Monday, March 31, 2014

D-Day For The ACA

T-1 and counting!

The countdown to enroll in health insurance under the Affordable Care Act is winding down. Open enrollment ends midnight tonight. Those who fail to enroll will face a tax/fine when they pay their federal taxes next year.

As expected the ACA is experiencing a surge of activity in the final hours. This past weekend the call center handled a record 2.5 million calls. The website recorded over 9 million hits in the month of March leaving little doubt that the interest is there. We may have number of deficiencies as a nation…but we have made procrastination into an art form.

Naturally critics of the president’s signature piece of legislation weighed in. “They’re cooking the books.” Senator John Barrosso (R-WY.) protested; failing to produce any evidence to back his claim. Others warned of double digit rate increases and sketchy policy terms. False claims and fear mongering…that’s what you do when you don’t have a viable plan of your own.

Tonight’s deadline is just another in a series of hurdles that the ACA will face. Rates will go up temporarily as insurance companies adjust to the new terms and conditions. More people will lose their current plan. Some people will have to find a different doctor. And there will still be tens of millions of Americans without coverage. There will be more bumps in the road. That much is certain.

What is also certain is that while the plan is flawed it’s not going anywhere. Those who call for its repeal are baying at the moon. There will certainly be modifications. But the ACA is here to stay.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Putting The Genie Back Into The Bottle

President Obama has finally weighed in on the National Security Agency’s bulk collection and storage of Americans’ phone calls.

Under the president’s proposal, the NSA must obtain a judge’s approval before extracting information from a phone company’s database. The records in question would be held by private phone companies. The NSA would no longer be permitted to randomly cast a communications net over millions of phone records without probable cause.

Critics say that his proposal would hamper the NSA’s ability to thwart terrorist plots against US interests. They say that these bulk collections have provided valuable information that has enabled the intelligence agencies to keep Americans safe.

There is no “right” or “wrong” here.

Americans do not want to live in a police state where the government has unfettered access to their personal business. They want to move about freely without their every move falling under the gaze of prying eyes. Americans take their right of privacy very seriously.

That is until a bomb goes off in their office building or at the Boston Marathon.

Then they become outraged that the government failed to keep them safe.

On the other hand to believe that a government with access to a treasure trove of personal information can always be trusted to follow the letter of the law as respects an individual’s rights of privacy is pure folly.

Keeping the country safe while respecting all of the protections afforded us under the constitution is a very difficult proposition. In the aftermath of 9/11 the country wanted the government to err on the side of security. The Patriot Act was born and a genie bearing wire taps computer hacks was unleashed. Now that the horror of that day has faded we want our privacy back.

The president is trying to put the genie back in the bottle.

That will work...until the next terrorist successfully completes his mission.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Missing The Point

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today on whether employers have the right to refuse to provide coverage for certain types of contraceptives in their health plans if providing the coverage violates the employer’s religious beliefs.

Under the current health care law, employers are required to provide health plans that include at no extra charge all forms of birth control for women that have been approved by federal regulations. While a number of family owned companies have sued over providing ALL forms of birth control, the plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case are willing to provide coverage for most forms of contraception. Their objection pertains to those drugs or devices that work after the egg has been fertilized.

The Court’s ruling will have wide ranging implications far beyond a women’s right to access affordable health care. A ruling in favor of the plaintiff opens the door for a wide range of faith based challenges to individual freedoms. Does an employer have the right to refuse employment to a gay individual on the basis of the employer’s religious beliefs? Can a Jewish business owner refuse to hire or serve a Muslim? Can a male Muslim business owner refuse to hire or serve a woman deemed inferior under the tenants of the Koran? The list goes on!

Sadly this entire debate will fail to address one of the basic flaws in our health care system… the fact that it is primarily an employment based system.

Health care decisions should be made by the individual not the individual’s employer. Health care is personal. Decisions about health care and coverage should be based on one’s personal health situation and influenced only by factors that the individual deems important.

There will be a lot of discussion over the impact of Court’s ruling in the weeks and months to come.

Unfortunately the discussion will have missed the most salient point of the health care debate.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Just A Thought!

As we watch the wall to wall coverage of the disappearance of Malaysian Flight 370 we find ourselves ruminating over two reoccurring trains of thought.

The first…how in this technologically saturated world in which we live…where seemingly our every step, thought and utterance is monitored by someone…does a 250 ton airliner disappear from the face of the earth.

The second…we should live each day as if it were our last…because our tomorrows are not guaranteed.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Patriots & Putin

PATRIOT ACT – The United States Congress passed the Patriot Act into law on October 26, 2001. We commented at that time that this legislation opened a Pandora’s Box that would threaten our civil liberties for years to come. The Washington Post is reporting that the NSA has the capability of retrieving and recording 100% of phone calls in foreign countries. The MYSTIC program was first unleashed in 2009. The Post lists as its source documents obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The White House confirmed the program’s existence stating that it is only used to “advance national security and foreign policy interests." We don’t like to indulge in conspiracy theories…but any assertion that the MYSTIC program is limiting its eavesdropping capabilities to foreign countries strains credulity.

PUTIN – Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty yesterday annexing Crimea into the Russian Federation. While his bold move stunned the international community it was met with overwhelming approval by the Russian people. USA Today reports that according to the All Russian Center for Public Opinion Research, 86% of the Russian people believe that Crimea is part of Russian territory and 90% support unification. Putin’s approval rating rose 10 points after he ordered Russian troops into the Ukraine. It now stands at 71.6%. This is why Putin doesn’t care about the outrage coming from the international community. He has the overwhelming support of the Russian people. They share his desire to resurrect the glory days when the USSR was a superpower to be feared and respected. They feed his ego. Nothing motivates the egomaniacal Putin like a good dose of “atta boy!”

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Obama Responds! Putin Shrugs!

Never underestimate the amount of crazy in a man who enjoys being photographed while horseback riding shirtless.

Yesterday Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a referendum acknowledging Crimea’s secession from the Ukraine and recognizing the peninsula as a free and independent state.

The Obama administration responded by announcing economic sanctions against eleven top Russian and Ukrainian officials believed to be responsible for the Crimean secession.

Putin just shrugged…and informed the press that he would be announcing economic sanctions of his own against members of the US House and Senate.

Putin really doesn’t care what the White House or anyone else in the world thinks. He has the support of the Russian people who applaud his tough guy image and support his desire to return the Motherland to its days of glory. He presides over one of the world’s largest filling stations. He knows the US needs his co-operation on a host of international policy issues. And he has a nuclear arsenal to back his play.

McCain and the war mongers attacked the president’s sanctions as “timid.” They want more. They want the president to provide defensive armaments to the Ukraine and reinstitute the nuclear defense system in Poland. That is a fools’ play. Putin will portray any military buildup in the Ukraine as a threat against Crimea and Russian interests in the region. It will be just the excuse he needs to invade. The truth is there is little that the US can do save all out war…and the American people have no stomach for that solution.

The key to unseating Putin can only come from within the empire. Putin knows this. His KGB back ground knows exactly what it takes to keep the masses in line. Putin will not flinch when it comes to using every means at his disposal to quell any internal unrest.

Putin is coming. The Ukraine is next.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Putin Is Coming!

If you are one of those people who sees Vladimir Putin as just another crackpot depot in some far away country…think again. Vladimir Putin is the real deal.

Yesterday the residents of Crimea voted to secede from the Ukraine and ally themselves with Putin’s Russian Federation. The option of remaining a part of the Ukraine was noticeably absent from the ballot.

Western leaders condemned the legitimacy of the referendum and vowed to impose economic sanctions. They seemed to believe that the presence of thousands of Russian military personnel stationed at the polls may have played a part in the outcome.

Putin doesn’t care. Putin has long coveted the Crimean peninsula for its warm water ports and predominantly Russian speaking citizenry. Putin conveniently alleged that when violence broke out in the Ukraine and the pro-Russian government was overthrown, he had a civic if not moral duty to protect the Russian population in Crimea. And when Russian workers in an industrial complex just over Crimean boarder were threatened by anti-government protesters Putin had no choice but to send his troops over the border to lend a hand.

Ukraine is a country divided between the pro-European factions in the west and the pro-Russian east. It is a country preparing for war in the belief that it is Putin’s next target. Those fears are well founded. Putin is coming.

He’s done this before. Moldova and Georgia are already occupied by Russian military forces. George Bush stood by with his hands in his pockets and let it happen. The world screamed and hollered but Putin didn’t care. He doesn’t care now.

Putin is pissed that Russia lost the cold war. His goal is to return the Motherland to world prominence. He understands the he presides over a second rate economy that is solely dependent on its minerals and oil reserves. He also understands that his oil reserves fill the tough from which most of Europe drinks. He is willing to bet that they will let him get away with whatever he wants as long as he keeps the trough full.

Today the EU will decide on a response to Putin’s military interventions. Economic sanctions seem to be in order. EU leaders can cause him a great deal of grief by freezing his assets. But will they? Remember the trough!

Putin is not just another paper tiger wacko like Hussein, or Kaddafi or Assad. While he shares their propensity for erratic behavior there are no faux WMDs with Putin. Rattle his cage and he has the capability of dropping a nuke down your chimney.

Putin presents Obama with his toughest challenge. As leader of the world’s lone superpower it is up to him to build a worldwide consensus against the legitimately unhinged and dangerous Russian leader.

Putin is dangerous…very, very dangerous. And he IS coming.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Darrel Issa...Poster Boy For All That Is Wrong In Washington

Darrel Issa (R_CA) is Chairman of the powerful House Government Oversight Committee. His job is to is to hold the government responsible to the taxpayers. As chairman, Rep. Issa wields sweeping subpoena powers. With the stroke of a pen Issa can buckle the knees of even the most powerful of the Washington elite. And nobody relishes the prospect of knees buckling like Darrel Issa.

Yesterday, while the eyes of the world were focused on the Ukraine Issa was reminding Americans why they hate Washington politics.

Issa had subpoenaed Lois Lerner, the former director of the Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division at the IRS. Lerner headed the division accused of targeting conservative political organizations. Lerner had previously refused to testify and then recanted. But after watching Issa hype Lerner’s anticipated appearance to the press and listening to his assertions as to her complicity in the matter, Lerner decided that her appearance would be nothing more than a partisan hatchet job. Her attorney informed Issa that if he insisted she would appear but would assert her 5th amendment rights.

Yesterday Lerner appeared before Issa’s committee. Issa started by asking her a series of pointed questions to which Lerner took the 5th. Undaunted, Issa persisted. For some 11 minutes the chairman probed Lerner about her role in the IRS targeting. Lerner decline to answer each one on the basis of self incrimination. Issa finally ended the circus by asserting the obvious…that the witness had no intention of co-operating with the committee. Then Issa abruptly adjourned the hearing.

It is customary for the minority members of the committee to be given the opportunity to question the witness. When ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings tried to ask a question Issa told the Republicans they could leave as the hearing was over. When Cummings persisted Issa told the technician to cut Cummings microphone and walked out of the room.

When the director of a major division of the IRS pleads the fifth in a congressional hearing…it should be a big story. Instead today’s story is about the deplorable way Issa treated a beloved and respected ranking member of congress. Issa stepped on the lead…because it is all about Darrel issa.

Darrel Issa is a glory seeking political opportunist and an outright liar; a power hungry narcissist and a political opportunist. Those are harsh words...but the record speaks for itself.
Time and time again Issa has made public accusations, particularly against members of the Obama administration that have proven to be totally and irrevocably false. He seems to take great satisfaction in embarrassing or slandering his targets. And though he has been “outed” time and time again for his reckless behavior he careens forward under the false pretense of finding the truth.

Darrel Issa…poster boy for all that is wrong in Washington.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Once Upon A Time...

Once upon a time, when our country faced an international crisis, we would set
politics aside for the sake of national security.

Sadly that is no longer the case.

In today’s politics there are no boundaries when it comes to gaining a political advantage…particularly when facing a primary challenge from within one’s own party.

Over the past several days the war hawks have been taking shots at the president’s handling of the events occurring in the Ukraine. McCain said that Putin’s invasion of Crimea is the direct result of the President’s “feckless foreign policy.” Graham said the people “roll their eyes” whenever the president issues an ultimatum.

To be fair, Democrats rained criticism on George W. Bush when he stood by and allowed Putin to send troops into Georgia. They laughed at his perceived “man crush” over Putin and found the president’s assertion that he” looked the man in the eye and I was able to get a sense of his soul” to be absurd.

This is not helpful. Criticism of this sort undermines a president at a time when the nation should have his back.

Freedom of speech is a right that we all cherish. But sometimes running one’s mouth can do more harm than good.

Once upon a time it was said that politics ends at the water’s edge.

Not anymore.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Grasping At Straws!

There is an unwritten rule among politicians and pundits. You don’t go after the family!

Say what you want about “my good friend the esteemed senator from Cheeserville…” but lay off the spouse and the kids.

Never in our convoluted political history has this rule been violated to the degree that it has when it comes to Michelle Obama. The right wing chattering class simply cannot stand her; and they are not shy about expressing their feelings.

As most people know the First Lady is all about living a healthy lifestyle. Eat right and exercise…that’s her thing. It is a cause she is passionate about.

Her primary focus is eliminating childhood obesity in our nation. She just celebrated the third anniversary of her “Let’s Move” childhood anti-obesity program. Once reserved and tentative about expressing her views; the First Lady has shrugged off her shyness and taken her passion for this issue to the American people.

It seems that no matter where you look, there you’ll find Michelle Obama advocating for better food choices and more exercise for our children; both in our homes and in our schools. There’s Michelle on Sesame Street chatting up Big Bird on the benefits of eating healthy snacks. Here’s Michelle debating Miss Piggy on the subject of fruit versus potato chips. At a Brooklyn elementary school we find Michelle doing jumping jacks with an enthusiastic bunch of third graders.

The First Lady does not confine her message to only the youngest among us. She lays it on the adults as well. If she is not appearing in an SNL skit about diet she’s trading barbs with Letterman, dancing with Fallon or crushing DeGeneres in a push up contest. No matter the venue, the message stay s the same…healthy diet…more exercise.

Childhood obesity in this country has declined 43% in the last decade. Mrs. Obama’s self proclaimed goal is to continue that progress. Surly this is a bi-partisan message that both sides of the aisle can agree on…right?


The right actually sees the First Lady’s campaign as another effort on the part of big government to control our lives. “Now they’re trying to tell us what we can eat and drink.”

The leading spokesman for this latest wacko conspiracy theory is the one and only Rush Limbaugh. While Rush has never won an election, his opinion carries some heavy weight (pun intended) given his 22 million followers. “Now we have Michelle Obama out there advocating, demanding, requiring, whatever you want to call it, that our kids eat tofu and cardboard” said the right wing provocateur.

You know that your party is in trouble when your leaders are so bereft of constructive ideas that all they can do is feign outrage at the First Lady for advocating what doctors in this country have been telling you since the day you were born.