Michael Lewis Michael R. Lewis is a retired corporate executive and entrepreneur. During his 40+ year career, Lewis created and sold ten different companies ranging from oil exploration to healthcare software. He has also been a Registered Investment Adviser with the SEC, a Principal of one of the larger management consulting firms in the country, and a Senior Vice President of the largest not-for-profit health insurer in the United States. Mike's articles on personal investments, business management, and the economy are available on several online publications. He's a father and grandfather, who also writes non-fiction and biographical pieces about growing up in the plains of West Texas - including The Storm.
As we wrestle with the economic problems facing the country, it is important to understand the reality of budget surpluses and deficits, their relationship to national debt, and how the level of national debt affects average Americans and the economy in general.
However, few discussions generate as much heat or confusion as those dealing with the annual federal budget deficit – and it is often a single misunderstanding of the budget that drives most misinformation.
As the father of four and the grandfather of eight, I have purchased, crafted, and created more than 1,000 gifts in the past 45 years. The gifts have ranged from very expensive ski trips, to a homemade set of steps that allowed my oldest daughter to climb three stairs on one side, descend three stairs on the other side, and repeat until she was exhausted. I’ve paid for lessons of every sort, attended concerts to see Big Bird and the rock band Kiss, and have been a passenger, along with my kids, in cars, airplanes, boats, and trains across the country.
Becoming and being a good parent isn’t automatic, particularly in the modern world. New parents in previous generations benefited from extended families of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who were generally a part of the child-rearing process. But today, many families are miles away from relatives and parents have to go it alone, learning “on the job” and hoping their decisions will teach their child skills to have a happy and successful life.
Contrary to popular opinion, American presidential politics have always been rough-and-tumble, highly emotional affairs as far back as the election between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the sitting president and vice president, who opposed each other in 1796 and 1800. Jefferson characterized President Adams as a “blind, bald, crippled, toothless man who is a hideous hermaphroditical character with neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”
A popular Uruguayan child’s tale illustrates the value of being bilingual: “A skinny cat stood for hours waiting for the mouse to walk out from behind the hole, so he could nab him. He was having little success. A fat cat walked by, inquired about the nature of the difficulty, and volunteered to show the skinny cat the ropes. First, he had the skinny cat move out of the way where he could not be seen and did likewise himself. Next, he barked, “Woof, woof.” The mouse, thinking a dog had scared the cat away, and it was safe, ventured out only to be nabbed and devoured by the fat cat. ‘You see,’ explained the fat cat, ‘it pays to be bilingual.’”
Most people assume that a federal income tax cut means more money in their pockets. It’s a time-honored political tactic to sway voters, and is in heavy use this election cycle. In 2012, we have a major difference between the parties’ positions. Republican Governor Mitt Romney has proposed that the 2011 tax rates, sometimes referred to as the “Bush tax cuts,” be extended and reduced an additional 20% with the top rate declining from 35% to 28%.
“Leadership” has become the buzzword of American boardrooms, political back-rooms, and educational halls. Often, success is limited to those who can inspire their associates, employees, customers, and the public with his or her ideas and drive.
Unfortunately, the ability to lead, though highly desirable, is often elusive, as evidenced by the thousands of articles, books, videos, and training classes available over the Internet dealing with the subject. Whether leaders are born or trained remains a subject of controversy. However, there is no dispute that all leaders share certain skills that can be identified and developed.
Throughout history, there have been individuals blessed with a unique, special quality. They stand apart from the rest of humanity, larger than life itself, as if endowed with supernatural or superhuman abilities with unlimited capability and potential. As natural leaders, they inspire those in their presence and stir deep emotions with their eloquence, appearance, and manner. They share the gift of charisma.
Not all leaders have that spell-binding, electric presence. Power doesn’t create it, but flows from it. Kennedy had charisma; Lyndon B. Johnson did not. Ronald Reagan had it, as well as Bill Clinton. Steve Jobs, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King, Jr. had it . Sports figures like Arnold Palmer and Muhammad Ali have it, as well as talk show host Oprah Winfrey and pianist Van Cliburn.
It is increasingly likely that you will suffer the consequences of an incorrect or denied insurance claim within the next five years. In 2011, erroneous claim payments increased by more than 10% over 2010; almost one in five claims are currently adjudicated incorrectly, according to the American Medical Association’s 2011 National Health Insurer Report Card.
It is probable, if not certain, that you too will eventually be the victim of an outmoded, inefficient payment system, increasing complex and confusing reimbursement requirements, and over-worked, poorly trained health insurer employees. Knowing how to properly contest a claim payment decision is the key to maintaining your sanity and your financial health.
The costs of healthcare in the United States is a potent issue in the forthcoming election. Both political parties agree that immediate steps must be taken to reduce the proportion of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) dedicated to healthcare, but approach the problem from vastly different perspectives and, as a consequence, propose equally diverse solutions. In particular, prospective changes in Medicare – the public health insurance program for people age 65 and older – has become a battleground as both parties seek to capture the senior vote.
Is your company utilizing the latent skills of your existing workforce? Are you worried about a “brain drain” in the coming years as experienced employees retire? Is your business dependent upon maximum customer satisfaction and a superior experience? If you have answered “yes” to any of these questions, the solution is to retain, retrain ,and reinvigorate your existing employees, specifically those who will be considering retiring over the next 5 to 10 years.
Lawyers – what would we do without them? More than half of the signers of the United States Declaration of Independence were lawyers, including John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. 19 of 43 presidents have been attorneys. More than a third of the House of Representatives are lawyers, along with 60% of the senators.
For better or for worse, whether you like them or not, attorneys are ubiquitous in American life.
How the Law Affects You
Laws touch every aspect of modern life, from the contracts we sign to purchases of automobiles and health insurance, to the protections we enjoy when taking a cruise or flying an airplane. Some areas of law are particularly complex, based upon years of judicial rulings and interpretations or constantly changing regulations.
The practice of using the law to resolve conflicting claims has been in place since Hellenic times, and Americans in particular have embraced the courtroom with exceptional fervor. There is a new lawsuit filed every two seconds in America, with more than 15 million across the country in 2011.
Suing has become a growth industry; the American Bar Association, the professional association for lawyers, indicates that there were more than 1.1 million attorneys in the country in 2007, and law schools have continued to churn out more than 50,000 new lawyers each year since. The profession as a whole has taken to heart the old saying that “one attorney in a town goes broke, two attorneys or more get rich.”
Few things are as vexatious as the receipt of a notice that you’ve been sued. Some liken the experience to being somewhere between being fired and losing your home. Being sued is highly personal, guaranteed to elevate your blood pressure, upset your stomach, and set off a headache. Unfortunately, there were more than 15 million lawsuits filed in the United States last year, about one for every dozen adults.
Of course, being sued doesn’t mean that an issue actually has merit, especially when you consider these frivolous lawsuits filed in 2011:
Detergents, deodorants, toothpaste, and toiletries – the various items needed in a household can easily cost hundreds of dollars every month. Humans are creatures of habit, so we tend to shop at the same stores week after week, buying the same goods each time without thinking. As a consequence, most Americans spend 15% to 20% more than necessary, wasting a massive amount of hard-earned dollars.
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