Thursday, March 26, 2015

ObamaScare

My grandfather was an insurance guy. He married his secretary, my grandmother and they moved around a lot on behalf of one of the insurance behemoths. My own foray into insurance was as a third grader selling policies to my parents friends for their pets. We stumbled across one of my “invoices” a few years back where I wrote a cover note congratulating this person on insuring their cat with me – because cats had 9 lives so I’d never have to pay out.  March 23, 2015 marked the fifth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act – dubbed ObamaCare. It’s an act that has almost as many lives as the cats I used to insure.

Some 60 times since the Act was signed into law (which works out to an average of once a month) Congress has voted some sort of repeal. In their FY16 budget proposal the defunding of the program is proposed again. The Act has survived.

The Supreme Court took up a case and, against most people’s expectation, ruled in the Acts favor. Another case is pending and a ruling is expected in several months which will determine the viability of the key funding part of the Act.

Who is most responsible for ObamaCare? Mitt Romney. Not because most of the provisions of the Act replicate his health plan instituted in Massachusetts where he was Governor. In May 2007 in his quest for the Presidency Romney co-opted the name Obama’s opponents were using by saying: “If the Democrats do it, it will be socialized medicine; it'll be government-managed care. It'll be what's known as Hillarycare or Barack Obamacare, or whatever you want to call it.” To this day most people who oppose the program do so because they think the government runs it. The narrative around FY16's budget is not having government run your healthcare. 

The Affordable Care Act is an insurance program. It’s not a healthcare program. A healthcare program is Medicare or Medicaid which allows patients to see medical professionals. The ACA/ObamaCare requires people to get insurance or pay a fine. The idea is if people have insurance then they would have more likely access to seeing medical professionals. There’s a lot of pro’s and con’s to the concept – but that’s what the law is. It’s not socialized medicine.

The number of uninsured has dropped from 18% in 2013 to 13.4% in 2014. Stocks for Healthcare companies were up 52% in 2013. For that same year Forbes reports that profits in the industry remain high and constant. The cost of healthcare jumped after the Act’s passage but has remained a steady 17.9% of the GDP for several years though the inflation rate of medical costs has plummeted to 3.9% - nearly half what it was prior to the Act.

Those statistics support the idea that the stated goals for the Act – to provide people with insurance, stabilize costs and keep the private insurance market competitive – all seem to be on track. The funding mechanism to support the cost of the program hasn't kicked in. Still, there’s a lot of vitriol about the Act even though it’s performing as intended. I remain opposed to it.


Healthcare is one issue where I deviate from the Libertarian philosophical ideals I usually favor. Conceptually I agree that having a competitive market without government regulations and interference should produce a vibrant, effective and low-cost model for healthcare. The United States will never be able to go back and re-establish that model…so it’s a nice idea that’s not practical. The hybrid that exists today is just terrible. It may be incrementally better than what preceded it by providing access for more people – but it’s still an industry driven by something other than its core purpose – which is providing for healthy human beings.

Let’s get the insurance companies out of the day-to-day business of healthcare. Medicare for All. Fund the program through continued payroll deductions for employees and employers with no caps. Establish core services that the system covers. There will always need to be limitations of services. That’s where insurance companies can find a new niche market. For the person who wants a cosmetic or non medically necessary procedure – insurance companies can build financing models around that.

Most industrialized countries other than the U.S. have a single payer system because they recognize that keeping their citizens healthy isn’t a business, it’s a right. Only in the U.S. – whether under the Affordable Care Act or not – is your health, well being and care determined by your ability to pay. That’s ObamaScare – a chilling view of how to care of its people. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

e-dubious

I’m the anti-hoarder. There are not a lot of physical things that I’ve held on to. Earlier this year, in fact, I purged nearly two-thirds of my belongings that I had in storage. Live without stuff for three or four years and all of a sudden it’s really clear about what you want to keep and what you don’t! When it comes to my digital life, however, I’m the opposite. I have every email I’ve ever written or received (sans junk) since 1996. They’re filed by subject, by year – and I go so far as to make sure that every time there’s a major upgrade to Outlook that the old emails are readable. I guess this means I will never hold public office.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee for 2016 has been under fire for not just using a private email account and server – but for taking weeks to speak publicly about why. (And when she finally did she did so from the United Nations - choosing to address the issue on land that technically isn't in the U.S.?!?) President Obama claims he learned of Mrs. Clinton's practice “when everybody else did.” The President of the United States never emailed with his Secretary of State? There are reports that he corresponded with the Secretary of State and it makes sense that he would. I would hope that the Commander in Chief and the country's chief diplomat would actually be in regular dialogue, which today would include email. I certainly look at the “from” line on emails I receive – and while the reason I do so is to see the name it’s natural that you just note the account, especially when you correspond with somebody regularly. It’s rather difficult to believe that not one person in the Executive Branch or the State Department knew that Mrs. Clinton wasn’t using a government sanctioned account. Nobody saw it wasn’t a .gov address?

Secretary Clinton did call on the State Department to release the emails – after they are scrubbed and checked. It’s an interesting tactic since the emails were on a personal server and not government, so she could just release them herself. From a diplomatic perspective everything shouldn't be released, but from a political point of view they should. Secretary Clinton has now advocated both the release of information and the screening of that same information. Sounds and feels an awful lot like the Nixon White House reviewing the tapes before letting anybody hear them. Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone has a biting story on the likeness of Hillary Clinton to Richard Nixon. POTUS Radio had a devastating compilation of sound bites inter-spliced together of Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Nixon – both speaking about how THEY would determine what was appropriate for the public to hear. After Watergate the country demanded openness.

This week (3/16/15) is the 10th Anniversary of Sunshine Week -  a national initiative spearheaded by the American Society of News Editors to educate the public about the importance of open government and the dangers of excessive and unnecessary secrecy. To kick off the week the White House unilaterally removed the Freedom Of Information Request regulation that had governed the Executive Branch for 30 years. – Now the White House no longer has to comply with any requests from the press or from the public for information.  The decision to eliminate the rule follows six years legal challenges that the administration pursued – all the while stonewalling and not fulfilling the requests of the public.

Fear not, the Administration didn’t ignore the spirit of transparency or let Sunshine Week pass unnoticed. The Department of Justice held an event (on the same day as the White House announcement) which awarded President Obama and Attorney General Holder with awards for fulfilling the campaign promise to have the “most transparent” Presidency in history. This is not an Onion news report or a Jon Stewart skewer – it’s the arrogance of an administration that cares little for openness.  No mention was made at the 40-minute ceremony of the DoJ’s attempt to criminalize journalistic practices and threatening to jail reporters as enemies of the state for doing their job.

It’s not just a national issue – it’s local too. In Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin has made a practice of keepinginformation secret.  Most recently he ruled that the names of five police officers who were arrested for driving drunk could be kept secret. To celebrate Sunshine week – in an unprecedented move the three newspapers that cover greater Boston (The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald and the Patriot Ledger) all ran their own editorials on the same day condemning Galvin and the lack of access to public records.


In my lifetime the world has shrunk and the quantity of information available to each of us on a palm sized device has been stunning. It’s a wide open world that has fueled economic growth, revolutions in distant lands and a rapid change in social mores and behavior. Government is way behind…will they catch up and become more open and transparent? I’m e-dubious.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Times a wastin’

During this Lent I’m participating with the program from the brothers at St. John the Evangelist Monastery in Cambridge where I’m a regular attendee. The programs focus for these forty days is time – what it is, how it exists, its relevance to our spiritual lives, etc. It’s always a fascinating and accessible program, and this year perfectly apt for my life. I’ve just passed my 30th physical month in the position I'm in but have put in 39 months of work time in. It's an average of 60 hours a week - and even though I meticulously track it all I’m not actually complaining. Much of the effort I’m putting in is for projects and schemes that have been of my own making. Time is precious to me so when I see things that I think are an inefficient use of it or just silly I often remark “they have too much time on their hands.” That remark is easily applied to the people during the holidays who seem to be able to decorate their houses, throw parties and do all the things that I can’t imagine accomplishing. I’m equally incredulous whenever I see something that the government or a political body does that indicates that they have too much time on their hands.

47 Republican Senators wrote a letter  3/9/15  that Democrats have called incendiary and potentially treasonous. In it the GOP describes how international treaties are processed under the U.S. system of government. Nothing in the letter is inaccurate, though it’s embarrassing to see the arrogance of letter which purports to “teach” those provincial Iranians about how law is made under the U.S. Constitution. I imagine they actually know the U.S. system pretty well. The letter does, however, appear to violate the 1799 Logan Act

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

Congress has sued the President. (See my blog about it.) While improbable, it might be an interesting (and amusing) comeuppance in this schoolyard that is Washington politics if the Obama Administration seeks to fine or imprison the 47. It'd certainly be a great romp for the media.

The 113th Congress was one of the least “productive” in history - with 57 laws passed out of 6,366 introduced, the lowest since 1947. Fewer laws tend to mean fewer things for people to have to conform to and fewer regulations to tie up the economy – so for those smaller government advocates like myself, fewer laws has an upside. I’m not an anarchist, though, and there are certain things that must be legislated – such as the annual Federal budget.

According to the U.S. Constitution it is up to Congress to pass and authorize the budget for the United States. The process usually starts in May and 12 appropriations bills need to be submitted, negotiated and ultimately passed and signed into law prior to the start of the fiscal year. The last bill for the current fiscal year (Oct 1, 2014 to Sept 30, 2015) was passed in February 2015 – 4 months into the budget year under the threats of shutting down Homeland Security. This is not unusual.

Wikipeda reports: “Between fiscal year 1977 and fiscal year 2015, Congress only passed all twelve regular appropriations bills on time in four years - fiscal years 1977, 1989, 1995, and 1997.” More appalling that than is that 2012 is the only year of the Obama Administration that a Continuing Resolution wasn’t required to fund the government at a set level while budgetary issues were negotiated. 


Once an agency is funded through the budget, under federal law each must pass an audit so that the entire federal budget can be audited. It’s never happened. Ever. The Huffington Post reports from the last audit report: “The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) cannot render an opinion on the 2012 consolidated financial statements of the federal government because of widespread material internal control weaknesses, significant uncertainties, and other limitations," the agency said. "As was the case in 2011, the main obstacles to a GAO opinion on the accrual-based consolidated financial statements were: Serious financial management problems at the Department of Defense (DOD) that made its financial statements unauditable. The federal government’s inability to adequately account for and reconcile intragovernmental activity and balances between federal agencies. The federal government’s ineffective process for preparing the consolidated financial statements." This statement is from the GAO - a government agency. What would happen if any major corporation in America got that report from their auditors? 

The DOD represents $799.1 billion that can’t be audited, and the Dept. of Homeland security has $48.7 billion that can’t be reported on.  There is no reason to believe that 2013 or 2014 will be any different. Who has the legal responsibility to have oversight on these departments? CongressApparently Congress doesn’t have enough time to do this, but is on its eighth investigation of Benghazi and has repealed Obamacare 58 times (as of 3/2015). And 47 senators have time to take on negotiating a nuclear treaty with Iran.

The meddling into foreign policy is inappropriate until such time as a treaty (or whatever it becomes) comes to the body for discussion and approval. Most remarkable is that they have enough time on their hands to get 47 signatures - not stamps, not typed names but actual signatures - on a letter that will have NO impact whatsoever on the negotiations while they and their Democratic colleagues jointly abdicate their fiduciary responsibility in passing a budget and then making sure that the money isn’t squandered. It’s stupefying that 97% of Congress was re-elected and 91% of the Senate. The American voter is to blame – and times a wastin to change things up.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Black & White & Blue Science

The Internet almost broke last week. The Net Neutrality debate had nothing to do with it – somebody posted a picture of a dress asking what color it was. A ferocious debate ensued with the “blue/black” faction on one side and the “gold/white” on the other side. (Of course most of my feed just commented on how ugly the dress was without much consideration for the color!) Wired  Magazine ran a long article on the science of why nobody agrees on the color – including interviews with specialists in optics as well as graphics experts on color. The way the dress is photographed under various light and angles along with how one’s optical system works are all part of how we see the same object differently.  The fact that science proved that the dress is blue/black didn’t quell the opposition. The effect on society over whether a dress is a particular color is pretty insignificant – but it is a perfect example of how science doesn’t seem to matter anymore.

Science makes my eyes glaze over. I was never a particularly good student at it less from a capability point of view and more from an interest and retention perspective. And there’s all these long and funny sounding names of things that seem to be designed to make it more complicated and complex that it needs to be. While I don’t have an aptitude for science doesn’t mean that I dismiss it or don’t appreciate it. I’m in the minority on this!

Life expectancy was estimated to be 31 years in the early 20th Century, and by  2010 the world average for longevity is 67.2 years. I’ve got about 30 years left according to a popular calculator. Social Security tells me I’ve got me hanging around until I’m 82.3. The reasons why people are living more than twice as long in 2010 as they did at the beginning of the 1900’s can be attributed to many things. Key among them is vaccinations, advancement in medical treatment and knowledge about how the human body works.

The media and the country last month erupted in a furor after there was an outbreak of measles in the U.S. that spread to 16 states with 141 cases (as of 3/2/15).  The uproar was in large part because “The entire western hemisphere was declared measles-free early in the 21st century. The United States and other countries had reached this point by ensuring ready access to immunizations and instituting mandatory immunization requirements for students in schools.”  The anti-vaccination “movement” was blamed and individuals vilified without any realization that opposition to vaccinations is as old  as the practice itself.

The 113th Congress in November 2014 amid a spirited debate about the XL Pipeline and its impact on the environment also passed a bill forbidding scientists from advising the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) on their own research. A scientist who may have spent years studying an issue and become expert in it would not be able to advise, testify or assist the Agency on what she/he knows. That’s like saying that somebody from Wall Street shouldn’t be able to advise the Treasury on financial matters. The bill would never become law, but still passed Congress 229-191.


I have some real concerns about the State telling people what they can and cannot do with their body. My Libertarian tendencies and the historic and continual overreach of the government (local, state, federal) provide excellent justifications for letting people decide what vaccinations they will and will not take. However, as is repeated in many places throughout the LP’s party platform: one’s individual right to autonomy stops when their choices cause harm or infringe on the rights of others. Nothing could be more exemplary of that than permitting somebody with a contagious disease to interact with the public. Their right of not vaccinating (as determined by their parent) stops when the result (disease) would cause grievous harm to others. Do I want the government mandating it at birth? No. Places where people interact could mandate it – schools (private & public), athletic events, etc. It may be a hair-splitting difference as most schools are government run – but theoretically somebody could home school their child and choose not to vaccinate.

I oppose the government mandating vaccinations, and have concerns about the EPA which is overly influenced by politics and seem to propose solutions in search of problems. Those objections and resistances do not equate to me being anti-science. (Or being a cave man.) It means I have a different way of approaching those issues. Banning experts and dismissing the underlying science isn’t the way to go. Seems the world is going crazier - and not because so many people were so invested in a dress color. What used to be black and white is now black and blue – just like that ugly frock.