Archive for April, 2011

04/29/2011

U.S. Health Ins.–Pass A $100 Bill

The problem with the American health insurance system is that big insurance companies, big hospitals, and big government, all surrounded a great big conference table, exchanged big smiles and handshakes, and then agreed upon big premiums, big hospital bills, and big bailouts, but no one invited the forgotten little man, or has asked him what he thought.

I realize I am late to the table, but as that little man, I wasn’t invited. In any event, let me digress from the big plan, by interjecting a little idea. Let me start by saying: all of the big boys, with their big ideas, are wrong. The system needs to start with the little man. It must work from the bottom up, not the top down.

The first question in crafting an affordable health care system is: What can the little man afford? By comparison, auto insurance for me runs about $1,200 per year, or $100 per month. While it is much more expensive than it needs to be, it is affordable. It covers liability of $100,000 per person, and $300,000 per occurrence.

I propose a $100 Health Insurance Premium Act. The “$100 Bill,” as it would be known, would apply to all. A young single person would pay $100 per month for health insurance. A family of three would pay $300, and a family of four, $400, and so on.

By universally locking in the premium, all of the doubts and fears of the unknown cost of the health system would fade, and public approval would grow. Without galloping premiums, confidence would be restored. Employers would know their health care costs.

The next step would be for health insurance companies to collect the premiums and to calculate 20% off the top for all of their expenses, to be regulated and approved of by the government.

The third step would be for the government to mandate the coverage that must be provided, under all health policies, using 80% of the premiums collected. Minimum coverage would start at the bottom and work up, focusing on the most common or frequent health care needs, like semi-annual check-ups, sprained ankles, child birth, and so on. The mandatory coverage would stop at the point where 80% of the premiums are exhausted, since that is all we as a society can afford.

The “$100 Bill” would insure the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people. Our objective as a society should be to provide health insurance to as many Americans as possible.

While some may fear that brain-dead persons in vegetative states will be unplugged from their life support systems, after time, they will stop being plugged-in, and the issue will become academic.

The nation cannot continue Cadillac health coverage, based on the price of a Chevy. We are going to have to end our long test drive with the Cadillac, and return to the days when Americans saw the USA in their Chevrolets.

04/28/2011

Dutch Health Care: A U.S. Model

After teaching one night class at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse for 8 years between 1995 and 2003, I looked into turning my part-time contract into a full-time position, so I could have health insurance. Although the pay for teaching 3 to 4 classes per semester, as a non-tenured lecturer, was not great, the insurance was attractive, since it was absolutely unaffordable at my self-employed day job.

As luck would have it, a tenured professor resigned in 2003, and a position opened. So, I ceased to be self-employed, and started lecturing full-time. 15 months later, while finishing my last class of the day, I noticed a severe pain across my chest and into my arms, as I was having my first heart attack. At the hospital in Wisconsin, 2 stents were inserted to open my vessels. Luckily, the university’s health care paid all of the charges in the amount of $44,523. I was fortunate to have dodged a bullet with insurance.

After the search committee at Wisconsin finally found a new Phd, I moved to the Netherlands to participate in a one-year program at Utrecht University. To live there, I was required by law to have health insurance. So, in 2006, I purchased a Dutch plan for an annual premium of 445 Euro, the equivalent of $567. No questions were asked about pre-existing conditions or prior care.

Five months after arriving in the Netherlands, I had a second heart attack in Dec. 2006. The Dutch care was different, in that it was better. Unlike Wisconsin, where I laid there for what seemed to be an eternity, before permission from the insurance carrier was obtained to keep me alive, the Dutch doctors went right to work, as they knew everyone in their country was covered. They didn’t have to waste any time asking about coverage.

A cardiologist inserted two stents in my heart, and opened up my arteries, including one that had been 100% blocked, but written off in Wisconsin, because the American doctors thought it was too hard to get to. I was copied in on the Dutch ambulance, hospital and doctor bills, and they totaled 7,024 Euro, which translated to $8,920.00. My care in Holland was only one-fifth the cost of the identical care in Wisconsin, but in some ways much better. I was very fortunate to have had my second heart attack on their soil.

I learned several lessons from having virtually identical heart procedures in Wisconsin in Dec. 2004, and in Holland in Dec. 2006: 1) Dutch health insurance premiums are significantly lower and affordable; 2) Dutch insurance asked no questions about pre-existing conditions or care; 3) Dutch doctors got to work immediately, without wasting any time trying to find out if I was covered, since everyone is covered; 4) Dutch charges for the identical treatment of inserting two stents in my heart was only one-fifth the U.S. costs; 5) Dutch follow-up care was superb, as I never waited very long at all to see a doctor; 6) Dutch care, all things considered, was better than what I received in the U.S.

Politically, the lessons are: 1) Don’t listen to right-wing nut jobs, who try to convince Americans that European health care is somehow sub-standard, since it is not; 2) If the Dutch can cover everyone with pre-existing conditions, then so can we. 3) If the Dutch can run their health insurance companies, while charging much lower premiums, so can we; 4) If the Dutch can operate their hospitals on one-fifth the billings and costs, then so can we. We in the U.S. should consider the Dutch health care model.

04/27/2011

U.S. Heath Ins. Must Be Affordable

Like most people, I was healthy enough in my early years to have no major health insurance needs. My employer’s group health insurance covered the torn Achilles tendon I had while playing basketball, and through 1990, I had no insurance problems.

Shortly afterward, however, my employer passed away, and I went self-employed. No longer under a group plan, I purchased an individual family policy. Things then changed four months later, when an insurance company nurse tested my blood, and told me I was a diabetic. Within days, my health insurance was cancelled.

Once I was diagnosed a diabetic in 1991, the premiums for any private health insurance plan became cost-prohibitive.

I tried Wisconsin’s state-run high-risk pool for people unable to obtain private insurance, but the premiums for that also increased with each payment, at galloping rates, and I had to drop it, as it became unaffordable.

I maintained a policy for my children only, but as a diabetic, I had to go without. For the past 20 years, with the exception of two years, when I was teaching enough courses at a university to qualify for their health plan, and another year, when I was in Holland, under their health care law, I have been uninsured.

I watched with great interest the national health care debate. I understand President Obama does not write the laws, and the bill the Congress sent him was written by the insurance lobby. I have little confidence in it, because it mandates insurance, but does not regulate premiums. Under such a scheme, individuals like me, or the government, or both, are going to get ripped off.

A single payer plan would have been better, but I don’t blame Obama. I reserve my angst for the right-wingers who use the term “Obama-care” in a disparaging way. What is their solution? Their answer is to leave everything to the private sector, the same profit-taking carriers who abandoned me 20 years ago, and pushed me out of their system, with their astronomical premiums.

Although Obama and the Democrats made progress with the health care law, the issue remains: What is affordable health insurance? To this day, no one has even attempted to answer that question. My fear is the definition of affordable used by the wealthy health insurance executives is vastly different than mine.

So, I still don’t have health insurance, because it is not affordable for older people like me, who have had a history of health care issues. The overall health care system will never work properly, until the question of cost is addressed, and a truly affordable premium is locked in through a tough regulatory scheme.

04/26/2011

Indonesia: Obama Under A Tyrant

We know President Barack Obama lived in Jakarta for four years, between the ages of 6 and 10, from 1967 through 1971, but not much has been written about what Indonesia was like at that time.

After Obama’s mother divorced his Kenyan father (1964), she married an Indonesian student, studying at the University of Hawaii, named Lolo Soetoro (1965). Lolo was called back to Indonesia in 1966, and Obama and his mother followed, in 1967.

Indonesia is in an archipelago, as wide as the U.S., with 3,000 islands. Most, however, live on the island of Java, in the capital City of Jakarta. This is where Obama spent his four years.

When Barack Obama arrived in Indonesia, the country was going through a period of tremendous unrest. There were fears of a communist coup in Indonesia, as the American War was escalating in nearby Vietnam (1965-73).

Gen. Suharto, a tyrant, seized control from President Sukarno, and confined him to his residence (1966). During the following years, 300,000 suspected communists were rounded up and summarily executed by firing squads. By the end of the decade, Gen. Suharto still held 150,000 political prisoners (1969).

It would be interesting to find out from President Obama what lessons, if any, he learned during his years in Indonesia? What did he see as a young man? Did he meet any children whose family members had been rounded up? What did his mother or stepfather say to warn him about the tyranny in the streets? Instead talking about the non-issue of his birth certificate, it would be much more illuminating to find out what Obama’s life was like under a tyrant.

04/25/2011

S.S. Retirement: Don’t Even Touch It

The right-wingers are once again talking about tampering with the Social Security Retirement System and they need to be stopped.

It is very troubling to hear politicians and media pundits discuss all forms of Social Security, in the same breadth, as if they were all the same. Since the programs are as different as night and day, the words used to describe them must be clear. Medicare, Medicaid and SS Disability have legitimate issues that need correction, but the retirement plan does not. So there is no confusion or ambiguity, everyone should use the word retirement when discussing what the elderly receive when they stop working.

Social Security retirement, created in 1935, works pretty well, and needs no major adjustment, or privatization. With every paycheck, .0765 is deducted and paid to the government. Of that sum, .062 is applied to the Old-Age Trust Fund, and 0.145 is paid to Medicare. Employers are required to make matching payments.

Social Security retirement works, because it is universal and mandatory. The deal is, throughout our work lives, we all pay into the system, and we all receive benefits when we stop working. It’s simple to understand and easy to administer. If you retire early at age 62, your monthly benefits are reduced for the rest of your life. If you wait for full retirement at age 65 or 66, you receive the normal sum. Your benefits are based on your average earnings.

I dug out my old W-2s from over the years and added up all of my personal contributions to the retirement trust fund. I then doubled them to account for the matching employer contributions. I then divided that sum by the estimated monthly payment Social Security has told me I will probably receive upon retirement. The bottom line is there is roughly enough money in the trust fund, from principle alone, to cover payments through life expectancy.

The very idea of privatization is foolish and reckless. If the program was privatized, and the money was placed in the hands of private sector funds, there is no guarantee sound investments would be made, or that the money would not be lost. The recent Great Recession of 2008 is a perfect example of how the stock market can take a dive.

The reason we need to maintain a mandatory government-run retirement trust fund, is that many Americans earn so little, they are unable to save for their golden years. If the deductions were not mandatory, those on the margin, which is about half the population, would spend all of their paychecks as soon as they were received. They would not be able to build up any savings on their own, because they have so little discretionary income.

Since most people are also living longer now, they cannot continue working, until they die. Modern American medicine is keeping men alive for 75.6 years, and women for 80.8 years. Most stop working as they turn 62 or 65, because they are simply physically or mentally unfit to continue. With no income, most absolutely need their SS retirement benefits to survive.

When it comes to the retirement system, I just don’t see a serious problem. The next time a right-wing politician tries to scare you by saying the money you paid into the Old-Age Trust Fund is not there, ask him for the names of those who stole it, because they need to be prosecuted for theft. Ask for the names of the irresponsible politicians who voted to take the country to war, but lacked the courage and responsibility to raise taxes to pay for it. If they think they can cover the cost of their wars with our trust for retirement, they should be warned: Don’t even think about it!

04/22/2011

British Royalty: Please Abdicate Already

Since even the most respected news outlets, like the BBC, are covering the upcoming wedding of Prince William and Kate, it is difficult to get away from the frivolous non-sense of it all.

The practice of inheriting a throne and holding it for life should have ended long ago. No one has a Devine Right to anything. No one should by birth become a king or queen, or even a prince.

Monarchy has nothing to do with merit. A person with no particular talent has no right to be elevated to a royal position.

The British throne is institutionally sexist. It goes to the eldest son, but to a daughter, only if she has no older or younger brother.

The English crown belongs to a white society. It is unlikely non-white British subjects will ever see one of their own on the throne.

The monarchy is not accountable. The royals can just about say or do anything, and yet keep their elite positions.

The royal family cannot be justified financially, and yet tax-payers in the United Kingdom must finance their lavish lifestyles.

The crown sends the wrong message to impressionable young minds. Hard work and good grades should be rewarded, not the image of beauty queens, like Kate Middleton and Princess Diana.

Although Britain’s monarchy is limited by a constitution, it still must end, as it provides aid and comfort to absolute monarchs, by allowing them to defend their existence by pointing to the UK.

Why are constitutional monarchies, with limited powers, worth keeping? If they have so little power, what purpose do they have?

The current royal family needs to be the last. The easiest way for that to happen is for Charles and others in line, to simply abdicate.

If they do not, the 15 independent countries that sill nominally recognize the British royal family as their Head of State, should terminate that relationship now. In the 12 that have predominately non-white populations, including 9 former British colonies in the Caribbean, and 3 in the Pacific, they should object to rule by an outdated white hierarchy in England. The Caribbean states that must terminate their Commonwealth monarchies are: Antigua, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Kitts, St. Lucia and St. Vincent. The three non-white states in the Pacific that need to end it are Papua-New Guinea, Tuvalu and the Solomons.

Canada, Australia and New Zealand must also terminate their nominal connection to the crown. It is nothing more than a psychological dependency that lacks any rational explanation.

After the 15 Commonwealth states have abolished their lingering ties to the British monarch, the royal family in England will be isolated, and will then be easier to finally terminate.

04/21/2011

Nigeria: On The Muslim-Christian Divide

Nigeria held a presidential election in which incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the South, sought to continue in office as the replacement for the previous president, who was a Muslim from the North. The issue now is whether the Africans along the Christian-Muslim divide in Nigeria can live in peace?

Africa is divided along the Sahara, between Arabs Muslims and Christian Blacks. Along the north and west side of the divide, 13 nations have large percentages of Muslims: Morocco (99%), Algeria (99%), Tunisia (98%), Libya (97%), Egypt (90%), Somalia (99%), Djibouti (94%), Mauritania (99%), Mali (90%), Niger (80%), Senegal (94%), Gambia (90%) and Guinea (85%).

West Africa also has 3 states where the Muslim percentage is only about half, but they greatly outnumber the Christians: Sierra Leone (60%), Burkina Faso (50%) and Guinea-Bissau (40%).

On the south and east side of the divide, 20 states have few Muslims: South Africa, Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Angola, Rwanda, Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Sao Tome, Zambia (5%), Kenya (10%), Swaziland (10%), Burundi (10%), Congo-Kinshasa (10%), Uganda (12%), Malawi (13%), Central African Rep. (15%) and Mozambique (18%).

There are also 2 West African states where Christians greatly outnumber Muslims: Cape Verde and Ghana.

This leaves 11 African Muslim-Christian battleground states, along the sub-Saharan front line, listed below, from west to east:

Country               Muslim            Christian
Liberia                     20%                     40%
Ivory Coast            39%                     33%
Togo                         20%                     29%
Benin                        24%                     43%
Nigeria                     50%                    40%
Cameroon              20%                     35%
Chad                         53%                     34%
Sudan                   Muslim (N)      Christ (S)
Eritrea                      50%                   50%
Ethiopia                   33%                   61%
Tanzania                  35%                   30%

Many battleground states have already had conflicts. Ivory Coast had a 5-year civil war, between Southern Christians and Northern Muslims. Chad had two civil wars of 14 and 10 years, between Northern Muslims and Southern Christians. Eritrea historically was a battleground between the two faiths, and Ethiopia recently had a Holy War against Islamic forces from neighboring Somalia.

Sudan was perhaps the biggest battleground of all, where the Arab Muslims in the North, fought the black Southern Christians for 16 years, and then tried to force them to use the Arabic language and Islamic religion. After another 18 years of war, the Muslims expelled Christian missionaries and imposed Islamic Sharia law, as part of an Arabization policy. Sudan’s ultimate solution was for the Christian South to secede and become an independent state.

What about Nigeria? Will it become a battleground like Sudan, or remain united? It is the largest state in Africa, with 149 million people, and it is evenly split, as to religion and tribal heritage. 50% are Muslims from the northern Hausa Tribe; 40% are Christians from the southern and western Igbo and Yoruba Tribes.

The Nigerian Muslim-Christian conflict has flared on and off for 30 years. Islamic law was imposed in several Northern provinces in 2000, causing Igbo Christians to clash with Hausa Muslims. An Islamic leader from the northeast was assassinated in 2009. Muslims and Christians battled again last year, in the City of Jos.

Unless Nigeria is willing to splinter in two, like North and South Sudan, they will have to allow all Christians and Muslims to enjoy the free exercise of religion, and stop the provinces from establishing official religions. If they wish to remain at peace and united, they will need to respect the viewpoints of all.

04/20/2011

Pakistan Needs Religious Tolerance

The Blasphemy Law in Pakistan caused the murder of Shahbaz Bahtti on March 2, 2011. He was the only Christian in the Pakistani government, serving as Minister of Non-Muslim Minorities. The law also led to the death, on Jan. 4, 2011, of Salman Taseer, the Christian governor of the Punjab Province, whose only crime was his public support for Asia Bibi, who was sentenced to death by hanging in Nov 2010, for Blasphemy.

The Pakistani Blasphemy Law carries a possible death sentence. It forbids the wounding the religious feelings of Islamic persons, defiling the Quran, or defaming the prophet Muhammad. Trials are held before Muslim judges. Many people have been charged with Blasphemy and have been prosecuted over the past decades.

Pakistan was created as an Islamic state by Britain, when they segregated the Muslims and Hindus of India into two nations (1947). A decade later, the young nation formally became the Islamic Republic of Pakistan (1956). They later integrated Islamic Sharia law into their legal code (1991). Now, it is being used in the provinces. In the Waziristan Province, for example, it was adopted in exchange for a ceasefire from Islamic militants (2008).

Unfortunately, an accused in Pakistan has no American-style First Amendment, barring the Establishment of Religion. There is no way to declare the Blasphemy Law unconstitutional. So it needs to be challenged as a violation of due process, which requires all crimes to be clearly defined. Laws cannot be so vague as to leave the accused unsure of what conduct is allowed or prohibited.

How would one possibly know if they are wounding the feelings of Islamic persons? How would they know if they are defaming the Prophet Muhammad? What if the speech was truthful and directed at the Quran for having demonstrably false entries? Would this be defiling the Quran? Would it be defamatory?

Pakistan, a nation with a large Muslim majority (97%), needs to change and allow religious tolerance. While it is hard to control 176 million people, they must engage in an educational campaign to tone down the madness. Once tempers have calmed down, they  must either repeal the Blasphemy law, or amend it, to grant due process, by narrowing definitions of what may be deemed illegal.

04/19/2011

Iran Is No Threat to Bahrain

When the people in the Bahraini Sheikdom started demanding democratic change, some defended the monarchy, by interjecting a fear factor that Iran was behind the demonstrators. Iran however is not involved, and the world should not be fooled into thinking so. While it is true Bahrain has an old history with Persia (Iran), today, there is no realistic Iranian intervention on the horizon.

Iran and Bahrain are neighboring states in the Persian Gulf. The relatively large state of Iran is on one side of the water body, and the small island-nation of Bahrain is on the other.

Iran first fought for Bahrain, during the Persian-Portuguese War (1507-1622), when Portugal invaded the island and started an occupation (1521). Iran was determined to drive the European intruders from the Persian Gulf, and after 81 years, they did so (1602). They then occupied Bahrain for 180 years, until the current royal family seized control (1782). A British Protectorate was later superimposed upon the Bahraini government (1868).

As Britain was considering Bahraini freedom (1968), the Shah of Iran asserted a right to the island, based on the Persian presence in the colonial years. Iran soon however dropped their claim (1970), as 99% of the UN said Bahrain should become a free state. Since Bahraini independence (1971), Iran has made no further claim.

While democratic majority rule in Bahrain would bring down the Sunni ruling family, because the people are 50% Shiite, and only 40% Sunni, some jump to the conclusion the island would be controlled by Iran, since it is 89% Shiite. That sort of reasoning was used in 1960 against John Kennedy, when some argued, since he was Catholic, he would be controlled by the Pope in Rome.

The best predictor of what would actually happen in the region is to look at the Bahrain history of 103 years of British rule, and the presence of the U.S. 5th Fleet for the past 40 years. While Bahrain has allowed years of western influence, Iran has never welcomed a colonial power. Moreover, since Iran is ethnically Persian, and Bahrainis are Arab (73%), it not at all likely the Arabs will allow the Persians to rule them.

We should unconditionally support democracy for Bahrain, and ignore the bogeyman theory that Iran has been pulling the strings.

04/18/2011

Hawaii, Obama’s Birthplace, Is A State

Republicans presidential hopefuls Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee and Michelle Backmann have been promoting wild theories about President Obama, saying he is unqualified to serve, because they assert, without proof, he was not born in the U.S. While the Constitution limits the office to “natural-born citizens,” Obama was clearly born in Hawaii and is a U.S. Citizen.

The problem with the Republicans is they either, have the intellect of a Sarah Palin, and do not know Hawaii became a state in 1959, or think the Honolulu newspaper that published Obama’s birth notice in 1961, was part of some grand conspiracy. For the benefit of these sorry Republicans, let’s begin with a history of Hawaii, so we can be absolutely sure when it became a U.S. State.

Sanford Dole, the CEO of Dole Pineapple, opened a pineapple business in Hawaii (1882), and soon thereafter, the U.S. Navy started using Pearl Harbor (1887). Dole wanted a government more favorable to his business, so he convinced Republican President Benjamin Harrison, to order the U.S. Navy to overthrow the Kingdom of Hawaii (1893). After the monarchy was ousted, but before Harrison could formally annex the islands, his term of office ended. Dole’s scheme then ran into trouble, when Grover Cleveland, the next president, was sworn in, because he was an anti-colonial Democrat, who refused to carry out the annexation.

To complete the diabolical plan, Dole and his pineapples had to wait for the 1896 presidential election. While killing time, he created a Hawaiian Republic and made himself its first president (1894). Dole finally got his wish when Republican President William McKinley took office in 1897, as the U.S. proceeded to annex Hawaii (1898), and made it a U.S. Territory (1900).

After the attack on the U.S. Fleet at Pearl Harbor (1941), the Hawaiian base was used throughout WWII (1941-45). 14 years later, as many U.S. Navy veterans were in the U.S. Congress, they voted to make Hawaii the 50th State, effective Aug. 21, 1959.

President Barack Obama was born in City of Honolulu on Aug. 4, 1961, almost two years after Hawaii became a state. He is therefore an American citizen by birth. Since the Honolulu newspaper published his birth notice, only a totally uninformed person could possibly question his citizenship.

Even if Barack Obama had been born outside the U.S., he would nevertheless be a U.S. citizen by parentage, since his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, was an American citizen, born in Wichita, Kansas, and she had lived in the U.S. up through Barack Obama’s birth. Under U.S. law, even if the father is not a citizen, the child will become one, if the mother is a citizen, who has physically lived in the U.S. for five years prior to the child’s birth.

This citizenship law and the underlying facts are readily available. The candidates spreading disinformation about Obama are just being disingenuous. Their tactics only make them look completely ridiculous, and absolutely unfit for the office they seek.