Saturday, April 25, 2015

GoFundMe Almost Triples Paypal's Charge

I was looking into contributing to a GoFundMe project when I happened upon their terms and conditions page. GoFundMe almost triples Paypal's charge for transferring money. From GoFundMe's terms and conditions page:
"GoFundMe charges a flat fee of 5% on all payments collected.
. . .
"In addition to GoFundMe's 5% fee, users are also agreeing to one of the following fees, along with the linked Terms & Conditions found below, based on the user's selection during the GoFundMe sign-up process. Only one (1) of the fees described below will be applied per GoFundMe campaign - not a combination thereof:

"US Users ONLY: WePay charges a fee of 2.9% AND $0.30 per donation. Read WePay's Terms & Conditions."
Note the 5% flat fee for GoFundMe and the 2.9% plus $0.30 fee for WePay. So for one transaction you pay GoFundMe coming and WePay going. Heh. There's a sucker born every minute.

Paypal charges only GoFundMe's lesser fee:
"Sales within the US 2.9% + $0.30"
Also, Paypal charges no fees for transferring money to family or friends as gifts.

But GoFundMe charges 5% more than Paypal for merely collecting the funds.

Nice work if you can get 5% just for receiving and holding funds with no responsibility for paying them out. Banks might want to look into that business model for the savings accounts they offer.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Judge Andrew Hanen Sharply Criticizes Obama Administration Lawyers for "Misleading", But No Sanctions Yet

Byron York reports that U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen has reacted to the Obama Administration attorneys misleading statements to him on implementation of new immigration rules which could allow up to 5 million illegals to stay in the U.S. and get work permits.

Department of Justice (DOJ) attorneys had led Judge Hanen to believe no implementation of the new rules would take effect before his February ruling. Judge Hanen then learned on March 4 that the administration had begun implementing the program in November of 2014. A March 4 DOJ "advisory" informed Judge Hanen that:
"more than 108,000 people had already received three-year reprieves from deportation and work permits. DOJ attorneys insisted the moves were made under 2012 guidelines and apologized for any confusion, but Hanen seemed unconvinced during a hearing last month and threatened to sanction the attorneys."
Hanen rebuked the Government for misleading the Court in a ruling released last night.
"Clearly, if a "clarification" on any ongoing actions taken by the DHS [Department of Homeland Security] was ever necessary, which of course it was, [the January hearing] was the time. Silence here, and then later during the scheduling discussion, was misleading. Whether by ignorance, omission, purposeful misdirection, or because they were misled by their clients, the attorneys for the Government misrepresented the facts. The Court, relying on counsels' representations, not only gave the Government extra time for its briefing, but it also took February 18, 2015, as the agreed-upon date by which to rule on the motion for a temporary injunction."
Though Judge Hanen showed his displeasure, there were no sanctions because, in his words, the issues have "national significance".
"Any number of federal judges, given this misconduct, would consider striking the Government's pleadings," Hanen concluded. Hanen said he would be tempted to do the same in this case, were the subject not so important. "The issues at stake here have national significance and deserve to be fully considered on the merits by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and, in all probability, the Supreme Court of the United States," Hanen wrote. Throwing the case out now would "not only penalize those with an interest in the outcome, but would more importantly penalize the country, which needs and deserves a resolution on the merits."
Certainly, throwing out the Government's case because of misconduct would mean a lot more trouble for the Government. But, that's how the law usually works. Misconduct by one side is  punished, sometimes severely.  Apparently for Judge Hanen there are cases too big to fail irrespective of Government misconduct.

One is reminded of the Government misconduct in the prosecution of former Senator Ted Stevens. The judge there vacated the verdict in 2009 but not before Stevens lost his 2008 re-election bid because of prosecutorial misconduct. (By the way, that lost seat paved the way for the hairsbreadth adoption of Obamacare by a filibuster proof vote in the Senate along party lines on December 24, 2009.)

However, the second shoe is yet to fall as Judge Hanen is still pursuing the issue with Government attorneys.
In a separate order, Hanen imposed an April 21 deadline for the Justice Department to submit information about the advisory it sent in March about the 108,000 three-year reprieves, including a list of people who knew about it.
Still the lack of resolve to impose any sanctions at this point, even a contempt of court ruling, is troubling. Here's hoping Judge Hanen will find the resolve to punish conduct that he wouldn't blink an eye in punishing for less powerful players.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

He is risen!

The resurrection of Jesus. His victory over death and the grave. His power as our high priest, redeemer and savior. All of these mean more this Easter as our family suddenly lost my youngest nephew this month.
Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.
(Hebrews 2:14-15)
There is grief. There is hope. There is rejoicing.

May your Easter be filled with hope and rejoicing.

(The photos in this post are from the church of Chora in Istanbul taken a number of years ago. The first depicts Jesus breaking the gates and power of Hell and the second, the empty tomb).

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Atheism and Agnosticism Are Not the Wave of the Future

The Pew Research Center has done a study projecting growth of world religions from 2010 to 2050.

It appears that the decline of religion is not the wave of the future. Despite the decades of predictions by some Western atheists and agnostics that religion would die out (remember hearing that when you were in school?), there is no evidence to support that belief.

Actually, religion is growing stronger and the unaffiliated* (including atheists and agnostics) weaker.

Right now the unaffiliated are slightly more than Hindus in world population and percentage. In 2050 the projection is that the unaffiliated will lag behind Hinduism. Hinduism is expected to lose less than a percent of their current share (from 15% to 14.9%). Atheists and agnostics by contrast are expected to shed about 1/5th of their 2010 world footprint (16.4% to 13.2%).

2010 to 2050: box on the left shows population in billions; box on the right percentage growth/loss
Pew Research Center, April 2, 2015
The major reason for growth or decline is birth rate. However, being convinced does have a role--though apparently a small one. The unaffiliated gain the most by people switching, but it's estimated to be only 61.5 million by 2050. That sounds like a lot, but in terms of the estimated 1.2 billion who will be unaffiliated in 2050, it's a drop in the bucket (5% of unaffiliated and less than 1% of the total world population).

Also, what happens in China will have a huge impact since presently China has the largest unaffiliated population in the world (62% of the 1.1 billion total).
The biggest unknown factor, however, is China, the world’s most populous country. Because of a lack of reliable data on religious switching in China, none of the scenarios models religious switching among its 1.3 billion people. If there is considerable switching in China in the coming decades, it could lower the percentage of the world’s population that is unaffiliated and boost the numbers of Christians, Buddhists and perhaps other groups.
However, there is some light for unaffiliateds in six countries: Japan, the United States, Vietnam, Germany, France and the United Kingdom. But, the cloud coming with that silver lining is that those countries and the other four countries with a large unaffiliated population are on target to reduce their population share from 1/3rd of the world's population in 2010 to 1/4th in 2050.
The religiously unaffiliated are heavily concentrated in relatively few countries. As of 2010, about 86% lived in the 10 countries with the largest unaffiliated populations.[see side chart] Consequently, the demographic trajectory of these countries will help shape the projected size of the global unaffiliated population in the decades to come.
In 2010, more than six-in-ten (62%) of the world’s religiously unaffiliated people lived in China. The next largest religiously unaffiliated populations were in Japan (6% of the global total), the United States (5%), Vietnam (2%) and Russia (2%).
In 2050, China is expected to remain home to a majority (54%) of the world’s unaffiliated population. The United States is expected to have the world’s second-largest unaffiliated population (8%), surpassing Japan (6%).
*Pew definies the unaffiliated as "atheists, agnostics and people who do not identify with any particular religion"

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Coos Bay World Half-Truths Put Obamacare in Good Light

As he often does, MaxRedline shines the light on some interesting half-truths that newspapers publish. This one is from the Coos Bay World on the benefits of Obamacare.
We wonder if opponents to the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — saw this one coming.
Last week in Salem, Andy Davidson, the president of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, told The Associated Press that hospitals in the state are spending far less on uncompensated charity care since more Oregonians signed up for health insurance — Obamacare.
“The ACA has been so successful, and the uptick happened so quickly that charity care has really dropped significantly,” Davidson said.
. . .
According to the Oregon Health Authority, hospitals spent more than $400 million on charity care in 2013. All but two of Oregon’s hospitals are nonprofit enterprises, and those nonprofits are required to benefit the community to retain tax-exempt status.
Last year Obamacare was overall good for hospitals because they can now charge a good chunk of their individual and commercial payers higher rates to cover their expenses (and losses). Lots more money is rolling in due to Obamacare. The net patient revenue in Oregon rose about 7.25% last year (through the 2nd quarter). To put that in perspective, the previous year's raise (2012 to 2013) was 2.38%. The year before that (2011 to 2012) it was 5%. So the boost in 2014 was about equal to the combined raise of the previous two years.

That means that hospitals are making more money. Statewide as of quarter 2 in 2013 hospitals were just slightly in the red (-0.4%). In 2014 the average is +3.5%. That's about a 4% jump.

But that's only part of the story the Coos Bay World did not tell. The positive benefit was carefully phrased. It applies to "charity care".

The other two loss categories for hospitals come in uncompensated care due to bad debt and uncompensated care due to Medicaid and Medicare underpayment.

Medicaid and Medicare underpayment poses a significant problem. In 2013 it amounted to $1.2 billion (vs. $1.3 billion from charity and bad debt combined).

In 2014 Oregon's hospitals saw a 38.6% jump in Medicaid payers (from 15.5% of the total to 21.5% of the total). Medicare saw a small drop--0.7%. But, together they are dwarfing the other pools of "full payment" (self pay and commercial pay). Just last year Medicaid and Medicare payers rose to 63.5% of the total payer mix (see 3rd chart). That's almost an 8% increase over the 58.9% in 2013 and closing in on becoming 2/3rds of all payers.

Under Obamacare Medicaid and Medicare are even bigger payment losers than before.
Hospitals in Oregon and nationwide agreed to cuts in Medicare payments to help fund expansion of Medicaid: $150 billion over the next decade across the U.S., $1.6 billion in Oregon.
Medicare pays about 78 cents for every dollar a hospital spends for the patient and Medicaid only 67 cents on the dollar.

Who pays the rest? Those who pay their own premiums and workers whose employer pays it in lieu of giving them higher take home pay. And there's no way to stop the rise since it's the law that you have to buy government mandated medical insurance plans.

That's why your insurance premiums have gone up and not down $2,500 a year as President Obama promised.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Cruz for President

Just made my first donation for the 2016 presidential campaign.

Ted Cruz! It would be great to have such a smart, principled guy be the first Hispanic* U. S. president.

There are a number of possible candidates I like. Cruz is the first one to make me dip into my wallet. Heh!
*As much as the  left is trying to deny Cruz is Hispanic. By definition women, African-Americans, Hispanics, and gays can only be Democrats. Those who seem to fit the physical profile and are Republicans or conservatives are just pretenders. "White" Hispanics, "white" African-Americans, "straight" gays. One supposes "white male" women.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Great Divorce: A Thought Provoking Play

Michael Frederic, Christa Scott-Reed and Joel Rainwater
The Great Divorce played in Portland Friday and Saturday at the Newmark Theatre.

The play is based on the C. S. Lewis novel of the same name and is presented by the Fellowship for Performing Arts (FPA).

A three person cast (Michael Frederic, Joel Rainwater and Christa Scott-Reed) play 19 differenct characters as the scenes change. Their acting is first rate, and the actors' changes from one character to another flow smoothly and naturally as the scenes shift.

The sets are digitally produced and projected. The digital projection isn't overdone (in the sense of making the play more like a movie), and not only doesn't detract from the stage play atmosphere, but enhances the flow of the story by eliminating the usual need for end of scene delays while the set is being changed.

The storyline is of a man who dreams he is in a rainy, gray, dingy city and finds himself at a bus stop that is the beginning of a trip to the outskirts of Heaven.

The bus passengers have the opportunity to stay, but all except one find reasons to prefer their own pet vice to humbling themselves and enjoying the beauty and bounty of the grass, apples, river and hills they find around them. The passengers are enmeshed in self-righteousness, pride, possessiveness, inveterate grumbling and lust. They struggle with desiring some of the sweetness that Heaven offers (sometimes being reunited with a loved one) and the need to change into a being that really desires at least a little bit of good more than getting their own way.

Max McLean, founder and artistic director of FPA, led a 15 minute discussion after the play for any who wanted to stay. Most of the 800 in the audience stayed and were rewarded with interesting questions and illuminating answers by McLean. One he declined to answer about the meaning/impact of the play, but asked the questioner what she thought. Her answer was succinct and worth hearing. It made me wish for that kind of format after every good play or movie. (But, then I like to discuss movies and plays with whoever I go with and usually am still ready to keep going when their energy and/or interest flags.)

McLean talked about how dense the novel is and how important it is in the play to keep a line of interest that draws the audience through to the end.

Max McLean in after play discussion
The ideas in The Great Divorce are sometimes easy, but many are complex in the sense that just hearing them said once is not enough. You need to think about them. When you read a book, you can stop and think about what you just read. Or you can go back and reread a passage. Not in a play. You have one shot at the words, unless they are repeated through rephrasing.

Thus, difficult concepts, or substantial concepts strung together, can easily become a weight that stops the playgoer from being able to smoothly follow the story line. The humor Lewis wrote into the book is a big aid and gives relief from the denseness of the ideas. The play script makes good use of that humor. But this play has important ideas to think about. So, because the play was only here for two days and three performances and is not available for reviewing on dvd or video on demand, I recommend reading the book.

I also recommend seeing the play when it comes to Portland on its next tour.

Max McLean and FPA are enriching theater going life and thoughtful reflection on important human issues.