Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Next Obamacare Gambit

Now the House has decided to attach a delay of one year to the individual mandate and remove a tax on some medical devices which is a part of the law.

Both the Democratic Senate leadership and the White House has repeatedly said that a spending bill which impacts the Affordable Healthcare Act is not going to be acceptable but it takes time to turn around a scrubbed bill. That means the chances of a government shutdown on October 1st just skyrocketed.

The White House has said that the Exchanges will be opening Tuesday regardless of whether the government shuts down or not. That's the sort of "come hell or high water" statement that one rarely gets from Democrats.

Let's see if they stick to their guns.

Senate Removes Obamacare Defunding

Despite Ted Cruz talking for 21 hours, the Senate voted for closure 79-19 and passed a spending bill to avoid a government shutdown without the controversial attempt to defund Obamacare by 100-0.

Yes, Virginia, you read that right, even Ted Cruz voted for it.

The bill now goes back to the House where John Boehner will face the headache of what to do with it.

With the Exchanges ready to open in 33 states (17 have decided NOT to fund them) defunding the program now would be like dropping a brick wall in front of a speeding train.

Of course it's quite possible the train is heading for a brick wall anyway.

It's still too early to tell how much confusion and chaos this bill is going to cause but you can be pretty sure the Republican generate bullshit machine will be out in force exaggerating every little problem.

Assuming health care reform can survive the first two or three years, I suspect that it will become as widely accepted as Social Security or Medicare because, in the final analysis, its biggest fault is that it didn't go far enough.

Gay Marriage Declared Legal in New Jersey

A Mercer County judge has declared Gay Marriage legal in New Jersey based upon a law suit claiming that, since the fall of the Defense of Marriage Act, Civil Unions no longer provide the same legal rights as marriage as required in the state constitution.

The Christie administration argued that the problem is the federal government's which should include Civil Unions as equal to marriage.

But that's the whole problem Chris, different is inherently unequal.

The court ordered Gay Marriages to begin by October 21st, 2013, but no one is getting too excited because the administration has said it will appeal.

Here's hoping that's a waste of time and the New Jersey Supreme Court tells Christie where to stick it.

Friday, September 20, 2013

House Votes to "Defund" Affordable Care Act

House Republicans have passed an emergency funding bill that strips the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare) of its funding with a scant two weeks to go before the Exchanges are supposed to open for business.

The Republicans need to get their heads out from their asses.

Clearly this is going no where. The Democratic Senate leadership has already said they're going to take the defunding out and the White House has said it will veto the bill.

The Republicans are clearly hoping that the blame for the potential ensuing train wreck will fall on the Democrats. This is unlikely and John Boehner knows it.

Exactly why conservatives have such a burr up their saddle about the ACA is a little unclear to me. That the American populace doesn't understand the bill is obvious and the Republicans take advantage of that by continuing to circulate what amount to flat out lies.

The bill is not preventing 8.2 million part time employees from finding full time jobs. The total number of part time workers was 8.2 million when this claim was made. It was 9.1 million when the ACA was passed and its 7.9 million now.

The bill isn't a "job killer." Most economists believe the bill's effect on jobs will be minimal with the loss of only a small number of low paying jobs. Of course if you're one of those that loses his job then it's not so "minimal" is it?

Everyone isn't going to pay higher premiums. The simple fact is that younger people will tend to pay more while older people will tend to pay less because of the way the bill is structured. Feel free to say this amounts to wealth redistribution from the young to the old and oppose it on those grounds if you want.

The government is not going to choose your doctor nor is it going to get involved in your health care. This is just total crap. There are no government panels deciding what care you should get; the law doesn't cover abortions and the law doesn't cover illegal immigrants.

Despite Republican claims to the contrary, incomes will be verified when someone applies for Federal subsidies; the law simply provides some flexibility to insurance companies on how to do this.

Finally, as stated previously, Congress is NOT exempt from the law.

Conservatives lie. Always keep that in mind. Liberals lie too but not nearly as much as Conservatives because reality tends to have a Liberal bias.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Russian Solution

After insisting that the Syrians didn't use chemical weapons, or at least implying there wasn't enough evidence to demonstrate they did, the Russians have come up with a compromise to avoid the use of force.

The Syrians have agreed to turn over their chemical and sign the non-proliferation treaty in exchange for a Western guarantee that it will not attack over the alleged chemical weapon attack.

This sounds like a reasonable compromise to me even though it strikes as a case of "I didn't do it and I promise not to do it again."

Take the chemical weapons and let the two sides fight it out. I have a bad feeling that there is no "good guy" in this war so I'm not about to choose sides.

A policy of "stay out of it" works just fine for me.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Kiva and Opus Dei

I'm a member of Kiva and have been for about five years. The idea behind Kiva is to supply what are known as micro-loans to third world individuals trying to improve their economic situation.

The total amount of the loans typically range from $500 to about $3000 with each lender contributing small amounts such as $25 or $50. The loans are interest free with repayment times typically between 9 and 36 months. Once the loan is repaid you can lend your $25 to someone else.

With each loan Kiva generally asks for an optional 10% contribution so you need to refresh the amount you're working with from time to time.

At the moment I have $45.47 out on three loans and $4.41 in my account. I've made 17 loans over the five years I've been a member for a total of $450. I made my last loan on August 8, 2013 to a gentleman named Yagoup, in Palestine, who wanted to buy a refrigerator for his grocery store. I pitched in $25 of a total $3,000. The repayment term is 26 months.

Kiva, in addition to maintaining gobs of statistics on your lending, also supports "lending teams." These are simply groups of like minded individuals lending on Kiva. Each of your loans also credits the teams to which you belong.

I belong to the A+ team (Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Free Thinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-religious) which is the largest Kiva team and makes the most loans.

Since I didn't have any cash in my account I was a little surprised to see an e-mail from Kiva in my in box. I was even more surprised when I read that it was a request to fill out a survey because I was a member of the A+ team. Then I was even more surprised to learn that the survey related to Kiva's relationship to Strathmore University in Kenya which is a corporate entity of Opus Dei.

Opus Dei is an extremely conservative organization of the Catholic Church that is rabidly anti-LGBT rights, anti-birth control, anti-choice and anti-female equality.

In the e-mail were links to an open letter from Kiva and the survey. I found the open letter short on details and long on rationalizations that left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. I went to the A+ message board to get some background prior to filling out the survey.

Apparently, starting in June or July, people began to notice loan options associated with tuition at Strathmore that were significantly different from the typical Kiva loan. First, they were for a lot more money, some in the $10,000 to $12,000 range. Second, they were for much longer periods of time with some stretching out for 10 years. Third, they had to be funded in a very short period of time. Much shorter than the typical time for a Kiva loan.

The money flow also caused some concern with $10,000 to $12,000 going immediately directly to Strathmore/Opus Dei and then being parceled out over time as needed. This amounted to zero interest loans, for extended periods of time, going directly from Kiva lenders to Strathmore/Opus Dei.

Something smelled wrong here and despite denials from Kiva that Opus Dei had any influence on the operation of Strathmore, a little basic research made it obvious that this wasn't true. To make matters worse Kiva has apparently opened an office on the campus of Strathmore, a move that is unique as Kiva hasn't established such a presence with any of its other partners.

The GLBT Team was the first to raise objections to the relationship between Kiva and Strathmore/Opus Dei. They were quickly supported by the A+ team. The survey e-mail was the latest attempt by Kiva to quell the growing rebellion.

I say quell the rebellion because the number of team members that are active on the boards is very small. I wouldn't have been aware of the debate if it wasn't for the e-mail. The "survey" was clearly aimed at getting a majority of the respondents to blame the lenders rather than Kiva for the disagreement. I found it terribly biased and more than a little condescending.

So, now what?

All my Kiva Cash is lent out, and it will be a while before I get $25 in my account due to repayments, so I'll simply monitor the situation for now. I have posted on the A+ message board supporting the concerns being expressed by members of the team. I find this relationship unacceptable and I find the direction Kiva is taking with these loans troubling.

Even without the Opus Dei issue, tying up so much lender money for such long periods is causing other loan requests to go unanswered and a record number of loans seem to be expiring. Loan requests are only good for a couple of  months and then they "expire, " no loan is made and the money is returned to the lender account. I've never had a loan "expire" because prior to this year, and the advent of the Strathmore loans, it was very rare. Now it seems to be quite common.

The Kiva administration hasn't been terribly responsive to the concerns of the lenders. Basically they've taking the position that there is nothing to be concerned about and it's just a few troublemakers stirring up much ado about nothing. The survey struck me as an attempt to put together numbers to support those assertions.

It's a shame really as I felt Kiva did a lot of good, but religion poisons everything.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Obama Leaves Syrian Action to Congress

At the 11th hour President Barack Obama has asked congress to approve military action in Syria.

I believe that is the right thing to do and I'm hoping that congress will listen to the American people and refuse to OK any unilateral military intervention.

I'm as appalled as anyone that it appears agents of the Syrian government launched a nerve gas attack against local rebels. Of course I'm even more appalled that the Syrians have nerve gas at their disposal. I'd certainly like to know where they got that.

Regardless, I still am opposed to US military intervention. Leave it up to the UN and the other Arab regimes in the region to decide what action, if any, should be taken.

Hopefully congress will come back with a big fat NO as an answer.

I saw a headline somewhere asking if this decision, to ask for congressional approval, weakens the presidency? My immediate reaction was I certainly hope so. The American presidency has become far too powerful and scaling it back is long overdue in my opinion.