Monthly Archives: December 2009

Last Minute Gifting

On behalf of 46 million Americans without health insurance, 56 million Americans pre-existing conditions, and all of us who are terrified we’ll join the others, I’d just like to say, “thank you.” I know you shopped hard, had to make difficult choices on size and features, and probably spent way too much, but I just love you for thinking of me. I got a little something for you, too – my vote.

Health Care Bill Passes

Senate Plans to Order More Chickens

fox_hen_house

With so many Americans now unable to afford health insurance, the private insurance industry is facing a catastrophic problem: how to keep profits high, executive compensation exorbitant and campaign contributions excessive?

Fortunately, $200 million in lobbying and campaign contributions have convinced a majority in the senate (41 members) that the problem is not the fox or the hen house, the problem is the shortage of chickens. Agreeing with the house, the Senate will force every chicken-livered American above the poverty line and below the retirement age to get back in that hen house and act happy about it – 30 to 40 million of us.

The hen house will still be run by private, for-profit corporations not responsible to anyone (no public option, no Medicare buy-in, no co-op chicken coop in the Senate bill). Sure, insurance companies will no longer be allowed to deny you coverage because you are old or sick or male or female, but they will charge you up to 3 times what others pay. Sure, there are a lot of wonderful little rule changes that will get us on the road (roads in Iraq are safer) to real reform. Sure, individuals and tiny businesses might get the chance to enter the hen house at rates similar to groups. Sure, a few years from now there will be some subsidies to help you afford health insurance until you are poor enough to qualify for Medicaid. Sure. We’re totally screwed.

There’s a tiny chance something good could happen in conference. Or, some of the Republicans purchased by the insurance lobby would accept a bigger bribe from Obama & Company. Or, maybe, they’ll just go home for holidays and forget all about it. Personally, I think I have a better chance free range.

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Please don't throw me into the briar patch

please don't throw me into the briar patchLast night, Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid announced a compromise health care reform bill with just enough public option that looks like it will pass – Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins are on board.

“I’ve got you this time, Brer Rabbit,” said Brer Fox, jumping up and shaking off the dust. “You’ve sassed me for the very last time. Now I wonder what I should do with you?”

Brer Rabbit’s eyes got very large. “Oh please Brer Fox, whatever you do, please don’t throw me into the briar patch.”

Private insurance didn’t cave. They loooooove what the Senate is now proposing. Sure, Brer Reid and his fellow Senate foxes probably think they got the better of the private insurance lobby last night…

“The briar patch, eh?” said Brer Fox. “What a wonderful idea! You’ll be torn into little pieces!”

Stop for a moment and think about it. The compromise proposal appears to give an option to those 55 and older to pay a premium and buy-in to Medicare – theoretically, at no cost to taxpayers. Sure, it is a government option. Sure, it may grease the path to an eventual single payer system. But my god, look at what it will do for the private insurance companies: it will move the most expensive customers they have off their books. Those very customers who have so many of the expensive pre-existing conditions. Those customers who take expensive medicines to reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure and extend their lives. A virtual bonanza that will turn their premium amortization tables upside down.

“Drown me! Roast me! Hang me! Do whatever you please,” said Brer Rabbit. “Only please, Brer Fox, please don’t throw me into the briar patch.”

The Senate compromise proposal will likely carry a trigger – if the private insurance companies don’t hold premium costs down, there is a threat of a public option for everyone. No problem. Without the 55 plus-ers, insurance costs per policy will reduce dramatically (younger policy holders don’t cost nearly as much to insure), making the trigger an empty threat.

Grabbing up the tar-covered rabbit, Brer Fox swung him around and around and then flung him head over heels into the briar patch. Brer Rabbit let out such a scream as he fell that all of Brer Fox’s fur stood straight up. Brer Rabbit fell into the briar bushes with a crash and a mighty thump. Then there was silence.I was bred and born in the briar patch

Wait, you say, they will have fewer policyholders, won’t that increase the costs? That is not the way this briar patch is being grown. Both the House and the Senate bill will require everyone to buy insurance – private insurance – and provide taxpayer subsidies for those making up to 4 times the poverty level to do so. Instantly, the insurance companies will get 30 to 40 million new and cheaper customers paying full premium rates and will be singing the Song of the South.

Then Brer Fox heard someone calling his name. He turned around and looked up the hill. Brer Rabbit was sitting on a log combing the tar out of his fur with a wood chip and looking smug.

“I was bred and born in the briar patch, Brer Fox,” he called. “Born and bred in the briar patch.”

And Brer Rabbit skipped away as merry as a cricket while Brer Fox ground his teeth in rage and went home.

Click here to read the Remus tale


It’s still the economy, stupid

migrationOne can hardly pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV news without a story about the economy. The Clinton campaign mantra, “it’s the economy, stupid” will soon be the mantra of the Obama White House – just as soon as he can stop answering questions about the wars, health care, the environment, Wall Street reform, what he thinks about Tiger Woods, etc. ad nauseum.

ProPublica reports that we have now spent a whopping 30% of the stimulus money. Those filing for unemployment actually decreased a little last month (or gave up trying) – click here to hear today’s NPR coverage. The FDIC shut down 6 more banks and 130 have failed so far this year – click here to read HuffPo’s story. Reuters reports a 26% jump in hunger assistance as family homelessness rises in cities across the US. And pundit after pundit prognosticate on when it will turn around – here’s a sampling from the Daily Beast.

noveau_poor_hatDiscoverCard.com reports on its website (disclosure: I don’t have a Discover card) results of their research under the heading “November Highlights” that, “Economic Confidence Plunges; Low Expectations for the Holidays.” Here are some of the lowlights:

  • Economic confidence among America’s small business owners plummeted in November, as more owners cited serious concerns about cash flow and saw economic conditions for their own businesses getting worse. The Discover Small Business Watch index fell 12 points in November to 76.5 from 88.5 in October.
  • 52 percent of small business owners say they have experienced cash flow issues in the past 90 days, up from 44 percent in October.
  • 53 percent of small business owners see conditions getting worse in the next six months, up from 43 percent in October.
  • 62 percent of small business owners rate the economy as poor, an increase from 55 percent in October; 30 percent rate it as fair, and 8 percent say it is good or excellent.
  • 53 percent of small business owners think the overall economy is getting worse, up from 44 percent in October.
    Only 11 percent of Small Businesses Expecting Increased Sales This Year
  • Small business owners have a glum outlook on the holiday season: Only 11 percent expect to see more business this year over last, while 46 percent of them are expecting less business than last year.
  • 73 percent of businesses that extend credit say that they have customers who have delayed or asked to delay a payment in the last three months.
  • 68 percent of consumers say that they have made purchases at a small business in an effort to keep it from closing.

In response to all the bad news, his visit last week to Allentown and the his big jobs forum, the President spoke this morning at the Brookings Institution (click here to read Facing South’s analysis of the speech) and here’s some of what he had to say about plans and possibly spending the $200 billion left over from the TARP (click here for the full text).

… That’s why it’s so important that we help small business struggling to stay open, or struggling to open in the first place, during these difficult times.  Building on the tax cuts in the Recovery Act, we’re proposing a complete elimination of capital gains taxes on small business investment along with an extension of write-offs to encourage small businesses to expand in the coming year.  And I believe it’s worthwhile to create a tax incentive to encourage small businesses to add and keep employees, and I’m going to work with Congress to pass one.

Now, these steps will help, but we also have to address the continuing struggle of small businesses to get loans that they need to start up and grow.  To that end, we’re proposing to waive fees and increase the guarantees for SBA-backed loans.  And I’m asking my Treasury Secretary to continue mobilizing the remaining TARP funds to facilitate lending to small businesses.

… Now, there are those who claim we have to choose between paying down our deficits on the one hand, and investing in job creation and economic growth on the other. This is a false choice. Ensuring that economic growth and job creation are strong and sustained is critical to ensuring that we are increasing revenues and decreasing spending on things like unemployment insurance so that our deficits will start coming down.  At the same time, instilling confidence in our commitment to being fiscally prudent gives the private sector the confidence to make long-term investments in our people and in America.

It is a tough time to be anything

believe_0001It is an awful time to passionately believe in something. Be it liberal, conservative, or independent. No one is happy.

For all our freedom, America is a lousy place to be a zealot. Sure, you can talk the talk almost as loud as you wish. You can carry signs, march, demonstrate, blog, tweet, harangue, chant, argue, and pontificate – but in the end, it will be decided by politicians, pollsters and lobbyists.

  • Anti-war? 30,000 more troops are going to Afghanistan. We’ll assess the situation on the ground before bringing our troops home and it will take at least 3 years after that.
  • A hawk on defense? We are only sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan and we’re getting out in 18 months.
  • Health care reform with or without public option? It won’t be a true public option and we’ll spend more because of it, but actually pay for it less. There is something in it for everyone to love and everyone to hate.
  • Immigration reform? We’re still building a wall with Mexico. There’s no path to citizenship for people who are here illegally, but we still pay for their emergency health care and now provide alternatives to detaining those who are caught.
  • Wall Street regulation? Tough regulation is planned, but it will take another meltdown to get it out of committee.
  • Deficit reduction? In this tough economy, we can’t cut spending or raise taxes – or won’t. The deficit doesn’t matter – or it does.
  • Unemployment and the economy stupid? We’ll extend the benefits for those who get unemployment; provide some food stamps, but little else for others unemployed or underemployed; give trillions to the banks so they’ll make loans which they won’t; spend hundreds of billions on works projects that are subverted by states to help their budgets; and do nothing to re-capitalize small business.
  • Alternative energy and domestic production? We bailed out GM. Wasted billions then abandoned Chrysler. We provided incentives to buy cars that get “at least 22 mpg,” continue to subsidize oil with taxes, but created no new tax or incentive to reduce consumption. We have provided some, but not much, stimulus money for alternative energy, conservation and light rail.
  • Equal rights and discrimination? We are still “studying” don’t ask, don’t tell. It is still okay to discriminate based on sexual orientation except where it isn’t. You cannot hire or fire someone because of their race, age or gender, but it is fine to do so if you can make up some other reason. Racial, religious and ethnic profiling is wrong, but okay if it protects us.

I could go on, but let me just ask: is there any issue anyone outside of Washington is happy with?

Mindlessness must be the route to happiness. Things are great as long as you don’t care. Stay away from the news and just watch another survivor or gossip show (or anything on television). Grey is the new black. Grey is the new white. We know the economy is making a comeback because fewer people lost their jobs last week. President Obama accepts the Peace prize the same week he announces escalation of the war.

“A good compromise, a good piece of legislation, is like a good sentence; or a good piece of music. Everybody can recognize it. They say, ‘Huh. It works. It makes sense.’” – Barack Obama

“All compromise is based on give and take, but there can be no give and take on fundamentals. Any compromise on mere fundamentals is a surrender. For it is all give and no take.” – Mohandas Gandhi

“So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” – Revelation 3:16 (King James)

“Don’t worry, be happy” – Bobby McFerrin Bobby McFerrin - Best of Bobby McFerrin - Don't Worry, Be Happy

We have a Dew T-shirt winner

Just Dew It T-ShirtAs required by the official LikeTheDew.com site survey contest rules, all valid entries were printed out and placed in grocery bag (better to reuse than recycle). Precisely at 5 PM yesterday (11/30/2009), the contents of the bag were shaken, tossed and shuffled vigorously. We had no drum roll – only the rustling sounds of the bag. A hush fell over the audience (both of us). The drama built. The blindfolded hand (easier to put a blindfold on a hand) reached into the bag and pulled a solitary winner now separated forever from all the others. We inspected the entry. A voice called out, “should we draw again or is Mike okay?”

Congratulations go to Mike Williams of Cocoa Beach, Florida who won the Dew T-Shirt (click here to order yours). Here’s what Mike wrote upon hearing the news:

Sorry it took me so long to reply. I thought it was another email from a barrister in Equatorial Guinea telling me I had won an international lottery worth $500,000,000 which I could claim as soon as I wired my mother’s maiden name, SS number, credit card account numbers and $10,000 in cash. I was digging through my files trying to find all that stuff before I realized it was really from you and I had instead won a Like the Dew T-Shirt. Boy, what a relief to not to have to worry about what to do with a half-billion in this unsettled economy.

But seriously. This is really cool. First thing I think I ever won, and I’ll be proud to wear it, even though I’ve been a laggard with the posts lately.  Thanks, Mike