Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Is The Federal Debt A Problem?

July 21, 2017

At almost $20 trillion, the Federal Debt is a big number. Politicians’ rhetoric range from “the sky is falling” to “how can we leave this to the next generation”. Others counsel that the US can borrow at historically low interest rates, so from strictly a business perspective, the US should be borrowing more and investing in infrastructure, medical research, alternate forms of renewable energy, and increasing the skills and education level of American workers. So why is there such a divergence in opinions?

Continuing with the business analogy, no investment is wise unless there is a positive return. This means that any money spent on new or improved roads, harbors, or airports must generate enough profit to repay the amount of the investment AND some additional “profit”. So if the Government can borrow (by issuing Treasury Bonds) at 3%, any investment should return the bond value plus some interest in excess of 3% (preferably greater than 6-8%.

When the Government spending, however, goes for Obamacare, Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security, what is the return?  The Republican debt argument roughly lies upon this premise. There is no return for entitlements and accordingly there should be no spending on them.

Democrats see Government spending on entitlements as a sacred promise Government has made to citizens. Democrats would be ok with funding entitlements through increased taxes but have not been successful getting Republicans to agree. Consequently, the Government does borrow, does put the cost onto the Federal Debt, and does pass it on to the next generation.

Considering the strength of the dollar and the credit worthiness of the US, increasing the Federal Debt does not present the catastrophic consequences many conservatives see.  Also, if entitlements come with no return, what is the return on military spending?  Hmmm.

But over and above the question of what is the return on government spending, there is still a huge problem, namely continuing to increase the Federal Debt is a default result, not a conscious decision by Congress. The inability of Congress to reconcile its spending and taxing priorities is a far greater problem with far greater potential consequences.

Behind a deadlocked Congress lies one or more special interests which stand to gain mightily. Dark Money (conservatives like Koch Brothers, Mercers, and others) seek simply to keep more of their earnings through lower taxes.   Business interests seek industry specific favoritism normally to increase earnings. This has bred a Congress of era centric, anything but statesmen members.

The current candidate for Congress is normally good looking, modestly well off, and primarily interested in getting reelected. For Representatives, most rely upon districts whose boundaries have been set with the thought towards favoring one party or the other. Who is going to think about the country as a whole?

The Federal Debt could become a problem were interest rates to increase dramatically. Today that is not the case. Never the less, the debt and the unbalanced budget both represent large warning signals about the quality of public officials Americans elect.

Repeal, Not Replace, Hmmm

July 18, 2017

The Senate Republican effort to pass “repeal and replace” legislation which would be the successor to Obamacare, ended yesterday with whimper. Pundits have said there were as many as 15 Republican Senators who would have voted against the bill but until yesterday there were only two announced. Following a meeting with President Trump, two more Senators (Jerry Moran and Mike Lee) announced they could not support the Republican Senate bill.

End of story?

Not quite. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell announced he would offer a “repeal” only alternative and expected Republican Senators to pass this bill as they had in 2015. The “repeal” only option has a two year delayed implementation ostensibly designed to allow time for the Senate to find a compromise which could pass.

Does unbelievable come to mind?

What does anyone think is so hard about passing a repeal only bill? Admittedly, passing a replace bill does bring into focus what various factions within the Republican Party and the public think about healthcare. Since there is no consensus (without paying a price at the polls), Republicans will have a tough time finding common replacement ground.

Hmmm.  So why try repeal only?

The fundamental and unstated issue, the elephant in the room so to speak, is whether Republicans think healthcare is a right and they are searching for the most cost effective way to deliver, or whether Republicans see healthcare as a privilege and are seeking the least costly manner to provide minimal coverage and still be able to boast to voters that they are for healthcare.

Hmmm.

An old adage teaches when you are stuck in a hole, the first rule is stop digging.

Republicans are showing in bright, red, white and blue colors that as a Party they are not aligned on principles. Even more so, Republicans are showing that both the President and the Republican controlled Congress, while able to be verbally effusive, are still unfit to lead.

The Game Of Opposites

July 17, 2017

Tonight begins the 7th season for the HBO series “Game of Thrones”. The show has been a smash hit and wildly a commercial success. I wonder whether most Americans could agree on the value of this entertainment, especially since Americans seem unable to agree on much else?

Americans seem to wear, as a badge of honor, titles such as

  • Democrat or Republican,
  • Liberal or Conservative,
  • Authoritarian or Libertarian,
  • Religious or Free Thinker,
  • Straight or Gay,
  • City Dweller or Suburbanite, or
  • Coastal liver versus Heartland Resident.

What is most striking about “wearing” these badges is the wearer declares he/she is not the opposite. “I AM not a Republican, I am a Democrat” as if being a Republican is a disease or mental defect.

Most people I meet, however, do not fit neatly into just one label, rather most people are a mixture even thought they may not think about it. Frequently one hears someone advocate for some restriction or another, but without hesitating disdain any restrictions on their own situation. For example, some Americans advocate for certain “rights” which others cannot attain.

“My tax dollars should not go to others who have failed to provide for themselves.” Sound familiar? Or, “unless subsidies are held to a minimum, more and more Americans will find it easier to expect the government to care of them instead of working hard” Hmmm.

The defect of this argument lies not in what has been said but remains to be said. America’s current free enterprise does not redistribute productivity gains as it did 30 or 40 years ago. More and more of company earning are flowing to the top executives while the average worker’s income remains flat.  In essence, healthcare has been priced out of the reach of many Americans.

Similarly, a liberal who champions a cause requiring public funding, is want if the champion did not provide clear measures for success and failure and set review periods where the cause could be modified, including canceled if benchmarks were not achieved.

An ideologue, regrettably, is not interested in anything other than getting his viewpoint accepted. Any person who does not accept his/her opinion is an “opposite” not worth the time of day.

Whether conservative or liberal, authoritarian or libertarian, etc., too few ideologues see much value in considering the incompleteness of their views or in understanding the basis for why someone else may think differently.  Apparently it is easier to speak ones position louder than to remain silent and listen.

There’s not much that can be done about that other person. There is, however, much that can be done about ones own views.

Close To Greatness

July 14, 2017

Republicans are running the ship. The GOP controls the Presidency and both Houses of Congress. What more could any party want if they wished to leave their imprint upon America. Each day, however, Americans are observing a President and a Congress aim at greatness but suddenly swerve away, missing the mark by a mile.

  • The “Healthcare” train went off the tracks quickly. Instead of focusing on premium and drug costs, the GOP struck up the “repeal and replace” band only to find they possessed no consensus on “replace”. The one attempt at attacking cost was instead diverted to bait and switch. The GOP offered to sell “stripped down” policies, as if they were Obamacare quality, for lower price. That was their version of cost reduction. Would you buy a car with no passenger or back seat (just the open space) just because the price was slightly lower?
  • Even more obvious as a ripe target is the cost of prescription drugs. What other country in the world makes drugs and sells these patented compounds in other countries for less than they sell the exact same materials in the US? The GOP could have seemed genuinely interested in the well being of Americans had they not taken the “repeal and replace” course.
  • The “Tax Reform” train, on a different track, seems destine for a similar miss. Anyone who prepares their own taxes knows full well how complicated a reasonably straight forward process can be. But “tax reform” is political code for “tax cuts”. And if you are wondering how much you might realize, don’t waste your time, the GOP tax cuts are about those who don’t need them, the wealthy.
  • Infrastructure investment, like building roads, bridges, harbors, and airports, is a time proven method to improve productivity by modernizing shared means necessary for economic growth (read jobs). Infrastructure investment is also a popular method to just put people to work regardless of whether the work produces any economic return. Under certain circumstances, even just employing people can be a good thing.
  • Not, apparently, with this Administration. Infrastructure investment means privatization and transferring more wealth from tax payers to private investors.
  • Along these same lines, the growing crisis around student loan debt is viewed as another opportunity to use private enterprises to assist the financial needs of students seeking higher education… at a substantial profit.
  • If training skills and higher education are needed to make workers more employable and more productive, then why would government add a layer of profit from loan administrators? Why would government treat student loans differently in bankruptcy cases than if someone bought too much house or too many cars?

Americans may have been frustrated with these situations in 2016, and decided Hillary Clinton and the Democrats were not the route to fixing them, hence Donald Trump became the 4 5th President and the Republican Party got control of both Houses of Congress. With seven months of this new Administration, Americans instead are seeing “greatness” by-passed in favor of wealth transfer from the average American to the wealthiest Americans. Hmmm.

The Russian Connection

July 12, 2017

The news media has had a field day this week with the leak and publication of a Donald Trump, Junior meeting with a Russian lawyer immediately following his father’s Republican Presidential nomination. Ah ha, have they finally found the smoking gun?

What smoking gun? And what exactly was so wrong with Trump Junior meeting with a Russian lawyer? And why is the media making such a big deal of this?

The most recent news bulletin revealed, with respect to this revelation, the meeting was premised upon the lawyer sharing some unfavorable information about Hillary Clinton which might be useful in Junior’s father’s campaign. Does this constitute meddling by a foreign country?

Three implications seem reasonable to speculate. The meeting could indicate

  • A larger, coordinated Russian Government effort to help Trump and hurt Clinton
  • Or, a Trump family interest and intention to cozy up to Russian businesses and financial sources,
  • Or, both.

The possibilities seem like “no brainers”.

  • Of course the Russian Government was interested in weakening America by fooling American voters into electing a weakened Hillary Clinton, or even stranger than fiction, an unqualified, narcissist like Donald Trump.
  • Donald Trump and his staff were resigned to a likely election loss, but could see potentially a boat load of lucrative connections where the Trump brand might thrive. Hmmm.

One must be careful about showing to much disdain for Russian meddling. While unacceptable, what does one think the CIA does for a living. America has a long history of interfering with the internal affairs of other nations and courtesy of the NSA, electronically listening to all sorts of foreign leaders private conversations. Our leaders ought remember that when we interfere with others, these other countries try their best to uncover our sources and disable our listening and propaganda networks. The same behavior might do the US well too.

The far greater teaching value the “the Russian Connection” could have is to underscore the wanton disregard President Trump (and his associates) have for speaking truthfully, and to what lengths they would be willing to employ to be victorious over an opponent.

Boorish may be too polite a word to describe the President.

Ironically, the media reminds us often that previous public officials have been toppled, not due to the “crime”, but due to the cover up. The longer this investigation festers, the more frequent will be the leaks, and the more chance there will be for obstruction of justice.

Healthcare Debate Show Down?

July 10, 2017

Republicans have fought mightily to pass legislation which “repeals and replaces” the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Divisions within their own party have prevent Senate ratification of a repeal and replace, and now back from the 4th of July holiday, Republican Senators are back to the grindstone. Will they be successful?

Unlikely, unless one counts failure as success.

Medicaid expansion, thanks to Obamacare, has provided many more Americans with healthcare than before. These voters have made it known that they would not be pleased with Republican Senators were this coverage to disappear. Hmmm.

Pre-existing condition coverage is another “must have” option in voter’s minds. Relatively speaking this is an expensive option and Republican law makers are worrying how they can pay for that option and still provide a tax cut. Hmmm.

And the thinking that no one should be required to have healthcare insurance comes also with the freedom for companies to elect not to offer their employees group insurance plans. This “freedom” might have Americans beginning to wake up to the possibility that although they may have health insurance today, tomorrow they might be laid off or their employer may just choose not to offer coverage. In both cases these Americans will be out of luck.

But what seems to have gotten the GOP’s attention is not the impact poor coverage or no coverage at all will have upon Americans, it is the phasing out of Federal Government funding of the Medicaid expansion and the dawning that States would need to increase their contribution to maintain coverage.

What? States would need to raise taxes or become responsible for dropping State residents from Medicaid rolls.

This line of reasoning reflects a morally bankrupt political party. Public shaming has not worked to date in changing Republican thinking. Maybe the political reality and risk of being voted out of office will have a different result.

Viability

July 7, 2017

The recent news involving President Trump and the Pope raise questions not often discussed in the popular media. What are the relevant ethics around preserving life? For the Pope this is no surprise, for President Trump it might be a bit out of character.

This controversy involves a British couple whose infant son was born with a rare genetic disorder where the child cannot move or produce enough energy to keep his own organs functioning. Fifty years ago, the child would have simply gotten weaker and weaker, and died a natural death. Today, doctors have advanced diagnosis techniques and have managed to keep the child alive using heroic means (life support and special feeding). Without these measures doctors say the child would have died.

In the case of this infant with a “un-curable”genetic order, the hospital’s argument is somewhat different. The hospital contends the child’s situation is hopeless and continued heroic efforts, in essence, will be both fruitless and take medical resources away from other sick patients who could use them. In other words, the ethics of continuing heroic efforts is “unethical” towards others. Why, because the patient’s life is not viable on its own and continued medical care is highly unlikely to change the condition.

Oddly President Trump and the Pope have offered help to keep the infant alive.

Many of us are familiar with certain religions who argue that all efforts should be employed to keep life going, and less frequently, others which do not believe in medical healing, let alone heroic measures. For these latter religions, prayer alone is enough.

Consequently hospitals often have to go into court seeking the right to proceed with life saving treatments which the individual or his/her guardian has opposed. The hospital argues that science and medical ethics compels them to seek court approval to treat.

In general, this type of medical situations bring out advocates on both sides. IMO, those choosing no medical intervention, for example for themselves, when making an informed decision, are on ethically sound footing. Those choosing to deny (or employ) medical methods for others, however, must be viewed cautiously around what right do they have to intercede.

In the case of the British child, the Hospital seems on sound grounds to deny continued heroic efforts but why should the parents not be able to seek heroic methods from other sources? Hmmm.

One way to resolve this dilemma is to ask, will the child’s life meet a “viability” standard, that is, could the child now, or in the foreseeable future, be able to live without heroic measures? If the answer is no, then the hospital should be completely in the clear to deny heroic measures. But does it follow that the parents are free seek other hospitals to take over?

The simple answer should be, yes they should be able since they are the guardians. But, as humans, the “viability” ethic standard ought to apply to them too.

Unless the State steps in and makes the calculated decision that parents have no right to use limited resources, namely heroic medical care, especially if there is no hope of attaining viability, then a dependent child is subject to what ever the society (family, local government, or higher government unit) decides.   Politics could be a real factor.

Love and blind hope are powerful stimulants.  The British parents are holding out against the odds that their child might be saved.  And, who knows, maybe a cure might be found.  But the odds do not support this hope.  In a world of limited resources, both the seeker and those provided with life saving resources must consider where these resources will be most productive.

President Trump is most likely looking for a positive reaction from his supporters and nothing more.  The Pope is most likely motivated by his religious beliefs but may also want to send a dogmatic statement about life in general.  Economics, which are inescapable, sends the warning of how important it is too allocate scarce resource.

Hmmm.