Two Republicans who need to be heeded by the GOP

Two Republicans have stood out in my mind as people who represent more than what the Grand Old Party has become – Senator Susan Collins of Maine and Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey. They stand out as they both have reputations of being bipartisan in their thoughts and deeds and for recognizing one overarching truth – they represent all of their constituents. Of course, they have a more conservative bent, but being a Republican should not overshadow that they represent folks from Maine and New Jersey. Yet, while they would both be great Presidential/ Vice Presidential candidates, the sad truth is they get demonized in their own party for their actions, beliefs and behaviors.

Why is this so? Quite simply, they are not strident enough in their conservative beliefs. Those who are on the extreme side of their party do not recognize Collins and Christie’s mainstream virtues for what they are. The extreme side views them as weak and giving in. In a nutshell, that is what is wrong with the GOP as people who would govern with a conscious and work collaboratively with others are demonized. Christie continues to be vilified for not only working with the President, but thanking him for his help for New Jersey citizens after Hurricane Sandy. He was also viewed poorly for telling Mitt Romney he did not have time for a photo shoot as he was working to help people who lost everything. His vintage Christie comment was, unless the candidate is going to help me help these people, tell Romney not to waste my time.

Collins was the leader behind the women senators who helped make the debt ceiling/ government shutdown deal to reopen the government and let America pay its bills. They worked with a bipartisan group of senators to make it happen. Attached is a link to a post I wrote a few weeks ago.

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/10/16/three-women-gop-senators-who-bring-needed-reason/

She also will be submitting a bill in the Senate which will received bipartisan support to help end discrimination toward gays in the workplace. It should have over 60 senators vote in its favor, over the objections of the Heritage Foundation’s political activist arm. When you read her bio on her website, she uses the word bipartisan often. What I also like about her is she shows up and goes to work. In July of last year, she registered her 5,000th straight roll call vote, never having missed one while in the Senate.

Let me state a few obvious things from this Independent, former Republican’s view. Note, I am former Democrat, as well, describing myself as fiscally conservative and socially progressive. The GOP will not climb out of its abyss “tripling down” on extreme conservatism. The party double downed after last year’s election, which was a huge mistake. By limiting their sources of information and data to those who are telling them what they want to hear, the party is not understanding the problems, addressing the demographic changes or listening to what mainstream America is saying. For example, there was genuine surprise by conservative news sources that Romney lost, even though the survey data said he would.

I have written before how the last slate of GOP Presidential candidates was very weak. If the party puts up any of the following candidates – Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Rand Paul, former Governor Sarah Palin, Senator Marco Rubio, Congressman Paul Ryan in 2016 – they will likely get trounced in the general election. Rubio showed some hopeful signs when he was on the bipartisan immigration group of senators, but now he has kowtowed to the strident view in his own party and is against the Senate plan he helped pass. There are some flip-flops that are more noteworthy than others and being against something you helped pass is akin to Romney being against his previous version of Obamacare that is working well in Massachusetts.

The better GOP candidates would be Christie or Collins, or if the GOP leadership could woo former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels away from Purdue University, he would also be an excellent choice. Daniels chose not to run in 2012, my guess is he knew Obama would win. The key to all of them is they are fiscal conservatives, yet they also represent all constituents. The GOP needs to move back toward the center. The business community and funders are giving the party strong signals to get more collaborative and govern. The funders want a ROI on their investment. That is the key reason the Koch Brothers fund the Tea Party around the country. Yet, if that party cannot deliver an ROI to the Koch’s, they will stop funding it and move to another set of representation who can. They have already distanced themselves some, when the defunding Obamacare strategy was not working.

So, GOP please do not triple down on extreme conservatism. Bring the party back to being a reasonable voice at the table. America needs reasonable voices from both sides. Stop standing against everything and stand for something. Starting with Collins and Christie would be a very good move.

Advising young people not to have healthcare insurance is imprudent

There has been an all out assault on young people to make it harder for Obamacare to succeed. I have seen some commercials paid for by the foundation sponsored by the Koch Brothers, who made their billions in the coal industry, which is a little ironic since coal mining and burning could not be confused with preventive health measures. As someone who has an actuarial background, I find the advice to not insure a risk such as this to be imprudent, without full knowledge of a personal risk assessment. Let me explain.

To begin with, not all risks should be insured or insured with exposure on the first dollar lost. To identify your own risks, I would ask you to draw a square and then draw the letter “t” across the segments of the square to create four quadrants inside. On the bottom axis, I want you to write the words “Likelihood of the Event Occurring in the Next Few Years” and across the upward axis, write the word “Cost Impact of the Event.”  In the upper right hand quadrant, write the letters “HH” for  high likelihood and high cost impact and in the bottom left quadrant write the letters “LL” for low likelihood and low-cost impact. In the quadrant above LL, write the letters “LH” for low likelihood and high cost impact and in the bottom right quadrant write the letters “HL” for high likelihood and low-cost impact. My artistic friend Z is probably loving this exercise.

Now start placing your risks in these quadrants. Anything you place in the LL quadrant most likely need not be insured. If you don’t own a boat or a motorcycle, as extreme examples, then you don’t need boater or motorcycle insurance. Conversely, anything that you place in the HH category will require two key questions to be asked. If the risk is high, the first question is should you be doing this activity which exposes you to the risk? The second question is if due to a passionate hobby (mountain climbing, skydiving, e.g.), due to profession (airplane pilot, e.g.), or due to where you live (near a flood plain or exposed to forest fire, e.g.), how much can you afford to pay for the insurance?  The latter question is important, as you will likely need to get a policy that has limits to make it affordable – such as a high deductible or cap on the amount payable. In some places, the private insurance is so unaffordable that it is reinsured by a state-based high risk pool – people who built houses close to the shore, e.g. So, you will need to judge the trade-off between cost and exposure to loss.

Anything you place in the HL meaning it has a high likelihood, but low-cost would lead you to question whether you need insurance as well for those activities. I hedged on this a little, as there are some less costly risks imbedded within a greater risk, that have a high likelihood of occurring. A good example is when you have a teenage driver added to your automobile policy. The risk of accidents increases, so you want to insure the greater cost of a serious accident, but hedge the smaller cost of fender-benders with a higher deductible. Saying it a different way, I would add my child to the policy, but increase the deductible from $500 to $1,000 to avoid the re-rating of the policy and the nuisance of filing a claim. This would make the now higher costing policy more affordable, as well.

The items that are the best candidates for insurance fall into the LH quadrant. The risk is low, but the cost is high. The easiest example is buying life insurance during your working years. When you begin having children, the cost impact to your family of a premature death is huge – not having your income. The same could be said for disability insurance, as there is greater chance today you may survive a serious accident or medical issue, but in so doing, place a huge strain on your family’s budget. If you are a mother or father, these two types of insurance are a must. The homeowners insurance falls into the same quadrant for two reasons – the loss of property due to fire or damage and the liability insurance that works in tandem. Without insurance, a claim can bankrupt you.

For our young readers, health insurance falls into this last category. The beauty of most health insurance policies as will be offered under Obamacare is the preventive aspects of care, which fall in the HL quadrant by themselves. The insurance company wants you to seek preventive medicine for yourself to make sure you are doing things necessary to take care of you. Plus, there is an avenue for treatment of small maladies without going to the higher costing emergency room. Yet, these preventive services are not the key reason to buy healthcare insurance. The reason is insuring the low likelihood, but very high cost impact of a healthcare claim. Being in a car accident, having a bicycle or swimming accident, being too near a discharged weapon, having a diagnosis of leukemia, cancer, morbid obesity or heart disease, are the reasons to have healthcare insurance. The likelihood is low, yet the cost of a healthcare claim can be huge easily running into the tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars. And, the number one cause for personal bankruptcy at 62% is lack of healthcare insurance per the American Journal of Medicine in 2009.

Please refer to the attached post I penned last summer,  “Healthcare is more than a pawn, it is a problem.” https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2012/08/08/healthcare-is-more-than-a-pawn-it-is-a-problem/ where I reference this survey among other things.

The main reason young people are told not to sign up for insurance is they are subsidizing the higher risk claimants – of course you are, in the same way a healthy person subsidizes a less healthy person. In an employer plan, it is not uncommon in any given year for 15% of the participants to drive 80% of the claims cost of the healthcare plan. Not all of the remaining 85% are necessarily young adults – they are people with little or no claims. And, the 15% is not always the same people. That is the principal of insurance, spreading the risk. Yet, that does not stop the need to insure your greatest loss potential – i.e., what must you avoid.

However, the Obamacare exchanges will be offering a number of different policies, that will allow you to find a suitable premium for your budget with a higher deductible to truly insure the higher cost items that would bankrupt you. The higher deductible claims will only be assessed on non-preventive healthcare needs, as the insurer wants you to do preventive visits. I would add if you walk into a doctor’s office or hospital without insurance, you will tend to be charged full market cost, rather than the discounted cost negotiated between insurer and medical provider based on volume of customers.

I am not telling people what to do. I am encouraging people to assess their risks and ascertain what insurance is needed. I do think it is imprudent to advise young people not to sign up for healthcare insurance in and of itself. I do find the motivation of some who are using this message for a political purpose to be offensive, and to be frank, arguably unethical. If someone chooses not to be insured and has a claim that they cannot afford, then they will realize too late that a political motivated advisor has sold them a bill of goods.

You be the judge. You decide on what to insure and how much exposure you want, based on a trade-off of cost and deductibles, out-of-pocket limits, etc. But, use the framework above or something similar to decide the most suitable path forward for you.

The bad influence of public relations

With all due respect to public relation (PR) professionals who have to perfume some of the smelliest of pigs, many do their job too well. Yet, we the public make their job too easy. They count on an uninformed public and use their talents to spin-doctor a story that is compelling, even if it could not be confused with the truth. Stephen Colbert famously called this “truthiness” as every group has its version of the truth. The dilemma is we must ferret through this PR spin to ascertain what the real problems are and what we should do about it.

The sad part is very few people do this and are left forming judgments based on a source of information that they judged long ago to be aligned with their thinking. Even when confronted with evidence that disproves thinking, they tend to gravitate back to their advisor’s opinions. This is often termed cognitive dissonance. Per Wikipedia, “cognitive dissonance can be defined as  the distressing mental state that people feel when they find themselves doing things that don’t fit with what they know, or having opinions that do not fit with other opinions they hold.” This can be very disconcerting and is a key reason PR people can have a field day fueling pre-conceived notions. This is a key reason the Limbaughs, Becks, O’Reillys and Maddows of the world can paint a picture that is so terrible by spinning the story toward their bent.

To be frank, I am not a fan of purposeful disinformation or misinformation. It is one thing to truly not be aware of a topic or have been misled, but when someone intentionally tells you something they know not to be true, it bothers me. The term I use for this is Machiavellian. It is intentional deceit and is the worst aspect of PR and politicians. Here are a few disinformation campaigns that I find distasteful as they harm real people.

Global warming is a hoax: Back in the 1990s, the fossil fuel industry hired a PR firm and paid for biased scientific studies to paint a picture that global warming was a hoax. They did their job so well, that several congressmen and senators held meetings on Capital Hill to address this hoax. This stalling tactic put the US ten years behind on planning an eco-energy future strategy.

Weapons of Mass Destruction: This one led to American and our allied troops dying along with thousands of civilians. This was employed by President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Karl Rove. The manufactured evidence was done so to support going to war to do something after the President let Osama Bin Laden escape Afghanistan after being cornered. Scooter Libby, one of Rove’s lackeys went to jail for outing a CIA operative whose ambassador husband was critical of the misuse of data from his reconnaissance mission on WMDs. Yet, if you questioned this WMD public relations campaign, you were labeled as un-American. This is why the named folks have no credence in offering an opinion on bombing Syria.

Fracking is perfectly safe: It should give you pause that the fracking industry is using the same PR firm to promote the safety of fracking that was used to portray global warming as a hoax. I heard a commercial the other day where some minor celebrity is allowing fracking on her property as it is perfectly safe. I understand the need to find ways to glean natural gas from the ground, but to portray it as perfectly safe is a bald-faced lie. Nothing in life is perfectly safe. Vice President Cheney, the former CEO of Halliburton, placed some strategic language in the 2005 Energy Policy Act to give a hall pass to frackers from the Clean Air and Safe Drinking Water Acts. Why would he do that if fracking were perfectly safe? Per a fracking engineer, 1 out of 20 cement casings around the fracking housing fail immediately. And, over time more of them fail. But, even if they did not, you are only as good as your worst operator.

Failed Stimulus Bill: This was a very successful PR campaign strategy that carries over to today. The GOP was told to use the world “failed” in front of Stimulus Bill. The truth is the Stimulus Bill actually worked and made a difference in aiding our economy, so says five econometric firms as reported in Time Magazine. It was traditional Keynesian economics, which is needed today, but was not significant enough back then. Yet, when I say this to people, they look at me strangely, both Republicans and Democrats (they seem to have an esteem problem)That is how well this PR campaign worked.

Obamacare is not a Republican idea: This one is very timely given the 41st vote to repeal Obamacare. I have written in numerous posts dating back to last spring that Obamacare is largely a Republican idea, especially the exchanges. Its predecessor, Romneycare was supported by then Senator and Tea Party leader Jim DeMint as late as 2009. Once Obamacare was patterned after Romneycare and passed, DeMint declared both as unconstitutional. I find this hypocritical since DeMint is leading the anti-Obamacare push from the Heritage Foundation.

Americans don’t like Obamacare: Taking a page from the failed Stimulus Bill PR campaign, the GOP was asked to always describe Obamacare as “job-killing Obamacare.” And, like failed Stimulus Bill, if you say it over and over again, it paints an impression. People began to accept this as gospel, yet when CFOs said four years ago that their number one concern was runaway healthcare costs, this was an idea that the GOP embraced as an option against national healthcare insurance. Yet, the key goal is to get people insured and the mandate (which DeMint liked in 2009) is a key part of spreading risk. So, when asked if you like Obamacare, the numbers are stacked against it due to this PR campaign. Yet, if you ask people about Obamacare’s individual features – continuing adult children to age 26 on a parent’s plan, the elimination of pre-existing conditions to deny coverage, the elimination of lifetime limits on medical reimbursements, the limitation on the profits an insurance company makes on your premiums, the subsidies to buy coverage through exchanges and Medicaid where it is expanded, etc. – they tend to like these features in the majority.

NSA is not really reading what they are obtaining: I did not believe this when I first heard it. If that is the case, they are going to an awful lot of trouble to become Big Brother and building a mountain of data storage sites. Whether you like Snowden or not, we would not be having this conversation of it were not for him. We must have an active discussion around freedoms versus security. I have said before, in many respects, the terrorists have already won, as we are no longer the land of the free, as we once were. We must have better oversight over this kind of surveillance.

I understand the need for public relations. Yet, I would prefer people to shoot straighter with us and not try to purposefully misinform us. I personally do not like to be lied to, especially when I know you are lying. That serves no one in the long run.

Note to Tea Party – being cold hearted serves no one

I debated if I should try to be politically correct, but I thought I would share my candid thoughts as an Independent voter regarding the latest of several efforts by our Tea Party friends to defang Obamacare, which is largely a Republican idea. I find of interest that Obamacare is an idea that was supported by the leader of Tea Party in 2009, Senator Jim DeMint, when it was called Romneycare and was working pretty successfully in Massachusetts. This was before Obama passed a version of the law and Romney decided to run for President again in 2012.

You see, DeMint supported Romney and Romneycare in the 2008 presidential election even going on stage to advocate for both and writing a letter to then President Bush that Romneycare was the solution for America’s healthcare problem. Yet, once 2012 rolled around after Obamacare had been passed, DeMint could not continue his earlier advocacy, so he distanced himself from both Romney and Romneycare and did an ultimate flip-flop. DeMint is leading the current charge against Obamacare from his position as President of the conservative Heritage Foundation. I personally find this hypocritical.

But enough on that subject. Our Tea Party friends have advocated taking the subsidies away to help people in need buy the healthcare under the exchanges and expanded Medicaid in 25 states that did so. These subsidies would go up to people making four times the poverty limit declining to zero at the higher income level. Since poverty is an equal opportunity offender affecting all political parties, races, ethnicities and genders, this latest attempt to kill their own idea will be harmful to many people in need. We lose sight of the fact that Obamacare was set up to help reduce the number of uninsured which was near 50 million Americans. The earlier implemented phases of Obamacare have been well received and have reduced that count with adult children under age 26 being allowed to continue on their parent’s plan if not in college. The exchanges will work well, once the kinks get worked out, and we need other states to expand Medicaid to help those in poverty.

Yet, this latest effort follows on a litany of other stances advocated by Tea Partiers that add to this feeling of cold heartedness.

– A way several GOP led states are trying to limit the success of Obamacare is not to expand Medicaid. This is harmful to about 500,000 people in North Carolina as an example, yet it is also harmful to the economy of the state. The Rand Corporation said expanding Medicaid should be a no-brainer as it is a win-win for the people in poverty and state economy. Rural healthcare is hemorrhaging due to a high percentage of uninsured claimants, and one hospital has already announced it will have to close its doors if Medicaid is not expanded. This rural impact will especially hit many GOP voters hard, so it is not just Democrats that are impacted by this move, which should not matter in the decision-making.

– With no evidence of any material Voter ID fraud, the Tea Party has helped pass Jim Crow like voter restrictions (of which the ID is only one part) in several states. These states are being sued for the unconstitutionally of the laws including the most onerous one in North Carolina passed a few months ago. As reported by former Secretary of State Colin Powell, voter fraud is not an issue with the bigger problem by far being not enough people voting. So the laws do not attempt to solve the real issue. By the way, Tuesday in primary voting in my home town in North Carolina, only 6.67% of voters participated in the election. It is easier to count voters when no one is voting. Our country is dwarfed by other democratic countries in voting percentages, so we need to address that problem, not this phantom voter fraud issue which for some reason lacks data to support it, so says conservative columnist David Brooks. These voter ID laws are designed to suppress votes.

– In my state of North Carolina, the unemployment benefits were so severely cut, that we lost Federal funding. Not only is this harmful to the 70,000 people impacted, there is a huge impact on the economy of the state with hundreds of millions of dollars not flowing into the marketplace of transactions. This hurts people of all stripes, but will have an echo effect on the economy which will impact others.

– Also in my state of North Carolina, a law was passed to require drug testing for people who are suspected of use and are getting welfare benefits. A version of this law was passed in Florida and was found to be unconstitutional and declared invalid. However, enough data was analyzed while it was up and running and an interesting data point emerged. People on welfare used drugs at one-fourth the rate of the non-welfare recipients in Florida. Saying this in reverse, people not on welfare used drugs at a rate four times the rate of those folks on welfare.

– We are also holding the farm subsidies bill hostage which impacts those on food stamps. Again, the food stamp issue is waved as yet another example of fraud, yet per Brooks, he has seen no blatant examples of fraud around food stamp usage. Since we have a hunger problem in our country, we should be finding more ways to get people nourished and helping them climb a ladder. Yet, we have some folks who want to kick people while they are down. I could add a lot about not doing more to stimulate the economy building on the success of the initial stimulus bill which did work per five econometric firms, but that would require its own post.

I mention North Carolina as an example several times, but what the GOP and Tea Party have done is used their political clout at the state levels to pass cooker cutter laws in many states that harm people. The laws are worded largely the same as they come from the same source. Yet, they also have passed laws that harm the environment giving greater freedom to industries, especially those in the fossil fuel industry. These laws will provide a windfall to industry, but the state will be left holding the bag for clean-up and healthcare impact. I would be remiss if I did not mention the largest backers of the Tea Party made their billions in the fossil fuel industry. I will let you draw your own conclusions.

This 41st effort to repeal or defund Obamacare reeks of gamesmanship that will end up hurting the pawns. The states who did not expand Medicaid are harming people as well as their economies. The Republican Ohio governor is arguing for expansion as it will bring $13 Billion to his state over the next seven years. These are his words, not mine. Yet, I want people to think about this next statement. The main reason the Tea Party is against Obamacare is while it is not perfect, Obamacare has already made headway with its earlier implemented features and will largely work to get more people insured. Blue Cross Blue Shield has been running exchanges in several states for years and they work pretty well. I have been in one for the past two months. And, the GOP has long favored the idea of more competition, which is what the exchanges will be doing.

So, note to my Tea Party friends. Close your eyes and go back in time to 2009. Let’s hear Senator Jim DeMint supporting the use of exchanges, favoring the mandate and advocating doing Romneycare for the whole country. Because, in large part, that is what Obamacare is. Please do not let there be a 42nd attempt.

Primary Tuesday in America – Where is everybody?

Shhh! Don’t tell anyone, but there is primary voting going on today in parts of the country. Never mind, be as loud as you want because there is no one there. I just voted in my local primary at 1 pm EST. I was the only customer in the place and my number for the day was 75. That meant at 1 pm in the day, I was the 75th voter at that precinct. The sad part in our gerry-mandered redistricting, several candidates are running against only their fellow party members. If they win the primary, they win the seat as no one from the opposite party is running against them. I don’t know about you, but that is extremely poor form for our country.

It also means we end up with more extreme views and less collaborative people representing us. That is highly unfortunate as we have more than a few of the lunatic fringe in Congress and my state’s General Assembly. And, if you happen to be one of the more reasonable people who sees the other party’s point of view and tries to work together, the extremists in your party will threaten a “primary” against you with money backing a more severe form of the party’s views personified in a person beyond two standard deviations from the norm. Primary has now become a verb with an awful meaning in an awful context with an awful result.

Living in North Carolina which passed earlier this year a Jim Crow like Voter ID bill, which people like Colin Powell and David Brooks, both Republicans, have labeled as something that will be harmful to both minorities and the Republican party, I see today as prima facie evidence of what Powell said at a recent speech in Raleigh, North Carolina. The problem in America is not the wrong people voting, it is not enough people voting. Again, I was the 75th voter in my precinct at 1 pm in the day. And, last month, New Jersey picked a replacement senator after the death of Senator Frank Lautenberg with very few voters making their election.

But even in November elections, not many people vote, unless there is a Presidential election, in which we have a non-substantive majority voting. When you look at statistics around the globe, we average less than 50% with almost every other democratic country in the 70s, 80s and 90s in percentage of voters. Folks, we need to figure out a way to get more people voting. We need to get non-partisan people to look at voting precincts and overhaul them. We need candidates from more than one party. Most of the gerry-mandering the past few years has been at the hands of the GOP, but the Democrats have done this in the past, so they have fingerprints on past misdeeds.

We also need to have automatic run-off voting where you pick second and third candidates, so if one does not get a majority, the run-off can be automatically calculated and save money and have more people with a voice in a run-off decision. Note run-offs are typically as poorly attended as primary elections, so by doing an automatic run-off, everyone who voted the first time has a voice in the run-off election.

Finally, we need to get the money out of voting, shorten the process and make funders and candidates accountable to voters. The Supreme Court made one of its worst decisions to make a bad problem worse. The Koch Brothers should not be deciding elections for us, e.g., but the way things are set up, they and people like them, are the great puppeteers and many voters have no idea who and how powerful they are. We need more Americans with a say in this process. We need the funders to have a less say, or at the very least, have a transparent say in who they are backing. Maybe we need to follow NASCAR or professional golf and have the candidates where patches or logos of their backers. That would be the most honest thing for them to do.

So, please recite with me. The problem is not the wrong people voting. The problem is not enough people voting. Let’s fix the real problem and stop the political posturing.