Friday, January 31, 2014

2014...a three way battle for the hearts and minds of the middle class

The 2014 midterm Congressional elections are shaping up to  be a three way battle between two wings of the GOP and a more unified Democratic party for the hearts and minds of the middle class. What they all agree is that the middle class income has stagnated while the upper 1% have benefited from the recovery and longer standing trends in the economy. What to do about it, if anything, is the new three way battleground.
 In this State of the Union address, the President laid out  an action plan. He proposed more job training, Pre K education support,  raising the minimum wage, providing more financial security through continuing Obamacare  by removing financial fear of bankruptcy due to unpayable medical bills, and new retirement  accounts for those  not with employer IRAs, among others . 
  The new approach advocated by   more GOP  moderates is to reposition the GOP as the party of “alternatives” because  just saying “no” is not a White House winning strategy.  Their Tea Party flank is still stuck in “repeal everything Obama has passed and oppose everything he proposes .”   The increasing income gap had just put a lie to the Republican’s trickle down theories that  a rising tide would lift  all boats if only government got out of the way.  To some in the GOP it appeared   voters were indeed looking for some hand up from the government to give them more opportunity and they were seeing   the lack of Congressional  action a nada tostada approach that was uncaring.  
Last week saw  the first Republican attempt to propose an “alternative” to Obamacare.   Republican amigo  Senators Tom Coburn (OK) ,  Orrin  Hatch (UT), and Richard Burr( NC),  proposed  a  replacement for Obamacare .  It is a plan ripe for a Democrat counter attack because it places a financial  burden on the working  middle class and older Americans  in order to get business, invincible individuals, and  medical provider  interests off the hook from doing  anything.  .   This alternative tostada will be  a hard one for middle class America to swallow.
Attempting to keep popular parts of the ACA and ditch anything resembling  a mandate on business and individuals enforced and paid for  with fines and  taxes on medical devices, the Three Amigo Senators came up with a  scheme to pay for subsidies to make insurance affordable to consumers and to cover those with pre-existing conditions. To pay for their proposal, the GOP senators   would raise taxes on all   Americans  getting  their health insurance from employers by making most health insurance benefits taxable income. They would  permit  greater increases for  the cost of premiums to older Americans than permitted by Obamacare  and  they would kick  out a sizeable number of middle class from Obamacare’s premium subsidies. The proposal  lets the young healthy and those of any age  go insurance naked,  free to shift  their un paid medical bills  to everyone else, relieves  hospitals and other providers  from taking  any action to keep  health care costs down, and eliminates requirements that employers with more than 50 employees provide health insurance.  It also reduces Medicaid, subsidizing more  poor to find  more expensive private market insurance.  Those with pre-existing conditions who have not yet managed to get coverage and keep it  are kicked into a subsidized  insurance pool paid  by the higher income taxes on the already insured.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Scandal...the most over used and abused word in politics

Calling every  failing of those in high places  “scandals”   has become the most overused  and abused  word in politics   these past 12 months. .   Politicians beware.  Voters are smarter than you think.  All scandals are not equal and you may be able to fool some  voters part of the time, but not all  voters all of the time. 
Since Watergate, all those seeking to take down a powerful person have found scandal mongering to be the most effective tool in the political arsenal. 24/7 ideologically partisan news channels and eager beaver investigative reporters are the megaphones, hoping to make  any shortcoming the equal of Watergate by call it a “scandal”, too. Calling it one does not make it one.  
 Voters have shown the ability to tell the difference between a serious scandal, and one that is a lesser offense that is not a game changer.  The sexual misconduct of Pres. Bill Clinton may have gotten him impeached , his policies and execution of his duties may have been delayed, but they were  not stopped. Voters saw through the politics of that impeachment process: an attempt to cripple a leader with morals charges  to block his agenda. In contrast, Watergate coverup and dirty deeds traced directly to Pres. Richard Nixon’s scheming  resulted in his resignation to avoid impeachment.
Hillary Clinton and   Ben Ghazi and New Jersey Governor  Christ Christie’s Bridgegate, and rogue IRS agents discriminating against conservatives groups  in a distant office  are  hawked to media consumers as equally serious “scandals”.  These  share very different  DNA, one about political hard ball  and charges of misuse of power  by Christie’s officials  and another, Clinton, about  failure to use power and misjudgments of underlings and even of a victim himself.  True, this resulted in four dead Americans. IRS discrimination against conservative groups were never traced to Pres. Obama.  What all  have in common is they are as much about the presidential race in 2016  and midterms 2014  and the fodder they give potential opponents.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said at his epic news conference,  “politics ain’t beanbag” as he defended  himself against charges his staff took  revenge on political “enemies”  by blocking traffic on  the George Washington Bridge. New accusations that  he used rewarding of Hurricane Sandy repair funds as a bludgeon are emerging   So far it looks like he plays politics with a hockey puck. Whether it rises to a crime and he is found to hold the smoking gun is not yet known nor is it to be automatically assumed.  Voters should wait and see.

Wait and see about Ben Ghazi should be over. The bi-partisan  report  issued in January by the Senate Intelligence Committee  moved Ben Ghazi from the Fox chatterers to the main stream topic, and   it did pin blame on the State Department .  The decisions that contributed to the tragedy were never traced to policy directives from  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The buck did not get passed to her.   But for now  Ben Ghazi   becomes a continuing “scandal”  in the eyes of the GOP .  Some Republicans vowed  just to ignore the report and to keep on putting a fictitious  smoking gun in her hands. Most voters will not buy that line. The evidence is just not there.

Friday, January 17, 2014

A liberal's tribute to Sen. Tom Coburn

Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Republican, is quitting the Senate after this Congressional session  two years short of his second term.  This will be a big loss because we need those in Washington who represent various viewpoints with sane, objective, fact based analyses, who express themselves without flame throwing clever phrases,  and speak not from someone else's prepared talking points. His annual reports on waste ought to be the basis of good government scrutiny; his viewpoints are expressed in clear, well thought out argumentation. I listen to him.  I, a professed liberal, often disagree with his positions, but I take him seriously, not because he is an effective  threat,   but because he elevates the debate.
  There are some things more important than being the majority in a legislative body (of course it makes it easier to get an agenda passed).  It is passing legislation that has been thoroughly examined for its impact on whom or its unintentional consequences and  what is in our national interest. That takes compromise and fair debate. This is what our country's founders thought they were establishing.
 Instead, what our country has become in this new century is entrenched in divisions.  Divisions of ideological differences were present in the late 1700's, but political parties had not yet become organizations that could bring discipline and uniform ideologically based political correctness in thought and expression to its members. Since then modern technology has become the enabler of stubborn and earlier unimagined divisive politics.
  Gerrymandered districts with boundaries drawn to give one side an easy win, make for few seriously contested general elections, throwing the important contests into primaries with only the most active party members  usually participating. Laws to keep this from happening are weak or nonexistent. Our cable TV and radio talkers have contributed mightily to the extreme divisiveness, sometimes shaping partisan positions and disseminating them to the already in tune choir. Views are often expressed in certain phrases, uniform and approved by whatever political power in the form of "think tanks" and politically operative special or single interest pressure groups dictate.  Debates about issues then become carefully choreographed dances designed to elicit the most applause from the audience, an audience makeup known in advance by focus groups and polls.
 Another enabler of divisiveness is our permissive campaign finance system. Contributions    fed into certain races by pressure groups outside or within the election district are now protected by court decisions.   Deep pocket corporations and unions are now called "people" covered by free speech. Social policy organizations who attempt to affect a specific election's outcome by running advertising under the pious guise of "education", can use faux facts and well-crafted scare mongering with impunity of legal action and often without an equal time rebuttal by less well funded opponents, given the cost of media exposure. Those “education” groups can operate without disclosure of their funders until late in the game or not at all so voters have no chance to look behind their curtains.  The insatiable need for campaign money means partisan, ideological or self-serving   issue groups can wield effective discipline to keep any wannabe maverick from going off message. Tom Coburn has represented the views of his state well, but he was above so many of these political practices,  that this is another reason why his leaving will be such a loss.
(Personal note:  I am a graduate of Muskogee Central High School ..1956; born and raised in Muskogee, Oklahoma, though living elsewhere since then.  Tom Coburn and I come from  the same home town)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

GOP should try to make health insurance cheaper for consumers, not more expensive

Assuming the GOP drops the  “repeal Obamacare”  slogan and instead tries  to repair  the Affordable Care  Act , what could they offer?  They should  make all health insurance  cheaper for consumers instead of taking away its benefits, quit proposing implementation delays, and stopping a campaign to scare would be participants away. .  
 Every time  those with squeaky wheels   get  greased by an exemption or delay,  insurance companies warn that reducing the pool of healthy participants  would shift more costs to everyone else who gets insurance. They understand  why any more opt out provisions  and fewer  people covered  only ring up the costs.

Obamacarescaring has been part and parcel of GOP strategy to whack health care reform at the knees, and  their newest attack is to claim the federal site is not secure. Their proposed legislation to notify you of security breaches  is a proposal the administration claims fixes something that” ain’t broke” and is already handled  by other laws. The GOP disagrees. Needed or not, such legislation does not alter Obamacare and would not be the first redundant legislation cluttering law books.


What the GOP is  doing is  playing  on  recent news about  security failures in Target and Nieman Marcus’ credit cards and information to scare you from going on line to sign up for health insurance.


The GOP has attempted mightily to make Obamacare look like a failure before it even got implemented.  Scaring away potential customers  is not the only tactic the GOP has used  to self fulfill their prophesies. The GOP  has tried to  cripple  access to the system by blocking local navigators signing up people, refusing to expand Medicaid, claiming it  will be too expensive, will not give you a choice of doctors, or is  too complicated to access or is not secure. They cherry pick stories that dramatize  the few who find such is true, and ignore the ever increasing and overwhelming numbers who find it is good enough for them, their friends, co-workers, and relatives.
We can expect the GOP to come up with more ideas to replace and repair Obamacare, but beware their  bearing gifts inside  Trojan horses. Any “repairs” should  not yank the popularly supported requirements of covering pre-existing conditions or young adults on their parents’ insurance, or reinstating lifetime caps on the amount of coverage, or removing the gender and  mental health parity standards. Removjng co-pay free  cancer screenings, or annual checkups, or certain reduced drug benefits from the health care act provisions would not make health care more  affordable to anyone or make  any of us  likely to care for their own health.
GOP “ repairs” should keep the ACA’s  costs reducing provisions. Cost savings measures required of providers  and “pay-fors” built  into the Affordable Care Act, per the Congressional Budget Office, echoed by Simpson-Bowles proposals,    will save  the deficit by  $ 109 billion   over the next ten years  and added twelve years   to the Medicare fund.  
GOP’s replacement proposals  to date  sound nice, but do little.    Health savings accounts only benefit those with jobs and  who do not live pay check to pay check.  Cross state insurance sales and mal practice reform are ideas evaluated four years ago  by the Congressional Budget Office as having minimal effect on consumers’ insurance  rates or do not  result in covering most of the previously uninsured.

Footnotes: updated information:

Rand researchers found that allowing anyone to buy a noncompliant plan would have a far more detrimental effect, raising  exchange premiums as much as 10 percent and decreasing enrollment by 3.2 million, or 26 percent.  By allowing those who got notices that their policies were being cancelled as non-compliant and to keep them for a year would have an effect of  increasing policies offered on the exchanges by less than 1%, “minimal effect”.

Re: security of ACA federal exchange websites.  "

Jan 16, 2014 11:58am
Nearly three months after its launch, underwent end-to-end security testing and passed with flying colors, the top cybersecurity official overseeing the website told Congress today.
Teresa Fryer, the chief information security officer for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told the House Oversight Committee that results from the tests have alleviated her earlier concerns about risks of cyberattacks and theft of consumers’ personal information.
“This security control assessment met all industry standards, was an end-to-end test and was conducted in a stable environment that allowed for testing to be completed in the allotted time,” Fryer told the panel. The assessment was completed Dec. 18, she said.
Fryer had expressed opposition to launching the site on Oct. 1 without proper security testing, but the administration proceeded with the launch against her advice.  She also revealed in testimony last month that several “high-findings” of security risk had been flagged and resolved during intermediate testing in November and December.
Fryer told lawmakers today there have been no successful attacks on the website since Oct. 1, and that mitigation strategies to limit risks to cybersecurity have been effective.
“The protections that we have put in place have successfully prevented attacks,” she said. “There have been no successful security attacks on the FFM [federal marketplace], and no person or group has maliciously accessed personally identifiable information.