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Category Archives: Protecting Your Pocketbook

Why Obamacare Is Like A Government Smartphone

Engineering Thinking principle: comparative analysis

cellphonesWhen you make a decision to purchase an auto or a cell phone or a home, you have lots of choices, because you have a lot of companies competing for your business. You can compare features and prices — do a comparative analysis — and arrive at a rational decision of which is best for you. Of course, what is best for you may not be best for others, so having many options helps to ensure that most people can select a choice that best satisfies their particular needs and preferences. Comparative analysis leads to constructive competition.

However, when the federal government decides to set up a program such as Social Security, Medicare, or Obamacare, we have only one choice. This leaves us at a competitive disadvantage, since we will not be able to do a real-world comparative analysis of any other choice. This lack of competition not only restricts our freedom to choose, it allows to remain in place inefficient and even counterproductive programs, funded by the taxpayer whether the taxpayer likes it or not.

This is a major reason why the federal government’s activities should be restricted to essential national services, such as the military and foreign affairs. When the government gets involved in social services, the historical record indicates that the government’s approach, although it may seem compassionate and somewhat effective, is actually very inferior compared to free market alternatives, primarily because government is inherently inefficient (see “It’s Just A Systems Thing“).

In addition, the proponents of big government social programs never admit that their programs are deficient, no matter how poorly they perform; they always find something or someone to blame. (The Soviet Union routinely blamed “bad weather” for its abysmal economic performance during its almost 70 years of existence.) If Obamacare survives, this is why those who predict it will self-destruct are likely wrong: no matter how ridiculously bad it may be, the proponents of big government will find some excuse to keep the Frankensteinian monster alive. Without a competing program in place to prove the proponents wrong, the blame game will go on and on, just as occurred in the Soviet Union.

govtsmartphoneGovernment no-choice social programs are the equivalent of having a government smartphone plan, where your “choice” is limited to a single smartphone, designed and built by the government, available with only certain features, and at a fixed non-negotiable price. And you have to buy one whether you want it or not, or you will be fined or imprisoned.

For these reasons it is best to leave social services to the states, or even better to private charities, churches, and civic organizations (see “What Would Happen If The Government Didn’t Take Care Of Us?“). When alternatives exist, eventually those programs that perform better become known for their success, allowing them to flourish, while those that perform poorly by comparison become known for their failure, allowing them to die out, and be replaced by the more successful programs. More importantly, alternatives provide each individual citizen with the freedom and comparative knowledge to choose whatever is best for them.

-Ed Walker

 

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Can You Spot A Con Man?

journeysFrom my Journeys to the Edge of Reality site:

A review of The Man In The Rockefeller Suit, The Astonishing Rise And Spectacular Fall Of A Serial Imposter, by Mark Seal.

For more Engineering Thinking guidance on coping with scammers and frauds, please see “Relationships: ET Guidance on Improving Your Interactions with Others

 

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Shameful Behavior Award Given to Florida Department of Transportation: Red Light Cameras with Reduced Yellow Light Time

A hortrafficlightrible government action has just been reported on in Florida by 10 News WTSP.com:

“TAMPA BAY, Florida — A subtle, but significant tweak to Florida’s rules regarding traffic signals has allowed local cities and counties to shorten yellow light intervals, resulting in millions of dollars in additional red light camera fines.

“The 10 News Investigators discovered the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) quietly changed the state’s policy on yellow intervals in 2011, reducing the minimum below federal recommendations. The rule change was followed by engineers, both from FDOT and local municipalities, collaborating to shorten the length of yellow lights at key intersections, specifically those with red light cameras (RLCs).”

The above yellow light “tweak” may result in significant extra fines, but it will undoubtedly result in many more accidents and injuries, some probably fatal. Yellow light timing should be based on a reasonable time for drivers to react to a yellow light and safely bring their vehicles to a halt before the light turns red. If yellow lights are shortened below reaction time, and drivers are fearful of possible fines, stomping of brakes and resultant rear-end collisions can be confidently predicted, as has already occurred in some areas where red-light cameras have been installed.

This shameful practice should be abolished immediately. Government officials should be first and foremost concerned with ensuring public safety, not increasing revenue through deceptive practices. Anyone getting a camera-based “red light” violation should challenge this despicable practice, and hopefully we will soon see some government officials jailed for the crime of public endangerment.

-Ed Walker

 

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A Cup of Teavana? No Thank You

teapotAre Teavana Teas contaminated?

Yes, according to a November 2012 report by Glaucus Research (found here). Thirteen Teavana samples that Glaucus had tested by an independent testing laboratory yielded the following disturbing conclusions:

  • 100% of the tea samples contained pesticides that exceed U.S. food pesticide standards
  • The teas (with one exception) were not organic as claimed

(Please see the report for complete results.)

It should be noted that Glaucus is a “short seller” company, who was positioned to profit if Teavana stock share prices fell. However, being a short seller has no bearing on the issue raised by Glaucus: were the Teavana samples contaminated as claimed, or not?

Teavana responded to the Glaucus report by saying that each batch of their teas undergoes testing, but did not specifically dispute the Glaucus test results. Starbucks, who subsequently purchased Teavana, likewise issued no specific rebuttal of the Glaucus test findings.

So I emailed Teavana the following:

I have seen the recent report by Glaucus Research, and your response, related to pesticides in your tea products. Could you please forward to me via email attachment a copy of the most recent independent third party test results that you use to validate the purity of your teas?

During this time, Teavana was bought by Starbucks, who finally responded as follows:

Hi Ed –

Apologies for the delayed response.  Teavana’s IR website is not actively monitored since the acquisition closed and there was miscommunication in directing you there.

Starbucks has reviewed the report issued by Glaucus Research Group, a short seller that had a vested interest in lowering the value of Teavana stock.  Tea sold in Teavana stores is safe and meets Starbucks high quality standards.

Regards,
JoAnn DeGrande
vice president, Investor Relations | Starbucks Coffee Company

To which I asked Ms. DeGrande:

Thank you.
Is it possible to see a copy of the report that validated safety? These are generally provided by independent third-party testing laboratories.

To which she replied:

Your request is for non-public documents, which we do not provide.  Thank you for your interest in our companies.

To which I responded:

Well, can you provide anything that formally confirms the issue? E.g. a copy of the safety or quality standards that you meet (just their titles and issue dates), or a statement by a corporate official citing the quality/safety standards that are met; etc.? I’m sure you can appreciate the need for some sort of cited standard.
Thanks

Which was ignored.

My conclusion: Because Teavana/Starbucks did not respond directly to the specific test results presented by Glaucus, and instead only issued generalized corporate public relations statements, and because they did not produce any documents defining their quality standards or compliance with same, it appears that it is likely that the tested Teavana products were indeed contaminated. Therefore I will not consume Teavana products.

If you are a regular Teavana consumer and have had any unexplained health issues, it might be worthwhile having some samples of your Teavana teas tested by an independent lab.

Teavana/Starbucks: You are welcome to comment, plus please, no PR spin or generalities, and answer the following questions:

1. Were the Glaucus test results correct, or not? If not, why not?

2. What specific standards do you follow to ensure the quality of Teavana teas?

3. From the November 2012 time period, please provide a pdf of a certificate issued by the independent testing agency that validated the quality of Teavana teas produced during that time.

-Ed Walker

 

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A Good Use For The Donald’s $5 Million: Finding Voter Fraud

If Donald Trump still has that $5 million (the offer he made for President Obama’s college and passport records) jangling loose in his pockets, perhaps he could help the country address its lingering doubts about the fairness of the presidential election: $5 million to whomever can document irrefutably that voter fraud was used to swing the election to Obama. If fraud did occur, that will likely be enough of an incentive to induce a whistleblower or two to step forward. And if no one steps forward, then we can set the conspiracy theories to rest.

Like the idea? Let The Donald know.

 

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ET EXTRA: Investing (Gambling) in Drug-Replacing Natural Supplements

It’s often remarked that the stock market is the world’s biggest casino, but actually it’s worse than a casino. When you walk into a casino you can readily predict the odds of success. For example, a roulette wheel has 38 slots but only pays 35-to-1 for a bet on a given number, so over time you will lose, albeit slowly. When you invest in a stock, however, the odds are not that predictable, although billions of dollars are made by financial “advisers” who have convinced folks otherwise.

As pointed out in The Fortune Sellers, the way to improve your odds in the market is to ignore all those charts and stick to fundamentals: Is the company financially healthy? Does it have proven management? Does it serve a growing or in-favor market segment? Etc. Therefore, if you want to gamble in the stock market, throw away all that charting software and instead invest a lot of time doing fundamental research. Plus, invest in market areas in which you have some deeper knowledge.

Although the intent of this blog is not (and will never be) to offer specific investment advice, an example of a stock gamble that this conservative and science-minded engineer will make is ChromaDex, a small company that’s at the forefront of providing natural-food-based alternatives to standard drugs that all too often have horrible side effects. I’ve followed the natural foods/supplements industry for decades, and believe that the ChromaDex business model makes good sense.

(If you’re curious, please see “Near-Term Catalyst Could Drive ChromaDex Shares Higher.“)

p.s. I’m prepared to lose all of my “investment” on my educated gamble.

-Ed Walker

 

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ET EXTRA: Does A Liberal Arts Degree Help Make For A Better World?

Not so much; followers of Popper and other advocates of classical liberalism are almost extinct on today’s liberal arts campuses. But there is a solution: please see “Academia: The World’s Leading Social Problem: Can entrepreneurs combat the narrow-minded ideologies on our campuses?” by Michael Strong, 26 Aug 2012, (www.popecenter.org)

 

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