Buzzword Mayhem, A Fiscal Cliff!!!

December 6, 2012

Recently I’ve noticed that these partisan times have increasingly played on our sense of knowledge.  Maybe at fault is the information age, which presents us with massive amounts of data up front.  Of course the quality of that data and the then interpretations that lead to opinions via talking heads has somewhat muddled that entire presentation.  And as we wade through the mounds of BS and “Fact Checking” (as if such a thing could ever be completely impartial)….we’re left in the end with snippets of information.  In truth the more information you’re presented with the less you’ll focus on the individual pieces.  Hey what do you know, politicians know this for fact and blast people with buzzwords they repeat over and over until they become truth, regardless of actual truth.

So now you may hear politicians rambling on and on talking about how “Republicans just don’t have the facts on their side!!!” and “Republican arguments are just not based on facts.”  Now had a Democrat stood up and simply called their opposition a liar, it would be far less influential.  Instead continually repeating something such as not factual leads our brains to associate the two.  Liar or other more severe allegations are usually dismissed on observation.

Now of course there’s a fiscal cliff!! Yes, there’s a modest tax hike looming, but it’s not a cliff, more of a small slope actually.  Indeed if tax rate changes aren’t put in place by the new year we’ll be stuck with higher rates.  But of course it’s fun to note that those rates aren’t very severe changes (a few percent).  So where does that leave us.  Yes your first new year paycheck might be less but not substantially.  So this cliff….isn’t some impending collapse.  Over time those few dollars would add up and of course that might anger some people.  But in reality it’s a slow slope.  So why are we told it’s a cliff?  Because it plays on our sense of emotion.  If a deal is reached January 15th is it going to cause immediate and long lasting harm?  No, not really.  Because it’s nothing like a cliff, it’s a slow slope.  But that doesn’t sell news stories.  If we play on our emotions with buzzwords and build arguments up to the point where we have to pay attention (or else we’ll fall off a cliff!!!) then we’ve been summoned by the buzzword gods.

Even within the arguments from both sides you can see the buzzword mayhem lining up.  “That proposal simply wasn’t a serious offer”.  Oh yea…why’s that?  Or the argument that “If Republicans want to take us off the cliff with their blocking of a deal, then the American people won’t be happy!!”.  And there’s that, we’ve been drawn in and our arguments have been made for us.  We no longer have to analyze the deals for ourselves…we can just argue with buzzwords.  In fact check facebook to see how often those buzzwords are repeated by your peers.  Heck, today on CNN I saw an analysis for a middle income ($130,000/year) family of four with a mortgage and it’s impact on their taxes at the end of the year.  Well…that really doesn’t apply to me in any sense (I’m not even close to that income bracket and none of the same tax breaks apply to me).  But the only information we’re left with is the conclusion that it’s either good or bad.

So in the coming weeks I implore you to go out and spot….then avoid…the buzzwords swirling around the debate.  Try to find the real proposals and what money will/won’t be spent on.  Otherwise you’re being set up by those wishing to control your views on topics.


Election Fall-Out

November 8, 2012

President Obama was elected to a second term.  The first time since FDR that a President was re-elected with unemployment in the 8% range.  This shouldn’t be surprising since he also presided over the recovery in the aftermath of a colossal financial collapse, like FDR.  So there may be a few questions left over from the election, at least that I’ve noticed…and here we’ll try to address them.

1) How did the President win?  ……this one is quite simple.  He was the more likeable candidate that reached the most demographics.  The telling thing is that minorities are surging to the Democratic Ticket, particular minority women (African American women voted 96% for Pres. Obama, that’s as close to complete as you can get in politics).  I wish people would quit pretending the only issue Latino’s care about is immigration.  Certainly that’s one issue, but legal residents aren’t as concerned about illegal immigration.  At the end of the day Romney didn’t reach out to these people in a meaningful way.  He wasn’t likeable and he didn’t address their concerns.  It’s mighty hard to run against demographics that have high unemployment when your only argument is “I’ll try to make it so that maybe someone could maybe hire you.”  That’s not a winning argument.  It never will be.  He needed to apply the human touch that he understood their problems and did not.  Obama by default is a likeable guy by most measures, I’d like to sit down and have a beer with him.  And at the end of the day when a guy you like is telling you “I’m going to tax those rich people not giving you jobs to provide unemployment, welfare and medicaid. Then I’m going to pump money into budgets to increase hiring of teachers and police officers.”  Now that’s a winning argument that’s hard to overcome.

2) Where do Republicans go from here? ….this is simple too.  There seems to be an uproar about the Republican party being in shambles.  “Holy cow did you see the Electoral Vote margin?”  That’s cute.  In the popular vote Romney lost by a slim margin 2-3% and in massive key swing states the margin was 1-2%.  Newsflash, that’s not bad.  It’s not winning, but that’s a close election, the electoral vote has skewed the perception to a landslide.  Either way though, It’s a far better showing than Republicans had in 2008 and they kept even in the senate and house.  So why do they need to do some massive overhaul to fix their party and have a self-check moment? They’re doing fine.  They need to make some minor adjustments for midterms and refocus on issues that matter rather than side-show politics.

3) What’s Next? ……scary huh?  Well if you noticed, Americans voted for the status quo.  In case you’re scratching your head and wondering how this happened, it’s worth nothing that while the majority of Americans feel we’re on the wrong path, they also don’t feel it’s their party who is on the wrong path.  And in that scenario they vote the exact same way they have for the last two cycles, effectively keeping the same people in power.  So what we have to look forward to is more of the same partisan bickering and gridlock that has griped Washington.  Both sides are going to continue to blame the other one for wrong doing and we’re going to move places very slow.  The fiscal cliff…will probably get resolved, but not before a few games of Chicken and the President campaigning to the American people about why his idea is the best.  Again…placing blame squarely on his enemies in the house.  This should be quite an interesting two years and I suspect in the midterms the end result is going to be some blame placed on those who received the same blame in 2010.

The Election is a Day Away….My Take on the Race

November 5, 2012

So tomorrow everyone heads off to the polls, if they haven’t voted already.  I think a good number of people have already done so through absentee ballots and early voting.  Why Presidential Election Day isn’t a national holiday, I’ll never know.  But the race by many accounts is tied or pretty close to tied in terms of the popular vote (which strangely doesn’t determine the winner in the U.S.).  In the electoral vote I’d say that President Obama has a slight edge and while he may win that, he may get less votes overall….strange but that’s how the system works.  Here’s my take on the candidates thus far…..does anybody want to actually win?  Here’s where I think the race will be determined:

President Obama: Was he sleeping during the first debate?  We may never know, sure seemed that way.  How a sitting president shows up so unprepared is beyond me.  In 2008 this is the guy with raging crowds of hundreds of thousands that seemed to transcend politics and chastise the politics of old.  In 2012 he was the politics of old.  Instead of defending his record…he ran an equally vicious attack campaign.  He claimed he had to counteract the attacks from Republicans.  Yet for so much bark, when he took the stage in Denver things seemed almost non-existent to him.  For spending so much time telling voters why Romney was the equivalent of the Wall St. Devil, he didn’t peep up once.  Instead he agreed with Romney about many issues.  The first few months of the campaign seem almost wasted by that point.  They spent so much time and money attacking and when he sees this “devil” face to face he whimpers away and agrees with him?  It was one of the most puzzling political displays of the campaign, something of a lasting impression.

But fast forward to the next debates and the end of the world reappeared.  To me at times in the third debate you could almost see Obama trying to taunt Romney into fighting with him, of course Romney at this point laid back on the ropes not taking the bait.  Still he closed strong in the election and probably secured Ohio by rallying about the auto bailout (it’s funny how people support giving away others money when it’s their jobs on the line).

He may have secured this victory in September.  Maybe that idea that he had 47% of the electorate locked up wasn’t so crazy afterall.  After the Democratic Convention Obama took off to great heights and while people pulled back for a time, he regained them by reminding them of those September nights where he championed teachers, the working man, and unions.  It was the Obama of 2008 that everyone wanted to see, talking about where to take this country.  But he wouldn’t bring it up again for the next 2 months of the campaign.  A fault that simply stuck and is why national polls are where they are.

His best moment was Bill Clinton’s speech.  Sad, but true.

Governor Romney: Why we still call him Governor when he served 6 years ago is beyond me.  Doesn’t that title evaporate with time.  I can understand President staying with the man, as it’s the highest office in the world (sorry rest of the world) but Governor?  Sarah Palin held that title once I’ll remind you (/rant).  Anyways. To the real point, after the Democratic National Convention where the states elected a nominee for President (shocking result) it seemed almost as if Romney was going to be John McCain’d.  He was in the dumps and according to most polls falling fast.  Pres. Clinton really laid it on thick with an exceptional speech a the DNC.  I mean, I think most people wished Bill was running again after that performance.  Pres. Obama’s speech?  Did he even give one?  That was it for Romney and if he ends up losing that was the straw that broke the camels back.

Then something amazing happened, assuming the race was over in September, Obama stopped campaigning and started making colossal mistakes. There was a terrorist attack in Libya which the president defended as a party gone awry and instead of being burned by it, he lied his way out (or so he thought).  Then in Denver he napped through what was Romney’s best moment, offering a deep contrast.  That was it.  Romney was back and in a big way.  All the time wasted talking about his tax returns and Bain Capital.  All the portrayals of him as this super-villain ready to eat your first born.  All of the talk about how he was going to take from the rich and give to the poor.  It evaporated in one night.  The race was back on and somehow the man that no one thought even stood a chance was climbing in polls everywhere.  Panic set in, Liberal bloggers cried out to friends not to worry (probably the first sign something actually is wrong) and then he took the lead in the national polls.  Yes, a lead in the popular vote.

However, Romney failed to realize that the popular vote doesn’t matter (he may still win the popular vote).  And heading into the second debate he was in the lead.  Then he slipped.  Not a major mis-step, but he didn’t recognize the moment that was before him.  With the wind at his back he took the time to argue with the moderator, fumble over the terrorist attack in Libya (a fair point he should have brought up but did so with embarrassingly clumsy language), and tried to pick a fist fight with the president.  Why did he falter?  Well in that moment, in a townhall style debate, it’s about body language and answering the actual question.  Both candidates sucked royally in this debate, but for Romney it is the moment that will haunt him if he loses.  Here he was asked about the auto bailout, something near and dear to Michiganders and Ohioans everywhere….yet he stumbled around trying to explain what ha-ha-ha-happened.  Here he could have played it cool, called the President a liar back and stuck to his Presidential appearance he established in the first debate.  He didn’t.  And that is where he climbed into the mud with the president and found himself stuck for the rest of the election.  The third debate could do nothing to change much and a hurricane distracted the east coast.  Everything was set.  And when it comes down to it, if he loses by a few percent in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa….this was why.

His Best moment was the first debate.

Last 2 weeks of the Presidential Election

July 26, 2012


As the Presidential race continues towards the end of summer and the start of the conventions in due time, the race appears to have started to tighten a bit.  Over this two week period President Obama has lost a bit of ground, probably due to his gaffes and negative campaigning, something he dodged entirely in 2008.  Mitt Romney appears to have caught up a bit but still lags overall.  His failure to take on the President has been sort of a cat and mouse situation all summer with neither side wanting to go all-in this soon.  A criticism of Romney’s during the primary campaign was how soft he was in the early contests with no hard hitting.  Florida changed that and he paid a bit later in the contest but eventually won.

I suspect that neither side wants to put the gloves on so soon.  Though President Obama seems to be struggling to find a message behind an ailing economy and continually disappointing jobs numbers.  Another slow report in Aug. and/or Sept. could be pretty damning to his campaign.  His efforts have fallen behind attacking Romney of late.  Something I suspect doesn’t sit well with voters looking for that same Hope and Change message of 2008.  Also this struggling for a message has caused the most notable gaffe to date “you didn’t build that”.

Romney on the other hand is slow playing.  Currently he’s on an under-publicized foreign trip, certainly compared to 2008 when then Sen. Obama was stopping for photo-ops and speeches in front of hundreds of thousands.  All of this leaves us wondering when Romney will ever join the fight.  He’s been careful not to lay out too many positions this early as to avoid any pitfalls in the fall.  At the same time he’s been sort of off the mind of voters, something I suspect he intends so that they’re not over-saturated come election time in the fall.

Overall I think the President is suffering from his economic situation right now and is struggling to make the campaign about Mitt Romney, which is failing in these recent weeks.  As more negative news about the economy surfaces, his numbers steadily decline.  Romney seems to be sitting back deflecting blows with a rope-a-dope strategy in play.  Trying by not trying, and thus allowing the election to be about what the voters care about, the economy.  This of course plays into his wheelhouse rather than jumping at side issues like immigration, gay rights, or gun control.

Pierce Morgan and Horrible Journalism

July 24, 2012

Pierce Morgan and Horrible Journalism

I saw this “discussion” last night on CNN.  I understand Mr. Morgan is from a different country with much different laws, but this was quite embarrassing on his part.  At least let the discussion occur before you decide to rip into it with your opinion or present some facts other than repeating over and over “100 rounds of ammunition a minute!”  While Mr. Morgan may have a point to make it gets drown out in him blatantly falling back on strawman arguments and shouting over, cutting off, and simply disrespecting someone he’s invited as a guest.  Not to mention the second guest slinging wild accusations about the NRA (which were untrue) and simply dismissing studies as “no no they’re false use common sense”.  This is not the 1800’s, this call to common sense in lieu of studies that exist simply because you don’t like the results is the height of anti-intellectualism.

Many people have strong feelings on this topic, but this “interview” was terrible.  It’s a display in bullying a “guest”.  At least let the opposing view speak, otherwise it’s nothing but an editorial present by Mr. Morgan to promote his own views.

Paying the “Fair Share”

July 24, 2012

Now let me premise this post by saying that I do think there is a bit of an argument to be made about the lack of bonuses to lower level employees that do a great deal of work for companies, or for salary parity.  But this topic gets kicked around quite frequently.

So when we talk about “fair shares” it’s important to analyze just what share everyone is paying.
Here we see the overall share of the Federal Tax Liability being paid to the government for all taxes (income, payroll, ect.).  These stats are produced by the CBO in it’s analysis of how taxes work in this country.  And most astonishing to me right away is that the bottom 20% of the population pay 0.3% of all Federal taxes.  Even more incredible, the bottom 40% pay about 4% of all the Federal taxes in this country.  That’s nearly half the population paying for 4% while the other half of the population pays for 96% of the Federal Tax Burden.

The top 20% of wage earners in this country pay nearly 70% of all Federal taxes and that number has been rising since the 1970’s.  Fair to address is that the top 20% have also seen an increase in their share of the wealth during that growth period.  That’s not to say that the bottom 50% are “poor” but that through economics the top have sold the bottom a good deal of items and concentrated their wealth (ipads, flat screen tvs, cars, computers, etc.) primarily through investment.

I think it’s important to note that the top 40% of wage earners now pay nearly 90% of the Federal Tax burden for all taxes.  That means the other 60% of lower and middle class earners are left with the remaining 10-15% of the tax burden.  That’s a huge disparity.  I think the issue here is not that top earners aren’t “paying their share” (which I’d conclude they are) but that budgeting and saving even for middle class families seems almost unheard of these days.  Now I understand (as I grew up poor myself) that this doesn’t apply to all families and many are scraping by.  But I think for many middle income families frugal living is a thing of the past.  And now that they face a looming retirement with no savings they feel that retirement is entitled to them.  That somehow they’ll be taken care of, which only has pushed the burden to the younger generation to cover the most costly years of living (65+) when medical treatment becomes a must.

There has been a shift in the American society, which says that middle class families should support kids going to college and traveling and flat screen tvs and two cars.  There’s a “every family deserves this” sort of attitude which assumes that high end products (like cars) should be cheaper.  That tax rates need to reflect this burden on middle class families (buying 2 cars is a must).  I wouldn’t take qualms with the bottom 20% of the population (paying 0.3% of all federal taxes) as they’re the lowest level of earners and surely feel the most burden of providing for their own daily living.  I surely hope they’re not complaining about paying their taxes as they pay very little.  But the middle 20 – 40%, middle income America, certainly should realize that they’re not overburdened with this tax rate either.  That middle 40% of the population pays around 15-20% of the Federal Tax Burden and that’s been declining.  Middle income savings are nearly unheard of.  Yet most middle income homes have luxury items (ipads, ps3’s, 2 cars, flat screen tv’s).  Which I think gets to the problem.  Those without savings are screaming about how unfair their tax burden is, while they refuse to save money and spend what they earn on luxury goods.  Effectively pushing their money to the upper class.
Maybe we need to do a better job teaching budgeting and economics in high school.

Five Fundamental Flaws of Healthcare and Reform

June 29, 2012

Here they are:

  1. Over the past 20 years in the US healthcare as been treated as synonymous with health insurance coverage. That is to say the main push from both Republicans and Democrats has been to increase insurance coverage to all Americans.  The problem, as most of us have horrifyingly found at a one point or another, is that health insurance doesn’t always equate to good or quality care.  At times it doesn’t even equate to care at all.  Haggling with your insurance provider over what is covered and how much after the fact has become a nightmare of paperwork that you store in a box somewhere.  This most recent attempt at reformation (Obamacare or the ACA) falls into this same problem.  Again, the fix isn’t for healthcare, it’s for health insurance.  Now we’re all forced in some form or another to have health insurance.  Fantastic, at least we’ll all share the same headaches.  The problem for many Americans is this won’t solve their problems.  While pre-existing conditions can’t be denied insurance, that doesn’t mean they have to cover and treat them well.  It’s still the same old insurance that treated you like crap before.
  2. No changes are ever made to healthcare supply.  There are many levels of this from RN’s to PA’s to MD’s.  But in this country we have a significant shortage of trained medical professionals.  That problem just got worse.  Not to come off as “uncaring” but from a strictly numbers point of view, we just expanded coverage to many people who were kept out of the system.  The problem is we didn’t change the size of the system to add more trained medical professionals.  More demand, same supply, prices go up.  Now you might be inclined to point out that in free markets this gets remedied by pushing more professionals into the field as wages are alluring.  Let’s take practicing MD’s for an example.  Something you may not know is that in most states to practice as an MD after you graduate medical school you need to have completed residency training.  Sounds simple, sign them up.  The problem is that >95% of residency funding comes from the US Federal government in Medicare aid to the hospitals.  And currently that funding is so shorted that we have more people with MD’s looking for residency positions every year than we have residency positions available.  Do you think this was changed with the implementation of the new healthcare bill?  Of course not, let’s not be ridiculous.
  3. Healthcare costs. Healthcare is expensive, but in the US, it’s exceptionally expensive.  The issue in point 2 is one problem.  But there are many layers.  Some of these layers were attempted to be remedied in the recent bill (e-files, shared information, etc.) but in actuality the large gorillas in the room went predominantly untouched.  If you’ve gone to a hospital in the recent term you’d recognize that your radiologist probably went to a pretty new machine and may have even mentioned their new equipment.  Why are we continually paying for expensive upgrades to medical equipment that gets shuffled into our bills in some form or another?  Part of that is medical malpractice insurance, which is itself expensive and driving up your bill.  But it also causes hospitals and physicians to safe guard against making a “preventable mistake”.  They need the highest resolution image possible so they don’t make any sort of mistake or get hammered in a lawsuit for missing something (even if they don’t get sued, they have to take the safeguard).  Things like this drive cost up.  I get it, mistakes are potentially lethal, but we seriously need medical malpractice reform that caps suits.  It’s just not realistic to go along with out it.
  4. Which brings me to the next point, Technology! I love tech, I’m a techie, I look over new innovations all the time online.  That’s awesome.  But many countries use 1950’s-1970’s tech to provide many of the same treatments we do today.  Why are lesser clinics not more common in this country for people that can’t afford care or insurance premiums?  If they can’t have a ferrari a honda won’t do?  I’m sure many of these people would be infinitely grateful to get any form of help.  Top end ferraris would still be sold to those that could afford them.  Analogy done, you get the point.
  5. Covering every condition. We can’t prevent every death, at some point we need to realize we’re human.  I’m sure many people have seen loved ones die, and I feel for them.  But let’s not turn a few rare instances into the common plight of all man.  Watching people die is always painful, and through our lifetimes we will all watch each other die.  That’s life.  But there’s something about a tragic or sudden death which pulls people to race to defend it as unfair or unnatural.  It’s not, it happens, accidents happen, rare genetic diseases happen.  Now that I’m done with the portion that will make the more sensitive readers write me off as a grade A jerk for the rest of their lives, I’m not saying we should do nothing.  But clearly this is a high risk, very expensive pool of insured people.  Rare diseases and cancers are a healthcare nightmare for everyone involved.  We need to do a better job at streamlining that treatment and finding ways to pool resources into centralized locations.  This might mean some sacrifices for patients (more shared rooms) whatever, but these rare circumstances need to be handled better.  Maybe I don’t have a solution yet (I’ll keep thinking) but the other 90% of the system cannot be shackled into dragging everyone down.  Clearly it needs to be separated into distinct systems to keep care prices down for people but treating those rare situations in more efficient manner.  Or I’m just a jerk.