Monday, April 30, 2012

A Moot Point?

More bad news out this week on the Affordable Care Act.  It’s bad news if you were hoping it gets repealed or ruled unconstitutional.  It is about to kick in another popular provision.
Looks like this is another item to add to the list of benefits the Affordable Care Act offers to consumers that Mitt Romney has vowed to eliminate on his first day in office.  You may add this one right after guaranteed insurability for those with pre-existing conditions and the option to have children covered under the parent’s plan until age 26.  Those would also disappear.
Americans to get $1.3 billion in health care rebates
By Julie Appleby, KHN staff writer
Read the entire article at:
Millions of consumers and small businesses will receive an estimated $1.3 billion in rebates from their health plans this summer under a provision of the health care law that effectively limits what insurers can charge for administration and profits, a new study projects.

Almost one third of people who bought their own insurance last year will get rebates averaging $127, according to an analysis of state data by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. (KHN is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

"This alone is not going to make health insurance affordable for large numbers of people, but it is getting excess administrative cost out of the system," says Larry Levitt, a study author.

Under the federal law, insurers must spend at least 80 percent of premium revenues on medical costs or quality improvements; the remainder can go toward administrative costs, sales commissions and profits. If companies set premiums too high, rebates in the form of checks or discounts off future premiums are due consumers and businesses by Aug. 1.

The requirement, aimed at holding insurers more accountable and slowing premium increases, went into effect last year and applies to all health plans, except those offered by self-insured employers. Insurers had criticized the rule as being too strict, while sales agents feared insurers would reduce their commissions. (emphasis added)

The listed objections to the provision in the law are from sales folks who will make less money at the expense of those who require health insurance (pretty much everyone) and insurance companies who stand to have reduced profitability.  If there is an objection based on the fact that Americans will receive less quality care, I haven’t seen it.  Shouldn’t that be the measure by which we judge whether the provision is good or not?

I love this quote from the article that provides the health industry’s perspective:

Still, Alexandria-Va.-based health industry consultant Robert Laszewski says the projected rebates are so small as to count mainly as a "rounding error" that most consumers won't even notice.

Using Laszewski’s view, since $1.3 billion is merely a “rounding error”, I guess the industry won’t miss it.
Mitt Romney has vowed to repeal the law and start over.  This might be out of Romney’s hands by November if the Court makes the point moot.  I wonder if an adverse decision by the Supreme Court this summer that strikes down the law will give the industry the ability to recover these refunds.  That would be a boon to Obama’s chances in that case.  Millions see their scheduled refund of premium being instead pocketed by the for-profit insurance industry.  That won’t play well in Peoria.

Before the Right gets apoplectic  that Big Government is redistributing wealth, discouraging success and amputating the Invisible Hand, here is how Timothy Jost, a professor at Washington and Lee University School of Law, described the rebates in the article:

"The purpose isn't to generate rebates, but to force insurers to align their premiums more closely with their (medical) claims costs.  Each year, premium costs have gone up more than medical costs, so what the rule does is force insurers to be more efficient and, if they charge too much, to give some back."

We have a vested, national interest in affordable quality health care.  This provision of the Act seems reasonable, and like many of the others, will probably be popular once implemented.

As I have said before, and now, we wait.

Half Empty Rose Colored Glasses

As a transplant to the DC area, I have observed the curiously fragile Washington sports fan psyche from a safe social distance.  I root for most of the local teams now, but they are not in my blood stream like the teams of my youth.  Let’s just say I don’t own a burgundy and gold tie.  Lifelong DC fans are easily tricked into thinking that a championship is around the corner after a preseason win streak and equally deflated into clinical depression by the slightest dropped pass or missed bunt sign.   In short, they are delusional when estimating their proximity to the mountaintop but also the depths of chasm from whence their teams must climb.  The past week’s news items are representative of the highs and the lows of the Washington area sports fan:

Nat-itudinal Adjustment

Baseball’s perennial basement dwellers started the season 14-4 and their potentially great pitching rotation no longer demands the word “potential” as a qualifier.  They are great today.  Of course, they need to be since the Nats’ hitting is anemic, and that’s being kind.  Strasburg, Gonzales, Zimmermann, Jackson, and Detwiler are erasing the memories of Palmer, Cuellar, McNally and Dobson, baseball’s last staff with 4 20-game winners.    That vaunted Orioles rotation was backed up by Frank Robinson and Boog Powell, who would probably be able to bat 3-4 in this current Nats line up if they showed up on the field this afternoon.  Who cares, Washington fans, we are winning!  As someone posted about local sports writer and eternal optimist Tom Boswell, he attended a game last week because he heard the team might clinch the division.

Fast forward one week – The Nats were swept this weekend by the Dodgers, the first good team they have faced.  Their disabled list now includes 3 all-star caliber players (franchise face Ryan Zimmerman, clean up beast Michael Morse, 43 save closer Drew Storen).  Their bats are still on back order from the manufacturer.  Teddy has yet to win a President’s race.  Reality bites.  At least Bryce Harper hasn’t been arrested yet for domestic violence or a drunk and disorderly.  Then again, it’s only April and he’s only been with the big club for 2 games.  Philly in town this weekend – as a precaution, ownership might consider taking the shoelaces out the Nat’s fans shoes as they enter the park for the fans’ own protection.

Skins in the Game

The Skins did what everyone expected them to do when they mortgaged the future for the rights to draft RG3.  The fans in DC are so excited that Dan Snyder was able to sell personal seat rights for RG3’s Canton induction ceremony in 2031.  No one knows if the kid from Baylor can produce at the pro level or what RG3 even stands for anymore.  They do know that compared to RG1 (Sexy Rexy Grossman), anyone is an upgrade.  True to form, the Washington Redskins have won the off season Super Bowl a record 6 times in the past decade.  Good time to quietly raise the parking rates at FedEx again, Danny Boy!

Fast forward one week – The Redskins announced that they have released the almost legendary John Beck, the 3rd string quarterback with such unlimited potential that Football Czar Mike Shanahan said he would “stake his reputation on” Beck’s success in his magic system.  Hey, Mike, how's that reputation holding up?

Without John Beck, who will the fans mock now?  This market needs a Patrick Ramsey, a Heath Shuler, a Jeff George.  Without a journeyman quarterback that is foisted on the fan base as the next big thing, people might turn their attention to the rest of the roster and realize that it’s the same team that limped to 6 wins last year. 
Cap Space

After enduring a roller coaster season that included the firing of their winningest coach in history and long stints on the injured list for their best player (Backstrom) and the guy who we keep getting told is their best defenseman despite all evidence to the contrary (Mike Green), the Capitals punched their ticket to the Big Skate tournament.  Once you’re in, anything can happen, and this week, what happened was positive.  The Capitals embraced the role of underdog and knocked out the defending Cup champion Boston Bruins in 7 games.  The victory was memorable for the manner in which they achieved it – stout defense, not a Capitals’ signature these past few seasons.  Local media types stopped preceding Coach Dale Hunter’s name with the word “interim”.  With the Penguins out of the way, this is the year the franchise takes the next step and competes in June for Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Fast forward one week – The Capitals lose Game 1 of their second round match up to the #1 seed N.Y. Rangers and rookie superhero goaltender Braden Holtby is unmasked as mortal by a few soft goals.  Clearly, an embarrassing sweep is in the making.  Tee time reservations have been made.  The rabid fan base, accustomed to annual April flame outs, starts burning their week-old Holtby jerseys in memorium.  Local media types reinsert the word “interim” before Coach Hunter’s name.  Hope is on ice after one loss.

Take a Bullet…Please!

The undermanned and outgunned Washington Bullets won 5 straight games to end the season on a high note.  Their savvy roster move of unloading the lazy, self-absorbed show boats that they drafted and signed in exchange for hungry community college intramural bench talent paid off.  This could be a winning strategy.  Convince your competition that your squad is so bad that they don’t even dress their best players in order to beat you, and you might have a chance.  Run the picket fence and get the ball to Jimmy Chitwood for the last shot. 

Fast forward one week – The NBA season is over and it’s a trip back to the ping pong ball lottery for this woeful franchise.  Come to think of it, the season ending is actually good news and a chance at a lottery pick is good news.  The season ended without an All-Star on the team but there wasn’t a felony, wither.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right, Ernie? 

How about that?  The best week in Washington sports belonged to the Washington Wizards...unless the DC United soccer team did something good, but how would we know?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Comedy Breeds Comity

Once per year, we are not Red America, we are not Blue America - we are the United States of Comedy.  On this occasion, the nation laughs with the pols, not at them.  The annual White House Correspondence Dinner has become the only bipartisan event left on the annual political calendar, and that IS funny.  Both parties get to yuck it up together in the same room, a few hours of comity and comedy.

I recognize that not all of you are political junkies like me, but I believe that you all appreciate some good humor from time to time.  So today, I shamelessly provide you with the humor of others - Jimmy Kimmel's best jokes at the dinner and Obama's best jokes at the dinner.  Do not read while having your dinner.  A spit take is only fun in the movies.

Kimmel's Finest: (as collected by Politico):

1. To Obama: "I know you won't be able to laugh at my jokes about the Secret Service. Please cover your ears, if that's physically possible."
2. "If you told me when I was a kid I would be standing on a dais with President Barack Obama, I would have said, 'The president's name is Barack Obama?'"
3. "Remember when the country rallied around you in hopes of a better tomorrow? That was hilarious."
4. "Democrats would like you to stick to your guns. And if you don't have any guns, you can ask Eric Holder to get some for you."
5. "They say diplomacy is a matter of carrot and sticks, and since Michelle Obama got to the White House — so is dinner."
More after the jump...
6. Kimmel to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: "I think you're misunderstanding New Jersey's slogan. It's not the Olive Garden state."
7. "You'd recognize Jay Carney as the white guy from the LensCrafters commercial."
8. "Where are the CNN tables? Are the CNN tables real tables or virtual tables?"
9. "Did Rupert Murdoch hack into all my jokes already?"
10. "Last week we learned that the president's two favorite steaks are: ribeye and seeing-eye."
11. "Sully, will you do us a favor? Will you drive Lindsay Lohan home? Just make sure you don't run into a goose, and make sure it isn't a gray goose"
12. "Eric Cantor can’t be here tonight, he’s at the gym working on his gavel arm." (Cantor was, in fact, at the dinner.)
13. On Mitt Romney: "You can't have a beer with him, because he doesn't drink. You can't have a cup of coffee with him, because he can't have caffeine. You can't even play Monopoly with him because he keeps trying to put the dog on the car."
14. "It's great to see the Gingriches here, because that means the check cleared."
15. "Supercommittees are to committees what Supercuts are to hair cuts."
16. "I'd like everyone to look under their seats. You'll find a copy of Keith Olbermann's resume."
17. "It doesn't matter if you're black, like President Obama, or white, like President Obama, or red, like President Obama's agenda."
18. On those who want to attack Iran: "They're a bunch of yahoos, and Netanyahus."

Obama's Finest (as collected by Politico):

1. "My mother was born in Kansas, my father was born in Kenya, and I was born, of course, in Hawaii," he said — with a wink.
2. "Now, some have said I blame too many problems on my predecessor, but let’s not forget that’s a practice that was initiated by George W. Bush."
3. "I want to especially thank all the members who took a break from their exhausting schedule of not passing any laws to be here tonight."
4. "Four years ago, I was locked in a brutal primary battle with Hillary Clinton. Four years later, she won't stop drunk-texting me from Cartagena."
5. "Anyway, it’s great to be here this evening in the vast, magnificent Hilton ballroom — or what Mitt Romney would call a little fixer-upper."
More after the jump...
6. "Look at this party. We’ve got men in tuxes, women in gowns, fine wine, first-class entertainment. I was just relieved to learn this was not a GSA conference."
7. "The White House Correspondents’ Dinner is known as the prom of Washington D.C. — a term coined by political reporters who clearly never had the chance to go to an actual prom."
8. "Our chaperone for the evening is Jimmy Kimmel, who is perfect for the job since most of tonight’s audience is in his key demographic — people who fall asleep during 'Nightline.'"
9. "Jimmy got his start years ago on 'The Man Show.' In Washington, that’s what we call a congressional hearing on contraception."
10. "I have not seen 'The Hunger Games.' Not enough class warfare for me."
11. On Harvard degrees and Mitt Romney: "I have one, he has two. What a snob."
12. "As my stepfather always told me, 'It's a boy-eat-dog world out there.'"
13. "In my first term, we passed health care reform. In my second term, I guess I'll pass it again."
14. "Recently, [Romney's] campaign criticized me for slow-jamming the news with Jimmy Fallon. In fact, I understand Governor Romney was so incensed he asked his staff if he could get some equal time on 'The Merv Griffin Show.'"
15. "I have a lot more material prepared, but I have to get the Secret Service home in time for their new curfew."

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Fareed At Last!

I have to admit, I love reading this guy’s stuff (you should pick up one of his books).  Here is a link to his op-ed in Post this week that hits a few notes that resonate with me.

First, he questions the political decision and the practical policy implication of Obama’s full court press on the Buffett Rule.  Zakaria does a full take down: 

“Recently the president and his advisers have focused on taxing the rich and tackling inequality. The “Buffett rule” tax on millionaires has become Obama’s bumper sticker. The proposal is reasonable — but does not deserve the attention Obama is showering on it. It raises a trivial sum, $47 billion over the next 10 years, during which period the federal government will spend $45 trillion. It adds one more layer to a tax code that is already the most complex and corrupt in the industrialized world. If the president wants to be bold, he could propose comprehensive tax reform and eliminate the hundreds of deductions, exemptions, credits and loopholes, many of which Congress sells in exchange for campaign contributions.“

I would have gone further and called the Buffett Rule a great way to turn meaningful debate over tax policy into a cartoon punch line.  Zakaria was more polite than me, but he’s a paid professional.  The idea of tax fairness is a political winner; the idea that Warren Buffett needs to pay more is not.
Next, he makes the compelling case that the American approach (Obama’s) to the global economic crisis has been far superior to what the GOP has proposed, and he backs it up with the evidence from Europe.  Europe followed the GOP proposed austerity approach with damaging results:

“We are four years into the financial crisis. In the United States, the government acted speedily and massively to stimulate the economy, using monetary and fiscal measures. In Europe, governments quickly turned toward austerity programs, cutting spending across the board to reduce budget deficits.

“The results are in: The U.S. economy is expected to grow 2 to 3 percent this year. The euro zone is expected to contract 0.3 percent this year; Spain and Britain have officially entered a double-dip recession, the first time major economies have done so in 40 years. The International Monetary Fund’s latest forecast through 2017 predicts that the United States’ economy will outpace every major European one. IMF projections show that even Germany’s average growth rate will be only 40 percent of America’s. 

European concerns about deficits and debt are valid. But it was a mistake to use these medium- and long-term problems as a reason to make massive spending cuts in the middle of the worst economic slowdown in 80 years. Government policy at its best is countercyclical: You cut in boom times and spend during troughs. Europe is doing the opposite, and the effect is to worsen budget deficits. In most European countries, spending cuts have led to slower growth, lower tax revenue and thus bigger deficits. Spain and Britain are running deficits well in excess of earlier projections.”

This one line bears repeating, and the President should not back away from it:

“Government policy at its best is countercyclical: You cut in boom times and spend during troughs.”

Investments in infrastructure, education, and health care are smart uses of dollars.  That message makes sense.  Promoting populist, focus group tested slogans like the Buffett Rule does not make sense.  The dancing around the edges instead of attacking the colossus that it the U.S. tax code does not make sense.  This is the kind of simplistic messaging that makes us all cynics and does not inspire hope that anything will change.

Zakaria closes with his take on what the Buffett Rule should really be all about:

Warren Buffett has said that, in the midst of the economic slowdown, his strategy was to invest in America. That’s the Buffett rule Obama should follow.”

I agree.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Nature vs. Nurture

As has been well documented, I was born and raised “somewhere in the swamps of Jersey”.  Some say my accent gives me away, but I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout no Joisey accent.   Everybody else talks funny. 
Like any reputable Jersey boy, I was raised to love the New York Rangers (and by extension, hate the New York Islanders, those expansion rats.  There were no New Jersey Devils to hate back in my day.  They didn’t move to Jersey from Colorado until 1982).  My brothers would take me on the 12 minute train ride from the shadows of the Elizabeth station to Penn Station, and then a short escalator ride upstairs to the World’s Most Famous Arena, Madison Square Garden.  It was in the blue seats in the MSG rafters that I learned to sprinkle colorful profanities into everyday sports debates and it was in those seats that I learned the true meaning of the taunts, “Shoot the puck, Barry!” and “Potvin Sucks!”  There were a few other expressions of constructive feedback for the referees I learned that I’ll not print here.

I loved the Rangers.  Over the years, I stalked many a Blue Shirt after the game for his autograph – Lady Bing nominee Jean Ratelle, 50 goal scorer Vic Hadfield, human punching bag Dale Rolfe, garbage man Steve Vickers, and super model husband Ron Greshner.  (I have a 1972 yearbook signed by just about every player from that season).  I felt betrayed to the core when they traded Ratelle and Park for Esposito, Hodge and Vadnais, and I always considered Tkaczuk and Fairbairn to be the best one-two penalty killing pairing in the history of the game.  OK, I’m biased but that doesn’t make me wrong. 

I was a long suffering fan who survived a thousand cuts from the “1940” chant that haunted me until 1994, when Mark Messier slayed those demons by hoisting the Cup on home ice.  My wife can tell you all about how I paced back and forth across our new sectional for the entirety of that Game 7 against the Canucks, only stopping during intermissions for a few Tums and some cold refreshment.  The Broadway Blue Shirts finally won, and I have lived to bear witness.

End of first period.

I have lived in the DC market since 1988.  I have been to dozens of Washington Capitals’ games, both at the suburban Cap Centre and downtown at the Phone Booth (formerly MCI and now Verizon Center).  At first, I was in attendance in body but not in spirit.  In the past, I no doubt booed the dirty play of current coach and former goon Dale Hunter.  If the Caps were playing an Original Six franchise, out of respect for the game, I cheered for the other team.  I was a Ranger fan first, hockey fan second, and Caps fan third.  It’s how I rolled.

It’s 2012, and I am now raising a Capitals fan.  He has the Backstrom and Ovechkin t-shirts.  He has a team jersey so he is styling whenever we “Rock the Red” downtown.  We’ve been to the practice facility to watch training camp, and he gets text alerts whenever the team scores.  He’s never heard of Eddie Giacomin or Emile Francis or Ron Duguay.  He is a Caps fan, and I can’t blame him for that.  He was born this way.

Truth be told, I haven’t seen a Ranger game at the Garden in maybe 25 years.  This season, I probably watched all or part of at least 70 Capitals games.  I can name every player on the squad and dissect their strengths and weaknesses.  I know when Semin will try the curl and drag (right before he takes an offensive zone hooking penalty) and when Hendricks will score in the shootout (right after he pulls that little fake shot/hesitation move that freezes the goalie).  If it hadn’t been for the Winter Classic show on HBO this fall, I couldn’t have named 5 players on today’s NY Rangers team.  Geography has made it hard to keep up.

End of second period.
Now it is the New York Rangers versus the Washington Capitals in the NHL playoffs for the 3rd time in the past 4 seasons.  My son the Caps fan and I will be watching all of the games on the big screen in our basement, in full view of the framed Mark Messier Sports Illustrated cover and the authentic Brook Laich autographed puck.  There we will sit as old loyalties battle new realities.  One of us will probably end up pacing the sofa before it is all said and done.

So who do I root for?

This is an updated version of the age-old debate of nature versus nurture.  Am I a product of my genetics and early childhood experiences, or am I a product of my environment?  Which influence is the strongest?  If you drop a perfectly good New York Ranger fan into an environment dominated by Washington Capitals fans, will he adapt and change?  Or is his Ranger fandom part of his DNA?

I queried my friends, Randolph and Mortimer Duke, and as you could imagine, they disagreed with one another on the correct answer.  They suggested a sociological experiment that involved dropping my son off in Manhattan with nothing but a 1994 Ranger yearbook, a Henrik Lundquist signed jersey, and Jamie Lee Curtis, but I rejected that idea.  There is only one way to settle this question, and it is not with some silly $1 bet.

End of regulation.

I predict a grinding, defensive-minded 7 game series, and I will be happy with the result regardless as long as it goes the distance.  I am too old and mature to pace the couches for either team anymore.  I cannot speak for my son, however.  For him, I predict – guarantee - tears…of either joy or sadness.

One day, Thomas may have a son of his own and one day, they may live in another city.  He may one day face the dilemma of raising a son that cheers for a team other than the Capitals.  It could happen.
Unless he ends up living in Pittsburgh.  My son will never allow my grandson to root for the Penguins.  Some DNA strands are too powerful.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Suspensions of Disbelief

In the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, the Boston Bruins have taken a page from the Newt Gingrich presidential campaign.

Special to MSRP:   April 26, 2012

Today the Bruins announced that they are suspending their campaign for the 2012 Stanley Cup.  The official announcement confirms what many sports experts have already accepted as inevitable since Washington Capitals forward  Joel Ward banged home a rebound for the winning goal in last night’s Game 7 of the Eastern Conference primary round.  The Washington Capitals now enjoy a 4 games to 3 lead in the best of 7 series and the math no longer favors a comeback by the defending champions. 
The announcement did not come as a surprise to those closest to the team, and most Bruins supporters have already begun to look for other more viable Stanley Cup contenders to rally around.

Many Stanley Cup contenders choose to suspend their season before officially shutting down for the year because suspending does not require that they forfeit any game victories already earned. 
While some are questioning why the Bruins did not just admit defeat and pack their bags for the long off season, suspending the season instead has some other political advantages.  By suspending instead of conceding, the Bruins will not be faced with tough questions about whether or not they will endorse the Capitals in the next round.  Suspension does mean that they will no longer make any game stops and the travel budget is on hold. 
An announcement by the Bruins that they are folding their operation for the season is expected early next week. 

The announced suspension of the Bruins Stanley Cup campaign 2012 now provides a clear path for the Washington Capitals to focus on the road ahead.  The Capitals will no longer have the Bruins actively hitting them with attacks and weakening their prospects for victory in the next phase of the quest.

Caps owner Ted Leonsis was not in a gracious mood when told that the Bruins would only suspend their primary playoff campaign instead of shutting down and endorsing his franchise for the Cup.   “Look, why don’t they admit it?  It’s over.  There is no way the Bruins can make it to 4 wins at this point.  There are no longer enough games left on the calendar.  Suspending the season is just a formality.  Just end it already.”

The Bruins would not concede, but hinted at the fact that they knew it was over.  Head cheerleader Mark Milbury said, “Hockey is a contact sport, and you need a thick skin to compete.  We believe that the Capitals will be stronger in the coming months because of our aggressive challenges.  I can only say that I wish we had competed a little better in the South.  If we could have won there, it would have changed the entire dynamic of the campaign.” 
Most sports pundits believe that the Bruins will be back in another 4 years to try again, but the team will be 4 years older and rabid supporters may have drifted to other teams by that time.  Radical right wing goaltender Tim Thomas told MSRP, “The window of opportunity in this game is small.  We’ll talk to our families, take some time off, and then we’ll decide on the next steps.  Rest assured, we plan to remain in the public eye in a fundamental way. ”

In a related story, Ron Paul vowed to stay in the hunt, hoping for a brokered Stanley Cup Finals.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Very Educational

I’ve got 2 years left before I will have to stroke my first installment check to the college of my oldest daughter’s choice.  I have been diligently saving for the day, but like many families, my diligence will most likely fall many thousands of dollars short.  The dream of the athletic scholarship died when she stopped playing competitive soccer at the age of 6 (she was distracted by the on-field dandelions) so the financial shortfall for her continuing education will fall to me and my daughter in the form of student loans.  For this reason, the positions that the presidential candidates express on the issue of college and college costs are of particular interest to me.  I will soon be in the category of Struggling Family smack in the middle of this cost and debt crisis.

On March 6th of this year, a mere 7 weeks ago, presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney expressed his view on how to best cope with rising college expenses – shop around for the best price.  At a town hall in Youngstown, Ohio, a high school senior asked Romney what he would do as President to confront rising college costs.  The student was worried, and rightly so.  College loan debt now exceeds credit card debt in this country, and we’re talking in trillions now.
Mitt listened to the question and then offered the youngster a free education on severe conservatism.

“It would be popular for me to stand up and say I’m going to give you government money to pay for your college, but I’m not going to promise that.  Don’t just go to one that has the highest price. Go to one that has a little lower price where you can get a good education. And hopefully you’ll find that. And don’t expect the government to forgive the debt that you take on.”

This view is woefully simplistic, but sufficiently severe.  No wonder the popular wisdom says that Romney is out of touch.  Shopping for a college education isn’t like shopping for a car.  You can’t find a reliable, previously owned college education on Craigslist with the closing line on the ad, “Make me an offer to attend my college.”      

All the colleges are expensive.   Since 1980, the cost of public universities (the kind that 80% of students attend), adjusted for inflation, has tripled.   State support for public colleges and universities has fallen by about 26 percent per full-time student in that time.  The difference is shouldered by students and their families.  If Romney’s reasoning is that the market has determined that college is only for the wealthy in America, well, I might counter by saying that his vision represents a threat to our national security – our national economic security.   

A country with fewer college graduates is a threat to our long term survival as an economic superpower.  More and more jobs in the knowledge economy require an advanced degree, and students in other nations are getting them.  Once the workforce in China or India becomes the workforce with the higher level of education, it won’t be manual labor jobs that become outsourced in droves.  It will be all the high paying jobs that require a level of academic and scientific expertise that our kids cannot afford to attain.

Adding insult to injury, many of these foreign nationals gain their degrees right here, and then promptly skip the after party and take their sheepskin back home.  So when I say that Mitt’s view that students just “shop for a cheaper option” is simplistic, this is what I mean. 

The other message that came through loud and clear was that the myth of the “ruggedly self-reliant American” is part of Mitt’s core belief system and messaging.  It does not take a village in Romney’s America.  It takes hard work and individualism, but a trust fund to pay for college would help.  I’ll bet you $10,000 that Romney didn’t need to navigate the student loan process while earning his 2 Harvard degrees.

On the bright side, Romney didn’t warn the student that his dream of college made him a “snob” or that his attendance at college would doom him to a life within the cult of liberalism that celebrates such evil ideas as “diversity” and “interdependence”.  By omitting this, he must be pivoting to the left to earn the support of independent voters.  Welcome, kinder and gentler Mitt.

Yesterday, the pivot continued and Romney publicly supported a socialist, anti-colonial Kenyan fiscal plan to address spiraling interest rates on outstanding student loan balances.  Romney agreed with Obama that Congress should extend the student loan interest rate cut enacted in 2007 which is due to expire at the end of the year.  This will prevent a scheduled doubling of the rate.  I guess during the general election campaign, Romney can help Americans with the college debt they voluntarily accepted, which is infinitely better than employing the Bain Capital strategy of declaring bankruptcy and walking away.

Maybe he is evolving in his thinking and sees the value to our national health of a post-college life without the stranglehold of debt.  Maybe not, though.  Romney will not back away from the student aid cuts included in the Paul Ryan’s budget.  These cuts will help those who will now be unable to attend college in this country learn the “dignity of work” in a low wage laborer position while living in their parent’s basement, the same way Mitt learned the value of a dollar.

No, college shouldn’t be free, but if you ignore the high societal cost that we are now experiencing because of college tuition costs and high student loan costs then you are missing the big picture…and an opportunity to address something that could lead to long term national economic stability.

Without a plan from our next President, here’s what we can expect – college prices will continue to rise, students will take out bigger and bigger loans, student debt will starve spending and investment, and fewer and fewer people will get a college education.  Jobs and wages will be outsourced and our position as world leader will be a historical footnote.  That does not describe “Morning in America” to me. 

Obama for his part is talking about the issue as a national problem as opposed to a personal failing of lazy selfish students, and for that, he gets more credit than Romney.  In the State of the Union, he threatened to withhold federal dollars from colleges that do not get control of their skyrocketing tuition costs.  Student loan assistance was included in the stimulus bill.  Frankly, these efforts by themselves will not solve the larger problem, and there is still a meaningful debate to take place about the role of state versus federal educational support (probably require some balance of both), but that will not happen until after November, if at all.

What we need is a War on Under-Education...or a War on Tuition…anything other than a War on Women or Dogs or Singing Styles.  That would be smart.  I hope a real discussion happens within the next 2 years, before that first invoice arrives at my door.

If not, it’s the University of Craigslist.  Wonder if they have a football team…

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Spring Cleaning

My posting ideas are much like spring bulbs in the garden. Many are planted, and not all come to flower. My loyal critics might say that these seedlings of ideas are not provided enough of my brand of fertilizer to grow into a fully formed blog post, but I prefer to think that there was enough time in the day for me to apply the proper level of sunshine to the ideas. Today I try to change that.

Here are a few of the half-baked thoughts that have been underground for too long. Let’s see what some water, sunshine and fertilizer can do:

Red Storm Rising

Republican Rep. Allen West of Florida says that we have 78-81 members of the Communist Party currently serving in Congress. He made this statement to dramatize that he believes that members of the Democratic Congressional Progressive Caucus “oppose free markets” and “oppose individual economic freedom”. He did not elaborate on these claims but I think he meant that the Democrats in this caucus support financial regulatory tightening (necessary, by the way, although we could argue the specifics but not the need), and the individual mandate included in the Affordable Care Act (previously considered support for individual responsibility by Republicans who first proposed the mandate).

I guess if we disagree with Congressman West on these issues, we are Communists, and Communists are traitors to their country. I’m sorry, which party is seeking to divide Americans?

High Comedy and Misdirections

Republican Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri told a crowd at one of his town hall meetings that the reason the Congress hasn’t moved forward with impeachment proceedings on President Obama is because they don’t have the votes. He made no mention of any specific high crimes or misdemeanors that would be brought as charges. I will assume that Obama's affiliation with the Democratic Party is enough evidence for Congressman Akin that our President is a traitor (see Red Storm Rising, above).

Responding to an impeachment question from the crowd, he said, “That’s a good question. I can’t speak for the other 400 and some congressmen, but I believe when they take a look at impeachment the question is do you have the votes to do it and, if you do it, it goes to the Senate, what’s going to happen with Harry Reid?”

So to Akin, it isn’t a case that there is no case for impeachment. It’s that boogeyman Harry Reid will stand in the path of justice. I think Obama might not carry his district in November.

Ye Reap What Ye Sow

During the primaries, right leaning talking heads claimed that the campaign dialogue has been hijacked by the national media obsessed with extreme, divisive social issues, all because those coastal elites want Obama to be reelected.

Let’s deconstruct this just a little.

The GOP - a party that has been pandering to right wing Christian fundamentalists for votes for 30+ years - is alarmed at what their party has become on social issues? Umm...excuse me, this IS your party. It's who you are, it's what you believe.

For the last few months, Republicans stared down the real possibility that Rick Santorum could snatch the presidential nomination away from Mitt Romney and with it any idea that they could mount serious opposition to President Obama in the fall. This was not an elitist plot against the GOP. This is the result of the seeds they have been planting and cultivating.

Leadership in Action

A recent excerpt from my friend and blogger Steve Benen, discussing Romney’s habit of equivocating on issues:

This happens quite a bit, doesn’t it? Romney has opinions about gay rights, but he’s afraid to state his position on North Carolina’s anti-gay ballot measure, even when he’s in North Carolina. He has opinions about civility and the public discourse, but he lacks the courage to criticize Rush Limbaugh or Ted Nugent. Romney has opinions on abortion rights, but he was afraid to say what he thought about the “personhood” amendment in Mississippi earlier this year. He has opinions about immigration policy, but he lacks the courage to explain in detail how he’d handle undocumented immigrants who are already living in the United States. He has opinions about the budget, but he’s afraid to go into detail to explain how he’d pay for his agenda.

And now Romney supports a Violence Against Women Act, but he won’t say whether he backs the Violence Against Women Act.

The American electorate can tolerate quite a bit, but no one respects a coward.

Romney could be doing his own version of Pelosi's "if you want to know what's in the bill, you need to vote for the bill."  If you want to know what Romney will support or denounce, you'll have to vote for him first.

Romney Pledges No Vacations If Elected

Mitt Romney has gone to a favorite campaign well. It comes up every 4 years regardless of who is in the White House. The Democrats loved to hammer George W. on his excessive leisure time (he was in Texas for 5 weeks before September 11th). Mitt thinks Obama plays too much golf.

“I must say I scratch my head at the capacity of the president to take four hours off on such a regular basis to go golfing,” Romney said, “I would think you could kind of suck it up for four years, particularly when the American people are out of work.”

I do marvel at the capacity of the GOP to attack Obama for either side of every issue. He takes too much vacation; he is working every day to destroy our freedoms. He is a Muslim; he spent 20 years in a Christian church listening to his radical minister. He wants to raise more taxes; he won’t support raising taxes on 47% of Americans. "We promise bold, decisive action"; "We reject Obama’s bold, decisive overreaching." The markets needs certainty; elect us, and we’ll change everything. It’s really quite amazing.

If you win in November, Mitt, I look forward to your version of “sucking it up for four years”.


As we slide towards the abyss of the fall election campaign, Obama has several areas of potential weakness. He’s cool and aloof. Gas prices are going up. He can’t go right on the basketball court, or on energy issues. Joe Biden may yet say something that becomes an SNL special.

One area where the President has had few critics is his role as father. Barack, Michelle, Malia and Sasha appear to be a well-adjusted American family (with anti-colonial Kenyan roots, of course). The policies of the President can be attacked as anti-family by the Far Right. It would not stick if the Far Right attacked Obama’s personal family values. By all accounts, he isn’t a serial philanderer like Slick Willie, and his kids don’t revel in giving the press the finger, like Jenna Bush.

Rick Santorum said President Obama set a bad example and potentially endangered American tourists by letting his daughter Malia go to Mexico on a spring break vacation. Santorum told Glenn Beck that an American president should not send his own family into the area given State Department travel warnings for Mexico.

“What I would say is that the president’s actions should reflect what his administration is saying. If the administration is saying that it’s not safe to have people down there, then just because you can send 25 Secret Service agents doesn’t mean you should do it. You should set an example. I think that’s what presidents do. They set an example. And when the government is saying this is not safe, then you don’t set the example by sending your kids down there.”

Unfortunately for Santorum, Glenn Beck’s own website confirmed that there were no travel restrictions from the State Department for the First Daughter’s vacation destination. I would also add that this might fall under the category of the parents deciding what is best for their own children. Santorum used to support that…until Obama did it, then it had to be wrong.

See? All I need was a little fertilizer and look at what I have grown!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Penny Wise

In 1998, my oldest daughter, at the tender age of 2 ½, swallowed a penny.  She was playing under the kitchen table, found the coin, and wondered what it would taste like.  Before we knew it, that one cent was a midday snack.  Fortunately, we found the penny, albeit after its natural journey through her body, and she was no worse for wear.  The penny also survived intact.  The story had a happy ending at a net cost of only one cent (we did not harvest the penny).

Little did I know at the time that the seed of a potential future political liability for my child had been ingested that day.

Imagine that Marra, the one who accompanied me to the New Hampshire primaries in 2007, the one who shook hands with Rudy, Huck and Hillary, is eventually bitten by the political bug and runs for office.  She rightly chastises her opponent during the campaign for advocating excessive tax breaks for the wealthiest constituents who also happen to be her competitor’s major financial donors.  Marra describes the appearance of trading campaign contributions for favorable tax breaks as anti-free market.  Her opponent responds that Marra hates capitalism, and uses the coin swallowing story as an example.  “Only someone who hated money and all the success it represents would actually eat it.”

This is the “Obama-ate-dog-as-a-6-year-old” story in a nutshell.

For those who are mercifully not yet paying attention, the GOP has responded to Democrats who have pushed the “Romney-puts-his-dog-in-a-crate-on-the-roof-of-the-car-for-long-trips” story by changing the subject to the fact that as a child in Indonesia, Obama was served and consumed some kind of canine meat.  So there.  Romney hates puppies because he straps them to the roof of the car for his convenience; Obama hates puppies more because he eats them for his sustenance.  Eating Lassie trumps crating Lassie on the roof every day of the week.

Clearly the national discourse has gone to the dogs when serious matters of taxation, deficits, economic growth and social policy are drowned out by animal stories.  This should not be surprising.  We spend billions annually on our pets, buying our four legged companions all manner of beds, blankets, chew toys, foam reindeer antlers and college team sweaters.  As you know, the most popular commercials during every Super Bowl telecast use animals – monkeys, dogs, cats, cheetahs.   These animals are typically cute, sometimes fuzzy, and always non-partisan – until now.

The dog stories live not because we love silly animal stories, although that is partly true.  Ask Disney.  The dog stories live because they fit into the evolving narrative about the candidates and complement the caricatures we have created through cable news anchors and late night comedians:

·         Romney is an emotionless robot, as likely as not to respond to a hypothetical debate question about spousal rape with Dukakis-like disengagement, demonstrating the depth of feeling of a shallow career technocrat.  He is so unfeeling and so out-of-touch that he would strap his own family pet to the roof of his car in a crate for a 10 hour trip.

·         Obama is an otherworldly stranger with a strange name, so foreign to us patriotic ‘hot’ dog eating Americans that he cannot be trusted to defend us from extinction as a free society.  He is so different and mysterious that he would willingly eat man’s best friend.

Wouldn’t it be sad if these stories moved public opinion polls about each candidate?  Obama and Romney both have enough assets and liabilities in the public square without resorting to dog tales to judge their relative fitness for President.  The stories about their policy positions are not as fun but they could be more instructive when we head into a voting booth this November.

The penny swallowing story will stick to my daughter, the future candidate, if she has been defined by her opposition as indifferent to money.  That could be an easy narrative if the oppo research reviews this blog.  Yesterday while doing laundry, I found $10 in her pants pocket.  She obviously forgot about it.  She might just as well have eaten that $10, although a paper $10 would be much harder to retrieve after its metabolic journey.  Poor Alexander Hamilton!  My teenager obviously hates money or at least is indifferent to financial success (actually, it could be argued that she is actively working against MY financial success, but that is a topic for another day).

The more I recount these innocent little stories, the less likely she is to ever be elected in this country.  She swallowed a penny at the age of 2 ½, she left $10 in her pants’ pocket, and she is now disqualified from a future in public service.  Now you know another reason why we’ll never own a dog.  Think of the unanticipated political repercussions if she somehow accidentally stepped on his tail. 
My readership is well aware of the propaganda that I am pouring into my children every day.  Therefore, half the country is disappointed that my daughter can never hold elective office; the other half is elated.  That’s where we stand 6 months before Election Day 2012.  Where will we be in 2024 when that Virginia Senate seat is there for her taking?

Penny for your thoughts.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Teachable Moment

Like many of those in my peer group, turning 50 this year had me thinking about the Bucket List.  Unlike many of those in my peer group, my List was rather pedestrian.  No scaling K2 or swimming the English Channel for me.  Those sounded hard, and frankly, a little desperate.  I had things on my List that I could enjoy a beer while doing.  In life, you need to learn to prioritize. 

Near the top of the List was the desire to reach out to a few folks and let them know how much I appreciated their positive impact on my life to date.  Grandparents always preach the value of a well written and timely thank you note, and I now recognize that this is sound advice.  I am not finished the task as the list of folks is long, but I am gratified that I have gotten started.  A journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step, or something like that.  More accurately, the journey begins with a fair helping of dread.  1,000 miles is pretty far.

For many years, I have had on my List to drop a note to one of my former teachers and thank him.  It should have been easy, but the sirens song of procrastination was too attractive.  Finally, I tuned out the song and I wrote. 

The note is below.  I share this in the hopes that one of you, or all of you, will be inspired to do the same.  Teachers can and do make a difference, often years after we have left their classrooms.  From time to time, we should let those teachers know how the ripple they created changed someone’s world, or maybe the whole world:

Mr. Maier,

I had the pleasure of taking your class during my Senior year at CBA in 1979-1980.  While it is unlikely that you remember me, I do remember you and everything I learned in your class about writing an essay.  I wanted to take a moment to thank you because the lessons I learned from you 32 years ago have helped me throughout my career.

As you are no doubt aware, effective writing is becoming a lost art form.  Fewer Americans are entering the workforce with the ability to write a persuasive essay, or even the ability to string together a series of related ideas.  Thanks to your class, I knew that a good essay opened with a general idea that funnels to a specific thesis statement.  I knew that I needed three supporting ideas for my thesis.  I knew that an effective closing paragraph restated the thesis and expanded back to my general idea.  Thanks to your class, I could write. 

I have procrastinated writing this brief note to you for one simple reason.  I knew in my heart of hearts that whatever I wrote would be graded.  I feared that my note would not be well written, or that you would notice grammatical errors that I had overlooked.  Then I remembered two things.  First, I already graduated and my CBA diploma cannot be revoked because of one poorly constructed email written 32 years after graduation.  Second, letting you know that you impacted a former student’s life in a positive manner is more important than my fear of failure.

I hope this note finds you well.  Thanks again for being a teacher that matters.

Joe Sherrier

I am happy to report that Mr. Maier (I’m 50 – can I call him Bob yet?) responded:


It is very good to here from you.  I appreciate your kind remarks.  I'm sure you realize that teaching is one of those professions where what you do is rarely appreciated at the time you do it.  But it's always satisfying to here from someone who recognizes the value of a good education. 

If you are ever in the area, stop by and say hello.  By the way, I'd give your message a solid A.  Thanks again.

Bob Maier

I did not anticipate how good hearing the response would be.  It was certainly not the driver of my decision to write to Mr. Maier, but it was definitely a nice side benefit.  Perhaps my note caused a positive ripple somewhere. 

I feel better that I can cross this project off my List.  I hope you will accept my challenge and do the same.  Drop a thank you note to a former teacher.  Now, it’s time to attack the next item on my List – watch the original movie version of The Manchurian Candidate.  I can have a beer while accomplishing that.

999 miles to go. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Dog Bites Man

In the business of political endorsements, I have written that very few carry any real weight or influence with the electorate.  Ted Kennedy’s early endorsement of Obama helped him, as did Chris Christie’s early endorsement of Romney.  Beyond a few powerful outliers, however, most endorsements are meaningful only to a few inside the Beltway pundits and lonely bloggers who live in their parents’ basement.  Republicans eventually endorse their nominee and Democrats do the same.  As David Putty once deadpanned, “You gotta support the team”, although you do not need to become a face painter to prove your partisan loyalty.  You just need to release a public statement.

This season, there is one pending endorsement that has those who do not inhabit the insular world of political operatives all atwitter.  Everyone has been patiently waiting to hear from Seamus, the Romney family Irish setter that has become famous for his 10 hour ride atop the Romney station wagon during a 1983 vacation trip.  Seamus knows Mitt Romney and the Romney family in a particularly intimate way, having slept at the foot of the bed for years.  His opinion on the presumptive nominee’s fitness for office has a vote value that a Congressional or celebrity endorsement could never hope to match.

After much coaxing, Seamus is ready to speak.  Today, MSRP has fought its way to the top of the media dog pile and obtained the first copy of Seamus’ imminent press release regarding his position on the Romney candidacy:

I can no longer remain muzzled.

I have been dogged with questions about my relationship with the Romney family, and reporters have been sniffing around for weeks for answers.  Today, I unleash the truth.

To begin, I must regretfully withhold my endorsement of Mitt Romney for President of the United States, and I will outline my reasons. 
He cannot lead.  The Mitt Romney I know is demeaning to others and does not maximize their capabilities.  He would bark a variety of contradictory commands at me and demand that I refer to him as “Master”.  His leadership style was at best inconsistent, at worst, indicative of a man without full control of his mental faculties.  One minute, he’d shout “Sit”, then “Stay” then “Come”.  Despite my most enthusiastic efforts, he offered no positive reinforcement beyond the occasional Snausage treat which frankly, tasted awful.  As one of his loyal followers, I could only run mindlessly in circles and chase my tail.  Needless to say, nothing ever got accomplished.  How could such a man inspire confidence at a Cabinet meeting if all he can muster are one word contradictory orders?

If my treatment is any indication of how he plans to approach the housing crisis in this country, we should all curl up in the corner on a frayed piece of carpet and chew on a penny loafer.  The American dream of the middle class family is a nice home in the suburbs.  Well, Middle America, how would you like living in one of Romney’s dream houses like I did?  My slum house had no front door, no insulation, no indoor plumbing, and dirt floors.  It was surrounded by a chain link fence.  I had to go to the bathroom out of doors like an animal.  This is a peek at Romney’s Third World American nightmare.

On social issues, it is Romney who has learned the art of rolling over.  Mitt Romney may say he is pro-life today, but I have the medical records to prove that his position “evolved” too late to save my manhood.  It was Mr. Romney who signed the order for my castration as an innocent pup.   Thanks to Romney’s shameless drive to reduce the surplus population and minimize future expenses, my God-given ability for procreation was snuffed out.  I now sniff the backsides of other dogs without the hope of offspring.  He may appear pro-family with his Mormon values, but the callous elimination of my dog bone is evidence that under the cloak of family privacy, he acts anti-litter.  The best you can say is that he clearly favors a Cut and Cap plan, and I am the victim of that policy prescription.

Romney’s economic policies are no better.  I was as close to Mr. Romney as any man, and yet I can say without reservation that none of his wealth ever trickled down to me.  I was relegated to begging for scraps from his table, and I fear that his fiscal policies will force America’s poor to do the same.  If he were to be elected and follow through on his promise to pursue the Ryan budget, it will be the voters who will be forced to knock over kitchen trash cans for sustenance.  It will be the voters who will be forced to gnaw on sticks for nutrition.  Like me, you’ll be forced to accept only those handouts that the Master deems necessary to keep you obedient.  This is not my America.  What are we, German shepherds?  Heil, Herr Romney?

I know that it has been said that I loved long trips strapped inside a box on top of the family car.  This is just another example of Romney believing that separate but equal facilities are acceptable for travel.  Paging Rosa Parks!  She would not move to the back of the bus, and I should not have been forced to the top of the car.  Romney didn’t stop there – he forced me to drink from a different water foundation than the rest of the family.  Discrimination is ugly in all of its forms, but Mitt Romney does not agree.  He treated me as less than human, and that is wrong. 
Don’t be fooled by his soft tones and the playful melodic cadence of his voice on the stump.  Don’t allow a few patronizing scratches behind the ears distract you.  Four years of Mitt Romney will trap Americans behind an invisible fence that will separate you from freedom indefinitely. 
Every dog has his day.  Today is mine.  I cannot endorse man who rubbed my nose in my own poop to “teach me a lesson”, no matter how many milk bones he offers me.  I will not be bought, although after this hits the press, I might be sold. 

This Country’s Best Friend