Thursday, July 20, 2017

The world's toughest job?


...Being President Donald Trump's lawyer(s).

Exactly how would you go about trying to keep Donald Trump quiet?  Break all his fingers?  Put him in a straight jacket and duct tape his mouth shut?  I really have no idea, and apparently neither do any of his high profile attorneys, as evidenced by the fact that their client got loose yesterday and gave an interview to the New York Times.  After what the President said, I'm sure his legal team headed straight to the nearest bar to get seriously liquored up.

Specifically, President Trump said...on the record no less...that his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, should never have recused himself from the investigation of any Trump campaign/Russia collaboration.  He went on to say "if I had known he was going to do that, I would have nominated someone else.  I needed someone I could count on."

Uhh..."count on"?  Count on to do what?  Someone he could count on to call off the dogs, to stifle the investigation that was already underway?  Someone to fire the FBI Director if necessary and keep him out of it?  He said that out loud?  I can't imagine how else you could finish that sentence.  

To be so smart, that man says some really dumb things.  I don't think Donald Trump could have a worse enemy than his own mouth.


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

An overview of German healthcare you might find interesting

If you're news savvy at all you've no doubt heard that the Republicans have been unable to get a new healthcare plan through Congress, and everyone is freaking out because ObamaCare is failing fast and there is no replacement on the horizon.  What I've never heard discussed is whether anyone has bothered to look outside the US to see if there is a model elsewhere we might could adopt and tweak to fit our circumstances.  Just for kicks I did, and for my subject I chose Germany.  I picked Germany for no particular reason....just the luck of the draw.  Here's what I found:

Unlike Great Britain which has a single payer system (aka Socialized medicine), Germany's is a multi-payer health care system paid for by a combination of statutory health insurance, officially called "sickness funds", and private health insurance, called "private sickness funds".   A 2015 survey found Germany had the most restriction-free and consumer-oriented healthcare system in Europe. Patients are allowed to seek almost any type of care they wish whenever they want it.  Germany has nothing similar to our HMO's.

All doctors in Germany are in private practice and are not employees of the government, and hospitals are "non-profit".  Health insurance is mandatory for the entire population in Germany.  Salaried workers and employees below the income threshold of almost 50,000 Euros ($57,700 US) per year are automatically enrolled into one of the 130+/- public non-profit "sickness funds" at common rates (no surcharge for older members, no pre-existing condition limitations), which is paid for with joint employer-employee contributions.  The fact that these funds are "non-profit" suggests to me they are run like regulated utilities are here....they're guaranteed to be able to cover costs, but no windfall.

These (private but no doubt regulated) "sickness funds" negotiate with doctors and hospitals for favorable rates, just as insurance companies do here.  The majority of Germans (89%) are covered by one of these funds.  Apparently these insurance funds just process claims, then forward them to the government for actual payment to the providers.  This is all funded by a combination of employee contributions, employer contributions and government subsidies on a scale determined by income level....15.5%, 7.3% of which is covered by the employer.  The indigent are also covered by something similar to our Medicaid.

This might at first glance seem high, but regardless of how you slice/dice it, after figuring in all employer/employee premiums, deductibles, and cash-out-of-pocket expenses, the average total healthcare expenditure per American per year is $9451, vs $5267 per German per year.  Total healthcare costs are 16.4% of GDP in the US, and 11% of GDP in Germany.  Germans do pay a small co-pay per doctor visit in order to discourage them from clogging up the system by going in for every sneeze and splinter.

For those making over the 50,000 Euro threshold, they can opt out of the public sickness funds and enroll in one of the 900 +/- private sickness funds.  11% of Germans prefer this private system.  These are competitively priced depending on the amount of services chosen (for example, some include dental and vision) and the person's risk and age.  Young, healthy people can likely save money by enrolling in one of the private plans, BUT, will pay much higher rates later as they age and need more medical attention.  The killer is, when that time comes, they can't just opt back in to the public system. 

The care received is NOT bargain basement, either.  For example, wait times:  83% of Germans can get an appointment with a specialist within 4 weeks, whereas 80% of Americans can get an appointment with a specialist within 4 weeks.  Wait times are slightly shorter for those with private plans.  The average hospital stay in Germany is 9 days, where in the US it is 5-6 days.  (The most common complaint here is they "sew you up and roll you out the door".)  Private hospital rooms there are not the norm, unlike here, and doctor's offices and hospital lobbies are not as lavishly furnished as they are here.  By most (?) metrics I could find (life expectancy, infant mortality, etc) Germans fared slightly better than Americans.  FYI....there are 2.554 doctors per 1000 residents in the US, and 4.125 doctors per 1000 residents in Germany.

I'll stop there.  My point is there are other countries (at least one) who have insurance coverage (vs universal single payer coverage) that we might look to for ideas.  Considering the German penchant for over-engineering everything they do, I'm sure there are many other details that I'm not aware of, but this seems like a fair overview.

Our hang-up is that many of us (ie: the Tea Party) say it's un-American to force someone buy insurance if they don't want to.  I find this to be a highly hypocritical argument as the same Tea Party-types all seem to like the Medicare and Social Security benefits they receive that they were forced to contribute to for their entire working lives.  And aren't we forced to pay school taxes, even if our kids are long since past school age?  Isn't that textbook socialism?  If we receive SS and Medicare and pay school taxes are we required to have a picture of Marx or Lenin hanging on our wall at home? *snort!*  IMO we need to get over it!

I say let's open our minds and find something better than what we have now.


Sunday, July 16, 2017


Where did we go so wrong?  For 200+ years Americans have admittedly done a fair amount of bickering among ourselves (our Civil War being the most dramatic example), but we somehow managed to get along well enough to keep us moving forward to become a land of freedom and opportunity for all (well, some more than others). 

But somewhere during the 1980's (?) things began to change.  We became less tolerant of anyone who disagreed with whatever we believed.  We became intensely polarized.  Today liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, have built a no-man's-land mine field between themselves.  Some of you who may be more politically knowledgeable than me might disagree, but as I recall it the one person who most personified this winner-take-all, take-no-prisoners brand of partisan politics was Rep Tom DeLay of Texas.

DeLay was the Republican House Whip.  He was the guy who "whipped" all his party members into voting exactly as the party leadership said, or else.  You crossed him at your own risk.

Our national leaders after WWII understood it was in our best interest to NOT totally humiliate our recently vanquished enemies.  We allowed the Emperor of Japan to maintain his title, and helped the Europeans rebuild via the Marshall Plan.  Unfortunately Tom DeLay missed history class the day that was discussed.  By the time he made it to a leadership position in Congress he had earned a reputation as the meanest SOB in town.  He was never interested in negotiating with the Democrats, but only in stomping them.  He wanted to steamroll them, kick 'em in the teeth, scalp them, and finally disembowel them and spit on their carcass.

Each party dug in their heels.  The hard-core "base" of each side refused to believe that their guys could ever do anything wrong, and that the other side could ever do anything right.  For 8 years Republicans were constantly at Bill Clinton's throat, and Democrats returned the favor by constantly sniping at Dubya Bush for his 8 years in office.  Each thought they had been wronged, and it was 100% the other parties fault.  They themselves were always right, regardless of the facts.  (Truth was there was plenty of blame to go around.)

We moved from the gutter into the sewer when Barack Obama was elected President.  The Senate Republican Leader, Mitch McConnell, openly admitted it was his goal in life to see to it that Obama was a one-term President.  Many even refused to believe Obama was American born.  Anything the Democrats proposed, the Republicans automatically opposed, sight unseen.  If any Republicans might have wanted to participate in the drafting of ObamaCare, their leadership took them aside and beat them senseless.  "NO COLLABORATING WITH THE ENEMY!"

Now the tables are reversed.  Republicans are proposing a replacement healthcare plan, and they wouldn't in a million years throw the Democrats a bone to get them to play ball.  If they should be offered a seat at the table, I'm sure the Democratic leadership would put any party defector before a firing squad.

And here we are in 2017.  Donald Trump is President, and his family and administration are under attack.  The smoke and stench of something going on between Russia and his administration, if not the President personally, is pretty powerful.  The Republican base refuses to even acknowledge anything smells, and the Democratic base is ready to start build gallows.  As Republicans and their media stooges (FOX News) see it, the crime is not that they did it, but that they got caught because someone leaked it to the other side's media stooges.  "HOW DARE THEY CATCH US!"

IMO we've pretty much hit bottom.  Today our choice is between the Party of Oil  and the Party of Water....they will never mix.  The best quote I've heard in months was this morning when a commentator on TV, a Republican, called Washington politicians "the lowest form of human life".  Too harsh?  I think not.

Oh, and Tom DeLay?  He was indicted and convicted for money laundering in 2011 and sentenced to 3 years in prison.  However, in 2013 his conviction was overturned by a highly partisan (surprise!) Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.  

I'm honestly not trying to be a Debbie Downer, but just a realist.  Individually we're wonderful people, willing to work together to better our neighborhoods and communities and schools.  But the minute we put on a red hat or a blue hat, we turn into animals.  If civil discourse isn't actually yet dead, it's definitely on life support.  Hurts to hear, doesn't it?


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Playing both ends against the middle....and losing

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is today unveiling the new, improved version of the GOP's repeal / replace healthcare legislation.  Early reports are that its success is already hanging by a thread, with enough Republican Senators against or leaning against to likely doom it. What seems to be the problem?

The problem is Republicans are facing an existential (life or death) conundrum.  On the one hand, they want to keep their voters happy, because more than anything in the world they want to keep their jobs.  They, and in fairness this applies to both Democrats and Republicans, would throw their mama under the bus if need be to keep their privileged positions in Congress.

But on the other hand they want to keep their wealthy special interests happy, too, for it is they who fund their political careers.  Without their money they can't buy all those media ads and send out all those slick mailers.  It's their special interest's money that keeps their privileged world spinning smoothly.

Their conundrum is they can't do both when it comes to healthcare.  When the less affluent and steadily shrinking middle class heard "repeal and replace", they envisioned putting in place something BETTER than what they had.  When the wealthy special interests heard "repeal and replace", they envisioned GUTTING federal government involvement in healthcare, resulting in a huge one TRILLION dollar +/- savings which would then come back to them as a tax cut.  The American people don't care about a tax cut for the wealthy special interests, and the wealthy special interests don't care about healthcare for the American people.

The latest polls say only 12 - 17% of the American people approve of either the Republican's House or Senate healthcare plans.  The American Medical Association...the doctors...and the American Hospital Association OPPOSE either of the GOP's plans because they know with 20,000,000+ fewer people being insured, they won't get paid.  They'll ethically and morally still treat these people, but know they'll never get paid for their services, and will then have to charge those who are insured even more.  So much for lower premiums! 

Likewise AARP, the American Association of Retired Persons, is OPPOSED to the GOP plans because they know it will adversely affect many / most of their 38,000,000 members.  FACT:  Medicaid pays the costs for 45% of all elderly nursing home residents.  How are nursing homes going to provide care to these people if fewer and fewer can afford to pay?  They can't just give it away!  Can families bring their loved ones home and properly provide 24 / 7 care themselves?

If Congressional Republicans truly cared about healthcare for our citizens, they could vote the money needed to pay for it.  But that would mean cancelling many of the special sweetheart tax breaks and subsidies the wealthy now receive, and then kissing goodbye the future financial support of the very upper crust of our society.

They're screwed if they support their constituents, and screwed if they support their benefactors. All signs now suggest the odds-on favorites to win this tug-of-war are the wealthy.  Money talks.  How else can you explain why Republicans go home to town hall meetings every week and try to sell a plan they know is supported by only 12% of their constituents?

Gee, what's a spineless, two-faced Congressman to do?


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

All Hail The Chief!

Presenting the 46th President of the United States, Michael Richard Pence....wha....what?  Not yet?  Six more months?  Oops....never mind.

It's looking like President Donald Trump's worst enemy is turning out to be his own family.  To supposedly be so smart they're turning out to be serial dummies.  The smart Trump kid has been in the news every day this week, and every day he keeps on digging a deeper hole. 

"I never heard of her."

"She was just some Russian Lawyer lady who wanted us to adopt some kids."

"She said she had some embarrassing stuff on Hillary, but never delivered anything."

"She was a Russian Government lawyer who (promised) documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and be very useful to Daddy."

"Oh, and did I mention it was ultra-sensitive stuff and part of Russia and its government's support for Dear Papa?"

"But like I said, other than that, I never heard of her."

"Trust me....I'm a Trump."

It looks like it's a GREAT time to be a Washington or a NY lawyer!  *cha ching*  Now son-in-law Jared is scurrying for cover, too.  Even the Trump Administration's Deputy Assistant to The Third Proxy In Charge Of The Copy Machine is lawyer-ing up, and more importantly, leaking incriminating info to the media as fast as he/she can.

If this much scandalous (?) information about Trump, Inc has fallen into the laps of the media and in turn, us peons, just imagine how much info the FBI and Special Counselor Robert Muller have been able to uncover?  Start the countdown clock, and put the fat woman on standby to sing "Turn out the lights..."

But then will come the hard part.  Somebody is going to have to tell Vladie Putin he isn't going to be the 46th President of the United States.  Ouch!  You think he'll demand a refund?  (Rumor has it he has a temper, a shovel, five acres behind the Kremlin, and an alibi.)


Sunday, July 9, 2017

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on ME.

I saw on the early news this morning that President Trump is now proposing that the United States and Russia cooperate to set up an "impenetrable" joint cyber-security program to ensure there will be no more election hacking.  No, this is no joke!  He actually said that!  Here, read it for yourself:

I swear, I think those shoes with velcro instead of shoe laces were invented just for The Donald.  That, or Putin has pictures of him humping farm animals.  What other explanation can there be?


Thursday, July 6, 2017

Exactly who is serving who here?

Many, many years ago when they thought I was too naive to catch on, they (one of our political parties) wanted me as one of their Precinct Chairmen.  They asked if I would accept, and I in return asked, "What exactly will I have to do?"  They explained I would need to knock on my neighbor's doors and ask for their vote, pass out literature, put campaign signs in lawns, host fundraisers for local party candidates, and just in general pledge my loyalty and support for all the candidates the party puts forward.  

"But what if I don't like the candidate you put forward?  What if I for some reason find your / our candidate to be unworthy of my and my neighbor's vote?  Do I still have to support him?"

They said, "yes", and I said "no thanks".

That, on a far grander scale, is what we're seeing in Washington right now.  Republicans seem to be honoring their loyalty pledge to their fellow party member, without reservation.  Every single intelligence agency head has publicly stated the Russians actively interfered in our recent election, but President Trump just gives it a "maybe".  "It might have been the Russians, or maybe someone else" he says.  "Who knows?"

Congressional Republicans almost uniformly say, "Yeah, well probably, I guess, but I'm not sure."  Why can't they put party aside and say, "Yes the Russians interfered, and I don't like it one damn bit!"  But they don't.  They just give President Trump a pass, who in turn will likely not even bring the matter up with Russian President Putin when they meet tomorrow at the G-20 summit.  Everyone is just tip-toeing around this little Russian bully.  Is Washington now a "Backbone Free Zone"?

So the party....either now more important than our nation's sovereignty and security?  Unless they speak up boldly, now, I'll have to conclude their answer is "yes".  That's their dirty little secret.  To them the party is more important than The People they serve.

And that's why I will never be a member of either the Republican or Democratic Party.  My loyalty will never be given cart blanche to either party, ever. 


Monday, July 3, 2017

Just pokin' the bear....

Later this week President Donald Trump will meet one-on-one with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, at the G20 summit in Germany.  Putin has over the past two decades proven to be a master geopolitical manipulator.  He managed to take over a run-down, disastrously managed piece of real estate and then bluffed his way onto the Big Stage.  

Let's be honest for a moment....Russia is just a second-rate conventional power, with a nuclear arsenal they won't dare use.  Putin understands "Mutually Assured Destruction" as well as Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, and Gorbachev before him did.

At one time Putin had considerable leverage over Europe by threatening to withhold from them Russian natural gas shipments.  Europe has wisely worked around that threat and has in fact grown a pretty impressive backbone, led by Germany's Angela Merkel.   Growing up in Communist East Germany, she knows full well the evil reach of the Russian bear.  Even the new French President, Emmanuel "Pretty Boy" Macron, has shown he's willing to stand up to Putin.

After Putin blatantly sent his forces into Ukraine and seized the Crimean peninsula, the supposedly limp-wristed Barack Obama joined our European allies and others to put crippling economic sanctions on Russia.  And after Putin's people were caught red-handed cyber-messing with the US, Obama again bitch-slapped him by seizing two Russian-owned compounds in America and sending home a planeload of Russian "diplomats".

Meanwhile, back in America, President Trump is reportedly paying scant attention to anything "Russia" when the topic comes up in his regular security briefings, infuriating all our intelligence chiefs who know full well of the growing Russian mischief.  Trump has zero knowledge of and zero interest in learning anything about geopolitics.  For 71 years his interest has been in making money, not practicing international relations, and it looks like he isn't going to change his ways now.

Putin will be coming into the G20 meeting with guns blazing.  He will reportedly be demanding the two properties back in America, and will be wanting a rollback of the earlier economic sanctions imposed on his Russia.  Our European allies are standing pretty firm against giving Putin a second chance.  They for good reason don't trust him....he's in their back yard!

All eyes at the G20 will be on Donald Trump's response.  Will the leader of the most powerful economic and military power in the history of the world stand firm with Merkel and Macron and the rest of Europe, or will he cave to Putin?  Which begs the question:  If he caves, why?  What incriminating evidence does Putin have on Trump?  

The infamous "dossier" compiled by a former British MI6 agent, the basis for a special investigation now underway by Robert Mueller, suggests the Russians have compromising sexual or financial material on him.  Trump of course denies it all.  I predict that if Donald Trump caves, the dossier conspiracy theorists will gain immense credibility.

If Trump is scared to call out Putin for the gangster he is, I'm not.  My blog pageviews from Russia have already shot through the roof.  I'm apparently already a burr under somebody's* saddle there, and I'm loving it!


* Probably a computer algorithm keeping track of negative comments about Mother Russia.

LATE EDIT:  This on Yahoo News this morning...

Exciting times we live in!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Have we put Cousin Eddie in charge?

I feel sorry for my conservative friends who are trying to divert attention away from President Trump and focus instead on what they think is a reasonable agenda.  They articulate something worthy of debate, and then the President dumps on their message with his regular 2 am stream of brain dysentery.

Our politicians all combined couldn't lead a 2-car funeral procession out of a parking lot.  Our healthcare situation is a mess.  The Democrat's answer was ObamaCare, and the best the Republicans can come up with is their ScrewYouAmericaCare.  That's it....Plan 1, ObamaCare; or Plan 2, ScrewYouAmericaCare.  

Where's Plan 3?  "Oh, there isn't a Plan 3" they tell us.  That's because we don't have leaders who can count beyond 2!  What they've proposed amounts to putting a band-aid on a sucking chest wound.  Not only can't they think outside the box, they can't even find the damn box!

Of course we need to control our borders.  Every country does.  But proposing a 21st Century "Maginot Line"-like wall to keep the "murdering, raping Mexicans" out, and then expecting the murdering, raping Mexicans to pay for it is about the most ridiculous thing I've ever head of.  Somebody please enroll Donnie John in a Dale Carnegie How To Win Friends And Influence People course.

Trade agreements need to be beneficial to all involved, but over time they sometime lose their fairness.  Calling all parties to sit down together and negotiate a mid-course re-alignment is reasonable, but that won't work if our Negotiator In Chief is slinging personal insults and threats at the other participants.  Make that a remedial How To Win Friends And Influence People course!

With the end of the Cold War many of our NATO partners let their guard down.  With just a few exceptions they spent their tax dollars on everything but their own national security, thinking America always had their back.  Asking them to step up now and contribute more to the alliance is reasonable, but it should be done in respectful negotiations, not by lining up our allies and lambasting them in public. That was cringe-worthy.

We have many serious issues that need attention requiring a top notch team.  So who does President Trump choose to be on his team?  Gen. James Mattis at Defense....OK, he got that one right.  And Rex Tillerson at State....I must say he's doing much better than I expected (although reports are he's about ready to throw in the towel.)  But the rest of them aren't worth shooting.  Steve Mnuchin at Treasury?  Remember the big economic meltdown back in 2008?  Then we had a team of outstanding economic minds who, together, pulled us through.  Mnuchin was one of those who got us INTO that mess, and certainly not one who has the credentials to get us out of the next one.  God help us!   

Beauregard Sessions as AG?   Does anyone think he'll last the year?  And how about Tom Price, the architect of that great healthcare reform plan that enjoys the support of a whopping 17% of the people?  And last but not least, Betsy DeVos, Education Secretary only because her family is a mega-$$$$$ Republican contributor.  Of all the possible excellent talent he had to choose from, President Trump chose these? *sigh*

As I said, conservatives deserve to have their agenda fairly heard and debated, just as liberals do.  But where are today's composed, articulate leaders like Kennedy and Reagan, leaders who were respected if not always agreed with?  Even hardcore Republicans who have been chewing on their tongues for months trying to defend Trump are beginning to turn on him.  He's an embarrassment!

It isn't necessarily the message*, but Trump as the messenger that is threatening to send the Republicans into the political abyss, to join Nancy Pelosi and her Democrats who have already made themselves at home there. 

I feel like we're living one of those movies where both pilots have flatlined and left the plane, and the passengers, to fend for themselves.   You think Air Traffic Control will be able to talk us down?


* Well OK, maybe some of it is the message. ;)