Saturday, November 30, 2013

Good Tidings and Great Joy: A Good Mix for a Christmas Read

Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas
by Sarah Palin

Update: signed first edition for only $13.92 (with free shipping for a $25 order) at Barnes and Noble while they last.
ISBN-13: 9780062315656
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:11/12/2013
Edition description: Signed

Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Broadside Books (an imprint of HarperCollins publishers)
First Edition edition (November 12, 2013)
ISBN-10: 0062292889
current Amazon price: $13.79 hardcover

Audio CD
Publisher: HarperAudio; Unabridged edition (November 12, 2013)
ISBN-10: 0062305921
current Amazon price: $18.71

The subtitle of this book is “Protecting the Heart of Christmas”. One might say, “protecting the nation's well-being”.

In a fast read, popular style Governor Sarah Palin describes public and commercial assaults on the Christmas holiday as well as making a case for its value to a democratic republic like the United States. Along the way she sprinkles in stories from her childhood and adult Christmas celebrations.

The easy case for Christmas as important to the nation’s well-being is it’s national economic value. The United States retail economy depends heavily on Christmas shopping for its profitability.
“The day after Thanksgiving is called ‘Black Friday’ because it’s frequently the first time the stores are no longer “in the red” for the entire year. Christmas helps to employ millions of people and props up our entire retail economy.” (p. 56)
Anyone who has ever looked for a job knows that the Christmas season provides lots of new, though temporary, opportunities.  And the amount of money pumped into the national economy can be gauged by one’s own Christmas spending for gifts, food, decorations, cards--not to mention travel.

But, important as they are, economic benefits are a sidelight for Palin. In a shorthand version of her presentation in America by Heart (pp. 181-232), Palin shows that America’s very government depends on a religious people to function. Chapter 5 (“Bad News, Good News”) presents the core of Palin’s argument.
   “When John Adams wrote, ‘Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is whole inadequate to the government of any other,’ he understood that a healthy republic, and indeed, all healthy governments, are grounded in moral principles that we learn through the philosophical and religious forms of reasoning.” (p. 143, cf p. 132)
Palin argues that the sort of tolerance and inclusiveness that refuses to mention Christ or Christianity is in reality an assault on faith.  The stores and corporations substituting “Seasons Greetings” for “Merry Christmas” and public schools substituting “Winter Break” for “Christmas Break” are teaching the public at large and students that “Christ” and “Christmas” are not good words to use in public. They offend. That religion and faith are private issues to be hidden from public sight.
   “Our children are growing up in a culture where faith is regularly stigmatized. Through their word choices, our educators relentlessly tell us that some religions are worth honoring while others must be suppressed, mentioned mainly in the home. Kids get the message.” (p. 135)
Palin describes our society falling into deeper moral decay.
   “But we don’t have to go all the way to California for examples of moral decay. Just flip on the television, take a walk around your kids’ school, or--if you’ve got the guts--scroll through kids’ text messages. The coarsening of our culture is evident everywhere, and we now have a generation of young people being raised in a culture where our Judeo-Christian heritage is mocked and reviled. Where we can’t even say ‘Merry Christmas.’ The very notion that we have a Judeo-Christian heritage is under attack.

   “I’m not talking about the nuances of theology or the differences between denominations. I’m talking basic stuff like the Golden Rule, the Ten Commandments’ prohibitions on stealing, killing, and lying, and so forth. And sexual morality? The two words don’t seem to go together anymore.” (p. 146)
Palin cites the 50 million babies the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates have been killed since Roe v. Wade in 1973.
   “Our nation actually uses the power of the state to protect the ‘right’ to kill children in a mother’s womb--for any reason or no reason at all. Do we worship ourselves so much that another human has to die for our personal convenience? A culture that reveres our Creator and respects the sanctity of innocent life does not condone killing its own children.” (p. 147)
Faith is not only a building block for society, it offers:

1. “a check on the power of the state” because “[w]hen we dictate our own morality, we are capable of anything.” (p. 148)

2. “an amazing force for good in our culture,” e.g., the antislavery movement led by evangelicals like William Wilberforce, and the civil rights movement led by Baptist minister Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (pp. 148-149)

3. the source of “values” and how we look at ourselves (pp. 150-155)

Palin notes that the liberal vision is that “people are good, and institutions like the church or the traditional family are actually oppressive”. By contrast, conservatives “believe that people aren’t that great to start with. And without faith and family to guide us and reinforce values that often go against our self desires, we’ll drift toward our own destruction.” (p. 152)

The view that people are not basically good-hearted, but prone to selfishness and faction (Federalist 10 and 51), is basic to our constitutional structure. That’s why there are checks and balances “because people can’t be trusted with power. And because we’re not that great we need constant reminders of our need for God.” (p. 154)

Palin’s presentation of these truths is mixed with the fun of her own Christmas memories and lots of examples in government, public school and corporate policy of avoiding not only the central story of Christmas but even the very mention of the word “Christmas”.

Good Tidings and Great Joy is both light-hearted and serious--a good mix for a Christmas read.

Oregon's Medicaid Leaves Many in the Cold: No Spinal Surgery, Back Pain or Allergy Treatment

The Oregonian's Brent Hunsberger reports that Oregon's one-size-fits-all Medicaid will cover childhood dental care for elderly people with no children. Also, if you are a smoker or obese, you will get treatment and counseling.  But, tough luck if you have severe spinal problems, back pain or allergies. A panel decides what gets covered and what doesn't. Hunsberger sets up a silver lining assessment:
Their [older people with no children at home] concerns about the Oregon Health Plan [Oregon's Medicaid] might be slightly misplaced. It offers the same 10 essential health benefits that private insurance does – preventive care, mental health services and childhood dental care among them.
. . .

The plan also has prioritized health services that it can afford to cover.
But, the cloud is still there.
A panel of providers determines [covered treatment], based on prevalence of the disease and other factors. If your condition isn't on it, the plan won't cover it. Spinal surgeries and treatments for allergies and back pain, for instance, aren't covered, [Christine Senz of Tuality Health Alliance] said.

"Sometimes it seems really, really arbitrary," Senz says. "But it's all based on science and outcomes and actuarial outcomes."
Maybe it seems arbitrary because it doesn't conform to normal American needs. Webmd says 55% in the U.S. have allergies. Less than 2/3rds that number (36%) are obese. 116 million Americans have chronic back pain. Only about 1/3rd that number (43.8 million) use tobacco.  But, of course, you can die from the effects of tobacco, whereas you will only have severe daily suffering if you have chronic back pain.

Even Medicaid's one-size-fits-all treatment is iffy. It is only available if you can find a doctor/medical facility in your area to treat you. Since Medicaid pays only a third of what standard insurance pays, it can be a challenge* to find anyone in your area who will provide your "10 essential health benefits".
Access might be another issue. Medicaid pays doctors about one-third what commercial insurance pays for the same services, said Christine Senz, chief operating officer of Tuality Health Alliance, a Hillsboro-based provider network that includes Tuality Community Hospital. So, to make sure they bring in enough revenue, doctors often limit the number of Medicaid patients they'll take.

"They often close to Medicaid or Medicare patients before they close to commercial patients," Senz said. "Certainly access is a problem."
What a deal: ten essential health benefits (which may or may not cover what you need most) coupled with difficulty in finding someone to actually treat you. Showing up at the emergency room when you have problems does not sound like such a bad alternative.
*From a 2010 study:
Sixty-six percent of those who mentioned Medicaid-CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) were denied appointments, compared with 11 percent who said they had private insurance, according to an article being published Thursday in The New England Journal of Medicine.

In 89 clinics that accepted both kinds of patients, the waiting time for callers who said they had Medicaid was an average of 22 days longer.
From a New York Times article published Thursday:
. . . [I]n just five weeks, millions of additional Americans will be covered by [Medicaid], many of them older people with an array of health problems. The Congressional Budget Office predicts that nine million people will gain coverage through Medicaid next year alone. In many of the 26 states expanding the program, the newly eligible have been flocking to sign up.
But, doctors are not accepting lots of new patients. Specialists are especially difficult to schedule.
On top of that, only about 57 percent of doctors in California accept new Medicaid patients, according to a study published last year in the journal Health Affairs — the second-lowest rate in the nation after New Jersey. Payment rates for Medicaid, known in California as Medi-Cal, are also low here compared with most states, and are being cut by an additional 10 percent in some cases just as the expansion begins.
. . .
Dr. Paul Urrea, an ophthalmologist in Monterey Park, said he was skeptical of “blue-sky scenarios” suggesting that all new enrollees would have access to care. “Having been in the trenches with Medi-Cal patients who have serious eye problems,” he said, “I can tell you it’s very, very hard to get them in to see those specialists.”

Dr. Urrea said that when he recently tried to refer a Medicaid patient with a cornea infection to another eye specialist, he was initially informed that the specialist could not see the patient until February. “And this is a potentially blinding condition,” he added.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Taking Greed to a New Level: The Oregon State Lottery

MaxRedline has a first rate post up on the Oregon Lottery. He traces the development from focus on betting as entertainment to betting targeting people addicted to gambling.
When voters passed a measure allowing Oregon Lottery, the only items under discussion were scratch-off tickets, with proceeds to be used for "economic development". But the door was now opened, and as government agencies generally do, the Lottery Commission expanded. They introduced Keno, and then video poker. Even so, the stakes were relatively low, perhaps $5 for Keno, and the same for video poker. And then they expanded video poker: suddenly, the machines were able to accept bills from $1 to $10, and then to $20. But of course, slots were completely out of the question, as the approved measure specifically banned "casino"-type games.

Evidently, the Agency found a way around that, even as they further modified their machines to accept $100 bills. And of course, the money now goes to almost anything except economic development; tv ads show "restored" steams and habitat, done with Lottery money. It's become a giant piggy-bank, and the state's grown utterly dependent upon the money stream generated by a small group of videogame campers, pouring money in just for the high.
The result is ruined lives and a state community now dependent on feeding people's vices in order to pay for lots of different public programs. Max:
Marriages are ruined, lives are destroyed; destitute, some people become suicidal, yet the Oregon Lottery works very diligently toward a goal of ever-increasing cash extraction. What at first seemed fairly innocuous, and perhaps even helpful, has morphed into something that is so perverse that the sole justification for its continued existence is the desire of politicians to build monuments to themselves. And ya can't do that without money.
Public greed is not that much different than private greed. Except that it can affect a much bigger public at a much deeper level with no prospect of the community stepping in to stop the personal destruction.

Kudos to the Oregonian and Harry Esteve for doing real shoe-leather reporting on this and publishing the incriminating results for current Oregon state policy.

Friday, November 22, 2013

50th Anniversary of the Death of C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis (Hans Wild, Life Magazine)
The passing of C. S. Lewis was not much remarked at the time because it happened the same day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Lewis' death is still overshadowed by that sad event.

Here's Lewis on how we should treat other people.
"It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet if at all only in a nightmare. All day long we are in some degree helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization-–these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit-–immortal horrors or everlasting splendours."
(from The Weight of Glory)

Democrats Break 200+ Year Old Senate Rules; Will They Rescind Just Before Losing Power?

Update: Prof. William Jacobson makes a case for the upside of the fall of the filibuster.

This makes the Democrats two for two in blowing up liberal pet causes in just five years. First Barack Obama blew up the politics-is-ugly-with-so-much-money-involved by being "the first candidate ever [since the mid-1970's] to opt out of public financing in the general election". So much for campaign finance reform (which gave the Democrats an edge because union volunteers were not counted as money donations).

And now down goes the filibuster.

This does not count ramping up the use of drones, continuing to enforce the Patriot Act without major changes, vast expansion of presidential power, expansion of government spying, using the IRS against political opponents, and Guantanamo Bay still open for business.

Liberal Dana Milbank:
“Congress is broken,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday before holding a party-line vote that disposed of rules that have guided and protected the chamber since 1789.

If Congress wasn’t broken before, it certainly is now. What Reid (Nev.) and his fellow Democrats effectively did was take the chamber of Congress that still functioned at a modest level and turn it into a clone of the other chamber, which functions not at all. They turned the Senate into the House.
One wonders if the Democrats will rescind the rules change just before losing power saying (tongue in cheek) that they realize their mistake. That will force the Republicans to vote the nuclear option back in.

H/T Byron York

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

150,000 Oregonians Have Health Care Plan Cancelled by Obamacare; Cover Oregon Enrolls Zero in New Plans

About 150,000 Oregonians have had their health care plan cancelled. They may soon be joined by another 193,000 on small-employer plans. But, Oregon, a supposedly "cutting edge" state both in government healthcare and technology, has not managed a single enrollment under its Affordable Care Act state exchange Cover Oregon. This despite receiving nearly 25,000 nine to 19 page paper applications
With its online insurance marketplace out of commission and unavailable to the public indefinitely, the state has resorted to urging would-be subscribers to fill out applications that are between nine and 19 pages long by hand, said Michael Cox, a spokesman for Cover Oregon.
. . .

Nearly 25,000 individuals and families have so far submitted hard-copy applications, Cox said, with nearly two-thirds of those applicants eligible for Medicaid, a federal-state healthcare plan for the needy.

But none of those applicants has actually been enrolled, with manual processing of the paperwork slowing the process dramatically.
The Associated Press reports that 70,000 have enrolled in Oregon's Medicaid plan through an easy seven-question enrollment process. However, for those who do not qualify for the easy Medicaid sign up, health care in Oregon for the uninsured is not yet available.
For consumers, the application process can be long and frustrating.

"I've been trying since the very first day of October just to try to find out the coverage I could get," said Donna George*, 43, a bookkeeper from Bend, Ore., who's been uninsured for three years.

When the online system wouldn't work, George submitted a paper application Oct. 7 for herself and her husband. Finally, on Nov. 12, she received an enrollment packet that tells her how much of a tax credit she'll receive and lays out her coverage options. She's now waiting to meet with her insurance agent to pick a plan and return the forms.
* Interesting that the Associated Press has managed to find an Oregon resident negatively impacted by the Cover Oregon fiasco. To date, Oregonian reporters have not been able to find anyone like Donna George to interview.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Oregon Drops from Middle of States to Bottom Third in Per Capita Income

The University of New Mexico's Bureau of Business and Economic Research has compiled statistics on per capita personal income by state from 1990 through 2012.

Below is a chart of Oregon's fall from 26th in 1990, rise to 22nd from 1995 to 1997, and drop to 33rd in 2011 and 2012. That means Oregon has dropped from a middle of the pack state to a bottom third state in per capita personal income.

source: University of New Mexico, Bureau of Business and Economic Research (

Washington is the only one of Oregon's neighbors to better its ranking rising from 16th in 1990 to 12th in 2012.  California dropped four positions from 8th in 1990 to 15th in 2012.  Both Idaho and Oregon dropped seven positions.  Idaho went from 42nd in 1990 to 49th in 2012.

Biggest drop is between 2007 and 2008, but the decline has continued through 2012.

Interesting that Governor John Kitzhaber (Dem.) has presided over the best years (1995-1997) and the worst years (2011-2012).  Governor Ted Kulongoski (Dem.) was governor when the big drop occurred between 2007 and 2008.

Newspaper Photographers Down 43% Since 2000; Reporters Down 32%

Pew Research Center reports on newspaper layoffs since 2000.

The rate of decline has accelerated in the last three years.
Data from the last three years alone further highlight this job insecurity. From 2010 through 2012, ASNE recorded an 18% reduction in full-time photographers, artists and videographers. That compares with a negligible job loss (0.2%) among copy and layout editors and online producers.  And it is three times the rate at which reporters and writers lost their jobs (6%).

Obamacare Dramatically Penalizes Childless/Empty Nest Marriages (and Gay Marriages Too)

Update: Kaiser Family Foundation reports that 69% of Oregon families consist of adults with no children. That's 1,631,500 Oregon adults with no children. The national average is 66% of families with adults only.

Obamacare substantially penalizes married couple only families. Given modern American marriage patterns, this includes many young/young middle-aged marrieds who have not yet started a family or are not planning to have children, and almost all older marrieds since their children have moved out. It also impacts most gay marriages--which, for obvious reasons, tend to be childless.

From The Atlantic:
Any married couple that earns more than 400 percent of the federal poverty level—that is $62,040—for a family of two earns too much for subsidies under Obamacare. "If you're over 400 percent of poverty, you're never eligible for premium" support, explains Gary Claxton, director of the Health Care Marketplace Project at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

But if that same couple lived together unmarried, they could earn up to $45,960 each—$91,920 total—and still be eligible for subsidies through the exchanges in New York state, where insurance is comparatively expensive and the state exchange was set up in such a way as to not provide lower rates for younger people. (Subsidy eligibility is calculated using a complicated formula involving income in relation to the poverty line, family size, and the price of plans offered through a state's marketplace.)
The couple cited in the article were looking at health insurance costing $9,248 a year. Married they could receive no subsidy. Single, living together, they could receive a $3,964 subsidy and "possibly even be eligible for Medicaid, thanks to their uneven individual earnings that year."

There is also a "marriage penalty" in the tax code, but it is much increased under Obamacare.
"In the tax code, you have a different set of tax rates for married couples that mitigates the marriage penalty to some degree," says Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation who has been writing about the marriage penalty in health reform since 2010. Under Obamacare, however, there are "dramatic" penalties that are "substantial—particularly with couples in the upper age range," he says.
H/T Byron York

Friday, November 15, 2013

Merkley Promised You Can Keep Your Insurance and Is Now Supporting Legislation to Reverse Cancellations

Senator Jeff Merkley is co-sponsoring legislation to allow policy holders to keep health plans cancelled by Obamacare regulations. Good for him.

About 150,000 Oregonians have had their policies cancelled. Four years ago Merkley promised that "those who like their insurance get to keep it."

Byron York points out that lots of people, including reporters knew this promise was bogus. But, they allowed the claim to be repeated and cemented in as a means to pass the bill in the one-sided (only Democrats), back door (reconciliation on an old bill) way.
All during the debate, Democratic officeholders, aides, policy wonks, advocates and sympathetic journalists all knew coverage cancellations would be coming as part of Obamacare. Of course, the president knew, too. When Obama made the keep-your-coverage promise, over and over, those Washington insiders accepted the untruth as a necessary part of the process, something Democrats had to do to pass their bill.
But millions of Americans didn't get the memo and took Obama at his word. And now that the promise has been proven false, the president is trying to recover his credibility — his desire to do so was painfully evident at his long and sometimes rambling news conference Thursday — and his party is searching for cover.
Oregonian reporter Jeff Mapes says Senator Jeff Merkley admitted he "failed to understand" the grandfathering provisions of the law when he voted for it.
In a telephone interview, Merkley said that he and other supporters of the 2010 law failed to understand that it didn't have strong enough "grandfather" provisions ensuring that people could keep policies that existed at the time.

"It was a significant failure to understand that the grandfathering had this flaw in it," said Merkley, "and now that it's recognized, we've got to fix it."

The senator added that "we just didn't fully understand" that during the three years before the new law went completely into effect, many people would migrate to other coverage or be forced off these grandfathered plans.
The Oregonian has no clear reporting on Merkley's position on President Obama's allowing extension of cancelled policies for a year, but national outlets indicate Merkley continues co-sponsoring legislation that attempts to fix, rather than delay, grandfathering failures.

Interesting that Senator Ron Wyden is not quoted as promising that Obamacare would allow people to keep their coverage and has not yet supported reversal of the cancellations. An article in the Statesman Journal says Wyden:
hasn't signed on to any of [the bills to fix Obamacare] yet. Spokesman Ken Willis said in an email Wyden is "looking at all proposals" but will wait to see if the federal exchange's technical problems are fixed by Nov. 30 as Obama has said. Wyden isn't up for re-election until 2016.
To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, knowing you will be up for re-election in a year concentrates the mind wonderfully. That has happened for Merkley, but Wyden, elected in 2012, has another 5 years to go.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Obamacare Will Hurt More Than 41% of Currently Uninsured or Individual Market Insured

Byron York reports that a sizable proportion of people entering the healthcare exchanges, the very people who are supposed to gain most from Obamacare, will actually be hurt by it.
So, of 29 million people who might enter the Obamacare exchanges, about 17 million would be eligible for subsidies. That's about 59 percent who would be eligible for taxpayer-paid assistance, versus 41 percent who are not. That's a majority on the subsidy side, but not a huge one. Then figure that some of those who are eligible for help will only be eligible for very small subsidies. For example, a family of four in St. Louis, Mo., with one parent who earns $48,000 and another who earns $37,000 would be eligible for a subsidy -- all of $13 per year to pay for an $8,088 policy -- that is virtually no help at all. (The numbers come from the Kaiser Foundation's online subsidy calculator.)

Out of the 59 percent who are eligible for subsidies, then, some portion will receive subsidies that do not cover the increased cost of their new coverage. For them, Obamacare will be a net loss. So, it's unlikely Obamacare will actually help the full 59 percent of those eligible for subsidies by Kaiser's estimate. The bottom line is, Obamacare could very well hurt substantially more than 41 percent of the people who are currently uninsured or purchase coverage on the individual market. That's not exactly making the system work "better for everybody."
Compare this with Oregonian reporter Nick Budnick's "good news" assessment that less than half of the 400,000 Oregonians expected to benefit from Cover Oregon exchange subsidies will get subsidies.
Nearly 190,000 Oregonians could qualify next year for federal tax credits to bring down health insurance costs by using the state's health exchange.

That's less than half the state's previous estimate. But in an odd twist, that's actually good news because it reflects lower premiums in Oregon than in most other states.
. . .
The Kaiser report estimates that 187,000 Oregonians are eligible for tax credits, half the projection earlier used by the exchange of 400,000-- prepared by the group Families USA.
And, of course, none of this touches on the impact of people being dumped on the individual market when the employer mandate kicks in and employers start to cut the employee work week to 29 hours to avoid the mandate.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Oregonian Not Able to Find Needy Oregonian Affected by Cover Oregon/Obamacare Debacles

Even though Oregonian front page coverage of Cover Oregon problems include an October 8th article, Oregonian reporters and photographers have yet to find a single Oregon resident worthy of front page coverage who has been or might be negatively impacted by the new mandates or Cover Oregon and Obamacare's roll out problems.

October 11, 2013 Oregonian front page article
Contrast this with the Oregonian front page photo and story on the sad impact of the federal government shutdown in October.  The October 11th Oregonian carried the story of how "Oregon officials, people in need worry about social programs that rely on federal money".

But no front page coverage of Oregonians seeing their healthcare rates skyrocket.  This even though reporter Nick Budnick admitted "this is a confusing and chaotic time" in response to one commenter who was told she would have $550 more per quarter added to her "tuition" costs unless she could prove she had health insurance that met the university's criteria.  In his defense, Budnick did ask the commenter to contact him.  But apparently no one at the Oregonian thought to contact students or anyone else about what the new mandates might mean before commenter Peggy2012 posted about her experience.

I personally know six people who have had plans cancelled and will have to pay significantly more for healthcare coverage or who are young, needy, do not currently have healthcare coverage and will have to find some and find a way to pay for it.  But, the folks at the Oregonian apparently struggle to find any Oregonian negatively impacted.