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Our local shopping mall has gone through a transformation in the last several years, as it was bought out by Simon Malls.  That mall group sought to clean up the atmosphere, increasing the security guard presence, enforcing a curfew, and generally discouraging gang activity (which was a problem there in the past).  Included in the directory of stores are Sears, JC Penny, Bath and Body Works, Children’s Place, major jewelry stores, and a typical mall food court.  There are also stores that appeal to the Goth’s and Emo’s and Skaters: stores like Hot Topic, Game Stop, Icing, and Journeys.

If the owners of the Mall wish to welcome both families and urban youth, they need to keep the hallways and food court and restrooms – all the common spaces – neutral.  Additionally, to keep the environment safe, discouraging gang activity, they should facilitate honesty, honor, and respect with their decor and general vibe.  Thus my frustration and disappointment when I encountered a new feature at the Food Court on a visit to Chick-fil-a this spring.

In keeping with my understanding of the free market, I decided to inform the mall (and Chick-fil-a) why I will no longer be frequenting that location.  I wrote them a letter about a month ago:

“To Aurora Town Center Mall,

This month I was shopping at your mall and decided to have lunch at your food court.  I ordered my food and sat down to eat.  Surrounding the dining area are large TV screens and speakers.  Playing on these were music videos run in a jukebox style, taking requests via text run by the company, Akoo.

Every music video that played in the course of my lunch was morally offensive.  Women were dressed and dancing immodestly and the subject matters were not family-friendly.  I am under the impression that your business is trying to discourage the type of behavior and social atmosphere typified by disrespect of authority and objectifying of women.  To allow individual stores at your facility to carry such merchandise or even play such music I leave to your judgment in creating the retail atmosphere you desire, but the common area of the food court, where mothers bring their children and people like me sit down to eat a quiet meal is not a good place to display the subculture of lust, greed, and violence.  The mall is not a strip club!  Included among your leasers are Bath & Body Works, jewelry stores, Old Navy, JC Penny, Sears, and Dillards!

With the selections of music videos available, it takes but a few zealous texters to flood the requests with undesirable content, inflicting it on the majority of customers, those kinds of customers you, by cleaning up your mall and enforcing strict curfew and conduct rules, are trying to attract.  These upstanding patrons of your facility will be driven away by the offensive and unpleasant experience in your food court.

I am one who has been driven away.  Your food court was one of the main things drawing me to your mall.  I will, from now on, be boycotting all of the businesses in your food court, and will certainly not be visiting that area.  This will continue until I am informed that you have removed the music video feature of your mall.

Please contact me at ***-***-**** to inquire further.”

I received a response a few weeks afterwards, not from the Aurora Mall, but from Akoo itself:

“I understand that you had an experience with Akoo, our on-demand entertainment network, and I wanted to provide you with an opportunity to discuss your concerns further.  (Name removed), Assistant Administrrator for Town Center at Aurora, provided me with your contact information through a complaint filed with the mall.  Akoo always welcomes feedback and anything you are willing to provide is greatly appreciated.  We understand your concern and take your complaint very seriously.

First, I want to make it clear that Akoo is a tenant of Town Center at Aurora and the mall managers have no role in selecting the videos that play on our screens.  If you have additional feedback or questions – please do not hesitate to reach out to me so changes can be made.

We at Akoo understand our responsibility to provide entertainment that is “Family Friendly.”  I wanted to advise you that, as per Akoo policy, every song and video is rigorously screened before it is allowed to play in participating Akoo Network malls.  Not only do videos come to us pre-rated by the record labels that must adhere to strict parental advisory specifications, each song and video is reviewed by a cross-department committee that includes members from our executive board, senior management team members and myself.  Any Songs or videos deemed anything less than “Family Friendly” are not and will never be available.

What makes things difficult in this process is that there are many things open to interpretation; dancing is by nature sensual and some may view it as sexual or explicit despite context – what one considers scantily clad, another considers more modest than what one might see at a public swimming pool.  This is why we find feedback such as yours so valuable; it allows us to edit our content choices to better suit the communities in which we are installed.

That said — we will be certain to review all of the songs and videos allowed to play within Town Center at Aurora once again and remove any content that might be less than “Family Friendly.”  However, if you know the song title or artist name for the videos that you found inappropriate, I would greatly appreciate receiving that information.

I also would like to point out that, because Akoo is an interactive network which plays music queued up by the shoppers (much like a jukebox) without any charge to them, we have a wide variety of Children’s, Contemporary Christian and Oldies tha tyour family might find more suitable.  I encourage you to seek out that content and select it to play in the shopping center.

Please take note of my contact information (enclosed), I would be happy to address any additional questions, comments or concerns that you may have!

Enjoy your day!

Best,

(name removed)”

I received two copies of her business card with her cell phone number blacked out with a Sharpie.  The understanding of “family friendly” videos pre-screened by Akoo included markedly sexual dancing (sure dancing can be sensual, but Fred Astaire and Jane Austen are a far cry from the style on their videos), suggestive bedroom scenes, a young woman basically pole dancing, and a young boy singing about making a much older woman “one less lonely girl.”  There was no song that visit that did not have sexual themes or suggestions.

Nor do I find it a pleasant atmosphere where I have to go out of my way to “request” content that I don’t find offensive, by sitting down and texting the company my request for Children’s, Oldies, or Christian titles.  I can’t imagine that a mother of a few children wants to stop feeding them french fries long enough to text a list of songs to the music video service, competing with the sagging-pants, metal-chained youth with nothing to do but thumb their cell phones, sitting across the food court.

Thus, while I will reply to Akoo with a little more information (I can’t even remember the two worst songs while I was there; I was trying so hard to block them out!), the Boycott of the Aurora Town Center Food Court stands.

I want to encourage you to take action.  Stand up for morality.  Stand up for family values.  Give your business to places that at the very least do not bombard you with offensive content.  And let stores know why you patronize them – or why you don’t.  (I wrote a letter.  It’s formal, old-fashioned, and indicates you took the time and effort to do more than send a digitally-scannable e-comment.  There have been several cases where I have received positive feedback from companies after my letters, including one radio station that responded to my complaint and thus ended my boycott of them.)

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I was having a conversation about the economy last week, and my friend was talking about how to thrive in a recession.  And I recommended thrift.  Which made me think.  Thrift and Thrive have very similar spellings.  Are they related?

Thrift – c.1300, “fact or condition of thriving,” also “prosperity, savings,” from M.E. thriven “to thrive” (see thrive), possibly infl. by O.N.þrift, variant of þrif “prosperity,” from þrifask “to thrive.” Sense of “habit of saving, economy” first recorded 1550s

Spendthrift – c.1600, from spendthrift in sense of “savings, profits, wealth.” Replaced earlier scattergood (1570s) and spend-all (1550s).

Prodigal – mid-15c., back formation from prodigiality (mid-14c.), from O.Fr. prodigalite (13c.), from L.L. prodigalitatem (nom. prodigalitas) “wastefulness,” from L. prodigus “wasteful,” from prodigere “drive away, waste,” from pro- “forth” + agere “to drive” (see act). First ref. is to prodigial son, from Vulgate L. filius prodigus (Luke xv.11-32).

(see also the American Heritage Definition #2 of Prodigal: Giving or given in abundance; lavish or profuse)

Profuse – early 15c., from L. profusus “spread out, lavish, extravagant,” lit. “poured forth,” prop. pp. of profundere “pour forth,” from pro-“forth” + fundere “to pour” (see found (2)).

Wastrel – “spendthrift, idler,” 1847, from waste (v.) with pejorative suffix (cf. mongrel, scoundrel, doggerel).

Thrive – c.1200, from O.N. þrifask “to thrive,” originally “grasp to oneself,” probably from O.N. þrifa “to clutch, grasp, grip” (cf. Swed.trifvas, Dan. trives “to thrive, flourish”), of unknown origin.

Prosper – mid-15c., from O.Fr. prosperer (14c.), from L. prosperare “cause to succeed, render happy,” from prosperus “favorable, fortunate, prosperous,” perhaps lit. “agreeable to one’s wishes,” from Old L. pro spere “according to expectation,” from pro “for” + abl. of spes “hope,” from PIE base *spei- “to flourish, succeed.”

Flourish – c.1300, “to blossom, grow,” from O.Fr. floriss-, stem of florir, from L. florere “to bloom, blossom, flower,” from flos “a flower” (seeflora). Metaphoric sense of “thrive” is mid-14c. Meaning “to brandish (a weapon)” first attested late 14c. Related: Flourished;flourishing. The noun meaning “literary or rhetorical embellishment” is from c.1600.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I’ve been a fan of Monopoly all my life.  Getting brothers and sisters, let alone parents, to play this long game has been hard.  Whenever I had the chance, I would play.  One year for Christmas I got Deluxe Monopoly, the board, box, and various parts of the game wrapped separately so I would have plenty of presents under the tree.  I own a book about Monopoly that gives secrets to the game, among which is the hint to buy orange and red properties, statistically the most landed on spaces. 
 
Before I had real money to speak of, I decided to budget when I played Monopoly.  I kept a ledger and gave myself a $200 allowance each time around the board.  The allowance rolled over, but this budget was not the best strategy for Monopoly.  Property is, as you might expect, key in Monopoly.  (Allowances reduce spending power when the most properties are available.)  In Monopoly, finishing the game is important.  Long term strategy requires that you invest cash now in the future, planning to finish the game as the only player not bankrupt.  Stopping earlier cheats the strategists. 
 
Learning financial principles and investment strategies can be useful, and Monopoly is a versatile tool.  We know there are versions of Monopoly for all sorts of things, changing the wording and the pictures on a board to match a theme: Golf, Disney, Dinosaurs.  Some of these, like Lord of the Rings Monopoly, even offer optional new rules.  Inspired by these game-twisting ideas, my friends and I have come up with some of our own new rules.  Far different than “house rules” (using Free Parking as a lottery), these are made to challenge the way you strategize, and how you think about capital, commerce, and taxes. 
 
Here are a few Alternate Monopoly Rules. —  All games must be finished.  Early terminations necessarily end in a draw, with no winners.  Versions are meant to be played one at a time, and not combined.  However, feel free to modify these rules for your own use.  Unless stated, all rules are as printed in the Monopoly Rule Book.  As a general rule for inventing alternate rules, keep things simple. 
 
Inflation
Every time you pass Free Parking, your cash will be assessed and 25% will be returned to the Bank.  Properties will not be assessed.  Your salary upon passing GO remains the same. 
 
Ultimate Portal (Aughenbaughs)
Use 2 Monopoly Boards, preferably with slightly different cards (vintage, specialized version).  Landing directly on Go on either board shoots you to the opposite board.  Also switch the chance and community chest cards from the two versions.  When a Chance or Community Chest card tells you to go somewhere, go there on the opposite board.  Everyone starts on one board. 
 
Swiss Bank Account
Play like Ultimate Portal with these additions.
Any cash COLLECTED while your piece is on the SECOND board goes into a Swiss Bank Account.  The player may take cash out of that account at any time, but cannot arbitrarily add money.  Income Taxes and Bankruptcies cannot touch any cash in the Swiss Bank Account.  It stays there through the whole game, even if you are bankrupted in the main game.  At the end of the game (when only one player in the main game has any money), the initial winner adds his main game money to his Swiss bank account.  If his total is greater than the balances of his opponents in their Swiss bank accounts, he wins. 
 
Criminal Justice
When you roll three doubles, get a “Go directly to Jail” card, or land on the “go to jail” space on the board, if you do not have a “Get out of Jail free” card with which to bribe the judge, your game is over.  You are capitally executed and your assets are returned to the bank in full. 
 
Wartime/Draft
All taxes are doubled.
If you land directly on any of the four corner squares, you have been drafted.  Roll the dice to determine your fate:
1-Tour of Duty.  Sit out 3 turns.  Come back (to GO) exempt from future service and any taxes.
2-War Hero.  Same as 1 with $1,000 bonus.
3-Casualty.  Game over.  Return assets to the Bank.
4-Draft Dodger.  Sit out 3 turns.  Resume play from GO.  If on any turn afterwards you land on a street property, you may buy any unowned properties in that color group.  If you subsequently land on Go to Jail or get a Go to Jail Card, your game is over.
5-Amputee.  Sit out 1 turn.  Resume play from GO.  All future turns, roll both dice and divide by 2, rounding up. 
6-Did not Qualify.  Proceed with game as normal. 
 
Socialist
At the start of the game all properties are shuffled and dealt to the players.  All rents are the prices posted on Indiana.  Chance and Community Chest cards that involve spending or receiving money apply to everyone.
 
Triggered Socialism
If at any time the least propertied player has 3 or more properties LESS than the next richest player, EVERY player must return his lowest-priced property to the bank.  
 
Economic Stimulus
Pay taxes and fees to Free Parking.  If anyone lands on Free Parking, the pot is divided evenly among all players, with remainders going to the player who landed on the space. 
 
Jubilee
Every time a 7 is rolled, all mortgages are automatically forgiven.  Every 7th time around the board, all rent is free. 
 
Savings Discrimination
Every player must spend money on each trip around the board.  If he completes a circuit without spending money, he must pay a fine of $50 to the bank. 
 
Debt Incentive
If you own a mortgaged property, you do not have to pay any taxes.
 
Foreclosure
If a player lands on a mortgaged property, he may pay 110% of the mortgage value to the bank and acquire that property. 
 
Libertarian
Taxes and jail are cancelled.
 
Mobster
Make up your own rent.  If you own a property, you have 2 options.  You can charge a tenant the printed rent.  Or you can make up your own rent, at which point you have a shoot-off with the tenant.  You each roll one dice.  The higher number wins.  Winner (landlord or tenant) collects the made-up rent from the loser.  In case of a tie, both players pay printed rent to the bank.
 
2012
Put a sticker on a community chest card, and one on a chance card.  Shuffle both decks (separately).  Play Monopoly as usual.  When the special Chance card is drawn, 2012 has arrived; the End of the World has come.  Clean up the game.  There are no winners.  If you draw the special Community Chest card, you can play it as written.  Or you can keep it as a Cycle Card.  If the holder of that card so chooses at the End of the World, he can play his card.  Instead of the world ending, it merely begins a new cycle or phase.  The game is still over, but assets are summed and a winner is declared. 
 
Freaky Friday
Whenever doubles are rolled, players keep their same pieces but all assets shift clockwise (to the left).  No new rents are paid as a result of the exchange until the next turn.
 
Insurance
Optional: Each player has the option at the beginning of the game of receiving a reduced Go paycheck of $150 as insurance against Utilities and Railroads.  The extra $50 goes into the middle of the board and pays Utilities and Railroads charges unless there is no money in the pot, at which point the rents/fees are still charged at $0. 
 
Mayor
When someone rolls a 12, he becomes Mayor.  He holds the special mayor piece.  Property improvements (houses and hotels) are half price to him while he holds that piece.  Mayors are exempt for the duration of their term from property assessment cards.  The next person to roll a 12 is elected the new Mayor.  No special privileges are retroactive.  
 
Feel free to share your own special rules in the comment section!
 
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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Insurance is a guard against risk.  Term life insurance is provision for your family in case you die young – an unlikely occurrence.  Car insurance is coverage in case you get in an accident – which most people won’t.  What we call health insurance is not insurance.  It is a “benefit,” like a retirement plan.  Our system originated when companies were competing for labor without breaking the salary cap laws. 

We could have health insurance, an investment to pay large, unexpected expenses if they come up.  There are a few plans that cover only catastrophic needs.  These are not the kind provided by employers in our market today.  Of course, if employers want to pay for preventive healthcare and common doctor’s visits, that is their competitive option.  It shouldn’t be mandatory, any more than a salary cap should be mandatory. 

Employers could also provide grocery coverage: the planned, necessary expense; for each employee and his family.  The price of food would go up, and options would go down, and companies would do better to just pay well for their labor, letting the consumers determine the demand and value of food.  Consumers are less extravagant, more cost-conscious, and diligent to hold providers accountable for their products and services. 

What makes us think that paying rows of middle men for our health care payment system will result in saving money or improving care?  Are these middle men doing something I couldn’t do myself?  No – they’re distancing me from information about my options in health care and the shocking costs of some procedures. 

My solution is this:

1.  Do not require an employer to do anything for his employee that does not concern his job: cover injuries caused by the job and keep work environments safe. 

2.  Also eliminate what is essentially a tax break on the benefits provided by employers.  If wages are going to be taxed, so should the health care benefits and retirement plans. 

3.  Do not require insurance companies to have a minimum amount of coverage, nor any specifics.  Instead, enforce contract law: openness of the agreement being made and stiff penalties for either party dropping their end of the bargain.

4.  Do not require individuals to have health insurance of any kind.  If the problem is in collecting payment for emergency services rendered to the poor, this needs to be addressed in a wider question of bankruptcy laws and debt repayment.  Leaving individuals to the option of health insurance reduces the weight on the health care industry by discouraging unnecessary doctor’s visits and encouraging preventative lifestyles. 

5.  Allow increased competition by revoking the state line restrictions on insurance policy sales. 

6.  Reduce the cost to healthcare professionals by reforming the system that allows doctors to be sued without probable cause.  Our economy and government is almost completely biased against businesses in favor of consumers.  The customer is not always right; sometimes the “customer” is committing fraud. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I’ve been thinking about welfare lately.  You know, with the push to socialize more and more of the United States, I thought it would be nice to think about our current socialist institutions.  And my grandparents are out of money and can’t live on their own anymore, so they’re applying for Medicaid (which requires that they be poor enough for welfare). 

That’s an interesting idea, isn’t it, that before we’ll give financial aid to people who can’t make ends meet, they have to be so poor they’ll probably never recover.  For example, my grandparents own a house.  It is possible that in the next year or so, they may be able to live there again.  At which point their cost of living would be a lot cheaper, in a house that is paid off: no rent, no mortgage.  Instead, before welfare kicks in with Medicaid coverage for long term medical care in a nursing home, they have to sell their house.  So they will be irrevocably government-dependent, and the government will have to pay more money to find them a place to live. 

I don’t even believe in welfare; I don’t think my grandparents should have applied.  But if the government is going to offer it, couldn’t they use common sense and try to make the program efficient? 

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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“Hello down there!  Slow going?” – Inigo Montoya, Princess Bride

Slow going down here in the blog world.  I have two book reviews to post, and a blog written up about laughter, even one about football. 

“This is not as easy as it looks.” – Man in Black, Princess Bride

My blog is published on two different host sites: Blogger and WordPress – neither of which have been cooperative recently.  Blame might be shared by my own laptop and internet provider, as well.  And when I have been on my computer, late into the nights and early mornings, my work has been directed towards by business, the one linked on the sidebar here but rarely mentioned.  It has a new name, new look, and even some new products coming just as soon as I can get the pictures taken. 

“I don’t suppose you could speed things up?” – Inigo Montoya, Princess Bride

Three years ago I started this business, hoping to learn a lot about business and accounting without going to school, needing something to do with the extra money I had lying around, and of course wishing to earn enough income to stay home full time.  Self-discipline is something I can do, but only with encouragement.  And sometimes, when things are just too hard, I actually need help. 

Large Mi-Re-Do Business Card

“Throw me the rope.” – Man in Black, Princess Bride

Some of my good friends have been encouraging me lately.  They also have their own business.  We had a long talk about believing in our products, about wanting to make sure that we’re not selling junk, but to be willing to settle for marketing goods and services that won’t revolutionize the world.  My brother asked me why I think people should have what I’m selling.  Questions like that make me think, and usually when I think, I get answers, which turn into the blurb about each item that appears on my website. 

Assistance has come in concrete ways, too.  Several of my friends have advertised for me and referred acquaintances to my business.  The friends above are going to print my government-regulation-required care and contents tags.  And my brother even offered to help with some HTML for my webpage

“I do not mean to pry, but you don’t by any chance happen to have six fingers on your right hand?” – Inigo Montoya, Princess Bride

One of the other goals for my business is to build relationships with customers (thereby changing the world – I just can’t escape that motive!).  Sometimes all it takes is opening the conversation, however unexpected or odd. 

“I’m not left-handed either.” – Man in Black, Princess Bride

Running a business is a risk.  Putting my creativity out in the world for judgment is scary.  I could lose money.  I could waste time.  But there is power in the unexpected.  That’s what I’m trying to offer on my website.  For sale is an eclectic supply of handmade and home-designed accessories that are unlike anything the rest of the marketplace has to offer.  Some taglines I’m using or toying with are: “Mi~Re~Do: Reviving Declining Melodies” and “Buy Mi~Re~Do.  Tilt your perspective.”  By thinking through the practical and aesthetic worth of my products, I’m trying to change the way my customers think about – and live – ordinary life. 

“Get used to disappointment.” – Man in Black, Princess Bride

Still, it’s been three years, and though I’ve sold several items on Ebay, and ventured into Etsy, I have almost zero client base.  I have designed several business cards, and been too timid to hand them out.  Marketing is nonexistent.  And my room is overrun with unsold inventory. 

“I’d just as soon destroy a stained-glass window as an artist like yourself…” – Man in Black, Princess Bride

Artists and dreamers cannot be kept down.  We will keep creating, used to our disappointments but pushing forward anyway.  Companies will succeed because they persevere where others failed, and offer goods that others don’t.  When Buttercup cried, “We’ll never survive!” on the margins of the fireswamp, Westley the eminent business coach countered, “Nonsense!  You only say that because no one ever has.” 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I am no fan of government involvement in commerce, even when the industry is health care.  As with most government programs, the three arguments are simple: First, it is quite illogical to think that we can funnel money through a string of middlemen, each of which receives their cut, and come out ahead.  Second, the more the government controls the money, the more they control everything else.  We see this in the recent bailouts of banks, where CEO’s were deprived of their prearranged bonuses by force, and also in the car manufacturing fiasco where the government first handed the money and second forced a government-arranged bankruptcy.  The fear is that when the government is funding health care, the government will tell doctors and patients their options.  Finally, every other experiment the government has made in taking over an industry, however charitable, has been a money-draining disaster with worse results.  For example, consider social security or the public education system. 

Obviously there are other concerns with a socialized, or even a partially socialized health care system.  If things go as they have in Europe and Canada, lines will be long, doctors scarce, and treatments almost rationed (or chosen for their cost efficiency rather than effectiveness).  Private health insurance companies (which insure no such thing) may be put out of business.  Perhaps they ought to be put out of business, but the government is hardly an improvement.  We might worry about fraud, or about people taking advantage of services that cost them nothing. 

 The Problem with Health Insurance

There are two reasons why the people want the government involved in health care:  Many individuals are not insured and cannot afford the high costs of treatment or even of preventative checks.  As an act of charitable compassion, some people argue, the government should take responsibility for these “underprivileged.”  Others, many of whom work in the industry, agree that the present health insurance system is not as good as it ought to be, and think that the government should fix it.  Not surprisingly, these two groups of constituents are looking for very different things from their government.  But they each voted for the same man as president because he at least sounded concerned about the issue. 

 Status Quo

I realize the relatively-free-market health insurance system is not meeting needs, though I believe a free market solution would be better.  Let me describe the problem.  An insurance company takes money monthly to insure you and your family.  They put that money into a pot, part of which goes to pay their employees.  The rest is a bet they make that you will not need the full amount of your premium.  Sometimes they lose the bet, but as long as they don’t lose too often, they can apply the extra money they charged you to the bills for other people.  To keep their costs down, insurance companies tend to be selective and difficult about accepting claims.  They use different ploys, like keeping the most expensive treatments out of formularies; claiming that the treatments are experimental or cosmetic; restricting the doctors you see to those in a pre-approved network; or by prohibitive referral processes.  Insurance companies sign contracts with in-network doctors agreeing to pay a certain amount for specific services – usually an amount less than that which the doctor would usually bill.  This though it actually costs a doctor more to bill an insurance company, due to the amount and hassle of paperwork required.  On top of this, the insurance company usually requires you to pay a copay or percentage of your bill.  Or another old-fashioned, lower-priced option is to have a deductible.  In this system, the patient pays for routine care and emergency expenses up to a certain amount (which they may or may not exceed in a year, and would probably do better not to exceed), at which point the insurance kicks in with a discount or normal coverage.  More on this later. 

To compensate for the arbitrary reductions that insurance companies make to the amount of a doctor’s fee, doctors are almost forced to raise their prices to fool insurance companies into paying them what they need to make a living.  Competitively low prices have been eliminated by an across-the-board amount insurance will pay.  What is to be gained by a doctor charging the insurance less than they have agreed to pay? 

The Corporation Aspect

Insurance companies, except for Medicaid and Medicare, have been private enterprises, required to compete for customers.  To gain a competitive edge, there are several options.  The most obvious is advertising.  Name recognition is important.  Companies can advertise having a large pool of doctors in their networks, easy paperwork, comprehensive coverage, low premiums, small deductibles or copays, perks like inexpensive prescription drugs, or customized get-only-what-you-need plans.  The problem is, insurance companies as a rule have become accustomed to advertising to corporations or businesses, not to individuals. 

Enter Government Interference

I have not studied how the benefits became a normal offering from a corporation to its slaves, but I suspect taxes (translate: government interference and manipulation) have something to do with it.  This is what I know.  Businesses are taxed on the amount of money they pay their employees.  Employees are taxed on their income.  Some things on which people spend their money are tax-exempt (food and medical expenses in most cases).  Perhaps businesses sought to increase the incentive to work for them by offering the untaxed add-on’s? 

(excerpt from an article at http://www.ebri.org/publications/facts/index.cfm?fa=0302fact: “In 1910, Montgomery Ward entered into one of the earliest group insurance contracts. Prior to World War II, few Americans had health insurance, and most policies covered only hospital room, board, and ancillary services. During World War II, the number of persons with employment-based health insurance coverage started to increase for several reasons. When wages were frozen by the National War Labor Board and a shortage of workers occurred, employers sought ways to get around the wage controls in order to attract scarce workers, and offering health insurance was one option. Health insurance was an attractive means to recruit and retain workers during a labor shortage for two reasons: Unions supported employment-based health insurance, and workers’ health benefits were not subject to income tax or Social Security payroll taxes, as were cash wages.

“Under the current tax code, health insurance premiums paid by employers are deductible for employers as a business expense, and are excluded, without limit, from workers’ taxable income.”)

Why is this adverse?  As long as the employees of the company are not complaining – or in worse cases, not threatening strike or resignation – the corporations are under no pressure to do what is best for the patients.  They will buy insurance plans that cost them the least money.  Even if two plans cost the same low price, how is a corporation to know which health insurance provider will offer better service? 

Starbucks and Competition

Let’s compare this to something simple and familiar: Starbucks.  On every corner, there is a Starbucks.  One might be on your way out of your neighborhood when you’re headed to work.  Your grocery store might have one in the corner.  Or there may be that chic spot where you always have coffee with your girlfriends.  Which Starbucks do you patronize?  There might be a friendly Starbucks, a convenient Starbucks, the one with the drive-thru or the excellent customer service.  You might prefer a clean Starbucks or a less busy coffee location.  A few Starbucks offer different selections for their bakery, or later hours.  If you ever have a bad experience at one franchise, you can switch loyalties and frequent the Starbucks across the street. 

Now what if the company you work for, as part of your compensation package, had agreed to fund your Starbucks addiction?  Yet for their convenience they bought a package with a single Starbucks site for all of their employees.  To use your benefits, which your company already paid for, you must go to the Starbucks they chose.  The person who selected the corporate Starbucks didn’t even like coffee, has no idea where you live or whether you like bakery items or drive-thrus.  But now you’re stuck.  To take advantage, you have to drive clear out of your way, get out of your car and walk in, only to find they don’t have the muffins you like and the barrista is grumpy every day.  If you get ambitious, you may complain to your human resources department in hopes that they would change coffee shops for you.  But then someone else is unhappy, because they don’t like the busy, cramped feeling of a drive-thru when they’re reading their novel in the corner, hugging a cardboard-ringed cup of coffee. 

What’s more, as this trend catches on, more and more businesses start choosing a Starbucks for their employee benefits.  Starbucks realizes that they can earn as much by pleasing one corporation as they could by catering to a thousand individual customers.  Once the contract is landed, there’s almost no possibility the business would pull out.  Service wanes, options are reduced, prices inflated, and soon no one who is not part of a corporate plan can afford to buy Starbucks.  Opting for your old favorite Starbucks near your house with the drive-thru and muffins costs you an arm and a leg – and they don’t even have muffins anymore, because that isn’t part of the plan the corporation who chose them wanted.  Your neighbor has to give up his Starbucks addiction because he is self-employed and can’t afford it. 

And the economics get worse, because your wife and kids used to love Starbucks.  The corporate plan includes them (and the trend has made it impossible to afford mocha frappachinos anywhere else), only at that one Starbucks.  To reduce corporate costs, though, they start to restrict the family plan.  Wives and kids under 18 can be included for now for a monthly fee.  After 18, if they enroll in college, the company will still fund their Starbucks life – who knows why the company cares.  Then all of a sudden, at 25, no matter what your family values or circumstances, your kids are no longer covered.  “So get over it,” my reader says, “It’s only coffee.” 

Dire Consequences

But I’m not talking about coffee.  I’m talking about health care, without which you will live with chronic pain or illness.  When you break a bone and can’t afford the X-rays and doctor’s visits, you forever cripple yourself, limiting your employment possibilities.  Or you may die, after exposing your community to sickness.  And remember, the reason an average uninsured person cannot afford basic health care is because the prices are inflated due to insurance policies and corporate-appealing non-competition. 

 Every Man for Himself

In the Starbucks illustration, I even skipped a step, eliminated the middle man.  That middle man not only harms you, the patient, but also the doctor.  And the less lucrative it becomes to be a doctor, the less people want to be doctors.  When there are not enough doctors for immediate care, you wait.  The service gets worse, more and more limited because all these unnecessary people are skimming off their share, and there isn’t enough money to pay for what is needed at the inflated prices.  But everyone is out for themselves, including the patient.  They’re going to get the most they can out of their coverage, too, taking advantage of any free or fully covered procedure, necessary or not.  These procedures have their place, and their price, but are not for everyone.  Someone is paying for them, even if it is not the patient, and no one is benefiting. 

How the Government Makes Things Worse

An astute observer may already have realized that if the government takes over the Starbucks plan system, the problem is only going to get worse.  There will be even less competition; more cost-cutting standardization of inventory; and less incentive for providers leading to less providers and longer waiting and higher costs.  This is not even to mention the regulation that will accompany the government plan, or the government-funded coverage for those who could not afford health insurance under the old system. 

 Creation Rather than Creativity

Nevertheless, the Obama administration presses on towards a government option for health insurance.  A nation already so much in debt that it cannot hope to get out of it, threatened with economic collapse, high unemployment, and runaway inflation is going to invent more money (and possibly also increase your taxes) with which to provide health care to its poor.  The US may be able to create dollars ex nihilo, but it cannot create doctors, and we are going to run low. 

Government Advantage

What’s more, this government plan will have the unmatchable advantage of an endless supply of money for which they will have to give little account, as opposed to the private competitors who have to make do with what they can collect by way of premiums.  Analysts fear that private insurance companies will be shouldered out of business by the government “option.”  Corporations will not choose to carry the expense of health insurance when their employees could get coverage from the government. 

Rationing

Others who risk prophesying anticipate a responsible government (don’t know where they got that idea), which will limit the amount of imaginary money they’re spending, and be forced to ration care.  Even aside from the money, as I said, fewer providers in business may demand rationing, too.  The most fearful consequences of this potentiality are the way decisions will be made.  Would a rationing system choose a younger person for care over an elderly person?  If your condition is the most expensive to treat, would you be left untreated?  Or perhaps your chances of survival are small, so there will be no attempt made to save your life.  An extreme government might choose by party loyalty or by race.  When choices like that have to be made, motives become suspect. 

Forecasting Good Things

Now for the bright side.  Barring a law prohibiting paying for your own care or health insurance, the private half of the system might be improved by this sudden competition.  If under a national health care system you cannot get treatment or if you doubt the quality of the treatment, you may take your savings and pay dearly for health care yourself.  It will be interesting to see if all doctors will be required to accept the government health plan, or if they will have the option of demanding private pay. 

Free Markets Fight Back

When corporations start dropping benefits from their compensation packages, employees worried about the level of health care they might receive under a government-run plan will have the competitive option of buying health care for themselves and their families outside of the corporate insurance model.  I believe the best option for reforming the health care industry is to make just this shift, to competing for the business of the individual rather than the company.  Already I see insurance companies marketing to that class of consumers.  Such policies would be most efficient as catastrophic coverage, for medical expenses exceeding tens of thousands of dollars.  Patients would pay out of pocket for routine medical visits and simple treatments like antibiotics, but in case of surgery, hospital stays, or a disease like cancer, those high costs would be covered.

The Answer for the Poor

In either case the solution requires that you have enough money of your own to pay for health care.  Most people do not.  So in the end we may survive this government takeover only by prevention and caring for each other in community.  Eat healthy.  Wash your hands.  Get enough sleep.  Join a community of people who are going to watch your back – maybe even an insurance community where you all save your money together, agreeing to help each other if any of you incurs a major medical expense. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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The Federal Reserve is a collection of banks that loan money to the Federal Government.  Don’t be confused by the use of federal in both terms.  One is private, and the latter is public, run and (at least hypothetically) regulated by the US Constitution as ratified by the states. 

If the government wants capital, they call up the Federal Reserve, who prints out “federal reserve notes” that we call dollars.  They’re legally backed as usable on any transactions in the United States, but they have no other intrinsic value.  They are good towards commerce and payment of debts, but their value is not fixed, and the more that are printed, the less value each “note” has.  The Federal Reserve is not taking money from one place and loaning it to the government like you or I would have to do in order to loan money.  They are inventing it out of thin air. 

And here is the interesting thing.  The Federal Reserve charges interest on the money they print for the government.  A loan has been made, that could be called up.  To repay this loan, we would have to give back the dollars plus interest.  Do you see a problem here?  To repay a loan with interest, we have to give the Federal Reserve more dollars than we got from them, and they’re the only source of dollars.  Even if there were another source of dollars, those dollars would be a note on some other group, even the government, backed by nothing.  It’s all Monopoly money that people use to control each other.  Kind of strange.  This isn’t even a case of the power of the richest.  They own nothing of value, but wield all sorts of authority. 

I don’t like it.  A partial list of banks that make up the Federal Reserve (many of which are foreign) is available.  On that list is my bank, Chase Manhattan.  This leaves me conflicted.  On the one hand, I don’t want to help the criminals that propagate the Federal Reserve.  On the other hand, it is virtually impossible that my bank will go under.  When you can print your own money and are in on the biggest racket in history, you’re in pretty good shape.  This is worse than Batman, let me tell you.  The only way that my bank would be threatened is if other members of the Federal Reserve were to turn on them, and I believe that will not happen until there are no other banks.  For there to be no other banks, there would have to be no more capital. 

This is my best bet for boycotting the Federal Reserve: set myself up in a situation where I can be self-sufficient or barter whatever I need, living entirely without capital.  (Even this is impossible because the government charges property taxes payable only in the form of Federal Reserve Notes – the government is compounding their own problem.  Why?  As long as the game is still going, the government also wields power using the Monopoly money.  Just like the idea of debt in the first place, or economic stimulus packages, or bailouts, or bankrupting social security – the government does not think about long-term consequences.  Their value is not liberty and justice, but control.) 

But there is another way of eliminating capital.  We could go to a digital currency system.  Belonging to a bank (probably only one central bank) would be mandatory in a legal sense, and almost in a practical sense.  Accessing the account would require a password or a physical scan (fingerprint, iris) or a digital key (like they use in hotels, or in your remote access car key).  And anyone who has studied any kind of end times prophecies has heard of the “mark of the beast” on hands or foreheads used for buying or selling.  Can’t you imagine a world leader who decides to throw off the yoke of the banking industry and replace them? 

To God be all glory.

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Proverbs 22:7, “The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.”

 

The Bible is fairly clear that debt is a bad idea.  The Jews were allowed to loan money to each other, and even to take a deposit – but they could not charge interest.  Only outsiders were to be a source of profit to the Jews.  Proverbs teaches that giving to the poor is much better than lending to them; it is compared to lending to God, who will “repay” the generous man. 

 

Proverbs 19:17, “He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the LORD; and that which he hath given will he pay him again.”

 

Luke 6:35, “But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.”

 

With this in mind, I have chosen to be neither slave nor master, borrowing nor lending.  I don’t have a credit card, bought my car with cash, and prepay my auto insurance every year.  The most money I owe is paying my share of our family cell phone plan each month, and I try to never get even a day behind.  As a result I have a no credit rating, but I defy an economy built on spending tomorrow’s dollar.  Isn’t it rather foolish of them to base trust on the fact that people are NOT responsible enough to save money ahead of time? 

 

I don’t want to lend money, either.  But living in modern America, to have any sort of normal life one must have a bank.  Banks are institutions that take my money and your money and loan it to others in order to profit from the interest.  The banking crisis of 2008 was precipitated by a ratio of loans to interest received that was too disproportionate to maintain a profit.  The expenses of banks were not being paid by the interest on loans because too many loans were “bad.”  Payments were not being made.  Banks can’t reinvest foreclosed property immediately.  Their funds became tied up, invested in non-liquid assets.  And this is not a bad thing except that they had been too greedy, and left insufficient cash in hand to meet the demands of their customers.  Some of their customers were the depositors, some the borrowers (small businesses were a big concern; apparently they function on future dollars almost exclusively), and many bank clients are paradoxically both.  That this is bad for the economy as a whole is becoming more and more evident. 

 

The practice of profiting from loans (associated with shady characters for centuries) to people in need is hurting individuals as well.  Obviously to give an interest-free loan, or even a “hand up” gift in hard times would be much preferable financially.  Traditionally this would be done relationally, by capable friends who would be able to assess the legitimacy of the need and the efficacy of the gift.  To those not in need loans ought to be less available.  Politically and economically the Levitical law on charging interest to foreigners corresponded to the idea of duties (benefiting the people directly, rather than the government).  To participate in the God -directed and –blessed economy of Israel, a Gentile could borrow money from a Jew, but the Jew was allowed to charge him for this privilege, taking the form of interest.  (This is as covered in the law; it is plausible that Jews could charge other things like duties or rent for market space.)  I suppose that business loans resemble this category, but it is not sound business to rely so heavily on borrowed cash. 

 

Here is where I would like to introduce the concept of investment.  What is commonly considered investment today is more accurately called “speculation.”  It is a risk, calculated or wild – a gamble.  Either a bank is taking a risk on a loan, betting that the interest yield will be profitable and that the debtor will not take off with the money; or an individual or institution is throwing money into stocks hoping the value of the stocks will go up, and that they can sell at a higher price in the future.  Investment is different.  Investment relies on dividends for profit.  Dividends are a share of the profits less than the total profits divided by all the “shares” of stockholders, so that some of the profits may be reinvested in the company for continuing productivity, like farmers not selling all of their produce, but saving some for seed and planting a portion of it the next season.  Sound investing is to give (as in not expecting or requiring the money to be returned) a sum to a company that one believes will be making profits long enough that dividends will meet or exceed the amount of the investment.  This happens over time. 

 

Another type of investment is in assets, which ought to appreciate through supply and demand.  This property ought to have inherent worth by reason of usefulness.  A few common kinds of investment are land, houses, and gold.  A person may also invest in a service, like education, which makes his skills greater and his labor more valuable.  Investing this way does not always require the sale of the investment to profit.  There can be “dividends” on this as well: rent money from rental property, use of a house or farmland, or application of the skills acquired through education. 

 

I understand how the sale of stock arose, and how useful it is.  I’m not opposed to that being an option.  It should not, however, be the common practice of banks, investment companies, or sound long-term investors.  There would be two reasons to sell stock: 1) You can no longer afford the investment.  Liquidity is more essential to you than long-term profit.  2) Your share in the company is losing value in a way that makes you think that no profit will ever proceed from it again.  In this instance, to sell is to take advantage of another investor, profiting from selling them an asset worth nothing.  Like loaning money or running a casino, it is preying on the risky ambitions of foolish men.  It ought to be legal in a free market, but it is not moral. 

 

All this to say that the ideal bank for me would be one that does not loan money, nor speculate in stocks.  Picture a community of people.  Many of them have money to spare, which they wish to store in a safe but accessible location.  They get together and store their money in a bank.  This bank is managed by a man who guards their cash and processes transactions: deposits, withdrawals, checks, debit cards, transfers.  To pay for his services, the depositors allow him to use a portion of the total money in the bank to invest.  At least a portion of the dividends, if not all of them, would pay for the building, the administrative fees, and the banker’s salary.  The investments ought to be diverse, and published to the depositors for review.  If there was sufficient concern that the investments were imprudent, the depositors could attempt to advise their banker or transfer their money to a more trusted banker.  Depositors would understand that not all of their money would necessarily be available for withdrawal or transfer at once, but at a contractual set period after such a request is made.  As always, more deposits are an insurance against a misjudged investment or a large withdrawal.  If the investments are consistently successful enough, a bank may offer its own dividends to all of its clients, or to those whose deposits are large enough (this is done today through “interest-bearing” checking accounts). 

 

This is slightly simplified.  A larger bank would obviously employ more than one investment manager, for example.  I don’t know all the laws involved.  Many banks, I believe, were begun by one wealthy man (or a few partners) who put up his own money to ensure both initial liquidity and sufficient funds to participate in the market at a profitable level.  In fact the whole idea is similar to a trust, in which multiple parties get together in order to make investments too large for their individual capital.  (If I wanted to invest in gold, I am pretty sure the smallest portions I can buy in a portfolio situation are ounces, so if I don’t have enough extra cash to buy one ounce, I cannot invest in gold.  But if my brother and I pool our investment money, we could afford the ounce and participate in that market.)  Trusts are strictly regulated by contracts defining shares, inheritance, selling out, and management. 

 

I don’t think owning stock in a company should be restricted to corporations or investment firms or banks, nor should it take an expert to understand the buying and selling of stocks.  There is a place for the investment firm that lets investors manage their own portfolios as well as for an investment bank such as the one I describe.  If a client is benefiting from the bank-like services of an investment firm, it is fair enough to let those employed by that company control the investments made, even if in the form of creating a list of acceptable investments or advising on investments (veto power), for the security of their business and thus the continued availability of the demanded services. 

 

My idea here is not brand new.  Think of what banks are called.  You can still find some today called such and such “bank and trust,” or “investment bank.”  I want a bank that does not loan money, and one that does not speculate in stocks.  Do you know of any? 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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The Empty Cradle, by Philip Longman, is a wide-scope book delving into a truth much more inconvenient than “global warming.”  It is a fact that birthrates are falling all over the world, and that in many countries, particularly Western nations, the rates are already below replacement.  In this well researched book, the author logically lays out a history of birthrates – particularly in the modern era (since the founding of America), the economic consequences of labor shortages, and some suggestions for stimulating a rise in birthrates again without relinquishing secular equalitarianism.  The author’s worldview is specifically secular, and he expresses some fear that religious fundamentalists (that would be me) may inherit the earth by default of having more children.  He describes the overcoming faith that such people have, enabling them to go ahead and have multiple children despite cultural and economic pressures that depress the birthrate among pragmatists. 

 

Once upon a time the government was concerned to see birthrates falling (they fell in the United States for about a century between the Civil War and the end of World War II).  In the 20th century, however, prominent voices began sounding an alarm of overpopulation – a myth, since the population of the world has multiplied magnificently in the ensuing decades and managing an ever-increasing productivity.  Quality of life has improved significantly since the middle ages, when the population of the earth was but a fraction of the present 6 billion. 

 

A few pages are devoted to the causes of declining birthrates.  Accessible and legal and socially acceptable birth control (the Pill) is mentioned, along with abortion.  Mostly the author discusses the “liberating” policies of equality and the economic forces of increasingly technological jobs.  There is also the cultural/materialistic glamorization of adults free of the burden of children. 

 

How important is the birthrate?  The middle of The Empty Cradle describes the devastating economic situation we can anticipate when 1) birthrates fall steeply and 2) birthrates fall below replacement levels.  The population ages.  Aging populations reproduce less even than their parents did.  This is a downward spiral with drastic consequences.  Most attempts to deal with these results depress the birthrate even more. 

 

Economics effect social structure and the type of government people find acceptable and necessary.  As he builds toward the concluding recommendations for turning these trends around, Mr. Longman incorporates a good tutorial on economics, the examples of history, and some political theory.  If you’re interested in the power of taxation and laws, read this book. 

 

In Chapter 7 is a discussion of the economic implications of having children, including “opportunity cost.”  At one point the author states that “cheaper by the dozen” is true, but he minimalizes this.  He is exaggerating when he uses the phrase, really only calculating for two or three children, not by a larger number like a dozen.  In a broad economic sense, one woman raising and educating 6-12 children, cooking for them at home, growing her own vegetables, etc. would be a much more efficient means of producing a crop of laborers than the present one.  Also the data he uses in calculating the cost of a child is an average, representing the values of a society that prefers things to people.  Priorities change (people whose priorities have not changed consider this a sacrifice) and thrift is employed when you really wish to invest in having many children.  What the author does not do in analyzing whether all the costs typical of raising a child are necessary or even beneficial, he does for the elderly.  There are many pages describing the extension of life expectancies, the ineffectiveness of healthcare, and environmental excesses that cost money to produce and to remedy but which could easily be avoided with a bit more prudence. 

 

The final chapter of the book (none of this book is superfluous; there is not even a summary conclusion – a concise style I appreciate) lists three primary recommendations the author has for making the most of the labor we have and for encouraging adults to invest in the future through bearing a next generation.  In keeping with his worldview, the recommendations avoid appeals to virtue or self-responsibility, instead increasing the role of governments wielding taxes and laws to corral the people to a preferred socially beneficial behavior (including more healthy lifestyles and diets).  My favorite recommendation is one that would be difficult for a government to force, but which may be the inevitable social response to increasing economic and political pressures from the declining population: return to smaller communities in which production is less efficient but healthier and more viable long term. 

 

All the facts, observations, and analyses of this book had the ring of truth (included are multiple sources and footnotes).  I disagree with interpretations in some places, and with prescriptions in others, but benefited from reading the author’s different point of view.  This is a book I want to own, to keep on my shelf and to use in home educating my, God willing, many children.  The information presented in The Empty Cradle is important for every person to know, and the writing and layout are superb.  Therefore, I recommend this book to you, and to all of my friends. 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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