Friday, April 29, 2011

My Fellow Californians

The San Francisco Chronicle published a survey this week on people's opinions on the California budget situation, and Gov. Brown's plan to balance the budget through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases.  The survey showed that everyone is really worried about the state of public education (as they fardling well should be!).  I will quote two paragraphs that about sum the results up:
Overall, the poll found that 61 percent of those surveyed supported closing the state's deficit through roughly half spending cuts and half extending and increasing taxes if that meant K-12 education would face no further cuts, as Brown has proposed.
However, Brown's proposal would restore a 0.25 percentage point increase in the personal income tax that expired in January and when asked about raising personal income taxes to fund K-12 education, 62 percent of those surveyed opposed the idea.
Nobody wanted to "raise taxes" by keeping the existing 1 cent sales tax that will expire in July, either.

Really, people?  A "0.25 percentage point increase" is too much?  Do you know how much that is?  Let's leave out the wealthy - how much is .0025% of the median salary in California?  According to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families, the median salary in California for a family of four is $76,488. That's for fiscal year 2010-2011.  A quarter of one percent of $76,488 is - $191.07.  That would be for the whole year.  It's $15.92 per month. 

You spend more than that on Netflix, if you have any kind of subscription package.  That's about 3 lattes at Starbuck's.  But 62 percent of you can't spare $16 a month to keep the schools from being cut any further?  

California has one of the worst education systems in the country.  I think 3 or 4 states are worse, it depends on who's counting what.  And we have that because we are too cheap to pay for schools.  We say we care about our kids, but we don't care enough to put any money into the schools they attend.  We've convinced ourselves that "taxes are BAD."  Sixteen bucks a month is gonna break you if you make $76,000 a year?  If you make $50,000 a year, it's $10.41 a month.  Just for curiosity, I ran the percentage for $250,000 a year - it comes to $52.08 a month.

Don't give me this crap that we can't afford a .0025% tax increase to support the schools.  We can't not afford it.  We all have to live with the children these schools turn out - if they can't read, can't do math, can't use a computer, can't think, then they can't get a job, and they'll be mugging you on the street or breaking into your house.  Is that what you want?  I don't. 

Oh, yeah, and those rapacious unionized teachers that everyone has been ranting about?  Do you know how much they really make?  The site shows average salaries by state.  I think these numbers are about 3 years old based on the dates on the comments.  This table shows that the average starting teacher salary in California is:  $35,760.  The average salary overall is:  $59,825.

What was that median salary for California again?   Oh, yeah - $76,488.  So the average teacher in California makes $16,663 a year less than the state median income.  And they spend some of it on supplies for the classroom because we don't pay enough to support the schools. And it's about to get worse, because we're too cheap to raise taxes.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

In the Depths of Medicare

Yes, folks, for those who didn't know, I recently rolled the odometer over the Big Six Five, which means I'm dealing with what starts to look like the weirdest bureaucracy I've ever dealt with.  My situation is complicated because I'm not just going on Medicare - I'm covered under my husband's employee health plan, and I stay on that (regardless of my age) until he retires.  However, before he retires (which will be next month), I had to sign up for Medicare parts A and B - while telling Medicare that I really don't need them yet, thank you.

Getting signed up was relatively simple; then I logged into, and ran into the IEQ (Initial Enrollment Questionnaire), which I tried to fill out on line.  This is where you explain about that employer coverage and its end date.  I got about half way through and ran into a form that required a number I didn't have (our health coverage doesn't have a "group number"), so I couldn't complete it.  And apparently they Really Want You to complete it - I got two successive emails suggesting that I should finish it.  So I phoned them.

I talked to a nice lady who walked me through the remain s of the form, helped me figure out where the information they wanted was, and said, "You're all done."  Great, I thought, thank you very much.  That was about 10 days ago.

Today I got a letter from Medicare.  The cover letter said, we don't have all your information, please fill out the information marked with a double star below and return within 10 days.  What?  Apart from the "attorney's name and address" (I don't have an attorney), it was all information I remembered giving to the nice lady on the phone.  So I phoned them again.

The nice lady I talked to this time said something that totally set me back on my heels.  You don't need to respond to that, she said.  We have all the information, that's just for your confirmation.  But, but - it says, respond within 10 days, I gibbered.  Ignore that, she said; we have all your information that we need.  They should have told you this when they talked to you before.

I logged into and looked at the IEQ online.  It still stopped at the page I couldn't complete.  Do I need to complete the online form, I asked?  It's still not done.  No, she said, it is done, we don't use that system.  (What??)  So I wrote on the cover letter, "ignore this, they have all your information, this is just for the record," with her name and the date; and I filed it.  I shredded the paper questionnaire.

And I've now learned that if you want to deal with Medicare, you have to phone them. It's the only way to get things done; only they understand it....

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Mr. Ryan's Budget

I won't be affected by Paul Ryan's budget directly, even if it passes, which God forbid.  I'm in the group that is grandfathered into the single-payer Medicare system as it stands today.  But that doesn't make me any less queasy when I consider it.  Besides, I figure this is just the first salvo in a serious attempt to totally eliminate the "safety net" this country has built over the last hundred years.

Believing that we can't afford Medicare as it now stands, Mr. Ryan wants to eliminate single-payer health care for seniors and give them vouchers to buy health insurance on the open market.  Since he also wants to eliminate Obama's health care reforms, this will result, and about twenty years, in a group of people trying to buy health insurance with an inadequate amount of money, on a market that can and will refuse to insure them because of the "preexisting conditions" accumulated by anybody who reaches the age of 65 alive.

And he won't even have to worry about this, although he's 41 now, right in the age range that will be hit by his changes (if they pass).  He'll be covered under the best health plan in the country, the one Congress gets, even after he retires.  (Note:  I couldn't establish that for sure.  Does anybody know if retired Congress members continue to get the Congressional health coverage?  I think they do.)  So he's screwing his constituents, with no effect on his own health care coverage.  Isn't that nice?  If Congress is to be honorable about this, they have to start using the same health care systems the rest of us use.  They won't; but they should.

The deficit isn't only the cost of Medicare and Medicaid.  Those are just the entitlement programs Mr. Ryan thinks he can get away with gutting on this round.  I don't see him talking about cutting defense spending; and of course, perish the thought that we should raise any taxes on the wealthy, in spite of a recent poll from McClatchy-Marist which shows 64% of registered voters support raising taxes on people with incomes over $250,000.  And 80% of registered voters oppose cutting Medicare and Medicaid.  Sixty-eight percent of conservatives oppose cutting Medicare and Medicaid.  If you agree with the majorities in the poll, let your congressperson know today.

Credit Ratings

I have just one thing to say about Standard & Poor's recent announcement about the U.S. debt rating:

You guys have a lotta damn gall.

This is the same Standard & Poor's whose AAA ratings of questionable mortgage-backed securities, a couple of years ago, encouraged buyers to invest in debt instruments based on home mortgages issued to anyone with a pulse.  The high ratings stayed in place right up to the time the foreclosures began to hit the news and the markets began to disintegrate.

And they now increase the possibility of a run on U.S. debt, by threatening to downgrade it "in a couple of years" if the politicians don't "do something.

I'm less concerned about the deficit than I am about other things.  We have a deficit right now because - surprise! - we have a recession, with unemployment just beginning to level off.  Many people have no jobs, many people who have jobs are feeling pinched; nobody's spending money.  And if you don't have a job, guess what?  You won't be paying as much in taxes!  A couple of years of full employment and a truly recovering economy, and the deficit would look much less scary; but we aren't going to get that, because the Tea Party is determined to cut spending until we all bleed.

If the S & P announcement will get Congress' attention and make them all sit down and negotiate, it could - maybe - have a long-term positive effect.  I don't claim that the deficit isn't a problem; just that it's being blown into more of a problem than it really is.  The real problem is the economy, which isn't recovering anything like as well as the news reports imply.  But the constant screaming I hear from the Republicans (for which read, from the Tea Party, since there is now no visible difference) makes me fear that we're about to revisit 1937, when the Federal government reduced spending because of deficit fears, and a slow recovery slid back into more depression.

I wouldn't trust anybody in Washington to manage the financial affairs of a sidewalk hotdog stand; how do these people get elected?