Run, Sarah, Run!

The One Nation bus tour planned by Sarah Palin beginning this Memorial Day weekend is promising. Combined with news that a new film about the lipsticked pit bull will soon be released in Iowa, it would seem to indicate that the half-witted former half-governor is readying a presidential campaign.

Oh, please, please let it be so!

Palin’s run for president is certain to make the Republican primaries far more entertaining. One can already hear the debates between Palin and Bachmann. Not only are they likely to spew each other with mis-informed blather. They will create jobs by expanding the number of people employed by the fact-checking industry at least ten-fold.

But in our excitement at the prospects, we shouldn’t overlook Rick Santorum. His Google results will do wonders to educate mainstream America about gay sex. Indeed, all of these candidates will enliven the political race which heretofore seemed to echo Dumb and Dumber. But with these candidates, the Republican primaries will more closely parallel Jackass The Movie in 3D.

Now if we can only get The Donald to extract his feet from his mouth so he can jump into the ring…

A Proposed Itinerary for Sarah’s One Nation Tour.

Now that Sarah Palin has announced her One Nation American history tour, I’d like to suggest a few locations for her to visit:

1. – Niagara Falls where she actually can see another country from US soil.
2. – New York City where she can visit the offices of all the newspapers and magazines she hasn’t read. (I hear Katie Couric may be available to lead the tour.)
3. – In New York she should also visit the United Nations where she suspects all those commies are plotting to take over the US.
4. – She should hail a cab in New York and chat with a driver named Ahmed to learn more about the Muslims she seems to fear so much.
5. – Lexington, Massachusetts where she can re-enact the ride of Paul Revere to raise alarms that the Socialists are coming. The Socialists are coming!
6. – Boston where she can talk to residents about the death panels and mandates of Romneycare.
7. – Vermont where she can learn about real socialized medicine which is about to be instituted in the state.
8. – Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson where she can learn that Jefferson, like many other founding fathers, was not Christian.
9. – Washington, DC where she can see the original Constitution. (We can only hope she’ll actually read it sometime.)
10. – Finally, Philadelphia where she can meet the original crackpot of American politics – the Liberty Bell (my apologies to the Liberty Bell).

An Endorsement No One Should Welcome

The Houston Chronicle’s Fuel Fix blog reports that Richard “The Dick” Cheney is gaga over Congressman Paul Ryan.  “I worship the ground he walks on,” said Cheney.  “I hope he doesn’t run for president because that would ruin a good man who has a lot of work to do.”

If voters didn’t already have enough reason to be wary of Ryan following his attempt to gut the Medicare program, this should raise some even larger red flags. Whatever, or whomever, Cheney favors is almost certain to mean greater largess for corporations (especially big oil) and trouble for ordinary working people.

Republican Agenda Has Never Been More Clear.

Following the vote by House Republicans to cut Medicaid and turn Medicare into a certain-to-fail voucher system, Senate Republicans filibustered a bill that would end oil subsidies to the most profitable companies on Earth.  They followed that by doing the same to a bill that would end subsidies for Ethanol.

In doing so, Republicans have made it abundantly clear that they don’t care about cutting the deficit.  Not really.  If they did, they would gladly trim these subsidies from our budget resulting in savings of billions of dollars.

As evidenced by their assault on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, unemployment insurance, education, women’s health providers, the environment, labor unions, first responders and teachers, they certainly don’t care about ordinary citizens.

What Republicans do seem to care about is protecting the profits of their corporate masters. You know, the large corporations that were given all the rights of citizens by the conservative-dominated Supreme Court so they could anonymously spend millions to elect Republican candidates.

The connection couldn’t be more obvious.

What Happened To Journalism?

No recent event has better exemplified the utter collapse of journalism in the U.S. than coverage of President Obama’s speech on the Middle East. The headlines following the speech all reported the “outrage” of Republicans, the Jewish community, etc. as the result of the President’s statement that a return to the pre-1967 borders is a condition for peace.

There was only problem with those news stories. The President’s statement wasn’t news. The U.S. position on peace talks has always been based on the pre-1967 borders!

Now you may ask, how could the media be so wrong? In a word, laziness. A few minutes searching for the truth would have yielded information that would have led to a more accurate interpretation. But none of the media seem concerned with reporting the truth. They seem much more interested in reporting controversy and reactions from the President’s political opponents. In other words, they’re willing to sacrifice the truth for a bunch of irrelevant “facts.”

However, one news source did report the story correctly – Real Time with Bill Maher.

So this is what journalism has come to? A comedian provided a more accurate report on a major policy speech than established news organizations! Small wonder that some surveys have listed another comedian, Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, as America’s most trusted newsman.

Why Are We Still Here?

The time of the forecast rapture has come and gone. Yet, we’re still here.

I have seen no evidence of driverless cars or piles of clothing. I have witnessed no angels collecting the devoted lambs amongst us. Nothing. Worst of all, I’m still here. Why was I left behind? Was I not worthy? And if not, why not? I try to be a caring, charitable person. I’m not rich. And I’m not even a Republican.

So what now? Does it mean that we’re all unworthy sinners? Does it mean that Harold Camping and his Family Radio Network miscalculated once again? Or does it mean that Weird Harold is merely a crackpot with a large, gullible radio audience?

One man’s solution for Medicare and the health care crisis.

Now that House Republicans have voted to end Medicare and Medicaid as we know them, I believe it’s time to look at the real problems with the system. In addition to Medicare fraud, many of the problems are structural. Not with Medicare. But with the health care industry itself.

Unless the skyrocketing costs of health care are controlled, we will not be able to fix our social insurance programs such as Medicare. Moreover, we will not be able to control our deficits. That is precisely why President Obama and the Democratic Congress chose to focus on health care reform in 2009. Unfortunately, the resulting bill was a compromise with Republicans hell-bent on protecting the insane profits of the health insurance industry and PhRMA (Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America).

Therefore, I humbly offer the following suggestions for consideration:

1 – Create a medical triage system with the entry point being Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioners, rather than MDs. These people are Registered Nurses with additional education and training. They are more than capable of identifying and treating the majority of illnesses and symptoms, as well as writing prescriptions, and they can refer patients to a physician or specialist as needed. However, they are billed at a lower rate than physicians. Implemented nationally, this system could save millions, if not billions, of dollars.

2 – Encourage patients to call medical professionals more often. Ignoring symptoms usually doesn’t make them go away. Patients of all ages tend to avoid talking to medical professionals until they absolutely have to. This often results in illnesses being allowed to advance which, in turn, makes them more difficult (and expensive) to treat. All patients should be encouraged to call or visit with Nurse Practitioners whenever they notice a change in their bodies or a symptom of concern.

3 – Eliminate unnecessary tests and treatments. Currently, (some) doctors order a battery of lab tests and treatments in order to maximize their profits. They also claim to do this as a defensive measure against potential malpractice suits. I believe it’s time to recognize that everyone makes mistakes (including health care professionals). We should try to limit the number of malpractice suits and the size of the awards. At the same time, the medical profession needs to more aggressively weed out those who are responsible for the most egregious errors.

4 – Regulate the cost of pharmaceuticals. Currently, Big PhRMA is able to charge whatever it wants for its products. In some cases, the mark-up on pharmaceuticals is astronomical. An inhaler used by millions of Americans costs $38-$40 in the US. But in other countries, its price is as little as 5 cents!

5 – Create incentives for family practice physicians. Too many of our medical students focus on specialties that offer the greatest return on the investment of their medical education. They reason that, since they will be faced with the daunting task of paying off tens of thousands of dollars in loans, they should choose the specialty that pays the most and faces the least probability of legal issues. As a result, the percentage of family practice physicians and OB/GYN physicians is dwindling. This could be fixed by offering more government scholarship awards and tax benefits to those who choose the traditionally lower paying specialties.

6 – Eliminate the need for the poor and uninsured to use Emergency Rooms for primary care. We’ve all heard stories of people who call an ambulance in order to be transported to the ER to be treated for a common cold. Of course, since many of these people can’t afford to pay for their care, the costs are absorbed by the hospital and passed on to other patients.

Recognizing that many of the stories are likely exaggerated, it is true that people go to the ER when a simple visit to a doctor’s office would suffice at a fraction of the cost. But rather than complain about the phenomenon, we should look at the cause. Often it’s simply because these people don’t have ready access to any other form of care. By creating more and better access such as clinics staffed into the night by Nurse Practitioners, people would be encouraged to seek care through more appropriate means.

7 – Demand that health care providers publish outcomes for the most serious ailments and treatments, and encourage patients to seek out the most successful providers. It is a well-accepted fact that it is less expensive to seek treatment from the most successful providers, even if that means traveling out of state. There are fewer complications and patients tend to recover faster.

8 – Last, and most important, take the profit out of the health care industry for those who aren’t directly involved in providing care. In other words, contrary to Republican beliefs, eliminate the middle men (insurance companies) and allow the government to finance care through taxes and/or withholding. I’d much rather have the government determine the accessibility of medical care than large corporations whose primary goal is to limit care in order to maximize profits.

The growing hole in our economy.

For the past two years, the Obama administration has been trying to reduce unemployment. And, given the challenges, it has been remarkably successful.

Following the Bush/Cheney administration, President Obama faced an economy that had jettisoned nearly 8 million jobs. Despite Republican opposition, the Obama administration has managed to turn things around. Certainly it has not happened as fast as most people would like, and the unemployment numbers are not as good as we would like to see, but the stock markets have recovered and the economy has added 854,000 private sector jobs in 2011 alone.

At the same time, state and local governments have cut 86,000 jobs this year alone.

As a result of the reduced revenue created by the Great Recession, the Bush tax cuts, and the out-of-control costs of health care for government workers, the loss of government jobs threatens to throw our economy back into the abyss. And the Teapublicans, who were elected in 2010 with the stated purpose of creating jobs, are doing everything in their power to push the economy over the cliff.

You see, instead of focusing on job creation, Teapublicans have focused, instead, on social issues such as gay marriage, abortion and collective bargaining. They are determined to eliminate funding for NPR, Public TV, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Dept. of Education, the EPA and Planned Parenthood. They want to end or dramatically change “entitlements” such as Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. And they want to cut government spending by the trillions.

If successful, they will push tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands more people into unemployment, eliminating government jobs at a rate faster than the private sector can create them. And who will receive the blame for their actions? Certainly not Teapublicans themselves. No, the conservative media will focus the blame on President Obama. You know, the foreign-born black Muslim who was only able to gain office thanks to voter fraud and “lame stream” media.

Does that mean I’m accusing Teapublicans of sabotaging our economy for political purposes? In a word, yes. Republicans have done it before, why should we expect a different approach this time?

Social Security Is Not An Entitlement. It’s A Safety Net.

Shamed by scenes of the elderly living in abject poverty following the Great Depression, Congress passed the Social Security Act which was signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt on August 14, 1935.  At the time, poverty rates among senior citizens exceeded 50 percent.

Since that time, millions of Americans confronted by old age, poverty, disability and unemployment have benefited from the act. 

Although Republicans, and more recently, the media have labeled Social Security with the perjorative term “entitlement” it is simply a form of insurance defined by actuaries as a government-sponsored insurance program funded by premiums paid by or on behalf of participants.  Indeed, the FICA withholding you see on your paycheck stands for “Federal Insurance Contributions Act”.  These contributions represent less than six percent of an individual’s annual income up to $106,000 per year.  Any income above $106,000 is exempt from withdrawals. 

Fact is, Republicans have been opposed to Social Security from the beginning, claiming that it would cause a loss of jobs.  Obviously it didn’t.  And the new deficit “crisis” has provided Republicans with arguments to dramatically change or end the program now.  Many want to replace it with individual investment accounts, feeling that they could better ensure their retirement by investing their FICA withdrawals themselves.  First, the benefit payments from an insurance program like Social Security should never be compared to the returns on investment accounts.  Moreover, replacing Social Security with individual investment accounts could be disastrous for many seniors in the event of another economic depression or a repeat of the Great Recession of 2008.  If the stock markets plummeted, the retirement incomes of most seniors would crash with them. 

So how about the solvency of Social Security?  Currently, the program has a $2.5 trillion surplus.  Remarkably, administrative costs of the program account for less than one percent of its total.  However, due to the impending retirement of Baby Boomers, it is estimated that the program will not be able to make full benefit payments in 25 or 30 years.   But the program is not “broke.”  Indeed, it can be fixed with relatively minor tweaking.  One option is to raise the cap on income as the Reagan Administration did in the 1980s.  Removing the cap altogether would definitely solve the problem as would limiting benefits to only those who actually need them – those retirees with annual household incomes of less than $50,000, for example.

Contrary to those who want to “end the entitlements”, the facts show that dramatically changing Social Security or ending the program entirely could be devastating for our nation.  The majority of beneficiaries have little significant income from other sources since options such as employer-provided pension plans are virtually non-existant today.  Additionally, the benefits from our Social Security program already lag behind most other advanced countries.  The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) ranks the U.S. 26th out of 30 OECD nations.  On average, OECD nations replace 61 percent of a retiree’s earnings with pension plans.  In the U.S., the number is roughly 40 percent.

Still a Dick after all these years.

Following the successful mission to find bin Laden, Richard “The Dick” Cheney was quick to claim part of the credit by saying that the mission justified our torture (aka enhanced interrogation) of political prisoners.

Say what?

It has been 10 years since the Bush/Cheney administration failed to take heed of warnings that Al Qaeda was planning an attack on U.S. soil, possibly with the hijacking of American passenger planes.  It has been at least 9 years since Bush/Cheney ordered the torture of captives in violation of the Geneva Conventions.  And more than 2 years since Cheney crawled back under his cloak of oil-stained money.

But it was Bush and Cheney who deserve credit for finding bin Laden?!!

That makes about as much sense as seeing our college students party following bin Laden’s death.  Celebrate, yes, but party?  Complete with chants of “USA, USA” and renditions of the “Na, Na, Goodbye” song? It’s as if they equated the killing of an individual (no matter how evil) to the winning of a championship basketball game.  And it’s hardly an image of our nation that will help us around the world. Better to reflect on the past and to pay tribute to those who died as a result of Bin Laden’s actions.  To consider how we can promote democracy and freedom around the world without the threat of war.  And to stop future terrorists before they strike without further compromising our own freedoms and resorting to measures such as torture.

Given Bush/Cheney’s actions and the fact that we’ve been at constant war for 10 years, that could take a good, long while.