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Friday, September 25, 2009

Meanwhile, at the UN - a Contrast in Leadership

I do NOT wish I lived in Israel, but boy howdy, I'm up for a leadership exchange program.

Israel's Netanyahu gives a speech worthy of Churchill. It starts out focusing on Iranian Holocaust denial, and gets broader in scope as it goes along. It's an exhilarating defense of science and innovation, of freedom, of human potential.

Meanwhile, our very own President seasons his generality soup with a sprinkle of self-importance and a soupcon of stale apologies. Not to mention that he's all excited about closing Pandora's box -- whoops, I meant eliminating all nuclear weapons from the planet (I guess everyone will forget how to make them). Oh, and to prevent bad guys from getting hold of fissile material, he wants to have an "internationally supervised" nuclear fuel bank. Which would hold low-enriched nuclear fuel, which is easy to process into weapons-grade material. Russia and Kazakhstan have offered to host it. What could possibly go wrong?

OY VEY.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Constituents of Gang of 6 -- Beware the Conference Committee

The constituents of the Senate Finance Committee's "Gang of 6" may be our only hope for stopping Obamacare. Whatever careful compromise the 6 think they've worked out, they will have no control over the last-minute deals made in the Conference Committee, and there will be enormous pressure on both houses to pass whatever Frankenstein that committee patches together and lets loose. The Gang's constituents need to bombard them with the message that they most hold the pass. (It might be better to come up with better-matching metaphors than I'm offering....)

Life's little ironies

(As opposed to the big irony about which I posted yesterday.)

I've been dieting and losing weight. I look slimmer, especially in pants, but what I didn't expect is that most of my skirts are riding lower and therefore look longer. Which makes me look shorter. Slimmer but shorter.

Since I mainly wear skirts in warm weather, and fall and winter approach, I'm OK with the tradeoff, for now.

Two cautionary tales

Yesterday my husband embarked upon life as a civil servant. (He will be aiding the national defense -- so he will be among perhaps a minority of civil servants who are performing functions authorized by the Constitution.) He immediately encountered two distinct instances of the federal bureaucracy fouling things up, in a way we may ponder as we contemplate a greater federal role in American health care and/or business.

As part of "in-processing", he took an oath to support and defend the Constitution. This was his first opportunity to do so, and he was proud and moved to make such a declaration. He was discomfited to discover that the form given him to sign, while properly allowing him to "swear (or affirm)", included the language "so help me God". He asked the lady in charge whether he could cross out the religious language and was told, "No, you can't change anything on a federal form." The form by which he was to declare his allegiance to the Constitution violated the Constitution.

He was troubled enough to do some research when he had the chance. As it turned out, a previous version of the form specified that, should the "appointee" choose to affirm, the words "swear" and "so help me God" should be stricken out. The fine print on the current form is less specific, and was perhaps intended to be less restrictive: "Note - If the appointee objects to the form of the oath on religious grounds, certain modifications may be permitted pursuant to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Please contact your agency's legal counsel for advice." The bureaucrat in charge of the procedure was unaware of this language, and her statement directly contradicted it. Even had she made some attempt to comply with it, the form gave her little guidance and no convenient way to obtain any.

Our next surprise concerned health insurance. My husband and I had both grown up hearing that federal employment offers particularly good benefits. This may be, but it turns out he is not yet covered by his new insurance. In fact, he -- and the rest of the family -- won't be covered for more than two weeks. None of his previous employers -- government contractors -- have left him out in the cold this long. This instance of federal management of health care has not inspired us to optimism where Obamacare is concerned.

Monday, September 14, 2009

One big crowd

So we have estimates from 60,000 to 2 million Tea Party protesters in D.C. on September 12, 2009. A time-lapse aerial view from 8 to 11:30 a.m., while not great quality, shows a Whole Lot of People -- and that's at a time when many were in very long lines for subway tokens and the like. I'm no expert, but I would bet a fair amount of money, which we are not flush with right now, that the crowd was well into the six figures. Over 200,000 would be my conservative guess, and over 300,000 would be my if-I-were-taking-a-flyer guess.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Still at it -- more emails to Congress

Here's my latest, sent to my senators and to the members of the Senate Finance Committee:

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Dear Senator:

I am disturbed about some features of the emerging possible compromise on health care legislation. I read that this compromise is likely to include mandatory insurance for individuals, as well as requirements that insurance companies cover those who are already known to need continual expensive care.

There is something fundamentally un-American – not to mention unconstitutional – about the federal government telling people that they must purchase an expensive product for their own use that they do not believe they need. The comparison to auto insurance misses the mark, as that requirement is: (1) a feature of state, not federal law; (2) confined to those who choose to drive; and (3) mainly designed to ensure that the driver can pay for injuries or property damage his driving inflicts on others.

As for requiring insurers to cover all pre-existing conditions, this further distorts the already strained meaning of “insurance”. Insurance is a form of hedging one’s bets, protecting against unlikely events (e.g. fire, accident). Where known medical conditions will require extensive future medical care, “insurance” is a misnomer. Placing the costs of such care on insurers is a kind of tax, which will be passed on to all the insurers’ customers in the form of higher premiums. Such higher premiums are one of several reasons that people currently satisfied with their insurance cannot count on their employers’ retaining such insurance.

The question of how to help Americans pay for chronic health conditions is a difficult one, and we need a great deal more brainstorming on the subject. Greatly expanding the federal bureaucracy, either expanding or imitating existing bureaucracies that are financially imperiled and administratively lackluster, cannot be the best answer available.

There are good ideas already out there for addressing many other aspects of health care. By letting Americans use pre-tax dollars to pay for both health care and health insurance, we can disconnect health care from employment and let people be cost-conscious health care consumers. Health insurance could then fill its more appropriate role, instead of being used for predictable everyday health care. Allowing insurance companies to compete nationwide would greatly reduce cost and expand choice.

Please do not allow the push for a bipartisan solution [replaced in some emails with: the demands of party leaders] to obscure the merits of the issue.

Sincerely,

Karen A. Wyle

UPDATE: Holy cow! My readership just jumped substantially. Hello and welcome, new folks! Please feel free to comment.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

If we have 4 years to play with....

My email to my senators:

Dear Senator Bayh/Lugar:

In his speech to Congress last night, Pres. Obama said his plan would go into effect in four years, so that we'd have time to get it right. Conveniently, that gives him time to get re-elected before the actual effects of his plan become evident.
If we have that much time, how about starting over and getting the right bill? How about letting individuals use pre-tax dollars to buy health care and/or health insurance, and letting insurers compete nationwide? How about examining some of the interesting proposals various economists and other experts have been floating?
Please don't let yourself be stampeded into supporting a flawed bill that, according to the President himself, doesn't need to go into effect any time soon.

Karen A. Wyle

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Who gave you that microphone, Congressman?

Well, I attended the town hall meeting that my congressman, Baron Hill, finally decided to hold. It was informative -- I'd imagined that he might still be on the fence, or even inclined to live up to his Blue Dog label, but he'd clearly decided to support the Democratic leadership's approach, complete with public option if he can get it.

Hill tried to be fair about the way he ran the meeting, sometimes affirmatively looking for people who opposed his views and wanted to speak. I was, however, disturbed by one of his ground rules: no audio or video recordings except by "accredited news agencies". He was asked twice why he would not let audience members record the proceedings. I don't think he answered the first time, but the second time he replied, "This is MY town hall and I set the rules." That got an angry reaction, and he defiantly repeated that this was "MY town hall." (He also explained that he didn't want recordings showing up on YouTube, which was at least honest.)

So what does that mean, "MY town hall"? He was the one who deigned to hold a meeting. He's the one who is (for now at least) in Congress. But he's there as our employee and representative. We put him there. If we call on him to meet with us on how he's doing his job, is it really "his" meeting? or is it more like his performance review?