GOP Healthcare Bill Written For Everyone Except Themselves: They Keep Golden Plan We Have To Pay For

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

New GOP health care bill will determine winners, losers

 July 15 at 2:36 AM
WASHINGTON — Republicans’ latest health care plan would create winners and losers among Americans up and down the income ladder, and across age groups.It would give consumers more responsibility for their insurance choices, a goal long held by conservatives who argue that’s key to a true health care market. Younger adults and healthy people in the solid middle class may find more agreeable options. But low-income people may not be able to afford coverage, along with older and sicker adults.

And there are potential unintended consequences for people with employer-provided insurance, currently about 170 million Americans. Allowing individuals to pay premiums from tax-sheltered accounts may create incentives for employers to stop offering coverage, say some independent analysts.

The legislation would put limits on federal spending for Medicaid, a partnership program with states to cover low-income people, the disabled and nursing home residents. The drawback is that state officials could eventually face no-win choices, such as having to pick between paying for coverage for low-wage working mothers and support services for elderly people trying to stay out of nursing homes.

As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., steers toward debate and votes next week, here is a look at some of the latest changes and major issues:

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CRUZ’S PLAN

The new Senate bill incorporates the core of a proposal from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that would reorganize the market for policies purchased by individuals. As many as 20 million Americans get coverage this way, about half through subsidized markets like HealthCare.gov, created under former President Barack Obama.

Cruz would change basic requirements that Obama’s law imposed on individual plans, including standard benefits such as pregnancy, maternity and newborn care; wellness visits and mental health treatment. The law also requires the same premium rates for sick and healthy people.

Under the Cruz approach, an insurer can offer plans that don’t comply with such requirements, provided they also offer coverage that does. The problem, say critics, is that the healthy would flock to low-premium, skimpy plans, leaving the sick to face escalating prices for comprehensive coverage.

“Healthy people would have opportunities to buy lower-premium, skinnier plans, while people with pre-existing conditions not eligible for premium subsidies could find themselves priced out of insurance,” said Larry Levitt of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

The latest bill includes another $70 billion to help states keep health insurance affordable for older, sicker customers. But it’s not clear how those backstops would work, and the federal funding eventually would end.

Some insurers are worried because of a technical change with huge practical implications: Health plans that enroll healthier customers would no longer have to cross-subsidize those with sicker patients, as is currently required.

“We think it is unworkable,” said Justine Handelman, top Washington lobbyist for the BlueCross BlueShield Association. She predicted skyrocketing costs for taxpayers also, stuck with the bill for sicker patients.

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EMPLOYER ESCAPE HATCH?

McConnell’s new bill made a major change to tax-sheltered health savings accounts, which was also advocated by Cruz.

Under the bill, health savings accounts could be used to pay premiums with pre-tax money. Under current law, they can only be used to cover out-of-pocket costs, such as deductibles and copayments.

The change is meant to level the playing field for people buying individual plans, as compared to people getting employer coverage. The value of workplace insurance is tax-free for employees and tax-deductible for employers.

But some analysts say McConnell risks undermining workplace coverage.

The upside is that the change might encourage more self-employed people to buy individual health insurance policies. The downside is that some employers may see it as an invitation to drop health benefits, particularly since the GOP also would repeal Obama’s requirement that larger companies provide health care or face fines.

“Allowing individuals to purchase insurance with pre-tax dollars eliminates one of the advantages to employer-provided insurance,” said Elizabeth Carpenter of the Avalere Health consulting firm. “That may lead some employers to consider whether or not they want to continue to offer health insurance.”

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THE POOR AND THE SICK

McConnell kept some of the Obama-era tax increases used by Democrats to finance expanded coverage. But the money will be going to shore up private insurance, not the Medicaid program. Medicaid accounts for half or more of the 20 million Americans gaining coverage as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

Medicaid covers low-income people, from many pregnant women and newborns, to disabled people and many elderly nursing home residents. The GOP bill would start by phasing out enhanced federal financing for Obama’s Medicaid expansion, adopted by 31 states. Perhaps more significantly, it would limit future federal funding for the overall program. As a result, it’s estimated Medicaid would cover 15 million fewer people by 2026.

The bill would add $45 billion to help states confronting the opioid epidemic pay for treatment and recovery. But that hasn’t swayed the American Medical Association, which points out that people in recovery also need comprehensive health insurance.

Republican governors don’t like the Medicaid cuts, and some have been vocal. About half the states that expanded Medicaid now have GOP chief executives.

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Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican who oversaw a Medicaid expansion, said more than 200,000 people gained coverage in his state.

“You think about 210,000 men, women and children, senior citizens, the drug addicted, the chronically ill,” Sandoval said. “These are people that used to get their treatment in emergency rooms, if they got any treatment at all. I keep going back to the fact that they are living a better quality of life.”

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Associated Press writer Jennifer McDermott in Providence, Rhode Island, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Hong Kong residents march to defend freedom as China’s president draws a ‘red line’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

Hong Kong residents march to defend freedom as China’s president draws a ‘red line’

 July 1 at 7:48 AM
 Tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents marched through the streets in defense of their cherished freedoms Saturday, in the face of what many see as a growing threat from mainland China, exactly two decades after the handover from British rule.Earlier in the day, China’s president, Xi Jinping, marked the 20th anniversary of the handover with his sternest warning yet to the territory’s people: You can have autonomy, but don’t do anything that challenges the authority of the central government or undermines national sovereignty.

Under the terms of the 1997 handover, China promised to grant Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy for at least 50 years, but Xi said it was important to have a “correct understanding” of the relationship between one country and two systems.

“One country is like the roots of a tree,” he told Hong Kong’s elite after swearing in a new chief executive to govern the territory, Carrie Lam. “For a tree to grow and flourish, its roots must run deep and strong. The concept of one country, two systems was advanced first and foremost to realize and uphold national sovereignty.”

Many people in Hong Kong accused China of violating the territory’s autonomy in 2015 by seizing five publishers who were putting out gossipy books about the Chinese leadership and allegedly distributing them on the mainland.

Some are also angry that Beijing intervened to disqualify newly elected pro-independence lawmakers who failed to correctly administer the oath of office last year. Many people are worried about a steady erosion of press freedom, and that in a range of areas China is increasingly determined to call the shots.

But Xi made it clear that challenges to Beijing’s authority would not be allowed.

“Any attempt to endanger China’s sovereignty and security, challenge the power of the central government and the authority of the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, or use Hong Kong for infiltration or sabotage activities against the mainland, is an act that crosses the red line and is absolutely impermissible,” he said.

But that message didn’t appear to go down well on the streets of Hong Kong. Organizers said more than 60,000 people joined Saturday’s annual march, which they said was meant to deliver a message to the Chinese president.

“He’s threatening Hong Kong’s people, saying he has the power to make us do what he wants,” said Anson Woo, a 19-year-old student. “But I still have hope. Seeing all the people around me today, the people of Hong Kong are still fighting for what we value.”

A poll by the Chinese University of Hong Kong showed people here attach even greater importance to judicial independence and freedom of the press than to economic development. Any notion that Hong Kong as a city is only about making money is clearly not accurate.

“We have to take the chance to express our views while we still can,” said Chan Sui Yan, a 15-year-old schoolgirl. “They say it is one country, two systems, but right now we are losing a lot of the rights we value.”

Some chanted slogans demanding democracy, criticizing the territory’s ruling elite or the Communist Party. many called for the release of Nobel laureate and democracy icon Liu Xiabo, imprisoned in China since 2008 and this week taken to a hospital under close guard for treatment for advanced liver cancer.

“We want to show the mainland there are other voices, outside the official voice,” said teacher Tong Siu, 53. “We want to safeguard the core values of Hong Kong.”

In his speech, China’s leader said that the concept of one country, two systems was a great success, and should be implemented “unswervingly” and not be “bent or distorted.”

While his words made it clear that sovereignty took precedence over autonomy, he said neither aspect should be neglected. “Only in this way will the ship of one country, two systems break the waves, sail steadily and last the distance,” he said.

Yet many people here say Hong Kong’s autonomy was again badly distorted in March, with Lam’s election as chief executive. Although the former bureaucrat trailed well behind rival candidate John Tsang in opinion polls, she was chosen by a panel of 1,200 members of the territory’s elite that was packed with pro-Beijing loyalists.

Although Tsang was also an establishment figure, political experts say Beijing seemed to want someone in the chief executive’s chair who would not challenge its authority.

Xi did not shy away from raising two controversial demands that have previously brought Hong Kong residents out on the streets in the hundreds of thousands.

China’s leader said the territory needed to improve its systems “to defend national security, sovereignty and development interests,” as well as “enhance education and raise public awareness of the history and culture of the Chinese nation.”

China’s demand that the territory pass a national security law caused massive street protests 14 years ago, while plans to implement a program of “patriotic education” brought more people onto the streets in 2012 and helped politicize the territory’s youths.

Both plans were subsequently shelved, but Lam has indicated she aims to put them back on the table. But she also argues the time isn’t right to satisfy a popular demand for greater democracy by allowing a future chief executive to be chosen by universal suffrage.

Marchers said moves to interfere with the education system smacked of “brainwashing.”

Martin Lee, Hong Kong’s veteran pro-democracy political leader, said China was deliberately confusing patriotism with obedience.

“When they say you must love the country, what they mean is you must obey the Communist Party,” he said. “We have no problem with the Communist Party as long as it adheres to the promises made to us.”

But Lee said China had not fulfilled its promise to grant Hong Kong greater democracy.

“They kept on postponing democracy,” he said. “That’s why young people are losing their patience.”

On Saturday morning, a small group of pro-democracy protesters said they were attacked by hired thugs when they tried to stage a demonstration, and subsequently were briefly detained and beaten by police.

Joshua Wong, who led protests against patriotic education in 2012 and in favor of democracy in 2014, was among the group and called the incident another violation of the promise to maintain Hong Kong’s values, including the right to free speech. “‘One country, two systems’ has given way to ‘one country, one-and-a-half systems,’” he told The Washington Post.

“Why would Hong Kong people want to accept patriotic education from a country that is ruled by a single party dictatorship?” he said. “This is the core question. If the government is not elected by the people, how can we have a sense of belonging?”

Luna Lin contributed to this report.

Security Clampdown in Far-Western China Exacts Toll on Businesses

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES AND REUTERS)

URUMQI, China — The economy of the vast Xinjiang region in far western China is officially growing at a robust pace, faster than the country as a whole. That is largely thanks to big investments in infrastructure from Beijing as the region – with its links to much of central Asia – is critical to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s new Silk Road initiative.

But traders, business owners and residents in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, are seeing little benefit from the central government’s cash injection, according to about 20 interviews with people in the city.

One major reason for that, they say, is due to tightened security as the Chinese government seeks to control one of its biggest domestic threats. Beijing accuses separatist extremists among the Muslim Uighur ethnic minority of plotting attacks on the ethnic Han majority in Xinjiang and other parts of China, following a series of violent events in recent years.

As a result, there are roadblocks and stringent security checks across the region, including at restaurants, hotels and shops, making it slow and frustrating to move around.

The new Silk Road, officially known as the Belt and Road initiative, is Xi’s signature foreign and economic policy which aims to increase economic and political ties through roads, railways and other projects that link China to Central Asia and beyond. But the contrast between that ambition and the views at street level in Urumqi reflects the difficulty Beijing faces in trying to balance security against its other top priorities.

This is particularly the case as China is determined to avoid any trouble ahead of a critical Communist Party congress in the autumn at which Xi is expected to consolidate his power, and as it faces the threat from some Uighurs who have become battle-hardened Islamic State fighters in the war in Syria and Iraq and may return home.

DELIVERIES DIFFICULT

The impact of the clampdown is clear at the Frontier International Trade Centre in Urumqi,  where padlocked stores outnumber traders.

“Business became really bad last year. I’ve got nothing to do except a stock-take,” said Wei Chun, a shoe trader, surrounded by piles of high-heels.

She blames poor sales partly on the impact of sluggish economies in neighbours Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, among the eight countries with which Xinjiang has borders.  But she also says the Chinese authorities’ obsession with keeping Xinjiang secure at all costs is making it tough to do business here.

“It’s very difficult to send and receive deliveries because of the security crackdown,” she said, complaining that authorities will often shut down the delivery system for “security reasons”.

The Xinjiang government declined to make officials available for comment for this article. It also did not respond to a series of faxed questions.

Xu Bin, the head of the Xinjiang government’s statistics bureau,  told reporters in February that its growth – which was 7.6 percent last year – is mostly fuelled by fixed asset investment. But he then added: “Xinjiang faces slowing economic growth, falling industrial prices, companies are feeling the pain of falling profits and the growth rate of our tax revenue has dropped off.”

Xinjiang’s trade with other countries fell in the first quarter of this year, according to the customs bureau, and is still below the level it recorded in the first quarter of 2013, the year that Belt and Road launched.

Much of that drop was because a slump in the rouble in 2014-2015 hurt Xinjiang’s neighbours, and following the 2015 establishment of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). That aims to develop Central Asia and lessen its reliance on Chinese goods.

EVENTS CANCELLED

People here point to many disruptions in ordinary life as one reason the economy doesn’t feel buoyant at street level.

Group gatherings, whether for charity fun runs or trade expos, are often banned or cancelled at the last minute, they say. Phone lines sometimes go dead, and there’s no 4G internet because the authorities fear high-speed internet would help militants organize.

While Belt and Road has created opportunities, small businesses complain these projects often reward large state-owned enterprises.

“The Belt and Road Initiative doesn’t help small businessmen like me,” said Zhou Bangquan who sells men’s shoes in Urumqi.

“It helps big state-owned enterprises that do energy or have big infrastructure projects.”

Among the projects financed are a highway to Pakistan and a network of high-speed railroads connecting cities in Xinjiang and the rest of China, with 1.5 trillion yuan (171.69 billion pounds) in capital investment expected in the region this year alone.

But it is unclear how much of the money is used to buy materials from factories outside the region or ends up being sent to other provinces by workers brought in temporarily from elsewhere in China.

It’s not just heightened security measures that concern businesses. People are required to attend flag ceremonies and other patriotic education, instead of working, say locals. Such events are meant to encourage Uighurs to become patriotic Chinese citizens but can also be used to monitor their behaviour.

    PATRIOTIC EDUCATION

    “I’m losing my mind, I’ve already had six staff sent back to their home towns this past month for study,” said a restaurant manager in Urumqi who, like many people Reuters spoke to in Xinjiang, declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.

His Uighur staff were required to return home to southern Xinjiang for one month’s study of Mandarin Chinese, another month learning about China’s legal system and a month of vocational training, he said.

“We all spend so much time doing things that aren’t our actual jobs. I have to take my staff to watch a flag-raising forty weeks of the year. If I don’t, I will be taken away for thirty days of study,” he said.

As well as the time spent on such matters, Uighurs – who represent just over 45 percent of the population – are being increasingly marginalized by the Han Chinese, undermining the overall economy.

Three Han Chinese entrepreneurs told Reuters local authorities had told them not to employ Uighurs. And a Han Chinese real estate agent in Urumqi said he had been told not to sell properties to Uighurs from southern Xinjiang.

There has been a change in attitude towards balancing stability and economic growth in Xinjiang since Chen Quanguo became its new Communist Party boss last August in what analysts say was an implicit endorsement of his previous hard-line management of ethnic strife in Tibet.

“Xinjiang used to have a policy of ‘with one hand we maintain stability, with the other hand we grow the economy’ but now it’s just ‘maintain stability with both hands, at all costs’,” said a local businessman and former government official.

Chen said in a speech last September that “all our work in Xinjiang revolves around maintaining a tight grip on stability.”

(Reporting by Sue-Lin Wong; Additional reporting by the Beijing Newsroom; Editing by Martin Howell)

Why Iran’s brightest young graduates are leaving their country behind

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Brain drain to the West

Why Iran’s brightest young graduates are leaving their country behind

Updated 7:20 AM ET, Tue June 27, 2017

Tehran, Iran (CNN) Sporting earbuds and sagging backpacks, students lounge on patches of grass, shaded by trees from the harsh sun. They sit in the library, hunched over laptops, massaging their temples, cramming for tests or bashing out lines of code.
It could be a college campus anywhere in the world, but Sharif University of Technology sits in the shadow of the Azadi tower in Iran’s capital, Tehran.
SUT represents the aspirations of a generation of Iranian policy makers who, in the wake of the 1979 revolution, were determined to put their country on the science and technology map.
It is often called the MIT of Iran — re-imagined after austere beginnings, based on the example of that American powerhouse, Sharif President Mahmud Fotuhi Firuzabad told CNN on a recent spring morning in Tehran.
“I don’t want to exaggerate the situation,” says Professor Jawad Salehi, tongue far from cheek, but “MIT is the Sharif of the U.S.”
Be that as it may, Iran’s educational leaders must also brace themselves for the fact that Sharif is a conduit out of the country.

Tehran's Sharif University of Technology was founded to help put Iran on the science and technology map.

The university cites as a point of pride the mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani, an alum who in 2014 became the first woman to win a Fields Medal, the Nobel Prize of mathematics. Now, though, she’s a professor at Stanford University, not Sharif.
“The computer engineering department in this university — they call that the airport,” says 19-year-old civil engineering student Kiarash. “Our main reason for joining this university is for going abroad.”

Knowledge, technology ‘fundamental’

Iran’s 1979 revolution swept aside a Western-backed monarch, and with it a system of outward dependency.
“Going back really to (the) early stages of the revolution, but it continues, the government has really invested in education, partly to address inequality,” says Arang Keshavarzian, associate professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at NYU.
That investment took on new importance after the bloody Iran-Iraq war launched by Saddam Hussein, says Salehi.
The war “showed the core of our system — that knowledge and technology is very fundamental for our survivability in the future.”

What's life like inside Iran?

What’s life like inside Iran?
The lesson, says Salehi, was broad. MIT “helped to advance the American society,” he says. “Iranian society at the time was in need of engineers, more than anything else.”
“Our society would have to advance itself based on knowledge, on science, and know-how.”
The resemblance between Sharif and major Western universities doesn’t extend much beyond the groups of students chatting beneath the trees outside — the buildings are heavy on breeze block and concrete. There are no starchitect-built theaters here, but faculty members and students speak of the place with pride.
“If you gave us the MIT budget,” says Salehi, ” and you gave us the facilities and laboratories, but here in the Sharif campus, I am sure that — I mean, I don’t want to exaggerate this — but I am sure that we would be at par with some of the best of the world.”
SUT staff would not allow CNN to chat to students on campus, but we spoke to several on the streets nearby; they are identified here only by their first names, as some of their comments could be considered controversial.
The university is “the best in the country,” says 25-year-old electrical engineering student Mehdi.
But he says Western sanctions — some now lifted in the wake of the 2015 nuclear deal — have limited students’ access to scientific papers, equipment, and the ability to “reach the technology. It’s heavily affected us.”

Influence of Western culture

Walking to campus with four friends, Kiarash says that the “university atmosphere is way better” than most other Iranian institutions.
Kiarash’s generation lives in a different world to that of their parents; through the internet, Western culture reaches Iran like never before.
Though many social media websites, such as Facebook and Reddit, are officially blocked, simple workarounds mean they are easily accessible. Encrypted messaging apps like Telegram have taken off, and allow of a form of communication completely out of the government’s sight; even Iran’s presidential campaigns have embraced Telegram.
Students like Kiarash and his friend Pegah, 20, recognize their privilege, but expect more.

With students lounging beneath the trees on campus, at first glance, SUT could be a college anywhere in the world.

“It’s known to be the best university of Iran, but we don’t have much facilities,” says Pegah.
“We have something,” Kiarash chimes in. “A device for mixing some kinds of concrete. It’s (from) the former king of Iran’s era.”
And there are bigger, more fundamental issues.
“I wear whatever I like,” says Kiarash. “But, for example, my friend here, she has to wear hijab.”
Their clothing would fit it in at any Western university — jeans and T-shirts. But Pegah, who is female, must adhere to Iran’s rules mandating conservative clothing for women.
Several times, Pegah says, she’s been reprimanded for her clothing. “For example, they say your jeans are too tight. But it’s not tight!”
“The MIT of Iran?” laughs Satya, a 20-year-old in her senior year studying physics. “It is the best university in Tehran, I guess. It’s hard. But I am doing it.”

Tug-of-war over lifestyles

The strictures placed on students are not just a matter of personal annoyances, says Iranian economy and education specialist Nader Habibi, of Brandeis University in the U.S. “The government imposes an Islamic lifestyle,” he says, but for many urban families, “their vision of a good lifestyle is more liberal.”
One way around this, Habibi says, would be to “create small areas where (a) more diverse lifestyle is tolerated” — think Dubai, an outpost of liberal excesses in a fundamentally very conservative country, the United Arab Emirates. That model has been successful in attracting foreign investment, and convincing multinationals to set up shop.

Women in Iran are expected to conform to strict rules on dress, wearing headscarves and modest clothes.

In Iran, there is a constant tug-of-war between politicians like President Hassan Rouhani — reform-minded, at least by Iranian standards — and the conservative, revolutionist clergy, with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei at the helm.
It’s evident everywhere in Tehran, where you’re as likely to pass a woman covered head to toe in a flowing black chador, as a woman made up to the nines, with coiffed hair, designer clothes, and a scarf half-way back on her head, barely conforming to rules requiring female head coverings.
The Iranian government, says Habibi, has thus far resisted implementing any Dubai-style system in Iran.
As far as Kiarash is concerned, that inflexibility is driving away Iran’s brightest students. “They only wait (for) their main civil rights,” he says. “And when they don’t give them, they have to go.”

Seeking greener pastures

Ramtin Keramati is one of those who left the country. On the phone from California, the SUT graduate recalls the first time he saw Stanford University’s campus. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is gorgeous! This is amazing!'”
Keramati says the transition was difficult, but he had company — in the form of roughly 8,700 Iranian students studying in the US, according to a 2014 study by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. They’re among as many as 50,000 Iranians studying around the world.

Capturing everyday life in Iran

Capturing everyday life in Iran 
Stanford even has a Persian Students Association, which Keramati says picked him up from the airport and helped him get acclimatized to life on a US campus.
“It’s really hard,” he says. “I didn’t know what to expect … everything was a surprise.”
There is a rich history of Iranians seeking greener pastures — at least temporarily — abroad.
President Rouhani studied in Scotland. His foreign minister, Javad Zarif, studied in California. SUT’s Salehi got his bachelor’s degree at the University of California at Irvine and his PhD at the University of Southern California before working at Bell Labs in New Jersey, which he calls “one of the best periods of my life.” Firuzabad, the president of SUT, got his master’s degree and PhD in Saskatchewan, Canada.
Rouhani, Zarif, Salehi and Firoozabad all came back to Iran, but what of those who don’t return? Some leave because of what they see as a lack of basic civil rights. Others see little hope in an economy in which the real — as opposed to official — unemployment rate could be well over 20%.

‘Significant’ brain drain

The “brain drain is significant,” says Brandeis’ Habibi; he says Iran’s government has tried to stem it, using economic incentives.
Anyone who receives a government scholarship to study abroad can have that loan written off if they return to Iran to work for a certain number of years, but “that’s only a small fraction of Iran’s brain drain,” Habibi says.
Much more significant are the students or professionals who move abroad for better opportunities. Once someone has completed their mandatory military service, Habibi says, the government can do nothing to stop them from leaving.

Many students leave Iran for work overseas once they have completed their degrees, prompting fears of a brain drain.

The brain drain is a “very sensitive question,” Salehi acknowledges. Everyone has the right to emigrate, he says, “but we can influence their choice.”
“It is the duty of the government, or the society, to give so many opportunities in our country that a young person who was thinking of leaving would have a bit of a doubt,” he says.
The government often reaches out “to educated professional Iranians in … Western countries, to encourage them to come back,” Habibi says; he estimates that the Rouhani government, aided by the lifting of some sanctions, has convinced 100 to 200 Iranians a year to return to work in their homeland.
And the desire to leave is by no means universal.
Aerospace engineering student Mohammed, 21, says his faculty members have “good connections with the industry to get a job later,” adding: “I just want to stay here.”

Mohammed, an aerospace engineering student at SUT.

But a very unscientific survey found that the call of foreign countries resonates with plenty of Sharif’s students. That’s certainly the case with physics student Satya.
As far as she’s concerned, “every one” of the university’s students goes abroad.
“That’s the goal when we come here,” she says. “This is why Sharif is important, and very famous, because we can apply and we can go and never come back, maybe.”

After Puerto Rico’s Debt Crisis, Worries Shift to Virgin Islands

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Lindbergh Bay beach in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, on Memorial Day weekend.CreditMireya Acierto for The New York Times

CHARLOTTE AMALIE, V.I. — The United States Virgin Islands is best known for its powdery beaches and turquoise bays, a constant draw for the tourists who frequent this tiny American territory.

Yet away from the beaches the mood is ominous, as government officials scramble to stave off the same kind of fiscal collapse that has already engulfed its neighbor Puerto Rico.

The public debts of the Virgin Islands are much smaller than those of Puerto Rico, which effectively declared bankruptcy in May. But so is its population, and therefore its ability to pay. This tropical territory of roughly 100,000 people owes some $6.5 billion to pensioners and creditors.

Now, a combination of factors — insufficient tax revenue, a weak pension system, the loss of a major employer and a new reluctance in the markets to lend the Virgin Islands any more money — has made it almost impossible for the government to meet its obligations. In January, the Virgin Islands found itself unable to borrow and nearly out of funds for basic government operations.

The sudden cash crunch was a warning sign that the financial troubles that brought Puerto Rico to its knees could soon spread. All of America’s far-flung territories, among them American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, appear vulnerable.

“I don’t think you can say it’s a crisis, but they have challenges — high debt, weak economies and unfunded pensions,” said Jim Millstein, whose firm, Millstein & Company, advised Puerto Rico on its economic affairs and debt restructuring until this year and has reviewed the situation in Guam and the Virgin Islands. He called the combination of challenges in the territories “a recipe for trouble in the future.”

Gov. Kenneth Mapp, left, walking in the Memorial Day parade in St. Thomas. CreditMireya Acierto for The New York Times

For decades, these distant clusters of islands in the Caribbean and the Pacific have played critical roles as American listening posts, wartime staging grounds, practice bombing ranges and even re-entry points for astronauts splashing down in the Pacific.

The military presence buoyed their small economies, and a federal tax subsidy made it relatively easy for them to issue bonds. Over the years, they have collectively borrowed billions of dollars to build roads, run schools, treat drinking water and fund hospitals.

Congress has generally relied on the Government Accountability Office to monitor the financial health of the territories, but it did not intervene over the years when the auditors brought back reports of “formidable fiscal challenges” or “serious internal control weaknesses” on the islands. Not, at least, until Puerto Rico went over the edge.

Now the G.A.O. auditors are back, re-examining the debt and repayment ability of each territory, amid concerns that other crushing debt burdens may have escaped notice. An agency spokesman, Fuller O. Griffith, said it would report by the end of the year on “federal options to avert the future indebtedness of territories.” It is not clear what those options will be.

“Washington can’t appropriately manage its relationship with the states, much less the territories,” said Matt Fabian, a partner at Municipal Market Analytics.

Even the states are not immune, despite their legal status as sovereigns. Illinois, stuck in political gridlock, is just days from entering its new fiscal year without a balanced budget, in violation of its own constitution. The ratings agencies warn that Illinois’s bond rating is in peril of being downgraded to junk. Once that happens, as the territories show, hedge funds move in and economic management becomes a series of unpleasant choices.

American Samoa, one of the smallest territories, lost one of the biggest engines of its economy in December when a big tuna cannery closed after being required to pay the federal minimum wage. Moody’s Investors Service then put the territory’s debt under negative outlook, citing its fragile economy.

After a bond sale fell through this year, the Virgin Islands could not buy fuel for its power plants, like this one on St. Thomas. CreditMireya Acierto for The New York Times

In the Northern Mariana Islands, the depleted public pension fund was wreaking such fiscal havoc in 2012 that the territory declared it bankrupt, but the case was thrown out. The government then tried cutting all retirees’ pensions 25 percent, but the retirees have been fighting the cuts, and the fund is nearly exhausted anyway.

Even Guam, which enjoys the economic benefit of several large American military installations, has been having qualms about its debt after Puerto Rico’s default.

“Puerto Rico’s troubles provide a teachable moment for Guam,” said Benjamin Cruz, the speaker of the legislature, who recently helped defeat a proposal to borrow $75 million to pay tax refunds. “Spending borrowed money is too easy.”

But the debt dilemma is now most acute in the Virgin Islands — the three main islands are St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John — where the government has been struggling ever since a giant refinery closed in 2012, wiping out the territory’s biggest nongovernment employer and a mainstay of its tax base.

Its troubles began to snowball last July, when Puerto Rico defaulted on most of its debts.

Last August, Fitch downgraded the Virgin Islands’ debt to junk, citing the territory’s chronic budget deficits and habit of borrowing to plug the holes, like Puerto Rico.

More downgrades followed, and in December, Standard & Poor’s dealt the territory a rare “superdowngrade” — seven notches in one fell swoop — leaving it squarely in the junk-bond realm. That scared away investors and forced it to cancel a planned bond offering in January.

The failed bond deal meant there was not enough cash to pay for basic government operations in February or March. As a stopgap, the territory diverted its workers’ pension contributions.

Coreen Lloyd-Adams and Shenika Freeman, registered nurses, preparing a bed in the labor and delivery unit at the Schneider Regional Medical Center in St. Thomas. When federal money has fallen short, the Virgin Islands has had to borrow to keep its hospitals running. CreditMireya Acierto for The New York Times

The Virgin Islands’ governor, Kenneth E. Mapp, said he had no intention of defaulting on any bonds.

“I didn’t ask anybody for debt relief, so don’t put me in the debt-relief boat,” Mr. Mapp said in an interview at Government House, the ornate seat of the territorial government, perched on a hillside overlooking the lush palms and bougainvillea of the capital, Charlotte Amalie, located on St. Thomas.

Still, Mr. Mapp is contending with many of the same problems that proved too much for Puerto Rico, driving it in May to seek bankruptcylike protection under a new law for insolvent territories, known as Promesa. Puerto Rico is now embroiled in heated negotiations over how to reduce its roughly $123 billion in debts and unfunded pensions.

When Congress drafted the Promesa law last year, it made it possible for the other American territories to seek the same kind of help.

Now, even though the Virgin Islands maintains it has no intention of defaulting on its debts — and has even given creditors new protections — the mere prospect of bankruptcy has spooked the markets, putting borrowed money beyond the territory’s reach and greatly limiting its options.

In something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, by giving territories the option to declare bankruptcy, Congress seems to have made such an outcome more likely.

“That innocuous provision, when sent to the bond market, said, ‘Here’s an escape valve for your debt obligations,’” said Mr. Mapp. “That changed the whole paradigm.”

The territory’s pension system made loans to companies, like the inter-island airline Seaborne, that could not borrow elsewhere. CreditMireya Acierto for The New York Times

The problem is that in Puerto Rico, Promesa is turning out to shred the many legal mechanisms that governmental borrowers use to make their debts secure. These include liens and allowing creditors access to the courts.

“Under Promesa, all the security structures are dissolving,” Mr. Fabian said.

Investors who thought they were secured creditors before now find themselves holding moral obligation pledges, which are not enforceable.

After the Virgin Islands’ bond offer fell through in January, the fuel supplier to its electric authority stopped shipments, saying it had not been paid; the authority was already in court with its previous fuel supplier, which had not been paid either.

Then came the House of Representatives’ plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Mr. Mapp saw the federal money that the Virgin Islands relies on for its public hospitals going up in smoke.

Mr. Mapp scrambled. He reactivated a five-year economic plan that had been languishing and pushed higher taxes on alcohol, cigarettes and soft drinks through the legislature. He fought for a permanent electric rate increase. He got $18 million in new federal funds for health care. He struck a deal to tax Airbnb rentals.

He hired collection agents to go after delinquent property and income taxes. He scheduled auctions for delinquent properties. He hired a team to work on the pension system, which is in severe distress, with only about six years’ worth of assets left.

Until recently, the pension system was chasing high returns by investing in high-risk assets, like a $50 million placement in life viaticals — an insurance play that is, in effect, a bet that a selected group of elderly people will die soon. It also made loans to an insolvent inter-island airline, a resort that went bankrupt, and a major franchisee of KFC restaurants. The territory’s inspector general has declared the loans illegal.

The Government Employees Retirement System building in St. Thomas. The pension system does not have enough money to pay the $4.5 billion due to retirees. CreditMireya Acierto for The New York Times

Mr. Mapp said he hoped to start restructuring the pension system in the fall. Already, he said, the government had stopped diverting the workers’ pension contributions, as residents began filing their tax returns and payments in April. The tax payments eased the immediate liquidity crisis.

Recently, he met with the Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, to discuss possible incentives to attract tech business to the Virgin Islands. And he hopes to return to the capital markets.

“The fact that we didn’t complete the sale in January gives the impression that our market access is constrained,” said Valdamier O. Collens, the territorial finance commissioner.

Investors have nothing to worry about, said the governor. For decades, the Virgin Islands has used a lockbox arrangement that makes default all but impossible.

Merchants collect sales taxes and send the money to a trustee for the bondholders. Not a cent goes to the territorial government, including the pension fund, until the bond trustee gets enough to make all scheduled bond payments for the coming year.

“We have no access to the moneys before the bondholders are paid,” Mr. Mapp said. “These moneys are taken out of the pie before the pie is even in the oven. Our debt has never been in jeopardy.”

But in Puerto Rico, such lockbox arrangements have turned out to be one of the thorniest disputes of the bankruptcy proceedings. And Mr. Collens, the finance commissioner, is all too aware that the same dynamic could upend the Virgin Islands, too.

“We know that there has been a contagion effect with Puerto Rico,” Mr. Collens said. “The market saw that by the stroke of a pen, Congress could create a Promesa for the rest of the territories.”

The U.S. And Their ‘Alliance’ (Except For The Kurd’s) Need To Leave Syria Right Now!

 

Any time that a person or more so a military, are in or flying above another Nation without the permission of that Nations government then you are an illegal intruder and you have declared war on that Nation. Syria’s President Assad has made it very clear that he considers the U.S. and their Alliance partners to be in his Country illegally and that he does not want them there. Even though I am an American citizen I cannot condone our actions in this Syrian Civil War nor with Syria’s inner-border conflict with the terrorist group called ISIS. We were never invited to step into this conflict within Syria’s borders and we should never have gone into that country, we have no right to be there. I will try to keep this article as short as I can yet I will do my best to explain my thoughts/beliefs as to why I believe as I do, for your consideration.

 

As I have written a few times before on this site that history shows within the Islamic world that it appears that about the only way to not have total chaos is if a rather brutal dictator rules their country. I personally do not like anything to do with brutality or with dictators, I am merely expressing an observation. I know that Syria’s President Assad is both of these elements yet I believe that the people of Syria as a whole were far better off six years ago than they are today. In Islamic countries there has been a civil war raging for about 1,400 years now between their two main sects and this hatred of each other still shows no sign of ending, ever.

 

Just like in Afghanistan the U.S. is in an Islamic country with our military and we have no exit strategy, as is the case in Syria. In Afghanistan the American tax payers have spent well over a trillion dollars to help bring peace to this tribal war-torn land and we have spilled the blood of many of our soldiers, and for what? In the long game our government has been trying to get the Taliban and to sit down with the very weak Government in Kabul to form a ‘sharing’ government, so why are we there? Unless a person is totally ignorant of reality they must know that once there is a ‘sharing’ government and the U.S. pulls out of the country that the Taliban will simply murder the civilian government people and everything will go back to the Taliban like it was 15 years ago. So, all of that gold and all of that blood spilled, for what? With all of this money the American government has spent in this country it is estimated that 90% of the civilians there only have one set of clothing, our occupation time there could have been spent in more productive ways.

 

Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, all far away countries that in the long run where our blood and gold have really accomplished very little to nothing. There is always one ‘positive’ to these military campaigns and that is the jobs provided by the ‘war-machine’ industry and of course the billions of dollars that go to the corporations leaders and to the people who are able to afford stock in these companies. To many government leaders in to many different countries seem to believe that their infrastructure must have a very strong weapons export economic base. People in these ‘second and third’ world nations (economically) need safe housing, schools, clothing and food. They need an infrastructure, roads, bridges, hospitals and jobs. I am sure that you noticed that these items I mentioned are the same exact things that the people of the economic powers also want and need, in most respects all people need and wish for the same things. The ‘Western Powers’ have a long history of setting up ‘war lords’ to rule small countries, then sell them a lot of weapons whom they use against their own citizens and then we wonder why their people hate us so much.

 

Now, back to the main line of thought, the situation in Syria. The Syrian President Mr. Assad has many economic and security issues within his borders and hundreds of thousands of people have died because of this Civil War that has been raging for the past six years. Back in the first term of U.S. President Obama when he had Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State the so-called Arab Spring started. Mrs. Clinton pushed Mr. Obama into trying to ‘help’ fire up the civil war in Libya to over through their dictator, look at the total mess that Libya still is. Egypt came next where we helped to over through their dictator then we got the Muslim Brotherhood who had to be over thrown by the Egyptian Army before Egypt became another Libya. Then Hillary set her eyes on removing President Assad from power in Syria, now look at what a disaster Syria has become.

 

The U.S. encouraged the Syrian citizens to revolt against President Assad and we have spent several billion dollars on training and supplying weapons to ‘moderate Islamist’ whom Assad calls terrorist, if the situation were reversed would we not call them terrorist? As we all know when we decided to pull out of neighboring Iraq we opened up a vacuum along their western border which made a very weak Iraqi government even weaker. We should have stayed longer just doing border control help while the government soldiers and police tried to keep the peace in the cities and the country’s interior. Our governments failures helped open up the eastern part of Syria and the western part of Iraq (both Shiite Islamic nations) for a new Sunni military army to step in and form their own government in these two countries. ISIS is a result of our governments ignorance of reality in this part of the world. We say we are in Syria to fight against this group of mass murderers and that we are not at war with Syria itself but that is an obvious lie. If we are training and supplying groups like the ‘Free Syrian Army’ who are fighting to bring Assad’s government down then we are in an ‘undeclared’ war with the Syrian government.

 

The Syrian government has many allies to help them fight the different intruders trying to over through them. Russia of course is their most powerful ally but they do have several more including other Shiite countries like Iraq, Iran and basically Lebanon through their proxy Hezbollah. The ethnic people know as Kurd’s are also fighting against ISIS but their case is a bit different because several hundred thousand Kurdish people have lived within these borders for thousands of years so in a sense they are fighting against ISIS and to a degree against the Syrian government in an attempt to keep and to achieve their own Nation. The recent episodes where we have shot down a Syrian jet fighter and a couple of Iranian drones has brought the U.S. closer to direct war with Syria, Russia and Iran. These events would not be a reality if we simply weren’t there. Some will say that we have to be there to fight ISIS but this is not true. The American people have spent our own money and blood in a Nation who has not attacked us or declared war on us and whom does not want us there. If the U.S. and our ‘Alliance’ partners were not there then Syria’s allies would have and could have taken our place with their bombers and their soldiers. But the real question is why are we doing what we are doing there? My question is, is it because of the trillions of dollars in war materials our economy produces and of course the jobs this creates for our economy? Could the reason partly be because of the friends our politicians have on the Boards of these companies, or is it because of the stocks that our Senators, Congressmen and women and also this President own in these companies?

 

 

 

 

Shifting Dollars From Poor To Give To the Rich Is a Key Part of the Senate Health Bill

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at his office on Thursday, when the Republican health plan was made public. CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times

The Affordable Care Act gave health insurance to millions of Americans by shifting resources from the wealthy to the poor and by moving oversight from states to the federal government. The Senate bill introduced Thursday pushes back forcefully on both dimensions.

The bill is aligned with long-held Republican values, advancing states’ rights and paring back growing entitlement programs, while freeing individuals from requirements that they have insurance and emphasizing personal responsibility. Obamacare raised taxes on high earners and the health care industry, and essentially redistributed that income — in the form of health insurance or insurance subsidies — to many of the groups that have fared poorly over the last few decades.

The draft Senate bill, called the Better Care Reconciliation Act, would jettison those taxes while reducing federal funding for the care of low-income Americans. The bill’s largest benefits go to the wealthiest Americans, who have the most comfortable health care arrangements, and its biggest losses fall to poorer Americans who rely on government support. The bill preserves many of the structures of Obamacare, but rejects several of its central goals.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, in the Capitol on Thursday.CreditSaul Loeb/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Like a House version of the legislation, the bill would fundamentally change the structure of Medicaid, which provides health insurance to 74 million disabled or poor Americans, including nearly 40 percent of all children. Instead of open-ended payments, the federal government would give states a maximum payment for nearly every individual enrolled in the program. The Senate version of the bill would increase that allotment every year by a formula that is expected to grow substantially more slowly than the average increase in medical costs.

Continue reading the main story

Avik Roy, the president of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, and a conservative health care analyst, cheered the bill on Twitter, saying, “If it passes, it’ll be the greatest policy achievement by a G.O.P. Congress in my lifetime.” The bill, he explained in an email, provides a mechanism for poor Americans to move from Medicaid coverage into the private market, a goal he has long championed as a way of equalizing insurance coverage across income groups.

High-income earners would get substantial tax cuts on payroll and investment income. Subsidies for those low-income Americans who buy their own insurance would decline compared with current law. Low-income Americans who currently buy their own insurance would also lose federal help in paying their deductibles and co-payments.

The bill does offer insurance subsidies to poor Americans who live in states that don’t offer them Medicaid coverage, a group without good insurance options under Obamacare. But the high-deductible plans that would become the norm might continue to leave care out of their financial reach even if they do buy insurance.

The battle over resources played into the public debate. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, said the bill was needed to “bring help to the families who have been struggling with Obamacare.” In a Facebook post, President Barack Obama, without mentioning the taxes that made his program possible, condemned the Senate bill as “a massive transfer of wealth from middle-class and poor families to the richest people in America.”

In another expression of Republican principles, the bill would make it much easier for states to set their own rules for insurance regulation, a return to the norm before Obamacare.

Under the bill, states would be able to apply for waivers that would let them eliminate consumer protection regulations, like rules that require all health plans to cover a basic package of benefits or that prevent insurance plans from limiting how much care they will cover in a given year.

Where Senators Stand on the Health Care Bill

Senate Republican leaders unveiled their health care bill on Thursday.

States could get rid of the online marketplaces that help consumers compare similar health plans, and make a variety of other changes to the health insurance system. The standards for approval are quite permissive. Not every state would choose to eliminate such rules, of course. But several might.

“You can eliminate all those financial protections,” said Nicholas Bagley, a law professor at the University of Michigan. “That would be huge.”

Americans with pre-existing conditions would continue to enjoy protection from discrimination: In contrast with the House health bill, insurers would not be allowed to charge higher prices to customers with a history of illness, even in states that wish to loosen insurance regulations.

But patients with serious illnesses may still face skimpier, less useful coverage. States may waive benefit requirements and allow insurers to charge customers more. Someone seriously ill who buys a plan that does not cover prescription drugs, for example, may not find it very valuable.

A protester being removed from outside the office of Mitch McConnell on Thursday.CreditSaul Loeb/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

There are features that would tend to drive down the sticker price of insurance, a crucial concern of many Republican lawmakers, who have criticized high prices under Obamacare. Plans that cover fewer benefits and come with higher deductibles would cost less than more comprehensive coverage.

But because federal subsidies would also decline, only a fraction of people buying their own insurance would enjoy the benefits of lower prices. Many middle-income Americans would be expected to pay a larger share of their income to purchase health insurance that covers a smaller share of their care.

The bill also includes substantial funds to help protect insurers from losses caused by unusually expensive patients, a measure designed to lure into the market those insurance carriers that have grown skittish by losses in the early years of Obamacare. But it removes a policy dear to the insurance industry — if no one else. Without an individual mandate with penalties for Americans who remain uninsured, healthier customers may choose to opt out of the market until they need medical care, increasing costs for those who stay in.

The reforms are unlikely to drive down out-of-pocket spending, another perennial complaint of the bill’s authors, and a central critique by President Trump of the current system. He often likes to say that Obamacare plans come with deductibles so high that they are unusable. Subsidies under the bill would help middle-income consumers buy insurance that pays 58 percent of the average patient’s medical costs, down from 70 percent under Obamacare; it would also remove a different type of subsidy designed to lower deductibles further for Americans earning less than around $30,000 a year.

Out-of-pocket spending is the top concern of most voters. The insurance they would buy under the bill might seem cheap at first, but it wouldn’t be if they ended up paying more in deductibles.

Mr. McConnell was constrained by political considerations and the peculiar rules of the legislative mechanism that he chose to avoid a Democratic filibuster. Despite those limits, he managed to produce a bill that reflects some bedrock conservative values. But the bill also shows some jagged seams. It may not fix many of Obamacare’s problems — high premiums, high deductibles, declining competition — that he has railed against in promoting the new bill’s passage.

Former Singapore PM Lee Kuan Yew Created A Near Perfect National Healthcare System

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SINGAPORE NATIONAL REVIEW)

(I GOT THIS ARTICLE FROM OUR FELLOW BLOGGER ‘1EARTUNITED’ 1EARTHUNITE.WORDPRESS.COM’)

The key is to ensure that one generation won’t bankrupt future generations by living beyond its means. Obituaries of Lee Kuan Yew, the first prime minister of Singapore who died this week at age 91, broke down into roughly two camps: He was a hero, building a “clean as Disneyland” republic that runs like a Swiss watch. He was an autocrat, who built a successful economy but crushed opponents and journalists who challenged his “managed” democracy.  Both statements have big elements of truth. I take a third approach, based on a fascinating visit I made to Singapore earlier this month. Lee Kuan Yew, a member of Britain’s left-wing Labour party while a student at Cambridge, managed to create a workable welfare state, one that provides for people without creating Social Security–like Ponzi schemes or unsustainable entitlements. Both liberals and conservatives have much to learn from what he built, the details of which are missing in most of the tributes to him.  Lee’s first priority when he became prime minister in 1959 was to reimagine Singapore’s economy. “Back then, this place was a swamp, with no natural resources, and it even had to import its drinking water from Malaysia,” Jim Rogers, a noted American investor who has lived in Singapore for nearly a decade, told me during my visit there.  By embracing free trade, capital formation, vigorous meritocratic education, low taxes, and a reliable judicial system, Lee raised the per capita income of his country from $500 a year to some $52,000 a year today. That’s 50 percent higher than that of Britain, the colonial power that ruled Singapore for 150 years. Its average annual growth rate has averaged 7 percent since the 1970s. “A 2010 study showed more patents and patent applications from the small city-state of Singapore (population 5.6 million) than from Russia (population 140 million),” noted economist Thomas Sowell observes. But that wealth wasn’t used to create a traditional welfare state. Economist Mark Skousen notes that Singapore is rated along with Hong Kong as one of the two most free economies in the world. Any expansion of government is gradual and grudging. In 2013, when Singapore broadened its medical-benefits program, the local Straits Times newspaper made clear the government’s philosophy: “The first [priority] is to keep government subsidies targeted at those who most need them, rather than commit to benefits for all. Universal benefits are ‘wasteful and inequitable,’ and hard to take away once given, [finance minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam] said.” That mindset is embodied in Singapore’s philosophy of welfare, which rests on four pillars: Each generation should pay its own way. Each family should pay its own way. Each individual should pay his own way. Only after passing through these three filters should anyone turn to the government for help. But it will be there when needed. Singapore’s approach to the provision of health care, retirement income, and housing is in sharp distinction to that of other countries. People are required to make relatively high payments into savings plans from which they can later buy a home, pay tuition, and purchase a variety of insurance policies. For those under age 50, the employee contributes 20 percent of his income, and the employer 16 percent. A third of the employee’s share is put into a private Medisave account. When the balance reaches 34,100 U.S. dollars, any excess funds can be used for non-health-care purposes. All are enrolled in a catastrophic-health-care plan, although they can opt out.  MORE LEE KUAN YEW, FATHER OF THE SINGAPORE MIRACLE LEE KUAN YEW’S GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT MAY NOT HAVE BEEN SINGAPORE’S ECONOMIC SUCCESS Health-care expert John Goodman is credited (along with economist Richard Rahn) with first proposing medical savings accounts in the U.S. He says Singapore shows that they can work as the backbone of a health-care system. “The issue is,” he says, “can individuals be counted on to manage their own health-care dollars responsibly, or does health care work better if all the dollars are controlled by government or insurance companies?” The answer is clear.  Not only is Singapore’s population healthy, but the private sector dominates health-care spending, and consumer choice keeps health-care costs down. In Singapore, the government’s share of health-care spending has fallen to 20 percent, down from 50 percent 30 years ago. “Singapore has found a rational way to provide services that are provided by legalized Ponzi schemes in the rest of the developed world,” Goodman told me in an interview. “Those governments have made promises they must either default on or impose draconian taxes to pay for. Singapore has avoided that problem.” It’s no wonder that other countries constantly consult Singapore for guidance on how to turbo-charge their economies. In 2011, Ghana’s vice president, John Dramani Mahama, told a visiting delegation from Singapore that his country “takes a lot of inspiration from Singapore in their economic transformation from a third- into a first-world country.” There is less to emulate from Singapore’s brand of politics. As Frank Lavin, a former U.S. ambassador to Singapore from 2001 to 2005, notes: “Lee believed that open politics can lead to demagoguery, rent-seeking, and short-term thinking. Yet over time, Singapore did become more open, allowing for both political debate and contested elections. . . . Of Lee’s many successes, his most important legacy might be the move to that more open political system to complement the open economics.” But from my visit there, I believe that the least appreciated part of Lee Kwan Yew’s legacy is his method of ensuring that one generation won’t bankrupt future generations by selfishly living beyond its means. It’s a welfare state that works, and one he always said was available to any political leader with the courage to tell his people the truth about the limits of government’s power to pass out goodies. — John Fund is national-affairs correspondent for NRO.

Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/416071/singapore-lee-kuan-yew-built-welfare-state-works-john-fund

Inside the Health Care Bill: Trump Wanted ‘Heart.’ He Didn’t Get It

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

JUN 22 2017, 3:47 PM ET

Inside the Health Care Bill: Trump Wanted ‘Heart.’ He Didn’t Get It

WASHINGTON — The 142-page Senate health care bill released on Thursday is easy to summarize: It cuts health care spending for low-income and middle-income Americans and uses the savings to finance large tax cuts for the wealthy and the medical industry.

How it accomplishes this is simple as well: It makes large cuts to Medicaid and to subsidies for private insurance, meaning large chunks of money that the government would have spent on helping Americans afford coverage, pay for long-term care and reduce their out-of-pocket costs would instead be paid either by states or by the customers themselves.

Related: Senate Health Care Bill Includes Deep Medicaid Cuts

In this regard, the bill, which is called the Better Care Reconciliation Act, is broadly similar to the American Health Care Act that passed the House in May. There are some significant differences within that framework, however, especially when it comes to private insurance subsidies.

Let’s go through the main planks of the Senate plan:

Medicaid cuts

Medicaid covers about 70 million Americans, including low-income residents, seniors in nursing homes (over 60 percent of whom are on Medicaid) and people with disabilities.

The Senate bill would restructure the program, cap its spending and reduce its funding significantly over time.

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Protester Shares Her Reasons For Opposing Health Care Bill0:57

First, the Senate GOP bill would eliminate a major expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare.

The Affordable Care Act gave states federal funding to expand Medicaid coverage to people whose incomes were between 100 percent and 138 percent of the federal poverty line (the current cap is about $34,000 for a family of four). The Supreme Court later made the funding optional, but 30 states and the District of Columbia accepted it. The Senate bill would gradually end this expansion between 2020 and 2024.

But it would go a lot further than repealing Obamacare’s changes. It would also cap the amount of funding states can get on a per-recipient basis rather than continue the current system, in which states decide how much to spend and then have the federal government match their contribution.

Starting in 2025, the plan would then grow those per-recipient caps at a rate that’s unlikely to keep pace with increasing medical costs. A similar change in the House bill was projected to reduce Medicaid spending by $839 billion over a decade and cover 14 million fewer people. The Senate bill kicks in later, but its cuts would be even deeper than the House plan.

To make up the difference, states would either have to raise taxes, cut programs elsewhere or reduce benefits and coverage for recipients. That prospect has governors, including some Republicans like Ohio Gov. John Kasich, nervous that the reduced funding will hamper their ability to respond to health crises like the current opioid epidemic. The bill provides an extra $2 billion next year for substance-abuse treatment, a small number compared to its looming cuts.

But the Medicaid cuts also have small-government conservatives nervous. Congress has a history of passing cuts to services or tax increases and then delaying them down the line. The more time before they kick in, the greater the chance that government control might change hands or public opposition could prompt a reversal.

Private insurance subsidies

When it comes to Obamacare’s subsidies to buy private insurance, the Senate bill keeps the same basic structure, but provides less money for fewer people to purchase insurance that is less generous. These changes would also raise premiums for older people.

Under the current system, people who don’t get health insurance through work or a government program can qualify for help buying a private plan on Obamacare’s exchanges. The maximum amount you’re expected to contribute is capped based on your income.

There are limits, though. If your income is higher than 400 percent of the federal poverty line — about $98,000 for a family of four — you don’t get those subsidies. This is one of the biggest gripes about Obamacare: While most people qualify for aid, those who miss the cutoff have to pay full price, which can be difficult to afford.

The Senate bill would expand this complaint to a wider group. It would cut the subsidies off at 350 percent of the federal poverty line instead, about $86,000 for the same family. On the other hand, it would also cover some lower-income people who currently fall in the “Medicaid gap” in states that didn’t take the federal expansion.

Image: Healthcare.gov site
A screen view of the healtcare.gov site is shown on May 5, 2017. File Richard B. Levine / Zuma Press

Those who qualify for subsidies could also pay higher premiums. Under current law, no Obamacare recipients are expected to contribute more than 9.5 percent of their income in premiums. But the Senate bill changes this and make the caps more generous for younger customers and less generous for older customers. A 60-year-old making $42,000 would now have to contribute as much as 16 percent of their income to premiums.

In addition, the subsidies would be pegged to less comprehensive insurance. Under the current law, they’re calculated based on a “silver plan” that covers an average of around 70 percent of medical costs. The new bill would peg them to plans that cover only 58 percent of costs. That means higher deductibles, which have also been a major complaint among Obamacare users.

Out-of-pocket expenses would actually go up even higher for many Americans. Obamacare provided “cost-sharing reduction” payments to insurers, which they used to lower expenses for customers making up to 250 percent of the federal poverty line (about $61,500 for a family of four). For those at 150 percent of the line, these payments reduced the average deductible from $3,609 to just $255, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. But the Senate bill ends those subsidies starting in 2019.

This is still a big difference from the House bill, which would have offered only fixed tax credits. Those credits would have likely fallen far short for many people, especially older, lower-income customers in places with high health care costs, which are often rural areas. Now the subsidies will scale up to meet the costs in their area, even if they fall short of current levels.

In addition to the subsidies, the bill provides significant funding to help stabilize insurance markets in the short-term (which have been jittery, partly due to the health care debate) and a $62 billion fund over eight years to help states potentially cover more expensive patients. But the funding is temporary, making the future uncertain.

Pre-existing conditions

The Senate bill does not let insurers deny people coverage based on a pre-existing condition or charge them more based on their health, which keeps two core pieces of Obamacare in place.

However, this doesn’t mean those with pre-existing conditions won’t potentially be affected. The bill does give states flexibility to waive Obamacare’s “essential health benefits,” a list of 10 broad categories of coverage every insurance plan needs.

Image: U.S. Capitol Police remove a woman from a protest in front of the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
U.S. Capitol Police remove a woman from a protest in front of the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Mark Wilson / Getty Images

Republicans argue states should be able to eliminate those requirements in order to lower overall premiums and provide more flexibility to insurers and customers. In the pre-Obamacare era, insurance companies often didn’t cover items like maternity care or mental health treatment, two items that are included in “essential health benefits.”

Some health experts fear that insurers will try to shepherd healthier patients into cheaper plans that cover fewer items, leaving patients with pre-existing conditions struggling to find an affordable option that covers their treatment. So even though insurers will not be able to discriminate based on pre-existing conditions, the effect could be to make their care less affordable.

Importantly, items that aren’t considered essential health benefits could be subjected to lifetime or annual limits by insurers, a practice that Obamacare eliminated.

The individual mandate

There would be no individual mandate requiring that people buy insurance, which penalized people who went without coverage.

The goal was to encourage younger and healthier people to enter the market so insurers weren’t left on the hook for only more expensive patients who were more likely to seek coverage. It didn’t work as well as intended, however, and insurers complained that the penalties were too weak and left them with a sicker crop of patients who required them to raise premiums to cover.

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Schumer, Pelosi Denounce Senate GOP’s ‘Heartless’ Health Care Bill 1:19

This bill eliminates the penalties entirely, though, and instead counts on healthier people deciding coverage is affordable enough for them to get covered. That could be a problem if they conclude that the new insurance, which could have higher deductibles, is not worth the trouble.

“I just don’t see why people would sign up,” Joe Antos, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told NBC News.

If they don’t come off the sidelines, or if they drop their existing coverage, premiums could rise for everyone as markets become dominated by sicker customers. The Society of Actuaries indicated in a statement on Thursday they would be watching this issue closely.

Taxes

Unless you were paying a penalty for not carrying insurance, it’s unlikely you’ll notice any change in your taxes as a result of the Senate bill.

For rich people, though, the Senate bill is a nice income boost. It eliminates a surtax on income and investment gains for individuals making over $200,000 a year and married couples making over $250,000 a year. The bill also cuts taxes on health companies like medical device manufacturers and prescription drug companies.

Does it have ‘heart?’

President Donald Trump said recently that the Senate bill should be “something with heart.”

“Heart” is a subjective idea, but Trump laid out very specific standards as a candidate and as president. By those standards, the bill falls short.

Trump explicitly pledged he would make no cuts to Medicaid. Instead, the bill will cut Medicaid by hundreds of billions of dollars. He promised “insurance for everybody” backed by federal spending: Instead the bill will likely cover millions fewer people than current law. He repeatedly promised lower deductibles: Instead a core feature of the bill pushes customers towards higher deductible plans. He argued his dedication to providing more generous health care distinguished him from conservative Republicans who sought smaller government.

“This bottom line is that this bill will result in a very significant reduction in insurance coverage, as well as large increases in premium and out-of-pocket costs for those who manage to retain coverage,” Matthew Fiedler, a fellow at the Brookings Institute, told NBC News.

Should the bill become law, these will be unambiguous broken promises.

Jordan Adopts “Green Growth” to Promote Economy

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Jordan Adopts “Green Growth” to Promote Economy

A tourist boy takes a picture of a camel at the Red Rose ancient city of Petra

Amman – Jordan has started the implementation of a series of measures to encourage green growth and create new job opportunities.

The new package of measures is focused on creating decent jobs in a country that suffers from rising unemployment and low economic growth rate of only 2.3 percent in 2017.

This came in the Jordan Economic Monitor report, which was released during a ceremony held in Amman.

The report also said that the new green growth measures were aimed at benefiting the most from local energies and reducing dependence on costly imports.

Co-sponsored by the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation and the World Bank, the report noted that regional instability, especially in Syria and Iraq, was the main factor behind the commercial recession in the Kingdom.

It added that crises in the region have contributed to the slowdown in economic performance in Jordan, which was only 2 percent in 2016, compared with the growth rate in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), which was 3.2 percent for the same year, according to recent figures by the World Bank.

The Jordanian government has recently launched its economic growth plan, which seeks to double the rate of economic growth during the period 2018-2022. Last month, the ministry also launched the National Green Growth Plan, which focuses on energy, water, waste, transportation, tourism, and agriculture.

Jordan’s Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Imad Fakhoury, in a speech delivered on his behalf by Ziad Obeidat, said that regional conflicts have directly impacted the Jordanian economy.

He noted that the average domestic GDP rate for the years 2006-2010 was 6.5 percent compared with 2.6 percent in 2011-2016, and the unemployment rate among young people reached 35.6 percent compared with 30.8 percent in 2015.

For his part, the World Bank’s acting director for the Middle East Kanthan Shankar said: “Jordan has an opportunity to vitalize green growth and undertake climate action as part of a sustainable solution to fiscal, economic and climate vulnerabilities.”

“Such actions would spur job creation, reduce dependence on commodity imports, attract foreign direct investment and leverage international climate finance,” he added.

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Welcome to Feel the flow of fresh Pawan!

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