Wednesday, March 29, 2017

But Your Honor, I'm blind, and my VEEP doesn't speak English. I mean...er...Me Blindo y


I'm sure you've heard of the Fifth Amendment which guarantees citizens the right to NOT have give self-incriminating testimony.  If asked a question in court they can avoid answering by "pleading the Fifth".  This doesn't mean they're either guilty or not guilty, but just that they're not going to answer the question.  

Our American system of justice says everyone is (theoretically) considered innocent until proven guilty.  However, when a person pleads the Fifth over and over and over and....the average listener begins to think the person pleading it is indeed guilty.  The perception says "guilty" even if the evidence doesn't, and it's a hard perception to overcome.

That's essentially where President Donnie John Trump is today.  Every time he or one of his surrogates opens his mouth, smoke comes billowing out.  They say, "look over there" and "nobody's ever proven anything" and "I never said that", even when there's video of them saying that.  No fire has yet been seen, but now the perception is he's guilty.  He's to the point now that a vast majority of people think he's lying, even if he isn't.  

So what's up with RussiaGate?   I won't go in to all the suspicious things that link the Trump campaign / administration and many of his advisers to Russia, but they're all over the news if you wish to look them up. Virtually everyone above the level of the White House mail room kid is under investigation by the FBI.

You've heard the old saying, "If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging", right?  So why does the Trump administration keep digging?  If they're truly as pure as the driven snow like they say they are, why don't they stop in place, open up all their dealings, and prove it?  And if there IS a rotten apple in the barrel, then get them out NOW!  They could turn a negative into a positive.  What's the point of keeping the smoke screen machine running flat out if all is well? 

Yet the Republicans in Congress give him almost universal lip support.  Virtually no thinking person buys hook, line, and sinker everything President Trump and his surrogates say, but the Republican's, with only a few defectors, will admit nothing is even at all suspicious.  They'll go out of their way to give him cover.  Is that smart?

If I was a congressman (R) *shudder* I think this would be a good time to go on a foreign junket.  Seems to me it's just a matter of time before the next Woodward and Bernstein (look 'em up kids) hooks up with the right whistleblower and the Shit Hits The Fan.  Or if there is nothing to blow a whistle about, that will come out, too.  But playing it safe, just in case the fan does start flinging poo, I wouldn't want to be known as part of Trump's regular golf foursome.  


If the SHTF there would be a lot of panicked rats trying to escape the sinking SS Trump.  Politics baffles me.  How can people that smart be so stupid?

S


Monday, March 27, 2017

You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours



Did you ever own a fully restored classic car?  No?  Me either....they were always waaay above my pay grade.  But I have known people who did, and they all told me their restoration was a gradual, evolutionary process that took years before their cars were trophy winners.

First they disassembled everything to see what needed to be done.  Then they rebuilt the engine and transmission while the body was being repaired and repainted.  Finally everything was put back together, with new re-chromed wheels and appropriately sized tires.  With a new convertible top and upholstery, it was ready to meet the show judges.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Stay with me here....Now that a replacement for ObamaCare has fizzled it looks like we're stuck with the old ACA, and that's a problem.  By all accounts it's failing fast.  There are too few insurance companies to choose from in many areas, premiums are rising, and deductibles are so high many people can't afford to actually use the insurance they're paying for.  So instead of just walking away from it and watching it wither, and killing people (literally) in the process, why don't reasonable people work together to FIX IT?

Just like with a classic car, first you see what needs to be fixed.  Then piece-by-piece you clean it up and keep what you can, buy new, better parts as needed, and finally reassemble it to become something that actually works.  It's an evolutionary process, not an overnight quick fix.

They say there isn't enough competition between insurance companies, so why not allow them to compete across state lines?  The GOP campaigned on that idea, and if it can bring down premiums, why would the Democrats object?  (They've always said insurance companies were their archenemies, right?  Here's their big chance to spank 'em!Except for the health insurance company CEO with a mega-bonus at stake, why would anyone object to companies competing for your business?  Am I missing something?

They say the pharmaceutical companies are screwing us blind, which is another reason insurance costs are so high.  The Democrats on the Left and now the Tea Party on the Right have always wanted to come down hard on them, so why can't they bury the hatchet long enough to give Big Pharma an ultimatum?  "Get your prices here in America in line with the international market, or we'll free up consumers to legally buy their prescriptions overseas.  No more official government cover."

Line-by-line, read the ACA, keep it if it's working, and change it if it isn't.  Have an ongoing amendment process that keeps constantly striving to improve it.  The old system (pre-ObamaCare) was slowing failing us, so it was just a matter of time before something new had to be tried.

They say if everyone walks away from a negotiation just a little miffed, it was probably a fair deal.  Forget the concept of "all or none".  It's time for some give and take.  Americans seem pretty fed up with the extremists after their sorry debacle last week, so this might be a good time for moderates to get something done.

We have us one helluva mess.  Something has to change. 

S

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Pinterest favorites update


Dogs

America's Cup

Girls and Guns

Mountain Drives

Israel (IDF)

Cool Cars
 
 Eyes
 
 F1

Small Houses

Beards and Mustaches

 Cool Guns

Europe

Cool Knives



Friday, March 24, 2017

Wha...what? Flying pigs?...Icicles in Hell?...



Stubborn as hell and it never forgets.

Do you understand what's happening with this on again / off again healthcare bill about to come to a vote in Congress?  I think I have it figured out.  Here's my take:

The Red State congressional parasites have promised their constituents a Trillion Dollar tax cut, cause, you know, their folks need more $$$.  The first step to doing that is to trash ObamaCare.

The Blue State congressional parasites have promised their constituents more healthcare benefits with ideally even bigger subsidies.  They don't care what it costs because their constituents by-and-large won't be the ones paying for it.

Right now ALL House of Representatives Democrats (the Blues) will vote "no" because it cuts too deep, and many Republican Tea Party-types (the Reds) will vote "no" because it doesn't cut deeply enough.  Talk about strange bedfellows!  The bill is expected to fail.  But if by some miracle it passes, what then?

Then it's on to the Senate, where it's even less likely to pass, for the same reasons mentioned above.  The Republicans want their tax cut, dammit!  There are yachts that need buying!  They don't care who they have to whack to get it.  The Democrats just want their blank check.  Stalemate.

So what if the few moderate Democrats along with the few moderate Republicans sat down together and agreed to strengthen the good points of the ACA, aka ObamaCare, toss out the parts of the ACA that smell, and try to keep the expenses fairly neutral....no blank check for the Dems, and no 1% welfare check for the GOP?  The fringes of both parties could just go to their respective corners and throw their little tantrums.

And to get President Trump to sign it, they can call it "DonnieJohnCare".  He'll love it!  He'll think it's FANTASTIC, just TERRIFIC!  What do ya think?

S

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

I worry about my friends, Bob


And I owe it all to Hanz and Franz

Health-wise I've always been pretty lucky.  I've been told I come from a pretty healthy gene pool as very little has ever gone wrong with me....until recently.  I don't smoke, drink only occasionally and in moderation, no drugs, and I was always in pretty good physical shape, even though I never crossed paths with Ah-nold at any gym.  (I did wander into a gym once by mistake, though.)  

I did, however, have several back-to-back detached retinas a dozen years ago, and I came semi-unglued at age 64 when they discovered I had an immune system condition as well as heart arrhythmia (my heart was beating too slowly), necessitating a pacemaker.  Fortunately, thanks to my wonderful wife K, who had a corporate job with insurance (with me added as a dependent), those pesky little boo-boo's cost me surprisingly little out of pocket.  Not everyone is as lucky as me, though.  Here are a few examples of people I know personally who are in truly bad shape, both physically and financially:

My masonry contractor, let's call him Bob, has suffered mightily from kidney stones for many years now.  He's had all the tests, tried multiple doctors....everything....but they haven't yet been able to fix him.  They've given him pain meds and just told him to suck it up.  As his private health insurance carrier eventually jacked his rate up to $1,600 per month he had to let it go.  It was either food for his family or insurance.  

Bob is an American of Mexican heritage and still has relatives back in the old country.  Out of desperation Bob recently became a "medical tourist" (people who travel to another country to have needed surgery because it is so much less expensive than in the US).  He said the doctors and his hospital in Monterrey, Mexico were surprisingly good, but still, his surgery was only partially successful.  He's still hurting and still has no insurance.  I worry about my friend Bob.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I once had a window washer, let's call him Bob, who came to my house regularly to make sure I could see out.  I didn't mind washing my own windows, but all I ended up doing was rearranging the dirt.  Anyway, Bob was in his early 20's at the time, and in conversation told me he worked 20 hours a week at Kroger's (grocery store) in order to have insurance, and then spent the rest of his time washing windows.

A few years later I visited with him again and he said he had to quit his Kroger job as his window washing job became a 40+ hour a week career he couldn't pass up.  I asked what he did for insurance and he said he was without.  He said if he got sick he was just going to go to the emergency room and hope for the best.  At his age I could tell "getting sick" was the last thing on his mind.  I heard some time later that he was involved in an accident (I believe there was a motorcycle involved) and could no longer work.  I don't know where he is today, but I still think about Bob.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The foreman at the custom cabinet shop we used, let's call him Bob, was in his 50's when he had a stroke.  Like many small businesses, Bob's boss couldn't afford insurance for his employees.  Bob was airlifted to a hospital in Plano, Tx where they stabilized him, but he was left semi-paralyzed.  After several weeks there (and knowing Bob was going to be a charity write-off) the hospital finally worked with Medicaid to find a rehab facility that would take him.  The last I heard Bob was little improved.  I worry about my friend Bob.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

There are lots of "Bob's" in this country who are hurting and have no insurance.  Sometimes they have no insurance because they couldn't afford it, sometimes because they were foolish.  Notice I said all these people were working.  They weren't lazy bums who were looking for a handout, as many imagine uninsured people to be.  They just didn't have the good fortune of having a smart, hard working wife employed by a large, deep-pocketed corporation to carry them on their health insurance like I did.  Fate is too often fickle like that.

We have a lot of sick people here who compassionate Americans IMO shouldn't turn their backs on.  We're better than that.  But what to do?  I don't know the answer, but I'm confident that the Republican's Ryan/TrumpCare bill now making its way through Congress isn't it, nor is ObamaCare, which they say is now itself on life support.  To those who would rather have the Almighty Tax Cut a slimmed down healthcare bill promises so they can buy another shiny new gadget, I hope they'll think about my friends Bob when they're out toy shopping.

S

NOTE:  These are all absolutely real people I know.  If any of you reading this are actually named Bob, I suggest you stay inside today.  ;)


Monday, March 20, 2017

Decisions, decisions....




Yes, healthcare again.  NO, DON'T HANG UP!  THIS IS ACTUALLY PRETTY INTERESTING.

Congress (the House of Representatives) should be taking a vote this week on whether they'll be adapting Ryan/TrumpCare or sticking with ObamaCare, which it seems all agree will soon be/is on life support.  The Right is hoping for the former, and the Left (Bernie & friends) would prefer something more like the single-payer (universal) healthcare system they've had in the United Kingdom since 1948.

So what exactly is the UK's system (the NHS) like?  I'd heard the doctors and nurses, the technology, and the facilities are all first rate, but the wait time to be seen by a doctor was very long.  To get to the bottom of it all I corresponded with a British friend* and asked him to give me a quick overview.  I trusted him implicitly and knew he would give me the unvarnished truth to the best of his knowledge.  His response:

First, the NHS is a mandatory insurance scheme paid for by National Insurance contributions, a tax for all intents and purposes.  Almost all prescriptions are included for a flat fee of approx $10US each, with exceptions for the young (<16) and the "more mature" (>60), with a few other special exemptions, too.  One option is a Rx pre-payment plan costing roughly $125 per year which covers all your meds, regardless of how many you might have.

All doctor and hospital treatment is included, as are many optical and dental services.  Doctors, dentists, and "opticians" (optometrists) are all self-employed and may be either working entirely for the NHS under contract, entirely private, or a bit of both.  About 8% of the population also has private insurance over and above their NHS coverage, which generally gets them perks like quicker consultations, private hospital rooms, etc.  (He said it really amounts to not having to rub elbows with the common folk in the waiting rooms.)  Almost all feel there is no difference in the care received, although a few would debate that.  If a doctor has a good reputation and a thriving practice serving the 8%, he can probably make more $$$ by going entirely private than with a NHS contract.

The biggest grumble is indeed the wait time to be seen.  Of course all patients are prioritized, just like here, so emergencies get immediate attention while non-emergencies could be in for a fair wait.  Elective surgeries can take (many months) longer to schedule than here, so you might be hobbling around a lot longer on a bum knee, but at least there will be $0 due when you're finally patched up.  

Another common complaint is that the NHS is in places understaffed.  All this varies depending on where you live, just like service in the US varies depending on if you live in a big city or a smaller town.  On the plus side, paperwork there is nil....just show your eligibility card.  That's it!  *take note Aetna!*

My friend pointed out that, essentially, National Insurance and the NHS is a non-profit system that covers everyone.  The nature of the system means that drug manufacturers have to reach agreement with the NHS about what their prices will be, and as a near-monopoly the NHS can haggle for better prices than private hospitals or doctors can here.  This is largely why treatment costs there are so much lower....the non-profit side combined with the fact the NHS dominates the market.  In the US a very large portion of the money we pay goes to the sort of overhead that any privately-run system has....large salaries for health insurance and pharmaceutical company execs, dividends to shareholders, medical billing and the inevitable write-offs, and so on. 

Now for some numbers** :  The United States spends approx 17.1% of its GDP on healthcare (public and private combined), or about $9,403 per person, which still leaves us with about 12% who have the only option of going to an emergency room for care, which they will likely never be able to pay.  The United Kingdom spends approx 8.8% of its GDP on healthcare (public and private combined), or about $3,377 per person, which includes care for every legal resident.  

On a parallel track, the total tax burden on the average American is 26% of his income, and 32.6% for the average UK resident.  Essentially the top income earners here would come out ahead paying a lower tax rate, while the rest of us would probably do better paying higher taxes but receiving all-inclusive healthcare. 

Just as there is considerable political pressure to cut healthcare costs here, the same applies there.  The Republicans here and the Conservatives (Tories) there are looking to reign in costs (ie: coverage).  Both are having some success, taking some services off the table, although incurring the wrath of many voters in the process.  I will say that every single Brit I have ever heard discuss their system said they were overall "satisfied" or "very satisfied" with it.

It seems to me that if you have coverage here in the US (subsidized) by your employer, if you have ample financial liquidity to pay for all your prescriptions, the ever-increasing co-pays, deductibles, and out-of-pocket expenses, and if you believe your job is rock-solid stable (is there such a thing anymore?), you might want to just leave things alone.  But if your situation is anything other than that, the security of a British-style system might look very enticing.  Also be aware, as I understand it, those here over the age of 47 will be especially hard hit by the proposed Ryan/TrumpCare, so be prepared.

Finally, I ran across this article while doing my research comparing the UK and US systems by someone who has used them both.  It's definitely worth a read....very interesting.

Just something for you to think about.

S

* Thank you, Sir, for your invaluable insight.  :)

**  Exact numbers are hard to compare.  US, EU, various research groups, etc, differ slightly.  Some numbers, for example, are from 2015, and some from 2016.  Still, the variations are minor.  Tax liability numbers are as close to "apples-to-apples" as I can find.


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Go do WHAT to myself? HOW DARE YOU!


So the Tea Party wants a new healthcare plan, and they seem to be pinning their entire case on allowing insurance companies to do business across state lines.  Right now, to my knowledge, each state has its own Dept. of Insurance that regulates the companies doing business there.  Fifty states, 50 Departments of Insurance.  

It's common for one or two health insurers in each state to control 50, 60, even 80% of the market.  The GOPers (Gophers?  *snicker*) think removing the state-to-state barrier will open up the market to much more competition, bringing rates down.  What I want to know is, why didn't we do this years ago?  Who is opposed to more competition?  Oops....I think I just answered my own question.  I can only think of two groups who would object:  The various State Departments of Insurance, and the insurance companies.  

Bureaucrats by definition like bureaucracy.  They just loooove to have more forms, more rules, more audits, and more papers to shuffle from "in" to "out".  It's their job security.  And the Chairman at each State Dept. of Insurance sees his department as his personal fiefdom.  The more people he's over, the larger his department, the more prestige he enjoys, and the larger the salary he can justify asking for.  There's obstacle #1.

And the health insurers no doubt just loooove it when they can have a HUGE market share in a state.  They can say "jump", and the doctors, hospitals, etc have no choice but to answer, "how high?"  When the insurers hold all the cards, they can control the game.  They can decide what is and isn't covered, how much they will pay for each procedure, etc, and the doctors and hospitals have little choice but to fall in line.  There's obstacle #2.

So if it's a good idea, why must we associate this increased "open market" ONLY with the new Tea Party/Ryan/Trump plan?  Why couldn't it apply to a new, improved ACA 2.0, or ScottCare, or whatever?  Why can't the Democrats and Republicans band together (for once) and just slap the ever-lovin' crap out of the (state insurance) bureaucrats and the insurance companies?  The bureaucrats can clean out their desks and go home, and the insurance companies can be told,  "NO MORE!  This is how it's gonna be from now on.  Y'all get lean, learn the definition of "customer service", and never forget....YOU work for US!  We have choices!"

Is there anyone else who has a motive to keep the system we have now?  Am I missing anything?

Like I've always said....no one has a monopoly on good ideas.  Open the market to more competition and let's see what happens, even if the Tea Party/Ryan/Trump plan dies en route.

S