Mind and Destiny

“I make no pretension to patriotism. So long as my voice can be heard ... I will hold up America to the lightning scorn of moral indignation. In doing this, I shall feel myself discharging the duty of a true patriot; for he is a lover of his country who rebukes and does not excuse its sins. It is righteousness that exalteth a nation while sin is a reproach to any people.”- Frederick Douglass

Location: Delhi, N.Y., United States

The author and his webmaster, summer of 1965.

Monday, September 30, 2013

People Are Benefitting

Some Republican governors are looking at the Affordable Health Care and recognize that it’s helping to reduce the use of emergency rooms.  Republican governors in Arkansas, Kentucky and Idaho are saying: I may not like “Obamacare,” but I’m going to go ahead and make sure that my people are benefiting from this plan.  These governors were able to set up their our own state marketplaces, but using their own name for it.
Kentucky marketplaces are called “Kentucky Connect,” and in Idaho, it’s called the “Idaho Health Care Exchange.”  Arkansas has come out with its rates, and as has been true in nearly every state, the premiums are a lot lower than the most optimistic predictions.
Competition and choice has traditionally been a conservative principle, which should work, well in the insurance marketplace.  People are going to be able to get the kind of health care that they have never been able to purchase before, and states are going to benefit from it because they're going to save money. 
People, who have health insurance have been providing subsidies for the uninsured at a cost of about $1,000 per family, because hospitals are mandated, to provide service to anybody who shows up.  Typically, those without health insurance show up at emergency rooms at a point when they're much sicker than if they had been getting regular checkups.  Hospitals recoup that money, by charging higher prices for people who have health insurance.  The Affordable Health Care Act will reduce the increase in health care costs by making sure that those hidden subsidies no longer exists.
Congress has the duty to pass spending bills that fund our government.  Most of the functions of the government will start grinding to a halt tomorrow, because House Republicans insist the bill include anti-Obamacare amendments.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Important Information

The Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act takes effect in 2014, but over 7 million Americans who lack insurance can begin signing up on Oct. 1st.
The Health Care Act required several years to set up a mechanism to solve the problem of how to provide affordable health insurance for individuals who don't get health insurance through their job.  The problem was that if you’re shopping for health insurance on your own, you're not part of a large pool, and there’s no aggregation of risk taking.  Consequently, insures looked at the actuarial tables, and say: “You're 50 years old, have high blood pressure, so we’re going to charge you $1,500 a month for health insurance.”  The average person had no way to negotiate with an insurance company, because there was no pooling of risk.
Marketplaces have been created in every state, so that consumers are able to be part of a large pool.  Insurers bid, to compete for the business of those large pools.  These marketplaces provide high quality health care at affordable prices, thereby giving people choices so they can get the health insurance that they need.  Premiums are significantly lower than what they were able to purchase previously. 
In many states, if a 27 year old woman doesn’t have health insurance, she’ll be able to purchase high quality healthcare insurance for less than the cost of her cellphone bill.  All the insurers who participate in the marketplaces are required to provide free preventive care, and contraceptive care for young woman. 
The best thing  you can do is to share this important information, and start talking to your friends, coworkers, family members.  Make sure they know how to get covered, and start by sharing this video, with the folks you know, who need to see it:

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Pooling the Risk

A big part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, also known as “Obamacare,” is providing a Patient’s Bill of Rights, that make sure that if you already have health insurance you get a fair deal, and are treated well by your insurer.
It prohibited insurance companies from imposing lifetime limits, and your insurer has to use at least 80 percent of your premiums on the actual health care that your receiving, not on administrative costs and CEO bonuses.  Millions of Americans have already received rebates.
A young person who doesn’t have health insurance can stay on their parent’s health insurance until they’re 26 years old.  That stipulation is providing security until young people can get more firmly established in the labor market.
Under the Medicare program, senior citizens have saved billions of dollars on prescription drug discounts.
The Medicare Advantage plan was costing taxpayers on average 14% more than the traditional Medicare plan.  Congressional Democrats change the benchmarks that set the payments, making them equal to what the government pays for traditional Medicare services.  According to the Congressional Budget Office, those changes will translate to saving $156 billion over 10 years.
Doctors, hospitals and providers are being rewarded for outcomes, as opposed to simply how many procedures they performed.  Medicare rates have actually slowed in terms of inflation, and some of those savings have been use to make sure that people who don't have health insurance get health insurance.
Risk pooling and creating competition are lowering premiums.  In New York State, insurers have put in their bids to participate in marketplaces.  It turns out that their rates are 50 percent lower than what was available previously, if you went on the open market and tried to purchase health insurance.  California premiums are about 33 percent lower.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Dangerous Doctrine

This article was originally posted on Robert Reich's blog.  He served as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton.  Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. 
“The Affordable Care Act was duly enacted by a majority of both houses of Congress, signed into law by the President, and even upheld by the Supreme Court. 
“The Constitution of the United States does not allow a majority of the House of Representatives to repeal the law of the land by de-funding it (and threatening to close the entire government, or default on the nation’s full faith and credit, if the Senate and the President don’t come around).
“If that were permissible, no law on the books would be safe.  A majority of the House could get rid of unemployment insurance, federal aid to education, Social Security, Medicare, or any other law they didn’t like merely by deciding not to fund them.
“I believe the Affordable Care Act will prove to be enormously popular with the American public once it’s fully implemented — which is exactly why the Republicans are so intent on bulldozing it before then.  If they were sincere about their objections, they’d let Americans try it out — and then, if it didn’t work, decide to repeal it.
“The constitutional process for repealing a law — such as Congress and President Clinton did with the old Glass-Steagall Act — is for both houses to enact a new bill that repeals the old, which must then be signed by the President.  If the President vetoes it, then the repeal can only go into effect if the veto is overridden by two-thirds of the House and the Senate.
“The Republicans who are now running the House of Representatives are pushing a dangerous new constitutional doctrine.  They must be stopped.  There should be no compromising with fanatics.”

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Structural Deficit

The Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act is an important part of our economy.  “Obamacare” is an effort to deal with a multifaceted health care crisis, that  has been taking place for decades.
Until recently, America has been the only advanced industrialized nation, that permits large numbers of its people to languish without health insurance.  Not only is it cruel to those people who are unable to get health insurance, and have to use the emergency room as their doctor, but it’s also a very inefficient, and expensive health care system that doesn’t produce better outcomes. 
If we spent the same amount of money on health care that Canada, France, Great Britain, Japan, or any other industrialized country, with the same outcomes, we’d eliminate our structural deficit, and be able to free up dollars to invest in early-childhood education, infrastructure, medical research and it would enable us to be more competitive and grow over the long term.
When President Obama took office, he had to get the economy growing, by tackling structural problems with the deficit that had been building for years.  One of the biggest structural problems was health care.  It accounted for our deficit, caused misery for millions of people, and it was a huge burden on our businesses. 
Although, Ford is now the biggest seller In America, and we’ve taken the lead back from Japanese automakers, they’re still burdened by the fact that our automakers must add a couple of thousand dollars in health care costs, that our foreign competitors don’t have to pay.
Furthermore, we must consider the moral imperative that parents shouldn’t have to go bankrupt if their child gets sick, when the family is already struggling to pay their bills, and constantly wondering whether they’re one illness away from losing their home.  

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Congressional Responsibility

 Congress has to pass a budget that invests in the middle class and pay the bills it has already incurred.
A few congressional Republicans want to repeal Obamacare, and are threatening to shut down the government and stop paying this country's bills.
On Sept. 20th. House Republicans voted to shut down the government unless the Senate and the President agree to defund Obamacare.  Instead of playing those games, the reasonable solution would be for the Senate to send a budget resolution back to the House that keeps the government open for a few months while leaders continue to work on a budget that creates jobs and cuts the deficit in a balanced way.
Unfortunately, some Republicans care more about scoring political points, than keeping the government open and our economy moving forward.
This kind of up-to-the-final-hour brinksmanship is irresponsible, and it could reverse the hard-earned economic progress we've made by creating another crisis.  We've watched Republicans do this before.  Two years ago, they held the economy hostage, and as a result our credit rating was downgraded, the stock market plummeted 17 percent, consumer confidence dropped like a rock, and businesses stopped hiring.
Over the past 42 months, businesses have added 7.5 million jobs.  American manufacturing is growing, and the auto industry is back.  Congressional Democrats have  reformed Wall Street, cut our deficit by more than half, made the tax code more progressive, and reformed our health care system.
Today, there is record demand for American products abroad, and our tech companies are booming.  Sales of existing homes are up by double digits and new foreclosures are down to the lowest levels since 2006.
Republicans have to stand up to a few extreme members of their party for the good of the country and our economy.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Navy Yard Shootings

The following is an excerpt from President Obama’s remarks at the memorial service for the victims of the navy Yard shootings.
“It ought to be a shock to us all as a nation and as a people. It ought to obsess us. It ought to lead to some sort of transformation. That’s what happened in other countries when they experienced similar tragedies. In the United Kingdom, in Australia, when just a single mass shooting occurred in those countries, they understood that there was nothing ordinary about this kind of carnage. They endured great heartbreak, but they also mobilized and they changed, and mass shootings became a great rarity.
“And yet, here in the United States, after the round-of-clock coverage on cable news, after the heartbreaking interviews with families, after all the speeches and all the punditry and all the commentary, nothing happens. Alongside the anguish of these American families, alongside the accumulated outrage so many of us feel, sometimes I fear there’s a creeping resignation that these tragedies are just somehow the way it is, that this is somehow the new normal.
“We can’t accept this. As Americans bound in grief and love, we must insist here today there is nothing normal about innocent men and women being gunned down where they work. There is nothing normal about our children being gunned down in their classrooms. There is nothing normal about children dying in our streets from stray bullets.
“No other advanced nation endures this kind of violence. Here in America, the murder rate is three times what it is in other developed nations. The murder rate with guns is ten times what it is in other developed nations. And there is nothing inevitable about it. It comes about because of decisions we make or fail to make. And it falls upon us to make it different.
“Sometimes it takes an unexpected voice to break through, to help remind us what we know to be true. And we heard one of those voices last week. Dr. Janis Orlowski’s team at Medstar Washington Hospital Center treated the wounded. And in the midst of one of her briefings, she spoke with heartbreaking honesty as somebody who sees, daily and nightly, the awful carnage of so much violence. We are a great country, she said, but 'there’s something wrong.' All these shootings, all these victims, she said, 'this is not America.' 'It is a challenge to all of us,' she said, and 'we have to work together to get rid of this.'
“And that’s the wisdom we should be taking away from this tragedy and so many others -- not accepting these shootings as inevitable, but asking what can we do to prevent them from happening again and again and again. I've said before, we cannot stop every act of senseless violence. We cannot know every evil that lurks in troubled minds. But if we can prevent even one tragedy like this, save even one life, spare other families what these families are going through, surely we've got an obligation to try.
“But we Americans are not an inherently more violent people than folks in other countries. We're not inherently more prone to mental health problems. The main difference that sets our nation apart, what makes us so susceptible to so many mass shootings, is that we don’t do enough -- we don’t take the basic, common-sense actions to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and dangerous people. What's different in America is it's easy to get your hands on gun -- and a lot of us know this. But the politics are difficult, as we saw again this spring. And that’s sometimes where the resignation comes from -- the sense that our politics are frozen and that nothing will change.”

Monday, September 23, 2013

Janis Orlowski

The shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington D. C. resulted in 13 people dead and many injured.

At a MedStar Washington Hospital Center press conference, Medical Director Janis Orlowski provided an update on the victims, and pointed out: “There’s something evil in our society that we as Americans have to work to try and eradicate.  I have to say, I may see this everyday, I may be the Chief Medical Officer for a very large trauma center, but there is something wrong here when we have these multiple shootings.  There’s something wrong.

“The only thing that I can say is we have to work together to get rid of it.  I’d like you to put my trauma center out of business.  I really would.  Although we do it well, I would like to not be an expert on gunshots.  I’d rather our very experienced surgeons did other surgery things.  It’s a great city, it’s a great country, and we have to work together to get rid of this because we just cannot have more shooting with so many people killed.  We’ve got to figure this out.  We’ve got to be able to help each other.

“We’re dealing right now with three innocent people, but my prayers or my thoughts go out to those people who have died as a result of today and, you know, their families and what they’re going to have to go through.

“So I have to say, it’s a challenge to all of us.  Let’s get rid of this.  This is not America.  This is not Washington DC.  This is not good.  So we’ve got work to get rid of this.”

Dr. Orlowski and the surgeons, who provide the care for gunshot victims are challenging members of Congress to reconsider the issue of gun violence. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A New Low

Last week, House Republicans voted to deny nearly 4 million people food stamps next year and nearly 3 million more each year for the next decade.  The bill passed with 217 votes in favor and 210 against.

Republicans slashing almost $40 billion from the food stamp program over 10 years, at a time when nearly 47 million Americans are living in poverty.  That statistic equates to one in seven people in this country.  Food stamps play a crucial roll in helping to lift Americans out of poverty.  In 2011, it kept almost 5 million people above the poverty line.
Last July, House Republicans broke a 40 year congressional tradition by splitting the food stamp funding from the farm bill, because that bill would have only cut $20 billion from the program, half as much as they wanted to cut.

They wanted to make sure they got the farm bill passed because they desperately wanted to give money to the recipients of farm subsidies, which is between $15 billion and $35 annually.  Some of those subsidized recipients are members of Congress, such as Republican Stephen Fincher from Tennessee, who received almost $3.5 million in farm subsidies between 1995 and 2012.

Democratic Congressman Kildee argued: “You know, I have never seen anything like it. I have only been in Congress nine months, but I have been in government my whole life.  This is a new low.  You know, instead of dealing with where we are bloated, instead of taking on big tax breaks for corporations to balance our budget, or making sure that we have a “Buffet Rule”, where everybody pays their fair share.  The Republicans decided that they’re going to take food out of the mouths of the hungry in order to satisfy their ideological goals.”

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Address on Syria

President Obama’s address on Syria follows:
“Over the past two years, what began as a series of peaceful protests against the repressive regime of Bashar al-Assad has turned into a brutal civil war.  Over 100,000 people have been killed.  Millions have fled the country.  In that time, America has worked with allies to provide humanitarian support, to help the moderate opposition, and to shape a political settlement.  But I have resisted calls for military action, because we cannot resolve someone else’s civil war through force, particularly after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The situation profoundly changed, though, on August 21st, when Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people, including hundreds of children.  The images from this massacre are sickening:  Men, women, children lying in rows, killed by poison gas.  Others foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath.  A father clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk.  On that terrible night, the world saw in gruesome detail the terrible nature of chemical weapons, and why the overwhelming majority of humanity has declared them off-limits -- a crime against humanity, and a violation of the laws of war.
“This was not always the case.  In World War I, American GIs were among the many thousands killed by deadly gas in the trenches of Europe.  In World War II, the Nazis used gas to inflict the horror of the Holocaust.  Because these weapons can kill on a mass scale, with no distinction between soldier and infant, the civilized world has spent a century working to ban them.  And in 1997, the United States Senate overwhelmingly approved an international agreement prohibiting the use of chemical weapons, now joined by 189 governments that represent 98 percent of humanity.
“On August 21st, these basic rules were violated, along with our sense of common humanity.  No one disputes that chemical weapons were used in Syria.  The world saw thousands of videos, cell phone pictures, and social media accounts from the attack, and humanitarian organizations told stories of hospitals packed with people who had symptoms of poison gas.
“Moreover, we know the Assad regime was responsible.  In the days leading up to August 21st, we know that Assad’s chemical weapons personnel prepared for an attack near an area where they mix sarin gas.  They distributed gasmasks to their troops.  Then they fired rockets from a regime-controlled area into 11 neighborhoods that the regime has been trying to wipe clear of opposition forces.  Shortly after those rockets landed, the gas spread, and hospitals filled with the dying and the wounded.  We know senior figures in Assad’s military machine reviewed the results of the attack, and the regime increased their shelling of the same neighborhoods in the days that followed.  We’ve also studied samples of blood and hair from people at the site that tested positive for sarin.
“When dictators commit atrocities, they depend upon the world to look the other way until those horrifying pictures fade from memory.  But these things happened.  The facts cannot be denied. The question now is what the United States of America, and the international community, is prepared to do about it.  Because what happened to those people -- to those children -- is not only a violation of international law, it’s also a danger to our security.
“Let me explain why.  If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons.  As the ban against these weapons erodes, other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas, and using them.  Over time, our troops would again face the prospect of chemical warfare on the battlefield.  And it could be easier for terrorist organizations to obtain these weapons, and to use them to attack civilians. 
“If fighting spills beyond Syria’s borders, these weapons could threaten allies like Turkey, Jordan, and Israel.  And a failure to stand against the use of chemical weapons would weaken prohibitions against other weapons of mass destruction, and embolden Assad’s ally, Iran -- which must decide whether to ignore international law by building a nuclear weapon, or to take a more peaceful path.
This is not a world we should accept.  This is what’s at stake.  And that is why, after careful deliberation, I determined that it is in the national security interests of the United States to respond to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons through a targeted military strike.  The purpose of this strike would be to deter Assad from using chemical weapons, to degrade his regime’s ability to use them, and to make clear to the world that we will not tolerate their use. 
“That's my judgment as Commander-in-Chief.  But I’m also the President of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy.  So even though I possess the authority to order military strikes, I believed it was right, in the absence of a direct or imminent threat to our security, to take this debate to Congress.  I believe our democracy is stronger when the President acts with the support of Congress.  And I believe that America acts more effectively abroad when we stand together. 
“This is especially true after a decade that put more and more war-making power in the hands of the President, and more and more burdens on the shoulders of our troops, while sidelining the people’s representatives from the critical decisions about when we use force.
“Now, I know that after the terrible toll of Iraq and Afghanistan, the idea of any military action, no matter how limited, is not going to be popular.  After all, I've spent four and a half years working to end wars, not to start them.  Our troops are out of Iraq.  Our troops are coming home from Afghanistan.  And I know Americans want all of us in Washington -- especially me -- to concentrate on the task of building our nation here at home:  putting people back to work, educating our kids, growing our middle class.
“It’s no wonder, then, that you're asking hard questions.  So let me answer some of the most important questions that I've heard from members of Congress, and that I've read in letters that you've sent to me.
“First, many of you have asked, won’t this put us on a slippery slope to another war?  One man wrote to me that we are ‘still recovering from our involvement in Iraq.’  A veteran put it more bluntly:  ‘This nation is sick and tired of war.’
“My answer is simple:  I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria.  I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan.  I will not pursue a prolonged air campaign like Libya or Kosovo.  This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective:  deterring the use of chemical weapons, and degrading Assad’s capabilities.
“Others have asked whether it's worth acting if we don’t take out Assad.  As some members of Congress have said, there’s no point in simply doing a ‘pinprick’ strike in Syria.
“Let me make something clear:  The United States military doesn’t do pinpricks.  Even a limited strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver.  I don't think we should remove another dictator with force -- we learned from Iraq that doing so makes us responsible for all that comes next.  But a targeted strike can make Assad, or any other dictator, think twice before using chemical weapons.
“Other questions involve the dangers of retaliation.  We don’t dismiss any threats, but the Assad regime does not have the ability to seriously threaten our military.  Any other retaliation they might seek is in line with threats that we face every day.  Neither Assad nor his allies have any interest in escalation that would lead to his demise.  And our ally, Israel, can defend itself with overwhelming force, as well as the unshakeable support of the United States of America.
“Many of you have asked a broader question:  Why should we get involved at all in a place that's so complicated, and where  -- as one person wrote to me -- ‘those who come after Assad may be enemies of human rights?’
“It’s true that some of Assad’s opponents are extremists.  But al Qaeda will only draw strength in a more chaotic Syria if people there see the world doing nothing to prevent innocent civilians from being gassed to death.  The majority of the Syrian people -- and the Syrian opposition we work with -- just want to live in peace, with dignity and freedom.  And the day after any military action, we would redouble our efforts to achieve a political solution that strengthens those who reject the forces of tyranny and extremism.
“Finally, many of you have asked:  Why not leave this to other countries, or seek solutions short of force?  As several people wrote to me, “We should not be the world’s policeman.”
“I agree, and I have a deeply held preference for peaceful solutions.  Over the last two years, my administration has tried diplomacy and sanctions, warning and negotiations -- but chemical weapons were still used by the Assad regime.
“However, over the last few days, we’ve seen some encouraging signs.  In part because of the credible threat of U.S. military action, as well as constructive talks that I had with President Putin, the Russian government has indicated a willingness to join with the international community in pushing Assad to give up his chemical weapons.  The Assad regime has now admitted that it has these weapons, and even said they’d join the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits their use. 
“It’s too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments.  But this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad’s strongest allies.
“I have, therefore, asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path.  I’m sending Secretary of State John Kerry to meet his Russian counterpart on Thursday, and I will continue my own discussions with President Putin.  I’ve spoken to the leaders of two of our closest allies, France and the United Kingdom, and we will work together in consultation with Russia and China to put forward a resolution at the U.N. Security Council requiring Assad to give up his chemical weapons, and to ultimately destroy them under international control.  We’ll also give U.N. inspectors the opportunity to report their findings about what happened on August 21st.  And we will continue to rally support from allies from Europe to the Americas -- from Asia to the Middle East -- who agree on the need for action. 
“Meanwhile, I’ve ordered our military to maintain their current posture to keep the pressure on Assad, and to be in a position to respond if diplomacy fails.  And tonight, I give thanks again to our military and their families for their incredible strength and sacrifices.
“My fellow Americans, for nearly seven decades, the United States has been the anchor of global security.  This has meant doing more than forging international agreements -- it has meant enforcing them.  The burdens of leadership are often heavy, but the world is a better place because we have borne them. 
“And so, to my friends on the right, I ask you to reconcile your commitment to America’s military might with a failure to act when a cause is so plainly just.  To my friends on the left, I ask you to reconcile your belief in freedom and dignity for all people with those images of children writhing in pain, and going still on a cold hospital floor.  For sometimes resolutions and statements of condemnation are simply not enough.
“Indeed, I’d ask every member of Congress, and those of you watching at home tonight, to view those videos of the attack, and then ask:  What kind of world will we live in if the United States of America sees a dictator brazenly violate international law with poison gas, and we choose to look the other way?
“Franklin Roosevelt once said, ‘Our national determination to keep free of foreign wars and foreign entanglements cannot prevent us from feeling deep concern when ideals and principles that we have cherished are challenged.’  Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at stake in Syria, along with our leadership of a world where we seek to ensure that the worst weapons will never be used.
“America is not the world’s policeman.  Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong.  But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act.  That’s what makes America different.  That’s what makes us exceptional.  With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.” 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Stabilizing the Economy

When, Obama took office our economy was on the brink of collapse.  Financial institutions, the auto industry, and the housing markets were in free fall.

Obama signed the Recovery Act in order to stabilized our financial system, and TARP funds were used to help homeowners and restructure the auto industry.  

GM and Chrysler were near bankruptcy.  Auto sales were down 40 percent, and 1 million jobs were at risk.  GM and Chrysler agreed to restructure, and “Cash for Clunkers”  was launched to  boost demand.  Our economy has gained 341,00 auto jobs since June 2009.  Ford, Chrysler and GM are profitable and more cars and trucks were exported in 2012 than ever before.  

Today, there is more confidence in our banking system, the auto industry is growing, and the housing market is healing.  The deficit is falling faster than at any time, since WWII. 

Obama inherited more than a $1 trillion deficit from the Bush administration.  They’ve cut spending by $1.4 trillion, and reduced the deficit by more than $2.5 trillion.  Domestic discretionary spending  is on track to be at its lowest level as a share of the economy since the Eisenhower era.

Predatory lenders misled borrowers into taking on unaffordable mortgages, because there was little regulation of the consumer financial industries like payday lenders and debt collectors.  There wasn’t an agency whose sole job was to protect consumers.

A Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was established to hold banks accountable for predatory action.  Payday lenders, consumer reporting, and debt collecting agencies are subject to regulations.  Companies have refunded 6 million customers $400 million for deceptive marketing and charging unreasonable fees.  

In support of small Businesses, this administration has insured access to lending through the Small Business Administration, cut taxes and signed legislation to support small business growth.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Monumental Task

Five years ago, Lehman Brothers announced it would file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.  Lehman was a giant of the financial system, the fourth-largest investment bank in the US, a firm that employed thousands of brokers and analysts, with billions in assets that were suddenly worthless, and its collapse sent shock waves through the global economy.
It became obvious that President Obama would inherit a staggering economic crisis.  However, the challenge that he was forced to confront didn't just begin in 2008.  Middle-class security had been slowly eroding for decades as many jobs became obsolete or were shipped overseas.
By the end of 2008, the economy was shrinking by an annual rate of more than 8 percent, our businesses were shedding 800,000 jobs a month, and credit was frozen for families and small businesses.  We were in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.  On the day, Obama took office in Jan. 2009, the auto industry was on the brink of collapse and he was wrestling with how to help the millions of families in thousands of communities who would have been devastated if the auto industry failed.
Home prices were down by 19%, and 10 million borrowers were underwater.  Home sales were near an all-time low.  The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created to make buying a home simpler and safer.  Today, home prices are rising at the fastest  pace in 7 years, and sales are up 47%.

Every decision Obama made was designed to stop the economy from spiraling out of control, put people back to work, and reverse the trends that had clobber the middle class for decades.  The task of clearing away the rubble of the crisis and lay down a new foundation for sustained economic growth was monumental.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Financial Crisis

President Obama recently pointed out: “It was five years ago this week that the financial crisis rocked Wall Street and sent an economy already into recession into a tailspin.  And it’s hard sometimes to remember everything that happened during those months, but in a matter of a frightening few days and weeks, some of the largest investment banks in the world failed; stock markets plunged; banks stopped lending to families and small businesses.  Our auto industry -- the heartbeat of American manufacturing -- was flat-lining. 
“By the time I took the oath of office, the economy was shrinking by an annual rate of more than 8 percent.  Our businesses were shedding 800,000 jobs each month.  It was a perfect storm that would rob millions of Americans of jobs and homes and savings that they had worked a lifetime to build.  And it also laid bare the long erosion of a middle class that, for more than a decade, has had to work harder and harder just to keep up.
“In fact, most Americans who’ve known economic hardship these past several years, they don’t think about the collapse of Lehman Brothers when they think about the recession.  Instead, they recall the day they got the gut punch of a pink slip.  Or the day a bank took away their home.  The day they got sick but didn’t have health insurance.  Or the day they had to sit their daughter or son down and tell him or her that they couldn’t afford to send their child back to college the next semester. 
“And so those are the stories that guided everything we've done.  It’s what in those earliest days of the crisis caused us to act so quickly through the Recovery Act to arrest the downward spiral and put a floor under the fall.  We put people to work repairing roads and bridges, to keep teachers in our classrooms, our first responders on the streets.  We helped responsible homeowners modify their mortgages so that more of them could keep their homes.  We helped jumpstart the flow of credit to help more small businesses keep their doors open.  We saved the American auto industry. 
“And as we worked to stabilize the economy and get it growing and creating jobs again, we also started pushing back against the trends that have been battering the middle class for decades.  So we took on a broken health care system.  We invested in new American technologies to end our addiction to foreign oil.  We put in place tough new rules on big banks -- rules that we need to finalize before the end of the year, by the way, to make sure that the job is done -- and we put in new protections that cracked down on the worst practices of mortgage lenders and credit card companies.  We also changed a tax code that was too skewed in favor of the wealthiest Americans.  We locked in tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans.  We asked those at the top to pay a little bit more.
“So if you add it all up, over the last three and a half years, our businesses have added 7.5 million new jobs.  The unemployment rate has come down.  Our housing market is healing. Our financial system is safer.  We sell more goods made in America to the rest of the world than ever before.  We generate more renewable energy than ever before.  We produce more natural gas than anybody. 
“Health care costs are growing at the slowest rate in 50 years -- and just two weeks from now, millions of Americans who’ve been locked out of buying health insurance just because they had a preexisting condition, just because they had been sick or they couldn't afford it, they're finally going to have a chance to buy quality, affordable health care on the private marketplace.
“And what all this means is we've cleared away the rubble from the financial crisis and we've begun to lay a new foundation for economic growth and prosperity. 
“And in our personal lives, I think a lot of us understand that people have tightened their belts, shed debt, refocused on the things that really matter.  All of this happened because ultimately of the resilience and the grit of the American people.  And we should be proud of that.  And on this five-year anniversary we should take note of how far we've come from where we were five years ago.
“But that's not the end of the story.  As any middle-class family will tell you, or anybody who’s striving to get into the middle class, we are not yet where we need to be.  And that’s what we’ve got to focus on -- all the remaining work that needs to be done to strengthen this economy. 
“We need to grow faster.  We need more good-paying jobs.  We need more broad-based prosperity.  We need more ladders of opportunity for people who are currently poor but want to get into the middle class.  Because even though our businesses are creating new jobs and have broken record profits, the top 1 percent of Americans took home 20 percent of the nation’s income last year, while the average worker isn’t seeing a raise at all.  In fact, that understates the problem.  Most of the gains have gone to the top one-tenth of 1 percent. 
“So, in many ways, the trends that have taken hold over the past few decades -- of a winner-take-all economy where a few do better and better and better while everybody else just treads water or loses ground -- those trends have been made worse by the recession. 
“That’s what we should be focused on.  That’s what I’m focused on.  That’s what I know the Americans standing beside me as well as all of you out there are focused on.  And as Congress begins another budget debate, that’s what Congress should be focused on.  How do we grow the economy faster; how do we create better jobs; how do we increase wages and incomes; how do we increase opportunity for those who have been locked out of opportunity; how do we create better retirement security -- that’s what we should be focused on, because the stakes for our middle class and everybody who’s fighting to get into the middle class could not be higher. 
“In today’s hypercompetitive world, we have to make the investments necessary to attract good jobs that pay good wages and offer high standards of living.  And although ultimately our success will depend on all the innovation and hard work of our private sector, all that grit and resilience of the American people, government is going to have a critical role in making sure we have an education system that prepares our children and our workers for a global economy. 
“The budget Congress passes will determine whether we can hire more workers to upgrade our transportation and communications networks, or fund the kinds of research and development that have always kept America on the cutting edge.  So what happens here in Washington makes a difference.  What happens up on Capitol Hill is going to help determine not only the pace of our growth, but also the quality of jobs, the quality of opportunity for this generation and future generations. 
“The problem is at the moment, Republicans in Congress don’t seem to be focused on how to grow the economy and build the middle class.  I say “at the moment” because I’m still hoping that a light bulb goes off here.
“So far, their budget ideas revolve primarily around even deeper cuts to education, even deeper cuts that would gut America's scientific research and development, even deeper cuts to America’s infrastructure investment -- our roads, our bridges, our schools, our energy grid.  These aren’t the policies that would grow the economy faster.  They're not the policies that would help grow the middle class.  In fact, they’d do the opposite.
“Up until now, Republicans have argued that these cuts are necessary in the name of fiscal responsibility.  But our deficits are now falling at the fastest rate since the end of World War II.  Our deficits are going down faster than any time since before I was born.  By the end of this year, we will have cut our deficits by more than half since I took office.
“That doesn't mean that we don't still have some long-term fiscal challenges -- primarily because the population is getting older and they're using more health care services.  And so we've still got some changes that we've got to make and there's not a government agency or program out there that still can't be streamlined, become more customer-friendly, more efficient.  So I do believe we should cut out programs that we don’t need.  We need to fix ones that aren't working the way they're supposed to or have outlived their initial mission.  We've got to make government faster and more efficient. 
“But that's not what is being proposed by the Republican budgets.  Instead of making necessary changes with a scalpel, so far at least, Republicans have chosen to leave in place the so-called sequester cuts that have cost jobs, harmed growth, are hurting our military readiness.  And top independent economists say this has been a big drag on our recovery this year.  Our economy is not growing as fast as it should and we're not creating as many jobs as we should, because the sequester is in place.  That's not my opinion.  That's the opinion of independent economists. 
“The sequester makes it harder to do what’s required to boost wages for American workers, because the economy is still slack.  So if Republicans want the economy to grow faster, create more jobs faster, they should want to get rid of it.  It’s irresponsible to keep it in place.
“And if Congress is serious about wanting to grow the economy faster and creating jobs faster, the first order of business must be to pass a sensible budget that replaces the sequester with a balanced plan that is both fiscally sound and funds the investments like education and basic research and infrastructure that we need to grow.  This is not asking too much.
“Congress’s most fundamental job is passing a budget.  And Congress needs to get it done without triggering another crisis, without shutting down our government, or worse -- threatening not to pay this country’s bills.  After all the progress that we’ve made over these last four and a half years, the idea of reversing that progress because of an unwillingness to compromise or because of some ideological agenda is the height of irresponsibility.  It’s not what the American people need right now. 
“These folks standing behind me, these are people who are small business owners, people who almost lost their home, young people trying to get a college education, and all of them went through some real tough times during the recession.  And in part because of the steps we took, and primarily because of their courage and determination and hard work, they’re in a better place now. 
“But the last thing they’re looking for is for us to go back to the same kind of crisis situations that we’ve had in the past.  And the single most important thing we can do to prevent that is for Congress to pass a budget, without drama, that puts us on a sound path for growth, jobs, better wages, better incomes.
“Now, look, it’s never been easy to get 535 people here in Washington to agree on anything.  And budget battles and debates, those are as old as the Republic.  It’s even harder when you have divided government.  And right now you’ve got Republicans controlling the House of Representatives, Democrats controlling the Senate, Democrat in the White House.  So this is always going to be tough.
“Having said that, I cannot remember a time when one faction of one party promises economic chaos if it can’t get 100 percent of what it wants.  That’s never happened before.  But that’s what’s happening right now. 
“You have some Republicans in the House of Representatives who are promising to shut down the government at the end of this month if they can’t shut down the Affordable Care Act.  And if that scheme doesn’t work, some have suggested they won’t pay the very bills that Congress has already run up, which would cause America to default on its debt for the first time in our history and would create massive economic turmoil.  Interest rates on ordinary people would shoot up.  Those kinds of actions are the kinds of actions that we don’t need. 
“The last time the same crew threatened this course of action back in 2011 even the mere suggestion of default slowed our economic growth.  Everybody here remembers that.  It wasn’t that long ago. 
“Now, keep in mind, initially, the whole argument was we’re going to do this because we want to reduce our debt.  That doesn’t seem to be the focus now.  Now the focus is on Obamacare.  So let’s put this in perspective.  The Affordable Care Act has been the law for three and a half years now.  It passed both houses of Congress.  The Supreme Court ruled it constitutional.  It was an issue in last year’s election and the candidate who called for repeal lost.  Republicans in the House have tried to repeal or sabotage it about 40 times.  They’ve failed every time.
“Meanwhile, the law has already helped millions of Americans -- young people who were able to stay on their parents’ plan up until the age of 26; seniors who are getting additional discounts on their prescription drugs; ordinary families and small businesses that are getting rebates from insurance companies because now insurance companies have to actually spend money on people's care instead of on administrative costs and CEO bonuses.
“A lot of the horror stories that were predicted about how this was going to shoot rates way up and there were going to be death panels and all that stuff -- none of that stuff has happened.  And in two weeks, the Affordable Care Act is going to help millions more people.  And there's no serious evidence that the law -- which has helped to keep down the rise in health care costs to their lowest level in 50 years -- is holding back economic growth. 
“So repealing the Affordable Care Act, making sure that 30 million people don’t get health insurance, and people with preexisting conditions continue to be locked out of the health insurance market -- that’s not an agenda for economic growth.  You're not going to meet an economist who says that that’s the number-one priority in terms of boosting growth and jobs in this country -- at least not a serious economist.
“And I understand I will never convince some Republicans about the merits of Obamacare.  I understand that.  And I'm more than willing to work with them where they've got specific suggestions that they can show will make our health care system work better.  Remember, initially this was like repeal-and-replace, and the replace thing has kind of gone off to the wayside.  Now it's just repeal. 
“But the larger point is, after all that we've been through these past five years, after all the work Americans like those standing behind me have done to come back from the depths of a crisis, are some of these folks really so beholden to one extreme wing of their party that they're willing to tank the entire economy just because they can't get their way on this issue?  Are they really willing to hurt people just to score political points?  I hope not.
“But in case there's any confusion, I will not negotiate over whether or not America keeps its word and meets its obligations.  I will not negotiate over the full faith and credit of the United States.  This country has worked too hard for too long to dig out of a crisis just to see their elected representatives here in Washington purposely cause another crisis. 
“Let's stop the threats.  Let's stop the political posturing.  Let's keep our government open.  Let's pay our bills on time.  Let's pass a budget.  Let's work together to do what the American people sent us here to do:  create jobs, grow our economy, expand opportunity.  That’s what we need to do. 
“And as far as the budget goes, it's time for responsible Republicans who share these goals -- and there are a number of folks out there who I think are decent folks, I've got some disagreements with them on some issues, but I think genuinely want to see the economy grow and want what's best for the American people -- it's time for those Republicans to step up and they've got to decide what they want to prioritize. 
“Originally, they said they wanted deficit reduction.  As I said before, our deficits are falling fast.  The only way to make further long-term progress on deficit reduction that doesn’t slow growth is with a balanced plan that includes closing tax loopholes that benefit corporations and the wealthiest Americans at the expense of the middle class.  That’s the only way to do it.
“They said that they wanted entitlement reform -- but their leaders haven’t put forward serious ideas that wouldn’t devastate Medicare or Social Security.  And I've put forward ideas for sensible reforms to Medicare and Social Security and haven’t gotten a lot of feedback yet. 
“They said that they wanted tax reform.  Remember?  This was just a few months ago -- they said, well, this is going to be one of our top priorities, tax reform.  Six weeks ago, I put forward a plan that serious people in both parties should be able to support -- a deal that lowers the corporate tax rate for businesses and manufacturers, simplifies it for small business owners, as long as we use some of the money that we save to invest in the infrastructure our businesses need, and to create more good jobs and with good wages for the middle-class folks who work at those businesses.  My position is, if folks in this town want a “grand bargain,” how about a grand bargain for middle-class jobs?  So I put forward ideas for tax reform -- haven’t heard back from them yet.
“Congress has a couple of weeks to get this done.  If they’re focused on what the American people care about -- faster growth, more jobs, better future for our kids -- then I’m confident it will happen.  And once we’re done with the budget, let’s focus on the other things that we know can make a difference for middle-class families -- lowering the cost of college; finishing the job of immigration reform; taking up the work of tax reform to make the system fairer and promoting more investment in the United States.
“If we follow the strategy I’m laying out for our entire economy -- and if Washington will just act with the same urgency and common purpose that we felt five years ago -- our economy will be stronger a year from now, five years from now, a decade from now. 
“That's my priority.  All these folks standing behind me, and everybody out there who’s listening -- that's my priority.  I've run my last election.  My only interest at this point is making sure that the economy is moving the way it needs to so that we've got the kind of broad-based growth that has always been the hallmark of this country. 
“And as long as I’ve got the privilege of serving as your President, I will spend every moment of every day I have left fighting to restore security and opportunity for the middle class, and to give everyone who works hard a chance to get ahead.”  

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Yesterday, the Oneonta Daily Star published the following Letter to the Editor, that was submitted by Cat Gareth of Cooperstown.
“I’m a strong supporter of Adrian Kuzminski and everyone involved in Sustainable Otsego, including the excellent slate of SO candidates running for local and county offices.  As a member of what Chuck Pinkey referred to as the ‘sustainability crowd’ aka ‘a bunch of boobs,’ I decided to submit a response to his recent column.
“Wanting to be as clear as possible, I present the following definition that came up during a Google search of the term sustainability: ‘Sustainability is based on a simple principle:  Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment.  Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.  Sustainability is important to making sure that we have and will continue to have, the water, materials and resources to protect human health and our environment.’
“On the Merriam-Webster website, the definition of sustainability was accompanied by the following antonyms and near antonyms, which I thought were also very interesting: ‘Indefensible, insupportable, unjustifiable, unsustainable, untenable, absurd, illogical, irrational, ridiculous, unsound, extreme, outrageous, unreasonable, groundless, objectionable, unacceptable, unfounded, inexplicable and unexplainable.’
“Need I say more?”

Monday, September 16, 2013

Single Payer System

A very wealthy man asked Jesus: “what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  And Jesus said to him, “go and sell all your possessions and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. 

“He was saddened and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.  And Jesus looking around said to his disciples, ‘how hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God.  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’” 

The Business Roundtable is a trade association made up of the CEOs of giant corporations.  It sent a letter to Congress asking that your representatives increase the eligibility age for Medicare, and make access to Medicare dependent on income.

The Business Roundtable’s leadership consists of CEOs from Boeing, Dow Chemical, Exxon Mobil, General Electric, JPMorgan, Walmart and other mega-corporations.  These millionaires who run the largest corporations on Earth want to slash the social insurance programs the middle class and poor rely on.

We have to preserve the basic protections that have kept generations of Americans from living out their lives in sickness and poverty.  Voters must stand up to people who have more money than they could ever need yet still want to squeeze even more from those who have never had enough.  We not only have to preserve Medicare, but eventually expand it into a universal, single-payer health insurance system, and makes health care a human right for every American.

Among developed nations our country is practically alone in adhering to an immoral for profit health insurance.  Reportedly, 48.6 million Americans are uninsured, and 123 of them die every day, because they don’t have health insurance.

The private health insurance industry eats up $350 billion a year in administrative costs, waste and profits, but a single-payer, Medicare for-all system would cut drug prices by 40%.  Inflated medical bills are the number one cause of personal bankruptcies.

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. John Conyers are congressional champions of single-payer legislation.  They are supporting state efforts to adopt a single-payer system in the framework of the Affordable Care Act.  

“Public Citizen” have issued a report that provides step by step guidelines for state policymakers interested in switching to a single-payer program.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

State of the Economy

The Treasury Department had reported, that for the first eight months of the fiscal year, which started Oct. 1, the budget deficit totaled $626.33 billion, down about 26% from the same period last year.

According to Congressional Budget Office projections under current policies, the deficit is expected to fall to $642 billion for the full fiscal year and get as low as $378 billion in 2015.  The last time the current deficit was under $1 trillion was 2008, when spending outpaced revenue by $458.55 billion.

Now our government’s annual deficit is shrinking far faster than anyone in Washington expected.  That’s 4% of the nation’s annual economic output, about $200 billion lower than the Treasury Department estimated just six months ago.

Obama signed an order triggering mandatory, government-wide spending cuts.  Those cuts were included in a 2011 deal to raise the federal borrowing limit as an undesirable outcome if Congress failed to agree on a comprehensive deficit-reduction plan.  

Congress failed to reach an agreement, so on 3/2/13, our government initiated a set of arbitrary budget cuts that made life harder for middle-class families.  The cuts amount to roughly 9% for a broad range of non-defense programs and 13% for the Pentagon over the rest of the current fiscal year.

Most Republicans want to limit the size of government.  Actually, there are approximately 600,000 fewer government employees under president Obama than there were under George W. Bush.  Public sector employment is the lowest that it’s been in 30 years.   If government employment rates had remained steady, about 1.7 million more Americans would currently be employed in this country.  

Historically, our economy has grown, when the middle class, and people who are striving to get in the middle class, do well. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Economic Outlook

The Congressional Budget Office indicates that the Health Care Act is the most significant effort to reduce our deficits since the Balanced Budget Act of the 1990s.

In August 2011, Obama signed the Budget Control Act, that cut spending by $1.5 trillion over the next decade.  Except for a small increase in Pell Grants funding, the bill was all cuts, and no tax increases. 

In September 2012, Obama sent Congress a detailed plan that would have gone above and beyond that goal.  That plan would have reduce the deficit by an additional $3 trillion, by cutting spending, slowing the growth in Medicare and Medicaid, and asking the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share.

Many congressional Democrats were willing to put politics aside and commit to reasonable adjustments that would have reduced the cost of Medicare, as long as they were part of a balanced approach.

Congressional Republicans refused to listen to the voices of reason and compromise.  They’ve claim that they want to close tax loopholes, but have refused to name a single loophole.

Obama signed an order triggering mandatory, government-wide spending cuts.  The cuts were included in a 2011 deal to raise the federal borrowing limit as an undesirable outcome if Congress failed to agree on a comprehensive deficit-reduction plan.  Congress failed to reach an agreement.

Starting on 3/2/13, our government initiated a set of arbitrary budget cuts that has made life harder for middle-class families, and could threaten our national security.  The cuts amount to roughly 9% for a broad range of non-defense programs and 13% for the Pentagon over the rest of this current fiscal year. 

An improving fiscal outlook is one reason that Standard and Poor’s recently raised its U.S. credit rating outlook to “stable” from “negative.”                  

Friday, September 13, 2013

Change of Plans

An excerpt from prior remarks made by President Obama on the situation in Syria.

“As I've said last week, as Secretary Kerry made clear in his presentation last week, we have high confidence that Syria used, in an indiscriminate fashion, chemical weapons that killed thousands of people, including over 400 children, and in direct violation of the international norm against using chemical weapons.  That poses a serious national security threat to the United States and to the region, and as a consequence, Assad and Syria needs to be held accountable.

“I've made a decision that America should take action.  But I also believe that we will be much more effective, we will be stronger, if we take action together as one nation.  And so this gives us an opportunity not only to present the evidence to all of the leading members of Congress and their various foreign policy committees as to why we have high confidence that chemical weapons were used and that Assad used them, but it also gives us an opportunity to discuss why it's so important that he be held to account.  

“This norm against using chemical weapons that 98 percent of the world agrees to is there for a reason:  Because we recognize that there are certain weapons that, when used, can not only end up resulting in grotesque deaths, but also can end up being transmitted to non-state actors; can pose a risk to allies and friends of ours like Israel, like Jordan, like Turkey; and unless we hold them into account, also sends a message that international norms around issues like nuclear proliferation don't mean much.  

“And so I'm going to be working with Congress.  We have set up a draft authorization.  We’re going to be asking for hearings and a prompt vote.  And I’m very appreciative that everybody here has already begun to schedule hearings and intends to take a vote as soon as all of Congress comes back early next week. 

“So the key point that I want to emphasize to the American people:  The military plan that has been developed by the joint chiefs and that I believe is appropriate is proportional.  It is limited.  It does not involve boots on the ground.  This is not Iraq and this is not Afghanistan.” 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Sam Wilcox

In a letter published in the Oneonta Star, Sam Wilcox wrote: “The world is watching what we will do in Syria.  Are we proud of that?  Many of us are not.  Why is there not an international government that we support with a universal mandate to decide when to intervene within a country?   My answer is that the U.S. in its dominance refuses to relinquish any of its empirical power.  People here and elsewhere bear the terrible consequences.”  We must not relinquish our dominance to China or Russia? 
President Obama didn’t set a red line.  The world set a red line nearly a century ago after WWI.  The world’s population has said the use of chemical weapons are abhorrent, and passed a treaty forbidding their use even when countries are engaged in war.

Obama insists: “My credibility is not on the line.  The international community’s credibility is on the line.  And America and Congress’s credibility is on the line, because we give lip service to the notion that these international norms are important.”  

Wilcox is correct, that at home, there has been a deterioration of infrastructure and programs to enhance education, health, jobs and sustainable energy, but the fact is, that Obama signed an order triggering mandatory, government-wide spending cuts.  The cuts were included in a 2011 deal to raise the federal borrowing limit as an undesirable outcome if Congress failed to agree on a comprehensive deficit-reduction plan.  

Congress failed to reach an agreement, so on 3/2/13, our government initiated a set of arbitrary budget cuts that made life harder for middle-class families.  The cuts amount to roughly 9% for a broad range of non-defense programs and 13% for the Pentagon over the rest of the current fiscal year, which ends on September 30.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Russian Proposal

President Obama insisted: “Over the last 4 1/2 years, I have shown great restraint when it comes to using military power.”

During a press conference in London, Secretary of State Kerry was asked: “Is there anything the Syrian government could do to avoid an American military strike?

Kerry replied: “Sure.  He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week.  Turn it over, all of it, without delay, and allow a pull and total accounting for that.  But he isn’t about to do it and it can’t be done, obviously.”

Having heard that, Russia’s foreign minister proposed: “We are calling on the Syrian authorities to not only agree on putting chemical weapons storage under international control but also for its further destruction and then joining the organization for the prohibition of chemical weapons.”  Then, Syria’s foreign minister welcomed the Russia initiative.

In a phone call, Kerry spoke directly to the Russian foreign minister about the new proposal.  He told Russia’s foreign minister that the United States would not play games, and would only consider a serious proposal. 

Former Secretary of State Clinton pointed out: “It is very important to note that this discussion that has taken hold today about potential international control over Syria’s stockpiles only could take place in the context of a credible military threat by the United States to keep pressure on the Syrian government as well as those supporting Syria like Russia.”

Obama responded: “We’re going to make sure that we see how serious these proposals are.  And my preference consistently has been a diplomatic resolution to this problem.  This could potentially be a significant breakthrough but we have to be skeptical because this is not how we have seen them operate over the last couple of years.”

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Don’t Get Scammed

The Obama administration is stepping up efforts encouraging uninsured Americans to enroll in health coverage from the new online insurance marketplaces.  However, there is also a campaign to convince millions of seniors to stay away don’t call and don’t sign up.
Michele Patrick, Medicare’s deputy director for communications insists: “We want to reassure Medicare beneficiaries that they are already covered, their benefits are not changing and the marketplace doesn’t require them to do anything.”  
To reinforce that message, the 2014 “Medicare & You” handbook will be sent to 52 million Medicare beneficiaries.  It contains a prominent notice: “The Health Insurance Marketplace, a key part of the Affordable Care Act, will take effect in 2014.  It’s a new way for individuals, families, and employees of small businesses to get health insurance.  Medicare isn’t part of the Marketplace.”
Enrollment in health plans offered on the marketplaces, also called exchanges, begins Oct. 1 and runs for six months.  Meanwhile, the two-month sign-up period for private health plans for millions of Medicare beneficiaries begins Oct. 15.  In that time, seniors can shop for a private health plan known as Medicare Advantage, pick a drug insurance policy or buy a supplemental Medigap plan.  And in nearly two dozen states, some Medicare beneficiaries who also qualify for Medicaid may be choosing private managed care plans. None of these four kinds of coverage will be offered in the health law’s marketplaces.
Since many of the same insurance companies offering coverage for seniors will also sell and advertise policies in the marketplaces, seniors may have a hard time figuring out which options are for them, and confusion about different government health programs could create opportunities for scams.
AARP officials have received complaints from seniors who were told they would lose their Medicare coverage, if they didn’t divulge their Social Security numbers and other confidential information needed for their new “national health insurance card” under the Affordable Care Act. 
Seniors won’t lose Medicare coverage and don’t need a new Medicare card.  They don’t need to re-enroll in Medicare Advantage or supplement plans through the marketplace.  Those policies aren’t sold in the marketplaces.
Seniors will not be fined if they don’t buy coverage in health marketplaces.  Seniors have Medicare Part A, which is free and covers hospitals, nursing homes and hospice.  They are not subject to the penalty that most uninsured adults under 65 will have to pay.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Got It Done

 “There but for the Grace of god go I.”  Half of the American people, who use that phrase mean: “God, am I lucky that didn’t happen to me?”  The other half believe it didn’t happen to them because they’ve made smarter choices, or they’re better people than the least of our brethren.

After WW II, the industrialized world embarked on a health care experiment.  America decided to keep the status quo and provide health care under the capitalist theory that free market forces would produce the highest level of care at the lowest cost.  The rest of the industrialized world, most of which had been bombed into disarray during WW II chose a form of government sponsored health care.

Fourteen years ago, Hillary Clinton’s health care plan was dropped.  Since then, we’ve seen 252,000 Americans die, because they didn’t have health insurance.  We’ve seen 18,000 people die ever year, because that plan was defeated.  That’s six 9/11’s every single year. 

Americans had been spending $2 trillion a year on health care.  Health care costs made up roughly 18 percent of our GDP.  France spends about 11 percent, and the Canadians 10 percent on their health care.

Spending more money doesn’t equal better care, since both the French and Canadian systems ranked in the top 10 of the world’s best healthcare systems, according to the World Health Organization.  Our country was ranked at number 37 world wide.

Since 1999, health care costs in our country have gone up three times the rate of inflation, while Bush and congressional Republicans did nothing to turn that number around.  

Regarding the Affordable Health Care Act, Obama said: “Every time this country has moved forward, it's because ordinary Americans like these summoned what's best in each of us to make life better for all of us.  And it’s because we as a people find the will to cobble together out of all of our differences that American sense of common interest and common purpose that's always been required to advance the dreams of all of our people.”

Comprehensive healthcare had been talked about, since Teddy Roosevelt, but President Obama, Speaker of the House, Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid got it done.  Since the Republican party gained control of the House, they’ve voted 40 times to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act, and take away health care from 30 million Americans.