Friday, October 9, 2009

Hey Nobel Committee! What About Bill Clinton?

Ladies and gentlemen, I am about to do something that is far out of the norm for me. I am about to defend Bill Clinton.

Yes, Bill Clinton - the man who one email (reported by Politico) said is today the angriest man on the planet. For once, I have to agree with his anger (assuming he is in fact upset about the news that broke earlier today).

If you haven't heard - and at this point I don't know how anyone couldn't have heard - President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Yes, barely two weeks after taking the oath of office in January, he was nominated for his efforts in ...

Shoot, I forgot; what was it he did? Ah, yes; now I remember. It waas awarded for - and let me get this right - his "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." That's a helluva lot he accomplished there in his first 12 days, isn't it? It's incredible what a catchy phrase like "Yes we can!" can get for someone. Rodney Dangerfield had his "I get no respect" line, but nope, no prize for him; George Burns had his "Say goodnight, Gracie" closing each episode of the old "Burns and Allen" show, but no, the Nobel Committee ignored him; Elton John had "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" - oh, wait; the title of that song exempted him from consideration.

Seriously, folks? Nominated after two weeks in office? I don't care what anyone says about how much he deserved this and how much he accomplished in his (snicker) 12 days in office before the nomination. This is a reaction not to what Obama did, but is another rebuke of Bush. We get it: the international community wasn't thrilled with what Bush did and decided to knock his Administration down a few pegs by giving the Prize to someone who talked about change, restoring our standing in the international community, and bringing the nations of the world together in a spirt of kumbayah where we can all sit at the table of brotherhood, a round table on the patio where a black professor and a white cop can share a beer.

And so I go back to - gasp - Bill Clinton. Clinton has done more in his post-presidency to deserve a Peace Prize than either President Obama or even Al Gore (Side bar: I want speed bumps on my street so that cars will slow down and pose less of a threat to the neighborhood children. Can I have a Prize?); he worked with President George H.W. Bush to raise astounding amounts of money and aid for the folks devastated by the Asian tsunami. His Clinton Foundation has raised untold amounts of money to help poor and impoverished nations and regions around the globe. He should even get credit for the work he did in trying to bring peace to the Middle East and to Central Europe. I think that even Bono merits consideration for the tremendous amount of good works he has done.

So why didn't he win? Was he even nominated? He's gotten passed over for his former vice president. He's gotten passed over for the person who knocked his wife out of running for the White House. Is Bill Clinton angry? I'd put good money down that he is - and I can't really blame him. I'm a bit angry that it takes so little to get the Prize nowadays - Desmond Tutu and Elie Wiesel worked for years before they were recognized. Guess it doesn't take much now to amaze the Nobel Committee other than excited crowds, a catch-phrase, and the promise that you'll try to do something.

So based on the new criteria, I'm off to pick up trash off the front curb, get a cat out of the tree, get folks to chant "Look what I did!" and help my neighbor carry in her groceries.

Oh, and I'll expect my Peace Prize in the mail tomorrow.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Don't Want Health Care Coverage? Get Out Your Check Book

Let's for a moment assume that health care reform - in some shape or scope - manages to be passed out of the Senate, is successfully conferenced between the two houses of Congress, and is signed into law by the President. It's not necessary for purposes of this post to discuss whether it incldues either a public or single-payer option, or how many of the 30 million uninsured in this country will be covered. (Side bar: Hold on, Mr. President. I thought it was 47 million; why are you and the congressional leadership now saying 30 million? Did the other 17 million move, or did you miscount? Is this what we can expect to see in next year's census? End side bar.)

Now let's assume that you decide that you are okay with not having coverage, and you take a pass. I don't find that beyond the realm of possiblity, especially if you are young; the risk of illness is always there, but maybe you think you'll be okay and don't need the coverage.

It's your choice, right?


If you don't buy into the system, you could get a fine as high as $1,900 - and the Internal Revenue Service will make sure you pay. As Politico reported on September 24, "Americans who fail to pay the penalty for not buying insurance would face legal action from the Internal Revenue Service, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. The remarks Thursday from the committee's chief of staff, Thomas Barthold, seems to further weaken President Barack Obama's contention last week that the individual mandate penalty, which could go as high as $1,900, is not a tax increase. Under questioning from Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), Barthold said the IRS would 'take you to court and undertake normal collection proceedings.'"

Later, as was reported in the same publication, "Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) received a handwritten note Thursday from Joint Committee on Taxation Chief of Staff Tom Barthold confirming the penalty for failing to pay the up to $1,900 fee for not buying health insurance.
Violators could be charged with a misdemeanor and could face up to a year in jail or a $25,000 penalty, Barthold wrote on JCT letterhead. He signed it 'Sincerely, Thomas A. Barthold.'"

Hold on a minute. A person exercises their individual choice not to buy health insurance coverage, and they get slapped with a nearly $2,000 penalty? What if the person can't afford to buy insurance? How are they supposed to pay the penalty - and taken to its logical conclusion, what about the $25,000 in fines?

Penalty. Surcharge. Fee. Tariff. Cover charge. Whatever you want to call it, this is another way of raising revenue and represents - wait for it - a tax. It also represents a way of penalizing the choices we make. I have a family, so insurance coverage isn't a question for me; my wife and kids need to have it. But what about the 23-year-old intern fresh out of college with no dependents and no responsibilities?

The President may be correct in saying this bill will not raise taxes. But let's pull out the thesaurus and ask the same question by substituting every possible synonym for the word tax and see what answer we get.