Obama Administration U-Turns on 911 Responders’ Health Fund

~~By InsightAnalytical-GRL

After grinding any chance of real health care reform into the ground, you probably won’t be surprised by the latest from the Obama gang.

The New York Daily News is reporting:

Team Obama to double budget for treating 9/11 responders in an amazing same-day U-turn

WASHINGTONThe White House suddenly boosted funding for ailing 9/11 responders yesterday – pumping more government money into the treatment program than ever before.

Team Obama ponied up the cash only after outraging New York lawmakers with the news the administration won’t back a permanent plan to help the dying Ground Zero responders.

The White House confirmed it will more than double the budget for treating ill responders to $150 million in 2011.

The abrupt reversal came after the Daily News revealed New York lawmakers were shocked Wednesday when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the administration does not support an $11 billion permanent treatment plan.

Surprised?

The delegation hopes President Obama will reconsider and put victims of the terror strike on a footing close to wounded soldiers, perhaps even funding the 9/11 health bill with the military.

Don’t hold your breath…

Although 911 responder advocates are happy that there will be more money available in 2011, it’s not a real solution to the lack of  permanent funding:

But lawmakers still believe a permanent fix needs to be made so responders don’t have to go hat in hand every new budget and political cycle.

“Sebelius made it clear that the administration does not support any kind of funding mechanism that’s built into the bill,” said Bronx Rep. Eliot Engel. “They find money for everything else, they need to find money for this.”

Yes, Rep. Engel, they sure do find money for everything else, don’t they?

Hey, if 911 responders can’t get money for their health needs, what chance do the rest of us have for secure access to health care??

First Rumblings About Retirement Savings Plan in the State of the Union Address Tonight?

~~By InsightAnalytical-GRL

I won’t be watching the SOTU address tonight…sort of got out of the habit during the Bush years because I found him unbearable to watch and these days, the same thing applies to Obama…

A few days ago on an NPR report on the possible content of the SOTU speech I heard a passing reference to something about “retirement.” Having just completed two posts on the subject of IRAs and the talk about “encouraging workers” to sign up for a new savings program, my interest was piqued.

The New York Times also offered a preview of the speech and lo and behold!  there was a similar reference…in the first paragraph and later on (my bolding).

Obama to Offer Aid for Families in State of the Union Address

Published: January 24, 2010

WASHINGTON — President Obama will propose in his State of the Union address a package of modest initiatives intended to help middle-class families, including tax credits for child care, caps on some student loan payments and a requirement that companies let workers save automatically for retirement, senior administration officials said Sunday.

snip

Another of the president’s proposals, a cap on federal loan payments for recent college graduates at 10 percent of income above a basic living allowance, would cost taxpayers roughly $1 billion. The expanded financing to help families care for elderly relatives would cost $102.5 million — a pittance in a federal budget where programs are often measured in tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars. And the automatic paycheck deduction program would simply be a way to encourage workers to save, and would include tax credits to help companies with administrative costs.

Might one of those companies be AIG?   See the previous posts on the matter, links below.

Now, of course, the reporter follows up this paragraph immediately with this (which sort of sounds like a bit of editorializing, no?):

Such programs are, notably, much less far-reaching than Mr. Obama’s expansive first-year agenda of passing an economic recovery package, bailing out the auto industry, overhauling the health care system, passing energy legislation and imposing tough new restrictions on banks. That agenda has left him vulnerable to criticism that he is using the government to remake every aspect of American society.

Well, it remains to be seen whether this “encouragement” will be “much less far-reaching” than the New York Times writer assumes.

As I mused in the last post I did on the subject, the idea may be a good one in theory, BUT…the devil is in the details. And those details involve how much money is involved and which companies will be getting all those tax credits.  It seems to me that we might be looking at lots of nice credits being passed around as well as lots of fees that will cut into the amount of money that actually gets saved.    Sort of like Medicare Part D wound up…companies charging a bundle so we can have the honor of a prescription “plan” that often winds up charging about the same than what someone paid with a discount card and no premiums before Big Pharma got involved!

I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about this in the future, unless it’s stuck in another bill somewhere where the sun don’t shine…

RELATED POSTS

The Next Shoe to Drop: IRA Grab Being Set Up NOW–Heads Up! (UPDATE 1X) January 14, 2010

More on the Possible IRA Grab–What the Vision Is and Who’s Behind It January 19, 2010

// //

The Next Shoe to Drop: IRA Grab Being Set Up NOW–Heads Up! (UPDATE 1X)

~~By InsightAnalytical-GRL

Over the last couple of days I’ve received a couple of regular newsletters from pretty reputable places mentioning an article in Business Week about the growing buzz about plans to get people to shift their IRAs and 401Ks into “income streams/annuities” under the auspices of the crowd in Washington, D.C.  Following the link from both emails resulted in a link that went to a weird Business Week page that looks like a sitemap , but NOT the article in question…a very unique way of scrubbing? (*see rediscovered link with title change, Update below)

Here’s part of what one of the newsletters quoted from the missing article:

Jan 8th:

http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-01-08/americans-oppose-initiatives-limiting-401-k-choices-ici-says.html

4th paragraph down reads:

“The U.S. Treasury and Labor Departments will ask for public comment as soon as next week on ways to promote the conversion of 401(k) savings and Individual Retirement Accounts into annuities or other steady payment streams, according to Assistant Labor Secretary Phyllis C. Borzi and Deputy Assistant Treasury Secretary Mark Iwry, who are spearheading the effort.”

I don’t have time to poke around as much as I would want now, but I wanted to direct you to a blog which is on top of this and has provided links to various other articles that have appeared in recent months, including those from Bloomberg, as well as analysis from Karl Denninger.

Please check out this post dated January 13, 2010 from the Finance Blog:

Converting 401k and IRA Funds Into “Steady Payment Streams”

Part of the post quotes the January 8 story from Bloomberg.com, which is still available. It seems the Business Week article picked up the story from Bloomberg, since the snippet from the newsletter reads the same.

Retiree Annuities May Be Promoted by Obama Aides (Update2)

By Theo Francis

Jan. 8 (Bloomberg) — The Obama administration is weighing how the government can encourage workers to turn their savings into guaranteed income streams following a collapse in retiree accounts when the stock market plunged.

The U.S. Treasury and Labor Departments will ask for public comment as soon as next week on ways to promote the conversion of 401(k) savings and Individual Retirement Accounts into annuities or other steady payment streams, according to Assistant Labor Secretary Phyllis C. Borzi and Deputy Assistant Treasury Secretary Mark Iwry, who are spearheading the effort.

Guess who’s involved looking out for all of us??   Starts with an A…

Annuities generally guarantee income until the retiree’s death, and often that of a surviving spouse as well. They are designed to protect against the risk that retirees outlive their savings, a danger made clear by market losses suffered by older Americans over the last year, David Certner, legislative counsel for AARP, said in an interview.

“There’s a real desire on a lot of people’s parts to try to encourage something other than just rolling over a lump sum, to make sure this money will actually last a lifetime,” said Certner, legislative counsel for Washington-based AARP, the biggest U.S. advocacy group for retirees.

Oh, yeah and guess who else is taking their piece?

Promoting annuities may benefit companies that provide them through employers, including ING Groep NV and Prudential Financial Inc., or sell them directly to individuals, such as American International Group Inc., the insurer that has received $182.3 billion in government aid.

MAY BENEFIT????   You have to be kidding…And, AIG, AGAIN???

The article continues discussing how people just aren’t putting much money into annuities so they have to be “encouraged.”

There’s a bit of concern being raise, however:

Asset managers are concerned the government may go too far in encouraging annuities, said Mike McNamee, a spokesman for the Investment Company Institute. Seven in 10 U.S. households would object to a requirement that retirees convert part of their savings into annuities, according to a survey the group released today.

“Households’ views on policy changes revealed a preference to preserve retirement account features and flexibility,” the institute said in a report.

But there’s puzzlement, too:

The institute also said annuities have received support from academic research and “it is unclear why individuals usually forego the annuity option” even when it is available. The survey didn’t ask about potential efforts by the government to encourage voluntary use of annuities.

Of course, in the next sentence, the question is answered:

Annuity sales to individuals have come under regulatory scrutiny in recent years over the size of sales commissions and whether some varieties are suitable for older investors.

So, who’s pushing this idea?

One proposal raised by Iwry as co-author of a paper while at the Retirement Security Project, before joining the administration, has reached Congress. A bill requiring employers to report 401(k) savings both as an account balance and as a stream of income based on an annuity was introduced on Dec. 3 by Senators Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat, Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican, and Herb Kohl, a Wisconsin Democrat.

WOW, bipartisanship!!

And, this crap may not be a product of the Obama crowd alone…Chuck Butler, President of EverBank, and the author of the Daily Pfenning newsletter (one of the two newsletters I received that are discussing this) writes:

Well… A reader sent me a report from May of 2008, where a Washington Think Tank came up with this idea of taking a piece of our pie…

I can’t vouch for this information so I will try to track it down.  But if it’s true, then the idea was around during Bushco…and, if so, then it means this is another example of the continuity into Obama World.

In the meantime, also check out the analysis of Karl Denninger at Market Ticker in a post entitled “401k/IRA Screw Job Coming?” He mentions CNBC’s Rick Santelli’s belief that this is all about forcing money into the Treasury market and then he concludes:

Let me tell you what this is – it is an attempt to prevent the collapse of the Treasury market!

And he goes on to discuss the risks all this portends for the future.

Read it and weep…

****

UPDATE

*One of the newsletters just popped into my mailbox and they’ve discovered the missing Business Week link, complete with a title change, by the way…from

“Americans Oppose initiatives limiting 401 k choices ICI says”

to:

“Retiree Annuities May Be Promoted by Obama Aides”

Notice the change of emphasis??????

Here’s the story:

Retiree Annuities May Be Promoted by Obama Aides

http://www.businessweek.com/investor/content/jan2010/pi2010018_130737.htm

Health Care Reform? Must Be Visible to Only a Select Few…

~~By InsightAnalytical-GRL

…And that may be Democratic Congress Critters and THE ONE?

Whither True Health Care Reform?

Let’s see…this morning on NPR I heard about Massachusetts “Walmart” of health plans…where, in a half hour, you could compare loads of health care plans and enroll…VOILA! Just like that!! (Assuming you have the cash…)

Of course, the Federal version being debated in conference would provide so much more, looking more like what’s up on the Medicare site…the one that is so full of wonderful plans for medical and prescription insurance that you can’t compare any of it easily and which leaves you unsure of what the differing costs will actually be! The current idea being dealt with in conference  will be much better than that in Massachusetts because you’ll be able to plug in your scenario (Example used: “Hey, I think I might get breast cancer”) and shop for a plan specific to your worries…although, when you DO get cancer, who know what will happen!! Of course, the debate is over this provision’s “mandate-iness”–let’s see, if it’s left up to the states and you’re in a Republican state, the odds are YOU WON’T HAVE ACCESS TO THIS catalog of health care plans!!

(This was part of a bigger story about how union leaders don’t want their “negotiated for pay cuts/freezes” “Cadillac health plans” taxed…and they marched over to the White House to inform THE ONE that they couldn’t guarantee union votes during the midterms…Reality bites!)

Of course, the single payer option is gone already…

Now, I’m seeing reports that the EMPLOYER MANDATE for large companies to insure their workers may be gone, too?**

Now, what does that leave???

Not a helluva lot, as far as I can see! The same Swiss cheese non-system we’ve got, only more expensive, most likely, especially, if the expert I heard is right, not having a nationwide availability of the “shopping mall” for health care will definitely NOT help drive down costs…and, of course, health care shoppers will be left to the political winds even though there will be some vague business in the provision about the the Feds will be able to step in if the states don’t do things right…which, probably wouldn’t happen, from what I gather, as the Feds are apparently shy of doing such things.

Disgusting. A majority in both Houses, frittered away for WHAT????????

Foreign visitors to this blog must be wondering what the hell gives with health care in the U.S.  Well, let me inform you, that it’s just a political football  whose prime requirement involves making a buck for companies that lobby.  In other words, it’s not for people!!

**This headline and a pic of Nancy Pelosi and a couple of others appeared on the Comcast.net front page about 5 pm MT…when I went back to grab it…it was GONE!
UPDATE: The story is not on the front page, but is showing up at the bottom of the email section. It’s an AP story, which means linking to it is forbidden.

Link to the NPR story:

To Critics, Cadillac Tax Looks Like a Yugo

If You’re Feeling Cold, You’ll Feel Even Colder When You See This…The UK on Ice

~~By InsightAnalytical-GRL

If you’re feeling a bit chilly, then this pic courtesy of NASA will send even more chills your way.  It’s a view of Great Britain looking positively frozen!!

Check it out at Open Range RamblingsCLICK.

Starting the New Year on a Positive Note: A Tribute to My Favorite Car Dealership, SISBARRO VOLKSWAGEN!

~~By InsightAnalytical-GRL

(Editor’s Note: This piece first appeared on our sister site.)

During these tough economic times many businesses have to kick it up a notch in terms of how they treat the customers they DO have.  Then there are businesses that have been going all out all along…like my favorite car dealership SISBARRO Volkswagen here in Las Cruces, New Mexico!

The VW dealers I dealt with in NJ were pretty small outfits…like the defunct Princeton VW and the one I went to next, Hamilton VW.  And although Sisbarro VW is part of a larger organization, the VW store still maintains the homey atmosphere that is something special.

Sisbarro Volkswagen

Service at Sisbarro

Part of my loyalty to this organization, apart from the fact that I’m loyal to the VW brand, may be because it just so happens that the owner, Lou Sisbarro was born in NJ (across the river from where I grew up!) and that he gets back to the Jersey Shore (Lavallette) every year (… I have childhood memories of a week at Lavallete with my aunt and uncle and cousins one summer).

But that’s really just coincidental icing on the cake. The real story is that the folks at Sisbarro VW over the years have been great…and the last few months have been EXCEPTIONAL!!

It all started when we traded in our two Rabbits (Golfs again this year) for an end-of -the 2009 year Sportwagen.  Years ago, we had looked at a Jetta wagon, but it was a bit small, so we opted at the time for a Passat.  Since it was a turbo and my mother had so little mileage on it, we decided after 5 years that we might sludge things up because it wasn’t getting driven enough.  We both got our Rabbits, but now that my mother stopped driving, it was time to go to one car.  Luckily, VW reintroduced the Jetta wagon, this time as a totally redesigned Sportwagen…which, seems to be almost as roomy inside as the old Passat!

Of course, since they are in demand and it was the end of the year, our Sales Consultant Andy Gutierrez, had to initiate a search around the western region.  Andy and us go WAY BACK…he’s been at Sisbarro for 10 years and we’ve bought cars from him before.  And he may very well have been the person who helped us out on our first visit to New Mexico. At the time, we were driving a 1998 Jetta sedan and for some reason the trunk indicator light was staying on.  We stopped by the dealership and the problem was resolved…we had been slamming the trunk too hard!!

I longed for a white car but one that was available was pretty much sold. There were two others, one already in sales negotiations, so we decided to settle for the Reflex Silver, just like our old Passat had.  We reviewed the features and said OK!  We’d buy it sight unseen!!  (But, as a courtesy, Sales Manager Mike Tourtillott said we didn’t even have to sign the papers until we actually drove the car!) A customer with a Sportwagen was at the dealership by chance and graciously allowed us to try out the trunk…yes, a walker fit in it, no problem!  The owner, another VW buff, raved that it was the best VW he had ever owned.

Within a few days the car arrivedfrom Utah and it was gorgeous!!  We had a lot of laughs as we paid for the car…Finance Manager Ronnie Frietze has a talent for making the entire process of signing a zillion forms and handing over the check painless as he keeps the jokes coming!

When we sat down with Andy to review the car’s features, I wondered where the AUX input was.  This is the input used for things like MP3 players, etc.  MMMM…… In the center console there was a weird looking receptacle, which turned out to be an IPod cradle.  Panic. I don’t use an IPod and don’t want one.  Where was my little $30 Sylvania  MP3 player going to go??

Apparently, the normally wonderful VW engineers had had a few too many beers over in VW-land, because they had decided to get fancy and strike a deal with Apple to put in an IPod dock even though the first car reviews had said the base model Sportwagen had an AUX input!

OH, DEAR!!!!!

Now, I don’t go crazy listening to my MP3 all that much, but I did use it last summer when I drove the 300 miles up to Albuquerque and the radio dial seemed a bit empty out there in the wide open spaces at times.  Driving alone, it was comforting to hear SOMETHING playing (free classical performance I found on the internet). Besides, I had no use for the IPod dock whatsover.  I felt robbed!!

Well, I launched into a web search and lo and behold! Others had turned up the same problem, only in  a 2008 VW GTI.   And there were pictures to prove it!!  Here’s the page I found with lots of pictures and the solution to the problem:  http://www.golfmkv.com/forums/showthread.php?t=73447

But first, the folks at Sisbarro tried to find a fix through Volkswagen. The Parts Department, Dee Lerma and Jack Tellez, ordered official VW parts at Andy’s request, but they turned out to be converter kits for cars that had an AUX but not an IPod cradle. (Andy walked over to me with a bunch of cables and connectors, a sight to see!)  Along the way, another salesperson, Martín Torres, also tried to lend a hand.

At that point, I showed him the info I had found at the above site.  Andy called in Service Manager Theron Ledbetter.  At that moment, his very young son had a case of the H1N1 swine flu!  He was worried, of course, but still devoted himself to solving the problem that VW had created, not Sisbarro!  I investigated a few different aftermarket “fixes” but it all boiled down to something I found at Enfig Car Stereo…based, amazingly, in Carlstadt, New Jersey only a couple of miles from where I grew up!

Theron actually got on his phone and talked to the guys at Enfig directly to make sure the item would work in my car.  We had to make sure that, as an aftermarket product, it wouldn’t void my warranty.  Luckily, this little gizmo didn’t involve anything more that unplugging the IPod cradle and plugging in the adapter for the MP3 so there was no warranty issue, thank goodness!  Enfig sent the product promptly, but when Theron plugged it in, it didn’t work!  He was back on the phone with Enfig who promptly sent out a different brand.

VOILA!  The little plug in adapter worked perfectly and now all I have to do is tap the CD button on my radio, turn the MP3 on and listen.

Andy, Theron and Mike worked it so I didn’t have to worry about the cost of the unit so the issue was resolved!  I actually had called VW corporate and someone said that “the problem was being fixed” in the 2010 models…obviously, they must have seen some problems with just providing an IPod cradle at the expense of a AUX input that can be used for several other devices.

So, thanks to the crew at Sisbarro VW, I now have an AUX input and play my MP3!

And, much to my delight, I received a Christmas card from Andy thanking us for our continued loyalty.  Well, I have to say, I was very surprised. I think he also wanted to thank me because we had agreed to have a potential customer drive one of the Rabbits we were trading in…and which was sold along with the other immediately!

This whole incident was unusual, of course, but over the years I’ve always had great service at VW…so, I must also thank the folks in Customer Service, Tony Aquilar and Kevin Reed, who also made sure our new car was fully prepped.

And then there’s the lady who sits in a corner of the waiting room. Her title is “Office Coordinator” and she juggles everything from taking phone calls to handling bills.  This always friendly face belongs to Lisa Murillo, whom I snapped through the waiting room window (pic used with her permission):

The Friendly Face of Sisbarro VW

For anyone looking for great people to do business with in the Southern New Mexico area, I suggest taking a drive over to Sisbarro Volkswagen.  Not only will you find great cars, but you find a group of people who will take care of you needs and provide great service after you buy your car!

In this day and age, with so many stories about how people get treated badly, it’s really a pleasure to be able to recommend a great dealership and the great bunch of people who make it happen!

Sisbarro Volkswagen

1115 S. Valley Drive

Las Cruces, NM 88005

575-524-3561;  800-578-1670

(The Sisbarro Dealerships)