Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Royal Presidency

In my next-to-last post, I included a chart of expenditures of the Federal Government for fiscal year 2009. It includes the expenses of the Executive Office of the President, but it barely registers on the 800 Billion dollar scale needed to show the largest categories.

<tangential rant>
In the chart notes I pointed out that the Federal Government employs over 22 million people. Twenty-two million. Do we really need that many people to run our Federal Government?
</tangential rant>

Here I'd like to single out that tiny little line item for the President's Office.

Guess how much of your tax money was spent in fiscal year 2009 to operate the White House, the President's staff, and the rest of the Presidential expenses. Go ahead, guess... Ten million? Fifty million? A hundred million?

Try over seven-hundred and forty-two million. Exactly $742,850,260 according to the U.S. Treasury Dept.

Don't blame Obama for this. At least, don't blame him alone, because that budget didn't just get that large in the last year or two.

But I can't help but wonder how much harm it would cause our country if that budget went down a few million. Or a few hundred million.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Why I'm STILL Against the Current Health Insurance Reform

Well, the big news today is that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has just finished their estimates based on the proposed House of Representatives' revisions to the health insurance reform. Those favoring this legislative package are giddy with delight, because the CBO estimates are that the revisions will lower the Federal deficit over the next 10 years, and lower it even more the decade after that.

My primary objection in my last post was that we can't afford it, so why aren't I changing my tune?

Because no legislation can change the fundamental principals of economics.

These latest estimates are for a proposed subsequent change to the health insurance legislation that the Senate passed. A reform of the reform. These estimates only apply if the House passes the exact same legislation the Senate passed in December, which has far higher CBO estimates, and then the House and Senate would both have to pass this revision. If the House passes the original Senate bill and this revision at the same time, the revision won't be applied unless the Senate passes the same revision legislation that the latest CBO estimate is for. There is almost no chance that will happen since the majority of the Senators don't want it, and probably couldn't pass it even if they did want it.

Additionally, the CBO estimates are never real-world estimates. I'm not saying that to be mean, or to exaggerate support for my position, but because the CBO isn't allowed to try to be realistic. They're required to base their estimates on whatever assumptions are included in the proposed legislation. History shows that such estimates are typically severely underestimated. Here's a closely related example: In 1966, total Medicare expenditures were about $3 billion dollars. At that time, the Congressional estimate for Medicare in 1990 was $12 billion after adjusting for inflation. The actual cost was over $107 billion. That's a little more than a rounding error, and is solid evidence that Federal "estimates" can't be relied upon.

If the House passes the Senate reform bill, Obama will sign it into law. If the House also passes the legislation they intend to reform the reform, the Senate is very unlikely to pass it, so it won't become law. The House reform to the reform will be nothing more than a footnote in history. The taxes will begin immediately, with the tax-funded benefits not beginning until the 5th year. If it's not changed before then, then tens of millions of people will begin to receive those benefits.

No legislation can change the fundamental principals of economics. If you try to provide a much greater quantity of health care without a corresponding increase in the number of qualified doctors, nurses, and hospitals, then the quality of health care has to come down, costs will go up, or both. Legislation can't change economics any more than it can change physics.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Why I'm Against the Current Health Insurance Reform

Year 11

Year 11 is the primary reason. The failure actually begins with year 5, but Obama and his legislative supporters have done their best to hide the fact that years 5 through 10 of their plan are unaffordable. They think we're stupid enough to believe their ploy of starting taxes 4 years before they start providing benefits so they can claim that the overall 10-year plan is financially balanced.

Year 11 has no such camouflage: The year following the 10-year plan will cost billions of dollars more than the taxes taken in for it. Either taxes will have to be raised, the national debt will have to be raised, the benefits will have to be cut, or some combination of these actions. Regardless of what else you like or dislike about this health insurance legislation, we simply can't afford it. We can't afford it now, and the next generation can't afford it later.

We already have the same impending problems with Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. It's all an economy-ruining financial time-bomb. Take a look at the following chart (data from Dept. of Treasury). Medicare and Medicaid are part of the Dept. of Health and Human Services budget, and under current laws, they will continue to grow rapidly. The baby-boomers are beginning to retire and Social Security outlays will continue to grow rapidly. The astonishingly irresponsible deficit spending over the last few years (Bush 2 and Obama) will cause the interest on the national debt to continue to grow rapidly in addition to threatening the stability of the dollar.

Chart notes: "Dept of Treasury" includes hundreds of billions of dollars intended to shore up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. "Independent Agencies" include a large number of organizations such as the U.S. Interagency Council On Homelessness; the Vietnam Education Foundation; and the State Justice Institute. "Other Defense - Civil" includes military retirement. Covered throughout this budget: There are over 22 million employees of the Federal Government.

No legislation should be passed that isn't financially sustainable. In the long-run, this health-insurance monstrosity won't provide better health care to more people, it will multiple the economic damage threatening our economy that could cause more hundreds of thousands of jobs to evaporate. And those folks unfortunate enough to lose their job will also lose their employer-based health benefits. Fewer jobs, fewer employer-based health benefits -- the opposite of the purported goals for this foolish legislation.

I'd rail awhile about how all the effort toward the misguided health-insurance legislation should have been focused on the economy, as the President seemed to acknowledge in his first State of the Union address ("Creating jobs has to be our number one priority in 2010") but I have no reason to think that this President or legislature has any understanding of how to improve the job situation. For example, the President and legislature are still virtually ignoring the continuing meltdown at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, with extremely far-reaching consequences for the housing industry and the economy.  Nevertheless, since health-insurance is in fact, still his number one priority, I'll close with a quotation from former Democratic President Bill Clinton, which I direct to the increasing egotistical President Obama:

"It's the economy, stupid."

Monday, March 1, 2010

Running Record

Logging when I'm not too tired and not too forgetful afterward.

13Mar2010, 5 miles! First time in over 20 years! Did it in under 50 minutes, on a treadmill, starting with a run of over 5 minutes at 9 mph, but had to slow to a walk a several times. As usual, did it with asthma medicine, several minutes of stretching first, and running in my wonderful Vibram 5-finger KSO shoes.

1Mar2010, new personal best for 5K: 24:34, on a treadmill. This was after learning a new technique my timing my asthma medicine. Worked pretty well!

25Feb2010, personal best for 5K: 25:26, on a treadmill. Goals for 2010 (no particular order): break 25 minutes in a timed 5K race, run for 5 miles without any walking, and run 9mph for 10 minutes.

22Feb2010, <gasp>Ran for over 4 minutes at 9 miles per hour and discovered how valuable my asthma medicine is, since I had forgotten to take it first.</gasp> <wheeze>Yesterday I ran 3 minutes at 9mph at the beginning of a 5K run and finished with another minute at 9mph, all on a hit of Advair an hour beforehand.</wheeze> I definitely prefer breathing while I run.

15Feb2010, 5 miles in just under 50 minutes. That's the first time I've been able to run/walk 5 miles in more than 25 years. The first 5K in less than 29 minutes. Treadmill, with varying incline. I'm looking forward to the first time I can run 5 miles again without having to walk any. My distance and speed are only improving very slowly, but at least it's improving and not declining!

2Feb2010, 5K in 29 minutes flat, on a treadmill, with varying incline.

2Jul2009, some distance, in some number of minutes. I've been going on fun runs around the neighborhood, so I don't track how far, and usually don't track how long, though I'd guess in the 20-40 minute range. I learned 2 things while running tonight: 1) I'm not fast enough to outrun mosquitoes; and 2) Lightening bugs are as awesome now as they were when I was a kid!

6Jun2009, 5k Race for the Cure. I finished, and I'm happy with that. It was perfect weather, not too hot, not too cold, slightly overcast, but not too humid. I was less than perfect. As the race began, I was in a porta-pottie with "the runs." Got done and there were so many people, it took awhile before I could even get to the starting line. This also meant that the entire crowd was in front of me, and it stayed crowded the entire time I was running. The RFID tag on my shoe should give me an accurate time whenever they post it, but I got anxious and once I got started, I ran on the outside much faster than my usual pace. Faster than usual meant I was certain to have to stop and walk some, and I did. During my first slow-down, I started feeling like I might have to barf, so I made a conscious decision not to push myself. I know the timer at the finish line was 42 minutes and something, but I have no idea how long it was between the official start and my start. I'll find out in a few days, I guess. So, I'm a survivor of the race, though that's a different kind of surviving than those wearing the pink shirts...

The results are in: 30m 31s
50-54 age group, 74th out of 186
All men: 1446 out of 2762

5Apr2009, Cherry Blossom 5k Run/Walk from near the Washington Monument to the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery and back. I finished in 27 minutes and 13 seconds! The best time I've ever run 5k since my thyroid problems started causing leg problems. [Correction: 2nd best time.] And somehow I ran the whole way - no walking!

Didn't get much sleep on the 12 hour trip home from Hawai'i, Carla & Niah picked me up at the airport, went home, changed clothes, and off we went to the Metro station. We got to the starting area with just a few minutes to spare. Niah & Daniel ran with me, and Promise went with us to hold our junk. Carla and Rebecca weren't feeling up to going with us.

I easily got up to the front of the crowd, the starter counted us down, and off we went. That's when I learned there's a notable disadvantage to starting in the very front: there's no one for you to pass, and plenty of people that might pass you. And a lot of people passed me. I did okay the first 1/2 mile or so, and then started thinking I'd have to walk some before I hit a mile. But I got to a mile, and then I figured I'd try to make the half-way point at 1.55 miles. I made it and that got me jazzed up a bit, so I tried hard to make it to the 2 mile mark. I made that and heard my time and did a little pondering on what my final time might look like depending on how much walking I had to do before the end, but I soon realized I was on the last mile, so I decided to try to keep trudging along a little bit farther. Then I started trying to recognize where the end was. Sometimes when my pace gets too hard to continue, I can actually keep going by speeding up, which changes my stride, and changes how I'm using my muscles a little bit. With about a half mile to go, I sped up just a bit, and it was enough of a change. Then I estimated about 1/8 of a mile to go and tried to give a final kick. I kicked okay, but started losing breathing control, and then realized the end was farther away than I had estimated, and I had kicked too soon. I was about 50 yards away and about to slow down to a stagger when I remembered they'd have cameras taking photos as people approached the finish line. Well that was excellent motivation. I gave up on breathing control altogether and sped up to a gasping sprint to cross the finish line, stumble over to the grass and collapse. Promise and a race volunteer kept an eye on me to make sure I didn't need a doctor or something. I just needed to pant awhile until I got my oxygen balance back.

I finished 70th out of 410 men, and 3rd out of 20 in my age group. Not bad, eh? Well, I'd feel a lot better about it if I hadn't been trounced by Alexander Van Valkenbu, a nine-year-old who finished in 24:45. And after I had asked him nicely before the race not to make me look too bad. ;)

28Mar2009, 3.1 miles in just over 38 minutes. First 2 miles in 18m3s, but then had to walk a lot. Home treadmill, 1/2 degree incline. Cherry Blossom 5k in 8 days. My return flight from Honolulu is scheduled to arrive at 6:19 AM, and the race starts at 8:40 AM. If the plane's not too late, I should be able to get there, but not sure how much energy I'll have.

24Mar2009, 3.1 miles in 30m3s. Went 2 miles in just under 19 minutes before having to walk a bit, on home treadmill.

22Feb2009, 1.75 miles in 17m2s, home treadmill.

20Feb2009, running delayed due to bruised ribs, just ran 1.5 miles in 13.5 minutes, no walking, treadmill.

2Feb2009, 1st mile in 9m, total 1.75 miles, ~17m, hotel treadmill, Seattle

27Jan2009, ~1 mile, ~12m, 29 degrees, outdoor IN THE SNOW!, gently rolling terrain. (Last time I ran in the snow, 30 years ago, I ran a distance of 5 miles, but probably ran about 10 miles counting all the slipping and sliding!)

19Jan2009, 1 mile, 8m35s, treadmill

6Apr2008, Cherry Blossom 5k Run/Walk, 28:47

7Jun2008, Komen National Race for the Cure - 5K, 26:23