Monday, April 14, 2014

US wins world PR polls; grab your passports and get a different perspective

President Obama may not have won the world’s chest thumping award, but he polling near to where he stood  when he was first elected and  Obama has a much higher favorable rating than did his predecessor, George W Bush  .  As standing in the world goes,  per Gallup’s poll  of 137 countries,  US leadership had the highest approval ratings of five global powers (Germany, China, The European Union..and at the bottom, Russia). Good PR counts for something. Credibility and respect from the rest of the world ‘s streets  affect how their leaders behave. 
  “ Feckless”, “ leader from behind”,” weak”, “ “diminishing US power”, “ carrying a soft stick, but speaking loudly” are epitaphs slung at Obama.    A Pew Research Center poll, November 2013,     found  that “ 80 percent of Republicans (and 56 percent of Democrats) said they believe that the U.S. is less respected by other countries than in the past.” 
While Americans want less global involvement, world perception of US leadership did take a dip, but it improved in 2013.  The Gallup poll   found “ median approval of U.S. leadership across …. 130 countries stood at 46%, up from 41% in 2012” It was 49% at the beginning of Pres. Obama’s presidency .  George W Bush polled  in the 25% approval range  in 2008. The lowest opinions  of the US are held currently  in the middle East, but Asia and Europe improved the most from 2012.
A survey of global attitudes released by Pew in July 2013 found that  “half or more of those surveyed in 2013 expressed a favorable opinion of the U.S. in 28 of the 38 nations polled. That’s markedly better than under Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush. In its 2008 poll, Pew found only nine of 23 nations polled reported half or more residents with a favorable opinion of the U.S.”
Why?   There are plenty of reasons why   Pres. Obama’s popularity should continue low  in the middle East. He got Bin Laden, pulling off  a sneak incursion into Pakistan.  He urged Western style democracy but did not do much to back movements in Egypt and elsewhere and he appeared powerless to shape the results. Gitmo was not closed down. Helping Syrian rebels  was a well intentioned beginning, but it was too late: Al Qaeda affiliates hijacked it from  the moderates.    Ben Ghazi never landed in Obama’s lap, but the messaging  was bungled .
 Elsewhere,  Obama’s threat of sanctions  to stop Russia from keeping Ukrainians from choosing their own destiny have  not yet been backed by    Europe enough to be effective (Germany may change that, per recent Bloomberg News reports) .Snowden disclosed US spying. Our relations with Russia fell apart. Still, per Gallup polls, improvement came because of our success in helping Myanmar open up to democracy and our improving relations with Iran.
A common thread of  these successes and failures  illustrate  President Obama’s oft stated intent of  working through alliances, pulling out of past conflicts ,giving diplomacy a chance first, quietly using the military and covert big sticks, and letting emerging democracies shape their own destinies. These policies have at least won him the world’s PR war.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

3 ideas I like to reduce health care costs...from a conservative source

Three ideas I like...from a conservative source, Fiscal Times
All make sense...but the drug patent restrictions will be lobbied to its death. The malpractice concept of arbitration or some way around expensive mal practice suits have long been advocated by some in the American Medical Association. However, that, too, may get strong lobby push back from trial lawyers. None of this will be easy, but it is worth the effort.

We Can Find Consensus on Health Care Cost Reforms - Yahoo News

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Medicare visions: A skunk in the GOP's woodpile

“Did you hear that Obamacare is taking away billions from Medicare?” my husband exclaimed, with a tinge of  panic in his voice.
“Where have you been? I have heard that one repeated every year since Obamacare was proposed”, I, the family consumer advocate,  retorted. “Look, I said, we both are one of 28% on Medicare Advantage   that combines Medicare and Medigap.   But most likely we will see no change, Medicare Advantage will continue. At least that is what a survey made by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) found. Regardless, our Medicare benefits will not change, either.”
“ Won’t our Medicare Advantage premiums go up?”  he countered.
“  I am not sure because as KFF reported, there are many elements that go into determining costs.They only went up a tiny bit this year, like in past years..  What I am sure of is that the Medicare Advantage insurance providers had been raking in more from the government  than it cost for government  to administer Medicare . Those excessive subsidies were cut . Even Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP House guru on budgets, kept cuts to Medicare Advantage in his  2012 planning. Besides, did you notice you had lower co-pays  for your prescriptions, and no copays for  checkups and cancer screenings? That was one of the Obamacare  benefits to seniors, closing the donut hole,  and repeal would put us back to where we were before.
“  Medicare patients were getting charged for   repeat tests and unnecessary readmissions .  Now hospitals have to share test records electronically and since 2012 they  had to pay penalties for excessive readmissions.  Readmission rates have taken a dive.   That  cuts costs to Medicare.
“In fact,  Congress’ own independent  Congressional Budget Office predicted  all of these measures will add a decade of life to Medicare. Those who want to repeal Obamacare  will just be making the time sooner  when we must do something to prop Medicare up.
Hubby: “So what happens when Medicare goes broke…shouldn’t we make some changes now? What about privatizing Medicare and making people pay more for premiums, giving them money to go buy their own insurance, and cut out government administration?
“ There’s a skunk in that woodpile”, I answered.  “Ryan’s  newest plan (passed by the House this April); DOA in the Senate) would have given seniors of a choice between keeping Medicare and vouchers (premium support) and not guarantee any of that would keep up with inflating medical costs, increase the retirement age, and the wealthy would not qualify for benefits.  We know from Obamacare, even private insurance had sticker shock. Health insurance companies  are allowed  by law to collude to set prices and benefits, making free market competition  no guarantee of lower prices. Ryan claims savings (meaning cuts) to Medicare would be $129 billion over 10 years.
“Privatizing Medicare is  not the only way to go. Simpson Bowles deficit reduction  Commission proposed keeping Obamacare and  government provided Medicare that would keep up with costs. Like Ryan’s, though, they would increase the retirement age and not provide benefits to the wealthy.
“ Don’t worry, though, no politician would ever make changes affecting those already having Medicare or near retirement age; they want your vote”.
Sources tapped for the comments above:  
Washington Post, February 27,2013, “Health law’s rules help hospitals cut patient readmission rate”

Who speaks for the poor? Not the GOP; not the loudest are the Democrats; bless the ones that do.


When Rep. Paul Ryan first proposed weakening the social safety net in a budget proposal in 20,12    ,the Catholic Bishops called it “immoral”.  That was even before Pope Francis reset priorities of the Catholic Church to care about the poor. Ryan’s newest budget passed by the House this month (and DOA in the Senate), reduces food stamps by $125 billion  and restricts access of the near poor to health care by repealing Obamacare and reducing Medicaid.If his first proposal was immoral, the 2014 version  is beyond immoral. Who is speaking for the poor these days?,

  Not The GOP, many of whom oppose even raising the minimum wage, so low now even full time workers live in poverty. Not Republicans who support    laws making  it harder for the poor without affordable  and easy access to drivers’ licenses and birth certificates or convenient voting hours to raise their voices .Not the GOP House members including the GOP Colorado Representatives who voted for Ryan budget this month, that would have  cut  food stamps while cutting  taxes for the rich.

 Growing  up in Oklahoma in the 1950’s, I  heard many  rationalize opposing government assistance  by blaming  the poor themselves,  opining African Americans  were lazy or undeserving.. Racist attitudes coloring opposition to  welfare still linger into recent times  per  a study of  many public opinion polls reviewed by Arizona State University.

 Pres. Johnson’s  War on Poverty  and civil rights legislation were  the reaction  to the injustice and  fueled by the long hot summer riots of the late 1960’s . America learned that the poor could get attention even if they did not have a political voice. But there were also abuses as some gamed the  new welfare system .

  Reality check: Welfare reform in the 1990’s  put more  to work. Those left receiving  food stamps now, per the US Department of Agriculture, are mostly kids  (47 percent are under age 18)and elderly (8%). . Three-quarters of food stamp recipients are families with children.    
  The charity community is  doing what they can , but sometimes the food bank cupboard is bare..Hunger plagues 1 out of 5 kids who do not know where the next meal is coming from and government through school lunch programs and food stamps make up part of the  difference.  

 Many of the states with the largest number of poor have  state houses dominated by the GOP yet whose budgets are the most dependent on federal money for social programs. They have  the greatest need and the least will to provide .Leaving   states to use their own resources with federal block grants masking diminished federal contributions to Medicaid, as Ryan’s budget does, would  further divide this country  between the have  and  have nots..

 Even the Democratic Party has  focused priorities  on issues supporting the middle class.
 The voice of the poor was further overwhelmed by recent Supreme Court decisions that  gave corporations the same right as individuals to contribute political campaigns (Citizen's United), and a recent decision (McCutcheon v FEC) that made it much easier for the wealthy to  spread their  influence around.

So who is left as the strongest voice for the poor? Some in the  faith community and Pope Francis and God bless them.

Sources tapped for this blog: