Posts Tagged politics

Reforming the healthcare reform debate

The most painful part of today’s passage of a bill that will allow people to keep their health insurance plans–regardless of whether they meet the standards of the Affordable Care Act–isn’t watching President Obama capitulate to more Republican pressure. It’s listening to everyone complain about it.

Obama was wrong to say that people could keep their plans in all circumstances but this, along with the constant criticism of Healthcare.gov, is getting out of hand.

The President should have been clearer about the law, and the people handling its rollout should have made sure the website worked. They didn’t. It’s not that big of a deal.

People like to point to the constant political strife in Washington as the nexus of this country’s problems, but the strife runs much deeper than that.

The Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare) is a very middle-of-the-road policy, which is why no one likes it. Liberals don’t like it because it’s not a single-payer system. Conservatives don’t like it because Obama created it.

Everyone else seems to be disgruntled because it requires them to change policies or pay more money. Never mind that they’re getting more coverage.

“Healthcare reform” means just that. It’s about providing access to healthcare for the maximum number of people, and implies no guarantee that certain people won’t be inconvenienced by a change of the status quo.

That big-picture reality applies to people’s ideas about healthcare reform as well.

Many liberals decry Obama for not enacting a single-payer system, and instead delivering millions of customers to the insurance companies. But where were these people when the Affordable Care Act was being drafted?

Did they stare down conservative opponents of the law, or just criticize the President for not doing what they wanted?

Two years after the passage of Obamacare, people are still complaining about the lack of a single-payer system. Yes, that would be fantastic. But the time to advocate for it was when the law was being drafted.

The biggest problem with Obamacare may just be that it is the President’s signature domestic policy. It makes it too easy for people to criticize the man and abandon the policy in the process.

Supporters of healthcare reform need to be for healthcare reform, not their own specific idea of healthcare reform. They need to stop throwing their hands up and shaking their heads every time a setback occurs. The ship will never get anywhere if everyone jumps off.

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The generational mirror

I really need to stop being so nosy.

“The world has changed, and not for the better,” I heard an older gentleman say to one of his friends while waiting online for takeout. He was discussing how he never does anything online, because “they always ask for your credit card.”

“It’s not just that, the fundamental moral fiber of the country has changed,” the friend said in agreement.

I’m not saying that I disagree with them, but I do think it’s interesting how people of a certain generation can decry society’s moral degradation when their peers are the ones that caused it.

“Millennials” are often described as feckless denizens of their parents’ basements, willing to sacrifice any freedom in the pursuit of technological connectivity.

That simply isn’t true. While the younger generations are the first to come of age with smartphones in their hands, this situation–and the concept that digital “smart” technologies are a catch-all social savior–was created by the Baby Boomers, who count Steve Jobs and Bill Gates among their ranks.

It’s the same story in politics. It’s easy to reminisce about the good old days of Jacob Javits, and blame Millennials for not being more politically active, when you forget who’s actually in Congress now.

Society has a lot of problems, but idly criticizing it without acknowledging where those problems came from won’t solve anything.

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When tragedy becomes mundane

Another week, another round of disturbed people firing guns in public places.

The New York Times described Richard Shoop’s escapades in the Garden State Plaza mall as grimly familiar, and the same could be said for the shooting at LAX that left a TSA security guard dead.

These types of events have apparently become so common that–even when two of them happen in less than week–barely anyone bats an eyebrow.

Politically, the eyes of the nation are still on yesterday’s elections and the functionality of Healthcare.gov.

Sometimes, there’s concern that policymakers need to strike while anvil is hot; that public interest in an important issue will wither outside the emotional rawness of a tragedy.

Who could have predicted that would still happen, even as the nation’s mentally ill gun owners continue to supply new tragedies.

It’s hard to believe that these shootings could become mundane, but that seems to be exactly what is happening.

However, no matter how mundane they become, they won’t go away. As long as the twin factors of mental illness and firearms are allowed to interact, America will have to deal with these tragedies.

Having a discussion on gun control and the treatment of mental illnesses may be an uncomfortable  prospect for the electorate, but is it as uncomfortable as having to wonder if today’s shopping trip will end in bloodshed?

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The will of one

Clouded Captiol [Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP]

Clouded Captiol [Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP]

Five years ago, a Jewish businessman in Dothan, Alabama saw that his synagogue was running out of congregants.

So he put up $1 million to recruit Jews, offering a financial incentive for them to move to Alabama and join the congregation.

Money can accomplish seemingly-impossible things, like getting Jews to move to the Deep South. However, that becomes a problem when there is no other power to balance the influence of cash and an individual willing to use it to exert his or her will.

An individual like John Ramsey. A 21-year-old Ron Paul fan, he used money inherited from his grandparents to start the Liberty for All Super PAC.

According to Rolling Stone, the PAC funded the winning campaign of  Kentucky Congressman Thomas Massie, one of the hardline proponents of the government shutdown.

People have a right to contribute resources to causes they believe in, but without forces to balance them–like a string government or informed populace–what we get is essentially feudalism: the people with the money decide what happens.

Liberals have (rightfully) criticized corporations of exerting this kind of undue influence through lobbying and job-baiting, but things will get much weirder if that guy who just won the lottery becomes a political influencer.

The government shutdown is an example of tyranny of the minority: a group that’s been outvoted is holding everyone else hostage because they can’t deal with losing.

If Super PACs and their untraceable campaign funding are allowed to continue corrupting the electoral process, we’ll just get more of that.

In a democracy, not every person can have his or her way 100 percent of the time. Let’s make sure that having money to spend on a political campaign doesn’t change that.

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When you’re running out of things to say about mass shootings

Sadly, the mass shooting earlier this week was not surprising. These horrific events are becoming so commonplace that even The Onion has the narrative down pat.

We’ve seen it all before: A mentally unstable individual whose behavior was just innocuous enough not to trigger alarm bells. A place no one ever expected gun violence to occur. Senseless killing.

As with Columbine, Aurora, Fort Hood, Sandy Hook, and the countless other mass killings resulting from the lethal mix of mental illness and firearms, the question is: Will we do anything about it?

At this point, I’m beginning to think the answer is “probably not.”

A mass killing usually stirs emotions on both sides of the gun control debate, leading people to pledge for stricter regulations, or have rallies at Starbucks.

With the country already preoccupied with Syria, the fifth anniversary of the Great Recession, and the impending implementation of Obamacare/goverment shutdown, the Washington Navy Yard shooting didn’t even get that much attention.

Even if it did, it would probably be stymied by a gun lobby that thinks the people it represents are the center of the universe, and an opposition all too eager to let the gun lobby turn the debate into a marathon of consolation. Then people would lose interest. Until it happened again.

When the random killing of innocent people follows a predictable narrative, what else is there to talk about?

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On Syria and being confused

As I write this, President Obama appears committed to launching a limited military strike against the Assad regime in Syria, in response to the regime’s use of chemical weapons against its own people. The fact that this seems inevitable is troubling.

While the President does have some latitude to use military force without consulting Congress (especially since Sept. 11), but this is not supposed to be the default.

People seem to realize that; there’s been plenty of unease expressed regarding an attack on Syria. However, unease isn’t the same as discussion, or action.

Thanks to the Internet, the idea that Americans should pay attention to Syria has almost become a self-parody. People advocating for a frank discussion about Syria are characterized as elitists and blowhards while the rest of the country continues to analyze Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance.

Regardless, now is an appropriate time to decide what to do with Syria. And that won’t be an easy decision.

On the one hand, the Assad regime has been oppressing its people, something the United States cannot abide. The Obama Administration claims it has intelligence showing that Assad ordered the chemical attacks, and that a limited intervention to enforce international statutes banning chemical weapons is justified.

On the other hand, no one outside the White House has seen the intelligence, although select members of Congress were briefed on it. It’s also unclear what effect the attacks will have: until now, the U.S. has avoided taking sides in Syria’s civil war because the situation is so ambiguous.

Americans are also weary of being drawn into another Middle Eastern war. The United Kingdom, United Nations, and the Syrian people are also opposed to U.S. intervention.

Clearly, there’s a lot to talk about, and Americans should be eager to talk about this.

People often complain that Obama leaves Congress and the electorate out of the loop when it comes to foreign policy, that only finding out after the fact that a terror suspect has been blown up by Hellfire missiles isn’t good enough.

This time, the White House is keeping the People in the loop. Obama is telling us what he plans on doing, not what he’s already done. Secretary of State John Kerry implored the people to examine the Administration’s evidence in his speech earlier today.

I’m not saying that bombing Syria is right or wrong; I’m saying that the country needs to have a discussion about whether it’s right or wrong.

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Five things that would have made Richard Nixon a great tech entrepreneur

Why Richard Nixon would have been a great tech entrepreneurRichard Milhous Nixon may have been born too early. While our bejoweled and disgraced 37th president might seem like the prototypical curmudgeon, he could have dominated one of today’s hottest industries. Here are five reasons why Nixon would have been a great tech entrepreneur.

Why Richard Nixon would have been a great tech entrepreneur1. He loved invading people’s privacy

Consumers have grown a love-hate relationship with tech companies like Facebook and Google because of the way they collect and mine users’ data. This would have seen second nature for a man who organized a break-in at the Democratic Party’s headquarters. Imagine what he could have done with the Internet.

Why Richard Nixon would have been a great tech entrepreneur2. He was great at playing competitors off against each other

Nixon was a horrible person, but was also a master statesman. One of his most impressive achievement was playing China and the Soviet Union against each other.

Today, just as during the Cold War, we have a few giants slugging it out for world domination. If Nixon was in charge of one of them, you can bet that he would use his rivals’ competitiveness against them.

Why Richard Nixon would have been a great tech entrepreneur3. He was extremely anti-social

Being creepy and unable to relate to other people isn’t a requirement, but Nixon would definitely find kindred spirits in the same industry that spawned Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.

Five things that would have made Richard Nixon would have been a great tech entrepreneur4. He loved secrecy

Companies need to keep their trade secrets, well secret. Whether it’s Google Glass or the next iPhone, keeping information out of the public eye can create a competitive advantage. Nixon would have loved that.

Just as corporations feel they don’t have to tell anything to anyone but their shareholders, Nixon felt he had not obligation to tell Congress, the media, or voters what he was actually doing. Who else would send Henry Kissinger on a secret trip to China, or retain a team of “Plumbers” to take care of information leaks?

Why Richard Nixon would have been a great tech entrepreneur5. No matter what he did, people accepted him

Did people stop using Facebook when they found out what the company was doing with their information? Did people stop buying Apple products when Jobs’ abusive nature was revealed? No, which is perfect for Nixon.

Tricky Dick thrived on a similarly understanding public. Never a likable guy, he wormed his way out of a campaign financing scandal with the famous “Checkers Speech,” and despite being a commie-hating conservative, he was able to take advantage of public outrage over the Vietnam War to win the presidency in 1968.

While president, Nixon was able to silence critics by co-opting liberal policies (he created the EPA and Amtrak and supported universal healthcare). Nothing could stop him. Well, almost nothing.

Like today’s tech barons, Nixon didn’t car about being liked, and found ways to make it so that the public didn’t have to like him either.

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