August 31, 2009

GDAE Podcast - Episode 17

The Uninformed Right Wing
  • Afghanistan: Questioning The "Safe Haven" with Harvard's Stephen Walt
  • Music: Bruce Cockburn
  • The Uninformed Right Wing: Who is inciting the mobs? The potential for violence & how we can play a moderating role.
  • Prosecution of Bush Officials: Increased volume in e-mails. Holder's obligation to investigate & prosecute on torture

Play GDAE Podcast Episode 17 from this page.

Previous Episodes & 60-Sec Promo:

GDAE Podcast 60-Second Promo

GDAE Podcast Episode 16 July 30, 2009
GDAE Podcast Episode 15 June 17, 2009
GDAE Podcast Episode 14 June 10, 2009
GDAE Podcast Episode 13 May 22, 2009
GDAE Podcast Episode 12May 5, 2009
GDAE Podcast Episode 11 April 24, 2009
GDAE Podcast Episode 10 April 9, 2009
GDAE Podcast Episode 9 March 28, 2009
GDAE Podcast Episode 8 March 15, 2009
GDAE Podcast Episode 7 March 1, 2009
GDAE Podcast Episode 6 February 17, 2009
GDAE Podcast Episode 5 February 6, 2009
GDAE Podcast Episode 4 January 24, 2009


August 26, 2009

Real Public Option

I confess I haven't had much to say these days. Obviously, the issue of the month is health care reform. And it should be obvious that the crux of it is that real reform depends on whether or not we have a real public option.

I studied physics as an undergraduate, which teaches one how to approach complex problems. And that rests on managing the complexity by sifting through the elements of the problem, determining which are important and which are not, and approximating the solution by focusing only on the important elements.

First, a key element to our health care system is the "insurance" piece, that is, pooling a lot of people together with the understanding that only a small fraction of the people will need costly care, the cost of which is paid for by the entire pool of people... spreading the cost. It's a socialistic concept on the face of it, regardless of whether private parties or the government creates and manages the pool of people.

An important sub-element to the insurance piece is, that, everything else being equal, if a profit is taken from the insurance pool, then the cost will be higher than if no profit is taken. A side note: In principle, the government could be the insurer and take a profit to pay down the debt we've built bailing out the banks. Wouldn't that make sense?

There are other important elements, such as doctor's concern about liability and litigation. The solution there is liability insurance and perhaps some tort reform, but the physicist in me says that tort reform might be getting into a complexity that aren't essential.

Now, it's true that our bloated private health care insurance industry, with many paper pushers, creates a lot of jobs... the number 6% of our economy comes to mind... oops, according to the Washington Post, "In 1997, health care accounted for 13.6 percent of the gross domestic product" (Some say it's now 16% [1]). Of course, the health insurance piece is a fraction of that... here's the physicist again: Even if it is only 1% of the economy, the health care insurance industry's inefficiency creates a lot of jobs (I didn't say inefficient at generating profits... that it does well).

So, lets summarize up to this point: 1) Insurance is a key element of health care reform, 2) Current private heath insurance creates a lot of jobs.

So, it's true that dropping private insurance for a single payer system would be disruptive; because private insurance creates a lot of jobs, immediately ditching it for a government-run insurance for everyone without private profit, would likely put a lot of people out of work. There are work-arounds, but lets accept this premise and say, "OK, lets meet half-way and allow people to have the option of joining an insurance pool managed by the US Government."

Short of that fundamental change, the other parts of the legislative proposals are just tinkering with the old system, which doesn't really constitute reform. With today's legal framework, there's nothing to prevent the creation of an "Exchange" or "Coops;" I can go to an "exchange" every year when the state government I work for brings in the hand full of private insurance companiess and allows us the opportunity to switch providers.

Bottom Line: If the legislation passed by Congress does not include a real public option, then it's not real reform.

Now, because physicists often make simplifying assumptions in their analyses, they like to explain the little side issues after they give the bottom line.

The Phony Public Option Issue: We need to be careful of having a "public option" foisted on us in name only (the phony public option issue). Former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who speaks truth to power, outlined some tests to determine if a public option is real or phony. I could track them down, but there's a simpler test: If the insurance industry hates the legislation, and is fighting against it tooth and nail, i.e., it is not a feel-good bi-partisan bill, then it's probably a real public option.

So, it's time to raise our voices in a variety of ways and call for a real public option.

For Your Convenience:

1. The Private Health Insurance Industry is Killing the U.S. Economy, Huffington Post, Richard Kirsch, Rep. Jan Schakowsky April 27, 2009.


August 20, 2009

Townhall dot Com

Town Hall dot com is a conservative web site. Among other things they have a daily poll... Today's poll question was,

Should the White House abandon support for the public option?

You might consider going to the web site and taking the polls, and pass the word. It's always nice to let these conservative web pages know that others don't agree with their views.


August 14, 2009

Stop Death Panels !!!

Sarah Palin can take "credit" for creating the hysteria against Obama's health care "Death Panels." What great "leadership" she is demonstrating. Palin now has Republicans, like Senator Sen. Johnny Isakson, running away from a non-issue.

A year ago, Congress overwhelmingly approved legislation requiring doctors to discuss issues like living wills and advance directives with new Medicare enrollees. And the government already requires hospitals and nursing homes to help patients with those legal documents if they want support, under a 1992 law passed under Republican President George H.W. Bush.

Here's the funny thing. A Republican, former house member, and now Georgia Senator, Johnny Isakson, was one of the chief sponsors of the the House bill that allows Medicare to reimburse people for consultations about setting up living wills... and he's not alone:

In the House, Republican Reps. Charles Boustany of Louisiana, Geoff Davis of Kentucky and Patrick Tiberi of Ohio co-sponsored legislation from Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., that would authorize Medicare to pay for the counseling. That measure served as a model for the current House language.

This is the language that Sarah Palin and other extreme right wingers are citing to stir up the hooliganism. Is she discredited or what?

"If" legislation is ever proposed to create death panels to shorten the life of older people to save money, then we should all rise up to stop it... but despite what Fox News and Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele are saying, that hasn't happened.


Associated Press, GOP backs away from end-of-life counseling, August 14, 2009.

Democracy Now, GOP, Right-Wing Pundits’ Misinformation Fuels Hysteria at Democrats’ Public Forums on Healthcare Reform, August 13, 2009.


August 11, 2009

Could See the Mobs Coming

Back in April of this year I focused on the Rise of the Uniformed Right Wing on GDAE Podcast Episode 11. Observers of the "tea parties" at that time noticed an element that was reminiscent of the vocal, violent fringe who had attended Sarah Palin rallies during the presidential campaign. I recently re-visited the topic in Episode 16. This was all before the recent spat of right-wing disruptions of congressional town hall meetings on health care.

Yes, as is being discussed everywhere, that fringe element is back in action, shouting down people who want to discuss health care reform options. This is just the latest manifestation of what happens when an uninformed segment of society is manipulated by right wing talk radio and well-funded organizations like "Americans for Prosperity" run by people like Tim Phillips who counts among his "close friends" Ralph Reed. Phillips and Reed make big bucks pretending to be friends of the common man (and woman), but are actually in the business of duping the common man on behalf of their wealthy clients.

It's not only sad to see people hyperventilating as they parrot the dubious health care debate talking points, it's scary. I spoke to someone in Senator Boxer's office who said people are calling in who are angry and frightened, who have their facts confused, some of whom are crying and most of whom are unwilling or able to listen to reason. It's frightening because societies, yes even the "exceptional" United States, can descend into barbarism. Although that phrase is used to describe the descent of pre-WWII Germany, it applies to many cases in which average citizens are whipped into an unthinking frenzy, which gets out of the control of those who incited them: The killing fields of Cambodia in the 1970s, the rampant death squad activities of Central America in the 1980s, the insanity in the former Yogoslavia and Rawanda in the 199os.

I sense that the US is on the brink. Yes, democracy is one of the first victims; civil discourse is shouted down, or worse, is self-censored due to a literal fear of violence at town hall meetings. It's only a matter of time until someone is killed, which is followed by a negative feedback process that spirals deeper down a path of revenge killings that is difficult to stop. I suspect the process has started... the murder of George Tiller is a case in point.

The solution is education and the building of networks of people who can help stop it if it starts. It might be impossible to educate some of the most unhinged people, but it is possible to reach some of the more sober people around them who might be able to serve a moderating role. If the fire starts, we'll need a network of people who can serve as fire breaks to stop it. Otherwise, the descent into barbarism could very well play out in the United States.


Photo by Andrew Meares depicts people of middle east appearance being attacked by mobs in December 2005 in Sydney Australia's Cronulla Beach area.


August 9, 2009

Traveling GDAEman

Enjoying a respite and family time as I travel in the San Francisco Bay Area, my old stomping grounds. I've let the 24-hour news cycle pass me by for a change, but will be right back on top of the GDAE Podcast upon my return... that is, if I don't partake in a long weekend beach trip :-1

A couple thoughts have crossed my mind while traveling. One is a reflection on a segment by Fair and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) on media coverage of the on-going efforts to "reform" our anemic health care system. The commentary observed that reporters were saying, "The health care debate is so complex and nuanced that it is very difficult to cover and explain to the public." My gut reaction to that was, "It wouldn't be so complex if we had a single-payer system."

Another unrelated thought I had was a reflection on the SF Bay Area in which I grew up. It has changed so much, with many wealthy foreign people beginning to dominate the population in a place that is now nearly unaffordable to meager mortal (like myself). What happened?

Back in the early 1980s a referendum, Proposition 13, was passed based on short-term thinking and a fair amount of misinformation from the corporate quarters. It placed limits on property taxes, which on the surface sounds great. The most direct negative effect was the demise of the State's excellent public school system. A more subtle effect was the following.

Controls on property taxes made it possible for housing prices to inflate drastically, in part because there was little impact on existing home owners. Traditional property tax policies would have put the breaks on the outrageous home price increases. Once the housing prices got inflated, there was no way to reverse the Proposition 13 policy, because the taxes would have been unbearable. Prop 13 created an irreversible trap.

Because of the cost of a home, families like mine that had been in the Bay Area began feeling pressure to split up. Kids couldn't afford to buy a decent house here, so they had to move away. However, the most wealthy foreigners could afford the prices. As a result, the composition of the Bay Area has change irreversibly.

My parents and I, having left the Bay Area temporarily, cannot afford to return to live near my siblings, unless we want to live in a shoe box. This is a profound unintended consequence of the short-term thinking of Proposition 13.

Enough musing for now. It's time to enjoy my brief time here in sunny CA.


August 4, 2009

Today the Word is "Golpista"

Thanks to the good work of Sandra Cuffe, reporting from Honduras, and Flashpoints Radio program, I learned a new word today. It's "golpista," which is Spanish for coup d'etat supporter.

More on Challenge the Establishment Blog.