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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

There is Some Good Everywhere

You know, the one thing the last month has me is that you can find some beauty anywhere if you look. Well, anywhere but my 401(k) since every company in it has decided the new health care law is going to require them to take a bath.

For instance, Peoria, Illinois is not my favorite city. I remember seeing it years ago with a dull gray haze hanging over it. They've cleaned it up quite a bit since those days, but the city still suffers from horrible unemployment, and has many areas that could use some sprucing up.

But when you see it from East Peoria across the river, with the sun starting to come down, it looks completely different.

It's my metaphor for the whole heart attack incident. From one angle it sucks; new diet without a lot of my favorite things. Can't really sit around and hammer beers; need to start working out. None of those are things that really make me happy.

Then there is the flip side. I'm here and get to play with my grandson John. Dylan, my daughter's first born will arrive any day now, and I'm going to be able to travel and visit them. I'm not crazy about giving up my morning donuts, but I've got no complaint about the 15 pounds I've given up by not having them.

It's also reminded me how important a lot of folks in my life are to me. After you spend enough time with people you start to take them for granted. Then when you really need them you realize why you've stuck with them for so long; and you are glad they stuck with you.

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Just Ten Thousand Jobs

AT&T is the latest company to let shareholders know that it will have to take a huge charge; in their case ONE BILLION DOLLARS; because of the passage of ObamaCare.

For AT&T this is probably going to be an annual charges until 2012, that's when the union contract most of their retirees are covered under expires. At that point expect a pretty ugly negotiation. The current employees will be demanding they keep everything, and the retirees are going to be screaming about how much they are going to lose. Sorry retirees, you'll come out on the short end of the stick.

Until 2010 how does a company make up a billion dollars that suddenly vanished? Well, if you have no seniority at AT&T I'd be polishing up that resume. With consumers still not spending increasing prices on their products probably isn't going to happen. That means that cutting staff is the likely way to get that money back.

But don't worry, it's only about 10,000 jobs that they'd have to pare back for the next couple of years. But really, they'll start rehiring. Really, they will. Okay, maybe not, many states have already started calculating the jobs losses that are going to be caused by the ObamaCare bill, and it isn't pretty. Marathon Pundit has a nice list up of the jobs being lost by Sallie Mae, since the health care reform bill also federalized all guaranteed student loans.

One good thing, the bill has $10 billion in it for expansion of the IRS since they will be handling the compliance issues with the individual mandate. So those displaced workers might be able to find jobs as auditors with the IRS.

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Friday, March 26, 2010

New Outlook

It's funny how one ambulance ride can change a guy's outlook on life. 10 Days ago I was still convinced my medical issues this month were caused by a new medication. 9 days ago and a trip to the ER in an ambulance and we figured out that wasn't the problem.
I started thinking about that this morning as I was checking into the doctors office. The nurse noticed my weight was down about 12 lbs from three weeks ago, and my blood pressure was much better.
She hadn't been around this month, so she hadn't seen much of me since my physical. She asked what diet I was on and I told her it's the "I had a heart attack and need to change my life diet".
The nurse laughed and said something I've been saying for a few decades, "eat healthy, exercise often and die anyway". That's as true today as it was last Tuesday, or last month, or when I was 25. The difference is, I think I'll wait a while for the last part of it. And if that means eating healthy and exercising often, so be it.
I quit smoking just before all of the heart issues showed up. I originally did it to save money.
Suddenly knowing that my ticker might quit ticking again, I've found another reason to quit. Before last Wednesday I wanted a smoke about 3 or 4 times a day. Now I really don't care, I forget to put my nicotine patches on but don't get the jitters when someone else lights up.
When I had my physical and my cholesterol and blood pressure were way to high, I had no problem with taking the pills. But changing the diet? Hey, I like traditional cooking with butter and cream. You take the pills so you can do eat that stuff, right.
Now I've got no problem with vegetable broth instead of cream and butter in my mashed potatoes, and making low sodium soups. If it'll keep me out of the ambulance, I'll do it.
I even bought an American Heart Association cookbook, and one from Readers Digest for low sodium cooking.
And, as soon as I get the okay from the cardiologist, and my disability check from work; I plan on joining the park district gym. They've got some great cardio equipment in there, and it's only 5 blocks from the house.
I'm sure some of this new found health kick will wear off in a while. I'm not sure how long until I want to cook with cream again, but hopefully when I do too my wife will remind me of how she was feeling last Wednesday; as we sat at a gas station with 4 paramedics crawling through my truck to get me out and into the ambulance. I never want to put her through anything like it again.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Wacky Health Care Video

Thanks to James T. over at the National Conversation for this one.

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Change the Subject!

So, now we hear of the poor Democratic members of Congress, complaining people are harassing them, and maybe even threatening violence.

Here's my guess folks, they are getting the same number of those e-mails and crank calls today as they did last Friday. The difference, today they are good fodder to change the subject from the Health Care Takeover Act to anything else.

Why? Well, the facts are getting out, and the heat is getting turned up. No one told the folks who work at Caterpillar, John Deere and Verizon that their companies would take a hundred million dollar tax hit this year, and have to lay off thousands to compensate. Those thousands are probably going to be mad as hell.

Why are they taking that tax hit this year? Well, they did the right thing a few years back and provided their retirees with prescription drug coverage. For that, they get about $665 per year from the feds; which trims the government cost for drugs by over $550 per retiree. So it's a win -win the government saves money by giving the subsidy, and the retirees end up with better prescription drug coverage.

Now, though, under the new law, that subsidy is considered business income, and taxed at 35%. So the companies will take a huge hit, and be required to restate earnings because of it. But; to them; there is an easy way out. They are going to drop the drug coverage for the retirees, quit taking the subsidy, and not have the tax burden of it. Instead, the tax payers get the full hit for the retiree drug coverage, and the retirees have to enroll in the Medicare plan now.

This will of course increase the cost of the Health Care bill by billions, and everyone in DC will say "Never saw that coming".

So much for keeping what you've got if you like it. Just another example of how Congress understands no law it passes; and no lawyer can litigate the law of unintended consequences.

So remember, when you hear Congressman Dorkus D-Wherever whine about threats, it's not really about a new threat, it's to get folks to quit talking about the piece of crap bill he or she voted for.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Health Care Reform Facts

The first big sticker shock of the new ObamaCare era will happen later this year, when the community rating guidelines become final and binding. Suddenly, a whole lot of people under age 62 are going to see higher healthcare premiums and wonder why that is.

They shouldn't worry though, they will be getting subsidies to help with those premiums; ooops, not until 2013 or 2014; sorry to make it looks like this thing saves money they will only collect taxes for four years, not give you the subsidy you were promised.

As for all of you folks that are cheering because pre-existing conditions are now covered, that doesn't happen until 2014. Until then you can (and will) still be rejected unless they are willing to pay big.

Hey, like your current plan, aren't you glad you get to keep it. Maybe... Well if it has a flexible spending account or an HSA as part of it, you don't really get to keep it. Those don't fit the new guildelines for proper insurance, so you'll have to find something else. Sorry if it costs more.

Do you work for a small business, that treats you really well with insurance. Sorry to say that you have about a 1 in 3 chance of having your policy cancelled and being told to buy from the "exchange". Why? Easy, the fine for most businesses to not cover you is much cheaper than buying you insurance. Sorry, you don't get to keep what you have either.

Sorry to piss on your parade, just thought a few facts might be good to have. But look on the bright side, at least McDonalds will be required to post the nutritional info on their drive through board. That's worth the trade-offs, right.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Whats Next?

So, now that the Democrats can either crow that they got their landmark legislative accomplishment passed, or cry because they'll be losing their jobs come November, what's next?
Here's a few guesses. First, huge parts of this law are going to get gutted by the courts before most of it goes into effect.
There are probably three things that will be subjected to a lot of legal challenges.
1) The Individual Mandate. This will probably get thousands of individual court challenges, in every district of the Federal system. That's going to make it the funnest part of the whole thing. The 9th is going to find some reason that it's constitutional, the 4th is going to laugh and put a stay on enforcement, and DC is going to spin like a top trying to figure out what to do.
My guess is that it will be fast tracked and in the next 18 months end up in Robert's hands at the Supreme Court, where it will die a 5-4 death.
That decision, though, will doom private insurance. The mandate is the only reason they are behind this bill. Without it there is no chance they can make money with the other insurance restrictions on the bill.
2) Individual "Sweetheart deals" that some states got to get votes. While the reconciliation bill killed the Cornhusker Kickback, Louisiana is still getting $100 billion to 300 billion in extra cash, Florida seniors keep Medicare Advantage while everyone else loses it, one town in Montana gets it's Medicare paid for.
Many state AG's threatened to sue over those provisions in December when the Senate passed the bill. Expect it to happen shortly after the signing. The Florida medicare advantage clause may well be the one that dooms a bunch of the bill.
3)While many states are going to scream about the hundreds of billions in unfunded mandates, they don't have much standing to do anything about the bill. Unfortunately for them (and us) the courts have upheld the federal government's ability to pass costs to the states many times.
My guess is that at least one state will be able to say the new Medicaid costs will bankrupt them, and threaten to file a Chapter 9 petition for bankruptcy unless the Feds pick up more of the cost. By the way, Illinois, my state, would be a perfect fit. Unfortunately, our lackeys in Springfield think this is a good idea.

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Failing Me

My personal version of Nationalized Health Care, the VA, has failed me; surprise.

I noted on the 8th that they'd be testing me quite a bit. I had a cardiac stress test that week, which I failed, and a pulmonary function which was good, and an echo test, which was also good. So, the following Monday an imaging stress test was done. Radioactive isotopes were pumped into my blood, I ran a treadmill, and then had pictures of my heart taken.

This is where the system failed. I failed the test; bad enough to cause a couple of doctors a lot of concern; but not enough to get anyone to pick up a phone and call me. I was scheduled for a visit on Thursday, so they planned on telling me then, evidently.

The problem is, I had a heart attack (luckily mild) Wednesday night. Thursday I was feeling well enough to call the VA, and notify them I'd be unable to attend my appointment, I was in the hospital due to the above mentioned heart attack, and was going to be taken for a catheterization shortly.

Six hours later (the same person) called back and asked my wife why I missed my appointment, and told her it was really important I see a the cardiologist, there were problems with my stress test. While I know the Internet isn't censored, I'll avoid posting the wife's response out of respect for any nuns who might read this.

Friday, shortly before the cardiologist who performed part of my procedure came to see me; the attending physician who treated me 2 weeks earlier at the VA called. She'd been doing follow up reviews, saw my stress test, and realized I hadn't been to cardiology (there). So she wanted to let me know it was urgent I saw a the cardiologist. I explained what had transpired over the last 36 hours, and assured her, I'd seen one, just not on my terms.

Here's why the VA failed in this episode, and why my government run health care has failed so often in 30 years. The Bureaucracy of the system is the issue. Most doctors other than GP's don't make decisions on their own.

As was my case a cardiology fellow did the (2nd) stress test, and dicated it. But he didn't call me, instead, he sent the dication to a secretary for transcription. It's not her job (nor should it be) to call patients back, so she didn't. The head of cardiology has to review the transcript in a record, and approve of any recommendations. He did, but he didn't notify me, why bother, I'd be in the next day for an appointment. Unless of course I had a heart attack.

Contrast that to how most "regular health care works". The cardiologist orders a stress test, in the case of my first one I failed. At that point most civilian cardiologists immediately admit you, and order the follow up imaging stress test. This is especially true in cases like mine with a family history and basically every bad marker for heart disease.

Then they run the next test and keep you until they have read the images and decide what it says. In my case, it would have dictated an immediate catheterization, so at that point a number of meds would have been started, and I'd have been doing nothing that could cause any stress on my heart until I was on the table getting fixed.

So instead of going from the 5th, when I was first admitted to the hospital for observation, to the 18th when I had the procedure, I probably would have been completely through the test battery and "fixed" by the 10th or 12th. Six days and 1 heart attack sooner.

This isn't to say there is nothing right with either the VA, or the Military Treatment Facility I go to for my primary care. For general care, and preventive medicine they are pretty good. My annual physical this year found that my blood pressure was getting back out of control, and that my cholesterol had jumped back up too high. It actually started the ball rolling on some of this stuff.

But once they get out of that area to specialty care, the wheels fall off. The same physical couldn't find the problem with one of my hands, so off I go to a specialist. Except there's exactly one in a hundred mile radius that will accept the government reimbursement rate to treat it. He's booked until late April. I guess another 2 months (my physical was late February) isn't long to wait.

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

What I Love About Baseball

Football is my favorite sport, but baseball holds some allure for me also. Today driving back from the store I was reminded of on of the things I love about the game' Bob Uecker.

I have been trying for most of the evening to figure out another guy in the game who could get Bob Costas into the booth to help call a spring training game. Uecker had him in for at least 3 innings today.

If you ever wondered, Costas has a great sense of humor, and can be good as the lead or the straight man.

Uecker, even in his 70's is still quick as ever with the jokes, and as sharp with the game.

If you get to the Milwaukee area and the Brewers are playing tune into 620 am and give Uke a listen, you never know what you'll hear, but it's sure to be good.
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Uncle Sam is Enron

Guess what folks. Remember all that extra money Social Security was collecting, well they aren't anymore. This year they have to pay out $29 billion more in benefits than they collected in taxes. That means breaking into the office in West Virginia that holds 2.5 trillion in government bonds (really IOUs).
Think about that for a minute. If your private company decided that it was going to spend all of the money it made, plus it's reserve fund, then repay the reserve fund with IOU's, from itself, it would be called Enron. When the IOU's came due and the accounts were all broke, Congress would be holding investigations and the CEO and CFO would go on trial. When Congress does it this is called "safe investing".
Did you know that your company can't legally require you to put any of your retirement into company stock? Yet the government gives you no choice but invest your social security payroll tax in their bonds.
If you wonder why the deficit is going up so fast, keep in mind that for the last 30 years we've been counting the Social Security surplus twice. We count it the first time and claim it's a surplus, then spend it (replacing the money with T-Bills). Then we count that money again as part of the general budget to show lower deficits than we truly have.

Bill Clinton never had a balanced budget, the closest he ever came was really about $330 billion in deficit spending, then raided the Social Security surplus to tell us it was balanced. Every President since Social Security started has done the same thing.
So how do we fix the Social Security problem? First, we'll have to raise the payroll tax, either on everyone paying it, or extend the limit on the amount that's taxable; or cut benefits (good luck with that).
Then the surplus needs to actually be put somewhere that the government isn't paying itself for the use of the money. Either corporate bonds, or another government's debt would be the safest place to do it. Then when the IOU's are do, Uncle Sam isn't trying to pay you with money he has to borrow. Instead he's paying you with money coming from a different source.
Congressfolks have demonized the idea of investing Social Security's money anywhere but in the same government that's supposed to pay the benefits; but at the same time have made it illegal for private business to do the same thing. If business isn't allowed to do it, there is probably a reason, one that government should probably think about in terms of itself.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Cool New Stuff

New Years Day I got a new Samsung Moment phone. It's one of those "android phones" that runs a slim version of Linux on it. So far I'm loving the thing, though I've been told I shouldn't since it doesn't have the latest and greatest version of Android. I'm thinking if I like this version this much, when the next update comes out in a month or so, I should be that much happier.

I can now get my home and work e-mail on the phone, which is great for those times I don't have my laptop set up and ready to use and need to read something from work. Today I found Google Synch, which allows me to synchronize the calendar on my phone (which is through gmail) and my outlook clients on both home and work computers.

So now instead of putting stuff into the phone, or the work or the home, or worse, all 3 calendars, if I put it in one within 3 hours or so all of them will be up to date. That's pretty handy.

Another cool toy I found today was a barcode scanner program. Hold a barcode up to the phone's camera. It will look it up, and then if you want search for the product online, and give you the prices. Not 100% accurate, but pretty cool to play with, should be great for checking prices in stores.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I Worked For Him

I got an e-mail today from the New York Daily News, wishing to ask me about my experiences in life with (now former) Rep. Eric Massa of New York. This kind of surprised me, since I did at one time serve with a Lt. Eric Massa on the USS New Jersey, but rumor had it that he had died of cancer a number of years ago, evidently someone got it wrong, he recovered from it.

So, I did the wiki look up, and lo-and behold, my old division officer is now a disgraced former US Congressman. What a small world. Honestly, I never saw that coming. Seeing him in Congress; not a huge surprise, he was a great politician as a Naval Officer; which is a required skill for survival in the wardroom. It actually took a number of years for me to appreciate that he was a decent officer, he was one of my first Division officers and I didn't know good one's from bad ones back then.

Here's a sea story. After we returned to Long Beach, Ca. in 1984 we went into a "post shakedown availability", which is supposed to be a quick trip to the shipyard to fix problems discovered on a shakedown cruise. New Jersey's shakedown was supposed to be 3 months, but turned into an 11 month trip. So the yard period was a little more extensive than originally planned.

Lt. Massa was charged with checking out all of the "self help" equipment from the shipyard, mostly hoses, fittings, and pneumatic tools for removing paint and rust. About 5,000 individual items were checked out. Six months later every one of them was returned, down to the last hose clamp. The shipyard was astonished, normally they figured on losing 10-15 percent of the gear they checked out to the ship.

How did it all get back? Easy, Mr. Massa had a crew working for him (myself included) that wasn't allowed to leave at night until every item checked out that day was accounted for. If we worked to 7pm to find everything, fine, so long as when he checked the books it was all there. If he spot checked the hose bin, the numbers better have been right.

Someone gave us a hard time, suddenly there was an ugly visit from a ticked of officer, and we got the stuff back. Give us a hard time enough, you just didn't check anything out.

Disorganized people couldn't have pulled that off. For years after that experience I said if I ever needed anything big organized and run, he'd be the guy I would have called.

After dealing with his immediate relief, I realized that while many of us thought him the devil, the truth was, he knew what he was doing, and did it for a reason. The guy that took his place had no clue, or any reason for what he did most of the time.

Now I'm pretty surprised by the misconduct allegations, but then again, I was a seaman and he was a lieutenant back in '83 and '84, so I didn't hang out with him. Hell, he may have been a nut case on liberty, I don't know. He might have groped anything that moved, but it would surprise me. He didn't seem like that type of person.

So, Mr. Massa, or "JJ" as we called you behind your back, sorry you had such a short stay in Congress. Hope the allegations aren't true, and hope you land on your feet. You taught me quite a bit while I worked for you, and I think in the long run, it's Congress's loss.

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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Testing AndroBlogger

I thought if I could post remotely I might start posting more. So I'm going to give AndroBlogger a try on my phone and see how it works.

Who knows maybe they'll let me live blog my stress tests on Thursday.
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Monday, March 08, 2010

Testing, Testing, They'll be Testing Me!

I know I haven't been posting much, but might change this week, since I'm not at work at all.

I wish it were a vacation, but instead it's a week of sick leave. I started some new medication week back, and had some less than wonderful reactions to it. I called the doctor, he called the ER, and I got to spend a night in the critical care ward at the VA hospital, trying to figure out if I had a heart attack, an asthma attack, or just a weird, and rare, reaction to the medication.

Now, for safety's sake, I'm sidelined for a week, and waiting for a new battery of tests to (hopefully) determine exactly what the hell happened.

Luckily, the Prez hasn't gotten his way with health care yet, so they don't have to go with the "best guess" method of treatment, they can actually do all the tests.

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Friday, March 05, 2010

Military Tribunal For KSM?

Looks like the White House is getting ready for another about face. Now it's on how to hold trials for 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

Remember the well planned and thought out plan to hold the trials in New York City? Well, since they weren't so well thought out, and not very popular, now the Administration is back to the idea it rejected before, Military Trials.

It's nice to see the Administration is going to be forced to do the right thing, even though they are doing it for the wrong reasons. Of course it also make the Obama administration, and the Justice Department under Holder look like they are completely clueless on how the real world works. But then, that's not a surprise to many of us.

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