Sunday, November 24, 2013

In the immortal words of Yogi Berra - Deja Vu all over again.

The Koch Brothers' sycophants are out in force again. I use the Koch Brothers as a symbol for all the mega rich and the mega rich wannabes who have been bribing legislators for over two hundred years.

First, to set the tone, lets look at America's icon for right wing politics, the man who did more to dismantle the legislation that created the greatest middle class in history, Ronald Reagan.  Reagan was rolled out early in the fight against Medicare in 1965. Here he is in his infamous prophesy of doom speech. Even in his grave, he must be a little embarrassed.

Now with the blundered start of ACA, they are back at it. It is true that the Obama administration was careless (giving them the benefit of the doubt). As a liberal, I am disappointed in the way the president handled it from the beginning. I have to question his commitment to the liberal cause in general and health care specifically. Most liberals favored a single payer system but the more realistic of us realized that this was not possible given todays political configuration. A government option, where people had the option of buying into Medicare was possible and could have passed. Had it been included, the individual mandates would not have been necessary and the website problem would never have arisen. Ironically, the individual mandate was a GOP concept and was based on "making the deadbeats pay for their own insurance." It was adopted at the urging of Obama who thought it would eliminate GOB resistance. It didn't work. A GOP concept became a bad plan automatically when endorsed by Obama.  Ironically, again, the individual mandate included in Mitt Romney's Massachusett plan was a source of initial resistance. At this point in setting the plan up, the progress in the nation is further along than it was in Massacusetts.

Early in the webpage nightmare, the complaints were mostly from individual horror stories. Before I discuss it, we need to put some numbers on it - perspective. A very small percentage of the non-elderly population, 5.7% are in the individual market and the number of people at risk of not keeping their current individual health insruance and who also will not be income-eligible for financial help to purhchase new coverage under the AFA is less than 1 percent of the non-elderly populationOf course, it becomes very important if you are one of those negatively effected but in the macro picture, we are not looking at very many"victims". The importance is overly stressed by the "big story" oriented information media. It has been, unfortunately, unfairly addressed by the corporate ownership of that media.

Here are some of the arguments you hear in the dialogue:

1. Rates are going up. This is a duhh. Rates have been going up on health insurance premiums since health insurance was created and are growing now at an all-time low. Previously, the average annual rise was over 10%. Many, if not most of the horror stories stem from the minimum coverage requiremtnent of ACA. People were being sold or porvided junk voverage which amounted to nothing more than disaster coverage with a high deductible and low percentage coverage. Even most of these include a maximum benefit clause. In reality they had no health care coverage. Naturally, more inclusive and thus meaningful, coverage costs more. People are being charged more for better coverage.

2. Both sides wanted the AFA to fail; liberals because they want a single payer and conservatives because it is a bad law. It istrue that most liberals favored a single payer or, at least, a government option, but is doesn't make sense, and is not true, that they would want it to fail. The ACA is imperfect and even weak but it is an improvement and includes some 47 million people who were not previously covered. It also provides a system that can be tweaked and improved. The conservatives want it to fail, at best, because they think it will hurt business, and at worst because they want Obama to fail; and it's no secret that they want him to fail. An interesting aside; the media compares Obama's unpopularity with Bush's but there is no comparison. Bush's drop came from just one direction - center/left. Obama's is coming from both directions, the right which never liked him and never would or will simply because he is 1, an African American and 2, a democrat; and from the left, people like me, because we feel that he has sold out to the corporations.

3. It is hurting small business. This depends on how you define small business. The act defines it as a business that employs less than 51 people. These businesses will be subsidized by the government for 50% of their health care insurance costs. This is a tremendous advantage for the truly small businesses. To be fair with the critics however, even half of the added costs is still added costs and marginal businesses could be hurt. Businesses with more than 50 employees, think about it, 50 employees, are not really small.  If they can't afford to provide health insurance for their employees, maybe the shouldn't be in business.  Unless they are paying minimum wage (which is probably too often the case), the added cost of heath insurance has to be a relatively small increase in total cost of providing their product or service. Someone did a computation how much McDonald's would have to increase the price of a Big Mac, fries and a coke and it came out to about $1.50.  I would be glad to pay it and to be honest, probably wouldn't even know it.  After all, Carl Jr.'s had to increase their price too! Re-ntering the arena of liberal vs conservative, if the liberals had their way, businesses would  pay nothing for health care insurance and would be more competitive with foreign businesses where the government provides it. Interestingly, business leaders are the most vocal in opposing government provied health care. This epitomizes the collective intelligence and objectivity of corporate America.

Complaints are rife about how small business is being hurt. There are no details provided, however, of the size of the "small business" and of the details. It is hard to really understand without details. It is also hard to understand exactly how they know how they are being hurt as the requirement is not as yet effective. One complaint has legs  and this is the fact that some businesses are cutting back on hours of employees so they will not be full time employees as defined by AFA. I know for a fact that this is true. This is a weakness in the act that was unforseen by the legislators. In restrospect, it is hard to understand why it was unforseen given the "bottom line" tunnel vision of business leaders and owners. Personally, I think the weakness was deliberately included as an escape clause for business.

One horror story with a face is the plight of the benevolent Goodwill Industries. If there was ever a business misnamed, that is the one.

4. ACA is just another step in the inevitable government take over. This, of course, is nothing more than sophistry and it is difficult to disprove this kind of argument. I will just point out that I have been waiting for the government "takeover" since the New Deal legislation was passed in the early thirties. I have been covered by Medicare since I turned 65 nearly 20 years ago. My wife has been covered for the last 13 years. I can't count the number of office visits, rehabilitation hours and various therapy we have had but there has been three heart surgeries, two knee replacements, another knee surgery, two foot surgeries, rotator cuff surgery, two hand surgeries and a thyroidectomy. I may have forgotten some! The total cost to us, aside from our very reasonable monthly premiums has been $40. Never have we seen a government employee. The only time we talk to one is when we have a question obout Medicare. I see any doctor I want. I haven't ran into a doctor, other than a chiropractor, that didn't accept Medicare.  I call the specialist and unless they require a referral, I don't need one. This saves money as there is one doctor visit that is not required. I should point out that I am still a responsible citizen who pays taxes and contributes to the economy. I have built probably more than 35 house that have become homes for someone and paid taxes on my profits and payroll taxes on my employees.

The Ronald Reagan speech linked above sums up the emptiness of the right wing argument and the futility of trying to overcome their singlemindedness. If the recent GOP obstructionism and the weakened economy does not provide enough reaction to overcome the Teaparty 51, we will see the type of government that those waiting at the bottom for the elevator to come back down and take them to the top have haplessly enabled.

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Monday, November 4, 2013

State of disUnion

The end of democracy?
I've been around awhile. I was born before Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected and became, IMO, the greatest American president. I witnessed the hate thrown at him by the media and political opponents. I saw Harry Truman at his best and worst; I saw Ike, unspectacularly become a great president and Ronald Reagan, one of the most loved president, probably in the early stages of Alzheimer's and led by his right wing mega rich backers, start the dismantling of the banking reforms and pro union legislation of the New Deal, and watched as this dismantling lead to the great recession and the unstable and endangered economy of today.

I never dreamed, however, that I would see what we are experiencing today. I first became politically aware when I was a young man in the 50's while serving in the army in the south. I witnessed the shameful mistreatment of African Americans (colored or Negros, then) and to a lesser extent, Mexican Americans. Even in the turbulent 60's with all the conservative resistance to the civil rights movement, the political process was at least honest.  The hatred that drove the resistance then was open.  But it was driven underground by the success of integration and early affirmative action, and the emerging of the black athletic superstars. The election of a black president, however, has re-opened it. It is somewhat more subtle now, more disguised, as it were, but just as ugly. The Teaparty, financed by the mega rich like the Koch brothers and fueled by an irrational, even frantic,  hatred of the president and government, have managed to shut down the government process to a large degree. Fifty one congressmen from districts so carefully gerrymandered that they are insulated from electoral competition have campaigned on the mantra that government doesn't work and have made their only goal to make sure they are right. Even in the senate where this attitude is tempered only by the fact that they are elected at large the only goal has been to make sure that Obama fails.

The GOP has used the veto, threat of the veto actually, to  block most legislation and filling many critical appointments. In short, we no longer have democracy. It is an embarrassment throughout the world. The only thing on which the two parties can agree is the killing of suspected terrorists and twice as many innocent people. The short fix would be to pass a constitutional amendment permitting states to secede with a 50.01% vote. I'm joking, of course, but it would be an interesting solution with ironic consequences.

Government Shut down
The recent government shut down is the epitome of the problem. The out of control House of Representatives with it's 51 Teaparty lunatics, tried to hold the country, including their own clueless constituents hostage with their withholding funds to finance the government. Sorting through all the verbiage there are two principal issues (other than the goal of the Teaparty to make government fail): One is the conservatives attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the other is the issue of revenue. The Democrats want to reduce the deficit by increasing the marginal tax rates on high incomes. This is universally opposed by the GOP who would prefer reducing the deficit by decreasing expenditures on what they call entitlements. Their preferences are mostly embodied in the Ryan proposed budget. Democrats consider this to be balancing the budget on the backs of the poor. Whatever it is called, it clearly depends more on spending cuts which effect lower income groups than on raising marginal tax rates on high incomes.

Where the increased rates would start varies from $250,000 to $300,000 incomes but has always been subject to negotiation. This would be a raise of $30 annually for every $1000 dollars of income above the income selected. Really barely noticeable by the tax payer with no effect on the level of economic activity. Cuts in entitlements would be less affordable with immediate consequences to economic activity.

Without consideration for the relative merits of the two plans, the way the Teaparty 51 approached the issue is unconscionable! The 16 day stoppage has cost the economy $24 Billion. This has hurt everyone. In addition to the economy, the right wing of the Republican party has put another nail in the GOP coffin. In all likelihood, the 51 will take a hit but still maintain control of the House and, totally oblivious to good of the nation, will continue to cripple the legislative process.

Embarrassed Republicans and their apologetic sycophants have been trying to rewrite history again. They are trying to focus blame on Democrats for "being unwilling to negotiate."  This argument fails from the start. You don't start negotiations by taking hostages. The Teaparty and some in the senate were willing to destroy the economy, to force defunding a law that has already been enacted. It's like a football game when the quarter ends with one team having the ball on the opponent's one foot line. The team on defense wants to change goals but leave the ball on the same goal. Or as illustrated in this conversation:

"I'd like to burn your house down."
"How about if I just burn the second floor."
"Then just let us flood your basement."
"You are refusing to negotiate."

I'm sorry, friends, this was  GOP attempted extortion from the beginning. Support dropped off one by one as they were about to drive the nation over the cliff and their constituency pointed the finger at them.

The ACA computer glitch
This was a massive administration blunder. This is typical of what is happening in so many areas with the push for privatization.  One only has to look to the breaches in national security with private corporations being charged with sensitive issues. Think Edward Snowden and Blackwater!  The GOP has been making hay with the situation and trying to use it as evidence of a bad law.  The law is sound.  Implementation is flawed by the computer glitch.  The 14 states who sat up their own system have been signing up applicants with much less difficulty. Just as with early problems with Medicare and Bush's Medicare Part D reform, problems will be worked out.  The government needs to set up central repositories with registered providers and hire the best computer programmers in the world to work out the bugs - then fire the private contractors along with Kathleen Sibelius.

The whole thing could have been avoided with a single payer or even a government option making Medicare available to all, without the individual mandate. Make those not buying pay more income taxes. We are the only nation in the western world that doesn't make health care a right. It's interesting to note that governments with universal health care systems are among those with the lowest citizen's perception of corruption. The United States ranks among the worst with 73%.  Obama's failure to push for either of these options was the first clue we got that he was in bed, to some extent anyway, with the insurance companies.  The appointment of wall street based advisers was the first clue that he was in bed with the big banks.

This is the shame of the Obama administration. Given, that the same thing would have been happening under Romney were he elected and it is better than the Bush/Cheney doctrine of invasion, it is never-the-less murder and is not what we liberals voted for.  The alternatives being offered are unsatisfactory. The most acceptable is Alan Grayson's who would leave it up to the countries where the terrorists are located to hunt them down.  To make his point, Grayson had the victims of a drone attack testify before congress. Not mentioned by anyone, even Grayson, is the option of pulling out our fleet from the gulf, leaving the oil companies to hire their own protection and pushing harder for electric vehicles. Not only is the drone attacks a violation of Christian teachings (What would Jesus say?), they are counter productive. Some say they create 40-60 new enemies with each attack! Many of the new potential terrorists are home grown according to an opinion in CNN.

Where do we go from here?
The 2014 elections are going to tell us a lot about what is going to happen to our nation in the future. A recent poll shows a deepening distrust of government. If the constituents in enough of the 51 Teaparty districts wake up to what is happening and realize that they are not immune to what will happen with the continued efforts of these representatives to destroy government, there is hope. If not, we will see another 1929.  It may be that the results of the continuing sequestration have already taken us to a point of no return. So far, the negative impact has been felt only by lower income groups. The middle class is disappearing and income disparity is increaseing to the point that, globally as well as in the USA, there will be no more customers to buy the products that are produced. War goods can only employ so many people! For liberals like myself, who have declared themselves independents because of lack of respect for Obama, we have no place to go. I cannot support the modern GOP.

Hang on, it's going to be a bumpy ride.

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