Did We Learn Nothing?

After years of disappointment and decline, we have chosen to re-elect the same policies that have left us stuck in the mud and economic malaise these past 4 years. Have voters totally stopped learning from their mistakes, or did they just really not like Mitt Romney? Either way, I am concerned at this outcome since it makes me wonder what our priorities really are in this country. We claim that the economy is our #1 concern, but then we don’t vote for the candidate we also think (by the polls) would be better at fixing the economy. Polls show that we voted based off racial identities and vague feelings of likability or “caring” instead of logic and platforms. We want to blame our politicians for the problems we’re facing, but then weren’t willing to vote for new ones. We voted for negativity instead of change or positivity, a total flip from 2008 election, but ended up with the same result. Regardless of the reasons, we have chosen to re-elect a divisive politician that has shown little ability to reunite our fractured political landscape or manage the problems we face as a nation. As such, anyone expecting big progress or big solutions in the next four years is likely to be disappointed. The political gridlock will continue, and regardless of “efforts” on both sides, the economic difficulties and pending crises in our entitlement programs will continue to be kicked down the road.

I hope that without the political pressure of re-election he was so focused on that the President will be more effective in his leadership. I also hope that the fact almost as many citizens in our country voted against him as for him will be a wake-up call. I hope we see a better four years ahead of us than the last four, but I certainly don’t expect it. Congratulations to President Obama on a hard fought and well played (and unfortunately nasty) campaign, now change the game in D.C. like you promised to 4 years ago and actually try to work with people on the other side of the aisle. Now all your actions will only affect the legacy you leave. Make it one worth leaving.

-M

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Why I’ll Be Voting For Romney

I’m rarely this bold with writing about my political preferences on an individual candidate, but considering there are only two (real) options at this point, I figured there’s no point in pretending to be objective. I’m not going to go into deep detail here, everyone reading this is well informed enough to make their own decisions and vote according to their own priorities, but I have been asked by some of my (less informed) liberal friends “How could you vote for Romney?” as if it were akin to beating a puppy. As such, I decided to make my last minute case for why I’ll be voting for Mitt Romney in hopes that you can at least understand, even if you disagree.
He has the experience we need: Okay, so a lot of people don’t like Romney. There are a variety of reasons, some valid, some silly, but I can understand why he’s not the most popular guy on the block. Regardless, his resume (love it or hate it) reads like the perfect applicant for the job position right now. We have a country that is in bad financial shape and getting worse, and a candidate that has experience at… turning around under-performing or near bankrupt businesses. Sure, they’re not exactly the same thing, but they’re a heck of a lot closer than some people would like to believe. He’s proven that he can balance budgets and spend within his means, a lesson our country desperately needs to learn right now. It won’t be easy, and it won’t be fun, but it needs to be done and Romney is the only candidate right now that has a resume showing he’s willing to get the job done.

He’s a leader: I can already hear the Obama fans starting to type angry replies. “You mean President Obama isn’t?!?!” Well, yes and no. I certainly don’t deny that it takes a great deal of strength and leadership capability to achieve the highest political office in the country. However, once he obtained that position he quit acting like a leader. Leaders don’t make excuses or blame their predecessors. Leaders don’t shift blame and focus away from their own short comings to put it on the people they work with. Leaders don’t base policy off the winds of political convenience. What leaders should do is develop a plan they intend to follow and keep their focus on their goals even when others doubt them. Leaders unite opposing views, they don’t deepen the divide. Leaders fix problems, they don’t push them off on future generations. Romney has shown, as a (moderate) Republican leading a solidly Democratic state, that he can be that kind of leader. Whether some of the President’s loyal followers are willing to realize it or not, we do not have a leader capable of uniting the opposing factions running our country right now, and until we have that kind of leadership, we will not break out of this unproductive political gridlock, and things are only going to get worse.

He’s not interested in expanding the government: This is the one that matters a lot to people regardless of their political affiliation (but I know it’s especially crucial to my libertarian friends). Romney has made it clear that his plan for getting the US economy and day-to-day government functioning back on track is shrinking the government. This is a clear distinction between himself and President Obama. This is not to imply that all Republicans are for small government, President Bush oversaw dramatic increases in government reach, intrusion, and overall size, but it is to explain that this Republican candidate disagrees both with his challenger and his predecessors over the role government should play in our lives. The simple math shows that the government has gotten larger, and most people believe that the government alone is not the answer to our economic problems and expanding it is a redistribution of resources to less productive measures at best. (Most economists flat out say that it’s a band-aid fix, and a dangerous one.) The President has shown that he thinks a government-centered approach to fixing the economy is the best path through his words as well as his actions. Romney’s intent to trim the government down will not please everyone, but history and economic theory suggests we’d be better off in the long run.

And finally, the one people like least:

“He’s not President Obama”: I hate it when people say things like this, so I can imagine what you all think as well, but let me explain what I mean by this. I don’t mean that it’s worth voting for Mitt Romney simply because he’s not Barack Obama, that would imply that Obama is somehow the political devil and anyone is better. I disagree with that view. I would suggest that Obama isn’t the best, or even one of the best, candidates on the ballot, but that’s beside the point. The point is that Romney is new to the job, and comes with a great resume. We know Barack Obama. We know his record. And honestly, it’s not good. His most significant achievement was the healthcare reform bill, a law which has already been shown won’t really fix the problems facing our healthcare system (at all) and was passed through less than kosher means with a whole lot of bureaucratic pork added on along the way. It’s a terrible piece of legislation with seemingly noble intent, and that’s what we’ll remember the first Obama term for. The economy is in a “recovery” that’s so slow many have wondered how we can pretend we’re not still really in a recession. Even though we emerged from that in technical terms, we haven’t shaken off the economic malaise our country has been in the past 5 years, and it’s no longer possible to pretend we can somehow blame everything on Bush. (If you chose to believe that, you’re in denial.) We’ve had four years of failed attempts to address the problems facing us. Four years of blaming others for his own short comings. Four years of slinging mud on national television at the very people he claims he is trying to foster bipartisanship with. Four years of broken promises. Four years of fiscal standoffs and deliberately polarizing budgets. Four years of the leader of the free world behaving like a celebrity instead of a leader. Four years of disappointment, not hope, or change, or progress. I don’t know if another four of the same thing would somehow destroy the US like some seem to believe, but I can promise you this: It isn’t going to put us on a better long-term path. I want an America where people work hard and reap the rewards of their work. A land of opportunity that sets a good example by not spending more than it can afford to or passing debt off to future generations because we don’t have the guts to fix the real problems facing us. The country I want will not come from a second Obama term.

I’ll close with this: If the United States were a business with the taxpayers as its shareholders (and in many ways, it is), CEO Obama would have been fired at least a year ago and a new candidate with the right credentials would have been sought. In 2008 the company was hemorrhaging money and taking a public relations beating. We thought this new leader could turn things around and deliver the prosperity and change he promised the shareholders. He tried some bold, expensive moves, which ultimately were not successful. He kept the company limping along, but now in deeper debt and with even more executives and administrators than before and no strong benefit for the shareholders. Now the projections for the future health of the company have gone from bad to worse and our CEO claims to be able to fix that despite having shown no sign of being capable of doing so in the last few years he has been working here. So the shareholders have to make a tough decision and find a leader with experience at turning around this company that is now facing even bigger problems. Of the applicants, one has emerged that looks like he can pull it off, and that is Mitt Romney. We don’t know that he’ll succeed, but we do know that there’s no point in continuing on a path we can see isn’t working for our company. It’s time to move on.

Now, go vote, or you’ll lose the right to complain about the outcome after the dust settles.

-M

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The VP Debate That Taught Us… Nothing?

Against my better judgement I decided to spend the evening watching the Vice Presidential debate to see how Ryan and Biden compared to each other (and maybe a little bit just because I was hoping Biden would say something profane on national tv). It was an interesting ride and honestly involved a lot more policy discussions than the recent Presidential debate did, but I still felt like at the end of the day we didn’t learn anything from it. Why? Well, let me explain (rant) for a little bit…

Biden:

Well, it appears Joe Biden is a volatile old man who can’t allow anyone else to finish their sentence before offering his own loud opinion on an issue. This is not news. What was interesting is that Mr. Biden seemed dead set on making up for President Obama’s lukewarm performance last week by making sure he came across as aggressive and passionate this week. He may have overdone it. Mr. Biden interrupted Paul Ryan 82 times (according to the pundits) in a 90 minute debate. I might have guessed an even higher number. He simply couldn’t sit there and let Ryan talk, he had to hear his own voice throughout the entire thing. It was obnoxious, and worse, made his complaints at the moderator appear laughable when he complained about getting to talk less than Ryan. The moderator was quick to point out that he wasn’t getting less time than Ryan, but when you talk through half of your opponent’s time in what appears to be an attempt to drown them out, you’re not going to get a lot of sympathy from anyone. That said, the Vice President did relatively well tonight aside from his rambling, loud, and sometimes incorrect statements. He made his attacks on Ryan well, kept him on the defensive the entire time, and made lots of references to the middle class. It wasn’t a performance that’s likely to sway anyone towards the Obama/Biden ticket, but he didn’t curse on national tv and he didn’t say something incredibly stupid, so I imagine his campaign team is pretty pleased right now. Note: It will be interesting to see what the other side does with his “I never say anything I don’t mean” comment considering his past colorful remarks.

Ryan:

Paul Ryan came across as a numbers-minded, soft-spoken young politician that thinks his opponents are at least a bit dumb. This also surprises no one. Ryan was put on the defensive from the get-go by Biden, but he handled himself well overall. It did handicap his ability to get the Romney/Ryan priorities across at times, but he attempted to compensate for this at the end of the debate (with limited success). He attempted to make human connections with middle class and family references while talking economic policy, but it came across as even more forced than Biden’s own awkward pandering. As expected, Ryan focused on economic issues and broken promises as much as possible, and did well at articulating his vision for some of America’s best known, and most expensive, programs. He was less specific on the details than many would have liked I’m sure, but he was at least as specific as Biden on the very same issues (this is not a compliment, simply stating that they were equally vague). Ryan’s real strength was his demeanor throughout the debate. He managed to appear calm and collected throughout the night, which was a dramatic contrast with the firey frustration that Biden was projecting from across the table. Nothing makes your opponent look more like an angry jabbering mental patient than sitting there smiling calmly while they yell at you. I doubt Ryan succeeded in getting all of his platform’s views across during the debate, and at times appeared to stumble in his defensive responses, but it was still a decent night for him overall.

Winner?:

Honestly, no one. The majority of polls are showing that most people think Ryan performed better overall, but I think that’s mainly because of how aggressive and rambling Biden came across overall, not because Ryan performed especially well. Don’t get me wrong, neither candidate did poorly, and both succeeded in making good points for their respective candidates. By the same token, neither candidate did particularly well. Biden looked like the angry old man compared to Ryan’s youthful confidence. Ryan was unable to turn the tables back on Biden and never really had control of the conversation. I personally think this was a wash overall. If it helped anyone at all it might be the Romney ticket, but I doubt we’ll see a bump in the polls for either side from this debate.

As always, your thoughts, questions, and rants are welcome.

-M

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Shared from a friend on Facebook. An over-simplified view of the situation of course, but there are a lot of people out there feeling this sentiment (especially in this economy) and I imagine a lot of them will be voting on those views in November.

-M

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First Debate Report: Where was the President?

First Debate 2012

I time my return to the world of political commentary fresh off three months of being trapped in the hospital right as things in the 2012 election get interesting. With the first presidential debate now behind us, I am both surprised and actually a little excited for the rest of the election season. Why? Well, let me grade the candidates and you’ll see why.

President Obama: D-

I’m not going to give the President a failing grade as some already are, but this was a very bad night for him. He appeared unprepared to defend his record, he couldn’t explain how his new promises were different than the old ones he didn’t deliver on, and he couldn’t keep eye contact or a straight face for more than a few minutes at a time. His surrogates are hiding after the debate, his spin doctor isn’t even pretending the debate was a win, and the President himself appears notable unhappy. My question is: What the hell happened? President Obama has been described as a “great speaker” (a claim I have disagreed with in the past), and charismatic (a claim I agree with). Tonight he was neither. He frowned, grimaced, looked at the podium when being addressed, and was all over the place with his meaningless stories about his grandmother that didn’t even address the points he had started talking about. No one learned anything new about the President tonight. No one found a new reason to vote for him. Instead we saw a President that was unable to explain why his policies of the last four years have failed to deliver what he said they would. He was unable to defend his economy. He was unable to counter Romney effectively when attacked, and totally unable to put Romney on the defensive. I can’t explain why Obama had such a poor performance tonight, and I was quite surprised by his lack of passion and charisma. When Bill Maher, James Carville, and Chris Matthews are saying the the President lost the debtate, you know things are bad for the Democrats right now. My prediction: Obama’s political strategists will unleash a whole new wave of mudslinging against Romney while he studies up for the next debate. He won’t make this mistake twice.

Mitt Romney: B-

This wasn’t the same Mitt Romney I watched (and complained loudly) about in the GOP debates. He’s been practicing, preparing, and apparently reading a lot. He came in with clear priorities, he knew exactly how to hit Obama on his policies and platform, and he even managed to keep his cool overall. This was a good night for Mitt Romney. I was surprised to see him able to put (and keep) the President on the defensive for the length of the debate. I was surprised at how well he knew the President’s budget and proposals and how he was able to compare them to his own. He didn’t do that during the GOP debates, but maybe he had been preparing for this the whole time. So why does he only deserve a B-? Well, he’s still Mitt Romney. He still spoke of relatively vague “plans” that will apparently fix all of our problems. He still appeared to want to light the President on fire with his glare at times. He still looks like your boss. However, let me be clear: Mitt Romney appeared more confident, more comfortable, and dare I say, more presidential than President Obama did tonight. If he can keep this up for the next month, it will be a very close election.

Big Bird: A+

In an election he chose not to run in, Big Bird has risen in national popularity in a matter of hours. His poll numbers would be up if we had polls on Big Bird to start with, and the twittersphere and tumblrverse are chock full of his picture. If I were Big Bird’s strategist, I couldn’t be happier tonight.

The Winner:

Mitt Romney. There’s simply no way to spin that debate to claim that President Obama won. Even the best Democratic spin doctors are calling it “a wash” or blaming poor moderation (they’re not incorrect about that, sorry Jim). This one’s a “L” in the Obama column, and they had better bring their A game next time if they want to stay ahead.

The Problem:

It’s a debate and I’m not sure that any shift it causes will be significant or lasting. We watched the GOP debates produce massive swings in the poll numbers for individual candidates, but the effects were fleeting. I have no doubt that this debate will cause a bump in Romney’s numbers in the short term, but will it actually change anyone’s mind in the grand scheme of things? The cynic in me says probably not.

That’s my take. Comment, question, or rant away.

-M

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The Health Reform Ruling: A Mixed Bag

I know I’ve been absent from posting for a while now and you may have thought I was dead. Actually it was much worse, I was studying for Step 1, but that’s behind me now and what good timing that my first post back is about health reform. This is a complex issue, so this post may be a bit long and a bit rambling, but I’ll do my best to remain coherent.

As anyone who isn’t living totally off the grid knows, the Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate of the PPACA (or as the media calls it, Obamacare) yesterday. Before I dive into what that really means, it’s worth considering there were only three ways this ruling could have really gone. They could have: 1) Thrown out the entire PPACA after determining that it could not stand alone without the individual mandate and was too flawed to remain as law. 2) Thrown out the individual mandate but allowed the rest of the PPACA to stand independently. 3) Upheld the whole thing.

Most people with strong knowledge on the subject and the court I talked to were expecting option 2, but instead we got option 3 (for the most part). To be honest, I’m a little surprised. I never expected them to throw out the whole thing, but considering the piss-poor job the defense did of explaining how the mandate and the penalty for violating it was constitutional (hint: they never explained how it was constitutional, argued it wasn’t a tax but later called it a tax, etc.) and the pointed questions and dissatisfaction with the answers coming from the bench… Well, I was in the group expecting them to throw out the mandate due to its potential infringement on the constitution and lack of good explanations as to why it wouldn’t be an infringement. For whatever reasons, the court saw things in a different way than they appeared to during the arguments and yesterday’s decision could have some pretty serious implications for the future when it comes to allowing the government to force its citizens to buy a commercial product for some broader purpose. I won’t even touch any of that now because honestly, what’s done is done and it’s silly to even try and predict what kind of effects this could have so early in the game. What I will do is try to mention what today’s ruling really means to you.

Since the bill is being upheld almost completely intact, the time table for implementation will remain. So the good things, the things the administration actually likes to talk about, are still on track. The pre-existing consideration exclusion, the expansion of medicaid, the ability to stay on family insurance until 26, and the individual mandate are all still here. The problems are all still here too, namely that a huge chunk (possibly the majority) of cost savings from the law that were supposed to lower our deficit and reduce healthcare costs is all smoke and mirrors and won’t be allowed to happen. Make no mistake, the Medicare savings that the President said would cover half the cost of this legislation will not, and should not, occur, and as a result this will not be the quick fix to healthcare costs or Medicare spending that they have tried to lead you to believe it is. One problem has changed though, and that is the expansion of Medicaid. For those unaware of the issue, the law required a massive expansion of Medicaid, which means a massive increase in Medicaid costs. Half of that money comes from the federal government (I’ll say it again, this is an expensive law) and the other portion is the responsibility of individual states. This is a large part of why states were suing to overturn the law. The federal government was forcing the states to spend billions more, billions they clearly do not have, on an expansion of a program they didn’t agree to expand and can’t really afford at its current size, let alone larger. The Supreme Court apparently agreed that this was a bit off, and they stripped that requirement of its punishment power. As it stands now, the requirement is still there but the states would not be punished for disobeying it, which is a problem for the current administration as well as Medicaid itself, and I won’t be surprised if a lot of states running on shoestring budgets tell the feds they simply can’t afford the expansion.

On the individual level, there isn’t a lot that is going to change… yet. If you have insurance, great, but expect wait times at doctors’ offices to increase gradually over the next several years. With increased coverage comes increased utilization, and millions more people will likely be seeing the doctor that weren’t before. This is great for the health of the people, but potentially bad for healthcare costs and bad for how long it may take to get in to see your doctor considering the existing physician shortage. If you don’t have insurance, the government is going to require you to get some. The promises of affordable insurance for all are completely hollow; health insurance is an expensive product and this one law did very little to fix the intrinsic problems in health spending, so don’t expect insurance prices to plummet. There may be a temporary slide as the risk pool on private plans grows a bit, but if you couldn’t afford it before, you’re still going to have trouble affording it now. Hospitals love the ruling because it means they should have less uncompensated care, and really no other reason. Their passionate support for this mandate was due to their finances, not altruism or politics. For doctors it’s a mixed bag. More insured patients could be a good thing and reduce the cost and stress of dealing with uninsured patients, and for primary care doctors it could even mean a small salary bump since people are more willing to see the doctor if they have insurance. However, the potential downsides are currently pretty big. If President Obama gets his way and the huge Medicare payment cuts to doctors are allowed to hit, many of them will be faced with a grave choice: Continue accepting elderly patients and risk your livelihood and business, or opt out of Medicare and hope the insurance companies don’t try to follow Medicare’s example and aim your business towards bankruptcy too. It really can come down to that, and recent CNN articles have cited specific examples of private practice docs that couldn’t afford to keep their doors open anymore. If the cuts hit, it will be much worse, and the patients will ultimately pay the price. If the cuts that the president promised to help pay for this law happen, make no mistake, Medicare patients will be in serious trouble and many doctors will stand up and tell people what is really going on. I don’t know what the outcome of that showdown would be, but given the current political climate and the ease with which our voting public gives up rights and blames others for our bad choices, I have to think it would be a negative one for doctors and as a result a negative one for their patients (AKA everyone).

The bottom line of all of this is quite simple: You have to have health insurance. The government can make you pay a penalty if you don’t. Beyond those two statements, it’s very difficult to predict where this all is headed. There are very valid reasons to be concerned, and there are some reasons to be optimistic, but it is all going to come down to how this mandate and this law are implemented and which ridiculously bad ideas proposed to pay for this law will be allowed to occur. We can’t afford the law right now, regardless of what the administration has promised. We can’t afford a lot of what we were doing before adding this to the stack, so there is going to be a breaking point, probably soon, where we have to figure out how to really pay for things we need and cut things we don’t. I tend to be cynical so I have grave concerns over what faces our elderly, our healthcare providers, and our spending in the next few years. I hope I’m wrong, but if I’m not the idealistic notion of a United States with appropriately compensated professionals, cheap insurance, and good quality healthcare for all won’t last long and the “I told you so”s won’t even want to say it.

As always, your thoughts, comments, rants, and questions are welcome.

-M

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This little video clip is quite interesting. Since the “Fair Share” mentality and anti-wealth sentiment has been a big issue in the country and politics lately, I think the points this video raises are worth considering.

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