Friday, 14 March 2008

Heath Care and Compare

Here are some web links so you can compare ideas from the current 3 Presidential Candidates on what should be done to address our current health care system. I recently finished reading these myself and you can find my comments peppered throughout this post.
In a Nutshell: Wants to make insurance more affordable and accessible but not mandatory for adults. Suggests giving everyone the option to join a similar insurance program to the one the Senate has. Wants to ban insurance discrimination due to pre-existing conditions and chronic conditions. Stresses preventative care. Suggests federal subsidies to help lower insurance costs for those individuals and businesses that need it. Believes that health care costs will lower if everyone has access to affordable insurance as there will be fewer unpaid medical bills and more people paying into the insurance pool. Also wants to improve technology to help with lowering costs.
In a Nutshell: Wants to mandate insurance coverage for everyone. Suggests giving everyone the option to join the same insurance program the the Senate gets. Wants to ban discrimination due to pre-existing conditions and chronic conditions. Stresses preventative care, and suggests tax credits to help make insurance more affordable for individuals and small businesses. Believes that health care costs will lower if everyone has insurance as there will no longer be any unpaid medical bills and more people paying into the insurance pool. Also, wants to lower industry costs through the use of technology.
Comments: Wants to increase competition among insurance providers, Suggests promoting preventative care and chronic condition care. Wants to facilitate the development of national standards for tracking treatments and outcomes, Suggests lowering costs through technology and Torte Reform to minimize large lawsuit payouts and frivolous lawsuits.

There are some similarities in all 3 of these platforms. Obviously, there is more similarity between Obama's proposal and Clinton's proposal, but even McCain shares some points with the other two. All 3 want to lower medical costs through technology and all stress the importance of preventative care, but the way you "fix" the US health care system is where the biggest differences lie.

Now you can debate on which plan is better than the other. Maybe we should mandate coverage, or make it more available and affordable, or just let the market run it's course but in any case there is one substantial issue that I see with all of the plans. No one states that insurance companies would be required to actually pay for the claims.

It seems pretty basic that if you are paying insurance premiums that the insurance companies would actually cover the bill but often this is not the case. All to often insurance companies go out of their way to find a reason to not pay the bill. They state that the visit was either unnecessary or due to a pre-existing condition, or that the person has yet to meet their deductible or was "over treated". Whatever the reason, the insured individual ends up paying the tab and also has to continue to paying their premiums.

To add insult to this injury, insurance premiums have increased on average 11% per year while salaries have risen on average by only 3.5% annually. For many workers these increased insurance costs come at a time of corporate "caps" on salary which means that higher insurance premiums combined with salary caps will result in people having less take-home money.

I have to admit that the US is the only country I have lived in for any length of time that does not provide universal health care so my views my differ from many of you. Having lived with universal health care, it is something that I am very familiar with and actually agree with. I really enjoyed being able to go to a doctor or dentist without being concerned about how much my insurance would or would not end up paying, but I also understand that America has traditionally favored the free market approach. America is the "pull yourself up by your boot straps country", but in my view the boot strap approach is part of what has lead us to an overall health care industry performance rating of 37th in the world even though we have the #1 most expensive health care system in the world. Now I'm not saying that we have to have a National Health Care System like Canada's or England's but clearly our current system isn't serving us well either.

OK time for a plug: If you have not seen the movie SICKO I would strongly suggest watching it. it chronicles what happens at various points in the insurance claims process and what the outcome was for some folks. It also covers some health care programs outside of the US. Whether you agree with universal heath care or not, it still raise some good points.

I hope this posts helps you all to solidify your thoughts and opinions.

The "Perfect" Candidate

Once again, the Nation is out hunting for the perfect presidential candidate. We ask ourselves:

Is it Hillary? She has been in DC for a long time and has a lot of connections to get stuff done, and it would be nice to see a woman in the White House, and she does legitimately want to help people with their mortgage and heath care problems. Hmm....but then, she has taken a lot of money from insurance and pharmaceutical companies, and then there was those little scandals during her husband's presidency, and there is some sketchy info out there on her prayer group. OK, maybe she's not so perfect.

Is it McCain? He certainly has a lot of experience and knowledge, he is a war hero after all, and he does hate "earmarks" aka pork barrel spending. Hmm...but then, he does want to stay the course on Iraq, and has alluded to bombing Iran, and then he did name Hagee as his spiritual advisor. OK maybe he's not so perfect.

Is it Barack? He is definitely inspirational, he has tried to pass some good stuff in the senate (like improving VA benefits/treatment) and he certainly is intelligent and thoughtful. Hmm...but then, he hasn't been a Washington insider for very long and therefore may not have the experience we want, and then there is his mouthy preacher and his connection to Rezko. OK, maybe he's not so perfect.

How about Ron Paul? He does want to get rid of the IRS and he hates pork barrel spending. Hmm... but then, he is not that great of a public speaker, and he also wants to restrict reproductive choice and he wants to get rid of the Federal Dept of Education. OK, maybe he's not so perfect either.

All of these candidates have good points and bad points and realistically, if you put any human under a microscope none of us will truly stack up to our expectations.

Why do we want our candidates to be "perfect" anyway? Wouldn't you rather have someone capable of rational thought, maybe someone that has even changed their mind occasionally because they received new information, or someone that is capable of learning from mistakes rather than someone that has led a completely sheltered life and feels that they are never wrong? Isn't two Bush terms enough? LOL. OK, I guess that was a bit catty,but I think you understand my point. The "perfect" candidate simply does not exist and I think that (at least deep down) we all know this. All we can do is try to pick a President that we believe will actually try to get something positive done for our country.

We need to stop looking to the Mass Media to tell us who to vote for. The media is in the business of selling ads, and to sell ads they need to have ratings, and to have ratings, they need to sensationalize the news. All opinion shows, are just that, opinions. What we need to do is think. Think about what we need. Think about what we can improve. Think about where we want to be in 4, 8, or 10 years. Maybe Health Care is your biggest issue, or Taxes, or Excessive Gov Spending, or maybe you need to feel inspired by your leader. Whatever you think you need the most, go with the candidate that best represents YOU. It is YOUR government, YOUR president and he/she needs to be on YOUR side. You should never feel scared of your government, you should feel empowered by it.


Thursday, 13 March 2008

I am so sick of all the fighting.

Enough already! I am really getting tired of all the fighting amongst the campaigns.

The latest "attack" by Geraldine Ferraro (if you can even really call it an attack) is neither vicious nor accurate. While I don't believe Ferraro said what she did because she is a racist, I also don't believe that the tens of millions of people that have voted for Barack Obama voted for him solely because he is black. To say that people voting for Obama are delusional, naive, pro-black racists, caught up in the emotion/momentum, and are falling for a fairy tale is just plain insulting to his voters, his campaign workers, and indeed Obama himself! Additionally, I don't believe that Hillary is actually a monster nor do I believe that McCain is exactly like Bush.

While many of the attacks are "based on truth" the facts have been greatly distorted. It's kind of like watching a historical drama. Although it may be "based on a true story" the details (aka spin) is the opinion of the writer/commentator relaying the story. Let me clarify some of these points.

Fact: Obama has relatives that are Muslim but he is a Christian.
Spin: Obama was raised as and is a Muslim.
Comment: OK, Obama is a Christian, but even if he wasn't, someone please tell me when exactly did we lose our freedom of religion in this country?

Fact: Hillary is a motivated, ambitious female that is not all about flowers and chick flicks.
Spin: Hillary wants to destroy the country, and she is a monster that will stop at nothing to win.
Comment: Since when is being motivated and ambitious a bad thing? Haven't we all heard people say that women are to "soft" to be the Commander in Chief of the Military? So, it stands to reason that a "non-soft female" would be preferred to a "soft" one.

Fact: McCain has said that he supports many of the Bush Administration policies.
Spin: McCain equals a third term for the Bush Administration.
Comment: While McCain says he agrees with some of the Bush policies, he has also voted against the Republican Party Line on several occasions. I can't honestly say whether or not he is saying that he likes Bush's policies because he wants the Republican base to vote for him or because he actually agrees with the policies.

Please don't get me wrong. I understand that "spinning" has become an integral part of all campaigns, but I believe that people should only be "spinning" in order to put their candidate in a more positive light. To use this tactic as an attempt to completely discredit a person who has chosen a life of public service in the end does not really benefit any of the candidates, their parties or our country.

I am sure that some of you are asking yourselves why would I defend McCain in this post. Although, I am a self pronounced liberal and a delegate for the democratic party, I feel that it is just as wrong for the "Left" to "tear down" McCain as a person just as I believe it is wrong for people on the "Right" to try to tear down either Barack or Hillary on personal basis. In my view, incorrect spin is incorrect spin.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Foreign business as usual good enough?

These days it seems all to easy to think of foreign relations as strictly a matter of security, but as someone who grew up outside of the US I know first hand that there is a lot more involved with this issue than just the military. It ranges from small issues like the way American Tourists act when in another country all the way up to the issue of pre-emptive war.

There are many issues facing the US within the realm of foreign relations. The increasing tensions over illegal immigration, the seemingly uneasy nature of our country's friendship with Russia, the new world standing of China, and the upheaval in the Middle East and Africa, all of which make me believe that foreign relations is and will be the most important role of the American President for the foreseeable future. With that said, this post will focus on the Middle East.

According to the 2007 World Development Report (produced by The World Bank) there are about 100 million people in the Middle East/North Africa under 24. Additionally, this means that there are well over 100 million people in the Middle East/North Africa that are under the age of 35 (including those under 24).

I lived in and visited the Middle East for many years and I know that they do not all hate us. In fact many of the people there like America very much even if they disagree with some of our actions. The Middle East, as in any area/culture, has people on the far right, the far left, and a whole lot more that fall somewhere in between. It appears to me that over the next 10 to 20 years we have a remarkable opportunity to win over the hearts and minds of those within this age group. If we were to start now, we could change the tide of popular opinion about our country, and in turn improve our population's opinion about them.

Are we sure that we want a President that is hawkish about the war in Iraq, or one that has a desire to pre-emptively begin wars with other Arab countries? Are we sure that business as usual is the correct way to approach the current situations there? I think these are serious matters to think about. I know that I personally would like a different approach. I lived in the Middle East after our bombing of Libya and as a result had to live with the ramifications of our country's actions. I also spent time there during the (first) Persian Gulf War, and saw how the population interacted with our military and vice versa. With this in mind, I can not in good conscience support a business as usual policy.

Clearly, terrorism is something to be condemned, as it is a truly barbaric and futile attempt to affect policy, but at the same time starting wars is just as ineffective. If we truly want to have a strong working relationship with the region of the world that supplies a vast majority of the world's oil, then maybe, just maybe, treating them with respect and asking the same in return is not such a bad idea. I am sure that we all have heard of the phrase "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." and whether we want to admit it or not, these are sovereign countries. It seems to me that wanting to occupy foreign countries and being over-eager to kill mass numbers of their populations is a lot more like vinegar than honey.

Voting in Texas...the day after the "primacaucus"

Well, yesterday was voting day for the 2008 primary/caucus in Texas and I have to say that it was a very long and interesting night. I participated in early voting, so for me last night was all about caucusing, and given the immense voter turn out I am very glad that I did early voting.

The polls were open yesterday until 7:00pm and the caucus was scheduled for 7:15pm. Since I had already voted, I arrived at my polling location at 7:15 to caucus. Upon arrival I discovered over 300 people waiting in line to vote/caucus. This is more than I, personally, have ever seen at this location for any election, including the last National Election.

The high voter turnout was very exciting and heartwarming. I was thoroughly proud of my precinct when I saw hundreds of people waiting for hours to vote & caucus without giving up and going home. It was truly a sight to behold.

There were so many people that were in line by 7:00pm that the caucus was delayed by almost 2 hours. For those of you that are unfamiliar with voting in Texas, anyone that is in line by 7:00pm gets to vote. So don't worry, the 150+ hundred people in line to vote at 7:00, got to vote.

So, as I stated earlier, the caucus was delayed by about 2 hours due to higher than expected voter turnout. Once all the voters were done, the caucuses began. In my precinct the Republican caucus happened first. This was a good idea because the room only holds about 200 people and there were almost 400 participating. Personally, I felt kind of bad for the Republicans that were there because there were very few of them. The polling location staff went up and down the lines asking for the Republicans to go ahead inside and start their caucus. Out of the nearly 400 people I only saw 11 people go inside to participate in the Republican caucus.

Once the Republican caucus was completed the Democratic caucus began. We started by forming two single file lines and waiting in queue to sign in. The sign in process was fairly simple. You just had to fill out a form with your Name, Complete Address, and Candidate choice. Then you simply find a place to sit and wait for everyone to finish signing in. Due to the fact that we had almost 400 people signing in to caucus the sign in process took quite a while. After everyone was seated we voted for a Chair and Secretary. The choices were nominated by the crowd and it seems as if we made a good choice, as the rest of our caucus only took about 15 minutes. Having been there for 3 hours a smooth process was exactly what we all wanted and needed. Once the Chair and Secretary were elected, we broke into groups. Those for Hillary Clinton were on one side of the room and those for Barack Obama were on the other side. Next it was time to nominate delegates and alternate delegates. We started by asking who wanted to be a delegate and 24 people volunteered, which was convenient since we needed to find 24 delegates. We then did the same for alternate delegates. Once the delegates were chosen, we voted to confirm them, and recorded the vote on paper. After that we were done, so we adjourned the caucus.

All in all, I spent a little more than 3.5 hours at my polling location but it was all worth it. I got to find out how the caucus and delegate process works and I am happy to say that I am now a democratic delegate! I will make sure to report back after the Travis County Convention on March 29th. It should be very interesting to see how a larger convention works.

I hope you all enjoyed this post and I look forward to reading your comments.

Best of Luck!

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Minimum does one live off it?

I have long been curious as to how one would live off minimum wage. Yes, I am very fortunate that this required research on my part!

To tell the truth, I have only had 1 minimum wage job in my life and when I did I still lived at home with my parents. Like many who were lucky enough to catch a few breaks in life, I took advantage of my upbringing, but I have always wondered what life would be like if I had not been dealt such a good hand.

The following is an account of what someone actually gets for their labor at a full-time minimum wage job.

Current Minimum Wage: $5.85 per hour US
Full Time Hours: 2080
Total Annual Income: $12,168.00
Total Monthly Income: $1014.00
Monthly Taxes (SS, Medicare, Income): $197.07
Net Monthly Income: $816.93

Yes, folks that's it. Someone working a full 40 hours per week for 52 weeks a year NETS a grand total of $816.93 per month!

I don't know about where you all live, but in Austin, TX where I am, you would have a hard time putting a roof over your head much less doing anything else. With that being said, there are people who make this, and they do need to survive, so how could you make this happen?

I guess we need to start by identifying the critical components to one's survival.
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Health care
Alright, let's start with housing. In general, apartments require that you make at least 3 times the amount of rent in Gross Income. We know that our monthly gross income is $1014.00, so we would have to find an apartment for no more than $338.00/mo. Well, after checking all the apartment guides and the local Real Estate channels, you can not even get an efficiency/studio for this price in Austin. The cheapest I found was $415.00/mo. I even checked what you could get if you had a room mate or rented a room in some one's house, the cheapest I could find with this method was $400.00/mo. Additionally, according to my research the average 1 bedroom apt in Austin spends about $50.00/mo for electricity and utilities. Now the amount of money you have to spend on everything else you need is: $816.93 - $450.00 = $366.93

Next, we have transportation. Now some of you may have friends willing to take you to and from work for free, but most of us do not, so we need to figure out how to get to and from work. Now maybe you already have a car or you have the ability to buy a used car in cash. If you did then you could plan on spending an average of $40.00 per month on liability insurance (see and at least another $40.00 per month on gasoline (provided you lived close to work or didn't go on any joy rides) plus another $20.00/mo for vehicle maintenance/registration. Money left over: $366.93 - $100.00 = $266.93

If you do not have a car, don't worry you can get a monthly unlimited bus pass in Austin for $10.00/mo. Frankly, as far as money goes, you would be better off taking the bus rather than having a car anyway. Money left over: $366.93 - $10.00 = $356.93

This brings us to the all important category of Food! Yes, we all need and love to eat! Now, according to the average US household spends $3240.00 annually on food. This seems low to me, but I'll go with it. Considering that the average household in the US is 3 people and most adults eat more than kids that would mean that the average adult would spend about $1200.00 on groceries annually which comes out to $100.00 monthly. Surplus cash:
w/car: $266.93 - $100.00 = $166.93
w/o car: $356.93 - $100.00 = $256.93

Next we have clothing. Regardless of how you feel about clothes it is a fact that in our society it is a necessity and most likely at a minimum wage job you will have some sort of uniform/dress code mandated to you, so you will in fact have to spend money on clothing. If you shop at the discount retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, TJ Maxx, and Ross, then you could plan on spending an average of $25.00/mo. If you are thrifty and shop at second hand stores like Goodwill and garage sales, you may be able to save a few dollars off of the 25.00/mo average. Money Left:
w/car: $166.93 - $25.00 = $141.93
w/o car: $256.93 - $25.00 = $231.93

Lastly, we have Health Care. According to a document from the average US adult spends about $984.00 per year (out of pocket) on health care. As far as I could tell, this seems to include insured and uninsured people and all types of health care costs such as prescriptions, emergencies and dental visits . So with that, we know that one can expect to, minimally, spend $82.00/mo on health care related expenses. Money left:
w/car: $141.93 - $82.00 =
w/o car: $231.93 - $82.00 = $149.93

Fun Money/Savings/Emergency = $60.00 to $150.00/month

After all of this, it would seem that someone earning minimum wage could in fact survive in the US, providing that they work a full 40 hours per week and either don't miss a day or get paid for their sick days/time off. Unfortunately, we know all too well that many companies in America that pay low wages either will not pay for sick days/time off or will not schedule their workers for a full 40 hour week. I know from personal experience and through discussions with friends that many companies will not schedule someone for more than 38 hours, which obviously would make it even more difficult for someone to survive on $5.85/hour.

I hope that you keep this in mind the next time one of your local/state/federal politicians tries to convince you that the minimum wage does not need to be increased. In my opinion, everyone deserves a living wage and clearly $5.85/hour is not it.

Thank you and good luck.

PS. In all fairness and disclosure, the minimum wage will be increasing over the next 17 months to $7.25/hour, but we all know that with inflation and the like, so will our expenses.

Monday, 3 March 2008


Hello Everyone,

I certainly can not claim to be an expert on all things political, but as a fairly well informed citizen I certainly do have an opinion on various public policies. I have set up this blog to voice my thoughts, concerns, and ideas on what is happening in America today. I may often say things that will upset some people,but that is OK for without a voice change never happens. I hope that you will join me on this journey and I welcome your comments.

Thank You,