Archive for August, 2009

It was only a week or two ago that the Obama administration was letting it be known that their plan for a Public Option was, in itself, an option.  Maybe a co-op sort of health plan thing would be just as good, they were saying.  They were flexible. Let’s just all work together and get something done was the approach.  The Republican Party gave its customary reply: NOT ONLY NO, BUT HELL NO!  They’re not interested in public options, private options, co-ops, or anything else for that matter that changes anything about American health care in any way. I think they’ve made their point.  They don’t want to play.  It now appears that President Obama also has gotten the message and now the message from the White House has also become clearer: the Public Option was never really off the table!!  It has been part of the plan all along and will continue to be so.  It seems the gloves have come off.

OK.  That’s good to know, because now we can really start to understand what all the Republican bluster has been all about, and we can also start to understand why the Democrats are so fervently in favor of a Public Option.  And, as part of our examination of the Public Option we can also understand why one man’s meat (or panacea, in this case) can be another man’s poison (or poison pill, to continue the analogy).  The Public Option has the potential to cut both ways.  Here’s why:

First, for the 50,000,000 Americans who don’t have any health insurance at all ( a fact that ought to qualify the U.S. for third world country status, except that most third world countries probably have a better record – so maybe we should be looking at fourth world status) the Public Option will literally be a life saver.  People who cannot afford the current high prices for insurance or who can’t get insurance because of some pre-existing condition (insurance companies really only want to insure people who won’t need to use their insurance – hey, it’s a business.) will finally be able to get treated for life threatening illnesses instead of dying from them.  The Republican Party is against this Public Option because it’s not a money maker for private business. In fact it could turn out to be a truly massive money loser.

That’s where we come to the part of the Public Option that is a poison pill.  It may well be the ultimate poison for the medical insurance industry. In one of his town meetings, President Obama was asked how the private health insurance companies could compete against a government private option, since the government is a non-profit organization (at least so far) and therefore its insurance rates would be far lower than those offered by the private insurers.  (The massive difference in costs to the consumer being due to the massive profits the insurance companies currently make from premiums and denial of coverage.)

President Obama was quick to point out that private industry can indeed successfully compete against the government, and he gave the example of how well Fedex and UPS are doing financially while the U.S. Postal Service is pretty much on the ropes.  You might note that the President neglected to say that he was comparing apples and oranges and that’s why his example worked so well.  Fedex and UPS deliver mostly high priority packages and some high priority letters.  The cost to the sender of these items is high, but people are willing to pay when it “absolutely, positively has to get there overnight”.  The Post Office, on the other hand, delivers letter and package mail to everyone in the country who has a mailbox, and they come by your house every day whether they have mail for you or not because that is their route. While doing this they only charge 10% or less of what Fedex and UPS charge per item.  Fedex and UPS are successful, not because they compete with the Post Office, but because they don’t compete with the Post Office.  They are successful because they offer a service that the Post Office doesn’t.  (And believe me, Express Mail does not compete with Fedex or UPS.)

But what about the Public Option? Will the Federal Government be offering a plan that directly competes with private insurers?  You betcha.  And that, my friends is the poison pill I was talking about.  This wonderful idea of providing low cost insurance to all comers is a great idea for all Americans, but it is death to the private insurance industry.  Who in their right mind would pay a small fortune for private insurance when you can get the same coverage from the government for a fraction of the cost?  This, of course, is the great fear of the Republican Party and their rich friends.  Cue the rumors about Socialism, Death Panels, Fascism, Communism, European Style government, Canadian style medicine, long waits for treatment, low quality treatment, free medical care for illegal immigrants, the end of the pharmaceutical industry, Martian landings, tsunamis, earthquakes, and the loss of freedom for all Americans.  You have to hand it to the Republicans.  They have great imaginations and they really know how to stir up their base with a few key phrases or words.

The simple fact is this: a Public Option is a great idea for most people.  It lowers the cost of insurance and provides insurance for everyone.  Ultimately, there is more business for the medical industry – if not for the medical insurance industry.  We become a healthier nation – except for the private health insurance companies who eventually go extinct, because eventually everyone will choose the Public Option.  One man’s panacea is another man’s poison pill; it’s as simple as that and that is what all the commotion is about.  The Democrats are on the side of the vast majority of the American people and the Republicans are on the side of the big, profit-making businesses.  That isn’t news, that’s the way it’s always been.

The real question is this: will the Republican members of Congress stick to the cause of their masters in the insurance industry and vote against health care reform, thus risking catastrophic losses in the next election, or will they cave in and vote for it and thus against the very people who contribute so much money to them?

What would Sarah Palin do?

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Today, the government of Scotland released the only person ever convicted of the terrorist bombing that destroyed a Pan Am Boeing 747, named Clipper Maid of the Seas.  The plane was flying high over Lockerbie, Scotland when a bomb exploded in the luggage compartment.  Pieces of the plane rained down upon the town.  Two hundred and seventy innocent people were killed, eleven of them were people in the town of Lockerbie.  The attack on the aircraft, the airline, the passengers on the plane, the crew of the plane, and the country the plane represented (the United States – Pan Am used to call itself Pan American World Airways) was made by a group of Libyan terrorists who were trying to make some sort of point, a point that was never very clearly enunciated before or since.  In the years since, Libya has renounced terrorism.  Ultimately, the terrorist attack achieved nothing.  It was a pointless killing of innocent people.  It was also the final and ultimate cause of the the demise of Pan Am and thus a loss to all of us for whom Pan Am will always be the symbol of what air travel used to be.

Many of the families of those killed by the terrorists have now expressed outrage over the release of the terrorist, who is dying from cancer.  The man is in the terminal stages of prostrate cancer and the cancer has spread throughout his body. He has no hope to live more than about three months – three months of suffering no matter where he is.  Today the Scottish Justice Secretary, Mr. Kenny MacAskill, released a statement explaining why he decided to release this convicted terrorist, despite the objections of the families of those killed and the objections of the U.S. government.  It is an eloquent statement that informs the listener or reader of the role of Scotland in this man’s imprisonment.  It also explains the system of justice in Scotland, and while many people in America would say, “let the man rot in jail till he dies”, Mr. MacAskill explains Scotland’s reasons for his release and his reasons are worth hearing.

The U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, has also released a statement. He has condemned the release of the terrorist, who is being sent back to Libya to die.  The emotion is understandable.  The crime was extremely heinous.  Yet, at the same time, Scotland calls us to face reality.  You can’t kill a dead man.  Keeping a man in jail is not nearly as severe a punishment as having a body racked with cancer.  The question is this: is keeping a man imprisoned, who is dying from cancer that has spread throughout his body, justice or is it something else?  Does it go beyond justice?  Is this cruel and unusual punishment?  Granted that this man is among the cruelest of the cruel people who have ever walked the Earth, what do we ourselves become when we deal out an eye for an eye, torture for torture?  Do we not then become that which we despise the most?   The urge to deal out intense and everlasting punishment to this man is understandable, but the Justice Minister from Scotland is right.  We Americans pride ourselves on our magnanimity, yet the facts dispute this belief.  Our prisons are chock full.  We imprison more people, per capita, than any country in the entire world. Perhaps one good thing that will come out of this tragedy is that we Americans might listen to a voice from Scotland that says, enough is enough.  Frankly, I doubt that we will. We are already too far down that road.  We have more prisoners than Russia or China, Mexico or Venzuela, Germany or Japan. We have more than anyone.  We are really into punishment.  Thank God we’re a Christian country.

Abdel Basset al-Megrahi will soon die no matter what happens.  His fate is sealed. May God have mercy on his soul – whatever God he reports to.  Ultimately, this terrorist failed in his assignment.  Yes, he brought down the plane, and yes he killed a lot of innocent people, and yes there are no longer any planes that fly around the world bearing the name Pan Am.  But Pan Am lives on in our memory, as do the innocents who were murdered.  In the years to come no one will remember the name of Abdel Basset al-Megrahi.  In the end he was just another murderer.  But the families who lost their loved ones will always remember the joy they had experienced with their families before that fateful day.  Families of the crew members will always treasure the memories of their fathers, wives, and children.  And American’s will always fondly remember the glory days of aviation and Pan Am that safely took so many of us to those far away places in a style and comfort that is unheard of today.

So today, instead of castigating a Scottish Justice Minister for showing more charity than we would, let us pause a moment to consider the innocent victims and their families who can never be made entirely whole again, and let us also pause a moment and reflect on the loss of the Clipper Maid of the Seas and the greatest airline that ever circled the world, Pan American World Airways.

Let’s just remember for a moment, for auld lang syne.

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It has been happening slowly, almost imperceptibly, like the Titanic trying to turn away from an iceberg in its path.  The casual observer might not have noticed any change, but upon closer inspection you notice that something somehow has changed.  Remember when CNN was a news organization?  Remember when they reported what happened both in the U.S. and around the world and they were satisfied with doing that – sort of an American BBC?  Now they have morphed into a semi-entertainment show.  They’ve gone all a-twitter.  People can interact with them in real time via social networking websites.  Both Joe Redneck and Joe College can have their thoughts read aloud now on CNN news- as if their thoughts were representative of anything other than their own private musings.

But another, more insidious change has taken place in Atlanta.  CNN has developed a taste for provocative news, news that will get you excited, news that will keep you watching and keep you listening – because after all, they are a commercial enterprise and sponsors pay for ratings and ratings come from numbers of watching heads.  Plain old facts don’t give them the kick they need anymore. People listen and watch plain old facts for half an hour, understand what is happening in the world today, and then turn off the TV and go about their lives.  Not a profitable business model.  It appears that CNN has taken a glance at the FOX News business model and said, “Hmmm, we need to learn from these geniuses.  We need to get more into the news entertainment business.  Leave the straight factual reporting to the Brits.”

On today’s morning news on CNN it was reported that a government health plan could eventually result in rationing health care because the government would have no other way of controlling costs.  Que visions in people’s minds of someone pulling the plug on Grandma.  CNN reported that this conclusion had been reached by the Cato Institute, which had done a study of government health care.  CNN went on to say that the Cato Institute is a Libertarian organization.  (For those unfamiliar with Libertarian philosophy, it doesn’t mean the same thing as Liberal – as in left-wing Democrats.  Libertarians are fundamentally opposed to government in general and believe that the less government we have the better off everyone is.)  I guess CNN couldn’t find the time to fit in a brief explanation of Libertarian views, so that explanation was rationed out of the news.  The innocent listener was left thinking that government health care must be bad with all the rationing they’ll be doing.  Apparently CNN was short on time and couldn’t fit in an explanation that commercial health insurance companies, hospitals, dentists, dental insurance companies, and basically the entire U.S. health industry currently rations health care. So CNN rationed that out too.

“What?” you say.  “I don’t want anyone rationing my health care!” Neither do I, but it’s a fact of life.  Take a look at your insurance policy and see what’s covered and what’s not covered.  Look at the limits of your coverage for certain procedures.  Look at what is excluded.  Same with your dental plan.  Let’s say you needed a heart transplant.  Could you get one tomorrow?  No. You would be placed on a waiting list.  How about a new liver or kidney? Same thing.  How about just a routine operation to repair a problem with your back?  Ummm, let’s see, OK we have an opening in six weeks on Thursday.  Can you come in then? – Isn’t this all rationing? Of course. Our health care system doesn’t have infinite capacity. Our health care insurers don’t have infinite funds. There are limits on what you will get right now.  A government plan would be no different – only an idiot would believe otherwise.  In the real world their are limits to everything; unfortunately, CNN chose not to explain that and went ahead with the “rationing” story without further explanation, thereby conjuring up, once again, images of poor old, expendable, grandma having the plug pulled on her.

This isn’t news.  This is beyond news.  This is yelling “FIRE” in a crowded theater.  It is irresponsible journalism, a failure to report the truth by omitting facts.  This is deliberate stirring up misunderstandings and debate among ill-informed citizens all for the sake of an audience who will keep listening to learn more dire “facts” about what could go wrong if the government begins to provide health care for large numbers of Americans.  This is not helping.  Only the truth helps and this isn’t it.

CNN, you have crossed the line.  You have now entered the twilight world of Fox News, a world of half truths and innuendo, a world where not everything is at it seems. I suppose it could only happen on a television set.  CNN has  entered the Twilight Zone.

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It looks like the Republicans have Obama on the ropes now, doesn’t it?  The Public Option is all but dead, and the Republican base is buzzing around like a swarm of killer bees.  Led by their chief visionaries Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, and supported by congressional buffoons like Michelle Bachman, the Republican machine has easily roused the rural gun-totin’ fanatics who all share a fanatical distrust of “gummint’ in general and “revenooers” in particular.  These are people who want nothing to do with government of any sort, and they only type of government people they will tolerate are the Michell Bachmans of the world – a person whose only position on government is that there shouldn’t be any. What are those people in Minnesota thinking anyway?  Is this the best they can produce?

So did all the insane ranting work?  Did the mass assemblies at town meetings that essentially prevented any logical discussion of the issues do their job?  Have the Republicans, the people who brought us President “What Me Worry” Bush and Vice President Vader, won another one for the Gipper? Have they prevented the average American people once again from having access to affordable life-saving health care – unless they mortgage their homes and sell their children into slavery?  Has the unholy coalition of the Republican Party and the For-Massive-Profit health insurance and pharmaceutical industry won yet again?  Even though the vast majority of the American people actually want reform? Could it be that our Democratic Congress, while having a majority in both houses will be unable accomplish anything to improve American health care? Do we just have a weak bunch of Democratic sissies, afraid to play hard ball with a Republican minority?  I don’t seem to recall the Republicans flinching whenever they wanted to steamroll the Democrats –  and they did so, time and time again.  So what’s up, President Obama?  What’s going on here?  Are you just going to weakly compromise away everything you wanted to get done?  Is this the CHANGE you sold us on?

If we care to take a step back from all this for a moment, we might recall one thing.  President Obama is one smart guy.  He organized his way into the White House.  He blew away the competition – not just John McCain, but Hillary too.  He knew what the people wanted to hear and he gave it to them.  He assembled a smart and powerful team of advisers after his election and immediately began a series of major steps to save the country from the economic Hell that George Bush had created.  He took decisive steps to get us out of Iraq. He took decisive steps to close Vice President Vader’s little shop of horrors in Guantanamo. So now, all of a sudden, he runs into a stone wall when it comes to health reform  and concedes defeat? Is this the same Barack Obama we elected?

I don’t think so.  He’s also a basketball player.  He knows how to fake.  While the Republican morons gloat that they have destroyed the President’s government-controlled welfare state,  along with his socialist, communistic, atheistic, immoral, death panel dealing, economy destroying health plan, Obama has quietly moved the ball from his right hand to his left hand – his shooting hand.  The Republicans never even noticed.  The game isn’t over yet, boys.  But the Republicans have been faked out of position.  Obama’s plan never was to have a Public Option.  Without skipping a beat we are now talking about health co-ops and the Republicans are looking this way and that, wondering where the ball went and also wondering whether this is his plan or is there something else up his sleeve.  Did they just fall for the old hidden ball trick?  Did they waste all their ammo on a feint?  Did the mindless Republican base get all stirred up for nothing?  Can the Beck’s and Limbaugh’s and Bachman’s and the other mindless leaders of the Republican Party recover and devise a new disruptive strategy soon enough? And what will they disrupt?  People getting together to create and control their own medical co-ops?

The Republicans are gloating now, but like a battered prize fighter, a dim awareness will soon begin to arise in those mini-minds. “Hey!” they’ll shout. “Wait a minute.” But it will be too late.  Obama already sank the last shot.  Game over. The people win another game.  Get used to it, Republicans, he ‘s way too smart for you.  It’s going to be a long four years.

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There are a lot of Americans who are invested in the stock market one way or another.  Many have 401k retirement plans.  Many have 529 college fund plans.  Some have IRAs and others simply buy stocks or bonds directly through a broker.  One way or another, I would guess that perhaps half or more of the adult population has investments in the stock market.  Let’s say that is about 100 million people, give or take.

Today, the Dow Jones fell precipitously from the opening bell.  It fell very quickly and stayed low the entire day without a lot of up and down motion after its initial drop.  By the time the market had closed the Dow had dropped 2%.  There are a few curious things about this.  First, the Chinese market had fallen 5.8% earlier.  Interestingly, the Japanese market had also fallen.  The Nikkei fell by 3.1 %, despite the report that Japan had just exited from recession and was now in an economic recovery. So one has to wonder a bit.  Did those 100 million or so American investors suddenly wake up in their sleep, perhaps due to a bad dream about the stock market, and sometime in the wee hours of the morning place a massive amount of sell orders before the U.S. market opened?

And if they did, why did they also bail on the Japanese economy?  Japan is now the third major country, after Germany and France, to announce that they have recovered from the recent economic meltdown.  Wouldn’t you have thought those sleepy Americans would have held onto their Japanese stocks? Or was it maybe the Japanese citizens themselves who panicked when they heard the dire news that they had recovered from the recession? And what got into all those people who had invested in Chinese stocks? China has the largest stimulus package in this corner of the universe and they also own several tons of U.S. treasury bills.  Did the investors suddenly forget that?  Why would all these little investors suddenly wake up in the middle of the night and scream, “Sell all my Chinese stocks!”

Why indeed.  Unless there is more to this instantaneous worldwide sell off than meets the eye.  I wonder.  Could it be that this massive, worldwide purge of investments wasn’t the result of millions or billions of investors all making the same “sell” decision at the same instant?  Could it be that perhaps something else was going on?  Could it be that maybe this was an orchestrated sell off instigated by a relatively small group of traders?  And if so why?  Why would any group of traders that control maybe 5 0r 10% of the entire world’s stock markets suddenly sell everything?  What could they gain – except to maybe trigger a massive number of stop losses.

And even if they did.  What good would that do for them?  What would they do then?  What would you do?  Perhaps we’ll see tomorrow.

Of course, I could be wrong.  Maybe everybody did just run to the same side of the boat at the same time.  It could happen…. Right???  Couldn’t it?

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