Monday, July 16, 2012

The Newsoom, and more Congressional Votes

My wife and I have been watching the new HBO series, The Newsroom.  If you aren't able to watch it or haven't caught an episode, I will briefly summarize the direction of the show.

Jeff Daniels plays a cable news anchor, extremely successful up until the recent past when he let loose a tirade of unpleasant, but true, facts about the United States in response to a coed's question at a large university.  During this "epiphany", he imagines that he sees the face of a woman in the crowd holding up signs which encourage him to continue.  After a few weeks of forced vacation, he returns to find that his boss has hired his ex-lover, that very same woman in the crowd, to be his new executive producer.  (In a real quick scene at the end of the pilot episode, it is revealed that she was, indeed, in that audience with those signs.)

This new team, anchor and executive producer, are brought together to create a news show that hearkens back to the days when news was delivered by the giants, Huntley, Brinkley, Cronkite, etc.  Journalists, who, at the time, were trusted overwhelmingly by the American people to give them the facts, first, opinion, second.

As the show is an Aaron Sorkin production, famous for other works such as The West Wing, Charlie Wilson's War and Moneyball, is has a liberal or left leaning tilt, so some with a more conservative viewpoint may dismiss some of its topics, not withstanding the fact that the anchor is portrayed as a life-long Republican who is concerned about the lack of moderation from those far right elements of his party.

For instance, one of the shows concerns the tea party movement.  The anchor states that he was sympathetic to their original concern with the Wall Street bailouts, and the ballooning deficit.  But when he confronts a couple who started a tea party chapter in their town and asks them about the Koch Brothers, two extremely powerful and wealthy individuals who are known to be bankrolling tea party candidates throughout the country, they are portrayed as ignorant that so much money is flowing from the Kochs, seemingly in contrast to their belief that the tea party movement is soley of grassroots origin.

Anyway, I am enjoying the show as it mimics some of my concerns, and some of my conversations with moderate republicans who, I believe represent a bigger part of the party but whose voices are either silent or being suppressed by an extremely vocal minority.

The politics of the show aside, it is clear that today's news is dominated by a lust for ratings.  And, as ratings are driven by controversy, we now have a news media that is more worried about being first with a story rather than being correct.  A media driven by opinion first, facts second.

Speaking of facts, two of this past week's Hous of Representative votes were interesting.

The Republican controlled House voted, for the 32nd time I believe, to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  It was HR 6079.  (By the way, as an aside and despite what the far right ideologues will tell you, the Affordable Care Act was an attempt to make health care more accessible and more affordable, hence its name.  That is why those opposed to it call it Obamacare, as it is much easier to deride a law with a derogatory name than discuss its actual components). 

Anyway, the House voted 244-185 to repeal.  All Republicans voted to repeal, and a few Democrats joined them.  In our area, PA, NJ, DE, all GOP reps voted to repeal, all DEM reps voted against.  Of course, there is no chance that the bill will pass in the Senate so nothing will come of it. 

The more interesting vote came on a linked bill that would have discharged, or removed, any members who voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) from their health care plan, a federal plan which provides many of the benefits, such as denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions, option for parents to include children up until age 26 on their plan, and lifetime caps of benefits paid by insurance companies.  The very same benefits that everyday Americans will lose with the repeal of ACA. 

In other words, all those people who are calling for our elected officials to have the same health care options as the rest of us, should be outraged at those reps who are not willing to "put their money where there mouth is".  The vote to require those reps to hit the open market for their insurance coverage was 188 to 245.  Virtually all GOP against, all DEMS for with a few exceptions.  Now, I am not naive enough to believe that the DEMS are all saints and the GOP sinners on this topic, but the fact remains that the voices most vocal against reforming our current health care system have a government provided health benefits package that protects them from all sorts of health insurance tricks to deny coverage and improve industry profit.

Which brings us back to the news.  Did you see the details of this vote on the news?  I read about it in the Philadelphia Inquirer.  Was it on Fox News?  Will Limbaugh or O'Reilly discuss it on their show?  Will anyone shout it from the highest mountain that our elected officials have a government sponsored health care plan (sounds sort of like socialism) that they think they deserve but which they are unwilling to help those who voted for them attain as well.  The servant, public in this case, saying no to those who elected them, the alleged master. 

Frankly, I believe that this "fact" should be part and parcel to every news or opinion show that debates health care.  Oh, thats right, I forgot, opinion first, facts second.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

An Open Letter to Mitt Romney

Sorry I am a bit late, but congratulations on your achieving enough delegates to gain the Republican nomination for the presidential election in 2012.  After months of turning back one right wing darling after another, you have silenced most of the critics who say you are not conservative enough, and gained their tacit support in your drive to unseat Barrack Obama.

I say tacit support, not to sound derogatory, but to remind you that you do not have a mandate from your party.  As one of my least favorite political pundits recently said, and I paraphrase, "Mr. Romney, we will be voting for you because we want Obama out, not because we want you in". 

Unfortunately, these sentiments will dog you throughout your term, should you win.  You see, you will be forced to choose, time and time again, to placate your base on topics such as abortion, gay rights, the health care debate, the deficit, etc while still finding room for the majority of Americans, left, center left and center right, who disagree with many of the more extreme opinions that your base has embraced in recent years.

Of course, should you win in November, you will have at least partly allayed the fears of the center right and center left or you would not have won as it is as true for November 2012 as it has been for every presidential election in recent memory; without the votes of those with more moderate positions that either the far left or far right, no one can win the presidency. 

Assuming then, a victory in 2012, and assuming a Republican controlled House and Democratic controlled Senate, how will you address the main topics of the day, especially the most critical ones.

Here are some suggestions.

The deficit will continue to grow regardless of who is in the White House or who controls the Congress.  It is inevitable if we continue to believe that we can spend more money on defense than the next 20 countries combined, engage in foreign entanglements that do nothing to advance American interests, and maintain a tax code that grants so many exceptions, credits and loopholes that some of our most profitable corporations get refunds, and some of our richest individuals pay a lower tax percentage than those working for them.  Hopefully, those tea party reps who vow to vote against every raise in the debt ceiling will resist with a president of the same party or you will be taking the oath with your/our backs against the perverbial financial cliff in January 2013 when so many of the financial issues that have been kicked down the road will be up for debate again.  You will need to be a stronger leader than Obama was on this topic.  You will need to demand action and compromise from your side of the aisle so that we begin the process of deficit reduction. 

-Trade a slightly higher tax rate and some means testing for certain deductions for some common sense adjustments of future social security payouts. 

-Trade a vote to raise the debt ceiling for an actual 2013 federal budget that can pass both houses so that all those petty battles which have occurred in the last two years can be avoided.  Get some spending freezes on certain discretionary budget outlays from the Dems to make this happen.

The health care crisis will not go away with or without the repeal of "Obamacare".  You need to take control of this issue, again, by being a strong leader and convincing the far right wing of your party that providing access to health care insurance to a much larger percentage of Americans is good economics, as well as good citizenship.  Use good morality if you must.  My proposal which can be accessed at

uses the individual mandate in combination with private insurers offering plans sponsored by each individual state.  We remove the employer as the middle man, instead requiring each individual/family to enroll in the best plan for them.  Individual responsibility, state sponsored programs, private insurers, and the idea that all Americans are paying premiums based on all of us in one big USA pool, or pools based on each state's population. 

These are the two biggest issues.  Everything else pales in comparison, and while gay marriage, abortion, and other fractious social issues make for good sound bites and enhance the coffers of the campaign, you can't let the raucous minority force you to lose the trust and faith of the majority who will have elected you.   The center right and center left voter who pulled your lever does not want you to ban abortion or support a constitutional amendment defining marriage as one man, one woman.  They want you to reduce the partisan bickering, continue the good things that President Obama started, such as health care reform, ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and reigning in the ways of Wall Street that allow big profits in good times and risk avoidance/tax payer assistance in bad.  And they want you to address the real reasons why over the past 30 years, middle class incomes have stagnated, the poor are losing ground and the rich have seen their share of the pie grow significantly.   

I don't envy you.  Sure, a win in November will seem like a dream come true.  But it won't be long until that dream fades fast into the mist of election elation.  Your base will demand immediate action that you, frankly, will not have the power or political clout to accomplish.  You may not like Obama's policies, but you will be wise to spend some time with him to prepare yourself for the attacks that will come from both sides, sometimes at the same time, for your decisions.  Being President of the United States is most assuredly NOT like being CEO which is closer to rule by dictatorship than democracy.  You will be representing ALL of us, those who voted for you and those that did not.  And, you will never be able to please us all but it is your duty to enact policies and lead us in a direction that enables most of us to feel confident in our pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. 

Good luck in November.

Joe Pugnetti   

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

One man's health care plan

As mentioned in my last blog, I was fortunate enough to have two letters recently published in the Philadelphia Inquirer.  The second one was the first paragraph of my post today and is as follows:

Now that the Supreme Court has ruled the constitutionality of the individual mandate, it is time for our elected public servants on both sides of the aisle to take a serious look at the various laws related to this historic set of reforms, keep those aspects which benefit America, and adjust/remove those which do not. That is the essence of governing and that is what we, the American electorate must demand.

Of course, my post for today is a bit more wordy.  Its title, Reforming the Health Care Reform Law should not be taken as a slight towards the Affordable Care Act as I believe that it is a great start towards focusing America on the fact that we have a health care crisis.  Not withstanding the far rights criticism that it is socialism at work, it is clear to me that the reforms in this law were constructed with too much compromise.  Compromises with the right (no public option), compromises with the insurance providers as it is still market based.

That being said, I am fine with some compromises, as long as they can be fashioned so as to help the American consumer who needs relief from high insurance premiums, lack of access to medical insurance and the real fear that we are one serious illness from losing our homes.

So, here are my suggestions.

Reforming the Health Care Reform Law

Now that the Supreme Court has ruled the constitutionality of the individual mandate, it is time for our elected public servants on both sides of the aisle to take a serious look at the various laws related to this historic set of reforms, keep those aspects which benefit America, and adjust/remove those which do not. That is the essence of governing and that is what we, the American electorate must demand.

But before this process begins, perhaps we should enumerate the issues which created the need for the health care reform bill in the first place, and consider one man’s solutions to this important problem.

Issue 1. Access to health insurance for all who wish it

Issue 2. Rising cost of health care services and premiums

Issue 3. The sickest in America are the first to be denied access and affordable premiums yet need the services the most

It has been widely documented that there are millions of Americans who want to purchase health care insurance but cannot acquire it due to an insurance industry denial, or simply because the premium is unaffordable. If we are going to continue to claim “greatest country on Earth” status, we need to create a plan whereby everyone who wants health care coverage, regardless of health or financial resources, must be given the means to purchase this insurance.

It has also been well documented that there is a trend among employers to reduce their health benefit packages to their employees or drop this benefit all together, the latter being more prevalent among smaller (50 employees or less) businesses.

And, of course, during times of recession when unemployment is high, more people lose their health insurance as the result of a job loss, and then cannot purchase insurance on their own due to insurance industry denials and high cost as noted above. A double whammy, so to speak.

Considering these problems, many on the left cry out for a single payer health plan. All people in one big pool. This is just an extension of the current system that offers more attractive premiums to larger businesses and large affinity groups, like AARP. The fear among many conservatives is that having the federal government oversee this system will simply create a bureaucracy which will add costs without improving services, and most likely be inefficient in doing so.


1. All Americans are immediately entered into one huge pool of patients.

Having one large pool spreads the cost of illness across all age groups just as it currently does for large corporations or affinity groups. Our current system penalizes workers who choose employment with small companies or choose to self-employ. Just as paying for health coverage through an affinity group or a large business reduces premiums, this should reduce premiums for most Americans.

2. All states must create a plan to cover all of their citizens. This plan should include multiple options ranging from “Cadillac” plans that cover virtually anything, to catastrophic coverage, defined by me as plans with a range of deductibles and various levels of premiums but a cap on out of pocket expenses.

Separate plans for each state will allow each to address its specific needs whether they be related to a lower population, higher median age, etc. They can open their particular requirements to any insurance company interested in their business so there should be some competition at work. If there is resistance to one big pool as noted in solution #1, then at the minimum each state would be considered its own “pool”. For states with smaller populations, there would be no restriction on them pooling together, if it is advantageous to their needs.

3. The states will contract out these plan choices through private insurance companies but each state must have a range of choices among at least 3 health care providers.

Again, some competition in play as there may be some insurance companies which prefer to enter the catastrophic market in multiple states, some which prefer states in certain areas of the country, some which decide to offer the best rates in only one state based on historical data and past experience, some which offer a full range of plans for multiple states, or even all states. But again, the plans treat all citizens of that particular state (or states) as being in one pool.

4. Employer based health care is eliminated. What premium an employer was paying for an employee’s coverage now becomes additional compensation, a raise so to speak. For those individuals who were not blessed with company subsidized health coverage and therefore had no coverage, the individual states would need to establish a “minimum” benefits plan which they would receive for free but only until they made a choice to enter the market and purchase the correct insurance for them. Each state would have to establish its own particular time frame for this to occur.

Employer based health care was good in its time but its time has passed.  By eliminating the expensive and time-consuming responsibility of researching and choosing a health care plan every year for employers, we allow our corporations and small business entrepreneurs to focus on their business. It may also spur some hiring as many employers have been in need of new employees but remain hesitant because of the uncertainty in the health care debate as well as the added burden of paying for a new employee’s health benefits, a figure that has risen steadily in the last 20 years outpacing many other business expenses.

5. All individuals (families) must choose a plan as provided by their state, based on their personal needs. Ah yes, the individual mandate.  Amazingly, it has been upheld by the Supreme Court.  I say amazingly, not because I don't beleive it is necessary but because the deciding vote was cast by Justice Roberts, a Bush 43 appointee.  Of course, in this state based scenario, Romney-care hybrid so to speak, I feel confident that the Republicans desire for the removal of the federal government's role, other than mandating that they provide a plan, will be welcome.  As for those who protest that they cannot be forced to buy health insurance, I will use a phrase I heard at a July 4th party last week.  "It is time to put on your big boy pants".  Eventually we all need health care services, be a man and participate in the cost.  And, if by some genetic miracle, you are healthy your entire life, rather than feeling you have wasted your premiums, thank your god or fate that you were blessed with good health.  Would you rather be sick?

Placing the purchasing responsibility on the patients should lead to more efficient spending of the medical dollar. Too often we engage in medical services without knowing the costs or necessity of those services. This should re-energize the doctor-patient relationship while demanding our medical professionals to treat people rather than symptoms. 

6. All medical premiums and out of pocket medical expenses are tax deductible rather than the current 7.5% minimum break point.

Currently, if your out of pocket medical expenses fall below 7.5% of your adjusted gross income, they are not deductible. Including all medical expenses, premiums as well as deductibles, will help reduce income taxes for those who experience a one-time surge of medical bills or have chronic conditions that create higher than average out of pocket costs. While this may not seems as good as the current pre-tax plan that allows medical premiums to be removed from payroll checks before taxes, it evens the playing field for premiums as overall costs have been spread across all citizens of a particular state, and it places more responsibility on the individual to purchase plans that they can afford based on their own or their family’s health.

Finally, the really good parts of the Affordable Health Care Act, those parts which a majority of Americans support should stay. Things like

Zero co-pays for routine and preventative visits.

No more denials based on pre-existing conditions, especially for children.

Allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26.

No caps on benefits paid by the insurance company due to a chronic illness or catastrophic health care issues.

I recently had a conversation with a pre-med student who fervently believed that the health care insurance industry was the devil. His plan to fix our system was to limit health care providers profits, thereby forcing them to focus on patient care and reducing costs rather than squeezing all medical providers to improve profits. He was also not a big fan of the pharmaceutical companies.

My distaste for health care insurers falls a bit below that assessment, because, in the end, I think we need their expertise in knowing the demographics of Americans, in hiring and listening to their actuaries, and in offering a range of health care plans that provide reasonable premiums/exposure to out-of-pocket expenses to us, their customers, while returning a reasonable profit so as to provide jobs for their employees, and returns for their investors.

I certainly believe that the insurance industry profits need to fall, and will fall as a result of our aging population and their requirement to cover people for whom they denied coverage in the past.  It is my hope that the CEO's and corporate executives of these companies will recognize this need also because they are Americans first, capitalists second.

Let the comments begin!!!


Monday, July 9, 2012

Gay Bashing continued

I was fortunate enough to have two letters to the editor published in the Philadelphia Inquirer recently.  The first was in response to an article written by Robert Patterson.  Mr. Patterson is the editor of the public-policy journal the Family in America, and had served as a welfare adviser in the Corbett administration before having been forced to resign due to some past articles published by the Family in America journal which were thought to exhibit a strong bias against providing assistance to those in need, seemingly in direct contrast to his role as welfare advisor to the Governor of Pennsylvania.

His article can be accessed through the following link

My letter attempted to recognize the role that a strong family plays in our society while pointing out that there is not a shred of evidence that the marriage of two same-sex consenting adults has in any way harmed the American family or promoted the demise of nearly 1 in 2 heterosexual marriages. 

Before sending the letter, I did some basic research on the topic of divorce in America.  Here is some information to consider. 

The legal act of divorce did not come readily to the laws of the various states in America.  For some states, divorce was not possible, legally until the 1800's and for one, South Carolina I believe it was, a couple could not get divorced legally until well into the 1900's. 
Since women did not generally hold jobs outside the home until WW2, divorce was not a financially wise move on their part as it usually left them with no means of support.  As a result, women stayed with their husbands as it was clearly the lesser of two evils; servitude/abuse/2nd class treatment or homelessness/destitution.

While the extremely bad examples that we see splashed across the tabloids of quickie marriages and even quicker divorces bolster sales, there is also a significant number of divorces among those married 20+ years.  These divorces generally do not break up families as the kids are gone, and do not leave one spouse destitute.  Perhaps those who divorce in their late 40's and 50's have forgotten the "death till we part' vow, but they usually separate out of a mutual realization that they they have grown apart over the years; fell out of love.  And frequently, they remain friends, even supportive of each other, just not married.

Divorce rates are rising, no doubt.  But there are some sociological factors that Mr. Patterson chooses to ignore when discussing why this is true, so it seems logical that his solutions, one of which is to "reclaim the natural family" might seem off-base.

The real issue that Mr. Patterson and those that search for stronger families should be addressing is why there is so many women with multiple children (sometimes from multiple partners) raising their children alone.  That family dynamic makes up the majority of those on assistance and those in need of society's help.  Where are the articles condemning the men who father children and deny their responsibility? 

Rather than fighting the attempts to provide sex education, including preventing pregnancy, it is groups like the Family in America who like to pretend that only "bad" girls get pregnant and somehow the boys are excused because "boys will be boys".    

Mr. Patterson also tries to justify discriminating against gay marriage by citing income levels as some type of proof that they don't need this equal treatment.  I guess when he cites the same advanced income levels to stump for eliminating tax breaks for the rich, I will consider this argument debatable rather than a poorly veiled attempt to contrive reasons to justify his discrimination.  Perhaps he should spend a weekend with the partner of a dying gay or lesbian American citizen who has to fight hospital rules to spend the last moments of life with their partner, or maybe help them move from their home when they are displaced because inheritance laws didn't protect them. 

Defining marriage as one man, one woman, is great for getting the conservative base energized, as very few of them are gay.  As I say in my letter, blaming high divorce rates on a community of people who are not legally able to marry is like blaming an ice cream shortage on people who don't eat ice cream.  If Mr. Patterson is really worried about the sanctity of marriage and keeping families together, he would propose banning people from divorcing, marrying, divorcing, marrying, divorcing, etc.  Or perhaps ban divorce when the children are under 16?     

I know, we live in a free country and we can't do that.  Yet somehow we can ban marriage for a group of
tax-paying adults.  Two people in love who wish to share their lives, death till they part.  What is more "natural" than that.

Here is my letter.

To the Editor:

Robert Patterson's article in Sunday's Currents, "GOP should stand with marriage", makes a number of valid points about the demise of the American family and its negative effects on America in general and the middle class in particular. The desire for stronger relationships between men and women so that less families are torn by divorce is shared among virtually all Americans, regardless of political affiliation. Unfortunately, Mr. Patterson makes an undocumented and, yes, I'll say it, hateful leap from noting a problem to placing its cause at the feet of a population that for the most part, isn't allowed to marry. Sort of like blaming people who don't eat ice cream for an ice cream shortage.

Like most Americans, I know all to many couples who have divorced. For those of whom it was appropriate, when asked why they divorced, I heard a variety of answers including "married too young", "we just grew apart", "financial problems", "infidelity", and the all too popular "we fell out of love". But not once did I hear, we got divorced because gay people can now get married.

So, yes, Mr. Patterson, I agree that the GOP should stand for marriage. But not just "heterosexual marriage", any marriage between two consenting adults.