Republican Lockstep and punishing foreign investors

I’ve watched, in the least interested way, this story evolve.

US seeks record sentence for hedge fund boss in NY

What happened was that people have gotten together in such numbers to control the market that outsiders are increasingly disenfranchised. I’m about convinced that if you don’t have money and connections to invest through an insider trading specialist, you, like me, have watched your market investments rise up to nearly basis and crash back down repeatedly for the last decade. I no longer consider my mutual fund based IRAs a retirement fund. They’re a pseudo-scientific experiment in how long the market will attract small investors who don’t recognize that without a an insider in their corner, wall street is nothing but a pyramid or Ponzi scheme, and has been since 2000.

Doesn’t much matter in the end. Raj Rajaratnam has been sentenced to 11 years. He didn’t specifically defraud his customers. He simply defrauded everybody who was not inside on one of his trading scams.

What I care about, and what worries me, is that the hedge fund manager isn’t an American. Does the attorney’s office hope that they can set an example of longer sentences by picking up somebody who’s clearly a foreigner, and who won’t have a hometown following from one of the major political parties? (He isn’t really a Republican or a Democrat; he’s one o’ them dirty ferinners.)

Or, was the prosecutor’s office aware that the same mental picture that the Republicans and their lockstep cousins, the Tea Party, use to justify consistently filibustering against every piece of jobs legislation the president proposes will go insane if charges are pressed against one of their own? Maybe the insider trading schemes are so political party centric that any attempt to throw double decade penalties at an American who got caught with his hands in that particular cookie jar would be seen as a cheap political attack on a particular party? Maybe it is only safe to chastise foreigners for breaking the securities exchange laws. Maybe it would look bad if nine of ten inside traders turned out to be lining the pockets of one particular party. Which party would be tarred most heavily with that insider trading brush?

It’s very likely that the billionaires the Republican Party protects from higher taxes with one voice are simply not as emotionally invested in the tax argument as the bought and paid for politicians are in protecting their investors. Ah, I mean their staunch Republican Party contributors. The billionaires’ club can call this growing likelihood of a voters’ rebellion off by dropping some money on the Republicans to back off of this filibuster thing. Yes, the billionaires (and the millionaire auxiliary) bought and paid for their politicians, and their politicians have stayed bought (even the tea-partiers). It’s already become so obvious that the Republican hardline attitude is caused by loyalties that lie beyond voters and in the hands of the contributors who have bought and paid for that blind loyalty that every filibuster threatens to destabilize the voting blocks that keep the red state politicos useful.

Scrapping the national safety net

I’m proud to announce that seeing this picture brought tears to my eyes. I was so touched that I went back online to see if I could track down the story. Apparently, it’s true.

The gentleman whose grave is so righteously decorated was a part of the Greatest Generation. That generation brought in and supported social security, national welfare programs, and the first federal intervention through business subsidies to ameliorate the catastrophic economic collapse that was in progress during the 1930s.

Right now, there is a big political fracas brewing about cutting welfare, social security, and any other obvious government programs. Those programs were used to set our nation back on its feet after an entirely laissez faire economic meltdown led to mass starvation in this country.

A lot of people want to deny that Americans were dying of malnutrition during the great depression. When I went to high school in the 1970s, I had teachers that remembered classmates in their U.S. elementary schools who had quit coming to class because they STARVED TO DEATH. Yes, Americans starved to death in the 1930s because their local charities and local governments and local social organizations fell down — because the local folks were all poor. It’s just that some of them were a little poorer than others. We want to deny that today, but my teachers in the 1970s still remembered their dead friends. American friends. If we follow down this line of “reducing government” far enough, and if this stupid economic meltdown continues to stretch the difference between the richest and the poorest of us, we’ll start to see starvation deaths again.

I’m agin it.

Turning it all over to private industry or to the fed? Are these really the only choices?

There are seven billion people on Earth this year or next, and although the demographers think that that growth rate will slow in upcoming years, they’re banking on an ahistorical trend when they make such predictions. Whether the rate of population increase slows or not, barring a die back that makes the Black Death look like a summer cold, Earth will double in population over the next century.

Lots of folks are using the internet to complain that the US Government has never done anything good for the country, and that everything good that has happened in America is purely the result of individual initiative.

The internet they complain about the Gubmint on was developed using both private and public funding. The auto industry is a good example of private development that then turned to the gubmint to protect themselves from brash interlopers taking control of their industries.

And lots of them, of private businessmen making this country a better place, but you can also find lots of examples of the government making this country a better place, and from Queen Isabella to JFK, you can find examples of governments financing exploration, technical development, and good science that no private agency would be likely to fund, because the chances of success couldn’t be easily calculated, or the source of profit would not be immediately identifiable.

I’m not trying to argue that the government isn’t full of self interested people, I’m pointing out that, regardless of venue, self-interest and power seeking are a part of the human condition. Publicly funded science has paid off for the country, and so has private research and industry. We, as a culture, can poorly afford to argue that either side of that equation can be done away with. You can complain about the U.S. Government and force it to shrink. But Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon, BP, Microsoft, and AT&T keep growing, and shrinking the government simply cedes power away from something that the tea-party can influence, and invests it in corporations that don’t care what you and I think, and often aren’t even American.

I think that the government has to stay large enough to maintain control over our corporate entities, which involves remaining large enough to oversee them.

I also think that the issue at argument shouldn’t be size of government, or how prophetic the founding fathers were when they framed the constitution, but how to put the voters in control of the country. Actual control, not just shifting the liar in the seat back and forth between two parties that aren’t answering the need. Our government has been getting smaller in relation to our population for fifty years, but I don’t think things are any looser, or that we’re getting adequate bang for our buck. And I do think that there is an effort afoot to define the country’s economic health without referring to unemployment, the millions of people who lost their retirement nest-eggs in the latest stock market crash, or the fact that a growing percentage of the GNP rests in corporate coffers, doing individual citizens no good at all.

The citizens of this country, whom I consider the only important part of the country, are ceding stakeholder status in the running of the nation when we call for deregulation and ignore the elephant in the room. The corporations grow more powerful and less responsible for their actions with every deregulation. They don’t give a fig about illegal immigration, which is profitable to them, or our opinions, which are absolutely insignificant to Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon, BP, Microsoft, or AT&T, even if several million like-minded people give up their phones or cars and boycott. They do care when we, as a people, force them, through our government, to play fair by our standards, rather than their own.

Believing impossible contradictions

We live in a weird political maelstrom. I cannot decide if it has been this way for as long as I remember, or if the current crop of extreme viewpoints is really boiling toward some sort of violence. The result is we all try to believe unreasonable numbers of contradictory things, and too many of us fall back on trusting the most sincere salesman in the room. Our right wing, which calls itself conservative, but does not believe in, or in any way support conservation (apologies to Ducks Unlimited; you are the exception that proves the rule, and you must be fairly aware of that), currently is up in arms that about 47% of the U.S. hasn’t paid taxes in the last three years. But that is caused not by people refusing to pay taxes, but by a campaign of lowering taxes, reducing the effectiveness of the IRS, and shrinking government in relation to the population of the United States, that has been underway, largely pushed by the conservative right, since Reaganrsquo;s era (oops, since his era ended. Reagan approved some pretty large tax increases to deal with federal deficits).span style=”mso-spacerun:yes”nbsp; /spanYet today, this largely conservative program is coming home to roost as a Democratic initiative gone wrong.span style=”mso-spacerun:yes”nbsp; /spanThe really sad thing?span style=”mso-spacerun:yes”nbsp; /spanItrsquo;s just another example of politicians directing attention away from the significant.span style=”mso-spacerun:yes”nbsp;br /!–/w:LatentStyles–br /That#39;s right.nbsp; When things were going well, Republicans gladly beat the drum loudly about lowering taxes to the poor.nbsp; Easy votes for negligible income, when you look at the federal balance.nbsp; Now, when the laws they lauded five years ago are actually providing relief to the poorest of us, but the political fires are burning hot in Republican Land to keep taxes off of the rich, the favoite complaint is that not everybody is paying a share.nbsp; This, in an era when the difference in wealth between the poorest and the richest in the US is larger than it has ever been.br /br /I#39;m gonna quit complaining after this next one.nbsp; I heard somebody playing up the idea that the poorest 20% of Americans makes more money than 80% of the rest of the world.nbsp; This is an almost meaningless statistic.nbsp; The piece of shit appartment I lived in when my wife and I first moved in together probably cost more per month than half the world makes in a year.nbsp; The cheapest of two bedroom appartments in Anchorage costs more than $1000.00 a month, or about $2000,00 every year more than the average person on earth makes,a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_%28PPP%29_per_capita” the worldwide income per capita being about $10400 each year./a/span/span Median is another deal.nbsp; The world median income was $1700 in 2005, and probably hasn#39;t done any growing since 2008.nbsp; That#39;s right.nbsp; The worst turd of a 2 bedroom appartment in Anchorage, AK, costs about $10300.00 more than the median income on the planet.nbsp;br /br /There are a lot of people in the US, whose personal weekly expenditures are 10 times what I make in a year, but who pay at a lower tax rate than I do, and the Republican part is ready to go to the mats for them, while screaming that people who have fallen beneath the poverty line should be taxed more heaviily before the millionaires consortium sees any increase./lj-cutbr /!–/lj-cut–nbsp; Yes, there is a class war going on.nbsp; Too bad us hoi poloi only just heard.nbsp; The march on that one was stolen years ago, and we#39;ve already lost.

Another health care rant.

I don’t approve of using the insurance industry to pay for health care reform. That’s thirty percent of our medical care dollars going into corporate coffers, and enough money each year to pay for healthcare for all the deadbeats the industry keeps telling us are out there trying to steal our hard-earned insurance dollars.

I think that the health care insurance industry is just another corporate Colossus that has managed to completely separate health care costs from market realities, and will continue blindly jacking up the price of health care costs until the system breaks down.  Not the value of health care, just the cost of it.

I think that the federal government should go into competition with AETNA, and set out to win. If laissez faire is so fair, if private business is so much more effective and competitive, then AETNA will win out in the end against those lazy bureaucrats in the public sector, and find ways to make sure private citizens can afford health care programs that won’t vanish when things get ugly, and the patient becomes too weak to hold his job.

I think that the federal government ought to be in the business of keeping successful and competent obstetricians from having to pay a couple hundred thousand dollars a year in malpractice insurance, because they have to protect themselves from desperate customers who’ve lost everything, and a loved one, paying for an unsuccessful outcome.  That is just plain sad and sinful.  The reason so many health care professionals want reform is because they aren’t getting the money we pay for our care. Insurers, boards of trustees, and lawyers are getting more health care dollars than many of our doctors are.  Let’s face it.  Americans spend 16% of the largest GNP in the world on health care. That is the largest percentage of the very largest GNP going, and we aren’t living any longer than any of the other first world nations.  That is probably because our medical care providers are paying half of their income into what amounts to a protection industry.  Call it what it is: a protection racket.

As individuals, we cannot control the collective might of the corporate insurance industry.  Medical Insurance invalidates the entire concept of market forces at work when it comes to controlling prices.  It’s time and past time to put our federal government to work sorting out the morass of insurance industry malfeasance that is slowly but inexorably making health care something that only the wealthiest of our children will be able to afford.

Health care reform – my second rant.

Health care is the elephant in the room that nobody wants to see, even when they’re generally happy to see elephants in the room. President Obama is probably a one term president because he insisted on recognizing that fact, and the odds are very good that the next administration will float in on promises to ignore that fact. They’ll promise to cancel the Obama health care plan, and to bring things back to status quo, and people will vote for them in droves, with nothing but vague assurances to look into the issue sometime in the future – just like 1993. But health care is so expensive now that it crushes median income families.

I just looked up a large sampling of health care plans available to private citizens in Alaska. As non-smokers, my family of four could plan on paying out a minimum of $6.000 per year, plus copays, with a family cap of about $50,000 out of pocket for medical care. Hey, that’s more money than my family makes! That’s right. If somebody in my family were to come down with cancer, I could look forward to spending more money than I make, on medical care, before my plan would take up the rest of my medical costs. Of course, I have to keep up payments on the plan, even during that medical emergency that might go on for a couple years.

That’s assuming that I could get that plan. Since I have hardware holding my back together, and have had high blood pressure and cholesterol since the accident that caused me to go bionic, a lot of those plans would either not let me join, or specifically exclude orthopedic and coronary care from my coverage.

So, if I didn’t already have a plan provided through my military retirement, the health care that I could afford would cost $6k per year, and I’d go bankrupt if anybody in my family suffered a catastrophic illness …

A better plan, which would have a lower deductible, and a much lower maximum payout for my family, would cost us $12,000 per year up front, and would still have substantial copays, deductibles, and individual care caps in the thousands per year. How many families of four in the Anchorage area can pay out $12,000 per year on medical insurance, plus an out of pocket limit of $4500? This is one of the best plans to have if you actually come down with a catastrophic illness, but my actual take home pay right now, from two jobs and my military retirement, comes out to … Well, let’s just say that $12K per year would bite right into the feeding the kids budget, even though we’re doing a lot better than several of the families in my neighborhood.

The median household income in Alaska for 2009 was supposedly $63,505 After a fashion, I accept that. I actually know a few people who make that amount or more. My family falls slightly below the median. 11.3% of Alaskans live below the poverty line, even though we have lower unemployment than most states. Supposedly, median family income describes that point where half of families earn more than that amount, and half of families earn less. But, I don’t actually know very many families who will acknowledge earning the median, and health insurance isn’t based on household income. If we were buying our own health care plan today, and my family were at the median, we’d be paying almost 19% of our total before tax income into our health care prepay. Dental care not included. Not including extra costs for my preexisting conditions.

I’d joke that only death, taxes, and health care costs are sure things, but I don’t have to pay $1 for health care. I can choose to die of my next major illness.

What is becoming increasingly clear, and increasingly true, is that only rich people get to have reliable health care plans. The status quo cost of medical care, before Obamacare, was taking up a larger percentage of our incomes every year, excluded a larger percentage of Americans from access every year, and grew faster than household income or any other aspect of the American cost of living. Returning to status quo will renew that cycle.

Things done wrong, things done right on national health care

I think that the vast majority of Americans want health care for themselves and everybody that they love, and want the price for that to be affordable. I think that the vast majority of people who are satisfied with their existing health care insurance plan have never experienced a truly catastrophic medical emergency, or they’d have to revisit the values of their own status quo medical plan.

I was once covered by a medical program that forced me to pay 25% cost share of my family’s medical bills. This was acceptable if my wife broke a leg skiing, but would have put me into bankruptcy if she had broken her back. When I broke my back, the two hospitals that cared for me put up accounting charges of about half a million dollars in the first few weeks – but nobody came in for an early shift, no extra people were hired, and the majority of my expensive care was simply watching me either heal or fail.

Okay, 25% of 500K is $125K, which, tacked on to my permanent loss of income as a pilot, and with my traditional USian home mortgage, would have wiped me out under the insurance program that once applied, and which is similar to many that prevail today.

An awe inspiring number of Americans are perfectly comfortable with insurance programs that limit out when things go very bad. If they’re lucky and never need critical care, and nobody in the family develops a chronic catastrophic illness, they’ll never realize that they’re paying good money for a service that, if they did fall to a catastrophic illness, would put them in the poor-house, make them unable to pay their insurance bills, and then be taken away from them entirely for non-payment. Can that happen? Does it? Yes, in cases across this nation, in every calendar year.

In 1993, Congress over-rode HillaryCare because she folded on taking the insurance industry out of the driver’s seat on medical costs. Congress was absolutely correct to do so. Insurance companies create an interesting form of medical market place, that in another business would be frowned at as completely unethical, and rightfully so. I spoke to an obstetrician during Teri’s last pregnancy, who mentioned that he paid $220K per year for malpractice insurance as a successful obstetrics specialist with a good record, who hadn’t been sued. His personal malpractice insurance was about twice what my maximum pay has ever been. Health insurance companies generally spend about 30% of their income on shearly internal administration, and the medical community has to put up a good chunk of its income on staffing to meet insurance company demands for documentation. This is not done in the face of a real problem with medical embezzlement, IMO, but in an effort to make insurance companies seem necessary. I might be wrong on that.

Insurance companies have a way of making themselves absolutely mandatory by paying whatever the medical provider demands. This completely eliminates the market forces of supply and demand, and thus, any pretense of realistic free enterprise cost controls. An example would be the night I broke my back. An ambulance picked me up at Maui’s major airport and drove me four miles to Maui Memorial hospital. This ride cost about 17 grand. The whole ambulance event took an hour, and everybody involved was already at work. The people who did the work certainly didn’t make 17K for it. My insurance was handled by some combination of Tricare and the federal government, who did not authorize that much expenditure, and shut down the providers complaints when they tried to come back to haunt me for the difference. The $150K or so that Maui Memorial made during the four days I was resident there didn’t involve anybody coming in to work, or any surgery, or any major exhaustive effort. I received MRIs and CAT scans from equipment on site, by staff who were already at work. You could argue that my instantaneous costs were then spread out over time to pay for staff when there wasn’t an ICU case, but realistically, the hospitals in this country always have enough beds filled to pay for their day to day operations and building maintenance. No traditional insurance provider would have squawked a bit about those fees, for the simple reason that traditional medical insurance companies fully depend on the cost of critical care being beyond the reach of the average American. Limited duration high cost emergencies are where traditional insurance companies look best, and get the lion’s share of their letters of appreciation.

I remember bunches of Republicans in 1993 telling their constituents that getting health care under control was a huge priority for this country. But from the day the Republicans took over congress, until they were thrown out in 2009, they never once fronted a major health care reform bill. Not once. My Congressman, Don Young, and my Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, wrote me following the passage of Obama’s health care plan to tell me, not that people don’t need or want a national health care program, but that they had voted against the plan as written, because it was a bad plan. I agree with them. It’s a bad plan because it caves in to the National Health Care Insurance corporations, just as HilaryCare did a decade and a half ago. Egads, does that mess need to be fixed.

But Obama’s plan is world’s better than the great plans the Republicans fronted during their stay in office. I guess you could say those plans were the ultimate in paperless office practice, since nobody can find them or read them.

During my years as a voter, I’ve voted Republican more times than Democrat. But I’m voting for the man or woman who commits to national health care being a reality, regardless of party, until this mess is straightened out.

What mess? The mess that has the U.S. spending 16% of our world’s largest GNP on health care, when poorer first world nations, which is to say, all of the other first world nations, spend 10% of their smaller GNPs on health care, and are in just as good of health as we Americans are. The mess that forced my wife’s mother to remain in Boise, ID, for the last several years of her life, because her health care plan only covered her while she lived in Idaho (it covered benefits while she took trips, but not if she moved away), and she couldn’t, at 90+ years old, find another insurance carrier (Age is a preexisting condition). The mess that forces small businesses to pay $1500.00 or so per month for each of their full time employees to have medical care, which forces many of them to make almost all of their employees work part time so that they won’t have to cover full time benefits (not a new situation, my sister spent twenty years working several concurrent food industry jobs, because none of her bosses could afford to pay her benefits as a full time worker). The mess that forces doctors to pay more than I’ll ever make in a year, every year, in order to be insured against the most litigious community in the world, which jacks up prices, which are paid by insurance companies who hire expensive lawyers at both ends of the deal. The Insurance and litigation societies of America are in some sort of unholy alliance that I’ll talk about during some other rant. I want to talk about it separately, because I don’t think that unholy alliance is really intentional on anybody’s part, it’s just real …

What mess? Medical professionals should be the most respected members of US society. Not just the doctors, but the daily care professionals who do most of the heavy lifting. If you’ve messed with blood and shit to help somebody survive, you’ll understand my stance that it’s the toughest work in the world, with as much heartbreak as joy to look forward to. But the people who make hospitals work aren’t where the money is going. The doctors who are making the huge incomes the Democrats tend to deride, are kicking those huge incomes back into self protection against customers who aren’t evil, and generally aren’t even convinced that the doctor was at fault. What they are is grieving and destitute from paying their cost-share. Medical care professionals should be among the most respected members of American society, but they don’t need to be the richest. Maybe they all ought to be paid as well, and as reliably, as the active duty military ought to be.

Too many messes? No fix? I don’t believe it. I think the Democrats luffed in accepting the insurance industry as a viable overlord for medical costs. I think the Republicans and libertarians are trading away the best good of America on a theory of every man is an island, when poor Republicans who can’t pay for their own emergency care nonetheless vote to support a status quo that isn’t working, and is growing worse by the month, because they fear that fixing it will somehow be worse than pretending it ain’t broke.

Compared to health care costs, I don’t care about gays in the military. I don’t care about abortion. I don’t care about civil rights. I don’t care about the ACLU. I don’t care about most of the hot-button issues that consume the media, because they are qualitative, and don’t affect the vast majority of us. America is rapidly becoming slave to health care costs. Our unemployment situation is made much, much worse by the hidden costs of being an employer, which often enough are as great as the take home pay of full-time employees, and which almost all translate out to health care costs (medical and dental and workplace injury, Oh My!). Oh, I do care about the other things, but they aren’t going to destabilize our economy or our country’s political existence. Health care costs, left to be stabilized by market forces that don’t exist, are more than sufficient to do those things, during our lifetimes.