Thursday, July 30, 2009

Is it Nuts in Here or is it Just Me?

American political dialog (for public consumption) and reality are conveniently shielded from one another by a wall of fear. That fear is composed of the politician's fear of election (power) loss and the voter's fear of hearing about entitlement loss. What follows is an example of what is said and heard versus what is real but not heard.

I will paraphrase the Obama health care dialog: "We need to reform the system so that everyone can be covered by affordable insurance and can receive affordable care and no one will have to sacrifice if we do it right."

Here is a shortened version of reality: "The health care cost crocodile is eating the American way of life, currently it has swallowed an entire leg and is going for the other, so we must cut the first leg off at the hip to save our entitled ass."

Here's another example: Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said on The News Hour last week that "the entire country should look to the examples of the Mayo and Cleveland Clinics where costs are relatively low and the outcomes good and replicate those models as a way to moderate health care cost inflation."

Here's the reality that he didn't mention: Both of those facilities pay their doctors--not for procedures--a salary. It's the primary reason that the care in those facilities is less invasive and less expensive. The day that Senator Alexander introduces Republican-sponsored legislation that puts all American doctors on salary is the day that Nancy Pelosi and Jim DeMint are caught in a compromising embrace in the Senate cloakroom.

You want more examples? No? Well too bad.

Here's a paraphrased version of the conservative push-back on reforming anything about American health care: "We have the greatest health care system in the world and if we change it there will be.....wait for it......wait for it, rationing!"

Here's the reality: America has great health care if you can afford it, otherwise it's mediocre at best and non-existent at worst. We already ration health care in America; we do it through cost and it's rapidly slipping out of the reach of even those with basic health insurance.

Speaking of rationing, let's do a little exercise inspired by a recent op-ed column by Peter Singer, professor of bioethics at Princeton, a small university in New Jersey (not that there is anything wrong with that).

Suppose that there is patient in your insurance pool who has aggressive liver cancer that will kill him in 12 to 24 months. There is a drug called Sutent that slows the spread of the cancer and could give this patient an extra six months of life if he starts taking it now. Whatever the insurance pool pays for this patient and others like him in the pool will impact future premiums for all pool members. Please answer "yes" or "no" to the following questions.

1. The Sutent costs $50 per month, should your insurance pool pay?
2. The Sutent costs $1,000 per month, should your insurance pool pay?
3. The Sutent costs $10,000 per month, should your insurance pool pay?
4. The Sutent costs $100,000 per month, should your insurance pool pay?
5. The Sutent costs $1 million per month, should your insurance pool pay?

If you answered "no" at any point in this continuum, you believe in rationing; you must be a realist and therefore, according to the conservative right, a leftist "socialized medicine" pinko. Otherwise, you are a strict non-rationer; you can march with Glen and Rush, gasbags who never take the "no rationing" argument to a thoughtful conclusion. You can beat the drum and argue that all life, regardless of circumstances and cost, must be paid for with everyone's last dollar. Frankly, I'm not willing to go down, along with my children and grandchildren, on that flawed fiscal ship.

The political will to do the things that would truly moderate health care cost inflation in America is not to be found in D.C. because the message contains news of change and sacrifice for most Americans and the entire health care industry. Try getting elected or re-elected on that platform.

Here's another reality,the necessary sacrifices, if designed and distributed fairly, would not ruin our lives nor wreck the balance sheets of the health care industry. However, the legislative sausage that is currently being packaged in Washington does little or nothing to curb health care cost inflation and a whole lot to place the economic sacrifice on future generations, in spite of Obama's message to the contrary. If the Republicans had a better solution than, "do nuttin' honey", we could turn to them.

Where's Ross Perot when you really need a short Texas nut case to lead a third party?


Observoid of the Day: A martini may quench many things but one of them is not thirst.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The AntiChrist Wears FootJoys

I snuck out to the golf course earlier this week. As is so often the case, I was alone because none of my friends are dumb enough to play golf, which spelled in reverse is "flog". The friendly first tee starter matched me up with a pair of brothers, I'll call them Daryl the Younger and Daryl the Older.

The Younger was an investment manager for a national brokerage firm, married, the father of two teens and, in outward appearance, a pretty standard suburban fellow. Daryl the Older had been in sales for a telephone equipment manufacturer but was "between opportunities", married and the father of a 20-something who was soon to go to college. He too was a typical-looking once-a-month golfer: Bermuda shorts, Polo shirt, anklet socks and a baseball cap with a University of Georgia logo.

We were an agreeable threesome and exchanged pleasantries, golf cliches--"never up, never in", "You da man", etc.--and bits and pieces of personal information.

It came to light that I was a writer of sorts and they asked about the nature of my latest efforts. They were hoping, I imagine, that I was a famous author of crime fiction or, given that I have a rainbow hued umbrella on my golf bag, romance bodice rippers. They tried to hide their disappointment when I explained that I wrote policy-wonkish non-fiction with nary a sex scene, except for occasional comments about various politicos and their penchant for having sex with those other than their spouses.

After grabbing a cold one at the turn, we arrived at the 10th tee. The Younger asked what I thought of the proposed health care reform currently being turned into sausage by the congress. My response indicated (1) that I thought that both political parties were avoiding the core problem of America's health care crisis (provider cost inflation) and (2) although Obama was addressing insurance coverage for all, he was not providing cost inflation solutions, a combination that would prove too expensive.

Apparently, my answer indicated that I was not an Obama worshipper because Daryl the Younger followed on with this question, asked without the slightest hint of irony, jest or sarcasm and apropos to nothing that we had been discussing, "What do you think about Obama being the AntiChrist?"

I am, if I do say so my-own-self, pretty quick on my 9.5 B width feet but to this question I could only manage a weak, "I beg your pardon?"

Given a few hours I did come up with one or two clever rejoinders such as, "I thought that Cheney had a lock on that", or "Barack's new dog is going to be very disappointed." However, as with all bon mots, better never than late.

The Younger continued, "He matches up on many of the signs of being the AntiChrist. You should check it out."

I did a quick take over each shoulder to make sure that Allen Funt and his camera crew were not lurking in the bushes. No, I was quite alone with Daryl and Daryl. I turned to my companions, took a deep breath and said in a clear, if somewhat tremulous, voice, "So, how 'bout those Braves?"

This being Georgia, I could have used "Dawgs" instead of "Braves" and the result would have been the same. We immediately launched into a sports conversation unrelated to politics or religion and thus it remained for the last nine holes.

The incident, brief as it was, is unsettling on a number of levels. One would think that for a person who believed that a sitting U.S. president was the Biblically prophesied AntiChrist, drastic action would be warranted. Daryl the Younger is not a wild-eyed, wild-haired crazy in the mold of Rasputin but faced with worldwide Armageddon shouldn't he be out plotting heroic measures to save mankind? But no, he's out playing golf.

The opposing, yet still unsettling, possibility is that the Younger, being a Christian, which is a necessary ingredient in the AntiChrist scenario, is comfortable in the eventual triumph of good over evil wherein the Christians are olly-olly-in-free. The Younger may be looking forward to the big day with great anticipation. Shoot, he may have voted for Barack just to help kick-start the program. It depends on when the Obama/AntiChrist news hit the Internet and talk shows, before or after the November elections.

Also, curiosity being what it is among writers, I visited the Internet and found several unsettling sites devoted to the specific topic of Obama the AntiChrist. These sites have one common denominator, all of them are spooky in their sincerity. I also found that Obama is not the only living person currently in the running as the AntiChrist. The Pope is also a contender, given his position as head of the Catholic Church (which for some is enough said) and his brief stint in the Nazi Youth Corps.

But, back to Obama the AntiChrist. Perhaps most unsettling of all is the fact that Obama is a golfer, one of the fraternity of self-loathing masochists in soft spikes and hideous slacks. I think that the Biblical prophets, being all-seeing and all-knowing, would have mentioned something about that in the 27 signs of the AntiChrist. However, I have carefully read all 27 signs and there is no mention of anything that would seem related to golf. There is, however, the "666" sign (Barack=6 letters, Hussein=6 letters and Obama=5 lett....never mind).

It is in the following bit of presidential golf information that I found proof that Obama is not the AntiChrist. By all reliable accounts, Barack is a hacker, just like the rest of us delusional clowns who buy $400 drivers. We who load up on Titleist Pro V 1 balls at $4 each only to launch them directly into the first water hazard that confronts us. This group who own range finders that give accurate distances to the pin, a very thin object 183 yards away which we couldn't hit unless it was a mistake; middle aged men in Nike golf clothing (just like Tiger's) who attack the course like a better dressed version of a Texas chain gang hacking weeds in a bar ditch. He's one of us.

If Obama were the AntiChrist, with immense power and total control, he'd have game. Perhaps the Pope plays to scratch. Yikes!


Observoid of the Day: Silence is golden; duct tape is silver.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Miss Elainy

There has been much in the news recently that deserves comment. Reams have already been written about certain people and issues. You may think that all pertinent information on the following topics has made it into the public domain and that any additional perspective would be redundant. Of course, you would be wrong. In my review of available information on these stories, there is a glaring gap and that gap is the perspective of an aging white guy transplant
from the mid-west who is currently living in the deep south. This is a gross oversight that must be addressed.

So, without further ado--and there has been a gracious plenty of that--I present said perspectives.

Michael Jackson. From all indications, Mr. Jackson is still dead. As a business model strategy, one that closely parallels that adopted by The King his-own-self, Elvis Presley, when your act is popular primarily because you have become a parody of your own-earlier-self, death is an excellent career move. Reportedly, there is a large cache of unreleased MJ recordings which will now be packaged and relentlessly marketed via Infomercials. These new recordings, along with collections of MJ's "Greatest Hits", MJ's "Mediocre Hits" and MJ's "B Sides" will continue to create millions of dollars of revenue. The most interesting aspect of this looming marketing juggernaut is the question of who, exactly, will benefit. My prediction, given the early indications based on recent child custody discussions, family comments to the media and such, is that the scramble for a place at the MJ lucre trough will make the family squabbles over Dr. MLK's money-producing legacy look like a pillow fight at a Brownie Scout pajama party.

Sarah Palin. For my personal entertainment dollar, Ms. Palin is still the most interesting nut job in the Republican party, and recall, this is the party of Governor Mark "I love your tan lines" Sanford, Newt "Hey, here's yet another new idea" Gingrich and Nevada's Senator John "The wife and I joined the Promise Keepers (wink, wink)" Ensign. These are tough acts with whom to compete but the Thrilla from Wasilla is more than up to it. It helps, of course, to have an entire family, a daughter's former main squeeze and a hairdresser at the Beehive Beauty Salon who are attracted to media mics like liberals to Birkenstocks. Some say that Ms. Palin is "crazy like a fox" and, in part, I agree. If you want to sharply focus your mind, imagine that Ms. Palin, given the right set of circumstances, could eventually have access to the U.S. nuclear arsenal codes; David Letterman should watch his tasteless remarks.

Swine Flu. This illness is now officially called the H1N1 virus after a well-orchestrated outcry from the U.S. pork industry claiming that the handle "Swine Flu" was a pejorative, reflecting poorly on pigs and, more to the real problem, ruining bacon sales. The moderately serious influenza has spread worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. It is thought to have incubated and first spread from porker to human in rural Mexico. Apparently, pigs are no longer needed to spread the bug and neither are Mexicans. One could assume that if the bug can jump from pigs to humans that it can also jump back, a possibility that the Chinese government is suppressing lest its population of 2 billion pigs becomes restive and takes to the streets like unhappy Uyghurs. Ironically, a report out of Michigan this week indicates that out of 10 cases of H1N1 in one hospital's ICU, 9 of the patients were obese. This medical observation is another PR body blow to pigs in general and swine in particular.

Global Warming. Al Gore missed the fact, probably because he was born several million years too late (a fact about which Tipper is somewhat conflicted), that Earth has had significant warming(s) in the past. Thanks to these earlier warming cycles, Hollywood has been able to create blockbuster releases bases on the flora and particularly the fauna of those epochs. (I am still working on the difference between "epoch", "eon", "age" and "era". I mean, why do we say, "The Jazz Age" instead of the "The Jazz Epoch"? Huh? Huh?) Anyway, without those warmer days of yore, we could not have enjoyed such classics as "1 Million Years, B.C." with Raquel Welch in that really, really fashion-forward one-piece animal skin (PETA approved) or "Jurassic Park" in which Laura Dern proves that the acting gene isn't necessarily passed from father to daughter. It seems to me that the most important reason for reducing greenhouse gases isn't the warming impact, it's that we're all breathing this crappola into our lungs!

Health Care Reform. According to the pundits and experts (rarely the same people) there are "billions here" and "trillions there" to be spent, saved, squandered, applied, acquired and/or taxed, all associated with U.S. health care. The Democrats push for this or that reform, the Republicans push back. For all of the pushing and pushing back, it seems inevitable that some legislation is going to pass, but it isn't likely to help much. Here's why: unless a majority of Americans and their representatives are willing to admit (1) that it is not an appropriate use of the innovative free market to let that market set the agenda for national health care (as the providers do now) (2) that paying providers for procedures, regardless of the potential and actual outcomes, is a poor way to run the rodeo and (3) that it is a fallacy to assume that the payers--government, private insurers or patients--are going to rein in the cost associated with items (1) and (2), which are now ordained by the providers plus flawed policy. If we don't address the primary reasons why health care costs in America are unsupportable and climbing, those rising costs will continue to eat America's corporate budgets, America's family budgets and America's federal budget. Both parties are dodging these realities. If you were looking for a chuckle in this final item, sorry. I'm as serious as a colonoscopy prep about this one.


Observoid of the Day: Cats are needy; they just refuse to let on.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Free Market Convert

I confess, I have been desperately wrong about runaway health care costs and the solution. I'm deeply, deeply ashamed of my stubborn insistence that the free market is precariously tipped in favor of the providers and therefore lacks the essential mechanism for encouraging innovation, efficiency and competitive pricing. How silly of me, as has been pointed out by a number of concerned readers. The real solution is not less free market activity plus more gummit planning (intervention) but quite the opposite.

I am now bathing in the soothing light of the free market solution. Either that or there is a large locomotive bearing down on my position. If I squint, maybe I can tell which.

Clearly, as my betters point out, the gummit can't do anything right. Nothing. Zilch. Nada. The Post Office clearly doesn't work. The IRS is an embarrassment. Our Federal highway system is the laughing stock of the free world. The FBI, CIA, Secret Service and NSA are out of control and routinely trample the rights of up-standing, often gun-totin', citizens (especially those patriotic Minutemen protecting our southern border). NASA hasn't put a man on the Moon for 40 years (and maybe not even then). The CDC can't protect us from flu caused by Mexican pigs. The list of failed or anemic government programs just swells.

The free market is the answer. Given the right incentives and the freedom to innovate and compete, private enterprise could replace all of these inefficient, fraud riddled, wasteful and lumbering bureaucratic gummit sloths. I am now so convinced of this orthodoxy (think: enthusiastic reformed smoker) that I believe America should immediately adopt free market policy across the board, starting with national defense, the largest, most unwieldy, wasteful and inefficient of our federal budget gobblers.

Just think of the possibilities.

Each patriotic defense contractor, currently saddled with top-down planning coming from those yokels in the Pentagon (and we could certainly use that building and land for something more productive), would be free to approach each individual, consumer group or state to sell their wares: naval vessels and munitions to those with oceanfront properties to defend and land based military hardware to the land-locked. Everyone would be free to choose from whatever the defense industry decided to present to them, unless, of course, they couldn't afford it.

And, since places like Florida and Maine have no real beef with any Middle Eastern, Far Eastern or former Soviet entities, there would be no wasteful spending for additional vessels or munitions to patrol those parts of the world. Certainly, residents of places such as Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska are morally concerned with possible dust-ups and genocide in faraway lands but sending their artillery, tanks, bullets, armored personnel carriers and such to wield a big military stick would be seen for what it is, wasteful use of dollars.

The military equipment manufacturers would decide who needed what, based on their superior judgment and profit potential. Then they would make their case to citizens and state legislators (and here in Georgia we hold our state Representatives in particularly high esteem, at least the ones who aren't currently serving time) and then build and deliver the hardware. There would be a real scramble in the competitive bidding process to drive the costs down. Just think, acres of inexpensive Bradley Fighting Vehicles in Wisconsin, a tarmac chock-a-block full of bargain-basement F22s in Ft. Worth, etc. Then, as contractors came up with new and innovative weapons systems, regardless of the real or imaginary threats to the population, market them directly to the voters and encourage the politicians to buy (sort of like big pharma's, "Ask your doctor if you are healthy enough for sexual activity" pitch).

The current system of planning national defense and then directing private enterprise to produce the required equipment (admittedly, at a profit) is for socialist sissies. It is the Nanny State run amok. Look at the military messes it has gotten America into. We don't need no stinking planning; the providers know what's best; certainly better than those pesky four stars and gummit bureaucrats. (I don't know about you, but when I hear "bureaucrat" I think of short-sleeve, drip-dry dress shirts and clip-on neck wear.) The providers, however, are free market innovators and they would never produce and sell military equipment that wasn't desperately needed somewhere by somebody, would they?

Of course, there would still be some gummit involvement (sorry Libertarians), but just at the state level. That would be where a Congressional sub-committee, headed in Georgia by a guy whose real job is in industrial pest control in Macon, can decide how many mortar tubes the state really needs next year. Oh, and shoulder-fired missiles, don't forget them, they are really, really cool. You could buy one for home use.

Naturally, the funding would have to be arranged through the individual voters in each state to insure that it is a totally free market defense system. Deciding whether or not to take part would be up to each citizen, akin to deciding whether or not to have health insurance. The gummit shouldn't force anyone to pay for military equipment if they have better things to spend their money on--and it is their money, you tax-and-spend liberal bastards.

I'm sorry, but I feel strongly about this.

I am planning to evaluate the improvements that a totally free market orthodoxy will have on the other gummit agencies. I get goose flesh just imagining how much different and cheaper, not to mention innovative, our national highway system will be after a couple of decades of free market direction sans gummit oversight.

Rest assured, BHO is on my distribution list for this post. He has got to come to his senses and soon.


Observoid of the Day: You cannot out-think a person who isn't thinking.