Thursday, January 20, 2011

Politics: Health Care Bill, where the Dollars go?

A helpful article on where the cost is.

Health care is valuable and helping more people gain better access is a good thing.

However, is this the best way to do it?

The "how" question is where there is a difference of opinion.

It is a national shame that so many people have a hard time with our health care system. No question we need to spend money to do better but are we spending it wisely in this new health bill?

We need to recheck our assumptions about some of the solutions that have been passed. Good intentions are not enough.

As in previous posts, I'm a big fan of vouchers (part I in the bill according to this article). It puts $$$ in hands of people who need it to buy health insurance. My guts tell me that is the part of the bill that should be protected. But many of the other provisions that come with it place too much power into the hands of too few regulators in DC. That is the part I think is upsetting people.

If anything, my assessment is that the states should have the option of converting their Medicaid and CHIP programs (section II of the health bill as summarized in the article) into voucher programs and see if that works better.

As for part III, a truly radical reform would be to decouple insurance from employment by phasing out the tax sheltered status of insurance benefits. That simple but dramatic shift in policy would level the playing field for small businesses in a more clear cut fashion that providing them tax credits and puts more control into the hands of the individual.

There will always need to be some social safety net because a certain segment of the population will fall through the cracks. As an honorable society, we need to own that duty.

But also, we need to own up to our duty to look closely at our health care system rather than continuing to let more power flow to DC. For the vast majority of Americans, we need to request that the government provide that safety net for those who truly need it and give the rest of the people the options and flexibility that will shrink as the regulatory power of the government grows in the health care industry.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Life: Remembering the I have a Dream Speech

Simply wonderful!



Students recite portions of MLK's famous speech at the Lincoln Memorial.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Devotional Thoughts: Thinking about the Puritans

What do you think of when you think of the Puritans?

I think of the Puritans coming to America and the courage it took to cross the sea and try to scratch out a new life in the New England colonies. In that regard, I admire them.

Of course, there are the negative connotations of the word puritanical.

Its a given that any group will have its successes and excesses.

But what did they believe about their faith?


One of my reading goals for the year will be to work my way through this book that excerpts some of their writings. The book also gives a brief sketch of the historical context of the Puritan movement and short biographies of the writers of the excerpts contained in the book.

What I'll do here for blog posts is to share a tidbit here and there.

According to the book, the English Puritans (1560-1710) sought reform of the Church of England. The Westminster Confession and Catechisms (1647) that are still widely respected today was strongly influenced by Puritan theological perspectives. Alas, their drive for reform took a setback with the Act Of Uniformity (1662) that resulted in the expulsion of most Puritan clergy. Nonetheless, their ideas endured even though they lost official status within the church.

Lord help us in the modern world to learn from the best of the past. Taking in what is good and true and beautiful for those things stand the test of time. Amen.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Money: Final Four Stock Picks

Disclaimer: not in the financial planning business, investments can and do lose money, and this is offered as opinion and does not constitute advice for your specific financial situation, etc.

SYT
What?
Agribusiness based in Switzerland.
Why?
People have to eat and this company is one of the big players on the world stage.

CSCO
What?
Internet hardware.
Why?
The internet is going to keep growing and this company is one of the top companies in that industry.

DUK
What?
Electrical utility.
Why?
Great dividends and people need electricity and this is one of the biggies that is well-run.

VZ
What?
Telecom.
Why?
Great dividends and by all accounts VZ's cellphone coverage beats everyone else in the USA and they just got rights to sell iPhone. This could be good in getting more customers but it could be bad if their network gets clogged!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Life: Sal Giunta, Medal of Honor Recipient





Thank you Sgt. Giunta for your service.

And thank you to all who serve to protect freedom and freedom living people around the world.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Politics: Immigration Reform

As in health care reform, some claim to want "comprehensive" immigration reform.

Call me a skeptic about "comprehensive" solutions. I don't have a lot of confidence that a bunch of experts can dream up a system to handle really huge problems. Perhaps, a more modest approach would be helpful.

In the case of immigration reform there are several issues and perhaps it is best to address them one-by-one rather then trying to "shoot-the-moon" with a comprehensive solution/reform. From what I have gathered, these are the distinct aspects of overall immigration question:
(1) Shortage of high skill labor.
(2) Shortage of low skill labor.
(3) Illegal immigrants who are already here.
(4) Border security.

Issue #1
High tech companies need highly skilled workers and they complain the US doesn't produce enough scientists, engineers, programmers, etc. They want to hire those kinds of workers from overseas and are unable to hire enough because the quotas are quickly filled up. I wonder where the political opposition comes from on this issue? Why not allow the best and the brightest to come here to work with the option of citizenship down the road? I suppose there could be some who are security risks but I would imagine a company doing the hiring would be highly motivated to avoid that kind of problem.

Issue #2
Illegal immigration which is down right now due to bad economic conditions in the USA will rise again when the economy recovers. As it is, some low skill jobs are filled by illegal immigrants. Why not bring them into the legal system by offering some kind of temporary workers program? Thus, companies can hire people in a legal manner and those illegals who want to be law abiding have the option. Again, down the road, some of these could be put on the citizenship track.

Issue #3
Apparently there are a number of people who have been in the USA for a long time but have lived in the shadows as illegal immigrants yet in all other ways have been law abiding contributing members of the society. The Dream Act was supposed to provide a path to citizenship for those who enter military service or obtain a college education. Hopefully, that plan can be re-visited.

Issue #4
The sad reality is that as long as Mexico teeters on economic collapse and drug lord violence, people will make the dash across the border with the risks that involves. As I see it, this goes hand-in-hand with issue 2. Tighten the border but also have the valve of a temporary workers program. This would provide incentives for compliance with legal mechanisms of immigration and employment.

Politics: Blood Libel and Palin and Current Climate

Palin uses the phrase "blood libel" and the political world goes bananas. Alas, the phrase has been used on many other occasions by people on both the left and right. Perhaps the term is overused but the outrage over Palin sounds like "heads I win, tails you lose."

UPDATE: More uses of blood libel cited.

Memo to both sides: calm down and chill out.

Sadly, I had a feeling that the political dialog in the USA was going to go even further downhill when I first heard the horrible news about the shootings in Arizona. I heard the story on KNX1070AM radio here in Los Angeles. As part of the coverage, Orange County Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez was contacted. The interview began with Ms. Sanchez describing her relationship with Congresswoman Giffords as they served on some committees together in the House. From these comments I had a very good feeling about Ms. Giffords and all subsequent stories about her I have heard since support the perspective that she was one of the bright young stars in the House.

The reporter then asked, do you think the climate of political discourse in the country caused this event?

At this point Congresswoman Sanchez could/should have said, we are just a couple of hours after these horrendous shootings and we know nothing about the gunman. Our attention should be on praying for and comforting the family and friends of those impacted by this horrible situation. Law enforcement officials are investigating the gunman and we will all know more later. But for now, let's remember those who are hurting right now and praise the first responders who did their jobs so well in tending to Congresswoman Giffords and the others wounded today.

Instead, Ms. Sanchez politicized the shootings and blamed the rhetoric of the opponents of her political party.

As I heard her go on about this for a couple of minutes I knew the tone of the next few days was going to be poisonous.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Politics: Repeal and replace?

Of course it won't actually happen. The House could pass a repeal bill and it will die in the Senate.

But as a thought exercise, what would a "replace" look like in my opinion as a pajama wearing blogger?

People say, we need a "comprehensive" solution to the problem of health insurance availability.

But that presumes a solution from DC is the best solution. The problem is that too much power is consolidated into the hands of a few regulators in DC.

Realistically, the health care system in very rural North Dakota is going to be somewhat different than a more urban state like New Jersey. As such, right now, health insurance is regulated at the state level.

So, how does one develop policies that help the people in the upper right quadrant of the matrix?

What about block grants to the states for the states to use in any combination of the following manners:
(1) To expand their current Medicaid program
(2) To expand or create government run hospitals and clinics to provide care to the underserved, uninsured and underinsured
(3) To expand or create a voucher program to help people buy health insurance who currently can't afford it.

Thus, the people of rural South Dakota (less than 1,000,000 people) can look at their situation and decide which of these methods actually helps the most people. Their solution might be very different than California (38,000,000 people with ginormous urban areas).

How to fund?

The just passed health bill has a mix and match of taxes and fees that essentially picks winners and losers among various industries and groups of people. More fair and effective is a broad based tax since any general public good should be paid for by the widest possible tax base. The tax could be indexed to income groups so higher income groups pay a bit more and lower income groups pay a bit less.

The problem of the bottom left group!

Initially, I was hesitant to support the idea of an insurance mandate. But I'm beginning to shift my view on that especially if the mandate is imposed at the state level much as the auto insurance mandate is controlled at the state level. The state governments already have records of companies licensed to sell health insurance in their states so they are in the best position to verify compliance.

And finally, the most radical reform ... in exchange for lower over all income tax rates remove the tax sheltered status of insurance premiums. Companies will still offer a menu of insurance plans but employees will now have a more complete understanding of the cost of the coverage they buy. Competition works best when the true cost of something is more apparent. With the lower tax rates they have more money in their pockets to decide which plan they want to enroll in.