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Disturbing numbers in the news

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Sunday, April 6, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

It's a day of numbers as I'm writing this.

First, there's the news that from Jan. 1 through mid-March, 22 U.S. veterans daily, on average, committed suicide.

Second, at least 13 people have been killed in car crashes blamed on defective GM ignition switches that the company failed to fix or acknowledge for over a decade.

Third, a curious headline at The Huffington Post seems designed to further paint “the rich” as malevolent and undeserving: “One Percenter Convicted of Raping Child Dodges Jail Because He ‘Will Not Fare Well.'”

Fourth, taking a victory lap in the Rose Garden, President Obama, running low in the latest Quinnipiac poll (50 percent disapproval), announced that 7.1 million Americans had signed up for ObamaCare, a number slightly higher than what the Congressional Budget Office says is necessary for the law to work.

Regarding the veterans, 1,892 small American flags were planted at the National Mall on March 27 to commemorate those who have taken their own lives since Jan 1.

Unfortunately, the 22 count underestimates the problem. The figure is based on the Department of Veterans Affairs' internal data reported from 21 states, thus excluding the majority of states, including the large population states of California, Texas and Illinois.

On April 1, the Pentagon announced there were no U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan in March 2014 among the 33,000 American troops remaining in that country — the first zero-fatality month for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since January 2007. Instead, the deaths are at home.

Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., one of two combat veterans in the U.S. Senate, has announced legislation that would provide funds to repay school loans for psychiatrists who sign on for long-term service with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

On the GM ignition problem and subsequent deaths, a swinging key chain or hitting a pothole or a driver's knee bumping the key chain could cause vehicle ignitions to shift to the accessory setting, thereby causing the engine to cut out and the air bags, power steering and power brakes to become disabled.

A 2005 GM memo, reports The Wall Street Journal, shows that “GM managers ruled out redesigning a flawed ignition switch because the fix would cost 90 cents a car and return only 10 to 15 cents in warranty cost savings.”

Internal GM documents show the company knew of the ignition problem as early as 2001. GM now says the new switches will be available starting today, April 7, 2014 — 13 years late.

On The Huffington Post's “One Percenter” headline, would anyone publish a story headlined “Bottom Income Earner Kills Three”?

And what about ObamaCare's movement toward universal coverage and the 7.1 million new enrollees? Survey data from an unpublished RAND Corp. study, shared with the Los Angeles Times, show that only 23 percent of those new enrollees, or 1.6 million people, lacked insurance before signing up, reports David Martosko, U.S. political editor of London's Daily Mail.

Further, reports Martosko, the RAND study reports that only 53 percent of those 1.6 million people, or 848,000 enrollees, paid their first month's premiums — a long way from what's required to provide economic viability to the system or deliver comprehensive coverage.

Ralph R. Reiland is an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University and a local restaurateur (

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