Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What Have You Done For Me Lately?

Barack Obama took office in the worst recession in more than half a century, amid fears of a complete economic implosion. The Onion, the satirical news organization, described his election at the time: “Black Man Given Nation’s Worst Job.” Three years later Obama’s ratings are said to be at an all-time low for a president at this juncture in the four year term. Conservatives initially set up a steady drumbeat of torrid criticism with one stated intent in mind; As the minority leader of the Senate put it “Our highest priority is to see that Obama is a one term president.” Obama has been criticized in given situations for doing too little, or too much depending, apparently, on the weather or the credibility of the critic. The remainder of this blog serves to highlight the actual accomplishments of the man who in my opinion will go down in history as one of the greatest presidents in the history of the United Sates.

His administration helped us back from the brink of economic ruin. Obama oversaw an economic stimulus that, while too small, was far larger than House Democrats had proposed. He rescued the auto industry and achieved health care reform that presidents, including Richard Nixon, have been seeking since the time of Theodore Roosevelt.

Foreign policy has been Obama’s strongest suit. He deserves great credit for killing Osama bin Laden, acting for the liberation of Libya, getting behind the Arab quest for freedom, winding down the war in Iraq, dealing repeated blows to Al Qaeda and restoring America’s battered image. In doing so, he took a couple of huge risks. He approved the assault on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, and despite much criticism led the international effort to overthrow Muammar el-Qaddafi without one American soldier touching ground or losing a life.

Despite the virulent opposition that has paralyzed the government, Obama bolstered regulation of the tobacco industry, signed a fair pay act and tightened control of the credit card industry. He has weaned the Democratic Party from blind support for teachers’ unions while strengthening public schools.

The Web site PolitiFact, the Pulitzer-winning fact-checking service, recently did a thorough debunking of Republican claims that Obama’s 2009 stimulus program created, quote, “zero jobs.” In fact, the checkers established, using the Congressional Budget Office, that the stimulus created or saved a couple of million jobs. The Republicans just keep on repeating the "zero jobs" claim, but the fact is that as of March 31, 2011, Obama’s efforts had created 1.8 million private sector jobs since Jan 2010.

Some of the specifics of Obama's healthcare plan must be addressed because, while there is significant disapproval of the effort, most of those in opposition clearly don’t know what the plan contains. It was common to see senior citizens at Tea Party events yelling about keeping government out of their lives, all the while demanding that Obama protect their Medicare and social security. Others yapped about death panels without any clear idea of what the provision being attacked meant.

These are the basic points of the plan:
1)  Coverage can’t be denied to children with pre-existing conditions.
2)  Adults up to age 26 can stay on their parents’ health plans.
3)  Free preventive care.
4)  Rescinding coverage is now illegal.
5)  Eliminating lifetime limits on insurance coverage.
6)  Restricting annual limits on insurance coverage.
7)  More options to appeal coverage decisions.
8)  $5 billion in immediate federal support to affordable Coverage for the Uninsured with Pre-existing Conditions.
9)  $10 billion investment in Community Health Centers.
10) Create immediate access to re-insurance for employer health plans providing coverage for early retirees.
11) Cutting prescription drug costs for the nation’s seniors reduce the size of the "donut hole" in the Medicare (Part D) Drug Benefit.
12) Provides a $250 rebate to 750,000 Medicare Beneficiaries who reach the Part D coverage gap in 2010. As of March 22, 2011, 3.8 million beneficiaries had received a $250 check to close the coverage gap, according to an HHS report.
13) Businesses with fewer than 50 employees will get tax credits covering up to 35% of employee premiums effective 2011 and a 50% tax credit effective 2013.
14) Creates a state option to provide Medicaid coverage to childless adults with incomes up to 133% of the federal poverty level. By 2014, States are required to provide this coverage.
15) Provides a 10% Medicare bonus payment for primary care services and also a 10% Medicare bonus payment to general surgeons practicing in health professional shortage areas.
16) Medical Loss Ratio (MLR) requires that insurance companies spend at least 80 to 85 percent of the proportion of the premium dollars on clinical services. As an example, WellPoint's Anthem Blue Cross unit in California has reduced its proposed rate increase.
17) Provides that all Americans carry insurance. It is this issue that his currently under appeal in the U.S. Supreme Court and if it turns out to be politics as usual on that Court, this particular aspect of Obama's plan will be defeated. The ability to carry out and pay for the remaining provisions set forth above will be in doubt if the mechanism for the funding is rejected by the Court.

On behalf of military veterans and their families Obama has delivered a wide ranging series of benefits which recognize the support and respect these veterans need for their service to the country. A list of these benefits include: 1) A $112.8 billion VA budget, an increase of 15.5 percent over 2009, the largest percentage increase for VA requested by a president in more than 30 years.2) Implemented a strategic planto increase the hiring of Veterans and Military spouses throughout the Federal civil service.3) Provided for the expenses of families of to be at Dover AFB when fallen soldiers arrive.4) Passed the Veterans' Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2009 increasing the rates of compensation for veterans with service-connected disabilities and the rates of dependency and indemnity compensation for the survivors of certain disabled veterans.5) Declared the end of the war in Iraqi bringing back nearly 100,000 U.S. troops home to their families.6) Donated 250K of Nobel prize money to Fisher House, a group that helps provide housing for families of patients receiving medical care at military and Veterans Affairs medical centers7) Ended media blackout on war casualties; giving access to the return home of a dead US soldier for the first time since an 18-year ban on coverage was lifted.8) Create a 'Green Vet Initiative' to promote environmental jobs for veterans9) Signed into law the 2009 Military Spouses Residency Relief Act, that will allow military spouses to claim residency in the same state as their sponsor and retain that residency as long as the service member is in the military, in the process avoiding the states where they currently reside from taxing their earned income.10) Signed the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010

So, Mr. President, other than this partial list of wonderful contributions to our American way of life, what have you done for us lately?

P.S. Keep up the good work.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Nice Work If You Can Get It

What’s all this hoopla about Newt Gingrich’s prior business dealings before he decided to be the anti-Washington outsider in his run for the Republican presidential nomination? A spokesman for one of his “businesses,” the Center for Health Transformation, set forth clearly what Gingrich’s acitivities were prior to his run. It is said that Mr. Gingrich did not take policy positions for pay; but rather clients sought him out because of the views he already held and his expertise in communicating ideas. As reported in the New York Times on November 18, 2011,“Newt’s vision didn’t change to meet the needs of his clients,” Mr. Hammond, an employee of the Center said. “They came to the Center for Health Transformation because they wanted to learn and understand the free market ideas Newt was putting forward.” One of the “views” that Newt conveyed to his paying clients was that billions of dollars of life-end medical expenditures could be saved by advanced medical directive planning. Four months later, he flipped his position and joined Sarah Palin in decrying the “death panels” set forth in the Obama healthcare plan.

One of the points of view he held concerned Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac who paid him nearly two million dollars through another subsidiary of his for stating his “opinions” to Republicans in Congress. He now says that Barney Frank should go to jail for causing the excesses that led these mega-institutions into trouble. In fact the excesses were recommended by Gingrich and approved by Republicans who were in control of Congress from 1998 through 2007. It wasn’t until Senator Dodds and Rep Frank ran legislation through the Dcmocrat-controlled congress in 2007 that the brakes were put on the self-destruction of these entities. The current situation is that the only deficits of these two entities were incurred during the Republican era. Everything has been stable since the controls were put into place by the Democrats.

Gingrich claims that he wasn’t a lobbyist during this time but functioned as a “historian.” Nice work if you can get it, but it seems to me that one of the first things a historian needs to do is get one’s facts straight.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Moment(um) of (Un)truth

When I go to Detroit Tigers baseball games at Comerica Park, there is an interesting event that takes place in a between-inning time slot sponsored by Dunkin Donuts. On the large screen out in left field, three candidates (a donut, muffin and bagel) line up at a starting line, hear a starting pistol and then race around a track with eventually one of the three winning the race on behalf of one third of the fans in the stands. This all takes about two minutes and serves as a pleasant diversion. The last time I was there (when the Tigers beat the Yankees in the third game of the American League division series) the Republican party was well into their series of presidential debates. At the time of the game I was struck by the similarity between the two events; namely, the stark superficiality of both events. Did you notice the donut stumbling just before the finish line allowing the muffin to win? In the debates, viewers have been treated to a spectrum of human conduct of the candidates and viewing audiences that tell us what kind of world these people envision in our near future. Example #1; A soldier risking his life daily while serving in Iraq was booed by the audience for the mere fact that he is gay. #2; An audience soundly applauds Rick Perry for executing over 200 people even though the procedural apparatus for making those killing decisions have been found wanting, to put it mildly, in Texas. #3; An audience cheers in support of allowing a man in a coma without health insurance to die. #4; A candidate has denounced the use of a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer (Bachmann said it was potentially dangerous and reported that one woman said the shot caused mental retardation in her child and, #5; The candidates other than Perry trashed him for allowing in-state tuition to qualified students of illegal immigrants (the only hint of compassionate conservatism in all the debates). Since that game, the candidates have gone on to systematically regurgitate a whole variety of ideas that appear to them in the same whim and fantasy as the Dunkin Donuts production. Thus, Michelle Bachmann promotes her “Two Happy Meals” tax plan. Rick Parry bats .667 on telling us which two of the three cabinet departments he would eliminate. He strikes out on the third. Oops. Meanwhile Ron Paul stands right next to Parry and says the number of cabinet departments eliminated should be five while Romney guesses that the EPA is the department that Parry is trying to recall. Herman Cain dances toward the finish line, pursued by the bagel and the donut, as he maintains that his sexual aggression towards women is a figment of their respective imaginations, in spite of the fact that one of these women received a $45,000 settlement. Excuse me, an agreement? Having practiced law for thirty five years and settled (agreed upon) hundreds if not thousands of cases, I can assure you two things; There is no distinction between the two and that the sum of $45,000 is a substantial figure of settlement, not a nuisance value as suggested by Fox (what would you expect them to do?)

Who has the character and integrity to distinguish themselves from this field by standing up and addressing this “bat-shit crazy” stuff rather than fawning all over the people who advocate such things? I vote for the muffin.