The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘the economy’ Category

WATCHING OUR WASTELINE

If you run a small business, one of your most important concerns is how to provide your clients with quality services and products and, at the same time, maximize your businesses’ profits.  By profits, I mean what you wind up taking home for yourself and your family – after the government gets its mandatory cut.

To many, the term profit is a dirty word.  They portray the typical businessman as a middle aged, jowly white man wearing a napkin tucked under his chin as he prepares to feast on the livers of the workers whom he employs.  Their mindset is that the way your typical businessman improves his profits is by taking unfair advantage of his employees.  Obviously, he is not one of the touchy-feely “good guys” which is how they perceive themselves

Perhaps there are people who operate their businesses that way – but not for long.  A free market gives everyone choices – and that includes those who work for businesses, small and large.  In a healthy financial environment, the intelligent employee will seek out the best employment opportunity and eagerly exit that sort of environment.

The problem with the ghoulish picture of the profit-driven business owner which is in vogue is that those who have captured this image have little or no experience with the way a successful business actually works.  While ignorance of the law is no excuse if we infract one, apparently that same principle does not apply when it comes to describing business.

Let’s return to the underlying premise of the left that making a profit is something that is inherently bad.  Their theory is that it is government that should be the distributor of all that is good and holy and wisely metes out to its citizens that amount of goods and services which is in their best interest.  But where does government get the funds to accomplish this noble mission?  In large measure, it comes from the profits of businesses which it taxes.  No profits, no taxes.

Then consider the company that consistently loses money.  Let’s pretend it happens to be the bank where you have your accounts.  Ultimately, one day you show up at the ATM and find that your funds are frozen while the FDIC figures out which profitable bank it can cajole into taking over from those who mis-managed this institution.

There is no business that can sustain or would tolerate a management team that loses money year after year.  That is to say, there is no privately owned business that would or could do that.  But there is one business that does not perceive itself as needing to follow the rules of profit and loss.  That business is government.

The recent partial shutdown of some government departments sheds some interesting insight into how government “works.”  While much of the media attention is focused on the closing of our National Parks and the disruption to the lives of tourists who planned trips there, less attention has been paid to the fact that this is not the first time such a shutdown has occurred and plans had previously been made to identify “essential personnel” to keep government functioning on a limited basis.  One of those departments is the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA has the responsibility of protecting us from environmental damage – most of which, it believes, is induced by mankind.

It is the EPA which has had significant input in blocking the Keystone Pipeline, which would create thousands of jobs and help to make America completely energy independent of the countries from which we import oil and which are hostile to us.

It is the EPA which has created regulations which effectively will kill the coal industry, eliminating thousands of jobs and raising the cost to consumers whose energy needs are provided by burning coal.

It is the EPA which has identified the number of its staff who are “essential.”  By their own statement, of the approximately 20,000 EPA employees, only 7% of them are “essential.”  But the agency has stated that in order to “effectively enforce” all the regulations that it has created, it needs to hire an additional 230,000 people to get the job done – at a cost of $21 Billion per year.

Maybe there is something positive that will come out of the partial government shutdown.  Perhaps it will force us to look at the way we spend money on supernumerary people and programs.  Perhaps we will pull our belts one notch tighter and constrict our wasteline just a little bit.  But I have to tell you, I really doubt it.

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THE JOURNEY TO NATIONALIZED HEALTH CARE – DAY ONE

Well, we’ve survived the first day of partial government shutdown.  As I had no intent to go to the Statue of Liberty today or any of our national parks, the impact has been limited for me.  And as I don’t have a civilian job with the Federal Government, my paycheck is unaffected.  My sympathy to those Federal employees whose checks will be delayed.  But if previous shutdowns are any indication, they will get paid retroactively for their time off and have a little extra unscheduled vacation.

I was up until the wee hours this morning, listening to all the rhetoric over the shutdown.  This was good for the Obama administration, clouding as it did, the “rollout of Obamacare” as the state insurance exchanges opened for business this morning at 5:00 local time.  I couldn’t wait until they were up and running so that I could make a first hand analysis of the goodies that they had on display.

In all fairness, any new computer program is likely to have “glitches.”  That is neither a surprise nor is it a reason for condemning Obamacare.  There are plenty of other reasons to do that.  But the intelligent IT department is going to make sure that they have subjected any new system to extensive beta testing before making it public.  Perhaps that is what happened with the state exchange programs, but if so, the State of Nevada, whose site I checked, needs to hire people with better skills than those who put this program together

My first encounter with the system was that it simply didn’t respond to my clicking on their links.  I thought to myself, “Perhaps they are overwhelmed with inquiries, more than the system was designed to handle.”  Maybe that is what happened.  So after repeated attempts, I was about to give up when the system finally responded.

What I had in front of me was a list of all insurers whose insurance plans were approved for sale in the State of Nevada for calendar year 2014.  These plans, many from insurers of whom I had never heard, all indicated the level of coverage – Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum, as well as Catastrophic.  Not all insurers offered every plan – but in toto there were well over 100 for sale in the state.

Rather than work through that extensive a list, I decided to go to the insurance exchange only plans to get an idea of what was being sold.  There were four providers, three of whom I had never heard.  The only insurer who was recognizable was Anthem – Nevada’s version of Blue Cross Blue Shield.

By the time I had progressed this far, I did learn something.  There is a new, PC term that has entered the vocabulary.  That term is “Cost Sharing.”  Once upon a time, this was called co-insurance and was the amount that an insured person would have to pay out of pocket for covered medical services.  For someone purchasing a Bronze policy, the amount of Cost Sharing is 40%; for Silver policies, 30%; for Gold policies, 20% (this used to be the standard for co-insurance for every policy I purchased for myself and my employees); and for Platinum plans, 10%.

So, I randomly clicked on one of the Silver policies to get the details.  As we all know, the devil is in the details – but, unfortunately, the only detail was the monthly premium cost and no specifics as to what was covered, what was not, how much of a deductible applied to this policy and what, if any, was the maximum out-of-pocket cost to the insured in the event of a serious medical condition.  In other words, it was impossible to make any sort of intelligent decision as to whether this (or any of the other policies listed) was appropriate.

In my business, I handled all the benefits for my employees – so I believe it is fair to say that if I am having difficulties navigating this system, the less conversant consumer is going to have a more difficult and frustrating time.  And while we might realistically expect some improvement over time, there is one underlying factor that will determine the success or failure of this Obamanation of a law.  That is whether younger people will actually sign up for this at overly-inflated rates in order to subsidize the undersized premiums being charged to those who are older or who have significant health problems.  I predict that if it means giving up their Starbucks lattés, we shouldn’t expect to see a massive influx of young eager people looking for health insurance.

Perhaps you’ve had some experience reading the rules and regulations issued by the IRS to “assist” us in preparing our individual tax returns.  Oh, wait – they’re the ones who are involved in writing the regulations that pertain to Obamanationcare.  So the following regulation which determines whether someone is entitled to receive a “subsidy” should feel very familiar to you:

42 CFR–PART 435

View Printed Federal Register page 77 FR 17206 in PDF format.

Amendment(s) published March 23, 2012, in 77 FR 17206

Effective Dates: January 1, 2014

22. Section 435.603 is added to read as follows:

§ 435.603 Application of modified adjusted gross income (MAGI).

(a) Basis, scope, and implementation. (1) This section implements section 1902(e)(14) of the Act.

(2) Effective January 1, 2014, the agency must apply the financial methodologies set forth in this section in determining the financial eligibility of all individuals for Medicaid, except for individuals identified in paragraph (j) of this section and as provided in paragraph (a)(3) of this section.

(3) In the case of determining ongoing eligibility for beneficiaries determined eligible for Medicaid coverage to begin on or before December 31, 2013, application of the financial methodologies set forth in this section will not be applied until March 31, 2014 or the next regularly-scheduled renewal of eligibility for such individual under § 435.916 of this part, whichever is later.

(b) Definitions. For purposes of this section—

Code means the Internal Revenue Code.

Family size means the number of persons counted as members of an individual’s household. In the case of determining the family size of a pregnant woman, the pregnant woman is counted as herself plus the number of children she is expected to deliver. In the case of determining the family size of other individuals who have a pregnant woman in their household, the pregnant woman is counted, at State option, as either 1 or 2 person(s) or as herself plus the number of children she is expected to deliver.

Tax dependent has the meaning provided in § 435.4 of this part.

(c) Basic rule. Except as specified in paragraph (i) and (j) of this section, the agency must determine financial eligibility for Medicaid based on “household income” as defined in paragraph (d) of this section.

(d) Household income —(1) General rule. Except as provided in paragraphs (d)(2) and (d)(3) of this section, household income is the sum of the MAGI-based income, as defined in paragraph (e) of this section, of every individual included in the individual’s household, minus an amount equivalent to 5 percentage points of the Federal poverty level for the applicable family size.

(2) Income of children and tax dependents. (i) The MAGI-based income of an individual who is included in the household of his or her natural, adopted or step parent and is not expected to be required to file a tax return under section 6012(a)(1) of the Code for the taxable year in which eligibility for Medicaid is being determined, is not included in household income whether or not the individual files a tax return.

(ii) The MAGI-based income of a tax dependent described in paragraph (f)(2)(i) of this section who is not expected to be required to file a tax return under section 6012(a)(1) of the Code for the taxable year in which eligibility for Medicaid is being determined is not included in the household income of the taxpayer whether or not such tax dependent files a tax return.

(3) In the case of individuals described in paragraph (f)(2)(i) of this section, household income may, at State option, also include actually available cash support, exceeding nominal amounts, provided by the person claiming such individual as a tax dependent.

(e) MAGI-based income. For the purposes of this section, MAGI-based income means income calculated using the same financial methodologies used to determine modified adjusted gross income as defined in section 36B(d)(2)(B) of the Code, with the following exceptions—

(1) An amount received as a lump sum is counted as income only in the month received.

(2) Scholarships, awards, or fellowship grants used for education purposes and not for living expenses are excluded from income.

(3) American Indian/Alaska Native exceptions. The following are excluded from income:

(i) Distributions from Alaska Native Corporations and Settlement Trusts;

(ii) Distributions from any property held in trust, subject to Federal restrictions, located within the most recent boundaries of a prior Federal reservation, or otherwise under the supervision of the Secretary of the Interior;

(iii) Distributions and payments from rents, leases, rights of way, royalties, usage rights, or natural resource extraction and harvest from—

(A) Rights of ownership or possession in any lands described in paragraph (e)(3)(ii) of this section; or

(B) Federally protected rights regarding off-reservation hunting, fishing, gathering, or usage of natural resources;

(iv) Distributions resulting from real property ownership interests related to natural resources and improvements—

(A) Located on or near a reservation or within the most recent boundaries of a prior Federal reservation; or

(B) Resulting from the exercise of federally-protected rights relating to such real property ownership interests;

(v) Payments resulting from ownership interests in or usage rights to items that have unique religious, spiritual, traditional, or cultural significance or rights that support subsistence or a traditional lifestyle according to applicable Tribal Law or custom;

(vi) Student financial assistance provided under the Bureau of Indian Affairs education programs.

(f) Household —(1) Basic rule for taxpayers not claimed as a tax dependent. In the case of an individual who expects to file a tax return for the taxable year in which an initial determination or renewal of eligibility is being made, and who does not expect to be claimed as a tax dependent by another taxpayer, the household consists of the taxpayer and, subject to paragraph (f)(5) of this section, all persons whom such individual expects to claim as a tax dependent.

(2) Basic rule for individuals claimed as a tax dependent. In the case of an individual who expects to be claimed as a tax dependent by another taxpayer for the taxable year in which an initial determination or renewal of eligibility is being made, the household is the household of the taxpayer claiming such individual as a tax dependent, except that the household must be determined in accordance with paragraph (f)(3) of this section in the case of—

(i) Individuals other than a spouse or a biological, adopted, or step child who expect to be claimed as a tax dependent by another taxpayer;

(ii) Individuals under the age specified by the State under paragraph (f)(3)(iv) of this section who expect to be claimed by one parent as a tax dependent and are living with both parents but whose parents do not expect to file a joint tax return; and

(iii) Individuals under the age specified by the State under paragraph (f)(3)(iv) of this section who expect to be claimed as a tax dependent by a non-custodial parent. For purposes of this section—

(A) A court order or binding separation, divorce, or custody agreement establishing physical custody controls; or

(B) If there is no such order or agreement or in the event of a shared custody agreement, the custodial parent is the parent with whom the child spends most nights.

(3) Rules for individuals who neither file a tax return nor are claimed as a tax dependent. In the case of individuals who do not expect to file a Federal tax return and do not expect to be claimed as a tax dependent for the taxable year in which an initial determination or renewal of eligibility is being made, or who are described in paragraph (f)(2)(i), (f)(2)(ii), or (f)(2)(iii) of this section, the household consists of the individual and, if living with the individual—

(i) The individual’s spouse;

(ii) The individual’s natural, adopted and step children under the age specified in paragraph (f)(3)(iv) of this section; and

(iii) In the case of individuals under the age specified in paragraph (f)(3)(iv) of this section, the individual’s natural, adopted and step parents and natural, adoptive and step siblings under the age specified in paragraph (f)(3)(iv) of this section.

(iv) The age specified in this paragraph is either of the following, as elected by the agency in the State plan—

(A) Age 19; or

(B) Age 19 or, in the case of full-time students, age 21.

(4) Married couples. In the case of a married couple living together, each spouse will be included in the household of the other spouse, regardless of whether they expect to file a joint tax return under section 6013 of the Code or whether one spouse expects to be claimed as a tax dependent by the other spouse.

(5) For purposes of paragraph (f)(1) of this section, if, consistent with the procedures adopted by the State in accordance with § 435.956(f) of this part, a taxpayer cannot reasonably establish that another individual is a tax dependent of the taxpayer for the tax year in which Medicaid is sought, the inclusion of such individual in the household of the taxpayer is determined in accordance with paragraph (f)(3) of this section.

(g) No resource test or income disregards. In the case of individuals whose financial eligibility for Medicaid is determined in accordance with this section, the agency must not—

(1) Apply any assets or resources test; or

(2) Apply any income or expense disregards under sections 1902(r)(2) or 1931(b)(2)(C), or otherwise under title XIX of the Act, except as provided in paragraph (d)(1) of this section.

(h) Budget period —(1) Applicants and new enrollees. Financial eligibility for Medicaid for applicants, and other individuals not receiving Medicaid benefits at the point at which eligibility for Medicaid is being determined, must be based on current monthly household income and family size.

(2) Current beneficiaries. For individuals who have been determined financially-eligible for Medicaid using the MAGI-based methods set forth in this section, a State may elect in its State plan to base financial eligibility either on current monthly household income and family size or income based on projected annual household income and family size for the remainder of the current calendar year.

(3) In determining current monthly or projected annual household income and family size under paragraphs (h)(1) or (h)(2) of this section, the agency may adopt a reasonable method to include a prorated portion of reasonably predictable future income, to account for a reasonably predictable increase or decrease in future income, or both, as evidenced by a signed contract for employment, a clear history of predictable fluctuations in income, or other clear indicia of such future changes in income. Such future increase or decrease in income or family size must be verified in the same manner as other income and eligibility factors, in accordance with the income and eligibility verification requirements at § 435.940 through § 435.965, including by self-attestation if reasonably compatible with other electronic data obtained by the agency in accordance with such sections.

(i) If the household income of an individual determined in accordance with this section results in financial ineligibility for Medicaid and the household income of such individual determined in accordance with 26 CFR 1.36B-1(e) is below 100 percent FPL, Medicaid financial eligibility will be determined in accordance with 26 CFR 1.36B-1(e).

(j) Eligibility Groups for which MAGI-based methods do not apply. The financial methodologies described in this section are not applied in determining the Medicaid eligibility of individuals described in this paragraph. The agency must use the financial methods described in § 435.601 and § 435.602 of this subpart.

(1) Individuals whose eligibility for Medicaid does not require a determination of income by the agency, including, but not limited to, individuals receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) eligible for Medicaid under § 435.120 of this part, individuals deemed to be receiving SSI and eligible for Medicaid under § 435.135, § 435.137 or § 435.138 of this part and individuals for whom the State relies on a finding of income made by an Express Lane agency, in accordance with section 1902(e)(13) of the Act.

(2) Individuals who are age 65 or older when age is a condition of eligibility.

(3) Individuals whose eligibility is being determined on the basis of being blind or disabled, or on the basis of being treated as being blind or disabled, including, but not limited to, individuals eligible under § 435.121, § 435.232 or § 435.234 of this part or under section 1902(e)(3) of the Act, but only for the purpose of determining eligibility on such basis.

(4) Individuals who request coverage for long-term services and supports for the purpose of being evaluated for an eligibility group under which long-term services and supports are covered. “Long-term services and supports” include nursing facility services, a level of care in any institution equivalent to nursing facility services; home and community-based services furnished under a waiver or State plan under sections 1915 or 1115 of the Act; home health services as described in sections 1905(a)(7) of the Act and personal care services described in sections 1905(a)(24) of the Act.

(5) Individuals who are being evaluated for eligibility for Medicare cost sharing assistance under section 1902(a)(10)(E) of the Act, but only for purposes of determining eligibility for such assistance.

(6) Individuals who are being evaluated for coverage as medically needy under subparts D and I of this part, but only for the purpose of determining eligibility on such basis.


You’ve got to say one thing about the IRS – they’re never at a loss for words.  But if anyone reading this post can explain in simple English what that regulation actually means, I look forward to your elucidating me.  Sadly, I don’t have an advanced degree in Governmentalese.  Perhaps that’s something I should add to my “to do” list.

Oh, one last thought.  One of the “waivers” that Obama has “granted” is that the IRS will not need to verify the income that an Obamanationcare insured puts on his/her application in order to obtain a “subsidy.”  So this entire regulation, probably written by multiple IRS employees over multiple hours is moot.

Perhaps a government shutdown isn’t such a bad thing after all.

IN LIMBO

If the name Ernest Evans doesn’t roll off your tongue, perhaps you know this singer better under his stage name, Chubby Checker.  Of course, his biggest hit was “The Twist” – but he came close with another song in 1962 – “The Limbo Rock.”

This upbeat song was  composed in response to a great deal of tourism that took place – particularly for those of us on the east coast  – to that island paradise of Jamaica in the Caribbean.  The “Limbo” was a popular dance on the island.

As you probably know, several people hold up a “limbo stick” and the dancers go under it – all to the beat of some calypso music.  The stick is lowered after each round of dancers goes under and the winner of the contest is that dancer who can go under the limbo stick at its lowest level.

I’m not sure exactly why this came to mind today.  It’s been years – perhaps even a decade since I heard the “Limbo Rock.”  I remember always feeling upbeat after listening to it – and after looking at today’s news I guess I needed a little pick me up.

My thought was that in the fifty years since the “Limbo Rock” was a hit we have answered the question that Chubby Checker poses in that song – “How low can you go,?” at least as far as it pertains to the behavior we find acceptable in those whom we elect to public office.  That answer is lower than ever previously thought possible.

Perhaps you’ve been following Anthony Wiener’s attempt to return to politics by running as a candidate in the New York mayoral race.  If you have, you may have seen that he has hit the lowest “favorability rate” thus far in the contest at only 11%.  Now with eight million people in the “Naked City” that means there are nearly nine hundred thousand people who don’t seem offended or disgusted by his well-publicized sexting behavior.

Alright, those aren’t all registered voters.  Perhaps there are only a quarter of those who will be casting ballots.  But that means that there are over two hundred thousand people in my home town who don’t see a problem with this sort of behavior and who think that a person who has demonstrated an ability to execute very poor life choices is competent to run our largest city.

When the Wiener scandal first broke (no it’s not a phony scandal – we reserve those for events that come out of Washington) and Wiener was fighting for his political life and to retain his seat in Congress, I listened to several of his press conferences.  To be honest, the then Congressman seemed sincere in admitting that he had made some mistakes and that he was a “new man.”  Just as I would like to receive the benefit of the doubt and a second chance if I had done something wrong – I was willing to extend the same to him.

But then we found out that sincere apology was just smoke and didn’t represent the Congressman’s actual behavior.  Ultimately, additional information came out that clearly showed the sexting in which the Congressman had engaged was on-going.  And it has continued even since his resignation which has resulted in his extremely low approval ratings in the mayoral race.

I guess my disgust with this situation is not that we have people serving in public office whose values are questionable.  That is disturbing.  But what really bothers me is that the Congressman flat-out lied to his constituents and to the country without any sense of shame or remorse.

There is nothing that turns me off faster than someone who is a liar.  I’m not talking about a person who might tell an occasional fib.  I’m speaking of someone who has elevated lying to an art and a pathology.  And the fact that we have so many examples of this bad behavior among elected officials right now speaks directly to the reason that there is so much turmoil in the country.

That bad behavior is not restricted to the Democrats.  There are a significant number of politicians on the other side of the aisle who need to take a close look in the mirror as well.

There is only one reason that they are able to get away with this sort of behavior.  We the people permit it – in fact we endorse it – by mindlessly returning to office people who have demonstrated that their only interest in being in public office is because of the prestige that it brings and how it fulfills their own agendas – not how their constituents might benefit from their advocacy.

As distasteful as politics is to many of us, we have no right to sit back and complain about the economy, the jobless rate, the lack of standards and morality or anything else unless we are willing to get our hands dirty and get involved in the process.  If we refuse to participate, we are as much a part of the problem as those who misrepresent themselves and get elected.

I’m not sure what – if anything – will wake most of the American populace from its lethargy.  Maybe it’s just a matter of time until things get bad enough that even the most uninvolved wake up, take notice and then take action.

Until then, I guess we’ll all just limp along – in limbo.

ECONOMIC JIHAD

The FBI has nabbed a small coterie of perpetrators who have been making money the old fashioned way – they steal it.  Apparently, they stole quite a lot – about $200 Million by creating false identities, creating fake credit scores and have socked it to the credit card-issuing banks.  While this number pales in comparison to the amount that our Federal Reserve adds to our national credit card, nevertheless, it is not an insignificant sum by almost anyone’s standards.

Given the way that we bend over backward to accommodate our Muslim citizens – that is if Babar Qureshi and Muhammad Shafiq are both Muslims and citizens – I’m merely inferring their religion from their names – I must confess that I’m a little surprised that they were arrested in their resident New Jersey.  The unlikelihood of their engaging in such an activity flies directly in the face of their faith.

As you know, credit card issuers stipulate an interest rate on unpaid balances.  That rate of interest is carefully detailed in the little enclosures that come with your credit card and for which you need an electron microscope to be able to read all the terms and conditions.  What you may not know is that it is forbidden in Islam to engage in a transaction at a specific, fixed rate of interest.

Of course, it is another tenet of Islam that is is perfectly acceptable to lie, steal from, cheat or otherwise engage in any activity against the infidel – including murder – if it supports the advancement of the cause of Islam.  So, since apparently these thieves had no intention of actually paying for anything that they purchased or the cash advances they received, I suppose the second tenet overrides that vexatious fixed interest rate thing.

I am sure there will be those of the OWS mindless-set who applaud anything that hurts the profits of big banking – while at the same time they are writing an elegy to the impoverished, oppressed and misunderstood of our Muslim neighbors.  Well, buckaroos and members of the Peanut Gallery, the people who ultimately feel the impact of this type of rip off are not the banks but their credit card customers.

It’s simple economics.  Those banks which suffered the injury will pass along the costs to their cad holders through higher interest charges and other penalties.  They will also write off the loss immediately, resulting in lower corporate taxes collected by the Treasury – at a time where we have President Obama and the Dems complaining that we need more revenues.

The events of 9/11/01 were devastating.  But with economic jihad we’re not talking about taking the lives of a few thousand people.  Economic jihadists are directly affecting the life-styles of millions of Americans  In a left-handed complimentary way, let me say that this is far more effective than crashing airplanes into buildings.  But, of course, it is far less sensational and for that reason will probably not get the attention it deserves as a part of the master plan of jihad.

That plan is simply this.  By whatever means necessary, to supplant Western civilization with its own world view; to bring the entire world under the yoke of the political philosophy of Islam; to establish Sharia law in all lands; to take no prisoners.

Those in Europe are learning, perhaps too late, that the Muslim infestation is reaching the same critical mass that in the United States we have reached with our permanent underclass.  It’s more than overdue that our politicians on this side of the pond stopped being accommodative and started being proactive while there is still time.  The sand in the hour glass is running very low.

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WHO’S GOT THE POWER? (PART ONE)

Those of us who had the benefit of learning grammar as part of our elementary school curriculum may remember that words which modify nouns are known as adjectives.  An example would be “Fearless Leader” – as it was used by Jay Ward in “Rocky and Bullwinkle” – perhaps the most creative cartoon series of all time.

Recently, I’ve noticed a trend in journalism.  I’m not sure if this is an intentional attempt to introduce yet another classification into our grammar, but it seems that certain nouns almost always are preceded by the same adjective – as though the two are inseparable.  I refer to this new entry into the English language as an adje-noun.  The most apparent example to me is the “POWERFUL NRA”.

Being powerful means that someone or something has a great deal of inherent strength and exerts that power to achieve its ends.  In the world of politics, at least in the United States, that usually takes the form of lobbying our elected representatives to influence them to vote for those laws which will benefit a company or an association.  A great deal of money is spent by respective organizations to accomplish that mission.

As I have heard so much since the Newtown tragedy about the Powerful NRA’s gun lobby, I thought I would take a look at how powerful that organization actually is, how much they spend on their lobbying efforts and to compare that to other industries and groups which also engage in lobbying activities.

What follows is a list of lobbyists by industry for the calendar year 2012, compiled by OpenSecrets.org:

Opensecretsindustry groups

The original link to this chart may be found at https://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/top.php?showYear=2012&indexType=i

If you go to the source and want to review this information, clicking on each industry brings up the companies and organizations which are included in the compilation.  Incidentally, this data is available going back to 1998 and although there is some slight variation on who spends the most money on a year to year basis, the same industries consistently appear at the top of the list.

If you spend a few minutes with this chart, perhaps you will see the same thing that I noticed.  There are four industries, Pharmaceuticals/Health Products; Hospitals/Nursing Homes; Health Professionals; and Health Services/HMO’s which aggregately spent $359 Million in 2012 to advance their agendas.

In addition, if you look at the detail under Insurance, the top two lobbyists in that category were Blue Cross/Blue Shield and America’s Health Insurance Plans which paid an additional $17 Million to lobbyists.  That comes to a total of $376 Million spent in one year by businesses and professionals in the Health Care Industry.

I returned to the OpenSecrets.org website to try to put the powerful NRA’s lobbying efforts in perspective.  Here is the link to that information:

http://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/summary.php?id=D000000082

By comparison, the powerful NRA spent only $2.2 Million last year in their lobbying efforts.  That’s five percent of what the defense and aerospace industry spent and five percent of what the auto industry spent; that’s four percent of what unions representing government workers spent; that’s three percent of what unions and others involved in education spent; that’s two and one half percent the amount that the entertainment industry spent; and that’s just over one half percent the amount that people involved in healthcare paid their lobbyists.

I have yet to hear the argument that gun owners are the cause of our anemic economy, our spiraling deficits, our unacceptable rates of unemployment or the out of control costs associated with healthcare, although it is not hard for me to believe that those in Washington who are, apparently oblivious to the facts, might try to advance that case.

Despite the recent comment by President Obama that “we do not have a spending problem,” most people with the smallest grip on reality realize that statement is exactly the reason that we have many of our problems – and at the heart of it is our healthcare system.

Is it mere co-incidence that the industry which is most greatly benefited by our excesses is the largest single contributor to lobbying efforts to maintain their place at the top of the food chain?

Is one of the causes for the murders we commit the fact that more and more Americans are feeling helpless and bereft of hope and turn to irrational, violent acts out of despair?  Or is it the intransigent Powerful NRA which is at fault?

So in America, who’s got the power?  I think the numbers speak for themselves.

GREAT MINDS THINK ALIKE

I was thinking about auto insurance the other day – specifically mine.  The impetus was that I had just heard that commercial from Allstate which tells us that they will send safe drivers a check for every six months they go accident free.  While I don’t know how much Allstate charges in their premiums to pay for this rebate, it got me thinking.

Since I’ve been with my insurer for quite a few years and have never had either an accident or received a ticket (for over twenty-five years), I thought I would be what I presume most insurance companies consider a safe driver.  I was getting ready to call to find out, given my spotless history, whether the rate I was currently paying couldn’t be negotiated down.  Just then the mail truck pulled up and my letter carrier dropped my daily dose of catalogues and a few first class items.  One of those was my auto insurance renewal packet.

There I was thinking about my auto insurer and they were thinking about me.  Hence the title for this post.

When I returned from the mail box I opened this which contained quite a few sheets of paper – twelve to be exact describing both my policy coverage, my premium costs and my new insurance identification cards, effective mid-January.  (As one of the “discounts” I receive is for having a paperless account with my insurer, I can only imagine what I would get if I had the old send it in the mail on paper type of policy).

You can imagine my surprise, poised as I was to advance my argument that I should actually be getting a discount beyond all those I now receive because of my driving record, when I saw that my insurance premium had not only not remained at the same level as during the past several years – it had increased by 30%.

So I picked up the telephone and called my insurer.  First, there was the eleven digit phone number; then there was selecting “2” because I was an existing customer; next I got to key in my eight digit policy number; then I got to verify that I still knew my birthdate – so I typed those six digits in; then, since there were probably others of their customers who shared my birthday, it was the last four digits of my SSN.  Finally, the computer system figured that I was both who I said and knew who I was and it then transferred me to “the next available customer service representative.”  Ten minutes later.

The nice young lady asked how she could help me and rather than mince words, I asked her how I could get my insurance premiums below the level that I had been paying, let alone lower than their currently quoted rate.  (I guess this was the first time the question had been posed to her as there was a noticeable lull in her end of the conversation).

So she reviewed my “case” to make sure that the quote was right and that I was being credited for all the “discounts” for which I qualified.

Let’s see – I had an EFT Discount; Home Owner’s Discount; Online Quote Discount (which means I dealt with the company directly and they were able to stiff an agent out of a commission); Continuous Insurance Discount; the Platinum Three Year Safe Driving Discount (I guess any time period beyond that is outside the realm of their imagination or experience); Five-Year Accident Free Discount (“Ditto”); Airbag Discount and “Snapshot” Discount (the program in which a driver installs a device in their car and the insurer monitors their driving habits.  I had gotten the maximum 25% discount they allowed as part of this program).

So I had all these discounts and a 30% premium increase.  It just didn’t add up to me so I asked her the reason for the increase.  What had I done to offend them or cause them to lose sleepless nights over my driving?

The answer I received was that they had experienced “a significant increase in their claims and were passing those costs along to all their customers.”

My first, almost involuntary response was, “Well why don’t you send those customers who are responsible for this increase the bill for it and leave those of us who are faultless drivers and whose premiums represent 99% profit to you alone?”  Perhaps it’s just me but I thought that seemed reasonable.

At least I was vindicated that nothing I had done or left undone was the cause of this increase.  Although that was small satisfaction.

Well, of course, I knew when I made this call that I was dealing with a person who has less authority than the computer system that generates these premium notices.  But once in awhile, it is nice to firmly (but politely) express your opinion to the representative of a company that will collect hundreds of thousands of dollars from you over the course of your lifetime – if you let them.

So I explained that I was sorry to consider terminating our relationship – but I was going to shop around for another company which could provide me with the same coverage, identification cards and a lower premium.  And I hung up.

As I was thinking about this afterward a thought suddenly occurred to me.  Was an increase in the number of vehicular accidents really the reason for this raise in premium rates?  Or was it something else.

After a little investigation, I discovered that the number of car accidents in Clark County, NV is actually down by 9.2% in the six month period ending June 30th compared with the same period last year.  (This was the most current data I could locate), and would have been data that my insurer used since, appropriately, insurance rates are based on locale.  So the answer I got from my insurer’s representative was completely bogus.  I do not blame her for answering that way as I’m sure that she was instructed to do so by her superiors.

That leaves only two other answers that I could think of which would explain the premium increase.

First, the company wants to make more money and is raising premiums to accomplish that goal.  Okay, I can understand that.  I can also understand that is not the answer you would want to give your clients if you hoped to retain them.

Second, and I say this realizing that this is speculation on my part – is Obamacare.  We know that mid-sized and large companies across the country are trying to find ways to cope with the costs inherent in this bill.  Some are reducing employee work hours to avoid having to pay for their health insurance or the head count penalty tax if they do not provide it.

We also know that for those employers who are left with a large workforce that their health insurance premiums are going to see a massive increase.  This might give you an idea of how the cost of health insurance is exploding.  Social Security recipients will be getting a 1.7% increase in benefits and a 5.0% increase in the cost of their Medicare Part “B” premiums next month.  And the increase in Part “B” is scheduled to go up an additional 20% over the 2013 rates in 2014.

Any reasonable businessman is going to try to find a way to maximize profits.  That will take either the form of charging more for their products and services or reducing costs.  And when you have a cost that is as mind-boggling as Obamacare, one way to defray that expense is to pass it along to customers.  And I suspect that is the real reason that I got my 30% premium increase renewal notice.

If my assumptions are correct, this is not a tax on the super-wealthy or the moderately well-off.  Rather, it is a tax that everyone who drives a vehicle will pay.  It is a hidden tax under the guise of being a premium increase.

There is one bit of irony in the whole thing.  The Chairman of the Board of my soon to be former insurance company is Mr. Peter B. Lewis.  He has been one of the largest financial contributors to President Obama and has long been involved with a cadre of liberal-minded thinkers who share the President’s view of reshaping America into a socialist paradise.

And you might ask the name of this company.  It is “Progressive” Insurance.

THE RIGHT WAY TO DO THE WRONG THING

If there were only one lesson which we could take away from the November, 2012 election it is this.  Unlike most of our movies (which serve “in loco parentis” for many of our young people) or like the fairy tales that were written of old, good does not, at least in the short run, always triumph over evil.

The GOP selected as their candidate a solid, middle of the road sort of fellow in Mitt Romney.  He didn’t have the charisma of a Ronald Regan but he started to come to life as the campaign developed.  And what was not to like about the former governor?

He had a successful track record in both business and in government.  He exhibited strong family values.  He was a person who adhered to his faith.  He was clean, wholesome and didn’t have a lot to hide from public view.  And he factually, (well mostly)  presented to us, an economy which was in the doldrums, a debt that had grown by fifty percent during the incumbent’s term in office and an unemployment rate that was the worst since the Great Depression.

He might as well have been speaking Chinese to his audience – a language which we may all soon need to learn.

One of his major points was that President Obama would go down in history as the person who created the greatest welfare state in this country.  He was correct.  However, he saw this as a reason to ask for our votes rather than to give them to the big “O”.  His thinking couldn’t have been more off the mark.

You see, Romney viewed reliance on a below-poverty level income from the government as something that was evil.  Obama realized that by expanding social (dependence) programs, he was buying votes.  And he bought a lot of them.  And behold, it was very good.

There are a lot of people in this world who are lazy.  I live in a town that was built just for them.  Las Vegas is the Mecca for the indolent.  I see it in those who gamble every time I walk into one of our casinos.

They are sitting at a slot machine or a table game with a glazed stare on their faces, hoping that because they are special, the gods will favor them with abundance.  After all, it is not their fault that they lost their job and soon may lose their house.  They are mere victims of forces they view beyond their control.  They see themselves both as entitled and deserving.  “Come on jackpot.”

I don’t think it will be long before the casinos will have made a deal with the government to redo their in-house ATM machines so that they can accommodate a player’s EBT card as well as American Express and Visa.  That way they can offer a true one stop shopping experience for those players on government subsidies.

Undoubtedly, this will come under the pretense of benefiting these consumers.  They will no longer have to spend the gas money to go to the convenience store to obtain some cash for gambling but will be able to transact all their business in one place.

American politics has a long, if sordid, history of buying the approval of the voters.  FDR and his New Deal was born out of the lessons he learned from his cousin, Teddy with his vision for America, The Square Deal.  Both men, as with the current occupant of the White House enjoyed enormous popularity as they offered programs which were intended to “benefit” your average Joe.

The public couldn’t get to the polls fast enough to vote for and return these demagogues to office.  And so it was once again in 2012.  Another demagogue – another victory for short-sightedness.

But this time, despite the narrow Obama victory as you compare his to his predecessors’ triumphs, the table has been set at the “Come On In Diner Where We’re Happy To Feed You Barely Enough So That You Have The Strength To Vote For Me Again.”  The problem is that there are so many who are eating, there are few left to serve them their meals.  And many of the wait staff are looking for new positions.

Romney’s essential failure as a candidate stemmed from who he was a person.  He was a man with a sense of traditional American values and was so thoroughly committed to them that he assumed they were essential components of belief that most of his countrymen shared.  He couldn’t have been further off the mark.

The genius of those running the Obama campaign was that they realized that there were millions who would listen to rhetoric and ignore substance.  They were the naïve and gullible who lacked the education or the gumption to go out and feed themselves and their families and would be easily swayed to vote for a president who promised them something for nothing.  And they came out or were bused in droves to accomplish their mission.

The campaign was nothing short of brilliant.

But the question remains, what happens when the trough runs dry as it inevitably will?  When you have over-promised and under-delivered, even the most addled of your minions will eventually catch on.

When that next payment on which you depend fails to make its arrival and you see that your overseers are living a life of luxury as you spend your afternoon dumpster diving to find something for dinner, what will be your feelings towards this divine monarchy for which you voted?

The common response from most in this situation will be anger – and they will act on that with violence.  Their “survival mentality” will dominate their deeds and anyone in their path will be in harm’s way.  That might even extend to those who created the programs which got them this far in life.  It’s been known to happen before.

There is a basic tenet in logic that if you being with a faulty premise you will reach a faulty conclusion.  It may not always be apparent at the moment, but like a bridge that is constructed with structural flaws, inevitably the right set of circumstances will come about that causes it to collapse.  It is no different with the structure of human societies.

So bask in your accomplishments, you who voted for the “Great Society.”  You finally did a job.  Like much in your lives, you did the wrong thing – but you did it well.

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