stocks

Over the short term, stock prices fluctuate and sometimes widely. Everybody knows that.

Over a long period of time stock prices will rise, and by a lot. Everybody knows that as well.

The economy today is struggling and has been for some time now. Everybody knows that, too.

This is no 'normal' economy and the future economic outlook is quite troublesome. We shouldn't plan for a near term resumption of what we used to label as 'normal' economic growth. That's what not everybody knows. And that may result in the stock market falling over time.

The days of 3% annualized real growth haven't been part of the financial picture for the past several years, and it looks to me like they won't be coming back anytime soon either. Too much debt, too much government meddling and too little productivity and private sector investment are the main underlying reasons for this glass-is-less-than-half-full reasoning.

So here's my advice to individual savers and investors. If you're not prepared to ride out the storm that may be brewing in the stock market for the next few years, get out now. I may be a glutton for punishment, but I'm staying in it for the long haul.

Now let's look closer at short term market timing.

It's another silly political season and a wild election year. And if that's not enough to get your attention, interest rates are going to be raised by the Federal Reserve once or more prior to year's end. That's in the face of a slow growing economy with lots of debt and few income gains.

Then there are the many foreign issues to consider as well, such as oil prices, China's economy, trade wars, currency devaluations and terrorist attacks.

Finally, many stock market pundits disguised as experts are telling us it's time to 'sell in May and go away.'

So what's a long term oriented individual saver and investor to do? And if we do decide to sell now and 'go away,' when will we know it's safe to come back and buy again?

Now let's consider all these things by putting the various short term worries in their proper longer term perspective.

When we were young, our parents told us not to follow the crowd --- 'Just because everybody else does it is not a good reason for you to do so,' they would say. Or 'Just because your crazy friend jumps in the lake doesn't mean it's a good idea for you to do so.' It was usually good advice but it was seldom heeded. That's youth.

But now we're older. And that good advice of not following the 'herd' applies equally well to owning and selling stocks for the long haul instead of 'timing the market' by making short term ill advised moves. And they're ill advised because short term moves, even when we guess right, usually result in longer term problems --- such as knowing when the coast is clear and it's time to buy again.

Investors throw in the towel on stocks tells an unsurprising but sad story about individuals and their behavior toward stock ownership for the long haul:

"Last week came the news that investors were pulling money from global stock funds at the fastest pace since 2011 $44 billion in five weeks and nearly $90 billion so far this year.

The Usual Experts gave lots of reasons for this — uncertainty about Federal Reserve policy, weakness in Japan and Europe, and slower-than-expected GDP growth in the U.S. and China, as well as the market turmoil that ran from last summer until early this year. All of this supposedly sent individual investors running for the hills. . . . No, individuals have been staying the course, for the most part. But their course is to keep as far away from the stock market as possible. This retreat from equities has been going on for eight years.

Gallup regularly polls Americans about their ownership of stocks and equity mutual funds. Last month it found that only 52% of Americans said they had money in the market, matching the lowest ownership rate in 19 years of polling. In April 2008, just before the financial crisis began, 65% of Americans said they had money in stocks. That was the peak. The number slid steadily until 2013, and has stayed around that depressed level ever since.

Interest in stocks also remains low. As the table below shows, only 22% of Americans told Gallup in April they viewed stocks as the best long-term investment. That’s up from the nadir of 15% after the financial crisis, but it’s way down from the high of 31% in April 2007, just months before the market hit its previous all-time high. (By the way, interest in real estate is the highest it’s been since just before the housing bust. Uh-oh.)

Americans’ opinions on the best long-term investments:
Polling date Real estate Stocks Savings accounts or CDs Bonds
April 2016 35% 22% 15% 7%
August 2011 19% 17% 14% 10%
April 2009 33% 15% 34% 12%
April 2007 37% 31% 18% 10%
July 2002 50% 18% 16% 13%
Source: Gallup
What to make of all this? Well, the most obvious conclusion is that the financial crisis and global meltdown that followed scared the pants off many investors.

After the stock market plunge of 1929, the Dow Jones Industrial Average ultimately lost nearly 90% of its value, and it took 25 years to reach its pre-crash peak again. That and the devastation wrought by the Great Depression scared a whole generation out of the stock market.

This time around, the S&P 500 fell 49% from its 2000 all-time high to its 2002 low and 56% from October 2007 to March 2009. Just as baby boomers started to retire en masse, many investors said, well, two strikes and you’re out.

That’s too bad, because those who hung in have seen their 401(k) balances recover to their 2007 levels, and then some.

Unfortunately, not everybody could stick it out. Why? They just didn’t have the money. “Although Americans in all income groups are less likely to have stock investments now than before the Great Recession,” Gallup reported, “middle-class Americans have been the most likely to flee the market.”

Indeed, the percentage of those earning $30,000 to $74,999 a year that had money invested in stocks fell from 72% in April 2009 to 50% in April 2016, a 22-percentage-point decline. When you break it down by age, Americans from 18 to 34 showed the biggest drop in stock ownership.

This is one more sign of the hollowing out of the American middle class and the parlous financial state of millennials — and perhaps another explanation for the rise of Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders — in this wild and crazy election year.

To invest in stocks, you have to believe in the future, and it looks like many Americans gave up on the future a while ago."

Summing Up

Staying the course and waiting out the inevitable market storms isn't exactly a fun time when the fit hits the shan in financial markets.

And all this short term unsettling turmoil happens at least very few weeks, months and years in the financial markets. At least that's the way it seems.

But then the market always comes back and climbs to higher prices over time. At least it always has.

I'm definitely not smart or lucky enough to know the two things required of a successful market timer --- (1) when it's time to sell and thereafter (2) when it's time to buy again. 

So I don't even try to play that market timing game.

We should each take the time to think through how smart we believe ourselves to be about 'market timing' before deciding what to do about investing in, and experiencing the inevitable volatility of, stock prices over time.

That's my take.

Thanks. Bob.