The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘Washington’ Category

SELLING OBAMACARE

There’s no argument that President Obama is a good salesman.  He convinced enough people to vote for him to give him two terms in the White House.  P. T. Barnum would be proud of him.

So today, the Salesman in Chief turned his attention to Obamacare with a press conference.  Not surprisingly, he was surrounded by a group of people who will benefit from the ACA – and it is undeniable that there will be people who will benefit from it.  Those people are individuals with pre-existing conditions.  But the problem for this grand scheme is that there will be few else who will be able to make that statement.

It seems to me that enthusiasm for Obamacare is not much different than the reaction one might expect from a diffident bachelor whose friends are fixing him up with a blind date.  The young man asks, “What’s she like?”  To which he receives the answer, “She’s got a great personality.”

One of the statements that the President made today was that a person could purchase a plan at a mere one hundred dollars per month.  That’s an interesting statement.  Particularly as over the last five days I went to the exchanges for thirty-two states (which actually were semi-functional) to get quotes.

The quotes that I requested were for a 21 year old individual female.  This is the least expensive category of applicant that I was able to find.  Let me give you an example of premium and coverage costs for an applicant in just one of those states, Nevada.  The premiums varied by a few dollars depending on the state.

So, Ingrid Johnson, a single 21 year old wants the most affordable plan that is available under Obamacare in Nevada.  She is a non-smoker.  The least expensive plan available to her is what is known as a “Catastrophic” policy.  This is intended to cover her should she develop a serious medical condition.

Her premium cost for this policy is $143 per month.  (Not the $100 cited today by the President in his press conference).  But there is an annual deductible before she receives one dollar of benefit in the amount of $6,250 per year.  In other words, she will have to pay out $7,966 before her insurance starts paying any of her medical expenses.  That works out to an out-of-pocket cost of $663 per month.

But let’s assume that Ingrid has a small income and the full amount of her premium cost is subsidized by the Federal government.  That means she is still responsible for the full deductible before she receives benefits.  That translates to a monthly premium of $520 per month.

Perhaps the President is relying on the fact that the math skills of Americans is exceptionally poor.  Perhaps he is hoping that one of the glitches with the iPhones to which he has recently referred is that the built in calculators are malfunctioning.  Perhaps he just thinks that Americans are just plain stupid.  But the math and the President’s statements just don’t relate well to each other.

It’s seldom that I offer the President advice.  But here goes.

If the President wants to sell this to America, I can think of nothing that would be more effective than that he issue one of his executive orders and require that he and his family, the Congress, the members of the Supreme Court and all the toadies in the administration be enrolled in it.

That might get America a little more enthusiastic about the greatest Ponzi scheme ever concocted by Washington.

POWER TO THE PEOPLE

The title of this post is pure plagiarism – coming as it did from one of the catch phrases of the ‘60’s.  At that time it was one of the rallying cries of the ultra far Left.  But how things have changed.  Now the power resides in the ultra far Left and their phrase calling for empowerment lies on a forgotten dusty shelf in a government warehouse.  It’s time to dust it off and have it become the mantra for those who believe in limited, effective, Constitutional government.

Last week’s recall election of two anti-gun Colorado State Senators, Senate President John Morse and Senator Angela Giron may be a small first step in the right direction.  In media underplayed (this should come as no surprise to any thinking person) reporting, both senators lost their bid to keep their seats.  The media coverage that was reported emphasized the “vast amounts of money” that the NRA spent to achieve the successful recall effort.  Notably absent was that those who supported the senators spent three times as much as the NRA – including a $250,000 contribution from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

For years the left has descried the absurdity of “trickle down economics”.  Of course, in a different format, that is precisely the economic and cultural policy that they themselves employ.  The only difference is that rather than allowing the private citizen to do the “trickling” they have substituted Big Brother government.

Well, there is one other difference.  Instead of allowing the individual to arrive at moral, rational decisions on how to govern his or her life, the government “for our own good and based on its incredible storehouse of wisdom” will tell us how to think and how to behave, how to speak to each other and, most importantly, how to redress our grievances should someone have the audacity not to follow the government’s rules.  In another time we would have called this tyranny – and it’s time to dust that phrase off as well.

If those who have a belief in the value of the individual are ever to hope to re-establish that way of life in these United States, we need to set aside our prim and proper ways and get down in the trenches.  Change for the better will never come to this country based on rulings and new laws promulgated in Washington – at least not as it is presently constituted.  The reason is that those in power have the significant advantage of incumbency which is almost impossible to overcome – unless they receive real challenges in primary elections.  The only way to get the SOB’s out is to replace their names on the ballots in the first place.  Colorado has shown us that can be done.

Some of the pundits in commenting on the recall election (including Senator Giron) cited the low voter turnout as the reason for their defeat.  Well, the nature of elections is that the side getting the most votes is the winner – irrespective of the size of the turnout.  That is something that conservatives need to keep in mind.  We may be smaller or larger in number than our political opponents – but they are by far more catalyzed to do something that is fundamental to politics – getting out the vote.

Perhaps it is ironic that we conservatives frequently point correctly to one of the failings of government – lack of accountability.  I thoroughly endorse the idea that it’s easy to spend money when it isn’t yours.  Of course, the government considers all of our wealth and assets as really being theirs.  They simply allow us the privilege of holding on to some of what we have earned for a period of time before they impound it.

Consider how they tax every American’s wealth.  First we earn it and they tax it – Income Tax; Second we spend it – Sales Tax; Third we save it – more Income Tax or AMT; Fourth we die – they tax it again through Estate and Inheritance Taxes.  My father when he was audited for the third year in a row by the IRS – all of which resulted in no changes being made to his returns – made the comment to the auditor, “Perhaps we could simplify the process.  Why don’t I just turn over all my income to you and you can give me back what you think I’m entitled to live on for myself and my family.”  That was in the 1950’s – and we’ve pretty much devolved to that condition.

But returning to accountability, it’s interesting that once ensconced in power the government, since it has no personal skin in the game – other than yours or mine – is so wasteful.  Yet they only are able to be in that position because they have well orchestrated the effort to get them elected.  Having lived most of my adult life in Chicago I have seen that first hand.

If you are a Democrat precinct captain you no doubt hold a city job.  Although not written into that job description is one that is tacit to your maintaining your livelihood – getting out the vote on Election Day.  It’s a little like having your four year college career determined by one test given on one day.  And if you don’t think that motivates the Democrat precinct captains you are sadly mistaken.

Of course, this does lead to vote fraud and abuse.  That is almost inevitable when one party holds nearly absolute power and control.  I am sure there are examples of the same which could be found in Republican strongholds as well.  But it points to the underlying premise of this post.  People, at a grassroots level who are highly motivated can make a difference and can make history.

It’s time that conservatives grasped that concept and worked to return the power to the people.

“FAGIN” GOVERNMENT

There have been no lack of stories retelling the events of the year 2012 A.D.    There never is a dearth of these reviews at year end.  Suddenly, everyone becomes an historian.  Since part of my educational discipline is in history, there is one thing that I learned from my studies in this field.

There are lessons which history teaches us – but those lessons have no value unless we absorb them and take guidance from them to build a better future.

America has a unique history among the countries of the world which we have seen come and go over the centuries.  It was founded on the principle of individual freedom and liberty as the most precious human right that a government could guarantee to its citizens.

That is a concept that many of us have forgotten – and many more have never learned.  In part, that is because we now have school systems which depict the patriots at The Boston Tea Party as thugs, willfully destroying the property of others.  How strange that on July 4, 1973, the U. S. Post Office issued a series of four stamps commemorating this very event of thuggery.  A lot can happen to our thinking in four decades.  And a lot has happened.

At the end of 1973, our National Debt stood at $458 Billion and our Gross Domestic Product stood at $1.4 Trillion, a ratio of 33%.  At the end of 2012, it is estimated our National Debt will be $16.1 Trillion and our GDP will be $15.8 Trillion, a ratio of 102%.  In other words, we have simply stopped being productive – both as individuals, taken as a group, and as a country. And we have been wasteful.

In some ways, we have cast ourselves in the role of Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard” – the aging actress who relies on her past triumphs and has an expectation that because she was once great and admired, the world owes her a living and the next starring role.  Unfortunately, the world has a different view.

This transformation didn’t happen overnight, notwithstanding all the media hype over the fiscal cliff.  Whatever is or is not resolved in that matter will really be of little importance in the long, historical view of things.  Some patchwork quilt “solution” will be hammered together by the short-sighted whom we elect to their respective seats in the Washington establishment.

If we are to take the Biblical injunction, “By their works shall ye know them” to heart, then we have managed to content ourselves with electing women and men to public office who have a fundamental philosophy of concupiscence and self-interest.  Their concern is not for their constituents but for their own re-election and they will say or do anything that is necessary to insure that – no matter how the country might suffer as a result of their acts.

That mindset is thoroughly entrenched in the vast majority in the Washington oligarchy.  And while that is frightening, what is yet more frightening is that we, the people, not only tolerate it but endorse it by re-electing these real thugs in election after election.  It’s as though we are smiling as they hand us the shovel with which we have to dig our own grave before they mercifully put us out of our misery by shooting us in the head.

We didn’t get here overnight and we’re not going to get out of this mess overnight either.  Of course, if we pursue our present path, we’re never going to extricate ourselves but will keep digging our grave deeper and deeper.  At least that may be a good thing for the hardware stores that sell shovels.

I can think of no finer summary of our government’s modus vivendi than the following song from the musical, “Oliver” in which the thief Fagin explains his philosophy to his troupe of admiring young crooks.

COULD YOU DO ME A FAVOR?

It was very bleak and large, dark cumulus clouds overhung the Las Vegas Valley when Gracie and I left for the dog park around six-thirty this morning.  It reminded me a little of a winter day which I spent in the Orkney Islands – but the winds weren’t nearly as blustery and there was no sound of the splashing of the sea against the coastline.

When we returned home I gave Gracie her morning treats and took comfort in a hot cup of coffee, planning what I intended to accomplish.  But then, as I was listing out the tasks I had to do, the phone rang.  It was an elderly friend, David who had called.

David is in his late eighties and asked if I could do him a favor.  He wondered if I could take him to the Social Security office as he needed to get a copy of his Social Security card since he couldn’t find his.  My heart stopped.  There is nothing that I find more depressing than going into a government office building.  They are consistently bleak – as though by design – so that those who have business to attend to will exit as quickly as possible.

Nevertheless, David is a good friend and I know his vision makes it difficult for him to drive – and also makes it a bit hard for him to complete forms.  So I agreed to take him.

I picked him up and we arrived at the SSA office at 10:30.  When we walked in, we went to the kiosk and got a ticket and he filled out an application for a replacement social security card.  The waiting room was jam packed and as I listened to the conversation of those patrons who had occupied all the seats I gathered we were one of the few for whom English was a first language.

As David was completing his form I glanced at the number on our ticket to get an idea how long we would be waiting.  We were A 926 – and A 813 had just been called.  I shrugged my shoulders but then looked around and saw that there were 19 numbered windows in the facility and behind each was an employee.  I thought to myself, “Perhaps this won’t be so bad after all.”

Someone’s number was called near where we were standing and I scrambled over to the seat so that David could have it, beating out a twenty-something year old who was staring at it lasciviously.  And as luck would have it, a few minutes later another seat opened up next to David’s and I took it.

We had been in the building for about twenty minutes and they were only just calling A 822.  Perhaps this was going to take longer than I had anticipated.  But as I learned, some of those who had taken a number left in frustration and so that ultimately knocked about twenty people or so out of the queue.

Because I am inquisitive by nature I started looking around the office, giving up my seat to an elderly Hispanic lady who was sporting a foot bandage.  I walked to the end of the building which housed Window 19 and looked at the man behind the glass divider.

He had that dreadful look of ennui which comes from doing the same repetitive thing day after day for an entire career.  There was no emotion whatever on his face, as though his soul had been drained from his body.  And it was the same at Window 18 and Window 17 and with each of the employees down to Window 1.  Not a smile, not a grimace, nothing but a mindless stare.

And I noticed one other thing.  As I walked past each window there were none of the usual office decorations which commemorated the upcoming Holidays, whether that was Hanukah or Christmas or Kwanza.  Not the least bit of personalization of that 8’ x 8’ area that these folks called home during their work day.  I suspect that was more by edict than by choice – but after many years in this environment, I’m pretty sure the joy of the Holidays consisted for them as a day away from their bleak workplace.

A 853.  Only an hour into it  and only 73 more numbers to go. “ Please, God give me patience,” I said to myself.  So having completed my tour of the windows I stepped outside.  There were a number of signs posted on the entranceways but I hadn’t the opportunity to read them on our way in.  So I took a few minutes’ leave of David and sauntered out.

Of course, the signs appeared in two versions – English and Spanish.  As you might expect, one specifically stated that no firearms were to be taken into the building.  Even those who, under state or local law had a permit to carry weapons were prohibited from taking them inside this Federal property.  Of course, exempt from this were police and SSA security personnel.

In light of the Newtown, CT massacre of Friday, I have to admit that I found this almost laughable.  It’s as though posting it would have dissuaded Adam Lanza or anyone else whose goal was to wreak mass havoc from carrying out his mission should his target have been the SSA and not the Sandy Hook School.

The other sign which I saw was one announcing a change in office hours, effective 1/02/13.  This SSA facility will now be open M-F from 9:00 – 3:00 – except that on Wednesdays it will close at noon.  The previous hours were from 9:00 – 3:30 Monday through Friday.  So a massive work week which is currently  thirty-two and one half hours is being cut to twenty-seven.  Is this an effort to avoid having to comply with Obamacare?  I think not.

But I admit to feeling both outraged and envious.  When I was in my own businesses I don’t recall ever working less than sixty and usually eighty hours a week to keep the darn things afloat.  What a dummy I was.  Here I was busting my hump to try to make a go of it and I could have gotten a cushy job with the Feds at the mere cost of losing my personality.  I’ll have to weigh the pros and cons of that a bit longer.

Having completed my canvass of the exterior I wondered if there were anything inside that I might have missed.  Indeed there was a lot.

When I re-entered the building (A 861) I discovered it was lunch time.  Rather than looking at the unsmiling faces of those behind the windows, I saw that fifteen of them had been closed with stainless steel shutters and the two security guards were busily locking them down.  My heart sank as I realized this would greatly slow down the process of calling our number.

A seat was open next to David and I took it.  We were directly in front of a monitor which was broadcasting SSTV.  This included a short video extolling the wisdom of getting answers to all the questions we had regarding life in general and Social Security in particular by going to www.ssa.gov.  The commercial was hosted by George Takei of “Star Trek” fame and Patty Duke whom I best remember for starring in “The Flying Nun.” Oh, wait. That was Sally Field in the role of Sister Bertrille. So I guess I don’t remember Patty Duke’s work that well at all.

Of course, there were other announcements (in English and Spanish) which panned across the screen.  It surprised me that the same informational pieces were not also posted in Tagalog (Filipino).  Recently, the Department of Justice determined that Clark County, NV had a sufficiency of Filipino voters that our voting material also had to be available in their language.  Perhaps the DOJ and SSA don’t communicate with each other as they should.

It was after losing interest in these repetitive announcements on SSTV that I turned my attention to yet another sign which prohibited the use of cameras within the building.  I began to ask myself, “Why”?  Would posting pictures of this drab interior cause someone with suicidal tendencies to take the plunge and do themselves in? 

But as I reviewed this ban on photography, yet another posted item caught my eye.  It was placed at a height that only an NBA player could read – directly above the exit door.  The print was so infinitesimally small that it would have been virtually impossible to read by anyone who had not brought a magnifying glass with them.  It was entitled “GSA (General Services Administration) Rules and Regulations Regarding Conduct on Federal Property.”  For your edification, I have provided a link to this document which was crafted in 2005, here:

 http://www.aphis.usda.gov/mrpbs/asd/downloads/rules.pdf

Incidentally, the type that you see in this government download is exactly the same type that appeared on the wall of the SSA’s facility.  If you can read this at a height that is two feet above your head, posted in an exit way with people constantly leaving the facility, then you are a far better person than I.

A 925.  “Thank you, Lord.  Only one more to go.”  A 928.  What happened?  Where’s our number?  Then I remembered that SSTV had said that there were certain people with special needs who might be accommodated sooner but that we shouldn’t worry because our number would be called.  And it was – the very next time. 

“A 926 – Window 12.”

David and I made haste to the magic window and sat down.  A zombie-like employee addressed us with that warm greeting, “Yes?”  I looked at the man to see if his pulse were sufficient to last while we conducted our business with him.

When David explained that he required a replacement card, the man said, “You know you are only entitled to three replacement cards in a year or ten in a lifetime.  Have you exceeded these limits?”  David, said, “No, sir.  This is my first replacement card.”

To which our friend behind the window said, “Let me see your driver’s license.”  David handed it over together with his application for a new card.

I thought that was interesting.  SSA requires a driver’s license (among other forms of identification) for obtaining a new Social Security card.  But in order to vote in this state you don’t need to have one.  I guess that says something about how we value our priorities.

By the way, the Social Security card clearly states that it is “Not To Be Used For Purposes of Identification.”  Why they exist at all – other than for those who cannot remember their number (or in the case of some of us) their multiple numbers – is beyond me.  But I don’t make the rules.

Five minutes later our automaton friend handed David a piece of paper and asked him to review the information that it contained, to verify that it was accurate, “under penalty of perjury.”  David reviewed it and handed it back, affirming that the information was correct.

I really wanted to say, “Is that the same oath Bill Clinton took in his impeachment trial?”  But I thought that was only going to slow down the process and that the satiric nature of the comment would be lost on our friend behind the window so I held my tongue.

David got his receipt from the man behind the window with the pronouncement that his new Social Security card would arrive in the mail within two weeks.  This was delivered in the same monotone, uninspired way in which he had conducted the rest of his conversation.  And so we left.  It was nearly one o’clock.

I was hungry, as was David so I suggested we have luncheon together.  He thought that was a good idea.  As we were close to one of my favorite restaurants, we went there to dine. 

I ordered the Mongolian Beef luncheon special.  After a considerable amount of hemming and hawing, David went with the Cashew Chicken.  He really doesn’t like Chinese food – which I am sad to admit I knew.

Payback is a horrible thing.

(NOT YET) FAMOUS QUOTES – XII

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ON ETHICS AND MORALS

One of the few television shows that I really like is NCIS.  The plots are creatively constructed and I enjoy the interaction of the actors in their portrayals.

In one of the episodes, Dr. Mallard (Ducky) is preparing for an examination, aided in this effort by his assistant Jimmy.  Jimmy poses the question, “What is the difference between ethics and morals?”

Ducky responds, “The ethical man knows that it is wrong to cheat on his wife; the moral man doesn’t.”  It is perhaps the briefest and most concise explanation of those two terms and the writer who penned those lines deserves congratulations

The implication is that an awareness of what is ethical logically precedes the ability to act morally.  In the absence of an understanding of ethics, moral behavior simply will not happen.

Perhaps the easiest way to describe the word ethics is to say that it is generally accepted “good behavior,” as it should be  practiced by individuals and ultimately the societies into which they form.  Certainly early man who viewed his personal survival as the most ethical kind of behavior had little difficulty in extinguishing the life of a fellow who might have threatened him and his clan’s security.   But early man evolved and realized that there was a benefit in banding together, ceding certain rights to others and receiving benefits in doing so.  Thus early societies came into being.

As we continued to evolve, we looked beyond mere survival to question higher matters.  Who knows when the first man asked the question, “Why am I here and how did I get here?  And where am I going?”  Those are the same questions that haunt us today.

Most of us, in one form or another, have a belief in a higher power, God though he or she takes many names and forms.  We began to recognize that this higher power had higher understanding – and we accepted the rules that were laid down for us to follow by the Deity.  The Ten Commandments is an obvious and familiar example of how “the law was made for man; not man for the law.”

Most of us would agree that it is not ethical behavior to kill, to rape, to steal, to commit adultery, to covet.  And if we all acted morally in accordance with that we would have no need for police forces or courts or armies.  But it is obvious in reviewing human history that we don’t.  Now comes the reason for the existence of laws made by men.

As our higher power does not actively intervene in the affairs of men on a day to day basis – and, despite the fact that we have received an ethical code by which we are supposed to conduct our lives, there needs to be a practical remedy when those rules are broken.  (That they are broken regularly can easily be demonstrated by reading any local or national newspaper on any given day).

Can you imagine a society in which we all stood aghast on hearing that a murder had been committed?  “My word, that’s the first one that I’ve heard about in thirty-seven years.”  What a Utopia.  The truth is that murders occur about every thirty-seven seconds.

Laws made by men are, of their nature, punitive.  We presume that an infraction of our ethical standards will be breached and then turn our attention to an appropriate punishment for that.  I have no doubt that, for the most part, those who crafted these regulations did so with the best intention of society as a whole in mind.  Most of us would agree that we do not want homicidal maniacs roaming our streets carrying assault weapons.

But what if those who craft our laws are themselves devoid of an ethical standard and are morally bankrupt?  What result might we expect to find in the rules and regulations which they enact?  The answer is nothing that is desirable.

It is always difficult and often inaccurate to paint any group with a broad brush.  However, it is always “politically convenient” to do so.  Hitler found it to be an effective tool in his rise to power.  Great dictators have always used this divide and conquer strategy to attain their ends – focusing the attention of the unthinking mob against some group and using their distraction to usurp more power for themselves.

Fortunately, living in the United States of America we have protections against that sort of tyranny.  In our case it’s called the Constitution.

The Tea Act was the final straw that broke a fledgling giant’s back and patience and tolerance and started a new nation with a higher ethical standard on its way for what has now amounted to almost two hundred fifty years.  But has the pendulum finally begun to swing in the opposite direction?

The American Patriots’ anger at the imposition of British-made rules on them was that they had no voice in the matter.  The British who imposed the rules had the right to collect the monies they had levied on the colonists – but had no obligation to pay a similar tax themselves.  This was aristocracy operating in the way that aristocracy always operates – making rules for others and ignoring them for themselves.

In my posts I often refer to the Washington aristocracy.  I use the term specifically and for the reasons that I cite in the preceding paragraph.  Those who run the government (as our elected representatives or appointed officials) typically exempt themselves from being bound by the legislation that they craft and deem fit for the rest of us.

This is in direct contrast to de Tocqueville’s comments in, “Democracy in America” when he said, “the greatness of the American nation is that all are bound by the same laws.”  It was an obvious differentiation between the fledgling America about which he wrote and the entrenched aristocracy that then ruled in Europe.

Let’s look at one of the laws which passed, commonly known as “Obama Care” and, putting aside the emotion that surrounds some of its provisions, try to examine the passage of this law from a purely cold and logical basis.   While there is always a middle ground, I have decided to undertake this brief review by deeming it either a “good” or “bad” law.

Case One – Obama Care is a good law.

I defer to the legislators who spent their time crafting together this two thousand page document.  At least some of them probably know the provisions better than I as I have only read it once and then only with the aid of many pots of coffee.

My question, as a logician is, “If this is such a good law and has so many benefits, why did you specifically exempt yourselves, the President and Vice-President, members of the Supreme Court and thousands of other appointed officials from being bound by its provisions?”

Case Two – Obama Care is a bad law.

See Case One.

Two hundred fifty years ago the American people overthrew one set of aristocrats.  With few notable exceptions, those in power now seem to have forgotten that most basic American tenet, “Of the People, By the People, For the People.”  To exempt themselves from the laws they pass for the rest of us can only be an act of insanity or of gross calumny.  In either case, why would we continue to return these aristocrats to office – unless we ourselves are deranged or masochistic?

My hope is that we can purge ourselves of those with an aristocratic mindset and start electing people who are firmly entrenched in an ethical standard to bring guidance and inspiration to this land.  After we accomplish that, we can work on the question of morality.

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