Free Forum Friday February 25 Edition

What a week. The Facebook rebellion continues in the Middle East as it now looks like Libyans are finally going to overthrow Moammar el-Gadhafi. Could Iran be far behind?

Punk'd

Here in America, the Wisconsin protests took a strange turn as Governor Scott Walker was punk’d by a blogger posing as billionaire David Koch into divulging his ulterior motives behind breaking the unions. Protesters still fill the state Capitol while the Governor sent state troopers out, once again unsuccessfully, to find some of the Wisconsin 14 who had reportedly snuck back in the state to get fresh clothes. Tomorrow, solidarity rallies will be held in state Capitols across the nation.

Congressional Republicans have been working overtime to cut spending on everything in sight including Public Broadcasting, Planned Parenthood, and of course, defunding health care in another game of chicken. The stakes? A shutdown of the Government by March 4th. And it’s 1995 all over again. How’d that work out then?

It’s Free Forum Friday. Let your fingers do the talking.

Free Forum Fridays are an open discussion where commenters are invited to bring up topics that may not have been covered in the previous week. Got something on your mind? Throw your opinion out there.

About Mr. Universe

Mr. Universe is a musician/songwriter and an ex-patriot of the south. He currently lives and teaches at a University in the Pacific Northwest. He is a long distance hiker who has hiked the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. He is also an author and woodworker. An outspoken political voice, he takes a decidedly liberal stance in politics.
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90 Responses to Free Forum Friday February 25 Edition

  1. Here’s to hoping a govt shutdown actually happens. People actually like govt services and don’t notice them until they are gone. Maybe this will show that maybe we should look for ways to PAY for these services as opposed to just cutting them entirely.

  2. Mr. Universe says:

    @evibe

    Happened the first time around. The schoolyard bullies paid a hefty price for it. I don’t expect the results to be any different this time.

  3. Mr. Universe says:

    Britain reportedly to freeze Gadhafi’s assets worth billions.

  4. Monotreme says:

    Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) continues to win friends and influence people.

    http://n.pr/hTpz1h

  5. rgbact says:

    Hefty price? Like? Holding the House for 11 more years? Keep pushing the myth.

    Go shutdown! Unions in WI are agreeing to cutbacks, Dems in DC can’t find a nickel to cut. They simply are not a serious group of politicians and the voters know it.

  6. Gator says:

    Treme

    What should he have done? The article said he essentially ignored it and continued to speak. It also said the Secret Service interviewed the person who asked the question and that they were elderly and regretted having made a bad joke. So what should he have done? Censured this elderly person in front of a crowd? Or ignored the boorish remark and move on?

    I don’t know who this legislator is, but I think it is ridiculous to hold anyone responsible for what an audience member/constituent says at a public forum.

  7. rgbact,
    Nice to see you here today. We have some unfinished business.

    Big govts have always been in favor of loose money…Loose money is also a hallmark of progressivism.

    I asked you before, and you have yet to answer. What do you define as “loose money,” and what examples can you point to of its application in American economic history?

    You also have come out against the Federal Reserve more than once. So I’ll ask you again: what is wrong with the Fed?

    I would agree to Cap and Trade if we could scrap Obamacare/get real entitlement reform.

    What are your objections to PPACA? What would you like to see in its place? And what sort of “entitlement reform” are you looking for?

    I want higher rates cuz I want people to stop borrowing money they can’t afford to pay back.

    What is the relationship you see between higher interest rates and people taking out loans that they can’t afford? What is the mechanism by which you believe the higher rates would prevent such lending in the future?

    And to today’s comment:

    Hefty price? Like?

    The first thing that comes to my mind is the end of Newt Gingrich’s career in the House (and probably in elected office).

  8. mclever says:

    Vote on the union busting bill held in the Wisconsin Assembly at 1AM, and roll only held open for a few seconds. It happened so quickly that only about a dozen Democrats even realized there was a vote.

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110225/ap_on_re_us/us_wisconsin_budget_unions

    Debate had gone on for 60 hours and 15 Democrats were still waiting to speak when the vote started around 1 a.m. Friday. Speaker Pro Tem Bill Kramer, R-Waukesha, opened the roll and closed it within seconds.

    Democrats looked around, bewildered. Only 13 of the 38 Democratic members managed to vote in time.

    Republicans immediately marched out of the chamber in single file.

    I guess that counts as quorum, and the Dems that didn’t get their vote in during the few seconds that voting was open go down as Abstentions?

  9. mclever says:

    There’s an axiom in Political Science that whoever controls the Agenda for a deliberative body has the power (assuming they know what they’re doing).

    Guess so.

  10. mclever says:

    @Michael

    What is the relationship you see between higher interest rates and people taking out loans that they can’t afford? What is the mechanism by which you believe the higher rates would prevent such lending in the future?

    I’m curious about this one, too. Because from what I can tell, 40% rates don’t keep high-risk borrowers from borrowing. How high does he think the rates need to go to stop someone from taking out a bad loan?

  11. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    Someone correct me if I’m mistaken, but:

    Isn’t it the LENDER’S money?

    Does not the LENDER run a credit check on potential borrowers?

    Doesn’t the LENDER set the terms of a loan, particularly in the case of subprimes?

    Cannot the LENDER refuse to issue a loan, pretty much for any reason they wish?

    If a LENDER let’s their greed cause them to lend money to questionable borrowers, how is that the BORROWERS fault?

    Thanks

  12. rgbact says:

    Hello MW-

    1) By loose money I mean easy credit and essentially money being created out of thin air. This favors debtors (like govt) or leveragers (like banks) and hurts savers. I realize we need a flexible money supply, but it would be great to create a system that wasn’t so easily manipulated by the elites.

    2) PPACA does little to lower cost—which unless we get a handle on, makes everything esle moot. I realize we need compromise, so I’m willing to give in on cap+trade (which at least is only a one time cost) to address the open ended cost of Medicare/PPACA. On Soc Sec, ideas like a “lock box” or a separate system for white/blue collar workers sound interesting. Anything to make it sound.

    3) Leverage. If a bank/homebuyer can borrow at low rates and reinvest in an asset/business–its to their advantage to overleverage themelves. If rates are higher, all of a sudden they need to make sure their reinvestment is more solid.

    4) Overall, the GOP dominated the late 90′s. Pushing out Newt was a dumb move. Gave us Bush/Hastert.

  13. rgbact,

    By loose money I mean easy credit and essentially money being created out of thin air.

    OK, let’s start with “easy credit.” What do you mean by that term? Please supply some examples of instances where the government has made that happen.

    As for money “being created out of thin air,” I’m really confused. In what was has money been “created out of thin air?” I’m beginning to suspect that you’ve heard a lot of terms and think you know what they mean, but they don’t mean what you think.

    PPACA does little to lower cost—which unless we get a handle on, makes everything esle moot.

    It doesn’t make everything else moot, but it does sidestep a significant issue. So what do you think needs to be done to change the rate of growth in health care costs?

    On Soc Sec, ideas like a “lock box” or a separate system for white/blue collar workers sound interesting.

    What is this “lock box,” and how do you consider it different from what we have today? What would a separate system for white and blue collar workers look like, and why would the two need different systems?

    If a bank/homebuyer can borrow at low rates and reinvest in an asset/business–its to their advantage to overleverage themelves. If rates are higher, all of a sudden they need to make sure their reinvestment is more solid.

    So your issue is that people take out mortgages to finance starting businesses?

    As for banks borrowing at low rates, clearly the real world doesn’t match your beliefs. Interest rates are at their lowest rates since World War II, and yet banks are exceptionally tight with their lending. Perhaps you should rethink your understanding of how it works.

    Overall, the GOP dominated the late 90′s. Pushing out Newt was a dumb move. Gave us Bush/Hastert.

    Do you remember what was going on at the time?

  14. Max,

    Isn’t it the LENDER’S money?

    Yes.

    Does not the LENDER run a credit check on potential borrowers?

    It’s their prerogative, but I don’t believe they’re required to.

    Doesn’t the LENDER set the terms of a loan, particularly in the case of subprimes?

    Within the confines of a number of regulations, yes.

    Cannot the LENDER refuse to issue a loan, pretty much for any reason they wish?

    Except for reasons having to do with race, color, religion, national origin, sex, handicap, or familial status.

  15. Monotreme says:

    Donald Rumsfeld refuses to confirm or deny that he is a lizard alien.

    http://tric.es/hNUfjU

  16. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    Michael,

    Given those answers to the first four questions, how would that reflect in an answer to the final, non-rhetorical, question?

  17. Monotreme says:

    Gator asks:

    I don’t know who this legislator is, but I think it is ridiculous to hold anyone responsible for what an audience member/constituent says at a public forum.

    I didn’t say I hold him responsible. Rep. Broun does have something of a history, however, of saying some pretty outrageous things about the President.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Broun#Comparisons_of_Barack_Obama_to_Hitler_and_Marxists

  18. Bartbuster says:

    Lewis CK should apologize for insulting lizard aliens.

  19. Mr. Universe says:

    @mclever

    whoever controls the Agenda for a deliberative body has the power

    Fair to say we can guess what was going down in the backrooms of the Republican Governor’s meeting recently.

  20. GROG says:

    Mr. U

    When will filli be back from vacation? I miss her.

  21. Mr. Universe says:

    @GROG

    She’s back. Settling in I presume.

  22. rgbact says:

    1) Suffice to say, govt has an interest in low interest rates as it can then borrow cheaply and it fosters economic activity (even if its based on lies) The Federal Reserve carries this policy out for govt. It has various tools for easing credit and increasing money supply, which I won’t review. A review of the Fed’s recent activity points to it doing just those things. The problem is if it tries to game the present, only to screw the future—-which is fairly common for politicians to do! Its complex, but can you at least admit that this system can be gamed by politicians?

    2) Healthcare–another complex one! I’d start with converting Medicare to a catastrophic policy and giving all Americans the same. Then tort reform and reducing the AMA’s control of doctor supply.

    3) Lockbox–Al Gore’s idea? Just some way to make it actuarially sound/contributions separated. 2 systems are to address the fact that white collar workers can worker longer and should have a higher opt-in age, as they’ll also live longer.

    4) Yes, lenders are responsible for bad loans. Its tough when govt is giving you every incentive to make bad loans.

    So, pick which entitlement reform you least hate and what you want in return. Is a deal possible this summer?

  23. dcpetterson says:

    rgbact
    I’m willing to give in on cap+trade (which at least is only a one time cost) to address the open ended cost of Medicare/PPACA.

    What is the relationship between cap & trade and Medicare/PPACA? Why do you link them?

    On Soc Sec, ideas like a “lock box” or a separate system for white/blue collar workers sound interesting. Anything to make it sound.

    Social Security is entirely solvent until 2037. We can make it solvent for at least a generation after that (without raising the retirement age, reducing benefits, or lowering COLAs) simply by removing the cap on contributions based on earned income. Problem solved.

  24. Max,
    The broader answer is too long for me to type into a mobile phone. I’ll respond later today.

  25. rgbact says:

    DC-

    Nothing magical about cap+trade. I’m just trying to foster a deal and am willing to accept a liberal goodie rather than just whine about people not liking my idea and have nothing get done.

    Soc Sec is not solvent. $17+ Trillion unfunded Liability.

  26. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    I love it when folks spit out “tort reform” as some kind of panacea for medical cost ills.

    rg, please define exactly what YOU would do if you were emperor in terms of tort reform.

    But before you do, answer how you would personally deal, under civil law, with a hospital in which your only son, who had just graduated from CalTech, died or infection from cross contamination. He was the latest in several deaths for the very same reason over the past 5 years. The hospital had been sued several times, but had settled with no “at fault” as part of the settlement. The hospital’s insurance company had paid for the settlement awards. Obviously, no corrections to procedures had been made. Please answer this one first, then your “solution”, in re: tort reform.

    Thanks

  27. Number Seven says:

    Why do I get the idea that actually happened. Hmmmm…

    The answer should be interesting.

  28. rgbact says:

    Max-

    I admit its not a panacea. Just a piece. Either way, most laws are at the state level, so I have a problem federalizing them. That said, if states adopted better laws, I think we could cut HC costs say 5%, based on my really rough estimate. I’d start with adopting “loser pays”….which I believe every other advanced country has.

  29. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    So, rg, did you spout out a term for which you have no real knowledge of it’s definition or impact?

    And how about that 2nd question?

  30. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    rg, give me a good faith effort. I agree in a need for some changes to the tort system. I’v even posted them here.

    You show me yours, and I’ll show you mine.

  31. rgbact says:

    Kathleen Parker fired off CNN. Ah, the revolving door. Actually tried watching this week. She was clearly out of her depth. Very lifeless even while discussing Libyan horrors and no chemistry with Spitzer. Was just thinking last night that she wouldn’t be around for long. Need more that a pretty face.

  32. rgbact says:

    Max, I’m not a lawyer–or an expert. The ideas are out there. Caps on non-economic damages. capping contingency fees, english rule, Some states have them already. Just saying, we shouldn’t laud other countries for universal coverage and then ignore their cost cutting measures. Its pretty hard to dispute the costs.

  33. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    Any reason you are avoiding the question about my hypothetical?

    Anyway, here’s my “tort reform”:

    TORT REFORM

    1) Every state and the federal law on civil suits would have to be under the legal doctrine of comparatory negligence, where every party in the suit, defendant AND plaintiff, would have their responsibility foe the damage determined and the award apportioned as a result. (So if there was an award of $1M, Defendant 1 was judged 50% responsible, defendant 2 10% and the plaintiff 40%, the plaintiff would only receive $600k, $500k from #1 and $100k from #2)

    2) This would call also for the elimination of the joint and several theory, where EVERY defendant could be responsible for ALL of an award if one (or more) could not pay. This would decrease adding everybody and their brother as defendant.

    3) Assets of defendants found liable would be frozen by the courts in the amount of 100% of the award on finding of judgment for plaintiff, PLUS estimated potential legal costs and potential interest, immediately on defendants filing of a notice of appeal of the original decision. Surety bonds would be allowed for a maximum of 50% of the individual defendant’s judgment.

    4) Plaintiffs attorney would be liable for all legal costs of any defendant found to be not at issue and court orders dropped before beginning of trial. Losing party will pay legal costs of prevailing party, up to the amount equal to the losing party’s legal costs.

  34. Monotreme says:

    Parker was a dead woman walking for some time. I remember that several months ago, before the end of the calendar year, that someone at CNN was leaking information indicating she was going to be axed. You can’t say she didn’t have any warning.

    I never watched the show, but I have always liked Parker’s columns, even when I disagreed with her, which was often. She’s a sharp and effective writer. It’s too bad that didn’t translate to TV.

  35. Monotreme says:

    @rgbact,

    IIRC, tort reform was expected to produce a 3% reduction in medical costs. I don’t have a cite, as I’m doing that from memory, but it’s close enough to your 5% estimate.

    Health care reform, like so many other problems this country faces now, will not occur through a single avenue of reform or bumper-sticker slogans. We have a multifaceted problem that is going to require multiple efforts, over a long period of time, to fix. As my major advisor was fond of saying, “If it were easy, Monotreme, someone would have done it already.”

  36. Monotreme says:

    Here’s the cite. It’s a 0.5% reduction in government health care costs, according to the CBO.

    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/oct/10/health-care-tort-reform-a-savings/?source=newsletter_must-read-stories-today_headlines

  37. OK, Max,

    Given those answers to the first four questions, how would that reflect in an answer to the final, non-rhetorical, question?

    On a microeconomic level, the blame falls on both parties. But if you have a large number of them, then things get much messier on a macroeconomic level. You end up with the “death by a thousand paper cuts” version of “too big to fail.” And that’s when you either allow the economy to go into freefall, or you try to soften the blow by having the government (and thus, by proxy, taxpayers…either immediately via taxes or over the long haul via increased debt) cover a portion of the losses. This is essentially what happened with the various bailout programs associated with TARP.

  38. rgbact says:

    Thanks Max-

    I recently wrote a 1000 word essay on my HC reform ideas. I did a little research on medical tort reform for it. I’ll try to add/research some of your ideas. The big thing for me is whether the idea is comparable to anything currently in place anywhere else or an experiment. I believe Texas is trying to be the first state to pass “loser pays”.

  39. dcpetterson says:

    rgbact
    Soc Sec is not solvent. $17+ Trillion unfunded Liability.

    Not true. Soc Sec has a $2 trillion surplus. Its future is only “unfunded” if you eliminate the FICA tax and if the United States defaults on its debts. In which case, we have worse problems.

    You’re reciting a false talking point.

  40. rgbact,

    Suffice to say, govt has an interest in low interest rates as it can then borrow cheaply and it fosters economic activity (even if its based on lies)

    First of all, nominal interest rates aren’t as meaningful as you might think. What’s important, rather, is the difference between that rate and the inflation rate over the life of the loan, which determines the real cost of the money. Second, low real rates are fine during recessionary times, but not so useful when the economy is booming. Regardless, what actions to you think the Federal Reserve takes that causes interest rates to be low?

    Its complex, but can you at least admit that this system can be gamed by politicians?

    Government can have an impact, of course, as can the Federal Reserve. My issue is that your language suggests to me that you’ve heard some things somewhere and are regurgitating them, but don’t understand them. I’m trying to gauge whether or not that’s true.

    Healthcare–another complex one! I’d start with converting Medicare to a catastrophic policy and giving all Americans the same. Then tort reform and reducing the AMA’s control of doctor supply.

    Catastrophic policies tend to have perverse effects, since they discourage early diagnosis and treatment. The upshot is more expensive than having more comprehensive plans. Tort reform may save a couple of percent off of the current costs, but it would do nothing to change the growth of health care costs. As for the AMA thing, are you proposing elimination of medical licenses? Or something else altogether?

    Lockbox–Al Gore’s idea?

    It was silly, in my opinion. You do better if you put your surpluses in something that bears interest than to stuff them in a mattress. The surplus has been invested in Treasury notes, which happens to be about the best place you can put money if you are risk-averse.

    2 systems are to address the fact that white collar workers can worker longer and should have a higher opt-in age, as they’ll also live longer.

    Not a good idea, in my opinion. People cross the white/blue barrier more than you may realize, and the overhead of maintaining multiple systems like that would tend to negate any additional value to be gained from it. One can take actuarial risk differentiators too far. ;)

    Its tough when govt is giving you every incentive to make bad loans.

    And what, exactly, were these incentives?

  41. rgbact,

    … if states adopted better laws, I think we could cut HC costs say 5%, based on my really rough estimate.

    On what do you base that estimate? I’d like to see your math.

  42. Monotreme,
    The 0.5% reduction in health care costs matched my back-of-the envelope calculation. I mentioned it in one article, and a comment on another, if my memory serves.

  43. rgbact says:

    MW-

    I apoligize on having forgotten sources. Just google “medical malpractice costs” and you’ll get most of the sources I used. Towers Perrin does an annual study on Tort Costs that I remember liking. Anyway, couple sources had medical tort costs + defensive medicine costs at about 10% of HC costs. Another source had Europe spending about 50% of what we spend as % of GDP in tort cost. 10% times 50%=5% savings.

  44. rgbact,
    I’ve seen tons of sources regarding medical malpractice costs. That’s why I’m asking for your sources. I believe 5% is too high, because of the slippery nature of “defensive medicine.” But even if it is, that still doesn’t address the areas of growth in health care costs.

    And you haven’t answered the other questions I asked you.

  45. dcpetterson says:

    Mainer, Texas has about the most severe restrictions of any state, when it comes to limiting the rights of citizens to seek redress for medical errors. It also ranks among the worst in health care and health care costs. Tort deform is already a failed experiment.

    There’s no evidence whatever that infringing individual liberties this way will improve health care or lower costs. It’s simply an attempt to further enrich the big business interests who cause the deaths of Americans through error or incompetence, by relieving them of the necessity for acting with a modicum of responsibility.

  46. Armchair Warlord says:

    Speaking of Parker,

    I’m having a hard time believing that CNN actually gave Elliot Spitzer a job. Is the standard for CNN seriously so low they have to go to a disgraced former governor to host their programs?

    No wonder Comedy Central is America’s Most Trusted Name in News.

  47. Mainer says:

    Thanks DC. I was just curious as to why I couldn’t find numbers that would support any thing. I found some stuff that seemed to show the tort reform had not only not helped much with Auto Insurance rates but had some unintended consequences that I guess I didn’t understand.

    Much was made of the fact that a number of doctors had moved to Texas helpinf to easy a severe doctor shortage (a fact I had found a while ago and thought ok a positive) but when I mentioned it to a doctor friend as maybe a way to help here he just about fell out of my boat. His only response was to ask if I wanted to fill up our doctor ranks with people whose only reason for being there was so they could cut their malpractice costs. Apparently it hasn’t drawn the cream of the crop.

  48. Mainer says:

    Having worked as one of those awful public sector workers and negotiated contracts where we did indeed agree to some thing better in later years I enjoyed this read. Some of you will just set your hair on fire again. I have an ice pick I’m willing to loan to any one needing to put out said fire.

    http://blogs.forbes.com/rickungar/2011/02/25/the-wisconsin-lie-exposed-taxpayers-actually-contribute-nothing-to-public-employee-pensions/

  49. Gator says:

    A couple of guys in Orlando decided to do something to make the world a little better.
    This is the beginning of their story. And the story of Renee. It is now being made into a movie. It is a moving and beautiful story. If you have a moment, please read it. And maybe reach out and help.

    Gator
    ************************************************************************************

    To Write Love On Her Arms

    Renee is 19. When I meet her, cocaine is fresh in her system. She hasn’t slept in 36 hours and she won’t for another 24. It is a familiar blur of coke, pot, pills and alcohol. She has agreed to meet us, to listen and to let us pray. We ask Renee to come with us, to leave this broken night. She says she’ll go to rehab tomorrow, but she isn’t ready now. It is too great a change. We pray and say goodbye and it is hard to leave without her.

    She has known such great pain; haunted dreams as a child, the near-constant presence of evil ever since. She has felt the touch of awful naked men, battled depression and addiction, and attempted suicide. Her arms remember razor blades, fifty scars that speak of self-inflicted wounds. Six hours after I meet her, she is feeling trapped, two groups of “friends” offering opposite ideas. Everyone is asleep. The sun is rising. She drinks long from a bottle of liquor, takes a razor blade from the table and locks herself in the bathroom. She cuts herself, using the blade to write “FUCK UP” large across her left forearm.

    The nurse at the treatment center finds the wound several hours later. The center has no detox, names her too great a risk, and does not accept her. For the next five days, she is ours to love. We become her hospital and the possibility of healing fills our living room with life. It is unspoken and there are only a few of us, but we will be her church, the body of Christ coming alive to meet her needs, to write love on her arms.

    She is full of contrast, more alive and closer to death than anyone I’ve known, like a Johnny Cash song or some theatre star. She owns attitude and humor beyond her 19 years, and when she tells me her story, she is humble and quiet and kind, shaped by the pain of a hundred lifetimes. I sit privileged but breaking as she shares. Her life has been so dark yet there is some soft hope in her words, and on consecutive evenings, I watch the prettiest girls in the room tell her that she’s beautiful. I think it’s God reminding her.

    I’ve never walked this road, but I decide that if we’re going to run a five-day rehab, it is going to be the coolest in the country. It is going to be rock and roll. We start with the basics; lots of fun, too much Starbucks and way too many cigarettes

    more
    Thursday night she is in the balcony for Band Marino, Orlando’s finest. They are indie-folk-fabulous, a movement disguised as a circus. She loves them and she smiles when I point out the A&R man from Atlantic Europe, in town from London just to catch this show.

    She is in good seats when the Magic beat the Sonics the next night, screaming like a lifelong fan with every Dwight Howard dunk. On the way home, we stop for more coffee and books, Blue Like Jazz and (Anne Lamott’s) Travelling Mercies.

    On Saturday, the Taste of Chaos tour is in town and I’m not even sure we can get in, but doors do open and minutes after parking, we are on stage for Thrice, one of her favorite bands. She stands ten feet from the drummer, smiling constantly. It is a bright moment there in the music, as light and rain collide above the stage. It feels like healing. It is certainly hope.

    Sunday night is church and many gather after the service to pray for Renee, this her last night before entering rehab. Some are strangers but all are friends tonight. The prayers move from broken to bold, all encouraging. We’re talking to God but I think as much, we’re talking to her, telling her she’s loved, saying she does not go alone. One among us knows her best. Ryan sits in the corner strumming an acoustic guitar, singing songs she’s inspired.

    After church our house fills with friends, there for a few more moments before goodbye. Everyone has some gift for her, some note or hug or piece of encouragement. She pulls me aside and tells me she would like to give me something. I smile surprised, wondering what it could be. We walk through the crowded living room, to the garage and her stuff.

    She hands me her last razor blade, tells me it is the one she used to cut her arm and her last lines of cocaine five nights before. She’s had it with her ever since, shares that tonight will be the hardest night and she shouldn’t have it. I hold it carefully, thank her and know instantly that this moment, this gift, will stay with me. It hits me to wonder if this great feeling is what Christ knows when we surrender our broken hearts, when we trade death for life.

    As we arrive at the treatment center, she finishes: “The stars are always there but we miss them in the dirt and clouds. We miss them in the storms. Tell them to remember hope. We have hope.”

    I have watched life come back to her, and it has been a privilege. When our time with her began, someone suggested shifts but that is the language of business. Love is something better. I have been challenged and changed, reminded that love is that simple answer to so many of our hardest questions. Don Miller says we’re called to hold our hands against the wounds of a broken world, to stop the bleeding. I agree so greatly.

    We often ask God to show up. We pray prayers of rescue. Perhaps God would ask us to be that rescue, to be His body, to move for things that matter. He is not invisible when we come alive. I might be simple but more and more, I believe God works in love, speaks in love, is revealed in our love. I have seen that this week and honestly, it has been simple: Take a broken girl, treat her like a famous princess, give her the best seats in the house. Buy her coffee and cigarettes for the coming down, books and bathroom things for the days ahead. Tell her something true when all she’s known are lies. Tell her God loves her. Tell her about forgiveness, the possibility of freedom, tell her she was made to dance in white dresses. All these things are true.

    We are only asked to love, to offer hope to the many hopeless. We don’t get to choose all the endings, but we are asked to play the rescuers. We won’t solve all mysteries and our hearts will certainly break in such a vulnerable life, but it is the best way. We were made to be lovers bold in broken places, pouring ourselves out again and again until we’re called home.

    I have learned so much in one week with one brave girl. She is alive now, in the patience and safety of rehab, covered in marks of madness but choosing to believe that God makes things new, that He meant hope and healing in the stars. She would ask you to remember.

    http://www.twloha.com/vision/story/

  50. Mainer,
    I’m not that surprised to hear about the pension Wisconsin. As my profile notes, I’ve worked in the public sector before as well, and saw much the same thing. Pensions came from deferred compensation, were invested, and turned into defined benefits. In the 90s, when the stock market was going gangbusters, they started getting better and better defined benefits without increasing their contributions. Why? Because the people running the pension had more money than they knew what to do with, basically. They believed (correctly, IMO) that the beneficieries, whose contributions funded the plan, should get the rewards from it.

    Then the market tanked in 2000. And again in 2001. And nobody wanted to give up the benefits that they had negotiated in the 90s. It would have effectively been a paycut. So the plans started to go into the red. And that’s when taxpayers started to be on the hook.

  51. Monotreme says:

    Also, defined benefit plans, which were common in the past, have been mostly (but not completely) replaced by defined contribution plans. Defined contribution plans do not put the taxpayer on the hook the way defined benefit plans might.

    Since the defined benefit plans were negotiated and put into place in the past, states are still contractually obligated to support them, unless the states wish to default on their obligations. That could certainly happen, but that’s the way the debate needs to be framed.

  52. filistro says:

    I’m sort of back home, trying to catch up, not even entirely sure who’s still here or what’s going on.

    But while I’ve sort of lost the plot here at the blog, I do have a much clearer view of what’s going on in America after a month of intense one-on-one discussion with friends, writing colleagues, media folks, condo neighbors and checkout girls at WalMart.

    I now believe this is an important watershed season. We will look back on winter of ’11 as the time when everything… everything… started to change. The uprising in the mideast shows people aren’t willing to be strong-armed anymore. “We are people,” they yell, “and we demand to be heard!” And with the advent of social media, they have the power to demand that their voices be heard.

    But it’s also a time of change in the US… and it’s really fraught with peril for the GOP, who are picking their way cautiously through the minefield of a whole new world. DADT is gone and DOMA is at risk… when just two short years ago the GOP was able to increase its election success by putting gay marriage initiatives on the ballot. Union-busting is suddenly blatant… and surprisingly unpopular. In the wake of recession there is a national revulsion against greed, cold-heartedness and swashbuckling capitalism.

    The entire country is watching to see what direction Republicans will now take. Are they going to be stubborn and stick with rigid ideology in this time of sudden overwhelming change? If so, they will become a regional and irrelevant party within the next few years. Can the GOP show some nimbleness, backtrack on its most reactionary tenets and adapt to evolving conditions in the country… or is social and political evolution simply antithetic to everything they stand for?

    We are going to know very soon. Personally I’m rooting for Republican survival because America really needs the yin and yang of two vibrant parties in order to maintain its political health.

    But whatever happens… it’s certainly an exciting time :-)

  53. Monotreme says:

    Consider the source, but if true, this is quite telling.

  54. Monotreme,
    I don’t see why that would be a surprise. It’s not a very meaningful comparison, though.

  55. Monotreme says:

    The impact of PPACA on health care costs in Colorado: http://www.coloradotrust.org/attachments/0001/4409/Economic_Impact-IB_FINAL.pdf

  56. Monotreme says:

    @Michael:

    Can one argue that the single hedge fund manager made more contribution to society than the aggregate effort of 80,000 teachers?

  57. filistro says:

    Speaking of one-on-one discussions, I’ve been anxious to get the opinions of all of you on this :

    One of our table companions on the cruise ship was a charming school administrator from Houston. (When the dinner conversation edged cautiously around to politics, he made me smile by describing himself as a conservative Republican and then adding hastily… “but I’m not crazy. I mean, I’m not Tea Party, or anything like that…”)

    What a thoroughly nice man.

    Anyhow, he said that although he is ideologically opposed to the new health care law, he nevertheless believes it would greatly lower unemployment. His opinion is that many, many baby-boomer Americans are hanging onto jobs just so they can retain their health insurance until Medicare kicks in. If coverage were guaranteed, he thinks millions of people would opt to retire, freeing up jobs for younger folks.

    I found that an intriguing POV… couldn’t wait to hear the thoughts of the brainiacs in here. (Apologies if this has already been talked to death… :-)

  58. Monotreme,
    Contribution to society has no direct correlation to pay. To believe otherwise is pure naïveté.

  59. dcpetterson says:

    filistro, great to have you back. Excellent observations on current directions. Ours is more than a time of crisis and transition. It is truly a watershed moment. We stand on a knife’s edge bridge over a chasm of chaos. And what is on the farther end of the bridge is anything but certain.

  60. Filistro,
    It hasn’t been discussed. It’s an interesting perspective, and one I’ve heard before. What impact such behavior has on unemployment is opaque to me, but I’d like to think that someone is studying that phenomenon. Maybe the answer is already out there.

  61. dcpetterson says:

    There is starting to be some softening in the Republican position on spending cuts — see here. Perhaps the Republican leadership has found a spine to help them stand against the real crazies.

  62. rgbact says:

    MW-

    1) They are the largest owner of Treasuries (not China) and discount rate is near 0. I have no recommendations for the Fed. Its an impossible job deciding what the right amout of credit is in America. My overall point is it can easily be used by unscrupulous politicians to get the economy to “act right”. I’d prefer a system that wasn’t so “top-down”.
    2) Comprehensive plans have perverse affects too. For AMA- more schools, higher acceptance rates, more assistants/midwives, more licensing. Start spitting out doctors like we do lawyers and MBA’s. I also have this saving about 5% of HC costs.
    3) I’d be fine with a mattress. Some have bitched about buying Treasuries, but thats fine. White/blue is just a thought on risk pooling–realizing some have not enjoyed improved life expectancy of others.
    4) Mostly implicit bailouts (Fannie Mae, Fed liquidity, TARP, IMF)

  63. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    rg, “I’d prefer a system that wasn’t so “top-down”.

    By that, may I take that you are against continuing tax cuts for the rich and corporations and thus ending the “trickle-down” theory of the Reagan years?

  64. Monotreme says:

    Michael,

    No, I’m not that naïve. Maybe idealistic, but that’s not the same thing.

    What I’m saying is, the Ayn Rand Wing seems to believe that pay is correlated to societal contribution — or should be.

  65. shortchain says:

    The effect of the PPACA on employment has already been figured by the OMB.

    Not millions, but not miniscule, either.

  66. dcpetterson says:

    filistro –

    In addition to the 800,000 or so people who would not have to work in order to pay for health care, the PPACA also makes necessary perhaps two million more jobs within the health care industry itself, to provide services for the 30 million people who will now have coverage.

  67. Shortchain,
    I saw that, too, but it seemed to be looking at the reduction in total jobs caused by the legislation, rather than the possible offsetting effects of people who otherwise don’t need to work.

  68. shortchain says:

    All I know is what it says: “CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf told the House Budget Committee on Thursday that the health care law will reduce employment by 0.5 percent by 2021 because some people will no longer have to work just to afford health insurance.”

  69. filistro says:

    Re PPACA… thanks shortchain. I just KNEW you would have a relevant link at your fingertips. ;-)

    As you say… nearly a million is not nothing.

    @DC… you are saying every 15 newly-covered people will create one new job within the HC industry, right? That sounds reasonable to me, all things considered.

    So… (a serious question here)… by what justification does the GOP officially call this the “job-killing health care bill?”

  70. Shortchain,
    But doesn’t that sound counter to what we were discussing? If those 500k stopped working, the work would still be there, so it shouldn’t reduce employment. It should reduce unemployment.

  71. shortchain says:

    Michael,

    That would be true if companies were inclined to hire people to replace people who leave voluntarily. In today’s labor market (which appears to be the new “normal”), I would not bet either way.

  72. rgbact says:

    DC-

    Not giving in on spending may be sellable for Obama/Pelosi/Schumer. I’d guess the RNC is already prepping ads though to run against the bevy of Dem senators in red/purple states that points out they couldn’t agree to cutting spending by 3%. Will the Dem moderate senators go the way of the Blue Dogs and follow their leadership off a cliff is the question.

  73. Shortchain,
    If that’s true, then the legislation changed the timetable, but not the underlying employment forces. My point is that something in their statement doesn’t add up. Not sure what it is, though.

  74. shortchain says:

    Michael,

    I remember when the testimony was made, and the GOP was pretty upset — in fact claimed that the PPACA was, therefore, a “job-killer”, as you recall, partly on the basis of this report.

    It made no sense at the time. It makes no sense now, either logically or on economic grounds. But I’m guessing that this is the basis for what Filistro heard from that person.

  75. dcpetterson says:

    rgbact –

    With any luck, the people aren’t dumb enough to be taken in by the Republican spending cuts. They aren’t about lowering the deficit, or even about cutting spending as such. They represent a targeted ultra-conservative social agenda. They’re about restricting health care access for poor women, eliminating education and lunch programs for children, shutting down environmental protections and workplace safety, killing support for arts and sciences, even destroying border patrol (remember how Republicans used to say we had to protect our borders? Clearly just another piece of manipulative political rhetoric.)

    These are things the Republicans have been trying to kill for decades. Their ham-fisted elimination of these vital programs amounts to, as you say, maybe 3% of the deficit. Clearly, not a serious attempt to balance any budget, just using the deficit as an excuse and smokescreen to shove their far-far-right social agenda down America’s throat. Nor are we unaware that Republicans didn’t give a damn about the deficit when they were giving tax handouts to the immensely wealthy, or when they turned Clinton’s record surpluses into the record deficits we now face.

  76. dcpetterson says:

    @filistro –
    @DC… you are saying every 15 newly-covered people will create one new job within the HC industry, right? That sounds reasonable to me, all things considered.

    That’s about right. In addition to providing care to people who had none, there are matters of expanded care for everyone else — things like covered routine exams. In addition to doctors, there are nurses and aides, administrators, clerical staff, and additional support staff down to more janitors to care for the expanded facilities that will be needed. All paid for by 30 million new insurance customers.

    So… (a serious question here)… by what justification does the GOP officially call this the “job-killing health care bill?”

    No justification. Typical meaningless political noise.

  77. rgbact,
    Thanks for answering my questions. I have some followups for you:
    Yes, the Federal Reserve has been buying up Treasuries at a rapid pace, and yes the discount rate is very low. You do realize that no single entity has control over those discount rates, right?

    But, moreover, who do you think runs the Federal Reserve? Do you understand their system of governance? Do you know how they differ from the Treasury Department (even though both produce fiat money)? These are very important principles to understand in order to have a good level of comprehension of the Fed’s potential impact on the economy.

    As for health insurance, yes, comprehensive plans have their own issues. To get a bit of background on where we’ve been in that discussion on this site, you should probably read the previous health care reform articles: Health Insurance Isn’t Really Insurance At All, and Liberty or Healthcare For All?.

    With respect to “Lock Box” versus Treasury notes, why would you pass up the free money? By “free,” I’m assuming that the notes would have been issued in either case, so it’s better in my opinion to have the interest on that debt go toward our own services than toward, say, the Chinese government’s services. So why would you pass that up?

    Finally, I fail to see how TARP or the Fannie Mae bailout created the real estate meltdown, since those didn’t happen until after the meltdown occurred. And there was never a guarantee that either would happen in the first place. I don’t know what you mean by “Fed liquidity” or IMF as encouraging bad loans to be issued. Help me out here…what on earth are you talking about???

  78. rgbact says:

    MW-

    1) Now you sound like you’re justing quizing me to show my ignorance. I’m no expert–but know more than most. What I do know is that too much power in the hands of central planners/elites can be corrupting.
    2) Nice link to the HC threads. Looks like a keeper to review as you flushed alot of ideas out. “not insurance at all” is a line I use all the time.
    3) Libs don’t like $$ invested in Wall Street, righties don’t like it invested in Treasuries. I’m fine with Treasuries, but if the system is nothing more than “govt takes your money, saves it in mattress, gives back to you at old age”, even thats fine. Just create a mechanism that I know my money is being saved.
    4) I said bailout is implicit, not explicit. A little wink from govts to bankers throughout the world that says “we’ve got your back-so keep lending to us and our voters”.

  79. Monotreme says:

    @rgbact,

    For the sake of your own credibility, please try to avoid constructions such as

    3) Libs don’t like $$ invested in Wall Street, righties don’t like it invested in Treasuries.

    …especially without supporting citations, which I’m almost certain you can’t provide.

  80. mclever says:

    @Monotreme

    I agree that such constructions as “Libs don’t like X and righties don’t like Y” are unwise. I’m often somewhat surprised to discover what my own beliefs are supposed to be when someone else tells me what I do or don’t believe. Even modifiers such as “apparently”, “most”, “many”, or “some” can help to make the comment seem more reasonable for those of us who don’t fall into the particular stereotype of hyper-liberalism or hyper-conservatism, assuming that the stereotype is even valid.

    And this goes for folks on the liberal side, too. We shouldn’t be putting words in others’ mouths for them. If we start arguing with our projections of what someone else believes rather than what they actually say, we deny them the opportunity to show if they think differently than what we’ve been led to expect.

  81. Monotreme says:

    That’s what all you liberals think ;-)

  82. filistro says:

    Wow… manly and upset.

    I find myself feeling strangely aroused….

  83. Monotreme says:

    The “21th most manly.”

    They got the “artificial” part right, but I’m not too sure about the “intelligence”.

    — A male between 66 and 100

  84. mclever says:

    I’m feeling very manly today, filistro. How ’bout you? ;-)

    I did like that it detected an “academic” tone, because I think that fits most folks on here who are trying to have an intelligent discussion of things.

  85. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    On board The Raging Queen!

    Manly men, doing manly things in a manly manner!

  86. rgbact,

    Now you sound like you’re justing quizing me to show my ignorance.

    Not quite, though it does look like that. What I was trying to do is determine whether you were started with facts and drew conclusions, or started with conclusions and found justifications for them. At least when it comes to the Fed, it’s clearly the latter.

    I have no problem with you having different opinions from me. In fact, it’s pretty boring if everyone around me shares the same opinions. But if you have opinions, you should either have a factual basis upon which to base them or you should be willing to step back, take in new information, and reassess your opinions based upon the new information.

    What I do know is that too much power in the hands of central planners/elites can be corrupting.

    You make this statement as a justification for your dislike of the Federal Reserve. Yet you don’t know how the Fed works, so you don’t know who these planners/elites are, what power they have, and thus what level of corruption is possible, let alone if any is occurring.

    Libs don’t like $$ invested in Wall Street, righties don’t like it invested in Treasuries.

    I don’t think either of these clauses is true. Perhaps as a gross overgenerialization, but if so there are tons of exceptions to it. Or did you mean just in terms of Social Security?

    Just create a mechanism that I know my money is being saved.

    So what you’re really saying is that you want the program converted to a true pension plan?

    I said bailout is implicit, not explicit. A little wink from govts to bankers throughout the world that says “we’ve got your back-so keep lending to us and our voters”.

    Wait…what? Are you referring to the national debt? I could have sworn we were talking about lending in the context of secured home mortgages. Which is it?

  87. Monotreme,

    This is pretty funny.

    http://urlai.com/url/538refugees.wordpress.com

    Great. We’re crotchety old men.

  88. mclever says:

    @Michael

    Speak for yourself!

  89. dcpetterson says:

    Great. We’re crotchety old men.

    I know I am. But what are you?

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