Here Come the Chickens

chickens

Last fall as the American economy appeared to be slipping over the edge of an economic precipice, those in Congress were faced with some tough choices about whether to prevent giant businesses from going under– in order to spare the economy further economic trauma.

In the midst of all of the chaos and tumultuous stock tickers, then Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson made a bold announcement: he wanted congress to hand him a blank check for $700 billion so he could work his voodoo magic on the economy. In his thinly populated 3 page proposal, he also indicated that congress should mind their business about where he was going to put the money.

I was proud of the level of public engagement with elected officials, as the outrage of American’s translated into thousands of calls and emails to their representatives and senators. I was equally dismayed at the eventual decision of Congress- to essentially concede to Paulson.

Since that time the Treasury Department has doled out billions of dollars to many businesses- among them- $170 billion to AIG. What did AIG do after receiving their very own welfare check? They sent their employees to a luxury resort in California- a week long respite to the tune of nearly half-a billion dollars. Congress, in all of their indignance, rattled their sabers and made biting remarks to the media about AIG’s wasteful spending of tax payer dollars. BUT, payments to AIG continued.

Now that it has come out that AIG is distributing $169 million in bonuses to employees as a result of “contractual agreements”, Congress, and the President, are again parading around in anger. Give me a break. First of all- Congress set this all in motion last year when they opened the floodgates of corporate bailouts without significant oversight. Then, when discovering unscrupulous behaviors by AIG and others (see Merrill Lynch), Congress simply complained loudly- but made no significant attempts to right the problems.

Now we once again see the result of private businesses making decisions that would make most of us squeamish, and again the clamor is loud. Senator Grassley even went as far as to suggest AIG exec’s should commit suicide. Now the Senate & House are discussing legislation that would impose virtually a 100% tax on bonuses for companies that have received governmental bailouts.

The general frenzy with which the public, the president, and the congress have been swept up in over $169 million is almost comical. With another $30 billion scheduled to go to AIG, when all is said and done, AIG will have received over $200 billion dollars from American taxpayers- and we are upset over $169 million dollars? Seriously? Get real people. Lets direct at least some of this anger where it belongs- on congress for so poorly  regulating the dissemination of taxpayer money.

Even looking past Congress’s culpability, lets think for a minute about the actual idea behind a 100% tax on a portion of businesses spending done in a legal manner. Did I miss something? First of all- many of those receiving the bonuses from AIG don’t even work for the company any more. Taxing AIG isn’t going to do a thing about getting the money back from those payees. Second of all- Congress needs to stop sending mixed messages. Either we are nationalizing businesses- where the government takes over control, and makes decisions for the business- and maybe this is the right thing in certain instances; or the government is simply providing financial aid to a business with some stipulations attached– and maybe this is the right thing in certain instances.

But trying to retroactively punish businesses for engaging in legal, albiet shady, practices, is not the job of the government, and recouping $169 million is nothing more than a publicity stunt- especially when another $30 billion is scheduled for release to AIG in the near future.

So what are the lessons?

1- Americans need a longer attention span. Lets not forget the actions that set these unregulated bailouts in motion.

2- Americans should not be duped by this publicity stunt. Sure AIG’s actions were reprehensible, but in the grand scheme of things, is $169 million the best thing we can think of to be angry about? Seriously?

3- Bailing out businesses that are “too big too fail” should be an indication, in the sage words of a C SPAN commentator this morning, that they are indeed “failing”. Congress needs to carefully consider what the root problems are in a business or industry before blindly throwing money at it. If they did perhaps they would discover that the problems in part, were created by those whom they would give fat checks to, to fix it.

Last fall Congress hastily got itself into the business of bailouts without proper research, debate, or forethought. The chickens are coming home to roost now, and its becoming pretty amusing to watch all the fingerpointing.

I for one, am pointing my finger right back at Congress.

-kd-

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The Superior Scribbler Award!

superior-scribbler-award

So it turns out that some of the folks who come by this page appreciate my rambling, theorizing, and sometimes satirical take on all things political. I am honored to announce I have been awarded the The Superior Scribbler Award by fellow bloggers over at the dynamic blog: To The Wire.

The idea behind this award was started by the Scholastic Scribe, where 5 bloggers originally received recognition as “superior scribblers“. In return, these 5 bloggers passed the award on to 5 others and so on…

I’m flattered to have been included in this love fest (^_^)  and include my 5 awardees & the rules here:

  • Each Superior Scribbler must in turn pass The Award on to 5 most-deserving Bloggy Friends.
  • Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author and the name of the blog from whom he/she has received The Award.
  • Each Superior Scribbler must display The Award on his/her blog, and link to this Post, which explains The Award.
  • Each Blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit this post and add his/her name to the Mr. Linky List. That way, we’ll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives This Prestigious Honor!
  • Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.

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And here are my picks:

1. Margaret and Helen These two 80-something year old women offer up daily doses of biting humorous commentary. You won’t regret stopping by.

2.The Unhappy Camper. Joe is a middle aged man living in Miami who is currently homless. He blogs from local libraries when he is not chased out, and offers his reflections, in all their honesty, about life, and how he’s feeling.

3. Pennsylvania for Change is an activist blog that offers up an interesting liberal perspective on national and state events.

4. Advocating for Freedom. This is the blog of a friend of my here at Penn. She doesn’t write on it very often, and will  likely have no idea I gave her this award, but the few posts she has written are very thought provoking, and well worth the read.

5. Quaker Agitator. This is a solid and comprehensive blog that is aptly described by its title.

Enjoy the good reads & Congrats to the new winners!

-kd-

Grey Hair

awesomematrixI had to check in the mirror today to see if I was getting grey hair. In the past couple of months, I’ve had flashes of conservatism, and I’m wondering if the whole “get conservative” as you get older is coming true.

I wouldn’t consider myself “older” by any stretch of imagination, unless I’m comparing myself to last year. Or for that matter, the year before. But in all seriousness, I am starting to question whether my relatively one sided perspective on the “pro’s” of a big, liberal government actually plays out in reality.

I think the first chink in my thinking came during when I was engaged in an conversation about universal health care with a friend who was equally enthusiastic as I am about the idea. At some point we touched upon the issue of employer sponsored health care, or payments to the government in lieu of actually providing coverage for employees. And then a very basic question struck me: What responsibility do employers have to their employees to provide health care? Or more importantly, What right does the government have to impose such a regulation?

Now before all of you who know me think I’ve gone crazy to even ask such a question, hear me out. I as much as anyone, (and probably more than many) (okay, definitely a lot more than most), believe that health care should be a right. The right to live a life of freedom, self actualization, and prosperity crumbles without the prerequisite foundation of safety, health, shelter and sustenance.

But if we have this “right” to health care, and other basic human needs, the question then becomes, from whom do we demand or receive this right?

It has only been in the last hundred years or so in America, where we have turned to employers, and the government to provide for these fringe “rights”. Employers only began offering workman’s comp, health insurance, and other benefits as a means to attract and retain employees- not because they were genuinely concerned with guaranteeing the “rights of the people”. Over time, these benefits in kind have become the accepted domain of the workplace, and indeed for a business to be competitive, they must offer them.

However, simply because they do offer these benefits, does that mean that they have to? If McDonalds begins offering retirement plans, does that mean in 10 years we will demand that all fast food restaurants provide retirement insurance? Of course, employment is one logical marketplace for health care- an exchange of labor for benefits- but that in itself, does not mean employers should have to. There are exceptions of course- in hazardous industries, some provisions for the health and security of the employee should be made.

So back to the question- where do we obtain our “rights from”? If we do not turn to employers, the only other possibilities are the private market, or the government. We have seen that the market has no financial incentive to provide affordable health care  to the sick or indigent (or for that matter, most social services), so that means the only logical place left would be the government. And herein lies the fundamental contradiction I have encountered in my thinking:

On one hand, I would like for the government to provide these basic “rights” or “needs” of the people because they market won’t (health care, child care, education, police, fire, etc) but on the other hand, I decry excessive government interventions in other areas (military, domestic surveillance, national ID, etc). So the problem becomes that I am not for big government as a matter of fact, but rather for big government, when the ends suit me.

If I (a liberal), feel certain ends do not suit me (PATRIOT Act, immigrant deportation, civilian surveillance, business subsidies), then I wish for a smaller government. Accordingly, many conservatives are threatened by big government in certain instances (welfare, taxes, health care), but actually want big government in other areas (military, aid to businesses). It is this irony that allows the right to decry social service spending, but support  military budgets; at the same time that the left can decry military budgets, but support social service spending.

So where does this realization leave me? For starters, conflicted. As a social worker, as a human being, I believe that there are certain things that all people should have access to: food, health, security, shelter, clothes, education, etc. However, how do we draw the line between what falls in the public domain and what falls in the private? The more we put in the public domain, the more rights we sacrifice in exchange for these services, and the more we put in the private domain, the more we sacrifice those who are not served by the market.

I think that grappling with this complex balance of ideas is a necessary part of informed opion formation and decision making. However, the ever present danger remains getting caught up in ideological debates and rhetoric at the expense of arriving at solutions. For an example of this, turn on CSPAN, FOX, or CNN, and notice how ideology colors everything from floor debates to coverage of political issues.

Becoming trapped in an ideological corner is the inevitable result of a two party political system, where if it’s not black its white, its us against them, and one half of the country will be perpetually unsatisfied. The difficult reality for many, including myself, lies in realization that compromise is the only solution to resolving these vexing issues. It means being open to dialogue, new perspectives, and change.

-kd-

real-life-vs-politics_550

“274 events”

sleep-apnea1 So I snore pretty loudly. Sure lots of people do, but how many of their friends would liken their snore to the sounds of a whale? I have at least one. Over the past few years I’ve grown used to being the brunt of jokes about the volume of my snore, and I’m sure the number of nights my girlfriend wakes me up complaining “babe you’re snoring!” is vastly outnumbered by the nights she rolls over and tries to fall asleep. So a few years ago, after she noticed that not only was I keeping the dead from sleeping, but that I would often stop breathing- I decided to get checked out.

At first, I wasn’t even sure I could get it checked out- as a college student, with a college student health plan, I had learned first hand that medical insurance does not always equal medical coverage. But after a few calls, I was surprised to learn that Aetna would pay for me to visit the Windham Hospital Sleep Lab.

So I called them up and arranged for an overnight study. Basically, I went to the hospital late in the evening, had dozens of wires and electrodes stuck to my body with an unfriendly goo, and hopped into bed. Trying to fall asleep knowing that the technician in the room over whose voice was omnipresent  via unseen speakers, was watching over my every toss, turn, and scratch was a tricky task. Finally , I managed to fall asleep, and 8 hours later awoke to a new morning, eager to run home and grab a couple more hours of sleep before the day began.

Shortly after, I returned to the hospital to meet with the doctor in charge of my case. Sizing me up with curiosity, he announced that I had severe obstructive type sleep disordered breathing (sleep apnea), despite the fact that I was about 20 years too young and 60 lbs too light. Then came the real shocker: I had severe heavy snoring disease. I had to chuckle inside a little at that one, and promptly noted the condition so that I could explain to my friends I was not being purposefully obnoxious when I slept.

But getting back to this sleep apnea business- what exactly did that mean? In a nutshell, during the 6.1 hours of sleep I was observed, “274 respiratory events were manifested”, i.e. I stopped breathing. That didn’t sound so great. So what did this mean for my body? Basically, every time I stopped breathing, extra stress was put on my heart as my brain kick-started things. I learned that over a period of time, untreated sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and a host of other undesirable side effects, including the “moderately severe reduction of REM sleep” I exhibited: read I miss out on the deep rejuvenating stage of sleep every night.

The answer supposedly was a CPAP machine- an awkward looking device (pictured above) that you hook up to your face before you sleep each night. It is supposed to generate a constant flow of air into your lungs to prevent the “respiratory events”. Dr. “X” told me the technicians would simply need to schedule a second night of observation during which the CPAP would be hooked up to me and calibrated specifically for my breathing. Then a order for a machine would be placed with a local supplier, who would then come to my house, set it up, and show me how it worked. Bada-bing! Problem solved.

Only not really. When the Dr. mentioned a second night at the hospital, I told him that probably wasn’t going to happen any time soon. The fact was, my student health insurance had a “per-condition, per-year” policy cap of $1500 or so. That meant spending on any one condition over $1500 came from my pocket. I told him that I would have to see how much the 1st night’s bill came to before scheduling a 2nd night. I called the billing department- and ouch! One night in the lab had not only wiped out my cap for the year- but had exceeded it.

So in the span of just a few weeks I incurred hundreds of dollars of medical debt payable by me, just to learn that I had a dangerous sleep disorder that I couldn’t schedule a follow up study for. So I grinned and beared it. I waited until my next policy year started, and contacted the hospital to set up the 2nd night of my study. It had taken a while, but at least now I could complete the process. It was a lovely idea, but the hospital thought otherwise. Apparently in waiting for my policy limit to reset, the first night of the study had become void- the data was too old to use for a 2nd night’s sleep.

By this point I was pretty ticked off. I explained my dilemma to the Dr. & staff, and they came up with a solution- they would schedule me for a split-night study. Instead of observing on night #1, and intervening on night #2, they would split one night into 2 parts, waking me up half-way through. And so I trudged back to the hospital, submitted to goo and electrodes, and fell asleep easier this time, not nearly as creeped out by the watchful eyes in the dark this time.

So finally  the problem was just about taken care of- the split night study went well,  my order went into the CPAP vendor, and I should be all set in a couple of weeks. Then came the best news of all: Aetna declined to pay for the CPAP machine. I must admit I was surprised. After all, before even embarking on this journey, I had done some homework and learned that CPAP would likely be the answer the sleep lab recommended. So when I asked Aetna if they would pay for the study, I also asked if CPAP would fall under “durable medical equipment”- which had its own cash limit. They informed me it would, and did not count towards the “per-condition” limit. So why did they turn down my medical treatment?

“It was not medically necessary”

I had to laugh. It was all too ridiculous. If Aetna denied me medical treatment now because it was not medically necessary, in 20 years, Aetna, or other insurers could deny me medical coverage for developing what they would then call a pre-existing condition: heart problems. Indeed, even if I tried to switch insurers then, I would run into problems: many insurance companies will not pay for conditions that  a “reasonably prudent” person would have taken care of in the past.

I asked My Dr. appeal Aetna’s decision, which he did,  but it was to no avail. I joined the ranks of the millions of American’s who fall into the no-man’s land of “underinsured”. Much talk is had of those without insurance, and those with insurance who pay too much- but little focus is placed on those ostensibly with insurance, who find their coverage exists only on paper.

After this experience I vowed when I moved on to grad school to drop Aetna and pick up a new carrier.  However, when the time came, after weeks of research and inquiry  I was chagrined to learn that my new grad school also used Aetna- and it was the only coverage I could afford with my now “prexisting condition”.

And so I have grudgingly been forced to enroll again with Aetna- a health insurance company that considers each one of my 274 nightly respiratory events of medical insignificance. It is in this way that 18,000 American’s die each year for want of adequate health care. My beautiful sister Holly was one of them 1.5 yrs ago, and it appears that Aetna is perfectly happy to add me to the count after they collect my premium.

With a new Health Czar, a new HHS secretary, increased money for Medicaid, funding for new health centers, and tomorrows health care reform summit, the temptation to mistake action for progress will be great. It is up to everyday Americans to make sure that Washington remembers health care reform is not just about policy options, but about people.

-kd-

Further Resources:

Kaiser Network

Obama’s Health Care Plan

Sustinet: Connecticut’s Current Universal Health Care Proposal

Pennsylvania’s Universal Health Care Efforts

United States Department of Health & Human Services

Families USA

Health Care for America Now

Universal Health Care Action Network