Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “deregulation”

Time for Healthcare Insurers to Compete – Roger Ingalls

It’s that time of the year again for us micro-business owners. We need to renew medical insurance policies for our employees and just like clockwork the price goes up another 10%. The increases are illogical and completely counter to everything we’ve learned about capitalism.

When it comes to the insurance or financial industry, if any Conservative or Libertarian thinks the American Economic System is a free market, they’re either a fool or extremely gullible. What we have now is an Oligarchy; a few large insurance companies loosely coordinating policies and pricing. There is no longer true competition in this or any other financial industry.

The big healthcare insurers are publicly traded companies and, therefore, are managed by Wall Street. This means they must meet two critical criteria to stay within the good graces of for profit investors: 1) increase year over year revenue and 2) maintain or increase year over year profit margin. In today’s economic climate and in a real free market, this would be impossible for insurance companies. But yet, they continue to set profit records and growth. How is this possible? Simple…we don’t have a free market. Just to clarify, this has nothing to do with Obamacare; it’s deregulation of industry going back to the early 1980s and accelerated in the early 2000s.

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Let’s look at this more closely. Because of the Great Recession, many Americans are unable to continue buying their healthcare coverage so, today; fewer people actually have health insurance. This means insurance companies have fewer customers now than they did last year or even the year before. Fewer customers usually mean lower revenue but somehow they miraculously managed to increase year over year revenue and profit. To appease Wall Street, insurers just simple charged their customers more. Without a free market, we, as consumers, have no choice.

You may be thinking there are four or five big insurance companies so we do have a choice, right? No, we don’t. These few companies are unable to differentiate themselves because they are publicly traded and must cozy up to investor wishes by not straying from profit and growth path. This is why insurance prices from company to company don’t really vary. One may offer lower monthly premiums but the copays are higher and at the end of the day (or year), it all comes out to about the same.

There’s only one way to infuse a dose of competition into this industry and that is by allowing the public, of all ages, to buy into Medicare. This is truly a different type of offering to the consumer and would provide real competition for the insurance companies. Make these companies fight for customers by offering value.

Let’s bring back a free market economy, let’s have a little competition.

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Hatchets vs. Scalpels – Tom Rossi

Isn’t it a good idea to reduce the size of government? Well, I need to lose some weight. Maybe I’ll cut of an arm or a leg.

Think I’m exaggerating? The Republican dream is worse than cutting off your arm to lose weight. It’s more like cutting out half your liver, one of your lungs, and most of your small intestine. Half your brain must already have been cut out if you think this is a good idea.

Republicans want to cut the bread and butter of the majority of America’s citizens. They want to cut education, social services of many kinds, including services to disabled people, public safety, public transportation, food inspection, and environmental regulation. Some of these are actual sources of many people’s livelihoods, and others protect lives or livelihoods.

But worst of all, and so obviously, politically stupid as to amount to political suicide, is that Republicans want to cut Social Security (and/or privatize it) and Medicare. This would stab a large, jagged, rusty sword into the hearts of Republicans chief constituency: our growing population of those near or past the so-called “retirement age.”

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This group has largely supported the Republican party over the past several decades based on social issues: opposition to abortion, gay rights, etc. And, to some degree, this constituency has gone along with the ideas of personal responsibility, as opposed to having a government safety net to keep you from falling down the elevator shaft if you make the wrong choices. But cutting the sources of income and health-care for the top third of our demographic might be just the shock that would shake these voters loose.

It would be done on the promise that the United States would return to general prosperity if we just set free the incentives of huge, almost tax-free profits, while eliminating those annoying health, safety, and environmental regulations that are surely what are holding our economy back. The idea must be that the children of this age bracket would become so wealthy, with their shiny new corporate jobs that they would be able to buy houses, groceries, and box CD sets of the Beach Boys for their parents.

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Even if the theory were to magically work out, there would be a long lag time between dropping tax rates on the wealthy (even more), deregulating, and any theoretical benefits to the middle class. That lag time would be years, at a minimum. But, really, it would be eternal.

Let’s get real. If incomes are cut and/or costs for things like health care were to go up, a thing economists call “aggregate demand” would fall. In plain English, that means that people would have less available money to buy things. If they buy less, profits go down, not up. That means, according to conventional thinking, that they would hire fewer people, and maybe fire a few. That means that if you’re counting on sonny boy (or, uh, daughtery girl?) to finance your retirement, he’d have to prioritize that over replacing his kids’ shoes at least once a year.

There is certainly waste in our government which could and should be sought out and reduced as much as possible. But this ideology of cutting down the forests with machetes will do much more harm than good. We have been going down that path, farther and farther, for the past 40 years… and things have gotten worse or stayed flat for the middle class, while the very wealthy have raked in the cash and the improvements in standard of living.

We have to return to a reasonable balance in our country. Cutting off a limb is no way to achieve balance.

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-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

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It’s OK to be Food Secure – Roger Ingalls

Have you seen or read the weather reports coming from America’s heart land? Heat and lack of rain are playing havoc with the crops. The prices for corn, soybean and wheat have jumped over the past two days (5.5%, 3.6% and 3.1% respectively). This may seem like a small increase but when you consider that 70% of everything we consume uses these three commodities in some way, it is a significant jump. Hot, dry weather is expected to stay with the nation’s breadbasket for awhile which may further impact crop yields and prices.

Picture from Standeyo.com

To those who understand our so-called modern food system, it’s obvious that we, the consuming public, have lost control of the basic necessities we need to sustain ourselves. The enticement of farm subsidies has created a corporate rush to drive out traditional local farmers. We now have consolidated and centralized mega-farms all practicing similar techniques. This lack of diversity exacerbates weather related events leaving the public at risk (food shortages and high prices). In addition, food prices are no longer solely established by supply and demand. Since deregulation under the Bush administration #2, it is now legal to speculate on food commodities in ways similar to stocks, hedge funds and oil which further drives the price of food. Yes, Wall Street is now gambling on our food. Lastly, corporatized or industrial farming is fossil fuel intensive so food prices are tied to oil and natural gas.

So how do we take back control of our food? This is really an economic and marketing question. We need to develop a substitute food system with value that will motivate consumers to switch.

It just so happens that an alternate food system does exist and has been successfully implemented in an American country very close to our border. Cuba had a farming system similar to the US, Europe and other industrialized nations but they relied on imports from the Soviet Union for oil-based pesticides, natural gas based fertilizers and diesel for transportation of goods from farm to city. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, Cuba’s supply of fuel and fossil-derived chemicals dwindled to near extinction. Fortunately for the Cuban people, their government saw what was coming and developed a smart strategy to replace industrialized chemical farming. They rolled out a farming system based on biological fertilizers, biological/cultural pest control and implemented it right in the cities. Essentially, they created organic urban farming out of necessity. Here are a few amazing statistics and other information:

1)       With a workforce of approximately 4.8 million, they’ve created 350,000 new jobs.
2)       Local production of fresh vegetables increased a thousand fold, yields per square meter increased from 1.5 kilograms to 25.8 kilograms.
3)       Food production is local so transportation is eliminated, food is fresh and harvested when ripe and not chemically gassed to ripen as with industrialized farming.
4)       Diets and health of the Cuban population improved, food is nutrient rich and free from toxic petrochemical pesticides and fertilizers.
5)       Urban farmers earn more than government workers and are as respected as doctors.

By duplicating something similar to the Cuban urban farming method we can take local ownership of our food, create jobs and enjoy healthier, tastier food. Just as important, we reduce the risk of shortages and high prices by decoupling food from the oil industry and speculative gambling by financial institutions. Urban agriculture is formed on multiple locations and managed by many small companies or sole proprietors. This creates additional diversity in produce and farming methods, thereby further improving food security.

Take a few minutes and really think about this organic local food system. It’s not a backward approach; it’s scientifically progressive with a thorough understanding of biology and how a living ecosystem really works. Imagine the positive benefits this would bring to your community: healthy food growing in every available space, people working and food secure, produce businesses or co-ops within walking distance for most everyone, a thriving self-made community.

It’s OK to say no to 1940s industrialized chemical farming practices, it’s OK to say no to market manipulation by financial institutions and IT’S OK TO BE EMPOWERED!

Gas Prices: Who’s to Blame? – Roger Ingalls

Often, filling stations take the heat for high gas prices but, in reality, your local pit stop doesn’t make much money from the fuel they sell. They make pennies per gallon. Most of their revenue comes from junk food sold out of the attached convenient store. Yes, stations do raise prices minutes after crude oil goes up and then lower the price weeks after oil decreases so they do take a little advantage but that has always been the case. Gas stations are not to blame for the current high price of fuel.

Are oil producing companies or middle-east countries to blame for high gas prices? For the most part, they run their output and let the market dictate the prices. They may vary production levels a little but it hasn’t been a market-driver since the 1970s. Oil suppliers are not to blame.

How about oil refineries, are they the evil ones? Back in 2008, oil peaked at $147 a barrel and gas prices rose to about $4.30 a gallon. Now, in early 2012, gas prices are again hitting the $4.30 range but oil is trading at approximately $105 a barrel. Something seems fishy. Oil is 30% less now than in 2008 but current gas prices are the same. Also, we now use 17% less gas than we did in 2008; it doesn’t add up. Demand is down, crude oil prices are lower but fuel prices are higher!

US oil refineries are to blame for the current increase in gas prices. They created an artificial shortage by reducing their refining capacity to 85% of what it was in 2008. The refineries say they had to close down some refineries because the crude oil quality has made some of their production capacity obsolete. It is unbelievable that companies making record billions in profits cannot keep up with the required technology in their own industry. I believe this excuse is a flat-out market manipulating lie. These big companies are not that stupid; they know what kind of oil they’re getting years in advance.

When gas hits $8 per gallon in a year or two, you can blame deregulating legislation that now allows reckless speculation (futures trading of oil) and the elimination of alternative energy programs by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. However, the current high price of gas falls squarely on shoulders of US oil refineries.

Occupy Gardens – Roger Ingalls

There’s a new movement in town and it’s a good one. Inspired by Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Gardens is plotting to hit the ground planting this Spring. The goal is to create urban gardens and feed the hungry.
 
 
This is the perfect protest. It slaps Wall Street, banks, big business and their political cronies right in the face. An alternative means for people to provide for themselves or others is not what these debt creation Czars want.

Deregulation in the early 2000s now allows investors to treat food staples like crude oil and corporate stocks. Wall Street is getting their grubby little fingers around the world’s food supply and playing the speculator game by betting on the price of hunger. We’ve all felt the rise in food prices and it’s not all tied to bad weather. The wings of Wall Street greed are spreading.

Growing food in cities and suburbs will bypass the industrial food system financed by money Czars and will have a positive impact in the community. Here are a few examples:

1)      The organic garden foods will by healthier and tastier.

2)      Growing your own food creates a sense of well-being and empowerment.

3)      Home and urban gardens have a net-positive environmental impact, whereas, industrial farming is disastrous to air, water and soil.

4)      Decentralized food systems (localized) eliminate food deserts and improves security.

5)      The benefits from urban farming are numerous.

Planting season starts in a few months so prepare for a new movement. Occupy Gardens is in the planning stages but appears to be well organized; it should have good traction and big teeth.

As you start Spring cleaning this year, set aside those old gardening tools, seeds and buckets and donate them to the movement when it hits your town. Grab a few bags of new seed and spend a few hours planting with the Occupy Gardeners. You’ll feel good.

Peas be with you.

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Roger Ingalls is well traveled and has seen the good and bad of many foreign governments. He hopes his blogging will encourage readers to think more deeply about the American political system and its impact on US citizens and the international community.

Redefining the U.S. Government – Roger Ingalls

Picture from theviewspaper.net

How would an honest educator define the current U.S. form of government to a body of students? This is the question I’ve asked myself while trying to fall asleep, night after night. The key word in the above question is “honest”.

The U.S. is no longer a true democracy or republic. Our government has latently morphed over the past 30 years into a dual-form system. It’s similar to the Constitutional Monarchy found in the United Kingdom except the power and ceremonial aspects are reversed.

In a modern Constitutional Monarchy, the democratically elected politicians are the true governing body (Parliament, Congress, President, Prime Minister…) and the Monarchy or Royal Family act as ceremonial figures.

In the current U.S. form of government, elected officials are a ceremonial by-product of a ritual balloting process that provides no positive impact on the voting public. Casting a vote is now just a feel-good public ceremony that pays homage to the concept of democracy.

Unlike the United Kingdom, a group-Monarchy or, more accurately, Plutarchy is the real governing power in the United States. Elected politicians are controlled by the wealthy for the wealthy. They’re influenced and financed through campaign contributions by famous and influential individuals, CEOs, corporations, financial institutions and Wall Street players. Essentially, politicians are personal policy generators for the wealthy few.

Accurately defining our current form of government: Pseudo-Democratic Plutarchy is a form of government in which power effectively rests with the wealthy via financial control over political candidates and propaganda means (Main Stream Media). The wealthy finance their desired group of candidates which effectively pre-selects favorable agents. The final selection is left to the voting public in a ceremonial pageant resembling a democratic election.

Pseudo-Democratic Plutarchy: A product of conservative deregulation.

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Roger Ingalls is well traveled and has seen the good and bad of many foreign governments. He hopes his blogging will encourage readers to think more deeply about the American political system and its impact on US citizens and the international community.

Bipartisan Rant: Thank You, I’m Not Alone (by Roger Ingalls)

Often, my head and heart burn with frustration when I can’t find the words or intensity to express myself. Like many people, I have complex thoughts, little spare time and no soapbox to pair vocal-passion with words.

Every once in awhile someone comes along and says exactly what I want to scream to the world. This gift was given to me on Tuesday. My eyes teared-up as I said to myself, “thank you…I’m not alone”.

In a rare bipartisan rant, Dylan Ratigan let all sides have it during his MSNBC show.

I implore you – the readers of this post – to watch this four minute video. It will make you smarter and hopefully move you.

This is the shortest post I’ve written, I can’t add anything to what Dylan Ratigan said. Every point he made was a homerun.

I take solace knowing others see the world as I do and, oddly, it’s comforting to see the growing frustration. Frustration will eventually lead to action.

A change is gonna come!

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Roger Ingalls is well travelled and has seen the good and bad of many foreign governments. He hopes his blogging will encourage readers to think more deeply about the American political system and its impact on US citizens and the international community.

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