Help!!! We Are Hemorrhaging Debt and Killing Healthcare.

In the last two days, there were a couple of great if depressing editorial pieces in the WSJ. Yesterday, Peggy Noonan wrote, Word of the Decade: ‘Unsustainable’ Washington finally acknowledges the debt crisis. But can it act?

The final few paragraphs stated quite well,

Supporters of Mr. Ryan’s Medicare plan must talk very specifically about how this would all work, and why it would make your life better, not worse. They also have to make two things clearer. One is that if nothing is done to change Medicare, the system will collapse. You’ll give the card to the nurse and she’ll laugh: “We don’t take that anymore.” This already happens in doctors offices. Without reform it will happen more often.

Democrats, on the other hand, should be forced to answer a question. If you oppose the highly specific Ryan plan, fine, but tell us your specific proposal. How will you save Medicare? Will you let it die?

If Obama economic adviser Gene Sperling’s presentation at the summit was indicative of White House strategy, then we’re in trouble. Because that strategy comes down to windy and manipulative statements about how “we’re all in this together” but GOP proposals “will lead to millions of children . . . losing their coverage.” He added: “We are not criticizing their plan, we are explaining it.”

It is a long time since I’ve seen such transparent demagoguery, such determined dodging. It’s obvious the White House political plan for 2012 is this: The Democrats will call for fiscal discipline and offer no specifics or good-faith starting points. They will leave the Republicans to be specific, and then let them be hanged with their candor. Democrats will speak not of what they’ll do but only of what they would never do, such as throw grandma out in the snow. In honeyed tones, Mr. Sperling said both parties should “hold hands and jump together,” like Butch and Sundance. But it was clear Sundance was going to stop at the edge of the cliff and hope Butch gets broken on the rocks.

I’m disturbed by this idea, but feel, unfortunately, there is much merit to it. The other night Rep. Ryan was on mic and former Pres. Clinton approached him for a few informal words. ABC ended up releasing their exchange.  The candidness of the remarks about the fears Pres. Clinton has of his own party, now utilizing the newly won seat to possibly stop negotiations about the budget and debt was telling. This is a man who learned that working as a team, as a centrist, was in the best interest for our country, as well as for himself politically. This approach balanced our budget, and helped make Bill Clinton a very successful and well liked President. He also realises the big picture that something must be done.

Today there was an article by Thomas R Saving and John C. Goodman, Mediscare: The Surprising Truth, Republicans are being portrayed as Medicare Grinches, but ObamaCare already has seniors’ health care slated for draconian cuts. It shows how the stone throwing is ridiculous, and that:

In light of the heated rhetoric of recent days, it is worth noting that for everyone over the age of 55, there is no difference between the amount of money the House Republicans voted to spend on Medicare and the amount that the Democrats who support the health-reform law voted to spend. Even for younger people, the amounts are virtually identical with GDP indexing.

The law’s spending path depends on making providers pay for all the future Medicare shortfalls. But since no one can force health-care providers to show up for work, short of a health-care provider draft this reform ultimately cannot succeed. The House Republican path, on the other hand, would make a sum of money available to each senior to choose among competing private plans—much the way Medicare Advantage provides insurance today for about one out of every four Medicare beneficiaries.

 That’s a good starting point. But we believe that a truly successful overhaul of Medicare will require at least three additional elements.

First, there must be general system reform. You cannot credibly hold senior health-care spending way below everyone else’s spending, nor can we make taxpayers pay for all the future elderly’s health care. We must create a reform that reduces the rate of growth of health-care costs for everyone—young and old.

The best reform proposal for the non-elderly, interestingly, is a health plan Mr. Ryan has cosponsored with Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.). It would give all Americans the same tax relief for health insurance and encourage market forces to constrain costs.

Second, if federal spending is to be contained, young people need to be able to save in tax-free accounts during their working years in order to replace the dollars they will not be getting from Medicare.

Finally, providers need to be able to repackage and reprice their services under Medicare in ways that lower costs and improve quality. Anyone who saves Medicare a dollar should be able to keep 25 cents (or some other significant amount). Once that happens, private-sector innovations will spring up overnight.

An interesting perspective to study. I am not an expert in health care or economics, but find these options offered to be much more viable and logical. We need steps that work to fix our debt while ideally allowing continued high quality coverage, provider satisfaction, as well as affordability.

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Hit By Pitch, Life’s Curve Balls

I was attacked by a dog yesterday! Thankfully, not in the total psycho Cujo way, but none the less, I was bitten on my thigh pretty badly. I will be fine, but I’m still shaken up by it. It was absolutely terrifying to go through.

I went to a friend’s house to drop off some art supplies I had borrowed, I chose to head up on her back deck instead of the way I usually came into the house, the doors were open to her kitchen, and I figured she was right there. I was wrong. She has four dogs, I’ve met them all before, but animals are just that, animals.

For whatever reason as they barreled out the back door to investigate my presence, the big labradoodle viewed me as a threat. I heard it in his bark, and saw it in his eyes, as he ran at me I knew. It was all so quick that there was nothing I could do. He did not hesitate as he came upon me and bit my leg. (Why was it nice enough to be in shorts?)  I felt the burn and looked down to realize I was bleeding. I put my hands in front of the dog, palms facing him as I was screaming pinned against a wall, hoping my friend would come quickly, before I was bitten again. The dog was definitely tempted, but also was holding back slightly as he had continued to bark and nudge into me with his nose.

I have no idea how long this whole event took place before my horrified friend rushed out and saved me. In the moment, it was an eternity of hell. Mercifully, as bad as it was, this awful moment will pass, hopefully leaving just a few small scars on my leg. I am respectful that it could have just have easily been dramatically life altering or ending had the dog been more out of control. I am grateful to be sitting here with a throbbing arm from my tetanus shot, and wrapped swollen thigh.

Though I obviously wish this never happened. In the midst of all the chaos, I was sitting in my friend’s kitchen, crying, shaking in shock, holding ice and bandages to my leg. We were getting ready to head to the doctor, I looked up and saw her face, through my tears, I started laughing and said, I think you are feeling even worse than me. She was so grateful for my reaction. Anger would not change what happened, yelling, accusing, hurting the dog, none of that was going to make this situation better, only some medical care and time. As with most things in life it is a reminder that it is equally important to try to handle our crisis and trauma as well as we handle our joys. Therefore, no rash decisions. I’m not a dog killer, and I know my friend is working on preventing this from happening to anyone else.

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Fannie And Freddie Redux, Or Rearranging the Furniture in the Dark

It has been more than obvious Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have become an albatross worn painfully by the government through out the housing/financial meltdown. The failure that occurred in 2008 causing the full government takeover is still inflicting pain in eating away at taxpayer’s money. Though there is no simple fix, as I’ve stated before, sometimes the only cure is to let them fail. Unfortunately, as with many situations, there is no one right solution, but many different options.

One that seems to have support is a bipartisan bill that breaks Fannie and Freddie into five different smaller entities. This will still allow for the so-called federal guarantees, but with supposedly less risk exposure to the general public. As this formula is still somewhat broad stroked and better yet regulated the same way Fannie and Freddie were, how can this be any different from just rearranging the same uncomfortable and stained furniture in the dark? It might look slightly better (or worse) for a little while, but a some point you are still going hit your shin on the coffee table and eventually need to start from scratch.

On May 12th in the Wall Street Journal, Bill Proposes Mortgage Shake-Up, was written by Nick Timiraos. It covers much of this proposal as well as some opinions:

Analysts say that the compromise proposed by Rep. John Campbell (R., Calif.) and Rep. Gary Peters (D., Mich.) may be the only plan likely to attract sufficient support from both parties on a politically explosive subject, particularly at a time when gridlock looms over issues such as how to curb federal spending…

Rep. Campbell said, “Rather than putting out a political marker, we can move a piece of legislation that is significant…and can actually become law. The only other approach that’s out there in a bill is one that replaces Fannie and Freddie with nothing.”

…Critics say the hybrid model risks recreating the same dynamics that led Fannie and Freddie to use their government ties to take risks that cost taxpayers. “In reality, this is almost surely going to be terrible,” said Dwight Jaffee, finance professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Government insurance programs, he says, inevitably lead to “a catastrophe.”

Call me crazy , I for one, kind of like the alternate plan briefly mentioned that replaces Fannie and Freddie with nothing. However, don’t just take my word for it, there is a wonderful opinion piece in the Guardian by Dean Baker, Let’s demolish this poor housing policy: The Obama administration’s reform of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae would merely subsidise mortgage middlemen with our taxes. Culminating in stating:

The policy being considered by the Obama administration, which would guarantee the mortgage-backed securities issued by mini Fannie and Freddies, is effectively handing taxpayer dollars to the intermediaries in the housing finance process. That’s a good policy if the point is to give taxpayer money to financial intermediaries; it makes zero sense as housing policy.

Is it better to have bad policy, than none at all? We need to cut away the disease, and start anew. Just because something is a “strong piece of legislation” doesn’t mean it is a well thought out and productive piece of legislation.

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Interesting Fodder on the Changing Perspective of High Gas Prices

I found this link to the Don Smith show. He gives a fantastic perspective of how gas pricing has been viewed in the last five years. The media biases abound, the blames on the past administration versus now, the new positive spin on the increasing prices is very upsetting. Choosing which statistics to draw upon in how this can be positive versus a detriment, and making jokes about getting a hybrid versus pointing out the plight of the unemployed not being able to hunt for a job because they can’t afford gas, doesn’t change that gas prices have never been higher. A fact that can not be disputed.

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The Evolution of Freedom, San Francisco Style

Last week, a group out in San Francisco, successfully got over 7700 signatures for their cause to force a vote to be on this November’s ballot. This new measure is proposing a ban on circumcisions on any males under the age of 18, no exceptions, religious or otherwise. It would make circumcision a misdemeanor, punishable with a $1000 fine and up to a year in jail. I’m stunned. I mean, not that I’m an advocate for circumcision, but I’m certainly an advocate for parental decisions meaning something as well as for religious freedom, as per the First Amendment. In the debate on circumcision, there is a wonderful in-depth look in New York magazine, For and Against Foreskin. I highly recommend this health feature to learn more about both sides. The idea that one view-point on a practice that has existed for thousands of years should be taken as a law in a country that supposedly promotes individuality, makes no sense.

The progressive stance of this extremely liberal city, is really starting to swing so far left, that all the freedoms our country was founded for, would soon be replaced with a police state of rules in the guise of safety and protection from ourselves. In the last year, San Francisco has made the news with laws against pet stores selling pets to protect animal rights as well as banning toys in Happy Meals to work on banning fast food for children.  Promoting making an educated decision is one thing, but assuming the public at large is too ignorant to make their own choices in these matters is something else entirely, a dangerous line of instilling laws for the “greater good”? When we lose our ability to make choices by conceding the government or a single individual knows better, we take away intrinsic principles to form our own opinions.

As Americans, as individuals, we must be very careful to look at the broadest scope of foresight in proposing laws about foreskin. This definitely falls in the careful what you wish for category, because each freedom we willingly give up, takes us closer to losing our core value as a Nation based on freedom. Draconian measures are not the answer, extremes rarely are.  Education for a cause, as well as tolerance if not true understanding of religious ritual would be a much better starting point. I hope this measure on the Ballot for November’s elections, is overwhelming voted against regardless of whether the voters are for or against circumcision.

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Will the U.S. Default? You’ve Got to Be Kidding.

Tim Geithner’s response to a question being asked on Tuesday, about the possibility of whether the U.S. government would default on its debts,”We’re the United States of America, you’ve got to be kidding.”

I laughed when I first read Mr. Geithner’s answer, because in many ways, he is right on target. Posturing, politics, and procrastination may make for high drama played out in the media and tense negotiations in the House and Senate, but ultimately each side ideally wants America to be on solid standing with our debt obligations. Philosophically, in how each side approaches it, is the difference.

In the Wall Street Journal today, No Plan B if Debt Ceiling Not Raised, states some alarming, if obvious facts.

“There really is no alternative to raising the debt limit,” a senior Obama administration official said in a briefing with reporters. “There is no plan that can preserve our creditworthiness” should the political system fail, said the official, who spoke on the condition that he would not be named.

In some ways this official is just saying the same thing Treasury Secretary Geithner said on Tuesday, but without the optimism that this will all work out. Though the steps along the way are frustrating. On monday Sen. Tom Coburn walked away from the “gang of six” budget talks stating, “I’m not going to bang my head against a wall anymore.”  He later called it a sabbatical as opposed to dead in the water.

With so many differing opinions, and new plans  and players, such as Vice President Biden, added to the equation, are we hitting a stage where there are too many cooks in the kitchen, or will there be a white knight of salvation? My prediction is that some type of eleventh hour agreement will be reached, but with what concessions, who knows yet. We have the summer to watch it painfully, embarrassingly unfold.

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Learn From the Past, Don’t Bury It

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is speaking today at the Harvard Club in NYC. The early publicity release his office gave out said his remarks would include a statement about reminding Congress that the debt limit is “about the past.” I have been wondering in what capacity he means this. As in it happened in the past, in a let bygones be bygones kind of way, a turn the other cheek mentality? I’m not one to throw stones and punish anyone for past transgressions, however it is important to learn from past mistakes to avoid repeating them, as well as the lesson to clean up after ourselves.

Mr. Geithner is to say, we should “not get stuck on a debate about funds that past Congresses and administrations have already committed and spent.” I get the aspect of not hammering in on the minutia of who did what, but none the less, we need to move forward with the mindfulness of history. We study history not just to learn about the past, but learn from the past. Ideally gaining the wisdom of what possibly can be done differently and hopefully better under similar circumstances to make progress towards a future without need of increased debt ceiling debates. Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Lets stop this insanity while we have the opportunity, we need to stop the spending and cut the budget to get on track for a more sound fiscal future.

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