Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Paul Ryan's chicken in every pot spiced with arsenic

My column in the Sky Hi News today
The oldest gimmick in politics is to promise a chicken in every pot. The problem is always who pays for that chicken.

The GOP's budget guru Rep. Paul Ryan is promising us chickens: 10 percent income tax for all except 25 percent for the yet-to-be defined rich and a deficit that will still grow by $797 billion, but will be less than the Democrat's proposal of $977 billion.

Ryan proposes to reduce corporate taxes to 25 percent. The president's proposal is 28 percent). While Ryan is vague about the cuts needed to get us there, what the GOP and he have proposed so far already adds arsenic to our health care pot.

With the Ryan budget, future seniors and the poor would pay the most. Seniors on Medicare would be given vouchers that fall $6,000 a year short of costs of care but — big whoop — they are free to choose unguaranteed private insurance or guaranteed public insurance. The sick and poor will see a cut in Medicaid, and in food stamps that help the poor to eat, with inevitably less support for nursing home care after mom runs out of savings.

Left yet are some potentially troubling details. Would tax deductions for charitable contributions to entities that provide many health services go away? While middle class taxes could be reduced, would deductions for education, health care, and home mortgages be eliminated?

Heaping on Ryan's hit to consumers is the pledge of every GOP candidate to repeal Obamacare. Health care reform is already law. It gives benefits to the public. Repealing it takes those benefits away. The Supreme Court could also declare Obamacare unconstitutional.

The provision mandating all to carry health insurance, subsidized per income level, is the chief issue being argued before the Supreme Court this week. Kill the mandate and kiss goodbye to coverage for the 30 million now unable to afford health insurance and those with pre-existing conditions.

At issue is whether the federal government can require all to have insurance or whether a freeloading individual can refuse to carry it. The purpose of the mandate is to include as many healthy people in the “pool” so that risk and cost are spread around, which is essential to make it affordable to cover pre-existing conditions and insurance coverage for everyone.

Obamacare means 540,000 currently uninsured in Colorado (20.7 percent of Grand County residents) will finally be able to buy affordable health insurance by 2014. Per, averaging nationwide now, insurance costs annually $11,000 for a family, over $4,000 for a single male. A mammogram can cost as much as $212 and the average colonoscopy bill is $3,081.

If the law is repealed, the uninsured would continue to do as they do now: Put off colon, breast, prostate, diabetes screening, or prenatal care, and instead only seek very expensive care in the ER after they become very ill, with the high costs of treatment eventually shifted to everyone else paying for premiums, deductibles and copays. Repeal would reinstate the practice of charging women as much as two times higher insurance premiums than men. Pregnancy could again be an uncovered pre-existing condition. Medical bills would continue to be the No. 1 cause of bankruptcy.

Thanks to Obama's health care reform, there is no longer a lifetime limit on coverage. In Colorado, 362,000 women have seen their coverage for preventive services like mammograms expanded. About 282,000 seniors and people with disabilities who have Medicare have already received free preventive care; 44,000 young people are now staying on their parents' insurance plans until they turn 26. The donut hole in Medicare drug coverage was closed.

The GOP would take away all in the name of freedom, choice, small government and cost. Ah ,then, how great the joys of freedom, limited government, and choice. Great for those who can afford it, that is.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Fact checking and Obamacare

My column in the Sky Hi Daily News March 21, 2012
In the next eight months we are going to see a barrage of advertising contaminate our TV-watching, and claims and counterclaims will be flying.

While many will concentrate on the soft issues — personalities, trustworthiness, leadership, character, ideology and economic theories — others will be about the hard facts of issues.

It is very difficult to be objective about facts, and it is particularly difficult when the issue is complex, such as health care reform. Distortions, misinterpretations, and out-right lies are even more likely.

There are non-partisan, independent sources that look behind the slogans, delve into the wonky details, and arrive at conclusions that separate the facts from fiction. I recommend three fact-checking websites. is a nonprofit project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, which is housed at the University of Pennsylvania. Another is which is connected with the Tampa Bay Times and is a Pulitzer prize winner. They rate political claims with a truth-o-meter. The Washington Post sponsors one and awards Pinocchio noses based on the degree of truth distortion (

Not all of these analyze the same claims and not all political talking points are scrutinized, but all of them give detailed reasons for arriving at their awards of the degrees of truthfulness. Both parties take their lumps from the fact checkers.

Here are some of the fact-checking conclusions about Obamacare. This is just a brief summary of the conclusions. To see any caveats and how the conclusions were reached, visit the websites.

One frequently heard claim by Rick Santorum is that Obamacare will cost trillions over the next 10 years. Per the Washington Post fact checker: “Santorum is only counting one side of the ledger — and overcounting it at that. Because the health care law raises some taxes and cuts Medicare spending, the Congressional Budget Office calculated that it slightly reduced the deficit in the first 10 years…..”

Another oft heard claim, especially made by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is that the health care reform law will be a job killer. called that a” Republican Whopper.” The best economic analysis of the new health care law points to the loss of a ‘small' number of low-paid jobs — starting in 2014. That's when firms with 50 or more workers will be required either to provide health insurance coverage to their employees or pay a penalty….” A close look at the studies cited by the Chamber of Commerce … as well as other independent analyses of the health care law, provide little, if any, evidence that the health care law will result in a significant net number of job losses. We rate the statement False.

Another claim mouthed by many Republican leaders and candidates is that Obamacare will cut $500 billion from Medicare, a claim geared to scare the old folks that benefits will be cut.

The Washington Post fact checker found that benefits were not “cut.” “The health bill will reduce projected Medicare spending by $575 billion over ten years, primarily by reducing projected fees to hospitals and other providers and by reducing payments to private Medicare Advantage insurance plans... "

So true is a comment added by “It may be that the constant repetition of this false claim will make a lot of voters believe it. But repeating a whopper doesn't make it true, it just makes it a bigger whopper.”

For more commentary, go to

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Shooting marks a turning point in Afghanistan; let's speed up withdrawal

My column in the March 13, 2012 Sky Hi News
I recall an epiphany during the Vietnam war. I was born on the eve of World War II and I was politically aware of events in the Korean War. I took for granted that our political and military leaders were wise enough and able to carry out the mission they announced.

I had firmly believed that if Vietnam fell to the Commies, the rest of southeast Asia would fall as well … and we as a nation would lose the Cold War. What the U.S. did was also in the interest of the South Vietnamese people, so we were told.

My disillusionment came with one iconic photo: A naked child, screaming and running from a U.S. napalm attack on a village. It was at that point I began to question the mission.

The unraveling came later with admission by those as part of the Johnson administration that they had lied to us about many aspects of the war in order to rally public support. Since that time, I have followed the “grain of salt” rule and I realize that skepticism is not a bad policy; it is not disloyal to question the mission or the judgment of our leaders.

Another kind of epiphany happened last week with the horrifying killing of 16 innocents in Afghanistan by a single U.S. soldier gone berserk. Abu Ghraib humiliation of prisoners by other deranged U.S. soldiers and the accidental Koran burning last month are also tragedies. It is not the fault of our troops as a whole, but the acts of a few are a blot on all of our brave and awesome military. We owe our troops our undying gratitude for carrying out the orders of our leaders and we must understand the action of a few should not blemish the whole. That is another lesson we learned from Vietnam when we wrongfully vilified returning vets.

The other lesson is that judgment calls by our nation's leaders are the most important element in a mission's success and failure. Neo-cons beating the war drums to attack Iran without a plan to extricate ourselves from the consequences of invasions are frankly nuts. Like most Americans, I am no isolationist nor am I opposed to intervention, but we must ask the question never answered before we invaded Iraq: What is our exit strategy” Have we not learned from Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan? The war advocates must be shouted down by those of us who do not want to repeat history.

The Afghan mission has morphed over time to move a culture from an ancient one into modern times as a way to prevent a resurgence of the Taliban and al-Qaida. What we failed to grasp is that what we consider corruption is the way that area does business; what we think is proper governance, liberal democracy, cannot be imposed on a society whose allegiance is not to a nation, but to their family and tribe.

Most Americans could accept the original mission that we invaded Afghanistan because it was the true source of Sept. 11. Our invasion was in part to destroy the forces that emanated from it and in part, unstated, revenge. We got our ounce of flesh with the killing of Bin Laden; that mission was accomplished.

To continue our occupation under the banner of “helping the (non-Taliban) Afghans develop the ability to govern themselves” is open to re-evaluation. We can take pride and satisfaction in helping them develop businesses and infrastructure. We educated a decade of their women and saved them from oppression. But we cannot “cure” Afghanistan forever; that is a mission impossible. The longer we are there, the more likely we will turn Afghans into long-term enemies instead of allies because isolated incidents like the one last week can happen again, making the return of the Taliban and al-Qaida more likely. We need to speed up our withdrawal timetable before we make matters worse.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Whatever happened to the GOP?

My column in the Sky Hi News March 6, 2012
For a political junkie like me, this Republican contest for the presidential nomination has been like watching a hard fought game to determine who goes to the Super Bowl, yet the players do not resemble any team members I recognize. I wonder whatever happened to the GOP I used to know.

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) concluded there is no middle road and has announced she will not run again. It appears the Senate has no room for a moderate Republican. Republicans are not my late father's party, either. There are new meanings attached to the GOP, the Grand Old Party's initials.

To my father, the Republican party was indeed Grand and that was his team. To him conservatism was looking at any extreme deviation from a policy he perceived had been successful, with skepticism and a “show me the policy will make things better” attitude. He supported the interests of private enterprise and promoted fiscal and self-responsibility, but not to the extent that he failed take into account societal and national needs. He voted for FDR twice and accepted Medicare as a necessity. He was solidly pro choice and he resented religion using the political process to advance theological missions.

Compromise was not a dirty word; it was what a rational democracy should do. Sen. Snowe and he would have been mostly on the same page.

The Grand Old Party is no longer constructively working with opponents to solve the nation's problems in the most economical and rational way. It has become the “Get Obama Party.” After all, the GOP opines, Obama alone is responsible for the size of the debt and he has failed to fix the worst crash since the Great Depression that George W Bush left him. The answer to all is to repeal Obama.

The reason they give is that the Obama future is causing the present woes. Their irrational position: We need to roll back the future to solve our current problems. They blame high unemployment and the faltering economy on Obama's health care plan, which will be implemented in 2014-2020, and Wall Street reform, which also not yet been implemented. The low tax structure carried over from the prior administration is not yet revamped and the Keystone pipeline (which Obama signals future approval) is years away. Funny: Somehow the jobs and GDP are mysteriously improving in spite of a president who the GOP claims is clearly a failure.

Mitt Romney, who sees himself as the Good Ol' boys Party standard bearer, just threw fiscal responsibility under the bus in his rush to dominate the Get Obama Party. His retooled tax plan is a tax cut chicken for every income bracket's pot. Unfortunately he failed the “show me” test of what government programs would be cut to pay for it, which loopholes would be closed, or how much revenue would be generated.

The rest of Romney's proposals are changes for the worst, not for the better. His panacea for 30 million unable to afford health care: Shove the responsibilities to states, which have not even the wherewithal to pay for traditional responsibilities of education, crime or infrastructure. To deal with the excesses of Wall Street that led to the biggest financial sector failure since the Great Depression, Romney wants to gut our protections provided us in Obama's reform legislation and to return to the practices that caused the crash of 2008. Like gas prices now? He advocates aggression and intervention in Iran, jeopardizing the straits of Hormuz, and most of the world's oil supply.

At least Romney is not trying to change the GOP into God's Own Party, as Rick Santorum wants, nor is he rocking the boat as Ron Paul proposes in his version of the GOP as Go On-Your-Own party with wacky economics, nor does he share the nihilism underlying mischiefmaking Gingrich's Ornery Party.

Nonetheless, I liked my father's version of the GOP better.