Thursday, February 25, 2010

Debating Health Care: Agreeing on the Problem

Debate: a formal method of arguing alternative perspectives about an agreed-upon common debate topic, or proposition.

The first thing you need to hold a debate is agreement on the topic, or the proposition to be debated. And therein lies the problem in the nation’s health care debate—there is no agreement. What do I mean?

Well, in trying to solve any problem, you first need to define and understand the problem. Here, ever since the Clinton’s abortive attempt to pass health care legislation, the warring sides (and let’s face it, our two political parties are at war) have been arguing about different things. Clinton failed in part because he never really even attempted to reach agreement on what problem he was addressing. Republicans were allowed to demagogue about “socialist” take over of the health care system before Clinton even had a plan. His plan was dead before it was an actual plan, done in by a very expensive ad campaign financed by republicans who were vigorously opposed to any new democratic health plan. Fundamentally, republicans were/are opposed to another democratic triumph, such as Medicare or Social Security.

So, what is the problem that drives this full court press by Obama?

Well, first, we have the issue of 45 million people without health care (the numbers change often, but it’s a big number anyway). Now, is that, or is that not a national problem? We are perhaps the only industrialized nation in the world that refuses to include all its citizens in its health care system. Republicans might argue that the number is false—that those 45 million in fact do access the health care system. They check into emergency rooms and thus receive care. They argue further that there is no “right” to health care, as there is in other civilized nations. One establishes a right, they might argue, when one has a job and can afford to make payments on health insurance. Beyond that, there is no right. So, maybe we should start the debate there. Is there, or should there be a “right” to health care in this country?

If that is a problem, then why does that problem exist? The problem breaks down into two sets of people. Set one is people who could afford health care insurance, but choose not to, mainly young, healthy people. They are willing to gamble. Set two is the group of people who are unemployed or underemployed in settings that refuse to provide health care insurance—employers like Wal-Mart who hire people consistently on a less than full time basis, precisely so they do not have to provide them with insurance coverage, or small emloyers who do not constitute a large enough pool to make coverage affordable by the employer. So, people who work in such settings cannot afford insurance, because the insurance system is based on large groups, and the groups mainly are employment-based. Buying insurance privately is simply unaffordable for almost anyone. So, it appears that the basic model—private insurers who focus on large employer groups—is the main cause of the problem of the uninsured. The group of healthy young people willing to gamble is a contributing factor that can be solved in one of two ways—force them to buy coverage, i.e., make it like Social Security—or ignore them and deny them coverage should they become ill.

So, if they could agree on that problem, potential solutions emerge quickly and could be debated—for example, a single payer model that eliminates the private carriers altogether. That is essentially the model of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Note, the private sector is not excluded completely, since they can act as payment agents for the government. But one could also debate alternative models. For example, everyone could pay into a health care insurance system , like Medicare, and then private carriers could be used to implement the coverage system, with carriers being required to provide some comprehensive, and quite standard coverage approach, allowing carriers to compete on cost, and perhaps to add special items for coverage.

But, even here, we at least have the basis for an actual debate, once agreement is reached on what problem you are trying to resolve. Absent such agreement, and there is no possibility for an open and honest debate. You will get what we have currently—politicians dissembling.

Oh, and there are other problems extant, waiting to be debated--like the basic cost of health care insurance. But that too can be defined and examined to uncover the basic causes and potential solutions. All we lack now are politicians who are actually interested in problem-solving.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Independent Voters

I read with great interest an article by a writer associated with the Philadelphia Inquirer. The author is/was a registered republican who has now become a registered Independent. He asserts, fairly I believe, that he did not leave the party, as much as the party left him, a claim many people could make on both sides of the political aisle.
My wife and I have discussed leaving the democratic party for at least similar reasons. In our case, it is not so much that the Democratic Party has sold itself out to an extreme fringe group (regardless of the claims of the lunatic right wing). No, unlike the republicans who cater mainly to the farthest reaches of their right wing, democrats seem to cater to nobody. Well, that’s probably not fair. I’m sure that various lobby groups remain pleased. I mean, they had a 60 vote majority in the Senate and still couldn’t muster enough votes to pass real health care reform.
What’s that all about? Like they need an 80-vote majority to pass anything significant? So, now with the catastrophic loss of what had been a safe seat—the “Kennedy Seat” (he didn’t really own it, he just rented it for a really long time) they only have a 59-vote majority . . . tsk, tsk. But do they really need 60 votes to pass anything? Well, no, they only need 51 votes, but they are so terrified of a filibuster that they sit in a corner sucking their thumbs every time one is promised by the “loyal opposition.”. And what’s wrong with simply letting the republicans filibuster? Let’m read the phone book til they wet their pants. They’re going to look stupid, and then there will be no question about what they are doing. Now, with no penalty at all, they can stall whatever they don’t like . . . and that would include anything Obama wants to pass into law.
So, they dither. It’s like watching the Mad Hatter’s tea party.
And then there’s the yakety yak about, of all things, the deficit. Heaven knows it’s big and getting bigger. But has anyone noticed that the deficit was created, as out of whole cloth, by the republicans? And they’re the ones screaming about “generational theft” to use Sarah-Barbie’s term of art. Remember, St. Ronald, and the Bush family created more debt than all other presidents combined. Now, to be fair, they create debt for a purpose—to drown the government in some mythical bathtub. See, they don’t like government, so to prove it, they always run the most dysfunctional governments possible—crazy almost. But have the democrats nailed them to the wall on that one? Nope, they instead allow the right wingnuts to yell and scream about democratic deficits.
So, their habit of wandering around the landscape, or sitting in some corner sucking their thumbs, while the right wing rages on, has become really annoying, and we are considering dumping them.
The main problem is that Independents include assholes like Joe Lieberman. Do I really want join his party??

Sunday, February 21, 2010

CPAC and other Lunatic Fringes

I gather that Glenn Beck satisfied the insatiable quest at CPAC for lunatic rage the other night. The republicans, if indeed CPAC is still republican, are morphing under our eyes into some alien creature that is hostile to American values, and even seemingly to the very notion of democracy.

They have declared war on America, and we are supposed to choose between their lunacy at the far, far right edges of the universe, and the continued laissez-faire dysfunctionality of the current Democratic party leadership. I keep waiting for President Obama to announce that, “enough is enough, children, it’s time to return to sanity.”

We seem to have two truly weird political parties in America today.

Republicans who march now in robotic fashion to the rants of the extreme edges of their party’s right wing.

Democrats who most resemble herding cats.

If we cry out for leadership from Mr. Obama, it now seems clear there really isn’t anyone to lead. His party has moved out from under him and disappeared into some fog. I keep thinking, “suppose they gave a government and nobody showed up?” I assume there are still good people out there somewhere, but they just seem not to be working in Congress at the moment. They are perhaps too busy sucking their thumbs in the coat closets of the houses of the people.

And on the republican side, they seem to have no leadership at all, but rather most resemble the kind of angry mobs that led, in France, to continued use of the guillotine to eliminate the nasties in power. The so-called moderate voices in the republican party have melted away, leaving the platforms to people like Mr. Beck, who, if not actually crazy according to the latest psychiatric codes, seem in desperate need of medication.

A case is being made by some writers for a new third party of the political middle. Perhaps, with the two fringes engaged in an enduring cat fight, a middle party seems like such a nice thought, a wish devoutly to be desired, as someone once said. It won’t, really cannot, happen of course. But, still, it’s nice imagining another world where America returns to sanity and can once again play the role of responsible adults.

And elsewhere, Mr. Timothy D’Annunzio who is running as a REPUBLICAN for Congress from the eighth district in North Carolina, announced that, after he succeeds in unseating the current democrat, he will begin his work to eliminate the entire Federal government, aside, of course, from the Department of War, his all-time favorite government institution.

Click your heels, Dorothy . . .

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Commerce in Action

Our niece sent me an e-mail. It sounded so similar to a recent experience I had with our cell phone company that I couldn't resist reporting it here.

Our cable modem went out. I did all the reset, unplugging, restart. Desperate, I called Quest. They told me to do the same thing - unplug, reset, etc. Two hours later, they concluded that a new modem was required. It would cost $50. After all, the modem is old - two years have now passed since it began life. It is terminal. In cable modem years, it's, like 87 years old.
I suggested, perhaps too testily, that they were charging me $50 to get me to continue with their service -- "Uhh yes, that's correct" replied the service person. "And, oh by the way, your warranty has expired”.

Finally, reluctantly, I agreed – “OK, let’s do it.”

The service person says they will overnight one to me. He connects me to a sales person. The sales person says it will require two to three days, and yes, it will cost $50.

“But, but . . . the service person told me you would send it to me overnight."

"Well, he was wrong."

"So, because your modem box is a piece of crap that only lasted two years, I will now have to go two to three days without the Internet, and you will still charge me $50. Meanwhile, I will continue to pay you for the service you are not delivering.”

"Everyone does business this way," replies the sales person.

"Perhaps you believe that is comforting. It still doesn’t make it right.”

"But this is the way it’s done."
Then the sales person tells me that, if I can’t wait, I can go to a mall nearby and buy a new modem.

“Fine. I will go to Maplewood Mall”.
I bring the old modem to be sure I get this right. The sales clerk hands me the new modem and rings up the charge – “Let’s see, $99.00 plus tax.”
“Excuse me? I was quoted a charge of $50 for the new modem.”
"Oh?" he says.
"Yes," says I.”$50 . . . not $99”.
“OK”, he says. He re-enters the sale. It’s now $50.
"Well, it retails for $99 but we give our customers a break."

“Uhuh . . . a break. Interesting concept that.”

I take it home. I plug it in. “Hey, it actually works.” It’s lighter, cheaper, more plastic.
“Wonder how long this piece of crap will last? Could it be that they design it to fail quickly?”

“Oh, they wouldn’t do that, would they?? On purpose?”

“Nah . . . this is the corporate world. They don’t purposely screw their customers. Do they?”

“Or do they?”

Monday, February 15, 2010

Wise Sayings of Dick Cheney

Oh my, where does one start in this weird world we are inhabiting? I heard that Dickie Bird Cheney emerged briefly from his spiderhole to attempt to cast another spell on the world. Oddly, the people who exist to tell us what’s happening in the world gave him some PR time to tell the world that President Barack HOOSANE Obama continues to endanger the world that he had left in such splendid shape. He advises that Barack should be on his knees thanking George W. Bush every day for doing such a wonderful job . . . heh heh heh . . .
And when asked what he thought of Cheney “speaking in tongues”, Joe Biden just said, “well that’s Cheney isn’t it.”

Elsewhere, the NY Times reports that Greece was helped into its gigantic hole in the ground by Wall Street CEOs “doing their thing”. Yeah, it turns out that, however stupid Greece officialdom is, Wall Street CEOs can always be counted on to up the ante. By creating new instruments of debt with funny names, JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs enabled Greece to go from a bad credit risk to a catastrophically bad risk and to hide that fact from the EU. Yeah, apparently after they created ways to hide the Enron credit risks from the public, they turned their attention to foreign affairs—national governments, after all, have so much potential for graft. I guess this was all part of the Bush-Cheney Administration plan to rid the world of governments, so they could become Co-World CEOs. Governments, we know, are such a pain in the ass.

And now, I’m awaiting the teabag revolution to hit Washington. Anarchy is such a promising alternative to dysfunctional government. But there’s hope yet. Remember Winston Churchill’s take on America – “Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing . . . after they have exhausted all other alternatives.”

Take it away Sarah Barracuda . . .

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Lately, I’ve been thinking about conspiracy theories. Remember the one that the Clintons thought up and promulgated? That was all about a “vast right-wing conspiracy” that was operating in the country, intent on thwarting everything they wanted to accomplish. That one was derided by most of the right wing as being a bit, well, nuts. Sort of like the wing-nut theorists who asserted that the moon landing was a Hollywood stunt, or, worse yet, the one being discussed by that right-wing loonie-bird, Sarah Palin, about the Rapture.
Now, mostly, when I observe terrible things occurring, I always go to that standard axiom of common sense—Occam’s Razor. Occam's (or Ockham's) razor is a principle attributed to the 14th century logician and Franciscan friar William of Ockham. Ockham was the village in the English county of Surrey where he was born. The principle states that "Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily.” The most useful statement of the principle for scientists is, "when you have two competing theories that make exactly the same predictions, the simpler one is the better." So what does Occam have to do with conspiracy theories. Well, when I observe people or organizations doing evil things, I am drawn to two possible explanations:
1. The Machiavellian – the people are evil-doers and in league with other evil people, i.e. a conspiracy of evil people.
2. Stupidity – or the George Bush explanation, i.e., they are stupid people who are simply incompetent to carry out whatever task they are attempting to accomplish (like running the country).
Generally, I believe, and Occam’s Razor would urge, the second explanation, mainly because it is the simplest.
But lately, I find myself drifting back to the first explanation—a vast conspiracy abroad in the land. What is it that I am observing in this connection? Mainly, I see a robotic adherence to a single message—defeat anything President Obama wants to do. Republicans are now in the minority in Congress, ever since their performance over an eight year period under the Shrub was so cataclysmic that our nation was very nearly destroyed, and the damage continues in abundance. Their record was so destructive that the population voted them out of office in large numbers. Two wars, one of which was completely unnecessary and apparently illegal under the UN charter, the appointment of both hostile and incompetent political leadership throughout the government, to the point that most agencies concerned with protecting the public from external threats became dysfunctional, and an economic policy approach that produced the worst financial system disaster since the Great Depression, and may yet sink us (think National Bankruptcy) financially.
Now, I always associated that record with the first of the two explanations—incompetence. George Bush practically screamed incompetence. He has never actually succeeded at anything he has ever attempted, but rather he has been propelled forward by his father and his father’s connections. He’s like Sarah Palin in that regard.
But, ever since the nation threw the rascals out of office, they have come back with even greater strength, and with much greater vitriol, only this time they are intent on destroying the Obama presidency. So from whence comes this great power, given their minority status in government?
Part of it comes from their PR machine, Mr. Murdoch and his Fox News (henceforth known as the FauxNews) Network. No other politician of any stripe has ever had a PR machine to equal the FauxNews network. For the most part, the nation’s news networks have been relatively honest and fairly straightforward in delivering news to the public. Newspapers have traditionally leaned left or right, depending on ownership. But TV news was generally somewhere in the middle, “fair and balanced” as it were. Now along comes Mr. Murdoch and his right wing PR machine. I think without exception, every “news” program on the FauxNews network is so far to the right that they have become a national disgrace, and even a threat to the very freedoms we have enjoyed as Americans.
Almost without exception, and on every issue that arises, Republican officialdom adopts the FauxNews talking points, almost word for word. It is as though one person writes all the talking points and all the speeches—uncanny really. Republicans did not used to act this way. Among the republican literati there used to be strains of independent thought. No longer it would seem. And that is precisely what draws me to this second explanation—a conspiracy of fools, strung together by some oligarchy of rich people who want control back. To be fair, the oligarchy that largely runs the nation’s affairs (bankers and other financial system managers) continues to control most of what passes for commerce in the country. That control now extends to government actions, in the form of republican counterpunching whenever government actions are proposed that threaten any part of the oligarchical money network.
Exactly where ragtag groups like the Tea-baggers and the Wasilla Barbie fit into this conspiracy is not clear. It is clear that they began life as a fake ground-root movement, inspired and financed by right wing money groups. But they have acquired something of a life of their own, with their own Palinesque leadership. Palin, it is clear, is aligned with this group to promote her own personal interests and finances. Whether she actually entertains thoughts of becoming president (a truly scary thought) is unclear, but irrelevant. She stands to benefit financially and already has from their attention. Currently, the Teabaggers are a splinter group.
Whether the republican machine is in fact being directed and managed by a single entity is also unclear, probably not. Oligarchies can in fact run very large entities, like nations without a single head. They have common interests and, with the help of modern communications processes, can operate as though a single head is present.
I continue to await a coordinated strategy coming from the Democrats to counter this right wing attack machine. In this regard, the Wasilla-Barbie may be correct. The nation is at war, but in this case the war is internal (I think), a sort of civil war, begun and continued by the Republican party, and its money-masters. The outcome is unclear, but the nation’s future security is at stake. Should the Republican attack machine succeed, we may begin to see the end of the American era—and it could end quickly and very unpleasantly.
Take heed President Obama, take heed.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Political Condescension

In a recent Washington Post edition is contained an article by a right wing professor at the University of Virginia, Gerard Alexander. His article, Why are liberals so Condescending? While his premise is probably correct, i.e. liberals/progressives in the country are now largely dismissive of conservatives--his entire article is falsely argued, because he attempts to blame liberals for everything that is wrong with our current pseudo-political discourse.
Our nation, having suffered through eight years of the most dishonest, and globally destructive administration in the history of the country, is now suffering from a serious hangover effect. It is true that a cat fight better describes political discourse, than older actual policy debate processes.  I had imagined that republicans would have withdrawn a bit, after the Bush period, which almost destroyed us economically (and may yet).  But no, with the help of the Faux News Network, republicans are at the ramparts, attempting to bring down this new president with anything they can throw at him.
Mainly, their strategy seems to be to march in robotic, lock-step fashion, in opposition to anything he proposes--anything. Then they yell about being excluded from the conversation. It is all quite astonishing. I cannot remember seeing anything quite like this display of "NO."
Then there's their Tea Party friends. It's hard to characterize this group. They are on the far right, perhaps borderline anarchic. Even republicans seem a bit dismayed at this currently disorganized bunch, attempting to become organized as . . . as what exactly? A third party? Seems unlikely that. Perhaps a splinter republican group-- a thorn in the side so to speak. And who best represents the teabaggers? Wow, our dear Sarah, former First Barbie of Alaska.  Now that's amazing--a gal who mainly screwed up whatever she touched, and then ran away from her elected job, and is now cashing in on her wild ride--is their political heroine. She will lead them out of the wilderness, or she will lead them even further into an Alaskan outback--whichever comes first. Remember, her husband, the First Dude, has actively lobbied to get Alaska to secede from the Union. And that worked out so well the last time, huh? And this is the group most loved by republicans and their Faux News buddies.
And Professor Alexander wonders why we liberals condescend?
Well, he's perhaps understating the case.  We're not simply condescending. We actively despise the crowd known as conservatives, or Neo-Cons, or whatever they now wish to be named.  Perhaps someday they will rejoin America.