Anyone Home?

Posted July 4, 2015 by zukunftsaugen
Categories: ACA, affordable care act, Barack Obama, GOP, health insurance companies, Healthcare, obamacare, Politics, universal healthcare

The dust has hardly settle on the Supreme Court decision affirming one more time the Affordable Care Act. Never the less, the US healthcare delivery system’s wheels seem to be coming off the cart.

Two huge signals occurred this week which should inform the simplest of minds that the current US healthcare delivery system, yes Obamacare, is obsolete and needs serious modification. Hmmm.

The Affordable Care Act, to its credit, fixed the immoral and unethical (but not illegal) practice of US healthcare insurance companies who would deny healthcare coverage to individuals.  Their targets were individuals who used “too much” healthcare services, or who had “pre-existing conditions” and might use too many services. The previous system also allowed individuals to avoid insurance all together and simply wait until they needed care and then visit a Hospital Emergency Room (and pass the cost onto everyone else). ACA fixed those faults and added an estimated 30 million more Americans to the healthcare rolls.

This past week financial news reported Aetna and Humana will merge operation and Cigna and Anthem were in discussions about merging. If these deals go through the big will have gotten bigger.

Now, all by itself, this merger news might not be that interesting. But there is more. Across the country, health care insurance companies are requesting/announcing huge rate increases (20-40%!!!). These companies claim that the new enrollees (thanks to Obamacare) were sicker than they thought and now there needs to be relief in the form of higher premiums.

Hmmm. And again why do the companies want to merge and get bigger in a business where they claim they are losing money?

The US healthcare system is structurally defective if one assumes healthcare should be available to everyone. The current system, including Obamacare, in essence separates the population into high risk and low risk pools. The high risk Americans cannot afford the premiums which unregulated hospitals, doctors, and drug companies want to charge. The consequence will be either poorer healthcare or the government will need to pick up even more of the tab. The winners will be insurance companies and the providers of medical services.

All of this might be understandable if it were not for so many other successful healthcare delivery models around the world which produce healthcare outcomes equal to or better than the US, insure all residents, and costs about half as much as the US spends.

Mergers and rate hikes could not be a louder signal that ACA has not solved the fundamental US healthcare problem.

Where’s Bernie Going?

Posted July 3, 2015 by zukunftsaugen
Categories: 2106 Presidential election, Bernie Sanders, Conservatives, Democratic Party, GOP, Hillary Clinton, Politics, progressives, Republican Party

Bernie Sanders is raising a lot of money and attracting large crowds in his pursuit of the Democrat Presidential nomination. Against overwhelming odds (Hillary Clinton), Sanders is gaining traction, as they say. His progressive, near socialist message is falling upon hungry ears. One wonders where Bernie thinks his campaign is going?

Sanders is genuine, none the less. He is the antithesis of most of the GOP candidates who pander to the far conservative right but fully plan to tack back towards the center in the national election. Sanders also is not rich. He released his tax returns and revealed an annual income of about $200,000. Want someone not beholding? Bernie is a good choice.

His attack on the banking system is fervent and responds to what Sanders sees as a devil’s den. While this may be a little extreme, the banking industry has provided a wealth of examples of rock bottom ethics and greed based morality. Still Sander’s antidote might kill the patient too.

In many ways it is refreshing to see a campaigner like Sanders. He will certainly make Lincoln Chaffee, Matin O’Malley, and now Jim Webb look a lot more like Hillary, just a lot less well known.

Sander’s bottom line is that the wealthy in cahoots with the global banking system work together to keep the average person from improving their lot in life. Without breaking up the “too big to fail” banks, Sanders predicts America’s middle class will fail. Hmmm.

Normally a front runner attempts to incorporate campaign points from a challenger in order to cement their position as leader. Clearly Hillary is far more centrist and would attempt other means to remedy the “too big too fail” problem. But what if Bernie continues to attract big crowds and does well in the early primaries?

Hillary Clinton is probably not worrying yet. The Supreme Court gave her two boosts last week with decisions on the Affordable Care Act and Same sex marriages. The boost came in the form of GOP candidates comments on these decisions. No GOP candidate said the Court got it right. Rather these Republicans all said the Court got it wrong. The wiser candidates said it was time to move on, the rest drove further to the right.

In a right versus left comparison, Hillary’s centrist position will emerge far more appealing. From Hillary’s perspective, hopefully Bernie does not drive too much further to the left so she is forced to adopt more radical progressive positions she will have to disavow in the national election.

The Greek Rathole

Posted July 2, 2015 by zukunftsaugen
Categories: austerity, Drachma, Euro, European Union, Germany, Greece

This weekend the future of Greece as a European country may be established. While the world’s geography will not change, the short sightedness of European Union leaders may drive Greece out of the Euro and subsequently the EU. The reasons for this fate are many, but at the end of the day, the reasons are based in why Europe is such a nice place to visit and why in the past it was always poised to war amongst itself.

European countries are comparatively monolithic, speak their own language, and enjoy all aspects of their heritages.

The modern construction, the European Union, lead by Germany’s economic strength, has insisted upon a number of fundamental changes in the Greek national economy in exchange for further EU economic support. Greece is bankrupt and desperately needs a further infusion of Euros. The problem is that the Greek economy is like a bucket with a hole.  The amount of tax revenues pouring in is less than the Euros than are leaking out through the hole. This picture does not get better without some fundamental changes by the Greek people.

Like many other third world (maybe second and a half is more apt) countries, the Greek wealthy are intelligent, sophisticated, and uninterested in paying taxes. The wealthy have a long history of avoiding tax payments and often justify this attitude by saying the government simply gives the money away and demonstrates little interest in fostering national economic growth.

The Greek Government (conservative or socialist) usually finds in oder to remain in power must placate the masses by generous entitlements such as pensions, early retirements, and bloated employment roles. The pleasant Greek lifestyle is simply not competitive on a European basis and not in the same universe as the global economy. Accordingly, unless the industry is focused upon the tourist, Greece does not compete.

The EU while in name representing all European countries is financed primarily by Germany. Accordingly, German influence wants an austerity approach in exchange for financial help. Austerity means less government workers and reduced pensions. The amount of the decrease would be determined by the amount of new tax revenues Greece raises. Fairly straight forward from the German perspective.

Democratic Governments, however, respond to the populous, even when the populous does not understand the situation it is in. Leaving the Euro and reintroducing the Drachma will allow Greece to inflate its currency and pay its debts with cheaper money. At first this looks attractive.

The problem with this approach is that again without more fundamental restructuring Greece will still be economically uncompetitive. The losers is situations like this are primarily the average person whose savings will evaporate and whose pension will become worth less and less each year. The wealthy will hide their money overseas or in assets somewhat immune to inflation.

Only when life gets so bad that the masses are about to rise up do countries finally make the tough fundamental changes. Fundamental changes, however, are not necessarily confined to the economy. Authoritarianism becomes popular too. And with this type of leadership, anything can happen.

The EU has called Greece’s bluff and in essence said take our offer or leave it. The “leave it” part will lead to Greece’s EU withdrawal and almost assuredly withdrawal from the Euro. I hope Germany has thought what this could cost Europe and that this amount is less than keeping the dialog open and the maybe restructuring the debt in some way.

Hmmm.

14 Candidates, 14 Blueprints?

Posted July 1, 2015 by zukunftsaugen
Categories: 2106 Presidential election, chris christie, Democratic Party, entitlements, GOP, jeb bush, marco rubio, Politics, Republican Party, scott walker

There are 14 announced Republican candidates for the 2016 Presidential nomination. Most likely there will be 16 and that is leaving out Mitt Romney. What could each of these candidates be thinking will be their blueprint for success?

Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum ran last time and might have some idea about how they would alter their previous losing “god is my friend” campaign strategies without abandoning their former supporters.  Good luck.

For the rest, will they follow Mitt Romney’s broad drive hard to the right during the primaries and then veer back to the center for the national election… and do it with a straight face as if no one has been following the primary campaign?

Donald Trump sort of ran last time but he has already demonstrated he has no clue on how to run for President so we must assume he is running for some new TV show.

Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are not serious about running for 2016. While they put on a game face,the upcoming months will be a turn up for 2020 and 2024. Their current views are so unique that they cannot even hope for a 2016 VP nod.

Ben Carson, George Pataki, and Carli Fiorina will mount serious, issue based candidacies but low national name recognition coupled with low funding will essential eliminate their chances.

John Kasich and Lindsay Graham are competent candidates who are eying a deadlocked convention. A Bush, Walker, Rubio deadlock would open the convention to who else. John Kasich is less well known than Graham but comes from a State with more electoral votes. A deadlock, of course, opens the gates wide for Mitt to reappear. Hmmm.

Bush, Walker, and Rubio must figure out how to separate themselves from each other? How will these candidates try to gain the nomination without also putting a large hole in their national race hopes? Bush seems to be betting on his “Presidential” look and feel, strong, steady, unflappable. Rubio sees his best chance on looks and generational difference. Rubio, however, must win Florida and some other big State to make GOP leaders think Bush cannot win in November. Walker has remained relatively quiet up to this point. He looks like he will be the Bible thumping, tough on unions candidate, something Bush and Rubio will have a hard time matching.

Bobby Jindal and Chris Christie entered the race this week. Both have lack luster records in their home States (Louisiana and New Jersey) and both were considered hot commodities several years ago but have seen their national images fade recently. Both must be hoping for an improbable win in an early primary and then somehow lasting until there is a deadlocked convention. Hmmm.

Jindal is speaking out for religious rights and against the GLBT community. Good luck with that approach.

Christie has called himself the “say it as it is”, “tough talk” candidate. He has no foreign policy experience but is sure President Obama is wrong in his policies. Christie is also a “no new taxes” and even better, “a tax reform based upon tax cuts” candidate. While Christie is formidable talker, there is no way he can hide these positions from tax cuts for the rich and attacks on entitlements. It is a blueprint but not one that is likely to build a winning house.

Joe’s Thinking

Posted June 29, 2015 by zukunftsaugen
Categories: 2106 Presidential election, Democratic Party, GOP, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Politics, Republican Party

Vice President Joe Biden has been “biding” his time, so to speak. He would dearly love to jump at the chance to run for President.  Sadly from Joe’s perspective, he looks to be odd man out. Hillary instead appears on course to become the first woman President and will follow the first African American President. Hmmm.

President Joe Biden would undoubtably be a “trip”. His habit of speaking folksy about whatever is on his mind both endears and irritates voters. Some of his utterances are down right politically incorrect while others seem insightful or genuinely sincere. A Biden candidacy, however, would be snatching defeat from the jaws of a November 2016 Democrat victory. The GOP should be jumping for joy over the prospects of Joe running.

The issue is not that Biden is a trivial candidate. Compared to the current and likely GOP field, Biden offers more experience and the added advantage of having been a heart beat away for the past 6 and 1/2 years. Biden is also politically astute and can sense the vulnerability of any GOP opponent. So why not Joe?

The most direct answer is there cannot be “co-Presidents” and this time Hillary will get the nomination. Having to duke it out in a primary with Biden will be a pretty ugly ordeal. Hillary would need to be at her best in a Democrat primary which included both she and Biden and would also need to keep the lookout for political rhetoric being lobbed at her from the GOP side. This could turn into a field day for the media and a nightmare for Hillary.

Both Hillary and Joe represent a generation in its last hurrah. It’s 2016 or goodnight. Only one of them can become President and at this point Hillary has the greater chance to beat the GOP.

For Biden, it must be demoralizing to know he could defeat Jim Webb, Martin O’Malley, and Bernie Sanders without breaking a sweat. But beating Hillary, if possible, would leave the party in shambles and probably mortally wounded for the 2016 Presidential election.

The wild card, of course, is health. Should either Biden or Clinton experience a health problem and put in question their fitness to serve 4 years, the door would open wide for the other. At this point, health seems not an issue but time could change this assessment.

It takes thick skin and enormous egos to run for President. Hillary and Biden have both. The question of the day is whether Joe Biden has the patience to wait and the good judgement to not challenge unless new information arises?

The Morning After

Posted June 28, 2015 by zukunftsaugen
Categories: GOP, HRC, Human Rights Campaign, LGBT, Politics, Religion, same sex marriage, Supreme Court

There has been a lot of celebrating these past couple of days. Everywhere one looks there are rainbow color decorations. The White House, so many celebrities FB pictures, and large groups of LBGT members all celebrating the Supreme Court 5-4 decision. While the hooting and hollering might go on for a few more days, what’s next is a fair question.

Marriage Equality has been a brilliant campaign waged by the “Human Rights Campaign” and now that the Supreme Court decision has opened up marriage and the accompanying rights and benefits to the gay community, the questions is where will HRC turn its attention?

Will they seek to advance immigration reform? Or, will they turn their attention to the many aspects of racial division? Or, would it be the general disgrace of poverty and how to end it?  The basic question is will HRC reach out to help those who have helped HRC?  Who knows?

Of course, HRC may announce that there still remains discrimination against the LBGT community and so there is still much work to be done. Hmmm. Does this sound like charities you have heard about which keep raising money long after their goals have been met? Hmmm.

It is too soon to expect an answer from HRC. For sure there will be challenges to the Supreme Court decision against which HRC is well positioned to mount a response. But looking down the road, does HRC see itself as a permanent entity perpetually guarding (or advancing) the rights of LGBT members?

I would hope the HRC top leadership possesses a vision where LGBT members think of themselves first as Americans and treat their sexual orientation as a natural gift (like being left handed). The vision would foresee no need to flaunt sexuality and no LGBT member would need to be defensive about it either.

Certainly one challenging goal the HRC might think about is to promote LGBT marriages which build better families and last as long or longer than heterosexual marriages. While it might be argued that multiple marriages, if consensual, makes no real difference, never the less “traditional marriage” is generally thought of as a long term, if not life time, arrangement.  Strong family units require more than just longevity.  Longevity and strength ought to be the goal.

What a better way to respond to Bible Thumpers who praised “traditional” marriage (they meant one man, one woman)?  LGBT marriages which lasts longer on average than heterosexual ones?  Hmmm, that seems like a peaceful “gotcha”.

Dignity, Hmmm

Posted June 27, 2015 by zukunftsaugen
Categories: 14th Amendment, 1st Amendment, Anthony Kennedy, Due Process, gay rights, LBGT, Politics, same sex marriage, Supreme Court

The Supreme Court announced yesterday a 5-4 decision allowing same sex marriages in all 50 States. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the decision was about “dignity”. Hmmm.

The Court’s hard core opposition, Allito, Thomas, and Scallia, joined by Chief Justice Roberts tried to hide their religiously grounded views by claiming that no where in the Constitution is their guidance on what constitutes marriage. Alliot wondered whether the Country had now entered a slippery slope where religious views would be exiled to the privacy of ones home. Hmmm (where else should they be?).

To the extent that marriage is never mentioned in the Constitution, the minority is correct that the Federal Government has no Constitutional right to define “marriage”. The Constitution does have a 14th Amendment, however, which provides due process and equal protection under the law to all citizens. Herein lies the clue of why the minority got it wrong.

In the past the Court has heard arguments that marriage between a black and a white were, based upon Biblical interpretations, improper and should be banned “if States so chose”. This supposed religious insight is also not mentioned in the Constitution but is inferred, according to supporters of these views, in the first Amendment’s “freedom of religion” words. These religious crusaders are sure the Constitution supports their scientifically unsupported views. In Loving v Virginia, the Court decided interracial marriage was Constitutional.

Religious groups, particular well organized ones, have traditionally used various techniques to assure followers that “god was on their side”. This reassurance made followers a little more committed (especially in donating money to the cause). And, throughout history, no better technique to bind a group together has been than define an enemy or groups who were “not like them”.

Race is the easiest because you can see it. Other religious groups sometimes are easy too especially if they chose dress that differentiates. But right in there has also be sexual orientation. “Those people are different”.

With the Supreme Court decision a large number of Conservative religious groups are openly worried. These groups have long held that they could deny employment or withhold services from certain groups their religion did not accept. They claimed this was a matter of conscience. Now they fear will be required to treat LGBTs as if they were “regular people”. These groups are speaking out that the 14th Amendment is now trumping the 1st. Hmmm.

Justice Kennedy in his majority opinion honed in on “dignity” as the theme. Dignity stemming from the Constitution’s preamble and flowing though to both partners and any children they might have. In essence, Kennedy’a argument was marriage “was the right thing to do”.

The Court’s decision may also become to be seen as the right balancing of the 1st and 14th amendments.

Secularists read the first Amendment literally. There should be no State religion and all religious traditions should be welcome… providing that none interfere with anyone else’s pursuit of happiness (under the law).

So, if any church wishes to bless the marriage of only heterosexual couples, then that is their right. The church is a private organization and it has the prerogative to establish its own rules… providing these rules do not prevent same sex couples from also getting married (someplace else) and enjoying the same State/Government provided legal benefits.

An Oklahoma religious university has spoken out quite elegantly about its fear of losing tax exemption because of its long standing policy of not employing gays. In a radio interview, the University President said they had nothing against gays but their policies had long denied employment. Now the University was worried it would be forced to close because it would not change.

This quandary raises further legal questions. Should this tax exempt University be required to admit and treat as equal members of the LGBT community despite past practices? Should this University be prevented from firing an employee if that employee chooses to take on a same sex partner?

Both of these questions would be easy to decide if the only issue was “dignity”. But they seem to fall in that gray area of religious expression that does not create great harm for those denied admission or employment. On the other hand, tell me again why they should receive an tax advantages?

The Supreme Court’s dignity argument is certain well based. Church-State matters will eventually lead Americans to realize that due process is not opposed to the first Amendment, rather it helps define the limits of irrational beliefs. Religious groups can certainly continue to believe what they want about LBGT members, and as private organizations can serve whomever they please. In the greater secular United States, however, the negative reach of certain religions and religious beliefs has limits.

It is a shame that Anthony Kennedy did not have this revelation during the Hobby Lobby deliberations.


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