Thursday, May 29, 2014

Floods Reveal Good Hearts, Bad Governments, in Bosnia :: Balkan Insight

Floods Reveal Good Hearts, Bad Governments, in Bosnia :: Balkan Insight  A sad commentary about Bosnia's governance; a great and heartwarming commentary about Bosnia's people and the grass roots, the most hopeful sign for its future.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Beware the tigers of Spring. Lessons from the Arab Spring

Beware the tigers of Spring

 Long term fallout from the Arab Spring, the populist  revolt of the streets against tyranny, corruption, and the old way of doing things, is not yet known. However, in the short run, the Spring movements  have given birth to the tigers of unintended consequences. Most Spring revolts have fallen victim to the  fires of chaos, threat or  breakout of civil war,  and tyranny . These experiences  should serve as   lessons to leaders of future Springs.
Egypt has relapsed into a military dictatorship after the Muslim Brotherhood mistook a plurality of support  as  an opportunity to impose their ideology  and  ignore the interests of  others. Syria has an estimated 150,000 dead as Sunnis, Shia, and Alawites fight , each fearing victory by the other side would wipe them out.  Libya is on the brink of a tribal civil war made possible by a power vacuum.   Only Tunisia, after fitful starts, has moved to more western style liberal democracy and  benefitting from a homogeneous population that is not plagued by ethnic conflict.
What is playing  out in the Ukraine after the Maidan demonstrators successfully threw out a corrupt, Russian leaning President end with success in spite of Russian meddling. Initially, the new Kiev government erred, signaling  lack of respect the rights of their  Russian speaking minority by removing Russian as a recognized official language. That sparked separatist sentiments.  There was hope in Sunday’s election won by a European leaning chocolate tycoon, especially after Pres. Putin said he would recognize the results . However, Putin’s  actions mean far more than his words, lately.  Why his verbal shift? Was it  fear of an out of his control  civil war or more economic sanctions, diplomatic isolation and international disapproval, and a Russian-Chinese trade agreement signed this month?  Thanks to the Chinese-Russian trade agreement, Ukraine, the pipeline conduit to European markets, became a little less  important to Russia, whose economy had become too reliant on petro sales to Europe.
A Spring movement is  brewing in Bosnia.  The tiger of  Balkan ethnic conflict  of the 1990’s bloody  civil war could roar again .  All  factions share  anger with  corruption and  economic hard times caused by a government paralyzed by ethnic quarrels.
 To succeed, the populist reformists must keep their  eyes on the ball of shared  disgust  with current corrupt  governance. But common cause is not enough. Conflict resolution, reconciliation,  forgiveness, and  disregard for those who place ethnic loyalties above good for all are still sorely needed to avoid relapses to old conflicts.
 Change must come from the grass roots, not from those who have personally profited by corruption and pandering to ethnic interests. It will take savvy political leadership and organization to bring this about, though.

There are some shoots of green sprouting from local government and grass roots.  The Bosnian city  of Tuzla has just thrown out  its politically appointed officials and replaced them with more neutral professionals. The violent protests several months ago against government were focused on ending corruption and economic decline and all ethnic groups participated.  The recent catastrophic floods may even provide a platform on which to build, as Serbs, Catholics, and Muslim Bosniaks rushed to help their neighbors regardless of  ethnic affiliation.  

A version of this appeared in the May 30, 2014, on line edition and the June 6, 2014 print edition.

Forcing health insurers to do what's right - Yahoo News

Forcing health insurers to do what's right - Yahoo News  Whistle blower Wendell Potter explains how Obamacare fixed the loss ratio problem. Insurers were raking off more than 20% of premiums on services other than paying for your health care or to pump up their balance sheet to benefit their shareholders.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Colorado Rotary clubs play major role in grant to keep rural girls in Bosnia in school to reduce human trafficking risks

 Colorado Rotary clubs   play a major role in  a Rotary International grant to promote basic education and literacy for rural girls in Bosnia. Keeping girls in school has the added benefit of reducing the number of girls who are at risk for  becoming  victims of  human trafficking.
The $45,275 grant , recently approved by the Rotary International Foundation, Evanston, Illinois,  will employ workshops,  campaign style outreach, and mentoring programs, to promote gender equality and  basic  education of girls. The  Rotary International Foundation  grant reviewer called the project  “innovative and an important effort”.
 The lead club and largest single contributor  was Denver Rotary (31) .  Also contributing cash toward Rotary International matching funds  were Rotary clubs of Boulder, Summit County (Frisco), Breckenridge Mountain, Denver Mile Hi, Grand Cayman (British West Indies), Mostar (Bosnia),   and the Rotary clubs   Winter Park/Fraser, Granby, Grand Lake and Kremmling .  Total cash contributions from Rotary Clubs was $16,850 which were matched by Rotary District 5450 ($10,000) and the Rotary International Foundation, $18,425
 Felicia Muftic, a member of the Denver club, and a resident of Fraser,  served as the project grant writer and champion, with assistance from husband Dr. Michael Muftic, a native of Croatia, a country  that neighbors Bosnia. The Muftics have been frequent visitors to Bosnia over the past forty years. Felicia Muftic first visited Bosnia in 1959 during her junior year abroad in Germany and completed  independent studies in Balkan history in her senior year at  Northwestern University.
 Bosnia has become  a major source of human trafficking as girls seek alternatives to poverty, widespread domestic violence, and lack of education needed  to become employable.  Large  numbers of girls in rural Bosnia do  not  complete elementary school, according to  United Nations agencies.. One result is that Bosnia has become  a major source of human trafficked girls  in recent years as travel restrictions were lifted.
Rural cultural prejudices held by all ethnic groups  in Bosnia  give preference to  educating boys, especially   when resources are tight.  100,000 Roma (commonly called gypsies in the U.S.) natives of the area, provide no education whatsoever for their girls.  Adding to the problem, the Bosnian federal government had prosecuted no traffickers in recent years  and local laws treat juveniles 14 years old and older arrested for  prostitution and begging as perpetrators, not victims.
 Bosnia  (formal name: Bosnia and Herzegovina or BiH) was part of the former Yugoslavia and  hosted the Sarajevo 1984 Winter Olympic games. Sarajevo is Bosnia’s capitol. Bosnia’s population is similar to Colorado’s though it is one fifth in area.  Between 1990-1995 it exploded in a horrific civil war between  ethnic groups that resulted in coining  the term “ethnic cleansing” to describe tactics used by combatants during the conflict.   Government gridlock due to continuing political quarrels between ethnic groups,  corruption, and a deteriorating economy, with    unemployment of over 50% in cities and 80% in rural areas, has made  Bosnia  the poorest country in Europe.
The Rotary Club of Mostar (Bosnia) will implement and oversee  the grant, contracting with non profit Novi Put  to provide educational and advocacy  and hands on execution of the grant.  The grant will focus on the canton (state)  surrounding its main city, Mostar. Novi Put has been designated by the Bosnian Ministry of Security as an anti human trafficking partner.  Novi Put (translation: New Road), also provides advocacy services for promoting education, and is a counseling agency for domestic violence and child abuse in Mostar.
“The impact of recent flooding in Bosnia may slow down implementation planning, but the target area for the grant seems to be less affected and we expect the program to be ready to go at the beginning of the coming fall’s  school year”, said Muftic.
The grant approved by Rotary International is a Global Grant,  a new program  initiated in 2013 for larger grants.  Among its areas of focus is promoting basic education of girls and gender equality.   The most famous  face of gender equality and promotion of education of girls is Malala Yousafzai,  a Pakistani teen nearly killed by the Taliban and nominated for a Nobel Prize . Malala’s father was one of the first  members of a Rotary Club in Pakistan’s Swat Valley.

No, The VA Isn't A Preview Of Obamacare -- It's Much Worse

No, The VA Isn't A Preview Of Obamacare -- It's Much Worse  ..Forbes article provides excellent definitions of socialized medicine, which the VA is, single payer system, and Obamacare which is neither. The outcomes and patient satisfaction are much higher in Switzerland, which is what Obamacare resembles.   Socialized medicine: government owns providers, doctors, hospitals. Single payer: government payout all insurance claims, but the providers are privately owned hospitals and private physicians. Obamacare: provides subsidies per income level to pay for private insurance .  Comments about Medicaid, too...which is closer to the single payer system that is a failure because many doctors will not take Medicaid patients because the reimbursement is too low.

What the article  does not touch is Medicare, which is wildly popular and is a single payer system, but financially shaky in the future.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Medicare Under Observation: no change under the ACA from what it has been

Medicare Under Observation: Fact finds there is no change from pre Obamacare and with Obamacare on Medicare Observation policies, shedding some light on rumors floating around.  Read the entire posting from independent Fact for the if ands and buts, and details of whether Medicare covers being under observation and not admitted to hospitals yet. There are some charges and situations that may not be covered, but most everything is. Part A does not cover observation, but Part B of Medicare does.  Part D covers drugs administered while under observation as much as Part D does any other time.  The major hole if you are not admitted to the hospital, but only are under observation, and then referred to rehab. That could be expensive.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

What Bridgegate, Ben Ghazi, IRS hearings have in common: if not witch hunting, low prosecutoral standards.

Gov. Chris Christie’s Bridgegate,  Ben Ghazi, and IRS House hearings have much in common. They raise the issue of whether hearings and  investigations are motivated by sincere  and fair  truth finding or are  witch hunting to make a political point. If it is  not witch hunting, to say the least they represent low prosecutoral standards.
The chairman of the select committee to investigate Ben Ghazi , Rep. Trey  Gowdy (R-SC ) stated  on a recent cable talk show that he was a former prosecutor and he knew what was fair; therefore he would run the hearings fairly. I question his premise.
There are three motivations for prosecution.  One is to seek the truth  or another  to accomplish some civic  good. The other is to make a political point. In Ben Ghazi, the only motivation stated by the chair is to find out whether there was a cover up or lies, with evidence  after eight  hearings and pages of documentation without  firm evidence of a  smoking gun to pin a cover up  on the President or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. A recently released administration  memo was general commentary of unrest in the Arab Spring , not specific to Ben Ghazi.
 Prosecutor Gowdy is out to justify GOP suspicions of a smoking gun but not to see whether funds or methods to increase protection of State Department personnel needs to be beefed up. That at minimum smells of   political witch hunting.
I spent over six years heading the Denver district attorney’s  unit investigating complaints from the public  regarding white collar and consumer crimes.  I wrestled with the fairness issue every day. Later, I led  an investigation into campaign finance abuses in my role as an election commissioner in Denver.  If anything, I gained a healthy respect for district attorneys who took the fairness issue seriously and those who did not.
The late Dale Tooley was a Denver  district attorney who did not hunt witches.  He refused to go forward with prosecutions  that not only did not have tangible evidence of probable cause to believe a crime was committed, but which also  lacked enough evidence to result in a probable conviction.   Grand juries, held in secret,  were not called on unless   there was  confidence the grand jury would find probable cause. His standards were high  and he did not want to waste taxpayers’ money on wild goose chases.
 Congressional hearings are similar to grand juries. Unlike the grand jury system, however, they are open to the public and media  and can be abused to make political points and provide grandstanding opportunities for politicians seeking re-election.
 In any case, those being accused could seek protection  under the 5th amendment to the Constitution and not have to testify against themselves.  That particular right is  being violated unfairly  in Republican dominated  House hearings on whether the director of an Ohio IRS office had gone after right leaning political organizations seeking tax exemptions.  The committee wants to send her to jail for taking the 5th.
The Christie affair also  raises prosecutoral motivation questions, except hearings and investigations conducted by truly independent investigators are not yet complete. The potential for abuse, however, is there since so much of the issue is involved in his political aspirations to run for President.

A version of this appeared in the print edition of the  5/23/2014

Friday, May 9, 2014

My View: A skunk in the GOP woodpile : Footnotes and sources

My View: A skunk in the GOP woodpile |, newspaper  on line edition of my  prior blog and a version carried in the print edition, May 16, 2014.

From a recent posting by the Kaiser Family Foundation:; carried in


Medicare Advantage: Take Another Look

While health policy observers are mainly focused on the number of people enrolled in the new federal and state marketplaces, fewer are keeping a close eye on fairly big changes in the estimates and projections for enrollment in Medicare Advantage plans. The number of Medicare beneficiaries in Medicare private plans reached an all-time high this year of nearly 16 million beneficiaries, 6.3 million higher than the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) had projected in 2010 soon after the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was enacted (Figure 1). The CBO now projects Medicare Advantage enrollment will reach 22 million beneficiaries by 2020, more than double the number projected shortly after the ACA was enacted."

But maybe this is why Medicare Advantage has not felt the full force of the ACA cuts because the cuts have been delayed: From the Washington Post:

Friday, May 2, 2014

My View: A skunk in the GOP woodpile |

My View: A skunk in the GOP woodpile | carried in an on line edition May 1 2014 and in print: 5/16/2014

“Did you hear that Obamacare is taking away billions from Medicare?” my husband exclaimed, with a tinge of  panic in his voice.
“Where have you been? I have heard that one repeated every year since Obamacare was proposed”, I, the family consumer advocate,  retorted. “Look, I said, we both are one of 28% on Medicare Advantage   that combines Medicare and Medigap.   But most likely we will see no change, Medicare Advantage will continue. At least that is what a survey made by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) found. Regardless, our Medicare benefits will not change, either.”
“ Won’t our Medicare Advantage premiums go up?”  he countered.
“  I am not sure because as KFF reported, there are many elements that go into determining costs.They only went up a tiny bit this year, like in past years..  What I am sure of is that the Medicare Advantage insurance providers had been raking in more from the government  than it cost for government  to administer Medicare . Those excessive subsidies were cut . Even Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP House guru on budgets, kept cuts to Medicare Advantage in his  2012 planning. Besides, did you notice you had lower co-pays  for your prescriptions, and no copays for  checkups and cancer screenings? That was one of the Obamacare  benefits to seniors, closing the donut hole,  and repeal would put us back to where we were before.
“  Medicare patients were getting charged for   repeat tests and unnecessary readmissions .  Now hospitals have to share test records electronically and since 2012 they  had to pay penalties for excessive readmissions.  Readmission rates have taken a dive.   That  cuts costs to Medicare.
“In fact,  Congress’ own independent  Congressional Budget Office predicted  all of these measures will add a decade of life to Medicare. Those who want to repeal Obamacare  will just be making the time sooner  when we must do something to prop Medicare up.
Hubby: “So what happens when Medicare goes broke…shouldn’t we make some changes now? What about privatizing Medicare and making people pay more for premiums, giving them money to go buy their own insurance, and cut out government administration?
“ There’s a skunk in that woodpile”, I answered.  “Ryan’s  newest plan (passed by the House this April); DOA in the Senate) would have given seniors of a choice between keeping Medicare and vouchers (premium support) and not guarantee any of that would keep up with inflating medical costs, increase the retirement age, and the wealthy would not qualify for benefits.  We know from Obamacare, even private insurance had sticker shock. Health insurance companies  are allowed  by law to collude to set prices and benefits, making free market competition  no guarantee of lower prices. Ryan claims savings (meaning cuts) to Medicare would be $129 billion over 10 years.
“Privatizing Medicare is  not the only way to go. Simpson Bowles deficit reduction  Commission proposed keeping Obamacare and  government provided Medicare that would keep up with costs. Like Ryan’s, though, they would increase the retirement age and not provide benefits to the wealthy.
“ Don’t worry, though, no politician would ever make changes affecting those already having Medicare or near retirement age; they want your vote”.
Sources tapped for the column in post on this site. Apologies for the formatting problem.