Health care ambivalence, why bailouts not good, and tea party’s mixed message and its right to take part

March 31, 2010

Some thoughts on the news of the day — a story in USA Today is headlined:

Health care law too costly,

most say

but poll plurality sees benefit for system

It seems when you get past the crazies who are threatening and even doing violence over the thing the public at large has mixed feelings.

Up until now, even though health care costs continued to escalate there was a built-in check on overall cost in that so many people were left out by the natural rationing through the fact they had no money and no insurance, government or otherwise.

If you seek to cover everyone there is no way to keep the overall cost from escalating.

Another factor leading to the ambivalence among the public is that whether they admit it or not, a majority (I think) of people expect to get care if they really need it regardless of whether they can pay for it. But at the same time they object to higher taxes the government must raise in order to pay for assistance to those who cannot afford health insurance. A contradiction there.

Another conflict that seems nearly insoluble is who should make health care decisions when it comes to money. While doctors and their patients are the best ones to decide on treatment issues when it comes to the need of the individual, if the public at large or a private insurance company is footing the bill, those parties are going to demand the final say — how do you get around that?

I fault the medical community as a whole for not facing up to the moral obligation of trying to figure out how to offer the best care to the public, keeping in mind the imperative of controlling costs. Instead, doctors, in particular, have tried to stay above the fray, claiming it is not their responsibility to get into such matters — they just want to be compensated for their work. But the problem is, doctors and other members of the medical community are the only ones who could really solve the problem.

Too late for this, I suppose, but I am thinking that the best solution would have been to continue with our hodgepodge of private insurance (group and individual policies) and at the same time implement an expansion of government insurance. But the government insurance would be of a relatively minimal nature.

Let the marketplace decide the cost of health care and let consumers know it is up to them to plan for their own protection, with the only saving grace that there would be a government safety net.

The other approach is to decide that health care is a right. But if you do that you are saddled with an inflexible bureaucracy — and we probably already are.

And as far as this health care is a right thing, I think maybe morally is should be. How in fact can we have such advanced medical technology and procedures and then deny them to our fellow human beings over money?

There will always be the problem in society of getting everyone to live up to his and her responsibility in making the most efficient use of finite resources and paying his or her own way. But do we punish society a whole for the failings of others? And for all of you extreme right wingers, with so many of you professing to be devout Christians, where is your sense of forgiveness and charity for those who have failed in their moral obligation to take care of themselves? I know, the Lord helps those who help themselves.

And if there ever was an incentive for personal responsibility: have you ever gone to the zoo that is your average public health clinic?

And now that I have written all of this, I recall that when the health care bill first passed Wall Street stocks for the health care industry shot up. With more people to be eligible for health care it looks like a bonanza for the health business. So why are right wing, worship money and private enterprise and hate socialism of any kind (except Social Security, perhaps) types so against health care for everyone?

And why didn’t the business community at large support health care reform or even a government take over? Why do employers want to be saddled with the responsibility of offering health plans (well many do not offer them)? Guess there must be a tax advantage.

Not that anyone cares, but I would have preferred straight socialized medicine.

And that leads me into my next issue: While I think social programs, such as Social Security, are worthwhile, I believe in the capitalist, private enterprise system for the economy as a whole. It seems to work. Even the Communists have gone capitalist in their own economies.

And that is why I cannot figure out why we had to bail out Wall Street. I have no way of really knowing what would have happened if we had not, but somehow I think we could have muddled through quite nicely. Capitalism is a gamble. Wall Streeters made big bets and lost. But does the gambling casino bail the gambler out? No. It could not. The whole system would be ruined.

Should underwater homeowners be bailed out? No. In the last several decades, through speculation and the advent of home equity loans, homes became cash cows, rather than a long-term investment. The bubble burst on the speculative market. But bailing people out will skew and probably ruin the market entirely. Who wants to sacrifice and be a responsible mortgage payer when his next door neighbor can default and then get bailed out by the government?

The very idea that the economy would be irrevocably ruined without the Wall Street bail out seems preposterous to me.

I note a story I saw in the business section of the Arizona Republic. It said that American corporations are flush with cash, citing a study by J.P. Morgan indicating that corporate America is sitting on $ 3.2 trillion in cash.

My personal theory is that when the government gets too involved in the economy and too involved in bailing people and banks and corporations out, it confuses the marketplace. Capitalists don’t know which way to move when the rules keep changing.

And if no one could lose, no one could win.

The government is needed in the area of oversight of the economy and enforcing rules of fair play. Its lack of oversight is what led to the economic collapse. When investors and individuals can borrow money and leverage investments with no money down and no demonstrated ability to pay something will give eventually, and it did.

Wall Street could fail without taking everyone with it. There is capital elsewhere and it is useless unless it can be invested. Just as the individual makes no money by hiding it under his mattress, the capitalist makes no money by just holding onto cash forever.

And now to the tea party movement. A story I read said that members of the informal group or movement seemed to give off mixed messages. On the one hand they want the federal government out of their lives, but on the other hand a survey indicated a majority of them thought that the federal government should do more along the lines of job creation. First I don’t think the tea party folks have any coherent message, save for they feel that the government is far too big and seems to represent the interests of politicians, big money (Wall Street, not Main Street) and not average Americans. In that I could agree. But what I think would happen is if they got the people they want into office — Sarah Palin? — they would find the same conflicts would continue. But the tea party certainly has a right to make its voice heard and to get into the political fray (in a non-violent fashion, though).


Time travel is possible — I went back 30 years…

March 29, 2010

Did some time travel. I actually went back 30 years and walked through the newsroom where I once worked for a year (I was a job hopper back then). The same furniture, to include my desk, was still there. Nothing looked different, save for the more modern computers, but we had computers back then, although we called them VDTs, as I recall (video display terminals — in my previous job to that I used a typewriter). On a Sunday afternoon, the place was empty, but I could almost see the old crowd.

Yes, I really did go back 30 years in time, and ,so, yes, time travel is possible. And they say you can’t go home again.

(Okay off base literary allusion. The place was not my home. But I did read the book “You Can’t Go Home Again”, by Thomas Wolfe  — not Tom Wolfe  —  and I read “Look Homeward Angel”, by the same author, and I enjoyed them both immensely.)

I won’t name names to save embarrassment and out of courtesy, but the man I worked for was there and we both remarked to each other that each one of us looked the same. One of us may have been stretching the truth a tad — maybe, don’t know.

His late father hired me, or at least he and his father did.

I think it might have been the only job for which I applied with a decent cover letter. I said something to the effect that I wanted to be a good farm reporter for them so they could sell more advertising (farm related) and make more money. I’m not sure I was able to do that in my short tenure there, but I thought it was the right thing to say and I also felt, hey, if I could, I’d have job security.

His dad took me for a ride in his car and showed me around the countryside. I tried to impress him with my knowledge of farming and farming issues, or at least demonstrate that I had a general understanding.

I think I impressed him. That and the fact that I was the only one — the only one — to apply for the position as farm editor, even though it was advertised in Editor and Publisher (a copy of which I found in a library), led to me being hired.

I was not limited to farm reporting. I did regular news too.

My proudest moment was the time his dad, who was the publisher and had his own office in another building, came all excited into the newsroom and told my boss, his son, the editor, that he needed to get a staffer down to the railroad tracks immediately because someone had been hit by a train.

There seemed to be no reaction in the newsroom. The old man looked exasperated.

Sensing that this was not good, I jumped up and said: “I’ll go!”

The next part I am hazy on, but it seems to me that either I had locked the keys in my car or could not start it and had to use someone else’s.

At any rate, I got to the scene with my camera in hand, a pen, but no notebook. I ended up writing info on the back of a checkbook stub.

As I recall, a transient had passed out on the tracks and was run over. I think I got a photo showing a body covered by a sheet and a tennis shoe somewhere in there — not even sure about that — hey, it was three decades ago.

The point is I showed that I was a true blue newshound, and maybe made points with the old man, who at the time was the one writing out the checks.

I didn’t really know the old man, but I always thought of him as a shrewd and hard-bitten businessman who had a fondness for journalism, and the idea that although the money is made by selling advertising, the point of the business is to deliver the news.

From what I can see, his son, whom I judge to be more mild mannered, is nonetheless keeping up the tradition of running a sound business, one that provides a service to its customers (advertising space for the advertisers and news for the subscribers) and keeping up the standards of journalism. I don’t want to get too carried away and make claims that are exaggerated, and I have not done a study of their current papers, but I have seen some and I know the man I worked for from all that time ago. He seems to be level headed, fair minded, and committed to solid community journalism and helping to run a family business that provides a livelihood for many employees and contributes to the local economy. If more businesses ran like that, we as a nation might not be in the trouble we are today.

Walking around in that old newsroom with the old furniture still in its place, but with new more modern computers, and other updated equipment, I saw the symbolism of how traditional ways can blend in with modernism.

As a nation, could we hang on to or go back to the more traditional and still keep up with the ever-advancing technology, thus creating a better quality of life, supported by a more stable economy that works for all, not just fast-buck investors and opportunists?

P.s.

And although I am not naming names, I want to add that my old boss runs the family business in conjunction with his mother and sister.


Obama starts to look like a leader…

March 28, 2010

This Obama guy might know what he is doing after all.

With the passage of his health care bill and now his announcement that he is making 15 so-called “recess appointments” to his cabinet, thus making an end-run around Republicans who have held up his nominations, Mr. Obama is flexing his muscle.

And really, no matter what one’s political party affiliation or ideology, I think most Americans want a strong president — a leader. Not a dictator, mind you, but someone who knows what he (so far it’s always been he) wants to do and goes about doing it.

Milk toast, hand wringing, and hiding in the Rose Garden (Jimmy Carterish) won’t do.

Mindless bravado, ala George W., can be hazardous, but I think he did show healthy leadership skills in some areas — just can’t name them at this time.

Obama seems to have played the sly game of asking and asking for input from the opposition — even if they claim he really did not listen — and getting none, pressed on and slipped his bill through while the opposition stayed too focused on opposition without alternatives and without really making a case beyond sound bites.

Of course what the more militant opposition has done is stir up the crazies who are threatening and even perpetrating violence.

While I can see some justifiable anger from some plain spoken, hard working, and fairly conservative Americans to a liberal elite, I would think that most realize that the trick is to get your guy (or gal) in the next time and give it right back.

What we could do without are the mindless Archie Bunker types with their bigotry and lack of anything meaningful to offer in the realm of public policy.

And any politician, be he or she a liberal inciting left-wing mobs (have not seen too many of them) or a so-called conservative, inciting storm trooper-like mobs, is doing something that is reprehensible and should be voted out of office.

Democracy and mob rule cannot co-exist.

ADD 1:

And talk about inciting violence: Sarah Palin used a gun culture metaphor by posting a map on her Facebook page showing who she judges to be political foes in the crosshairs of a gunsight and sent a tweet that read: “Don’t retreat, instead — reload!” (all that according to AP news stories I read). Now she can pretend it’s just a play on words to make a point, but it sounds like deadly intimidation to me. And all politicians who fail to condemn actual violence or the suggestion of violence are guilty of a terrible crime themselves. Palin has the luxuary of being out of office so she does not have to face political retribution for her actions and words or even responsibilty, as far as she sees it, I suppose.

ADD 2:

Republicans have a specious argument when they claim President Obama is violating the rule of checks and balances by making recess appointments, seeing as how their man Bush W. did the same, and his predessessor, Democrat Bill Clinton did too. And making cabinet appointments without confirmation from the Senate is constitutional when that body is in recess.


There is promise in health care reform bill — we can only hope it works!

March 23, 2010

While I have thought that President Obama had taken on too much in his push for health care reform and used up too much political capital in the process, now that it seems to be going through, I can only hope that it is at least a step in the right direction and that once the smoke clears people will find they like it — and take that Republicans! What are you going to say to that? Probably “oh, we were for it all along”.

But I confess, despite reading things about health care reform for so long and trying to keep my ears (and mind) open, I still barely have a clue what it all means. I do know that I might not be alive when some of the provisions kick in.

(ADD 1: Yes, I know there are supposed to be provisions in the bill (bills) that you cannot be turned down for pre-existing conditions and that you can’t have your insurance cancelled because you got sick, and that insurance companies can no longer cut off, say, your cancer treatment because you have reached a cap in costs.)

What I hope is that it will be as President Obama promised so many times during the campaign — no one who already has coverage they like will lose it or see it hurt by the new legislation.

I also hope that it will actually bring the deficit down — that almost seems counterintuitive, though.

And, I also hope that it will not negatively affect the current Medicare program and other such already-existing and quite popular government health programs.

And, I hope that in fairly short order, no one, but no one, will be denied medical coverage and care of some kind, whether they have money to pay for it or not.

There is a provision that eventually will require everyone to buy health insurance  (the government would help those who truly could not afford it) and face a  penalty if they do not do so. At first blush I did not like that idea. I didn’t like the idea that the government can force someone to pay money to a private company. But of course that is already the case for, say, car insurance (liability coverage). And after talking to someone about the matter, I agreed that it is also not right that some people do not pay for health coverage, but at the same time they expect and the government requires that medical providers do not turn patients away, at least for emergency cases. Often the medical providers (such as hospitals) and the taxpaying and insurance paying public have to pick up the tab.

True story: I was sitting in a cancer support group meeting and a woman sitting next to me told the group that she and her husband had no medical insurance, he being self-employed, but nonetheless the hospital had given him major treatment at its own expense (which, of course, has to be transferred onto the paying patients) . While I was glad that he got treatment, I could only think of all the agony my wife and I went through trying to make sure we could maintain our health coverage while I was not working due to being out while being treated for cancer. Thanks to health coverage paid by a former employer, plus premiums we paid, and the help of family, I was able to get treatment — but nothing was free for us (and my family). A system like that is not fair and equitable.

For those of you who do not want to pay for someone else’s medical coverage, the truth is you are already are doing so. Hopefully, under the new legislation the burden of cost will be spread out in a more equitable fashion.

I personally would prefer universal coverage paid for by all of us through taxes. Some argue there would be rationing. There already is. Some argue that the government rather than patients and their doctors would make the health care decisions. Well, at this time the private health care industry bureaucracy makes those decisions based on its goal of minimizing costs (read care) and maximizing profits.

But at any rate, the pressure from the private health care lobby and from a citizenry brought up on our haphazard so-called “system” works against the institution of what is sometimes called a “single-payer” system of government health care or even “socialized medicine” — although Social Security is so popular that any politician who threatens to mess with it faces retribution at the polls.

At the risk of repeating myself one too many times, I still think that Obama should have just pushed through a program that covers all those not covered now and left it at that.

But if his so-called reform really works, the public is sure to take a liking to it and then look out — Republicans will be wishing they supported it and will likely change their tune.

In conclusion I say to President Obama:

“You better hope this thing works!” Because if it does not, you have wasted a lot of political capital and not only you but all of us who fear the return of disastrous Republican control stand to suffer the dire consequences.

P.s.

In a discussion with someone near and dear to me who tends to support the liberal position, it was suggested by this someone, nonetheless, that maybe if people had to pay for health care coverage or just not get it (no government protection) then maybe people would appreciate the cost and people would buy coverage and be more particular to get what they pay for. That would be the libertarian (not liberal) free-market approach.


We need energy independence; Why is China getting the oil we fought for? And what I got out of “The Hurt Locker”

March 20, 2010

Back during the presidential campaign the mantra from the Republican right (and elsewhere) was “drill baby drill“, meaning we should drill anywhere and everywhere, including off pristine and not-so-pristine beaches and the Alaskan wilderness for oil to make America energy independent.

Well, with some limits — I’m not a big fan of offshore drilling (it’s ugly and the ocean is too valuable to mess up) — I think that is not a bad idea.

It’s a lot better than sending thousands of troops to Iraq (and Kuwait earlier) to die or be maimed for life in the name of oil — and that is what it has all been for.

And what really burns me up is the fact that we have put so much military effort into Iraq and now China is reaping the rewards with big oil contracts there. And why the China oil grab is not getting more press is beyond me.

Did the U.S. not earn the rights to Iraqi oil with our thousands of deaths there? If not, what was it all about? While I am not sure taking over a nation for its oil is legal or right, that is kind of what war is all about or at least the only logical thing that one could have been about.

And about being energy independent, turns out there is a lot of oil right under LA. I went to the La Brea Tar Pits when I was a kid. Turns out there is still even more oil than anyone ever knew about right under LA and some of the fields might get new development and already be grandfathered in so there won’t have to be any new environmental studies done (although I think that is being challenged).

We need to keep searching for and researching about other energy sources. But meantime we have to use what we know works.

And one piece I read recently stated that for our economy to prosper as it has in the past, we have to have a relatively cheap source of energy. So some of this new “green” type energy or some of the more bizarre ideas (you know, getting energy from the ocean waves) may not be economically feasible.

But again, this China thing. While we do have this symbiotic relationship with China — they produce everything we used to and we buy it — make no mistake, China is our competitor (for one it’s still Communist China) and no doubt sees itself as our successor as the world’s great power.

During the first Gulf War it was unsuccessfully argued that we should not jump in because we were not fighting to save Kuwait (and it was not a democracy, but a kingdom) but to protect our oil supply and that was not a good enough reason to risk the lives of our soldiers (actually many would think it was, but would perhaps be ashamed to argue such).

Then George W. followed the neo-con blueprint for making the Middle East our domain and protecting our oil supply, and the rest is history. We shed the blood and now China, who shed none, reaps much of the reward.

And now I’ll switch gears slightly and note that I just watched the award winning movie “The Hurt Locker” .

The message I got from the movie was two-fold. One was that some are attracted to war because of the adrenaline rush and the excitement that just can’t be gained any other way for them.

The other is that war is largely senseless. You sit there and watch the movie, which really has little story line or plot, and ask yourself: what is this all about?

Well war is fought when two parties vie for power and resources and get or I should say dupe third parties into shedding the blood.

There may be times when war is unpreventable. An example might be if the nation is actually attacked in force (and I don’t mean a one-time hit by terrorists).

And there’s even confusion in that. Japan attacked the United States, but not before we tried to choke off its oil supply, and that because of the terrible things it was doing in China, but Japan wasn’t doing anything in China western powers had not done there before (okay that might be debatable, but that’s not really the point here) and it felt it had been left out of the spoils of war it was supposed to share with western powers after World War l.

Germany did not attack the U.S. (although it might well have eventually).

North Korea did not attack the United States.

North Vietnam did not attack the U.S. But we bombed and burned and killed all over South Vietnam and North Vietnam to save South Vietnam. Decades later, Vietnam, now one country, and all under Communist rule, is finally recovering quite nicely from our help.

Of course we all know that those two just mentioned wars were really hot war proxy fights between primarily the U.S. and the old Soviet Union, and to some extent Communist China too, as part of the Cold War.

It takes a brave president to stand up to our enemies. But politically I think it would take an even braver president to stand up to those who insist we fight unnecessary wars.


Parking hogs my pet peeve…

March 18, 2010

Want to know my pet peeve? Okay. I’ll tell you anyway.

It’s the inconsiderate and rude and selfish parking hogs who take up more than one space in the parking lots, presumably to prevent someone else from parking too close and scratching their vehicle.

This would be exasperating at any time and place, but especially where parking is at a premium and time is of the essence.

I was on my way to my truck yard the other day to go out on another run, but first I had to drop off some possibly overdue books on tape and get some more. I cruised around the library parking lot and couldn’t see an open space anywhere (at first). But there was an SUV, obviously parked on purpose where it perfectly straddled the parking line — taking up two spaces.

Yes, occasionally people likely do inadvertently through inattention nudge there vehicle slightly over the line. But it is obvious that most of these jerks do this on purpose. And if you are one who does this — yes you are a jerk. You may or may not be a good person otherwise, but when you do this, you are an inconsiderate jerk.

Or what about that dying breed (literally), the smokers, who dump their car ashtrays (or truck ashtrays) all over the parking lot. And I never did understand why it was okay to simply flick your cigarette on the ground and maybe casually smash it out with your foot. And we all know the disasters that have happened when people throw cigarettes out of car windows. Major fires have been started that way.

Why did I digress into the sloppy and slovenly habits and behavior of smokers? I just think in both the parking and the cigarette littering, the same lack of respect for fellow human beings is being shown.

I’m not sure when this parking hog thing started. I did notice several decades ago now that parking spaces, say in shopping centers, were being made tighter (get more vehicles in that way).

Maybe there ought to be a law that says vehicle spaces have to be wider.

But it is too bad that a large part of our society can’t follow the unwritten law of common courtesy.


South of the Border Down Mexico Way more important than Afghanistan or Iraq…

March 15, 2010

One of the biggest threats to the security of the United States is not in Afghanistan or Iraq; It’s on the southern border of the U.S. itself.

Mexico is essentially a failed state. No one is safe from the violence of the drug cartels.

I’m surprised American tourists even go there anymore. Tourists have been caught in the crossfire and killed and injured.

In the latest incident, two American consulate employees and a spouse were gunned down, apparently by drug gang gunmen.

One couple had their seven-month-old child in the backseat. The incident happened in broad daylight in the border town of Juarez, just accross the border from El Paso, Texas. The mother was an employee at the consulate and her husband worked at the jail in El Paso. They were shot dead in sight of the bridge over the Rio Grande that separates the two nations at that point. The woman was said to be pregnant. In another incident just previous to that the body of a consulate employee was found in a car, his body riddled with bullets of the same type of automatic weapon used in other drug murders.

In the ongoing drug war thousands of people, many of them no more than innocent bystanders, have been killed and maimed and tortured.

Some of this violence extends into the United States. And the reach of the Mexican drug cartels extends way beyond the border and well into interior of the U.S.

In Mexico police of the various law enforcement agencies there have been killed, from the lowest level to the highest level, and high government officials have been victims too.

To add to the problem, Mexican law enforcement and the government itself is riddled with corruption. Of course this has been the case throughout the history of Mexico. But it has gotten to a point where it is no longer a nagging problem or even a joke, but instead a crisis that not only threatens the existence of Mexico but the security of the U.S.

From all reports, Mexico’s current president, El Senor Felipe Calderon, is doing his best to clean up the problem. And that may be exactly what is behind the major escalation in the ongoing drug war. The cartels are fighting back — and at present they seem to have the upper hand, intimidating the citizenry and government officials and law enforcement.

Some 2,500 people died in Juarez alone last year in the violence attributed to the drug war.

For my part, I believe the U.S. would do better to pay more attention to what is happening on its own border rather than expending so much blood and treasure in the sands of the Middle East.

We need oil out of the Middle East. But oil, as valuable as it is, is worth nothing unless it can be sold. As long as the U.S. can buy oil there I don’t see why it should be of particular concern who runs the governments there. I realize that there are forces — Al Qaeda — that could (and have to some extent) take control there and make things rough for the U.S., but that is the way of the world and that problem can be dealt with when need be. You really don’t want to mess around too much with a super power (the U.S.).

But the violence in Mexico is too close to home and is already spilling over into the U.S.

Providing that President Calderon is sincere in his efforts, and I have no reason to believe otherwise, the U.S. should help him in any way feasible.

And the U.S. military should be on the alert to the threat from this nation’s immediate south.

Now with all this danger in mind, I have to note that in the past week or so I was down at the border myself and felt as safe as I would anywhere. As a truck driver I delivered a load for transshipment into Mexico at the border town of Nogales, Az.

I even slept over night in my truck there in a darkened warehouse district and things were as peaceful as could be. The people there, primarily Hispanic, were as friendly and hospitable as can be. It is not Hispanics that are the problem. It is the drug cartels — they threaten all law abiding folks.

However, I will also say that from my reading and observation, the culture south of the border, the paternalistic society, with its custom of using bribes in every facet of business and daily life, and the lack of a large middle class (although it is growing) is a large part of the problem.

I think maybe that after all these years in a society where it has been so hard to rise above poverty and where the wealth has been so tightly concentrated, some elements are striking back, making millions or billions of dollars in the illicit drug trade. That of course is not an excuse, just an observation.

As we all know, illegal guns are shipped from the U.S. into Mexico and the drugs flow north — that is the drug trade.

More emphasis needs to be put on stopping the flow of those weapons, although, then again, as long as there is a market for drugs north of the border, I‘m sure they could get weapons from somewhere.

(And in any ongoing violent struggle or insurrection, whether it be in Mexico or Afghanistan, don’t you always wonder where all that firepower comes from? )

I would not advocate fighting another Mexican-American war — the U.S. doesn’t need another nation to take over and try to re-make in its own image.

But foreign policy should concentrate more on matters closer to home.

P.s.

The Mexican people are our friends. Many of our citizens came from there and have relatives there. And Mexico is vital to our economy. It is our largest trading partner. Heck, much of my income depends upon that trade. I’m a lot more concerned about Mexico than Afghanistan or Iraq.

P.s. P.s.

And I wish I did not repeat myself so much. I think I posted a blog quite similar to this months ago. But things don’t really change, except for getting worse, it seems.