Supreme Court’s Healthcare Decision: Democrats Should Not Cheer Just Yet

Democrats should restrain themselves at today’s Supreme Court decision.  What the SJC did may have made the healthcare issue more confusing now than ever.  Why?  It ruled that Congress overreached in a part of the law where commerce is concern; that is, the law would have acted as a sort of restriction to free commerce which the Constitution absolutely prohibits.  These are the words that can be found in Thomas’s dissenting opinion.  It is curious, however, that the SJC being 5 – 4 in conservative leanings, had conservative Justice Roberts voting for the measure’s passage.  This could easily be a case of the conservatives of the United States “all or nothing” approach to government these days.  They argued that since the commerce portion of the law was invalid it should have invalidated the entire law.  Roberts, however, it seems felt differently.

What the SJC did say is that Congress could levy a tax penalty upon persons who do not have health insurance starting in 2014.  That is a problem because President Obama has already stated that it is the law’s intent that each state will make key decisions on the enactment of the law within that state.  But not all states have a personal income tax which by default means that the Federal return will necessarily be impacted.  The SJC also said that Congress could not entirely withhold healthcare funds from states that opt to not take part in mandatory health insurance.  How will that play out?  The SJC has effectively made this law a lot more difficult and, possibly, killed it by making its provisions too difficult for Congress to satisfactorily meet.  And that is saying we can even have a Congress that works to make the bill usable.  I believe the Republican Party will simply stonewall participation in making the necessary changes.

What I do not understand more than anything is why the Republican Party is so against affordable health insurance for all Americans.   Mitt Romney, who started this whole thing when he was governor of Massachusetts and successfully lobbied for mandatory health insurance in that state, now has reversed himself 180 degrees.  He has failed to offer a reason.  But the question remains, why would anyone be against requiring health insurance companies to make available affordable insurance to all Americans, and, even more importantly, be restricted from denying young people insurance because of pre-existing conditions, of unreasonably raising health insurance rates when someone incurs a life-threatening illness, and from simply over-charging the tens of millions of present policy holders?  These are questions that have not been answered by those who oppose “Obama-care” as they call it.

I challenge all those who are against the Obama healthcare program to offer what they would do in its place.  Doing nothing is not an acceptable answer as our healthcare system was, and still is, broken.  They are defiantly against socialized medicine as exists in Canada, England, and many other countries, which, by the way, get rated more highly than the U.S. in health care, but I do understand and agree with the sentiment against socialized healthcare.  But short of that what do you propose?

Here is what I suggest to those who persist in being against healthcare reform.  Consider that your wife, your sister, your mother has breast cancer.  Under the present system she will receive the care she needs but she can expect her premiums to go up drastically.  She will also likely face an arbitrary life-time limit, in dollars, to how much the company will cover.  Breast cancer has a very high rate of recurrence even when it is successfully treated.  These limitations and consequences are eliminated under the present healthcare reform.  Kill the reform and retain the conditions.

Most people, as they age, lose bits and pieces of their health to one degree or another.  Medications and treatments become necessary to sustain life at a comfortable and reasonable level.  Simply put, as your grow older your need for comprehensive health insurance becomes greater.  And right now, like it or not, agree with it or not, hospitals and other medical professionals decide the level of care each individual will receive according to that person’s ability to pay.  If you think that is wrong, next time you visit your primary care doctor ask for a candid response to the question.  You will likely be surprised by the response as long as he does not leave with “it all depends.”  You must start at a worst case scenario because that is, in truth, why we all have major health insurance in the first place.  Otherwise we would each simply pay the $150 or so cost of our annual visit and avoid paying a thousand or more dollars a year in insurance premiums.


Is Cutting Taxes Really a Good Idea?

Stockton California is filing for bankruptcy, the seventh U.S. city to do so this year.  The principle of bankruptcy is a very simple one: your debt load far exceeds your ability to pay it off in a timely manner at the very least but usually means your income goes to zero before you are able to pay the minimum of your debt service.  Such is the plight of Stockton and many other U.S. cities are on the brink.  By law, government has a single source of income, taxes.  The law also requires that they annually construct a budget, bring it before the town meeting or city council, and then vote on it.  If they have done their work properly, town and city leaders have done the homework properly in balancing their income against their outlays, and leave a little in reserve for emergencies.  States and the Federal Government must do the same thing but public discussion of those budgets is generally limited to elected officials and their appointees.  Still, government’s income at all levels is derived from the single source, taxes.   Stockton probably got into trouble, in part, from poor management of its debt load but had there been a tax reduction initiative earlier, this certainly would have happened all the same, just earlier.  Is this what we want for the United States in general?

Every level of government so has the ability to carry a certain level of debt.  Usually this debt arises from the issuance of bonds.  Bonds are usually issued to cover the cost of major construction programs, such as schools at the local level, and large transit projects at the state level.  These bonds can be found in the Moody’s Investment Guide and are rated according to the entity’s credit worthiness.

The Federal Government is a whole different story, however.  It too sells bonds on the U.S. market.  But it also sells its debt and that is usually to other governments of the world.  Right now, China is one of the largest holders of U.S. debt.  This worries a lot of people.  China could, for example, say, “We want all our money, now.”  It is a “demand” kind of debt.  But this is unlikely to happen simply because the adverse hit on the U.S. economy from such a move would have world implications what would, of course, affect China negatively.

The amount of debt the U.S. is carrying now is well over one-trillion dollars.  People worry about this, as they should.   The ways to reduce debt are to reduce spending or increase income.  In the case of governments you can reduce spending by reducing the government’s size.

Mitt Romney is running a campaign, as so many Republicans have before him, George W. Bush included, of tax reduction.  Their logic says that it will put more money in the pockets of the average American and therefor stimulate a sluggish economy.  They say this with great certainty, strongly enough that their message is “you should absolutely believe them.”  There is one problem with their hypothesis.  They are projecting into the unknown and this is what Americans with actually do with that extra dollar or two.  Personally, I’d pay down some of my own debt but I certainly would not be out on a spending spree, and  think that is the same thing many Americans would do.  This act is neutral with regards to the national economy, it neither grows nor shrinks the economy.

Now if you listen to Ron Paul, he will tell you that the way to deal with lowering taxes is reducing the size of the government.  And on that point he is exactly correct.  Government is expensive at all levels.  But government is also necessary at all levels.  If you take away the aspect of national defense from government and international relations, pretty much every other government entity exists, in some form, at every level.  All levels have police forces, fire fighters, lawyers, road maintenance people, tax collectors, land assessors, and so on.

Let us say, for example, that the city of “Big” one day declares that it can no longer pay for all the services is supplies.  The Mayor of Big, after long and arduous discussions decides his city has to cut back immediately on at least one of his city’s services.  He sees that maintaining the city’s streets is one of his biggest expenses so he declares that hence forth the people who own property along a street will be required to pay for its maintenance at the level required by state law.  The people of that street must pool their money and see to the street’s maintenance which includes its repair, snow removal, and resurfacing as called for.  He then dismantles the city’s highway department and not only is his budget in balance, but now he has extra cash on hand to pay down the city’s long festering debt.  He tells the voters that their property tax is immediately reduced by 5% because of this.

With this initial success under his belt, and people all over Big declaring him their savior, he announces that he can low property taxes by another 5% just by eliminating the fire department.  When asked how, he says it requires a simple principle that was actually used in the U.S. in the early 19th Century.  People would support a local privately owned fire department.  They pay their annual dues and their house or business would have a placard placed upon it saying the owner was a member in good standing of the local fire department and fires at that address will be attended to.  Even better, he announced, you are not required to buy into the program!  You can save even more money.  But, if your house does catch fire, then you are personally responsibility for putting out the fire, and are responsible if the fire spreads to other houses and businesses.

The people are so excited after a year, and paying hundreds of dollar less in taxes, that a man from West Big, suggests to the city council that all parks and recreation areas be maintained by the neighborhoods in which they exist!  The people of West Big, where most of the population exists, love this idea because most of those parks are located in East Big where the rich people live.  Their thinking is, why should they have to pay for something they don’t use very much, if ever.  The people of East Big like the idea because not only can they afford to pay for the parks but it gives them the right to say who can and who cannot enter into “their park.”  They have long groused that a “certain element” seems to come to their neighbor which they find unsavory.

Until this point the people in South Big haven’t had much to say about anything as they are all farmers who own large tracts of land and have been relatively unaffected by all the new smaller government ideas, and they of course have benefited greatly from the greatly reduced property tax.  But South Big is where the town’s lake exists and this is the summer escape for all the residents of Big.  But the few residents of South Big decided, in accordance with the latest law, to put up a fence around the lake and declare it closed.  They promise to maintain it, as required, but since they do not have the resources to run a public beach, nor to the desire to run the beach even if they did, they simply close it down.  Suddenly the city of Big is at odds with one-another.  The time-honored right to enjoy the summer on the shores of their lake has been taken away by four farmers who simply are not interested in keeping the tradition going.  People all over Big are asking each other how it happened that so much power fell into the hands of so few people.  The farmers replied to them that they were simply using the new laws, and besides, most of their families had lived in Big as long as anyone else, if not longer.  Weren’t they entitled as much as anyone to exercise their rights under the existing laws?

The basic tenant of government is to provide services to its constituents that cannot be reasonably, or equitably, provided by private organizations.  There was a time in its early history that the United States was a morass of private highways and bridges.  To leave Boston, for example, you had to pay a toll to cross one of the few bridges over the Charles River.  Towns and private citizens set up toll booths along public and private ways to collect monies for their upkeep and for the right to use them.  Philadelphia is renowned for its private fire companies in the 19th century who actually had wars between companies over who would cover which houses.

The point is a simple one: if you want a continued level of service you now enjoy in your city or state, or at the national level, then you have to pay taxes because they simply are not free.  If you think government is inefficient then you must offer solutions in how to make it more efficient.  It is not enough to point at some government entity and declare that they are very inefficient.  You must provide both the proof of the inefficiency and the method of improving its efficiency.  In the mean time you must accept the level of funding just to maintain what you have.

My suggestion is that there needs to be a major revision in the tax code.  Although I never liked Ronald Reagan as a President, he did come up with the idea of a “minimum tax” that he thought everyone, particularly the rich, should pay.  Somehow that has fallen into disfavor by today’s Republicans.  Personally I think a national sales tax, together with the elimination of all personal income tax, would solve many tax problems and reduce the size of one portion of the government greatly.

The bottom line is, every American has to ask himself what level of service he expects from the government and at the same time, he must realize that it will cost him something.  He must also recognize and accept that everyone is going to have their own idea of how much government we need to have.  But in the end, regardless, we will have to pay taxes to pay for that government.  Highways, fire departments, police departments, national defense, airports, and so forth are things we all have to pay for.  They are not cheap.  If you want your highways to be as good as they are now, or better, then you must pay for that.  This is not the time to cut taxes.  It might be the time to reorganize government at all levels, but it is not the time, yet, to reduce taxes.


Republican Nominating Process Shows Demise of American Political System?

It was reported in the Boston Globe (June 24, 2012, P. B1) recently that the state Republican Party revoked the delegate status of 17 Republican delegates.  Why?  They had refused to sign an oath of support to Mitt Romney.  Massachusetts, of course, voted overwhelmingly for Romney as the Republican candidate but state Republican party rules do not bind delegates, nor does it require any oath of allegiance.  The state party decided that had to be changed.  Why?  The 17 delegates in question were supporters of Ron Paul.

What state party leaders fear is that the Paul delegates, once at the Republican Convention, would draw attention to Paul’s agenda.  That, of course, has the possibility of gaining support from delegates of other states at the convention and bring on unwanted turmoil.  This is nothing new, of course, but it is showing the power of the super-pacs who now seem to control our election process.

To be fair, I think the same sort of process exists within the Democrat Party but since it is not looking for a candidate this year, it is not nearly so important that party doctrine be held in lock-step at their Republican counterparts seem to need.

This really started about 1994 when Republican party leaders demanded that all congressional members sign their “Contract With America.”  On the outside it seemed not only harmless, but a truly good thing.  Much of what the contract contained were statements that seemed entirely common sense.  But it served as a vehicle to reign in party members in the future.   By the time of Pres. Bush’s first election party leadership brought in their “our way or the highway” by threatening the withholding of election funding.  It has been, to say the least, effective.

The point is, Americans have allowed the election process to be co-opted by extremely well-financed political action committees.  These committees, both conservative and liberal, set agendas.  And now we have the “super-PACs” to deal with.  These PACs have made public financing of campaigns irrelevant.  That means, a single person or business can give as much money as it wants to a PAC that is not directly supporting any single political candidate.  How have the gotten around that?   Simple.  They launch attack ads against opponents’ ideas without ever mentioning the candidate they support.

Campaign Finance Reform of many years ago was designed to keep this exact thing from happening, but there are truly gifted and talented people who can find a hole in a seeminly solid slab.  They have an army of lawyers on the ready, as well, to back up their position should they be challenged.

I fear we are becoming a country where puppets of well-placed people do their bidding in the halls of Congress.  Our elected officials only get there after they have been vetted by rich and powerful groups.   Simply put, the best candidate for office will never get past the nominating process if he/she does not sign on the line with the PACs that support their party.  If Abraham Lincoln had to run his campaign then, as things are now, he would never have been supported.  He was an unknown from Illinois who was not presently in public office and who had only once served a two-year term as an Illinois representative.  Family problems that become known once he was president would have served as fodder for his opponent.

We cannot allow our political system to be taken over by the rich and powerful.  This is at the heart of what the founders of this country feared.  Such had been the case in 1775 England when the Lords of English Parliament held a deaf ear to their American cousins.  And that, as much as anything, is what is at the heart of our Constitution.  No other country had regularly scheduled elections as we do here in America, a purposeful design of the constitution.  No other country in the world has the absolute separation of powers, legislative, executive, and judicial, as we do in America.  And nowhere else is the power of the people so heavily invested in the words of a constitution as is in ours.

The PACs and super-PACs serve only to undermine those powers for their own selfish purposes.  PACs do serve a good purpose but their power and sway have got to be brought into check.  They wield far too much power in our elections and now, seemingly, hold the power of who, at the very least, will be that party’s nominee to any elective office.  This is a serious affront to the ideals that Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and so many others fought for.  It is time Americans became not just angry, but furious with the way the PACs are conducting themselves, and in turn, affecting our sacred political process.

Think Your Car is Made in America? Think Again and Check the List Below

1.  Chrysler, most assembled in America although some in Canada, some transmissions made in Mexico and Brazil

2. Ford

– Escape, engine manufactured in Mexico, tranmission manufactured in Japan, assembled in Missouri

– Explorer, engines manufactured in Germany and U.S., tranmissions manufactured in U.S. , assembled in U.S.

– Focus, engines manufactured in U.S., transmissions manufactured in Germany and U.S., assembled in U.S.

– Fusion, engine made in U.S., tranmission made in Mexico, assembled in Mexico

– Mustang, manufactured and assembled entirely in U.S.

– Taurus, manufactured and assembled entirely in U.S.

General Motors

– Buick, engine made in U.S. and Canada, tranmission made in U.S. and Mexico, assembled in U.S.

– Cadillac, engine made in U.S., Canada, and Mexico; tranmissions made in U.S., France, and Mexico, assembled in U.S.

– Chevrolet, engine made in U.S., Canada, and Mexico; tranmissions made in U.S., France, and Mexico, assembled in U.S.

– Honda (all) Manufactured and assembled entirely in U.S. except for some transmissions which are made in Japan

– Nissan (all) engines made in U.S., transmissions made in Japan and Mexico, assembled in U.S.

– Toyota (all), engines manufactured in U.S. and Japan, transmissions made in U.S. and Japan, assembled in U.S.

Advice to People in Their Twenties

When my generation was in its twenties it was concerned with things like birth control, the Vietnam War, and equal rights.  We were headed up by the likes of Gloria Steinem, Abbie Hoffman, and Bill Baird.  We also had Bill Gates, Jim Henson, and George Lucas.  These people, and many more like them, contributed greatly to the quality of life we enjoy today.  You might find Abbie Hoffman as a strange choice for the list as he was regularly identified at a villain at the time.  He was extremely outspoken against “the establishment” of the day.  But some years later he joined “the establishment” as a part of the Wall Street financiers.

It’s not difficult to find out what we stood for.  My generation was known for its protest songs, student sit-ins and strikes, burning the bra, and fighting the war in Vietnam.  I fit into that last category as I spent the entire 70s in the US Army.  But that did not keep me from experiencing much of what was going on.  My eldest daughter spent many an hour watching Sesame Street and getting the beginnings of a fine education from it, thank you very much Jim Henson.  We watched east coast cities burning during the race riots of the 70s, and the stream of war protestors who headed to Canada to avoid the draft.  I did not then, nor do I now, bear them the least bit of animosity.

For those of you who are in your 20s now this is the time to take copious notes, become of causes that mean something to you, do not shy away from political controversy, and take a stand for those things you feel passionate about.  It is extremely important, however, that you keep an open mind, be flexible, be willing to alter your position, and be prepared for a long fight.  You will find that most of the things you believe to be in the greatest need of changing are going to take the longest to get changed.  Keep that in mind and do not quit no matter what.

I absolutely believe that among you exists a mind that will find the cure for AIDS, certain cancers, and will revolutionize prosthetic devices.  Some will become President of the United States, senators, and supreme court justices.  You will have Nobel Prize winners and Pulitzer Prize winners.  You will win gold medals in the Olympics and championships in professional sports.

Most of you, however, will lead quiet lives and you can make some of the biggest changes of all.  At your finger tips is more information you can use to your advantage than any generation prior to you has had.  Use it to make your children’s lives better, you life better, and to keep yourself informed about what is going around you.  Abbie Hoffman told us to challenge authority.  What he meant was, when someone holds themselves up to be an authority on any subject make them prove themself, and be judicious in believing what you are told.

The best predictor of your future is the past.  Look closely at the history of everything when you consider anything.  People have a natural tendency to resist change so if you want to know how people are going to react to some future event, see how they responded to the same or similar events in the past, and plan accordingly.

Do not sit quietly by when something wrong is happening.  Become involved, it is the only way to make a difference.  Change is inevitable.  Your choices are two: be a part of it or be run over by it.

Make a promise to yourself now that when you look back on your life, 30 or 40 years from now, you will be able to smile knowing you we an agent of positive change and that your generation can hold it head proudly for be at the forefront of that change.

Resentments: A Recipe For Disaster

I think a lot of people have resentments and call them something else.  I mention that because I used to be one of those people.  When came to feeling evil towards someone, I was a master.  It never occurred to me, however, to ask myself what good it did me.

By and large, I had a really good childhood but even so, some really horrible things happened to me.  It would be easy to dismiss whatever resentments I formed because of those bad things except that I carried them around for half of my life.  My mother was the prime recipient of a number of those resentments.  She had earned some of the anger I felt but once I had vented that anger, which I did, she was no longer responsible.  You would never have known that from my actions however.  Most times resentments only hurt the person carrying them but in this case it hurt two people.  My mother deserved better than that and I did make amends to her for my actions before she died,   well before fortunately.

There is a saying about resentments, “It’s like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”  I drank from that poison many times always expecting the other person to feel something bad but the only one who ever felt badly was me.

It’s ironic.   figured out a long time ago the foolishness of jealousy, another of my shortcoming although I overcame that one early on in my adulthood.  I call it the most foolish emotion a person can have and only shows that person’s insecurities.  It would have been nice to have carried over that logic to my resentments, but I did not.

Mind you, I still get resentments but now I treat them like a minor injury.  I figure out what the source of the pain is and deal with it.  Almost without exception the source of the pain is from something within me.  What is happening is I am seeing something inside someone else that I hate within myself and that is how a resentment begins.  This is not to say that the person had not wronged me or done something to allow me to feel poorly towards them, but the resentment is a level of anger that is always uncalled for.  The resentment is self-flagellation at its worst.  The resentment is what takes up space in my head and eats at me in its desire to get out.  The resentment is what has pushed me into making too many bad decisions.

I still feel the resentment come over me but when I do an alarm goes off in my head and I tell myself it is time to take action.  As I said before the first thing I do is find the source of the resentment.   Then once I have identified the other person’s part in it, I forgive them in the sense that I tell myself that whatever they are doing has nothing to do with, or that they are fighting some demon within themself and it is presenting itself in this unflattering manner.  Most of the time I eliminate the resentment by simply telling myself that they have a problem and I’m not it.

So here is the thing; it is okay to be angry, as angry as you need.  But get over it as quickly as you can because anger is like milk left out too long.  After a while it curdles and smells bad and turns into something else, something ugly.