10 Years Later, Characters Different, Issues The Same

Posted June 13, 2017 by zukunftsaugen
Categories: Uncategorized

Regaining the Center, 10 years ago, published a post over the hypocrisy surrounding the popular candidacy of Fred Thompson. Thompson, a former Senator but more famous as a TV star, turned out to be totally unqualified as a Presidential candidate and relatively quickly disappeared from the campaign trail. Far less bombastic or boorish than Donald Trump, Thompson quickly showed he could not fill the “real” shoes a President must.

What is particularly eye opening may be that the underlying issues facing Candidate Thompson remain today.

At the time of the 2007 posting (Litmus and Fred), the Republicans were still beating the tax cut, no healthcare reform is good healthcare, and the Middle East is the focus of US foreign policy drum. Little, apparently, did the GOP realize that the economy was about to crash (lax regulatory tone), that fracking technology would soon make America free from dependency on Middle East Oil (ignorance of science), or that Federal Deficit were just begin a ten year rise (balancing the budget with necessary taxes).

Five months into President Trump’s administration, Republicans seems ready to move forward without demonstrating any learnings from the past.

Check this out – Litmus and Fred

Free Market Health Care

Posted June 11, 2017 by zukunftsaugen
Categories: affordable care act, Democratic Party, Donald Trump, entitlements, federal debt, GOP, health insurance companies, Healthcare, Politics, Republican Party, Uncategorized

When President Obama set in motion steps to expand healthcare coverage, in the wealthiest country in the world, for more Americans than ever before, he and his aides made a questionable decision to build the expansion around traditional healthcare insurance companies, like Aetna, Cigna, Anthem, etc. These cowardly chickens are now coming home to roost.

The Obama White House convinced the legacy healthcare insurers that their margins would be protected when they were presented with new enrollees who might not be able to pay for the entire premium. There would be government subsidies in other words.  That promise was enough to get the insurance companies loyalty.

With this promise (and recognition that there would be another 7 years with a President Obama), healthcare insurers signed on citing the importance of new customers and their dedication to improving Americans’ health.

When the Democrats lost control of Congress, the wheels soon began to come off the Affordable Care Act wagon. Republicans tried their best to outright repeal Obamacare and when not possible, the GOP tried to jeopardize the subsidy streams. Any uncertainties about rate coverage was enough to send healthcare insurer CEOs into orbit.

“Oh my, our shareholders simply won’t accept that”, these CEOs moaned.

In quieter moments, healthcare insurers raised rates and cited the “higher than expected” number of “sicker than average” enrollees. Imagine, these big name insurance companies were finding that previously uninsured Americans were devouring healthcare services at amounts greater than the average American?

After thought (and realization that not much more money was coming from the government), these insurance companies proposed a resolution. They would exit the market!

The Aetna’s of this world would no longer sell policies to exchanges and abandon the exchange market to someone else. So, unless the government renewed its pledge to provide adequate subsidies, these newly healthcare covered Americans would join the ranks of the uninsured again.

So much for these insurance companies’ concern about individual healthcare.

One might fantasize that a Government truly interested in its citizens’ healthcare might say to these companies that they might as well withdraw from the rest of the State’s health insurance business. Cheery picking is not in the publics best interest.

Should that hard ball tactic not convince the insurance company to stay, then employing the “public option” might win the day. Expanding Medicare (with its requirement for paying premiums) would be quick and easy to roll out. Insurance companies might then think carefully on whether they needed to become more efficient or face the creeping invasion of “single payer” insurance.

Republicans might jump up and say “how is the government going to fund the public option?  Of course the answer is through taxes combined with individual payments.  And if the Affordable Care Act is repealed or simple succumbs to the death spiral, how is the cost of the 25 million or so Americans without coverage to be covered?

How about taxes and higher doctor and hospital payments?  Which path seems more humane?  Oh, I forgot the Republicans want to cut taxes, not increase them.  Take a hike you 25 million soon to be without insurance Americans.

Hmmm.

ISIS’ Last Stand?

Posted June 9, 2017 by zukunftsaugen
Categories: Donald Trump, foreign policy, islam, Politics, Uncategorized

Tags: , ,

The long awaited attack on Raqqa, seat of the ISIS provisional government, is about to, or has just begun. After months of pondering, “do we arm the Syrian Kurds or not”, the US has done so and the battle which will ultimately oust ISIS leaders, is at hand. Will ISIS collapse or move to another spot is unclear. Whether the ousting will put an end to terrorist activity, however, is problematic. Why is that and does it matter?

Before there was ISIS, there was al Qaeda. And while ISIS and al Qaeda did their thing, there was also al Shabaab, Boko Haram, and the Taliban. All these organizations have applied extreme Islamic fundamentalists thinking to the secular world. All of these organizations have tried to carve out a more comfortable life for themselves at the expense of someone else. Sound like thugs or common criminals?

A few days ago, a terrorist attack took place in Iran, a country run by religious extremists. ISIS claimed responsibility thereby pleading guilty to these senseless killings.

Do you think this operation was the dying gasps of a defeated organization?

The Iranian attack served a useful, but unintended, consequence. The attack pointed to a source predating al Qaeda, ISIS and all the rest. Wahhabism.

Wahhabism lives in a symbiotic relationship with the House of Saud in Saudi Arabia. In a “give to Caesar what is due” type of arrangement, the royal Saudi family supports, to the exclusion of others, the Wahhabi version of Islam. In return, the Wahhabi clerics support the royal family and look the other way should a royal sheik go over the line with cigarettes or alcohol or whatever.

So, no matter what happens with ISIS, the beacon of ultra conservative Islam, and any ridiculous or anti-social behavior one associates with ISIS or Saudi Arabia (like women’s covering and societal restrictions) will have a sponsor, who from time to time, will think god wants them to enforce such beliefs on the “infidels”. A nuisance for sure, but not an existential threat, to be sure.

Consider that last week a single armed person went into a Florida business and shot four innocent people before taking his own life. In another shooting this week in Pennsylvania, a single armed person went to a grocery store after-hours. This person barricaded the exits and then began shooting, killing three people, before taking his own life. Both of these mass killings had the markings of terrorist inspiration but alas, both turned out to be just home grown insanity.

London, Manchester, and Paris have experienced “ISIS inspired” despicably violent acts recently. Despite large sums of money and hard work by anti-terror professionals, tragic incidents have still occurred. These tragedies are red meat for clever politicians who only too gladly paint the world filled with terrorists, like they are behind every tree. Regrettably, it appears the world is also filled with gullible people only to ready and willing to swallow this populist bait and accept shallow recommendations from these dangerous, self serving politicians.

Candidate Trump and his many right wing supporters were only too ready to talk tough towards ISIS while campaigning. Now as President, Trump continues to talk tough but has little to show for it. For the rest of us, former President Obama less inspirational tones that required one to think about the real nature of terrorism, resonate as wise and informed.

  • Extreme Islam is a problem for everyone including non-extreme Muslims.
  • Extreme Islam’s threat to America pales in comparison to tragedies of everyday American life.

Economic Growth?

Posted June 7, 2017 by zukunftsaugen
Categories: Uncategorized

President Trump has made a concerted effort to trash the current US economy’s status. Specifically, the President has criticized the economic growth rate (which is someplace between 1.5-1.9%). President Trump has promised growth ranging instead from 3-4% with millions of new great jobs. This type of growth, the White House says, would allow huge tax cuts, military buildup, and put back to work energy sector workers. Pretty clear vision?

Maybe. Let’s consider the likelihood of achieving this aspirations.

World economic growth weighs in at about 2.7%. If you look at World Bank figures, one sees developed countries fall in around the US, about 1.7%, while developing countries, using borrowings and foreign investments, present faster growth figures, greater than 4%. This begs the question, what could the US do differently and suddenly grow faster than the globally connected world.

The Trump White House, with its Congressional Republican fellow travelers, claim tax cuts are the key. The theory goes that with more money in citizens’ pockets, Americans will spend more. Spending more will boost GDP.

This sounds encouraging, unfortunately two hurdles lie in the path to greater growth.

  1. Past experience with tax cuts has revealed that most of the gains flow to the very rich (and they do no spend the money), and
  2. Unless the tax cuts are offset spending reductions, the tax cuts act like a loan which in time must be paid back slowing the economy at that time.

The most likely outcome around tax cuts is that there will be little economic stimulation because the rich do not spend, AND, the government reduced spending necessary to offset the tax cuts, takes money out of the economy slowing growth, and potentially reducing growth below current levels.

Bringing jobs home and employing methods to make trade balances more US favorable have also been mentioned as tools to boost economic growth. Traditionally if the US makes a better mouse trap and the world flocks to buy these mouse traps, there is a reasonable chance to increase economic growth. On the other hand, bringing jobs back to the US unless the manufactured goods suddenly cost less will most likely slow the economy because goods and service would cost more.

Even worse, the prospect of using tariffs, border taxes, or any other intervention to boost economic growth is ready made for generating unfavorable unintended consequences. Hmmm.

Politically it is unlikely that President Trump would say 1.5-2% GDP growth is the best American can expect. Challenging the country to do better is a proper role for the chief executive.

Claiming, however, that 3-4+% growth is around the corner is irresponsible, especially if the policies President Trump has already proposed are used.

The economy is complex and interconnected with the world economy. Suggesting the US can withdraw from the world community, act somewhat self sufficient, presents a fast track to a slow growing (if not worse), high cost of living society.

Healthcare, A New Take?

Posted June 5, 2017 by zukunftsaugen
Categories: affordable care act, Donald Trump, GOP, health insurance companies, Healthcare, medicaid, medicare, obamacare, Republican Party, Uncategorized

Former Oklahoma US Senator, Tom Coburn, gave a genuinely heartfelt argument on how to fix healthcare. Coburn’s solution  –  total free enterprise. Use the free market, Coburn said, where millions of Americans could seek “great quality” healthcare at the lowest prices. The former Senator used the Amish as an example of price shopping with the outcome – great coverage at low cost. Hmmm.

Tom Coburn is a doctor (MD) by education and should know something about healthcare. Senator Coburn is a conservative and has a history of concern over healthcare cost.  Senator Coburn, needless to say, was not a fan of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

And to be sure, there are situations with our current healthcare delivery model ripe for abuse.  Fee for service, Medicare payment for unneeded services, and non-negotiated drug costs in Medicare Part D are a few examples.

Most Americans are largely divorced from healthcare’s actual cost. Most Americans are covered by group health plans (paid for by employers) or for those over 65, Medicare. While there are deductibles and co-pays, these costs are nominally small compared to the overal healthcare cost. Consequently most Americans are content with and expect their employer and their insurance provider to fight with doctors, hospitals, and drug companies and manage these healthcare services prices.

Do you think insurance companies, who have built into their policy prices their earning would welcome a lower premium cost which would in turn lower profits for their shareholders? Hmmm.

In addition to employer provided and Medicare, there are Medicaid (for those who qualify) and the single payer market to make up the rest. (I am excluding the VA system for reasons of simplicity.) It seems ridiculous to believe that Americans on Medicaid roles, who can not afford to buy their own healthcare policies now because they are too poor would suddenly be able to find their way through the medical and insurance maze and buy adequate healthcare insurance.

The individual market could be different however, since the members might have the financial means. But, does anyone think that suddenly insurance companies will welcome Americans with pre-existing conditions and charge them the same low rates as healthy young Americans? One might wonder what Senator Coburn has been smoking?

The free enterprise system, instead of being healthcare’s savior, is actually its devil. Our free enterprise, capitalist system honors the concept of maximizing profit. American healthcare costs have risen at two times the rate of inflation for years.  No better recent example is the American drug industry where prices have escalated at unprecedented rates. Disgracefully, one can buy in Canada the same US produced drug for substantially less. Hmmm.

Americans are regularly reminded about innovation and increased productivity from competition in a capitalist system. We are asked, “do you want to give that up”?

Americans, instead, need to ask a simpler question, “are there other healthcare delivery models around the world that cost less (say one half what the US spends) and are associated with better health outcomes”?

Senator Coburn’s proposition might work if all Americans had the same health prospectus and the same capabilities to make a deal. Buying an automobile or an airplane ticket are examples of where the free market is working. Americans pay widely different prices for essentially the same goods or services. Americans can, however, chose not own a car or use an airline to travel with no life or death consequences. Healthcare is different.

Over two dozen countries around the world have adopted healthcare delivery systems which cost half that which Americans spend and achieve better outcomes for all their citizens. Broadly speaking these healthcare delivery systems emphasize “prevention” and “ease of use”. These plans insure everyone (universal coverage) and employ a “single payer” administrative model. There are no “negotiations” between citizens and healthcare providers.  The role of doctors, hospitals, and drug companies are to serve the customer while earning a fair but modest profit.

Insurance companies may, if they wish, participate as a “plan administrator” facilitating payments for healthcare providers. Their profit is negotiated with the national healthcare agency (a government organization) so there is no temptation for insurance companies charge “what the market will bear”.

So in countries like Germany, basic healthcare is available to all residents at the same low co-pay cost (a national value added tax pays for most of a German’s healthcare cost). Socialism?

There is no effort or thought, however, that all Germans should be driving a BMW instead of a Volkswagen or  having no car at all.  What type of car a German buys and how much he/she pays for it is a free market event.   Germany has a capitalist economy but treats healthcare as an individual right.

Why is this such a foreign idea in Washington?  Why are Republicans so dead set about reducing healthcare in a land where healthcare costs are two or more times the level of other modern countries?

Are Republicans seeking the best healthcare delivery system money can buy?

The Big Apple

Posted June 1, 2017 by zukunftsaugen
Categories: Donald Trump, Uncategorized

Tags: ,

In New York City this week to see Hamilton, I went for a short walk and passed by Trump Tower. It seemed ironic to link Trump Tower and Hamilton in the same breath. I wonder whether fellow New Yorker Alexander is turning in his grave when ever President Trump commits a boorish act. A lot of movement I would guess.

Alexander Hamilton was born from common stock, some say he was illegitimate. Who cares when one thinks about what Hamilton made of his life. Few dispute Alexander Hamilton became an educated man and served his adopted country well.

Our President describes himself as a self made man too. And if one does not consider being born into wealth, attending only the best schools, and inheriting more than enough starter funding to fuel his “rags to riches” success story, I guess self made seems accurate.

Hamilton never became President, Donald Trump, on the other hand, is our President. Hmmm.

The Broadway show “Hamilton”, is based upon Robert Chernow’s biography and leaves the audience with a wonderful entertainment experience coupled with a positive view of the early days of our Country. Hamilton was far from a perfect person but he, as much anyone else, contributed to establishing the Federal Government’s effectiveness. His word, honor, and integrity meant everything to Hamilton.

Fast forward until today. President Trump has along with the GOP controlled Congress sought some terrible cuts in healthcare, reductions in the Federal Budget covering “meals on wheels” and school nutrition programs, while astonishingly seeking tax code changes rewarding the very wealthy who do not need any help.

All these actions, however, are on us, that is, the American electorate. By a narrow margin, but a plurality never the less in the electoral college, Donald Trump was the choice of American voters. His mess is our mess.

President Trump’s boorish behavior, however, he owns entirely. Each time the President commits some amazingly obtuse, ignorant, or impolite act domestically or internationally, he does not speak for America. The President speaks for himself and simply sullies the name “Donald Trump”.

Alexander Hamilton was accused often by political opponents that he was personally profiting from his time in office. Never once while in office, nor with the distance of time, have any of the charges been proved.  Hamilton’s name is linked with honesty, competence, and honor.  Hmmm.

President Trump has not been accused yet of any crime but some his campaign staff and been implicated in suspicious contacts with Russian officials. The FBI and both houses of Congress are investigating.  The President denies these contacts were ever made and if they were, they were not illegal. President Trump’s son in law, Jared Kushner is now a person of interest in this investigation. What could this be about?

The media writes about Kushner “seeking to establish back door line of communications” with the Russians. Why?

Speculation range from attempts to cover up campaign collusion with Russia operatives in attempts to sway the American electorate to business deals. Collusion might be possible but pretty amateurish. Or, what about a more fundamental potential involving the line of work that both Kushner and Trump share. Real Estate and specifically the money to finance it.

To be a wealthy real estate mogul, one must be able to borrow large sums of money and from time to time refinance that debt. Russian oligarchs are rumored to have financed a lot of Donald Trump’s recent ventures. Rather than making a clean break with these questionable sources of funding, Kushner (speaking on behalf of himself and his father in law) may have wanted to ensure that those running the Trump and Kushner day to day operations could enjoy the same friendship on going as before the election. This type of behavior gets pretty close to bribery, not to mention creating real conflicts of interest, I would think. And I don’t believe that’s what the American people signed up for on November 8th.

Alexander Hamilton stood at the center of early American power and acquitted himself well.   So far the same cannot be said for President Trump.

Memorial Pause

Posted May 29, 2017 by zukunftsaugen
Categories: Donald Trump, Uncategorized

Tags: ,

As is the custom, zip code 08202 celebrated Memorial Day, once again, with a home town parade and lots of speeches by local officials. The ceremony might have appeared a little hokey, especially when compared to parades featured on television, but zip code 08202’s celebration was totally genuine.

The parade’s theme, not surprisingly, was thanks and remembrance for the deeds of those who came before.

This piece of Americana (and others just like it across the country) stands in sharp contrast to the complex and convoluted games on display in Washington, DC. Instead of simple words paying honor and tribute to those whose sacrifices Made America Great, we hear words we know not to be true or a steady stream of answers to questions not asked.  Washington speak honors no one save the quick buck.

President Trump has just returned from his first foray onto the international stage. Pundits are struggling to find positive words to characterize the trip.  Congress, on the other hand, is in recess, licking its self inflicted “repeal and replace” wounds. Tomorrow, the vacation ends and the Washington games begin again.

What will the fall out be over the President’s threat to exit the Paris Climate Agreement or what did the President mean about NATO member nations “paying their fair share? For US based Trump supporters, his words will be hailed as another example of keeping a campaign promise forgetting of course to first answer the question, is either issue wise foreign policy? For European countries President Trump must have reinforced their worst expectations.

Republicans’ worst dream is that the electorate will turn on them during the mid-terms. So far, with majorities in both house and a President of the same party, Republicans have almost nothing to show in terms of legislative accomplishments. And the American Health Care Act passed by the House may not survive the Senate leaving Republicans with nothing. (Of course if the AHCA were to pass, Republicans might inherit an even greater problem… being seen as father of less healthcare coverage with no noticeable decrease in premium cost.

On Memorial Day, Americans pause and pay tribute to those who fought and died in earlier wars. These sacrifices and efforts were made to secure freedom and a better way of life for all Americans. As we pause, we cannot help but think why the President and Congress is so set upon providing less healthcare coverage, granting huge tax cuts for the wealthy, and making “immigrant” a bad word when this country was built by the hard work of immigrants?

Memorial Day in 08202 recalls a simpler time, a more respectful time, and a more honest time.