Friday, January 28, 2011

Blow-Hard Republicans and Federal Budget Facts


It's quite a treat to watch Republicans (sorry, Tea Party-ers) this year. The first big win of course came last year when the Democrat-controlled Congress voted to extend all tax cuts from 2001, including approx. $700 billion for tax brackets above $250K.

Low and behold, here come the deficit numbers for 2011, and estimated $1.4 trillion! How did this happen? Had Democrats stood there ground and only extended the tax cuts for middle and lower incomes, one could presume the deficit would only be about $700 billion. Better yet, let all the tax cuts expire (with the exception of a few credits) and voila virtually no deficit.

Blame it on health care reform and Social Security...


Because people have an attention span of about 43 seconds, Republicans are able to convince a large number of people that the health care reform passed last year is an overbearing burden on the federal budget. In fact, as reported by every news outlet, over 10 years the health care reform legislation actually lowers the deficit. I don't really care for how it does it, but it does (barring any changes that will most likely come).

And what is with all the Social Security defecit crap. Social Security is a completely separate budget item. It currently runs a modest surplus and is not counted in general deficit numbers. As such, Social Security reform would not change the deficit projections for this year or any year. Is reform necessary? Sure, but using the current budget deficit as a catalyst is deceptive.

Now for the truth...


Medicare and Defense spending...

Together, Medicare and Defense eat up approximately 42% of the budget. Medicare more or less pays for itself although it does run deficits. Defense spending while necessary, should not be this large. Veterans affairs is a separate budget item in case you were curious.

Defense contracts for Cold War technology is probably the dumbest thing we could spend money on. Our current military conflicts are close contact, ground operations that need specialized field equipment, not long-range bombers. Spend money on homegrown forces and not Xe (AKA Blackwater) mercenaries.

Tax Increases...

Nobody wants to say it, but working people in this country don't pay enough taxes. For industrial western democracies, citizens of the United States has an inordinately low tax burden. Partly because of tradition, but mostly because of political flaccidity. Federal expenses (not all good mind you) have consistently gone up from year to year, but actual tax rates have decreased. Not that we haven't had a few tax hikes in the last 30 years, but not enough to offset. Real tax reform should minimally include more/higher tax brackets, elimination of corporate taxes, increase in dividend taxes, and removal of the Social Security cap. It's a painful pill to swallow, but it's been coming for years.

Drug War...

It's not a huge budget item, but the cost of the "War on Drugs" is more than just outlays for DEA agents. There is a human cost that we cannot possibly put a price on, not to mention the burden on state and local governments.

Summary...

The Federal Budget is out of control... actually it's out of balance. We need to sort out our priorities and raise revenues to meet our needs. The Tea Party notion of lower taxation and more minimal government is a noble one, but really impractical when taken line by line. We need common sense and reasonable discord, two things we won't see from the current Congress.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Election Results: What have we learned?


Not only did Rand Paul win in the U.S. Senate race here, but Republicans nearly swept the ballot locally (with the exception of city precincts, thank god). State Sen. David Boswell lost reelection in what should have been a easy win. Meanwhile, every U.S. Representative incumbent won reelection including two Dems.


I don't know about you, but I didn't learn shit!


I suppose there is a general anxiety or fear out there, but no real reason for the mixed results. Why did John Yarmuth (D-KY3) win? Why not Jack Conway (okay, Rand Paul was a rock star). David Boswell was easily the most popular person on the ballot in Daviess County (67% job approval as of Oct. 1). What the frick?


Obama can finally be President.


Barack "Pussyfoot" Obama can finally give up on this bipartisan bull and actually push some meaningful legislation. Maybe he can submit a budget that cuts spending more than Republican alternatives. That would be hilarious. Let's see how serious these "teabaggers" are about fiscal sanity when presented with a $200 billion military budget cut. How about a truly comprehensive immigration policy that goes after the source of the problem: Illegal hiring?


Let's face it, nothing meaningful is going to get done until the summer of 2012 when people are absorbed in the Presidential contest. Then we'll start seeing some pandering to voters. Maybe Obama's challenger will be a Senator or Representative. Force him/her to vote against something really popular like Bush did to Kerry in '04.


Here's to hoping.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

TOP 5 Policy Changes Yet To Be

Still Up!

1. Proportional Public Campaign Finance

Either ban or significantly limit private funding for elections. Give political parties/candidates, funding based on previous election results. This would require elections with automatic runoffs.

2. Tax Free Investment

Of course you should pay taxes on money you earn (including deductibles). But you should be able to deduct 100% of cash investment that is not "cashed out." If you touch it (AKA sell), it's income and you pay taxes on it. Of course there should still be a Roth IRA option for a limited amount of your investing in mutual funds. Just think, tax-free Roth! Eliminate capital gains and losses.

3. Progressive Taxation With Unlimited Deductions

We really need to raise taxes. Really. Personalized tax brackets. Taxable income is $20,000; You pay 10% flat. Taxable income is $21,000; You pay 10.1% flat. Something like that. Plus, every expense that is necessary or required by law would be fully tax deductible regardless of income. Increase personal exemption and eliminate tax credits. People with high income and low expenses would see a tax increase.

4. Nuclear Power

Of course, I'm nearly guaranteeing a nuclear disaster of epic proportion, but compared to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, nuclear meltdown almost seems preferable. At least we have a plan for that. Even environmentalists are starting to get on board with this one.

5. Medicare Buy-In

The thing that Lieberman supported before opposing it. At least start by letting citizens 55 and older to buy Medicare at a predetermined, income sensitive premium. Just because we're getting rid of preexisting conditions doesn't mean health care will be affordable for these people.

Okay, I'm going to bed. This is getting ridiculous. Fun though.
Another Late Night (Early Morning) Rant

Ya know, it seems I can't have a coherent string of thoughts in the middle of the day. But for some reason, if I stay up all night: Verbal diarrhea!

It's been a while, so let's see what I can cover.

Health Care Reform

We went from "Universal Health Care" to "Affordable Health Care" to "Health Care Reform". What a year! I would warn conservatives that while "ObamaCare" might seem like a catchy buzzword, linking your opposition to health care reform while simultaneously bashing it, will backfire once many of the provisions become active. You opposed "exchanges" and "banning pre-existing conditions" and "free physicals" and "end-of-life counseling?" Are you friggin' nuts? If I were Obama, I would start using "ObamaCare" as part of my reelection slogan now.

Drill Baby, Dr..., OOPS! Plug Baby, Plug!!

I feel for President Obama. Just as he was trying to build support among moderate Republicans (all 3.5 of them) for "Cap and Trade" legislation by dropping the ban on offshore oil drilling, BP has a huge offshore drilling disaster. Kinda like Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown. AARGH!

On the upside, Mr. Obama has taken the pragmatic pro-nuclear power approach. Hopefully, that works out a little better.

Tanning Bed + Arizona = Awkward Questions

I don't look illegal...Do I?

I actually feel bad for the police and sheriffs in Arizona. One law just turned a bunch of consummate professionals into career racists. Of course the real racists are having a field day.

Tea Partay!!!

The tea party movement, or--as it used to be called--the Republican Party, has so far successfully defeated two of its power players in major senate races. Charlie Crist is trying to pull a "Lieberman" in Florida and I don't know what the hell Bob Bennett is going to do. John McCain is officially on notice.

Of course, this could be good for Dems come November. If Republicans try to overplay their hand with extremely conservative candidates, moderate Democrats will capitalize. I'm interested to see what happens in the KY primaries next week. Rand Paul appears to be riding daddy's last name to a big win. Right now, I'm supporting Dr. Daniel Mongiardo for the Democratic side. He's actually been a vocal supporter of President Obama since early 2008. Jack Conway is a fairly unknown quantity to me, but seems like he could be a superstar in the party. (He's a pretty-boy* with a good head on his shoulders.) Either way, I like our chances in November.

So far, spring has been pretty good to us progressives. I'm going to research Elana Kagan a bit more before I have a full-fledged rant about her as Obama's SCOTUS Justice nominee. Maybe I'll have another late night before summer.

*Being a person of average appearance, I've always been distrustful of attractive people. They tend to "play" a bit more than the rest of us. My first real political support went to Paul Tsongas in 1992 (I was 16), then Howard Dean in 2004, followed by Bill Richardson in 2008. Clearly, I like 'em average. No offense Dr. Mongiardo!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Follow the White Rabbit

Just for fun, imagine a conservative Republican paradise.

1. An unregulated free market where the individual thrives, corporations (free from government oppression) can finally pay people what they are worth and provide all the medical care families need, and education is promoted by business interests that can be sensitive to the needs of the local population.

2. Taxes are no longer a problem. They have been eradicated and replaced by voluntary "contributions" to government officials. Given the opportunity to grow tax free, businesses are able to hire more and more people, creating a virtually full employment economy. Because of the amazing GDP growth and the lack of recession and depression concerns, the government enjoys a revenue surplus and is able to fully fund the military.

3. Since people are building wealth at an accelerated pace, tithing in churches reaches an all time high. This allows congregations to increase charitable giving and set up new parochial schools in areas without business-sponsored education opportunities.

4. Abortion is banned in all 50 states and all territories. Higher population growth gives corporations more investors and more opportunities to exploit labor pools that had previously made migrant workers necessary.

5. Owing to such increased profitability, people no longer participate in insider trading, "ledger fixing," and fake hedge funds.

6. Only people who are over age 18 with a high school education are allowed to get married and have children. Because there are no longer tax benefits to it, homosexuals abandon the right to be legally married.

7. The Supreme Court uses the Bible in some landmark decisions, primarily the Ten Commandments. Participating in extramarital sexual relationships is made illegal, execution is approved for blasphemy, and environmental concerns are assuaged because the world is going to end soon anyway. Creationism is allowed to be taught in all schools with no requirements for a purely "science-based" curriculum.

I could go on and on (probably will), but wouldn't that world be just perfect?

Amen.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

American Health Care is Awesome...


...if you can afford it.

I am so tired of the American "exceptionalists" who can't seem to get their heads around several concepts:

1. This is not 1949!

Most families have to have two incomes. CEO's no longer make $250,000 a year. Doctors in most of America don't make house calls. Unions don't control "jack squat." The average person can not afford to pay "retail" for medical procedures.

2. This is not 1993!

Health insurance premiums are not longer payable and not usually paid fully by employers--even the big ones. Drug costs are expanding beyond the reach of even well-to-do seniors. America is even further behind in cost efficiency of health care and ridiculously behind most industrialized nations in infant mortality.

3. Health Care is not a right, but it is necessary!

Who would deny their child or other loved one a life-saving or life-improving medical procedure if given the opportunity? Sadly, many people have been denied just that by a profits driven health insurance system that survives principally by denying coverage, reducing coverage, or shorting the health care professionals of just compensation on the grounds that it cuts into the bottom line.

I heard Rush Limbaugh saying the other day that health insurance should be a catastrophic care only system like car insurance or home insurance. The problem with that is that hardly anyone can currently afford to pay for ANY health care out of pocket. And who decides what is "catastrophic" or "critical?" Shouldn't citizens of the best nation on the planet be allowed to choose when a medical situation becomes urgent enough to be taken care of. The reason health insurance doesn't work is not because people take advantage of the system. Imagine the nerve of someone wanting to have a PSA or a mammogram just so they can avoid the "inconvenience" of having cancer later in life! Sure, car insurance doesn't pay for oil changes or transmission repair, or additional windshield wiper blades that might help avoid vision problems leading to an accident. But car insurance is also seen by many as a "crock of shit" or a "boondoggle," because the repairs it covers minus the deductibles can be many times less than the premiums paid by the car owner. Oh, and if you have more than three accidents in a given time frame, they can drop you. Would Limbaugh's health care have similar caveats?

The truth of the matter is that we can't afford not to have effective, efficient health care within reach of all Americans. America becomes less "exceptional" every day we don't.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Iranian Unrest, Disappearing Governor, and Don't Ask-Don't Tell

This has been the most interesting two weeks of the year so far...


1. Mahmoud Ahmadenijad is re-elected as President of Iran?

Amid widespread fervor for a reform candidate by the name of Mousavi, the little man (I call him "brown Dubya"), overwhelmingly wins re-election by a 2-to-1 margin. Huh? Well, maybe. Although we don't know the exact circumstances of the election, something fishy is going on. The Supreme Leader of Iran is banning communication and ordering wholesale slaughter of anyone protesting the election results. Dissent is being squelched on a level that an American can hardly imagine. On the upside, fissures in the ruling class are being exposed, and the roots of a new revolution are being seen.
Not to be outdone by President Obama, many Republicans such as John McCain (and his adopted son Lindsay Graham) are calling for a Reagan-style "...tear down this wall" type speech as if it would be a good idea. Imagine, if you will, the "Great Satan" U.S. preaching to the ruling class of Iran and trying to position itself with Mousavi in a sponsoring role. The fissures now evident among the clerics would be erased, Mousavi would probably be imprisoned, and protesters would have to fight an even steeper uphill battle against the ruling class to be heard. I for one am really glad Mr. McCain did not win the Presidency.

2. Oh, Gov. Mark "I thought the Appalachian Mountains were in Argentina" Sanford

Granted, Mr. Sanford is not the first person in power to try and get away with an extramarital affair while in office, but this guy has some cajones to leave his office for five days without telling his staff or other government officials (like the Lt. Governor) where he was going or how to contact him. He essentially created a constitutional crisis in South Carolina because he had an imperative from the Mrs. to get the hell out of the house. Then, instead of going hiking on the Appalachian Trail--as was believed by his staff, he went to Argentina to supposedly meet with or "break it off" with his mistress. What the ....

3. Finally, Obama is dragging his feet on Military policy on openly-gay servicemen and women.

Is this the 21st Century? Gays in the military is not as controversial a subject as it once was. It turns out, even though a change of law IS required to overturn "Don't ask, don't tell," the President has the unique ability as Commander-in-Chief to direct military policy. In other words, he can suspend any active policy of the US military including the enforcement of discharge policies regarding sexual orientation. It's the right thing to do and Obama needs to stop pussy-footing around and get it done.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Health Care Addendum:

Let me speak to my idea (although I can't claim credit) of a "triple-payer" health care system.

First of all, the term "triple-payer" is a direct restructuring of the term "single-payer." Neither single nor triple-payer systems are adequately described by those terms.

Here's the basics...See what you think.

1. The federal government would not provide health insurance coverage, simply create the nations largest health care group with very specific coverage. Many states and localities already do this to keep down costs.

2. Private and "public" health insurance providers would send blind bids (along with "capacity statements"*) to a central Health Care office for review.

3. The third lowest "per capita" bid (could be neither the highest or lowest bid) from across the nation would be chosen. An offer to buy coverage up to the capacity limit set forth by the individual health insurance providers would be sent by the federal government. Companies would then accept or reject participation in the program. Providers, whether or not they participate, could still sell insurance as a supplement privately.

4. Individuals would then "buy" insurance from the provider of their choice (certain regions would have limited options). Premiums would be based on income, payable to the federal government, and there would be a maximum contribution. Coverage would be mandatory (for those of you keeping track, I've changed my position here).

5. Ideally, the plan would be free from deductibles although a co-insurance of 10-20% would be reasonable for all procedures. Every person would receive one free physical and three urgent care visits per year. Insurance would be individual and portable. No pre-existing conditions.

Pros: Obviously, a health care plan based on income makes this truly Universal and affordable. There would not be an inordinate amount of increased taxation. Employers could still cover workers by paying the "premium tax" on behalf of the employee as part of a salary package. Private insurance companies would not be shut down or made illegal, thereby salvaging a major portion of the economy from collapse. A co-insurance policy allows doctors and hospitals some leeway in the amount of charges. No more Medicare.#

Cons: It's not a "free" system based on a progressive tax model like other countries offer. It is possible that insurers could learn to work together and "game" the system during bidding, driving up overall costs to the government. Regions lacking in accepted bids would likely be "farmed out" to providers in other regions (technology makes this less of an issue, however). Oh yeah, no more Medicare.#

Overall, I think it's a good plan. It takes what is best about the American health care system and tries to incorporate a level of price control and cooperative buying to save the taxpayer trillions of dollars. Like all health care plans, it has faults, but I hope members of Congress and the President seriously consider something like it.

* A "capacity statement" simply estimates the number of people a provider can reasonably cover. It should also include business statistics like workforce and years in service.
# Medicare is a beautiful idea but a horribly inefficient bureaucracy. This new plan takes over the job with few real changes to the individual. No income = No premium.
WHOA!! Universal Health Care?

Here's the thing...

President Obama is taking on every possible issue in his first year in office. The problem is that he and many Democrats in the Senate seem to think they are still out of power. Why did the stimulus package have tax cuts? Oh yeah, capitulation to the Republicans. That was an extra 250+ billion that could have been used to confront some other issues. Now we are going to have an extended presence in Iraq for the next year. We're getting bogged down in Afghanistan and Pakistan, virtually eradicating any savings we might expect from a "draw down" in Iraq. Now, my party, the party of "Inclusion" is walking on egg shells when it comes to Health Care.

The first problem I have with the preliminary impressions of Obama's health plan is coverage. Voluntary coverage, though it appeals to the American sense of independence, is not good enough. Again, details are hard to come by. Perhaps health coverage of some sort will end up being required by the federal government. Who knows?

Another problem is perception. Regardless of whether this plan passes, and regardless of how good and inexpensive the coverage is, it may be difficult to get a significant part of the population to buy into it. Think about public transportation. In areas where affluent or middle class people use public transportation, it thrives and is able to grow in service quality and coverage. If the only people using public transportation are poor, the local government ends up throwing "good money after bad" in an effort to keep it available. The same could happen to a voluntary public health care plan.

Democrats will have to step up and ask for single payer health care or some similar idea (like my triple-payer plan), or they will be at the forefront of a potential failure that only lends credibility to the Republican arguments about government intervention and efficiency. It could be several election cycles before we recover from that.

Think hard Dems! We need leadership on this issue. In addition to health care, we need to confront immigration, tax policy, education, and environmental issues. Don't waste your time on a health care plan that will fail to win over the American people. It will cost you political capital on everything else you try to do.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sonia Sotomayor

It's official. President Obama is a pragmatist. Thank god!

First, Ms. Sotomayor is female and Hispanic. The Court is not well represented in these areas. Even a jury has to be made up of ones peers. Call it Affirmative Action or call it pandering, Obama knows what he's doing.

Second, Judge Sotomayor is a moderate. I think many hard line liberals expected Obama's first nominee to the Supreme Court to be more of an activist in the areas of abortion and gay rights. Let me say it is unclear how Ms. Sotomayor would rule in these areas, but her other rulings have tended to the strict adherence to judicial precedent. In other words, privacy rights are safe and gay rights are still in question.

Third, Obama's pick will make Republicans eat crow (just like David Souter did for Dems). Based on the Judge's overarching judicial philosophy, she will probably come down on the side of moderates and conservatives just as often if not more so than the liberals. In other words, Obama's pick will move the Court to the "Right."

Lastly, Ms. Sotomayor is helping to bring out the far right's fear of women and Hispanics. Watching Tom Tancredo, Rush Limbaugh, and Pat Buchanan squirm at the thought of a bilingual Justice on the Supreme Court made my week.