Sunday, August 30, 2009

Life is good

Pork chops and fresh corn-on-the-cob on the grill.
El Rey del Mundo figurado lit up.

Republican National Committee

You've got to hand it to the RNC; they don't quit.
They keep soliciting me for a contribution and I keep sending them the same response.
This time the letter was from Robert Bickhart, the finance director.
My response:
Mr. Bickhart:
I received your letter of August 14th. No, I didn't abandone the Repubican Party - it abandoned me.
I have one simple requirement: I'll support candidates that take a "no earmarks" pledge.
Otherwise, no cash for no body.
Sincerely

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Great Discover Card Caper

OK - you'll have to bear with me on this - the back story is complicated.
Step one - I've owned Wal*Mart stock for a long time, and it has been a rewarding investment. That makes me a happy Sam's Club shopper; I get great prices and feel like I get a little of it back. Sam's sells gasoline at most of its locations at generally the lowest price around. To purchase quickly, one needs a Discover Card. Specifically an "Advantage Member" Discover Card. So, I got one and every so often, as Discover works, you get a little rebate check.
Step two - I've also owned Morgan Stanley stock for almost as long as I've owned Wal*Mart. Until the crash of 2008, MS had performed well also. For a while, MS owned Discover, but eventually spun it off to shareholders. As a result, I own a little bit of Discover stock.
Step three - Discover outsourced management of some of its portfolio to the financial arm of GE, including the Sam's Club affinity card program. Guess what: I've owned GE since the mid 1990's.
I'm connected as an investor to all three of the entities involved in the Great Discover Card Caper. Last summer while traveling I attempted to buy a laptop in a Wal*Mart with my Discover card. I was turned down. Since we've always paid the balance in full, and we guard our credit assiduously, I was surprised and a bit embarrassed. Visa approved my charge with no question. Upon my return, I jotted a little note to David Nelms, Discover's CEO, summarizing the event and just letting him know that he might have a process problem. I was contacted by someone from Discover, who tried to be helpful. But, it turns out that Discover had outsourced credit and other operations of its Sam's Club affinity card to GE's credit card business unit.
Basically then, I forgot about the whole thing. Then this summer we were shut down by Discover - purchases turned down. Apparently, we missed a payment. We searched everything and never found a statement for the period involved. But, again, we had always paid the balance in full and prior to that never missed a payment. It seemed inappropriate to me to decline our purchases without so much as a phone call since we had been good customers.
On top, Discover hit us with a big late charge and penalty. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice - well, you know the rest. I've got other credit options - Mr. Nelms - your card is out. And to Jeff Immelt: in the 2001 GE annual report you announced an initiative to reduce "back room" staff in favor of customer facing. I was concerned at the time; it turns out that would have been an excellent time to sell GE. Those back room people do things like check credit, collect the bills, run risk models and the like. Since you've had accounting restatements and the GE Finance unit has gotten creamed, maybe you should have left some of those people in their jobs.
They might have even approved my purchases.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Stephen D. Weinroth

I'm a shareholder of Hovnanian Enterprises - symbol "HOV". Buying it was a very bad decision - but I'm a big boy and I went into it with my eyes wide open. However, the Board of Hovnanian decided to give company president Ara Hovnanian a bonus of just under $1 mil after a year where the firm incurred massive loses and the stock plunged.

Now, I'm fine paying huge bonuses to executives who produce, baseball players who hit homers or have low era's, and talk show hosts with big ratings. But rewarding a disastrous performance is stupid and inappropriate.

So, I wrote letters to the heads of the Audit Committee and Compensation Committee of HOV to let them know how I feel.

Somewhere is an SEC filing I got the address for Stephen D. Weinroth, who is head of the Audit Committee. Well, the letter cam back not deliverable. So, if there is someone from the SEC who monitors Google Alerts for SEC - you can check out why directors are filing bogus addresses with you.

And, since I couldn't get a letter to him - I'm putting it here.

Mr. Weinroth:
As a long-time shareholder of Hovnanian, I was shocked at the Board's decision to award Mr. Ara Hovnanian a bonus of almost $1 million. In a year that the firm lost over $1 billion and the share price collapsed, it was incomprehensible.
Shareholders expect better from Compensation Committees. For this year, please relate Mr. Hovnanian's incentive compensation to performance.
If Mr. Hovnanian finds it difficult to live on his $1.1 million base pay, he may have to cut back on custom-made suits and shirts.
Sincerely,
GM

Letter to Senator Casey of PA on GM Stock

Here is an email that I sent to Senator Robert Casey of PA about General Motors Stock


Senator Casey:
I’m one of the fortunate top five percent tax payers who pay half of all income taxes. My family has been blessed; we live in the greatest democracy in the world and have enjoyed some measure of financial success. And while I’m a conservative, I believe taxes should have been raised to support the war our country is fighting.

I know the tax cuts from the prior administration will expire, creating a de facto tax increase. I’m going to be paying even more. Since part of what I’m going to be paying for is the General Motors rescue, how about giving me a chance to earn some of my money back? Distribute that big hunk of GM stock to all us taxpayers. Pro rata for every individual tax return.

Gets the government out of the car business, creates a chance for the government to earn tax on any capital gains that develop, and gives me a chance to recover some of the big tax increase headed my way.

Please give it real consideration.
Sincerely,
gene

Saturday, August 08, 2009

And a letter from Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn responding to good friend Dr. Richard Fisher's letter:


August 6, 2009




Dr. Richard Fisher
8808 Bredbury Cove East
Cordova, Tennessee 38016-6498


Dear Dr. Fisher:

What a pleasure to hear from you. Thank you for contacting me to share your opposition regarding a universal government run health care plan. Hearing from constituents on issues of concern is important to our office and me as we work to represent our district.

Today, more than 41 million Americans are either without health care or participate in a basic system that provides only marginal coverage. As a result of a myriad of state regulations and our current tax code, many small businesses cannot afford to offer health insurance and many individuals cannot afford to purchase health insurance. Additionally, people often fear leaving their current job with employer-based health insurance due to the lack of portability and the limited number of affordable insurance options either for individuals or in the small business market.

Also, the rising cost of healthcare is a troubling problem. According to the most recent Medicare trustees report, total Medicare expenditures are estimated to be 3.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2006, reaching 11.0 percent in 2080. With our rapidly aging society, costs can be expected to increase as more individuals join the Medicare program. Without some true reform, the high cost of health care and the difficulties in obtaining health insurance will continue.

Like you, I do not support a universal government run health care plan. It is my belief that a system like this would take away the ability for you to make decisions about your own health care and put it in the hands of government bureaucrats. The best way to expand health care coverage is by giving the individual the power to choose a medical option with his or her own insurance, not by having a government official tell us what procedures are allowed and refuse to provide additional treatments. As the 111th Congress begins, I will continue to push for reforms that will lower costs and increase health care options for all Americans.

Please be assured of my continued commitment to ensuring Americans have access to health insurance. Congress must do more to expand high quality health care and make it more available and affordable for working families. Our nation must move from today's bureaucracy-driven, heavily regulated health care system to a new patient-centered system of consumer choice and free-market competition. As your Representative, I am committed to making sure that all of Tennessee's families have access to affordable, high quality health care, and I will continue to work hard so that this goal can be realized.

Please know that I appreciate both your interest and time in contacting us on this issue. As the discussion moves forward on this and other issues, please feel free to visit our website at www.house.gov/blackburn where you can sign-up for our email update, learn about constituent services, and find the latest legislative news and critical information that affects and concerns the people of Tennessee.



Sincerely,

Marsha Blackburn
Member of Congress

MB/sm

More healthcare letters

And from fellow conservative Mark Hogeboom, a response from Senator Kyl to Mark's letter:


Dear Mr. Hogeboom:

Thank you for contacting me regarding health care reform. I appreciate the opportunity to respond.

The U.S. health care system is the best in the world, spurring advancements in new medical treatments and technologies. Such innovation helps physicians treat and prevent diseases better than ever before, eradicates once fatal epidemics, and helps Americans lead longer, healthier lives.

Despite these advances, millions of Americans struggle to find affordable health insurance options. From 1999 to 2008, the average cost of a family health plan increased by 119 percent from $5,791 to $12,680. Meanwhile, workers' wages increased 34 percent during the same nine-year period. Ensuring access to quality, affordable health care is a laudable goal. I support targeted solutions that lower health care costs and improve health care by building upon, not completely dismantling, our health care system.

Unfortunately, many of the proposals being considered in the U.S. Senate will make health insurance more expensive, jeopardize Arizonans' current coverage, and expand the government's control over health care. While you will not find the words "ration," "withhold coverage," or "delay access to care" in the pending plans, that is what will result from the web of federally-dictated insurance reforms, new legal obligations, and provider reimbursement schemes that are part of them. Such policies centralize the power of medical decisions with politicians and bureaucrats, not patients and doctors, and they will result in the delay or denial of care.

There are three main problems with the Majority party's proposals: the implementation of a government-run insurance plan, the use of comparative effectiveness research, and spending.

Government-Run Insurance Plan:

First, the Majority's proposals would create a new, government-run health insurance plan to compete against private insurance plans. The argument is that a government-run plan would give consumers a better range of choices and make the health care market more competitive -- "keep the insurance companies honest," as the President put it. However, well-respected, independent analysis provides evidence to the contrary. For one thing, a government-run plan would be subsidized by the taxpayers, giving the government plan a huge advantage over competitors. Yet, even government resources are not unlimited. To save money after tens of millions of people are added to the public plan, the government would cut reimbursement to doctors and hospitals, exacerbating the difficulty Arizonans' already encounter in trying to schedule doctor appointments. To make up for low government reimbursements to providers, insurance companies would have to charge more for private insurance, making it less attractive than the government plan.

Over time, there will only be room for the government plan according to the respected Lewin Group, as 119 million Americans would lose their current coverage. Remember, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were designed as independent "government-sponsored enterprises" to complement the private mortgage market. Now, Fannie and Freddie account for a combined share of 73 percent of mortgage originations in the second half of 2008. The two "government-sponsored enterprises" are now effectively owned and run by the federal government, after having sustained losses of over $100 billion last year alone. A Washington-run health care plan will do to the health care market what Fannie and Freddie did to the housing market.

Comparative Effectiveness Research

Second, the Majority's plan would create a new research entity to conduct so-called comparative effectiveness research (CER). CER is a mechanism used by medical professionals to provide information on the relative strengths and weaknesses of various procedures and treatments. In the hands of doctors, medical researchers, and other health professionals, CER can help patients and their own doctors make informed health care decisions. However, in the hands of government, CER can become a tool to delay or deny care. For example, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Effectiveness in Britain uses "cost-effectiveness research" to make health care decisions. By basing treatment decisions on cost rather than need, Britain prescribes fewer cancer drugs than any of the other big five European nations; its patients therefore have the lowest survival rate according to a May edition of National Review. The UK's system provides only half of the care for end-stage renal disease patients that we do in the United States. Obviously, such rationing of care is not something we should replicate in the United States.

It is telling that none of the Majority's proposals in Congress would bar the federal government from using CER to deny access to care. In fact, when I offered an amendment in April to explicitly bar the use of CER to ration care, it was defeated on a near party-line vote. I have now introduced a free standing bill to ensure that any information obtained through CER cannot be used to deny access to care. The Preserving Access to Targeted, Individualized, and Effective New Treatments and Service (PATIENTS) Act of 2009 (S. 1259) will protect the doctor-patient relationship and ensure access to the highest quality medical care. I will fight at every opportunity to ensure that any health care reform plan the Senate considers later this year protects patients' access to care.

Cost

Finally, the Majority's plans would cost between $1 trillion and $2 trillion, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. But even that may understate the true cost. Consider that Massachusetts enacted near universal health insurance in 2006, and costs have exploded, doubling from $630 million in 2007 to an estimated $1.3 billion just two years later. To deal with those costs, the state has decided to slow enrollment of beneficiaries and eliminate dental coverage for its poorest residents. A special commission, which was established by the state legislature, has now recommended limiting coverage to those health care services that government deems to be cost-effective -- just like government-run health systems in other nations such as Canada and Great Britain do.

Furthermore, the plans would be financed by a combination of new taxes and cuts in Medicare spending, hurting seniors' access to care. The Medicare Trust Fund is expected to reach bankruptcy by 2017. Taking money from one program with urgent solvency problems, such as Medicare, to fund a huge expansion of health care benefits for others is not sensible.

I believe in the right of every American to choose the doctor, hospital, and insurance plan of his or her choice. No Washington bureaucrat should interfere with that right or substitute the government's judgment for that of a physician. Any health reform proposal should adhere to these principles.

I appreciate your sharing your thoughts on this important issue. Please stay in touch.

Sincerely,

JON KYL
United States Senator

P.S. If you wish to share additional comments about this or any other matter, please visit my website at http://www.kyl.senate.gov/contact.cfm. Do not reply to this email.


Obviously, this is a little more aligned with my thinking.

Keep on writing! They are listening!!!

Healthcare letters

My conservative buddies - and me - have been writing our Senators and Congressmen about the health care bills.

I encourage you to do the same, regardless of your point of view, you should make it heard on this very important topic.

Here is the response I received from Senator Casey. Even though I disagree, it is at least reasonably well argued.


Dear Mr. Morphis:

Thank you for taking the time to contact me about health care reform. I appreciate hearing from all Pennsylvanians about the issues that matter most to them.

We cannot afford to wait any longer to reform America’s health care system. As a member of the United States Senate and of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, I am working with my colleagues and with President Obama to enact meaningful health care reform, with the goal of providing every American with access to high quality, affordable health care. Ensuring the unique health needs of children are met will be a specific priority of mine in health care reform. Many of my constituents have contacted me to share their opinions on a wide range of potential health care reform options. I welcome your comments and suggestions on this important issue.

On July 14, the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) successfully reported out our bill, the Affordable Health Choices Act, to reform the Nation’s healthcare system. At its core, this landmark bill provides additional choices for Americans who need health insurance, while maintaining health insurance options that currently exist and that individuals may wish to keep.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Affordable Health Choices Act will cost $611 billion over the next ten years. Our current system is not sustainable and waiting to act or doing nothing will only make the problems worse. If we do not act, more people will lose coverage. As costs increase, the quality of care will diminish and the ballooning costs incurred by the government and business will endanger America’s fiscal health. The Affordable Health Choices Act will reduce costs by emphasizing prevention, cutting waste and modernizing the health care system through quality information technology.

The Affordable Health Choices Act also promotes prevention by giving Americans the information they need to take charge of their own health, such as information on early screening for heart disease, cancer and depression and information on healthy nutrition. The Affordable Health Choices Act takes strong steps to improve America’s healthcare workforce, making sound investments in training the doctors, nurses, and other health professionals who will serve the needs of patients in the years to come and ensuring that patients’ care is better coordinated so they see the right doctors, nurses and other health practitioners to address their individual health needs.

To address the need for more choices for Americans, The Affordable Health Choices Act includes a public health insurance option called the Community Health Insurance Plan. This plan will be one of many plans available to individuals through the Affordable Health Benefit Gateways that will be established in each state. These gateways build on the success of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP), which provides a range of different health plans from which to choose to federal employees including civilian employees, Members of Congress and their staffs, retirees and their families. The Community Health Insurance Plan will be required to comply with the same rules governing private plans offered through the health insurance gateways, and will comply with the same insurance regulations as private insurers.

The Committee on Finance, of which I am not a member, has jurisdiction over other areas of health care reform and is in the process of developing its own draft legislation. This jurisdiction includes many of the options being discussed to finance health care reform such as Medicare payment reforms and taxing health benefits, sugary drinks or alcohol. Some of the most significant provisions regarding children also fall under the jurisdiction of the Committee on Finance, such as the Medicaid and CHIP programs. After the Committee on Finance has finished developing and considering its health care reform legislation, the bill will be merged with the Affordable Health Choices Act for consideration by the full Senate later this year. I will be examining carefully both the bill that the Committee on Finance develops and the merged bill that the full Senate will consider for their impact on health care for children, particularly our most vulnerable children, as we engage in the continuation of this debate in the weeks ahead.

For more information about the health care reform legislation Congress is considering, and to read the text and summaries of the bills, please visit my blog at http://casey.senate.gov/about/blog/post.cfm?pl=Health_Care_Reform:_The_Time_Is_Now.

Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future about this or any other matter of importance to you.

If you have access to the Internet, I encourage you to visit my web site, http://casey.senate.gov. I invite you to use this online office as a comprehensive resource to stay up-to-date on my work in Washington, request assistance from my office or share with me your thoughts on the issues that matter most to you and to Pennsylvania.

Sincerely,
Bob Casey
United States Senator

Monday, August 03, 2009

Letter - Congressman John Boehner

I received a nice letter from Congressman John Boehner. It contained one of those phony surveys designed to get one so worked-up that a contribution is inevitable, e.g.-"Should Republicans resist Democrat efforts to restore Clinton-era restrictions against information gathering by our counterterrorism agencies?" And, of course, a request for a contribution.

So, I wrote the good Congressman a letter.

Dear Congressman Boehner:

Got your letter - great to hear from you!

Here's the deal: when you were part of the majority, you sold us conservatives out. You spent like Democrats on steroids. So, now that we're back in the minority, you want me to believe that you're off the spending needle.

Sorry, but I'm not convinced just yet. If you can get all your buddies on your side of the aisle there in Washington D.C., and the Republican candidates for office, to take a "no earmarks" pledge, well then I'll open my checkbook back up. Otherwise, I'm not persuaded that you're committed to the low-carb financial diet.

Note that I didn't say anything about balancing the budget. I'm resigned to being part of the generation that passed an incomprehensible debt on to its children. I just want you to stop adding all those personal choice goodies to the bills. It doesn't seem too much to ask, but then, I've never had to go cold turkey on a bad addiction.

Please get back to me if you and your friends go along.

Respectfully,

gene