Friday, September 20, 2013

The Sunshine State

Ed Note:  Welcome to sunny Florida--the home base for Wordsmith Wars.  Our governor is a probable unindicted co-conspirator in the largest Medicare fraud in US history and our uninsured, just in this state, would fill a medium-sized nation. Florida is one of the 50 states the World Health Organization ranks down at thirty-seventh in quality of health care. 37th.
A S Prisant

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Blocking Health Care Reform in Florida

Published: September 19, 2013   

Florida’s destructive efforts to sabotage health care reform has drawn a much-needed response from the Obama administration. Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, has been visiting the state to encourage private groups to help residents understand what insurance policies and federal subsidies will be available to them when the enrollment period opens Oct. 1. 
"I am Obamacare. I'm 34 and my
 job does not provide benefits or 
health insurance. I was in pain
for days and went to the ER. I
discovered my uterus was full of
tumors. I couldn't pay for the surgery and because it was now a "pre-existing condition"  insurance
companies would (and did!) turn
me down for coverage.  But because
President Obama passed health care
reform I was able to get health 
insurance and the surgery I needed to get well.  Thank you President Obama for helping me live."
 Florida has been shameless in attempting to destroy what top officials call “Obamacare,” with tactics that will deprive its own poor and middle-income citizens of the benefits of the national reform law. Although almost 25 percent of Florida’s population, or 3.8 million people, are uninsured, the state declined to expand its Medicaid program to cover more low-income residents despite extremely generous federal matching grants to pay for such expansions. And it refused to set up its own health care exchange, leaving that job to the federal government.

A few months ago, the Republican-dominated Legislature and Republican governor stripped the state insurance commissioner’s office of its broad powers to hold down premium increases to affordable levels.    
In the latest outrage, the state Department of Health on Sept. 9 ordered some 60 county health agencies, whose clinics treat large numbers of poor and uninsured people, to bar from their premises counselors, or “navigators,” seeking to inform people how to enroll in insurance plans and get subsidies under the health reform law. The department claimed this edict was consistent with its general policy of preventing outsiders from using county property for their own purposes and protecting individuals’ privacy. But the main goal was to keep counselors away from people apt to enroll in the health exchange. 
Ms. Sebelius has awarded almost $8 million in grants to Florida organizations to hire and train outreach workers and another $8 million to community health centers for the same purpose. Businesses like CVS Caremark, Florida Blue and insurance brokers are also mounting campaigns to inform Florida residents about what the federal law provides. With the state government so adamantly obstructive, the success of health care reform in Florida will depend heavily on such private efforts.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Depression Year 6: The Shoe Finally Drops

By Alexander (Sandy) Prisant

(Reuters) - U.S. consumer sentiment ebbed in August and residential construction rose less than expected last month, potentially dimming (US economic) hopes…” (8/16/13)

The beginning was 5 1/2 years ago. It was January 2008. And it was Chicken Little's Moment.  The sky was actually falling. 

One morning on the radio, they indifferently reported that in the middle of the night, the Federal Reserve, in conjunction with Europe had cut interest rates a whopping two (2) percent "to stabilize global markets".  Two Percent. In the middle of the night.

My wife Susan and I were in South Florida, seeking a home for retirement.  We looked at each other across coffee in bed, with wide eyes.  We're just writers and teachers and like good interior design.  We're not economists.

"This sounds like a Depression, " I said. Susan nodded. We talked about ramifications. The first would be the huge real estate bubble in the middle of which we were sitting. It would collapse just as we were buying.

 We drove to our agents, Coldwell Banker. Susan went in and sat down with the manager. She explained In basic terms about the Fed and what was about to happen and that real estate prices would go first.   The agent rejected every word of it. "South Florida prices" she declared,"  are very strong and will not drop."  We never talked to Coldwell Banker again.

One university defines a Depression as: "a severe and prolonged downturn in economic activity... a depression is commonly defined as an extreme recession that lasts two or more years...(it) is characterized by factors such substantial increases in uemployment, a drop in available credit, diminishing output, bankruptcies, sovereign debt defaults and reduced trade and commerce..."

 Does this sound like the country you're living in?

 A noted economist confirms: "A depression is a sustained and severe recession. Where a recession is a normal part of the business cycle, lasting for a period of months, a depression is an extreme fall in economic activity lasting for a number of years...some economists believe a depression encompasses only the period plagued by declining economic activity. Other economists, however, argue that the depression continues up until the point that most economic activity has returned to normal."

 Bottom Line: We are year #6 of a Depression.
·         A smaller percentage of the population  is working today than in the frightening days of 2009 (59% to 64%)

        At current growth rates, employment will not come back to "normal" until between 2020 and 2025.

       In the July 2013 jobs reports, over 60% of jobs created were in those positions classified as "the lowest paying jobs"

         The UN Industrial Development Organization reports "a sharp fall in production in North American in this period."

And yet only now is the White House grasping this is NOT another cyclical,short recession, but an upheaval requiring structural change to rebuild the economy. Reports are they are thinking about this only now. In Year  #6 of this Depression.

David Brooks of The New York Times, notes  " We have politicians talking about very small fixes to enormous problems that are structural."

No one is being more honest than Mr Brooks.  He is talking about the need to create new economic engines. About transforming the workforce and the way we work--not just one or two retraining courses.

He suggests:

"Part of the problem has to do with structural changes in the economy.  Sectors like manufacturing, agriculture and energy have been getting more productive, but they have not been generating more jobs. Instead, companies are using machines or foreign workers.

 "This is a big problem. It can’t be addressed through the sort of short-term Keynesian stimulus some on the left are still fantasizing about. It can’t be solved by simply reducing the size of government, as some on the right imagine. “

 You won't hear a single politician talk like this. Or about this. The White House, only now, is beginning to THINK about this. But this, dear reader, is the huge challenge we are facing for years to come.

 Beginning in Year #6 of this Depression.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The ObamaTest: Is It Too Soon To Grade Him?

By Sandy Prisant
 The other day, President Barack Obama travelled halfway cross the country to give what the White house billed as a seminal speech. It was on what the President calls his "priority issue"--economic equality.  
It is a subject he speaks about eloquently,yet there is nary a blip on the policy radar from his Administration in five years. Will we ever see real action on this one?
The week before, he spoke poignantly about thought-provoking issues of race. Thought- provoking, but unlikely to lead to policy-making.
The week before that it became clear that the Affordable Care Act is not yet fully funded, most states have not opted in and there is no public sign ObamaCare is logistically ready to sign up millions of Americans starting in just three months.
Two weeks before that he used Europe as a backdrop to make important remarks on slashing nuclear arsenals. There has been no follow-up on that one either. And none is in sight.
And in not one of those weeks, nor the 225 weeks before it, have we seen a single new Presidential initiative that actually created the single absolute priority for almost all Americans--jobs. Even one job.

Yes, Obama saved jobs in Detroit.  But we have 17 million actual people with no work for years and years. Politicians talk about them every day. But none of them have devised and implemented a program to create one brand new job.
As we enter the last 24 meaningful months of Obama's Time, are we seeing the true legacy of this Administration?  
In the face of a preposterous House of Representatives which seem able to direct the whole government in ways Democratic-controlled Houses never could, has Obama left the legislative playing field, to fall back on his strength?
Are we being left with the neophyte persona we saw with great hope five years ago?  Is he now and will he be ever known as Obama The Speechifier??
When we entered this post-Tech Depression in 2007, it seemed obvious Obama could look to FDR's tool kit from the last Depression and possibly pick out a WPA or a CCC, modify it and get something done. Granted, FDR could work with Congress. But in 2008 there was a wholly Democratic congress.
By now we're wondering: has policy given way to prose?  And even there we see a bully pulpit which doesn't seem effective for immigration reform, gun control or even the Affordable Care Act.
Instead it feels like we're being distracted. By some oratory here. A new initiative there. All of it left to lay fallow by an Administration that can't get government out of neutral.
As we start to form the Obama Legacy, this futility may be replacing  hope in this nation. At a time it needs the latter much more. Especially those 17 million.