Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Does Barack really want to be a true leader?

All manner of commentators and pundits and experts are falling all over themselves trying to pick a perfect running mate for Barack, but I think that is a supreme waste of time. I do not think that Barack is a young "prince" who needs "elites" to pick for him. If Barack really wants to come out of the starting blocks as a true leader, he needs to smile politely and then categorically reject all VP possibilities that are recommended to him and pick for himself, and leave the "experts" behind is his dust, babbling about how he did the "unexpected."

Hewing to a party line about a "proper" ticket would only be excess baggage holding him back as he struggles to push through his first six months in office. I do not know who would be his ideal running made, but "none of the above" would be the most likely candidate. He really needs to blow people away with his selection and leave everybody shocked and in awe. That is what he needs to do if he wants to be a true leader.

Interesting question: Next to Barack, who is the most interesting, dynamic, and capable politician in the U.S. today? Besides Hillary, that is.

-- Jack Krupansky

Is Hillary really out of the running for VP?

Rumor and chatter has it that Barack is very unlikely to choose Hillary as his running mate. It certainly seems that way, and it certainly seems that many in the "Obama camp" are opposed to her involvement in an Obama administration. But, this presidential campaign is much bigger than Barack's "core" supporters or even the Democratic party. Whether they want Hillary involved is not the real question. The real question is whether Barack would prefer her to be "inside" rather than "outside" and what "tone" Barack himself wants to set as far as inclusiveness outside of his core support when he gets into office in addition to during the election. I think he does want a bigger tent and does know that he needs it to win the election by a large margin and to be able to gather the degree of support needed for "real change" once he takes office.

The way I see it, the Hillary question has less to do with her role during the election, but her potential to be Barack's "policy wonk" or policy point person focused on pushing policy changes though the Washington process, freeing him up to focus on constructing his vision, visionary speaking, and meeting with world leaders and business leaders to forge a new framework of relationships that support and enable the kind of "real change" policies that he seeks. Put simply, he needs a pragmatic centrist to push policy change through the system even as he promotes a more progressive vision.

Although Camp Obama might be rather disheartened by a choice of Hillary, I think a Barack-Hillary ticket would overall be much more exciting to people outside of Camp Obama than any of the other choices that have been bandied about in the media.

-- Jack Krupansky

What does Barack's world tour tell us?

Barack's "world tour" to the Middle East and Europe tells us simply that he is a great candidate for the job of Secretary of State, but a non-starter for Secretary of Defense, let alone Commander-in-Chief from a military perspective. The big question is where the priorities of American voters will be in November, either more worried about "relations" or more worried about physical response to hard-core security threats. It could go either way. Sure, a lot of people are disappointed about Iraq, but that appears to be more a matter of the "rationale for war" rather than a lack of concern for security threats per se. Although a lot of Progressives are certainly committed to diplomacy and talking our way to peace and safety, it is not clear how many non-Progressives are deep and passionate believers in non-military solutions to physical security threats.

Barack's push to exit Iraq will appeal to some percentage of voters, but I am not at all convinced that his commitment to getting more deeply involved and committed in Afghanistan is a good thing for anybody but the diehard Neo-conservatives and other members of the so-called Pro-Israel Lobby.

Besides, who doesn't believe that al Qaeda and the Taliban "hide" in Pakistan, so that even "winning" in Afghanistan is a dubious proposition. And who believes that the U.S., let alone Barack is going to "invade" Pakistan and further inflame Muslim passions against the U.S.?

Overall, I do think the the "world tour" did improve Barack's stature and give him a little more credibility as being a visionary "leader", but I am not so sure that he changed very many minds rather than simply firmed some beliefs about him.

I think people are more anxious to see who he picks to VP to get a handle on what "package" they will be voting on in November. I have no idea who he will or should pick, but I do believe that his choice will be a strong indicator of how he intends to "govern" once in office. I think he wants a "collaborator" rather than a political expedient, but I do believe that he is aware that he needs somebody who can work effectively at achieving "change" in Washington. Barack could do well by focusing on promotion of his vision for change, but only if he has a #2 who can actually "make the trains run on time" and do the necessary lobbying behind the scenes to get things done. He needs a real team.

At this time I do think that the election is Barack's to lose and that the key remains his ability to keep the level of discourse up on high ground to offer a "big tent" that is inclusive of moderates and centrists and even "liberal" Republicans rather than settle into a "war on the right" by the Progressive wing of the Democratic party. I think that he personally can do it, but I do not yet sense that his left-wing supporters are deeply passionate of any initiatives that smark of "moving to the center." I can't wait to see how "inclusive" a party platform comes out of the convention.

-- Jack Krupansky

Friday, July 25, 2008

End the War on Terror now!

Barack Obama appears poised to pass up a golden opportunity, a chance to wipe the slate clean and start fresh with a whole new thinking about what the Bush administration and the Neo-conservatives and the rest of the so-called Pro-Israel Lobby call the "War on Terror." This is not a war in any traditional sense. Sure, we have invaded and occupied Iraq and Afghanistan, but not in the traditional sense of vanquishing the opposition and starting fresh. Barack chides McCain for his open-ended commitment to Iraq, but yesterday Barack himself made a virtually open-ended commitment to getting deeper into Afghanistan with no sense of a timeline for getting out:

This is the moment when we must renew our resolve to rout the terrorists who threaten our security in Afghanistan, and the traffickers who sell drugs on your streets. No one welcomes war. I recognize the enormous difficulties in Afghanistan. But my country and yours have a stake in seeing that NATO's first mission beyond Europe's borders is a success. For the people of Afghanistan, and for our shared security, the work must be done. America cannot do this alone. The Afghan people need our troops and your troops; our support and your support to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda, to develop their economy, and to help them rebuild their nation. We have too much at stake to turn back now.

Why get deeper into Afghanistan? Simple: The so-called Pro-Israel Lobby is most worried about Iran, so having a significant U.S. military presence right next door to Iran is exactly what they want. U.S. troops are never going to completely irradicate the Taliban or anti-U.S. sentiment in the region, but Barack is absurdly making precisely such a military commitment.

The U.S. needs to simply quietly drop the wartime footing of the so-called "War on Terror" and the "Global War on Terror" and the "War of Terrorism with a Global Reach", et al, and re-focus on dealing with terrorism threats on a case by case basis.

Sure, occasionally military force may be needed for limited operations where a threat is clearly identified, but the Barack Obama who talks so strongly about the the need to struggle against "walls to divide us from one another" should not be pushing to build even bigger walls by asserting that "extremism" is an ememy that can be "routed" using military force:

This is the moment when we must defeat terror and dry up the well of extremism that supports it.

Nowhere in his speech in Berlin did he mention dismantling the whole military basis of the "War on Terror." That is unfortunate. I am sure that the Neo-conservatives and the rest of the so-called Pro-Israel Lobby were quite pleased that their student has reaffirmed the depth of his commitment to treating terrorism as an enemy susceptible to large-scale military operations in places such as Afghanistan. Maybe they would prefer that U.S. forces stay in Iraq, but Afghanistan is an excellent second choice for stationing U.S. forces to "counter" the "ambitions" of Iran.

I really am wondering whether The Progressives have a clue what they are helping to bring about.

I would have thought that The Progressives would have preferred a more nuanced approach to seeking out the root causes of terrorism and would have understood that more U.S. troops in Afghanistan could not possibly be the answer.

The primary "tools" that Barack should be seeking to exploit to "fight" terrorism are:

  • Seeking greater cross-cultural understanding
  • Deeper cultural exchanges
  • Separating U.S. policy from the policy extremism of Israel
  • Opening regional talks to seek to finally settle the unsettled disputes from the 1948 Arab-Israeli war
  • Quiet diplomacy and confidence-building with our so-called "enemies"
  • Less public support or tolerance for the intolerant governments in the region that the terrorists despise as much as many Americans do
  • More careful attention to intelligence gathering and anslysis so that we really do know what is going on
  • Free and open relations with all governments to assure a free flow of the kind of information and ideas that are poisonous to extremists of all flavors
  • Lots of public "shuttle diplomacy" as soon as quiet diplomacy has had enough time to put down roots and enable public diplomacy
  • Stay away from setting artificial goals and preconditions and "preparations" for negotiations
  • Seek to recast most negotiations as informal talks to reflect that even if leaders know what they need to do, they may have domestic political interests to cope with
  • Focus on encouraging bilateral talks at all levels and between all parties that could blend into multi-lateral talks, but do not excessively over-burden even critical situations with the overbearing pressue of multi-lateral "assaults on sovereignty" (such as the U.S. and Europeans are doing rigt now with Iran.) When too many parties are at the table, there is sure to be a truly massive diffusion of responsibility that means nobody will be providing leadership towards a solution.

In short, end the "War on Terror" now!

Let all people everywhere get back to a peacetime footing and just say no to the Pro-Israel Lobby's constant lobbying for a constant state of fear and war. Israel's "security concerns" can be dealt with in other ways than a massive and misguided "War on Terror."

Barack: You should know better! Why did you sell out? Shame on you!

-- Jack Krupansky

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ford shift to small cars

I heartily applaud Ford's decision to shift to production  of more small cars. This may appear to be an overdue decision to do the "obvious", and the cynics will protest that it is "too little, late" and that Americans will reject Detroit small cars in favor of "foreign" cars, but I strongly suspect that the move will be far more successful than the naysayers are currently giving Ford credit for. If Ford builds a better car, people will buy it.

Now, what I really want to see is the plans for making most of those new cars hybrids and all-electric ASAP.

-- Jack Krupansky

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Barak [sic] Obama in Israel

I just received the daily email from the JerusalemONLINE web site and it had the title "Barak [sic] Obama in Israel: all options on table to counter Iranian threat", so I wonder if Barack actually changed his name to "Barak" [sic] (no "c") intentionally or whether this is simply an honor bestowed on him by his Israeli hosts in recognition of the depth of his passion for the security of Israel. I wonder if former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak had anything to do with this change or what he thinks about it.

-- Jack Krupansky

Is Barack Obama now a card-carrying member of the so-called Pro-Israel Lobby?

About the only thing Barack Obama did not do on Wednesday in Israel is convert to Judaism. Other than that, he made a string of commitments to Israel that effectively make him a card-carrying member of the so-called Pro-Israel Lobby. As a Bloomberg article by Julianna Goldman and Jonathan Ferziger entitled "Obama Says a Nuclear-Armed Iran Poses Grave Threat" tells us:

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said that as president he would protect Israel's security and would "take no options off the table" to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

"A nuclear Iran would pose a grave threat," Obama told reporters today in Sderot, Israel. "The world must prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."

Obama's Middle East tour is part of an effort to bolster his support among Jewish voters uneasy about his talk of taking a more diplomatic approach to U.S. dealings with adversaries, including Iran, whose leaders have repeatedly threatened Israel and questioned its right to exist.

Obama said today he would bring "big sticks and big carrots" to negotiations to persuade the Iranians to end their nuclear ambitions. "A nuclear Iran would be a game-changing situation not just in the Mideast but around the world," he said.

Obama also said he won't pressure Israel to accept concessions in peace talks with the Palestinians that put the nation's security at risk.

... Obama is using his visit to Israel to reassure Israel's leaders and Jewish voters in the U.S. that his policies aren't unduly pro-Palestinian.

... Obama, as well as expressing his commitment to Israel's security, has rejected the Palestinians' demand for the right of those who left Israel to return. He has said the U.S. shouldn't negotiate with Hamas, the Islamic Palestinian group that the U.S. and the European Union consider a terrorist organization, unless it recognizes Israel's right to exist. Obama also backs a plan that has angered Palestinians to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, though he says the matter should be part of negotiations with the Palestinians.

Truly breathtaking. Barack is completely toeing the Pro-Israel Lobby's "party line" by "expressing his commitment to Israel's security." He is now as committed and obligated to Israel as Hillary ever was or as Bush and Cheney and the rest of the Neo-conservatives are today.

It is of course complete nonsense to suggest that a "nuclear Iran" would be... "a game-changing situation ... around the world." Complete rubbish, but 100% the "party line" for the so-called Pro-Israel Lobby. Even the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran to Israel is overrated (if only because Israel itself is already nuclear-armed.)

And this idea of committing the U.S. to "protect Israel's security" and to "take no options off the table" to prevent Iran from legally obtaining a nuclear weapon are going way too far. Israel offers far too little in return to the U.S. to warrant such an outrageously one-sided U.S. "commitment." Our commitment to Israel should be the same as to any other country in the region, to pursue and achieve peace and peaceful and productive relations among all countries, without any pre-established bias.

There is of course one remaining hope... that Barack has lied to us about his core politics and is simply telling the Israelis and the other members of the so-called Pro-Israel Lobby exactly what they want to hear and has no intention of 100% backing up his so-called "commitment." Let us all hope and pray that he was lying and is in fact a garden-variety politician ever-eager to tell each audience exactly what it wants to hear.

I wonder what "The Progressives" will have to say about Barack's... "performance"... in Israel today.

-- Jack Krupansky

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The so-called rescue of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

Just a quick follow-up to my post about the so-called "rescue" of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac...

I read in an article in The New York Times by David Herszenhorn entitled "Cost of Loan Bailout, if Needed, Could Be $25 Billion" that the most likely scenario is that Fannie and Freddie will not need any bailout at all, and then even an unlikely bailout would be modest and not likely to be about the order of $25 billion, and only in the most extreme (and very unlikely) scenario would the cost be upwards of $100 billion, which is still a rather modest amount considering the scale of the overall financial system. As The Times reports about comment from the Congressional Budget Office:

The budget office said there was a better than even chance that the rescue package would not be needed before the end of 2009 and would not cost taxpayers any money.

The article continues:

But the office also estimated a 5 percent chance that the mortgage companies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, could lose $100 billion, which would cost taxpayers far more than $25 billion.

Sure, all sorts of people on Wall Street will gleefully trumpet the great risk of a 1-in-20 event, but that is a rather low-probability event compared to a lot of risks we in the real world take in stride.

The article also says:

According to the estimate, which was delivered in the form of a letter to the House Budget Committee chairman, Representative John M. Spratt Jr., Democrat of South Carolina, the director of the budget office, Peter R. Orszag, predicted that "a significant chance, probably better than 50 percent, that the proposed new Treasury authority would not be used before it expired at the end of December 2009."

Mr. Orszag, at a briefing with reporters, acknowledged that pinpointing the eventual cost of the package was impossible. "There is very significant uncertainty involved here," he said.

The uncertainty runs in both directions, with some government officials and market analysts suggesting that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are fundamentally sound and will perform well over the long-term. Others, including some private equity managers, are pessimistic and predict heavy losses.

Ahhh... so-called "private equity managers"... otherwise known as hedge fund speculators, the kind who are shorting the stock of Fannie and Freddie. Sure, they're going to give you an "objective" appraisal of the outlook for Fannie and Freddie... NOT!

The bottom line here is that there is no actual financial "rescue" going to be taking place in the near future. The whole package being pushed and dragged through Congress is simply a contingency backup plan and a tool to try to frighten off the Wall Street "private equity managers" and others who: a) are opposed to the existence to the GSEs at all, and b) are actively and maliciously attempting to push down and talk down the stock price of Fannie and Freddie in order to profit from short positions or to get a lower price when Fannie and Freddie seek to raise equity capital in the near future.

The real bottom line here is the the U.S. Treasury and Congress are signalling the grossly irresponsible scumbags on Wall Street very loudly and very clearly to back off and cease and desist from maliciously attacking Fannie and Freddie on a basis that is completely out of proportion to the actual fundamentals and actual risks of these companies and their assets. And, if the fundamentals do happen to unexpectedly deteriorate and if the risks do unexpectedly happen to rise, then YES, the U.S. government is standing by to fully back Fannie and Freddie in much the manner as investors have always presumed is the case. The idea that the U.S. government might step in and financially support Fannie and Freddie is not new or novel. I myself have known about this implied guarantee for about ten years now.

-- Jack Krupansky

What needs to be done about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac?

There has been a lot of hand-wringing lately about the financial health of the so-called housing GSEs, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the supposed "threat" they allegedly pose to the U.S. economy, but I do believe that most of the criticism and anxiety and anger is either misplaced or ingenuous. A lot of "players" on Wall Street are shorting the stock of Fannie, Freddie, and banks and financial companies in general, so a lot of their complaints are really more in the line of "talking their book" (promoting the stories that serve to benefit their own trading positions) to incite others to put further downwards pressure on the stocks of these companies.

Even before the current (quickly becoming past) housing "bubble", quite a number of Wall Street firms were opposed to the housing GSEs since Wall Street wanted a cut of the action and managed to con Congress into putting constraints on Fannie and Freddie back in the 2003 timeframe, just before the housing "bubble" really started to expand. Fannie and Freddie, by definition, have only dealt in "conforming" mortgages, which by definition are not subprime. Fannie and Freddie are not in any way responsible for the subprime mortgage crisis and do not have any significant exposure to subprime mortgages and related foreclosures.

It is in fact those Wall Street firms that lobbied for shackling Fannie and Freddie over five years ago, and it is those same Wall Street firms that over-inflated the housing bubble with a misguided focus on non-conforming (subprime) mortgages, since they yield (or, rather, once yielded) much higher fees for the Wall Street firms. In fact, one aspect of the scandal is that firms conned consumers into accepting higher-fee subprime mortgages even though those consumers could have afforded cheaper, safer conforming mortgages that Fannie and Freddie dealt in. Wall Street did not directly mislead consumers on mortgages, but they put such an extreme premium on high-risk, high-fee subprime mortgages that they became irresistible to average mortgage sales personnel. Wall Street indirectly enabled this fraud, and the resulting debacle. Wall Street is clearly to blame for the whole subprime mortgage "crisis", but not one iota of blame can be laid at the feet and Fannie and Freddie.

The "crisis" for Fannie and Freddie is simply: 1) too many people are predicting a much higher level of foreclosures of conforming mortgages than is reasonably likely, and 2) too many Wall Street firms have been actively and maliciously attacking the stock of Fannie and Freddie, making it more difficult and more expensive for them to raise capital. The situation has gotten so out of hand on Wall Street that the SEC has proposed special short-sale rules to try to deal with rampant abuse such as naked short-selling, which is already illegal, but nobody on Wall Street has the moral values to prevent it.

The combined market cap of Fannie and Freddie is now only about $19 billion. The U.S. Treasury should simply start to silently buy up the stock, effectively putting a floor on the price as well as a ceiling for buying the two GSEs should the remaining shareholders continue to lose faith and dump their shares. That would probably be the best $20 billion ever spent or invested by the U.S. government and likely achieve a spectacular rate of return, even if the rate of housing foreclosures were to rise significantly further.

Even if it were to cost $25 billion to "rescue" Fannie and Freddie (literally from the short-sellers on Wall Street and their attacks on the stock), which is one estimate I saw today, that is mere peanuts or "chump change" compared to the amount of capital that the Federal Reserve has put at risk to rescue Wall Street itself, to date. For Wall Street to "blame" Fannie and Freddie for the current "crisis" is the height of hypocrisy.

Fannie and Freddie truly are two of the strongest pillars of the U.S. financial system, second only to the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Reserve System. Even the so-called "best" firms on Wall Street are a very distant third-place. Fannie and Freddie have done nothing wrong, save that they became a target for an unscrupulous Wall Street.

At this point, I think that the Treasury should simply loan Fannie and Freddie as much cash as they need to siliently buy back their own stock from all willing sellers. If their stocks stabilize and rise significantly, that process can cease, otherwise the process should continue until the GSEs are fully privatized. Wall Street does not deserve to have these two financial companies be at the mercy of shameless short-sellers. Who knows, maybe the next generation on Wall Street will have some sense of moral decency and maybe in another five years Fannie and Freddie can once more become publically-traded companies.

In my book, Fannie and Freddie are the true angels, fighting on the side of good and economic and financial justice, while Wall Street is now nothing more than thieves without honor. Actually, even that pejorative does not convey enough negativity about the dishonorable behavior of Wall Street.

If you hear anybody saying anything negative about Fannie and Freddie, almost certainly one of three things are true: 1) they are lying, 2) they simply have not done their homework, or 3) they oppose the concept of the GSEs and are simply using the "crisis" as an excuse to promote their opinion. A lot of people actually do not know much at all about the housing GSEs and should do some homework, but so many people on Wall Street could not care less about what the truth really is.

In short, technically nothing needs to be done to "fix" Fannie and Freddie that they cannot do themselves, if only major Wall Street firms were not attacking the stocks of the companies. But given the current situation, the U.S. Treasury should loan the GSEs the cash to either simply boost their stock price or to fully privatize the companies.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Guaranteed affordable health care plan

I have come to the conclusion that American society needs to shift to a national policy of guaranteed affordable health care. It is simply too easy for a person to lose their job and too easy to stumble into a major health event (e.g., cancer, a car accident, birth defect, etc.) and even reasonablly well-off middle class consumers can hit the wall and be completely unable to handle the financial costs and face bankruptcy, foreclosure, and every manner of financial disaster. Even if a person has a strong sense of personal responsibility and has substantial life savings, a single health event can completely wipe out all of their savings and more. Quite literally, there is absolutely nothing that any of us mere mortals can do to protect ourselves from the financial disaster of a major health event, other than to be lucky. If you do still have a job and your employer's health plan does cover the health event, fine, you are set. But, increasingly we are seeing that health plans are not covering all costs of all events. There are simply too many "cracks" that your health and health care can disappear into for any mere mortal to be fully prepared. My conclusion is that we need guaranteed health care and it has to be affordable. I think that most people would mostly agree with that assertion, but how to get there is a back-hole question.

I have a modest proposition:

  1. The federal government would be the ultimate guarantor of health care financing.
  2. Health care delivery would remain roughly as it is today with a mixture or public, private, non-profit and for-profit health care providers.
  3. People could go to any health care provider for health care. No provider would have any financial interest to deny care.
  4. Health care would be provided at no charge to anyone who requested it, with only your normal ID and social security number required.
  5. The federal government would ultimately be responsible for paying all health care bills, which the consumer would never see, but the reality is that the federal government would simply be the guarantor of last resort.
  6. Funding for this plan would be a payroll tax, with a back-stop of general government funding, ultimately backstopped by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government. As economic times and demographics shift, there may be changes in priorities as to whether to raise or lower the payroll tax and fund health care either from general revenues or even issuance of debt securities.
  7. Consumers could choose their health care insurer. You could choose a private company, a non-profit, the federal government, your state government, or any other organization that chooses to be a health care insurer. Probably best handled at a state level, private insurers could petition each state to be one of a pool of round-robin chosen insurers when consumers make no explicit choice.
  8. Each health care insurer would set its own payroll tax rate based on expenses and added services that they provide. Obviously people wish to minimize this tax, but some people might prefer to pay extra for the right to a private hospital room or a choice of hospital or a choice of doctor.
  9. Each health care insurer would get the bulk of the payroll tax for consumers who have chosen them, but a portion of the payroll tax would still go the the federal government for coverage of major health events that the individual health care insurers are not covering.
  10. Health care insurers would normally be responsible for directly reimbursing health care providers for "normal" levels of health care, but not for major health events, such as cancer, severe birth problems, severe and chronic health conditions, severe accidents, etc.
  11. The federal government, through a separate agency, would cover reimbursement for all major health events. This would be done transparently, so that the consumer would not even know when or how payment is being made.
  12. The federal agency would in turn farm out both normal and major health event insurance underwriting to private companies which would bid for such business.
  13. The federal government would ultimately be responsible for the final (and largest) bills, but would never "take" business away from private insurance companies who are willing to bid for the business. The federal government's role is simply: 1) to guaranteee that people will be covered in all events, 2) to guarantee insurance when no private business is interested in the insurance (e.g., someone born with a birth defect or involved in a severe accident that affects them for life, open-ended experimental treatments, etc.), and 3) to assure that the government will not be involved in the insurance business when private business is fully willing to provide coverage competitive with the government's rate that is politically chosen to be "affordable" to consumers. Private insurers would either have to offer a lower rate or some added value to attract consumers away from the government.
  14. The government would not build and maintain a massive, national health insurance or health care bureaucracy. The role of the federal governmen is simply: 1) to assure that there are no gaps by guaranteeing funding, and 2) assure that health care providers have no financial excuse not to provide great service to all consumers at all times.
  15. The federal agency would oversee (as a regulator) an open market for insuring non-normal health care events. The government would ultimately foot the total bill (i.e., excess over collected payroll tax), but private insurers would finance well-defined slices of "super-cat" (catastrophe) coverage. A private company could bid a rate for a designated slice or payment coverage with some upper limit to payment liability. That would earn the company the right to a slice of the payroll tax. The company would then be liable for payment of bills for that slice of coverage. The federal agency would then assign bills for that slice to the private insurer as they came in. The private insurer would still nominally be resposible for reimbursing 100% of the cost to the health care provider, but the federal agency would then reimburse the super-cat insurer for costs above the threshold that the insurer is committed to. The goal is to achieve transparency for payments and to keep the involvement of the government to the minimum. In fact, maybe the insurers would directly deal with super-cat providers and only get the government involved when their limits are exceeded. Or, maybe that would be the insurer's choice.
  16. Most insurance payments would flow almost directly from employers to the designated insurer, thus keeping the day-to-day role of the federal agency minimized to the exceptions rather than the vast bulk of the "average", normal cases.
  17. The federal government would provide health care investment grants and loans to assure that health care providers have the facilities that they need. Actually, the grants and loans would come from any financial or health care institution that wishes to provide them, and those institutions would either get the funds from the federal government or simply apply for a federal guarantee for funds obtained from a private source. The goal is not to have the federal government to fund all investment, but to be the backstop, lender of last resort, and to assure that the investment money flows even if private interest dries up.

In short, this plan has three key components:

  1. A federal government guarantee that health care will always be available and affordable at no cost to consumers beyond a modest payroll tax.
  2. Most insurance and services will be provided by the private sector.
  3. The federal government simply acts as the enabler and back-stop and financer of last resort should the private sector not be able or interested in providing insurance coverage.

-- Jack Krupansky

Whiner Nation

Rats... I missed my chance. Some time ago (a year ago?) I made a note to myself to write a blog post called "Whiner Nation", to opine on the degree to which we have become a nation of whiners. I never followed through on that note. Now, Phil Gramm has "stolen" my (undisclosed) idea and achieved a level of infamy with it. Who knows, maybe he did me a favor.

Just as a matter of disclosure, I have to admit that I myself happen to be a whiner. And proud of it! There is nothing wrong with being a whiner, unless you are in denial and refuse to accept and publically acknowledge it.

To be clear, blogging is a symptom and strong indicator that someone is a whiner.

I have been known to whine about many things and many people, but there is one person who I have never whined about... Phil Gramm. The guy really makes me laugh. I have attended a number of congressional hearings when he has spoken and he invariably comes out of left field with some zinger. He is a true, all-American character. Maybe you find his brand of humor funny and maybe you do not, but we adults are supposed to be adult enough to see through superficial facades and style of personality and focus on real meaning rather than style of presentation. At least that is the theory. So much for theory.

All Phil was really saying is that people need to take more responsibility for their own lives and their own decisions and that the media and political opportunists do in fact tend to blow things up out of propertion to the reality. Phil is right on one point, that too many people are in a "mental recession" inspired by the media and opportunistic politicians. Sure, some percentage of people are in some level of trouble and some degree of pain, but all Phil is saying is that the percentage is small relative to the overall economy and that the overall economy still has not deteriorated to the level where even the experts agree that it is a true "recession."

Yes, we truly are a nation of whiners, but we do need to get over it and move on. Enough singing of "somebody done somebody wrong" songs.

As far as Phil Gramm, the reaction from McCain suggests that the Republicans are really running scared. Really scared. Personally, I though Gramm's commenary was rather innocuous and neither here nor there when it comes to the real "meat" and big picture of politics. Maybe the reaction simply hints at how thin-skinned politics has become this year.

Metal note to myself: Write a post to whine about people who whine about people who whine about whiners and bad-mough whining. Hmmm... I wonder if there is a market for "Whining for Dummies"? Or maybe a tome even more basic: "Whining for Bloggers"?

Please feel free to whine in my comment section.

-- Jack Krupansky

U.S. out of Afghanistan!

For someone who is so adamant that the U.S. needs to leave Iraq ASAP, I am appalled that Barack is so adamant that the U.S. should stay in Afghanistan. See the AP story originally entitled "Obama tells Karzai he plans to continue terror war." Barack and his supporters deride McCain for suggesting that U.S. troops might be in Iraq for 100 years, but here Barack is headed down a garden path that could keep the U.S. in Afghanistan for 100 years! The real bottom line is that we need a President who will openly admit that the whole idea of using massive military action to "fight" terrorism is completely nonsensical. And, the thought that Afghanistan will quickly become a strong, western-style democracy and successfully beat off wave after wave of insurgents is equally nonsensical. Sure, on occasion a military raid or strike may be needed, but the pressing need is to cease and desist from continuing to present the U.S. as a willing "military" target for terrorists.

None of us are served by having a "puppet" regime in Afghanistan. We went in, and we gave it our best shot. Now it is time to get out and let the locals sort things out. Sure, if terrorists re-establish bases we can raid/strike them, but we simply do not want to be in the business of propping up weak governments simply in the name of some ideological "democracy."

The Afghani people deserve the right of self-determination. The thought that Barack will step in as a surrogate for the Neoconservative Project for the New American Century and its military-based promotion of "democracy" is unconscionable. We need some strong new leadership. All we can hope for now is that Barack will try his "strategy" for a short while and then "change" to something more pragmatic once he sees how hopeless the current approach (i.e., if things get messy, send in more troops)  is. Barack's willingness to go deeper into Afghanistan is a perfect example of how out-of-depth he is on defense and foreign relations issues. He had a good instinct on Iraq and (at least for a while, Iran.) Maybe the problem is that he has not been reflective enough to sort out the proper "lessons learned" from Iraq and apply those lessons in other situations.

U.S. out of Afghanistan! ... Now!

And while we are at it... U.S. stay out of Iran! ... and stop trying to bully Iran! Show some high-quality leadership and people will follow.

-- Jack Krupansky

What to do about Iran's "nuclear ambitions"

Politicians are making way too big a deal about demanding that Iran cease any form of nuclear enrichment. The only truly urgent priority is to assure that Iran does not leap into a full-fledged nuclear weapons development program. The level of enrichment needed for fueling nuclear reactors for energy production is far short of that needed for nuclear weapons. Iran is within their rights to pursue nuclear energy and self-sufficiency, including all phases of the nuclear fuel cycle. I can fully understand the interests of the Neoconservatives and the rest of the so-called Pro-Israel Lobby in trying to shackle Iran, but I am a bit baffled as to why "Europe" is so hell-bent on giving the Neoconservatives exactly what they want. That does not quite make sense. There must be some puzzle pieces to that story that the media has not yet uncovered.

To be crystal clear, the greatest threat to our security and survival is not countries such as Iran or terrorists, even if they had nuclear weapons, but our own ignorance, arrogance, intolerance, negligence, and outright incompetetence at managing our relations with countries and peoples around the world. I do hope Barack follows through on his "promise" to "talk" with Iran and other nations, but I do fear that he will succomb to the same distorted mentality that we are seeing with "Europe" on the issue of Iran.

Anyway, what should we do about Iran?

  1. Recognize their sovereignty and their right to nuclear energy, nuclear fuel production, and even their right to develop and deploy nuclear weapons if they so choose.
  2. Reestablish formal relations with Iran, at diplomatic, political, economic, and social levels, before attempting to negotiate over "nuclear ambitions." There needs to be a "climate of concilliation" before any meaningful negotiation can occur. It has been a long time since the 1979 "revolution", so maybe the 30th anniversary next year would be an excellent time to "bury the hatchet." Start with a baseline set of "base" relations, on the theory that greater, more-integrated relations will gradually come as all sides gradually build confidence in each other.
  3. Take the concept of pre-emptive military attacks off the table, officially. Sure, we ultimately do reserve the right to strike any target as needed for our security, but that should be an implicit, unspoken, and rarely-used option and not an explicit, openly-wielded "club" to threaten other nations.
  4. Fully distance ourselves from the foreign policy stance of Israel. Treat them as "peer nation" in the region. We need to fully distance ourselves from any threats by Israel against other nations in the region and publically and loudly denounce any such threats. Symmetrically, we should do the same with other nations in the region. Israel can still be our "friend" and even get some preferential treatment, but other nations in the region need to feel that the U.S. will overall be fair and evenhanded in the treatment of all nations in the region and not "take sides" in any regional dispute.
  5. Publically acknowledge that Israel has nuclear weapons and that it is outright unreasonable for the U.S., "Europe", "The West", the UN, or anybody to deny any nation in the region their sovereign right to develop and deploy nuclear weapons as long as Israel and the U.S. insist on having clear weapons deployed in the region.
  6. Initiate a long-term, back-channel dialog with Iran, and others, on the subject of how to establish workable relations with Israel. In truth, the 1948 Arab-Israeli "war of independence" was never really fully and properly concluded. It is time to revisit the remaining obstacles to peace in the region that derive from that lack of resolution. Trying to address Iran's so-called "nuclear ambitions" without addressing lingering grievances from 1948 is an exercise in futility. This is the proverbial elephant standing in the middle of the room that nobody wants to talk about. Once we get past 1948 and achieve full recognition of Israel and full and open relations with Israel, a lot of these other issues, even the issue of "nuclear ambitions", will simply shrivel up in significance.
  7. [I had some other thoughts, but they have escaped me for the moment.]

-- Jack Krupansky