Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Is the Military Paying More for Healthcare While Politicians & Gov't. Employees Aren't?

"Is the Military Paying More for Healthcare While Politicians & Government Employees Aren't?"

I've seen this a few places around the internet over the last few days. At question is does the new federal Budget contain an increase to deductible's for those in the military while politicians and those who work in Government have no contribution change or salary reduction. There's a few different variations of it, but that's the standard wording.

Let's first look at the question of increasing costs for our military. The answer isn't a simple yes or no. It depends. With the Budget Control Act of 2011 now in effect, the Defense Department has to produce a savings of $487 Billion dollars. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said service members and their families should not see any increases in fees or deductables. Most of the increases will effect those retirees under the age of 65, but that they will still pay a lower premium than they would for a private plan.

There ARE NOT increases scheduled for active duty servicemen, survivors of military members who died on active duty or medically retired service members.

There WILL BE increases for active duty family members when they obtain prescriptions from a mail order or retail pharmacies. Prescriptions will be continued to be filled for beneficiaries at no cost when filled at military treatment facilities.

There will be increases to retirees enrollment fees and deductables, including:

-- Increasing enrollment fees for retirees under age 65 in the TRICARE Prime health plan, using a tiered approach based on retired pay that requires senior-grade retirees with higher retired pay to pay more and junior-grade retirees less;

-- Establishing a new enrollment fee and increasing deductibles for the TRICARE Standard and TRICARE Extra plans;

-- Establishing a new, tiered enrollment fee for the TRICARE-for-Life program for retirees 65 and older;

-- Increasing pharmacy co-pays while offering incentive costs for use of mail order delivery and generic medicines;

-- Indexing fees, deductibles, pharmacy co-pays, and catastrophic caps to reflect the growth in national health care costs.

Also see the chart below: (Click on the chart to enlarge it...)

So, there are some very specific and very targeted increases in the mix going forward. The increase in pharmacy co-pays, it should be stressed can be avoided if the medicines are purchased at a military treatment facility. 

THE second question about politicians and government workers not seeing a similar increase to their costs needs to be split into two separate questions. For our purposes, let's assume that "Government Employees" means Federal workers and not State, Local or City workers. Federal workers saw their health care premiums rise by 7.2% in 2011, after receiving just a 1.4% pay raise in the same year. While the rates have increased, its important to note that the premiums now include free preventative care, free tobacco cessation treatment and for the first time, children of federal employees will now be permitted to stay on their parents plan up to age 26. Private sector plans were expected to increase at a rate  between 8.9% and 10.5%. 

So, the claim that federal government workers weren't asked to pay anything extra for their health care is incorrect and in most cases, they paid a larger difference than those few active military families who are choosing to buy their meds out of system. Also, don't forget that President Obama signed a two year Federal employee wage freeze into effect in late 2010 that lasts until the end of 2012. The House has also voted to extend this pay freeze through the end of 2013, as well. The pay freeze was expected to save $60 billion dollars during that time frame. 

Lastly, what about politicians? Again, we'll work with those in Congress and the Executive Branch for comparison. According to, those in the House and Senate are "allowed to purchase private health insurance offered through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, which covers more than 8 million other federal employees, retirees and their families." In other words, they're getting hit with the same increases other federal workers have been as well. (The Federal pay freeze does not apply to active military, by the way...)

With anti-government sentiment at an all time high, its easy to see how stories like this catch fire on the internet and spread quickly, infuriating readers and spawning long angst-ridden threads on social media sites like facebook and various message boards. The blame game gets fired up pretty quickly but, at least in this case, the allegations aren't very fair or accurate. Healthcare is extremely expensive and regardless of how you feel about the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) it effects us all. The Military has been charged with cutting back expenses and hitting some younger retirees with higher premiums and those who want to purchase drugs out of the VA system doesn't constitute a full scale, across the board massive increase in deductibles. Combine that with the knowledge that federal government workers are getting hit at least as hard (probably harder) than servicemen, that part of the claim doesn't hold water either. It is true there's no salary reduction for government workers, but there's none for the military either. 


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Franklin Graham apologizes for questioning Obama's faith commitment – CNN Belief Blog - Blogs

Franklin Graham apologizes for questioning Obama's faith commitment – CNN Belief Blog - Blogs:

Only after he was pressured by some fellow faith leaders...

A Story on the Keystone Pipeline You Haven't Heard Yet...

(NOTE: Yesterday it was announced that the "Southern Half" of the proposed Keystone Pipeline would move forward, while TransCanada continues to develop an alternate route through Nebraska for the Northern section.)

Talking Points Memo has an interesting article up on its site yesterday that took a look into who TransCanada attempted to acquire the rights to build their pipeline across various private landowners property. With frustrations spreading across all political positions, there's more to the story than has been reported on in most of the mainstream media outlets.

The Keystone Fight Is Uniting Tea Partiers With Environmentalists By Brian Buetler/TPM

In Washington, DC, the fight over the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline mostly divides common enemies: Republicans and Democrats; environmentalists and fossil fuel interests; big business and the federal bureaucracy.
But though the project exists in a state of suspended animation, TransCanada — the company that wants to connect the tar sands in Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico — is preparing to build anyhow. In particular, on the portion of the pipeline that would link Nebraska to Texas, TransCanada has threatened to use disputed eminent domain powers to condemn privately held land, over the owners’ objections. And that’s creating unusual allies — Occupiers, Tea Partiers, environmentalists, individualists — united to stop TransCanada from threatening water supplies, ancient artifacts, and people’s basic property rights.
In 2007 TransCanada’s agents at Universal Field Services approached Randy Thompson, 64, of Martell, NE, asking to survey his farm land. Thompson assented at first, under the assumption that he’d have final say over whether a Canadian company would be allowed to build anything on his property.
“Once I found out a little bit more about what was going on, I rescinded that permission,” Thompson told TPM by phone on Sunday. “[W]e did meet with them once, maybe a couple times. We told them, you don’t have a permit yet, so we absolutely do not want this thing on our property. So until you actually get a permit we have no reason to have any further discussion about this. They continually called me, like once a month or whenever they felt like it. Kept the pressure on us. Made us an offer, $9000. Whatever the offer was, we just don’t want the damn thing on our property.”
That’s when TransCanada really stepped up the pressure.
“In July 2010, we got a written letter from TransCanada, they told us if you don’t accept this within 30 days, we’re going to immediately start eminent domain proceedings against you,” Thompson said. “They didn’t say anything about a permit. I tried to contact the Governor’s office. All I got back was a form letter talking about the pipeline.”


Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Kennedy speech that Santorum said "made him want to throw up..."

From this morning's "This Week" program...

“I don’t believe that the separation of church and state is absolute,” Rick Santorum said in an interview today on ABC’s “This Week” program. “The First Amendment means the free exercise of religion and that means bringing people and their faith into the public square.”
Santorum, 53, made the comments in an interview from Michigan, where he is campaigning ahead of the Republican primary this week. Polls show a close race there against Mitt Romney, who spent his boyhood in the state and where his father, George, was governor and an automobile company chief executive officer.
Santorum said Kennedy’s 1960 speech in Houston about the separation of church and state was an “absolutist doctrine” that he disagrees with.
“To say that people of faith have no role in the public square? What makes me throw up is someone who is now trying to tell people that you will do what the government says,” Santorum said. “That now we’re going to turn around and impose our values from the government on people of faith.”
Santorum said “there are people I disagree with. Come into our town hall meetings and let’s have a discussion. Air your ideas and why you believe what you believe.”
“That’s what America is all about — bringing in that diversity,” the former Pennsylvania senator said. “What we saw in Kennedy’s speech was just the opposite — and that’s what’s so upsetting about it.”

  I thought it would be interesting to provide the clip of the actual speech Santorum is referring to. The main part is here: 

Or, you can watch the longer version, that includes a question and answer period after the speech here:

Extended Version of John F. Kennedy speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on September 12, 1960.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Incredible footage of what life is like in Homs, Syria...

Remarkable footage of the situation in Homs, Syria shot by a photographer named "Mani." Trusted by the freedom fighters, the quality of his video is breath-taking. Compiled and edited together by UK Television Channel 4, the extended report provides a graphic picture of what those on the ground are dealing with. By allowing a longer than usual length for this report, you're able to get some context, some feel for what its actually like. Frankly, for most Americans, this is utterly foreign to us. Long form journalism is great for situations just like these. Too bad we don't see more of this caliber of work here in the States.

Watch it yourself and consider whether what, if anything, the United States should do to help those being slaughtered...

While its unclear who exactly is behind the uprising, there are questions whether its a similar revolt to that in Egypt, Tunisia or Libya or rather, something more orchestrated by Al Qaeda off-shoots, the intensity and the humanity of the piece is intact. I think its a matter of time before the United States gets involved. In what way-be it intelligence, financing, armament, or actual boots on the ground-I can't say. Typically, those behind these type uprisings would prefer to handle it without US aid or assistance. On the other hand, at some point in the battle, you take whatever help is available, I suppose.


Why doesn't the media call politicians on their bs?

Economist Dean Baker, co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, wrote a terrific column last Spring that came to mind over the last few days. It discusses the lack of follow-through from most mainstream media sources when it comes to calling politicians on their hyperbole, their exaggerations and at times their plain old misinformation they resort to when answering questions. In this column, Baker discusses two different subjects. The meme that if we drilled, baby drilled, we could solve our problem at the pumps when it comes to the cost of a gallon of gasoline here in the USA. The second topic he comments is the state of our Social Security program.

Even though the column is almost a year old, I thinks its especially timely when it comes to our fuel prices. What Mr. Baker said back in March of 2011, holds true still today...

Its titled, "The Imaginary World in Which Washington Lives"

Dean Baker
Truthout, March 23, 2011

It is a beautiful spring day in Washington. This is a nice respite from the horrors taking place in Japan and the ever-growing nuttiness of D.C. politics. Enjoying the weather provides a nice alternative to listening to the news or reading the newspaper.

The flood of nonsense in the traditional news outlets just continues to grow. At the top of the list is the steady stream of senators or members of Congress whose response to higher gas prices is to insist on drilling in every square inch of environmentally sensitive territory in the country. This is supposed to reduce our dependence on imported oil and lower the price of gas. Both sides of this assertion are absurd.

According to the Energy Information Agency, the United States has proven reserves of 22.3 billion barrels of oil. Given our current rate of consumption of 6.9 billion barrels a year, U.S. reserves could meet our demand for oil for less than 3.5 years. That means if we could somehow drill here, now, and everywhere, we could be energy independent until the middle of 2014 and then we would be 100 percent dependent on imported oil.
Of course, we cannot suddenly suck all the oil out of the ground at once, it takes time to explore and drill wells and then the oil must be drilled out over time. If we decided that we want to destroy every last national park and coastal region, we may be able to increase production by 1.0-1.5 million barrels a day in 5-10 years. At the high end, this would be a bit less than 2 percent of world supply.

Click here to continue reading...


Friday, February 24, 2012

Mitt Romney (finally) hits the mark....

Full disclosure: I will not likely vote for Mitt Romney should he be the Republican nomination. I've not been shy about criticizing the former Massachusetts Governor, so when I saw an opportunity to give some praise, I had to step up.

This evening, after his sparsely attended event at the Ford Field in Detroit, he participated in a town hall in Kalamazoo, MI. Politico reports a few of his comments...

Via POLITICO's Reid Epstein, Mitt Romney had some notable riffs as he talked at a town hall in Kalamazoo tonight:
"We were in Detroit this morning, at the Detroit Economic Club, then through Mt. Clemens, then drove here across the interstate. Drove past Brighton. My parents' grave sites are there. My dad-- trust my dad. My dad (was) a very frugal man. He checked all over for where the best deal was on a grave site. And he found a place in Brighton -- because we didn't live in Brighton. Its like, 'How did you pick Brighton, Dad?' 'Well, best price I could find in the whole state.' So if you're looking for the best deal on a grave site, check Brighton, they got a good spot, you'll be near the former governor and first lady."
         And, on the idea that there's nothing to be done about gas prices:
"I think the American people know that to a certain degree gas prices are driven by what’s happening around the world – supply and demand. The demand in China, Brazil and India and right here is going to drive to a certain degree gas prices. But the American people want to see the President’s trying to do something about it. And he’s not just sending money outside the country to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars, in many cases to people who don’t like us very much. So they’re going to be happy with a President, as I will, on their first day, on the lands that’re already approved for drilling. I’m going to give licenses to people who are approved to drill and finally get our oil and our gas out of the ground!"
And, after a question about NASA and the space program:
"And I know China is headed to the moon. They’re planning on going to the moon, and some people say, oh, we’ve got to get to the moon, we’ve got to get there in a hurry to prove we can get there before China. It’s like, guys, we were there a long time ago, all right? And when you get there would you bring back some of the stuff we left?"
I don't  have a problem with any of these responses. To me, they sound reasonable and fresh. Too often, Romney says something that dis-connects him from his potential voting block. Comments like the ten thousand dollar bet during an early debate:

Or the "I'm running for office, I can't have illegals" comment during another debate about an alleged illegal worker under his employ:

...or his awkward remark "I'm not concerned about the very poor..." (Which WAS taken out of context quite a bit. Nonetheless, its out there...)

 ...and today's earlier remark about his wife driving two Caddy's hurts his effort to connect with the common folks.

Tonight's remarks, while quite a small sample size granted, in Kalamazoo show us that he can find the proper frequency to use when making these kind of comments. These aren't exactly extemporaneous comments, but at times, every politician wanders off script. Sometimes they get an inspiration or an idea and just trust themselves and let it roll. It helps them sound less stuffy, less stiff and less scripted. Teleprompters are handy things but the more gifted politicians can riff for a few bars without any music in front of them. (Its the stuff of legend but President Clinton began one of his State of the Union addresses and realized immediately after beginning that the wrong speech had been loaded. In front of a packed joint session of Congress including the Supreme Court Justices and the Joint Chiefs. He improvised for several minutes until the panicked staffers could get the proper text loaded. No one ever knew. Its hard to say how well some other recent POTUS's might've handled the same problem...)

Romney is attractive to a lot of people. He's easy on the eyes, speaks reasonably well and his preparation and opposition research is top notch. I suspect the Romney campaign will refine their public presentations over the next few months. They'd better. Obama is a skilled public speaker and knows what it takes to become the victor come November. I'd like to see the best of both men as we head to election day. Despite that I wouldn't likely vote for him, the higher the quality of the debate, the better for voters trying to make up their minds. I hope Romney polishes up his game.


Romney gives major economic address, draws crowd...(sort of)

From Think Progress...

Comparing two speeches. The first from Mitt Romney today at a large sports arena/stadium...and the second President Obama during the 2008 campaign. 

The Detroit Economic Club and the Romney campaign wanted to give the event a bigger impact than at the usual location the Economic club usually gathered at. As has happened with President Obama, something had to have gone horribly wrong. I have to think with as sharp as Mr. Romney is, that this kind of thing won't happen again. It just looks terrible and gives the Democrats another free swing at him...

The has the story...

Romney speech falls flat in Detroit

By Cameron Joseph 02/24/12 01:07 PM ET
Mitt Romney spoke to several empty seats Friday in Detroit, in a speech that offered Democrats more fodder for their attacks and failed to deliver the major economic address his campaign promised.
Television cameras showed rows of empty chairs as Romney rehashed many of the policies and quips he'd used in previous speeches, made a few jokes that appeared to fall flat with the audience and said that his wife, Ann, drives "a couple of Cadillacs," which will likely give Democrats more ammunition for their depiction of him as rich and out of touch.
Click here to continue reading...


Obama correct to apologize, Gingrich offensive to score cheap political points on the backs of two dead US servicemen...

Obama correct to apologize, Gingrich offensive to score cheap political points on the backs of two dead US servicemen...

You've probably seen the story in the news over the last few days. Some local Afghanistan villages found some incinerated Koran's in a garbage dumpheap outside Bagram Air Force Base. They bring this to the attention of their fellow villagers and soon word spreads all around the region and eventually, the world. The local US Commander on the ground apologized shortly after he was made aware of this. Yesterday, President Obama included this apology within a longer letter covering a variety of issues: 

I wish to express my deep regret for the reported incident,’’ Obama said in a letter to President Hamid Karzai. “I extend to you and the Afghan people my sincere apologies.’’ “The error was inadvertent,’’ Obama said. “I assure you that we will take the appropriate steps to avoid any recurrence, to include holding accountable those responsible.’’

Sometime after this apology was hand delivered to President Karzai, an Afghanistan soldier opened fire on a group of American soldiers, killing two of them. Today marks the fourth day of protests against the United States for the burning, and several Afghan protesters have also been killed, by members of the Afghan Army as a result. President Karzai has called for peaceful demonstrations and to avoid violence. There is concern that the more Conservative Mullahs may call for retribution during Friday's Prayers and the Taliban has posted statements on its website instructing that attacks on US Military bases, US Convoys as well as other occupying forces. 

It is a mess. 

Coming on the heels of video that showed US soldiers urinating on the corpses of dead Taliban fighters, plus the not too distant memories of the treatment at the Abu Ghraib detention facility, the flushing of Korans in to toilets at the Guantanamo Facility in Cuba, as well as American pastor Fred Phelps wanting to hold a "burn the Koran day,"  its easy to understand that nerves are a little raw. Is it difficult to feel their sense of disrespect? It shouldn't be. 

Then yesterday, flailing GOP candidate Newt Gingrich felt the need to capitalize on these events to score some cheap political points. Keep in mind, the two Americans were gunned down after Obama sent the apology. Gingrich said, "There seems to be nothing that radical Islamists can do to get Barack Obama's attention in a negative way and he is consistently apologizing to people who do not deserve the apology of the president of the United States period.

These weren't radical Islamists. They were highly offended and enraged regular Afghanis who once again felt the "occupiers" had defiled their most sacred text. Had we not bungled the handling of such sensitive religious materials, those two US servicemen would likely be alive today. This is not to excuse their murder, not at all, but understand, we set this in motion. 

It offends me on a deep level that a man who is not a political novice would stoop to such a level to score a few cheap political points on the backs of two dead soldiers. This may be red meat to the Conservative base, but its wrong-minded and dangerous in my opinion. Gingrich loves to wrap himself in the flag and the bible when it suits him politically. Too bad he doesn't conduct himself with such rigor when it comes to his professional or private life.

This notion that we shouldn't have apologized is also wrong and frankly, against most American values. As children, we are taught personal responsibility and to accept blame when we have wronged someone else. Traditionally, its always been more about what we do as opposed to what someone else does. "Do the right thing" we're told. Don't make excuses. Don't worry what the other guy does or doesn't do, YOU do the right thing, handle it the RIGHT way and walk away with your head held high with a resolve to not repeat the same mistake again. These ideas are central to many of our upbringings here in America. They are good values. 

I say President Obama was entirely proper to issue an apology as were the unit Commander, Sec. of Defense Leon Pannetta who said, "I apologize to the Afghan people and disapprove of such conduct in the strongest possible terms. These actions do not represent the views of the U.S. military," and General John Allen, International Security Force Commander and Assistant Sec. of  Def. Ashton Carter who also both apologized to President Karzai. 

For too long, the US has strolled smugly around the world sticking its nose in situations, economies and other societies where they should not have. It is refreshing to find a President of the United States who has enough character, enough integrity and enough spine to issue mea culpa's when called for. His opponents call him weak, including his likely challenger in the General Election former Governor Mitt Romney who has said, "he'd never apologize for the United States." 

We all know someone who no matter the circumstances never apologizes, don't we? We've been "that guy" around the world for a long time. Finally, we have a POTUS who has enough balls to reach out and say we're sorry when we screw up. 

To Mr. Gingrich, I'd say sit your flabby fat-ass down somewhere, be quiet and figure out your next career move. 


Thursday, February 23, 2012

"Get the lights, honey"

Great cartoon from Jim Morin...

You'll never guess who's on the GOP's enemies list...

 Rolling Stones' Matt Taibbi's newest column called, "Arizona Debate: Conservative Chickens Come Home to Roost" is a compelling look at the Conservative movement in the United States and specifically the Republican Party. Taibbi says the GOP is so dysfunctional, so manic, so suspicious that they have now turned their hooks into each other.


How about that race for the Republican nomination? Was last night's debate crazy, or what?
Throughout this entire process, the spectacle of these clowns thrashing each other and continually seizing and then fumbling frontrunner status has left me with an oddly reassuring feeling, one that I haven't quite been able to put my finger on. In my younger days I would have just assumed it was regular old Schadenfreude at the sight of people like Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich suffering, but this isn’t like that – it's something different than the pleasure of watching A-Rod strike out in the playoffs.
No, it was while watching the debates last night that it finally hit me: This is justice. What we have here are chickens coming home to roost. It's as if all of the American public's bad habits and perverse obsessions are all coming back to haunt Republican voters in this race: The lack of attention span, the constant demand for instant gratification, the abject hunger for negativity, the utter lack of backbone or constancy (we change our loyalties at the drop of a hat, all it takes is a clever TV ad): these things are all major factors in the spiraling Republican disaster.
Most importantly, though, the conservative passion for divisive, partisan, bomb-tossing politics is threatening to permanently cripple the Republican party. They long ago became more about pointing fingers than about ideology, and it's finally ruining them...
Read more:

A look at the 4 GOP hopeful's Deficit Reduction plans...

 I found this explanation of a new analysis by the bi-partisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) fascinating. The Washington Post's Ezra Klein does a nice job summarizing it.

From this morning's Wonkbook by Ezra Klein:

...According to a new report by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, none of Ron Paul's opponents are even running fiscally conservative campaigns. Quite the opposite, in fact.

 The report takes every tax and spending policy the Republican candidates have offered and tallies them up. It does so against what the CRFB calls "a realistic baseline." That's a baseline where all the Bush tax cuts are extended, and many of the scheduled spending cuts are ignored, and debt is piling up. It's a baseline, in other words, in which Congress has made the deficit much worse. A baseline where debt is 86 percent of GDP in 2021. A baseline in which the debt is on a completely unsustainable path. And so, in theory, a baseline so bad that it should be easy for the candidates to appear responsible by comparison. But, with the exception of Paul, they don't.

 Take Santorum. He has not shied away from naming large spending cuts. He would implement Paul Ryan's plan for Medicare reform on an accelerate schedule. He would convert "Medicaid, housing, education, job training, and food stamps” to capped block grants. He would cut Social Security benefits. All in all, CRFB estimates he would reduce spending by over $2 trillion between 2013 and 2021. Unfortunately, his tax cuts would increase debt by more than $6 trillion over the same period. Net impact: $4.5 trillion in new debt, for a debt-to-GDP ratio of 105 percent.

 Newt Gingrich's plan is, remarkably, even worse for our finances. Like Santorum, he would block grant and cap almost everything in sight. In fact, he's promised to block grant and cap more than 100 programs. In total, CRFB estimates his spending cuts would shave $2.7 trillion off of the debt. But Gingrich would also spend $1.6 trillion dollars financing new private accounts for Social Security. And his tax cuts would cost more than $7 trillion. Net impact: $7 trillion in new debt, for a debt-to-GDP ratio of, wait for it, 114 percent.

 Mitt Romney's plan is more difficult to score. He saves $1.2 trillion by block granting Medicaid and cutting the federal workforce. But his new tax plan doesn't have enough detail to say how much it costs. The campaign says it will be revenue neutral, but in part because they assume it will lead to faster economic growth, and thus higher revenues. That's an assumption that would get thrown out if he sent it to Congress. He also hasn't specified which tax breaks he'll eliminate. But if he's sufficiently aggressive in that area, much of his tax plan could ultimately be offset. For now, however, CRFB estimates that if the plan isn't paid for at all, it will add $2.6 trillion to the deficit, leaving Romney's debt-to-GDP at 96 percent. The more deductions and loopholes he closes, the lower that number will be.

 Ron Paul is the only candidate whose plan puts him in the black. His cuts to federal spending are incredibly severe, saving $7.5 trillion. Comparatively, his tax cuts cost $5.2 trillion. And though his plan to end the Federal Reserve would rack up $400 billion in transition cost (and, if we're being real about this, untold trillions in market terror and future financial panics), put it all together and he cuts the deficit by $2.2 trillion, and brings debt-to-GDP down to 76 percent.

 And remember that al these tax cut plans are coming on top of making the Bush tax cuts -- with their $4+ trillion price tag -- permanent. All of this, in some sense, gives the GOP candidates too much credit. Their tax plans, with the possible exception of Romney's, are fantastical. Their proposed spending cuts are far beyond what's plausible. The point is that even unfettered by political reality or operational responsibility, three out of the remaining four candidate have proposed plans that take an unsustainable deficit path and make it significantly worse. And if they can't cut the deficit when they don't have to worry about Congress or the federal bureaucracy or the consequences of actually implementing their proposals, how will they do it when they are burdened by those constraints and concerns?

 You might wonder, of course, where Obama's proposals fit into all this. His budget estimates that debt will be 76.5 percent of GDP in 2021. That's lower than any of the Republican candidates save Paul. Though, CRFB is quick to note that 76.5 percent of GDP is "roughly double historical debt levels" and is not sufficient "to reduce the debt relative to the economy."


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

New AP-GfK Poll shows Obama benefiting from improved economy...

The newest poll from AP-GfK on the impact of the improving economy on President Barack Obama...

By LAURIE KELLMAN, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is reaping political benefits from the country’s brighter economic mood. A new poll shows that Republicans and Democrats alike are increasingly saying the nation is heading in the right direction and most independents now approve the way he’s addressing the nation’s post-recession period.
     But trouble could be ahead: Still-struggling Americans are fretting over rising gasoline prices. Just weeks before the summer travel season begins, the Associated Press-GfK survey finds pump prices rising in importance and most people unhappy with how Democratic president has handled the issue.
     It’s seemingly no coincidence that Obama this week is promoting the expansion of domestic oil and gas exploration and the development of new forms of energy.
     It’s his latest attempt to show that he, more than any of the Republican presidential contenders, knows that voters’ pocketbooks remain pinched even as the economy improves overall. And on that question of empathy, solid majorities continue to view him as someone who “understands the problems of ordinary Americans” and “cares about people like you,” the AP-GfK survey found.

Boy, its great to a be a straight, protestant white guy...

Boy, its great to a be a straight, protestant white guy.


Its pretty cool.

There's a bunch of us and for the most part, we rule the world. Always have and, if its up to us, we always will. Remember that, ok?

Here's just a few of the ways we have an edge up on you "other people."

BIRTH CONTROL: No one's too pushy with us about what, if any, birth control option we use. Yes, my Catholic pals are told contraception's a no-no, but for the most part, the condom police are on holiday somewhere other than their bedrooms. If you think these guys are abstaining, you've lost your mind. Further if you think the only times they've ever had intercourse, even within the sacred boundaries of marriage, was to have a child, again, you've lost your mind. I'm told (anecdote alert!!) Catholics use birth control a lot. Being raised Protestant (Methodist) means the only person who cared/cares if I'm using something is my partner. There's never been a third party involved in this discussion as far as I can remember. And I would've remembered. Further, not once did anyone try to tell me that if I prevented my sperm from entering my partner's uterus, that I'd killed an unborn life. No one ever picketed outside my window with hateful signs. No politician ever seemed too concerned about it. Besides, if they ever said that a less than "proper" disposal of a viable sperm cell was akin to murder, than 95% of all teen age boys would be hauled off to prison for, uh, well, you know. I'm really glad I'm not a woman. First off, I'm not tough enough. Secondly, I'd be pretty upset if my employer could potentially withhold a variety of medical benefits based on "moral grounds" like whether they would cover contraception for Pete's sake.

MARRIAGE RIGHTS: Being a straight, protestant white guy, no one ever actually tried to produce a law that would've prevented me from marrying the person I love. My wife and I decided this all on our own. Eh, we might've kicked it around with our friends, but no legislators were involved. Once we said this is what we wanted, as long as we had $25.00 for the Marriage License, we were good to go. No fuss, no muss. The options to get officially hitched were impressive. We could find almost any "man of the cloth" to perform the ceremony. We could've retained, for a modest fee, the local Justice of the Peace or for that matter, almost any judge licensed in our State to perform the ceremony. Or, we could've asked the local mayor to handle it for us. Plenty of options, no real stress trying to figure this out. Life being married has been pretty straight-forward as well. When my Wife had an emergency C-Section there was no question whether I could be in the room. I was the husband. Period. They even gave me a nifty little gown, a hat and cool booties to wear. Our marriage counts everywhere we could go in the USA. Every one of the fifty States accepts the notion that we're legally married. Gee, how cool is that? Good thing I'm not a gay man, because I'd only be able to marry my partner in six other States and the District of Columbia. More are in the works, but the current mark of 14% of the Country just isn't good enough, is it? Well, being a straight, protestant white guy, I don't have to worry about it, do I?

LIVING ARRANGEMENTS: Again, straight, protestant white guys rule! Anytime I've wanted to rent an apartment or a house or purchase a home, there haven't been any questions in this regard. I've lived in nice neighborhoods and not so nice neighborhoods. I'd fill out the paperwork and applications, give it a few days and voila! I had a new place to call my own. I guess its not the same for everyone though. I was friends with a gay couple about 25 years ago who liked my apartment. They noticed there was another unit for rent in the same building. They made more money than me. They had better credit than me. They had more references than me. They were will to pay for three months in advance. (Something I couldn't afford to do...) Yet they were turned down. Who moved in? Some middle-aged jack-ass white guy who liked to blast Merle Haggard music off his balcony after the bars closed and drink his Jack straight from the bottle. Damn good thing those gays didn't move in. It might've upset the neighborhood.

MEDICAL PROCEDURES #1: I've been pretty healthy for the most part through my first fifty-one straight, protestant white guy years. I have asthma, which is treated by a few daily medications and is under control. I had a deviated septum repaired back in my early thities. That was cool. (The kids still love to pull out the pictures at parties to show our guests what Daddy looked like with a roll of toilet paper shoved up each nostril. Its amazing how far the nose can be stretched. Oh well, a small sacrifice for a major improvement in breathing.) I was asked to cough a few times in high school-no big deal. I also have this weird tumor on my right adrenal gland which, after about forty thousand dollars worth of expensive tests, I've been told is nothing. They call it an "incidental-oma." No one has ever objected to any medical procedure I decided, with the help of my physician, that I wanted to be done. I remember a co-worker who had a fairly severe heart condition and to her surprise came up pregnant about twenty years ago. Her physician told her the chances of carrying the baby to term were almost nil and that if she tried, she'd be placing her own health at great risk. She had three other kids at home plus a husband. She and her doctor decided it would be best to terminate the pregnancy. (You know how sacred that patient/doctor relationship is, right? Remember the Republicans voicing their concerns about this very issue during the debate over the Affordable Care Act, right?) My friend was given a pretty rough ride as she walked into the clinic to have the procedure done that day. It occurs to me that there is nothing that I could experience that would produce the same meanness and harshness toward myself that she was subjected to that day. She was called terrible names as she walked past these creeps. Too bad for her she wasn't a straight, protestant white guy that day.

MEDICAL PROCEDURES #2: Another difference between us straight, protestant white guys is that no one has ever tried to legislate that we be forced to undergo an additional separate procedure performed if we had decided to have a certain procedure done. You might've heard about what's going on in Virginia. Nope, nothing to do with straight, protestant white guys. Just expectant mothers who have decided to have an abortion. (Which last I checked in the United States, was still a legal procedure.) The good lawmakers in Virginia, who are mostly (yup, you guessed it) straight, protestant white guys, are trying to pass a law (House Bill 462) that would require women, even against their wishes to undergo an invasive vaginal ultra-sound before they could receive an abortion. Maybe its like a "two for one special" or something. The fetus would be described in detail to the mother before the abortion could proceed. In seven other States there are similar laws on the books, some of which require the mother involved to actually listen to the fetal heartbeat. It is important to mention that the House Bill was sponsored by a woman, Kathy Byron-R. The boys on the "right" side of the chamber are preparing her "man card" as we speak. Again, there's no equivalent situation for straight, protestant white guys I can think of.

MEDICAL PROCEDURES #3: Boy, our politicians are smart guys. One GOP hopeful named Rick Santorum (please don't GOOGLE search Santorum) has announced he has a problem with pregnant women undergoing amniocentesis because it leads to a greater number of abortions being performed. Does that procedure sometime lead to a termination of a pregnancy? Yes, sometimes they do, but often it does not. This  goes back to that sacred ground between a patient and her doctor. Yet again, there's no medical equivalent for straight, protestant, white guys I can think of.

VOTING ISSUES: Voting is easy for straight, protestant white guys. Nothing to it. Truthfully, its pretty easy for almost everyone. Well, almost. If you're a minority and you haven't got a state issued photo-ID card, then that's going to be a problem. Why don't they just use their driver's license? Because many poor minorities don't drive, that's why. Same thing for the elderly. Some have surrendered their licenses because of declining health reasons, but there's almost no medical requirements to vote. The number of hoops for folks like this to jump through is fairly daunting. Not impossible, but difficult.

FREEDOM OF RELIGION: Straight, protestant white guys are the vanilla milk shakes of the universe. If I want to build my own church, hell-START my own church, the local community applauds me. Now if a guy across town named Mohammad would want to start HIS own church, well-we've got a problem, don't we? Same thing if a group of Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual or Transgendered folks want to build a church to enjoy fellowship in the name of the Lord, right? In some cities, these Mosques and GLBT churches get built, but can we agree that their road is more tricky than the road us straight, protestant white guys have to navigate when we want to build a church?

SEXUAL PRACTICES: As long as you stay true to your straight, protestant white guys definition, you can do just about anything you want. (Or should I say "do" anything you want?) We can sleep around, have multiple partners, etc. as long as we don't get caught, its not usually going to be a problem. Just try to do the same thing if you're a single thirty-five year old woman. Remember the rule of thumb is this. A guy with multiple partners is hot and desirable. A woman with multiple partners is a whore. Got it?

SINGLE PARENTING: Society looks upon a straight, protestant white guy trying to raise his family on his own as admirable. Which it is, of course. Taking responsibility for a child isn't easy but when a man is seen stepping up he gets "extra credit." Compared to a single mother, who is too often looked down upon as "paying the price" for her mistake.

SUMMARY: All of the advantages I've described above aren't necessarily applicable to every location every time in the US. There are places where Gays can marry, where minority couples can find safe, affordable housing in a variety of neighborhoods, where people of all faiths are welcomed in the practice of their religion, etc. I take much of what rights I enjoy, both official and unofficial, for granted. I can't imagine any other way.

As we move toward selecting a Republican nominee for President, much of the recent headlines have featured a handful of comments and speeches and in some case, outright legislation that seek to push us far to the Right under the guise of protecting our liberty and personal freedoms. Ironically and probably hypocritically as well, many rights of gays, non Christians and especially woman seem grist for the mill. How is it a political party can lay claim to the banner of "protecting personal liberties" when it seems hell-bent on depriving so many of those exact rights? Its as if the conservative right has declared, "We'll decide what's moral and what's not" which is bullshit and not indicative of the Country that I think we're supposed to be. We'll see how all this plays out. Hopefully, this blows over and the Republican voters of our Country choose a different option (Ron Paul?) than the one so many would seem to have us take. On the other hand, if the voters go along with them and limit other's personal liberties, well all I can say is its good to be a straight, protestant white guy.