Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Healthy Choices

Hillary Clinton has a national healthcare plan. Barack Obama has a healthcare plan, too, although his is somewhat less comprehensive than Hillary’s. John McCain has no plan, save for one to keep the U.S. Military engaged in Middle East affairs for as long as it takes to defeat global terrorism—a mammoth undertaking with a high probability of failure, given the climate of violence arising out of ongoing clashes of ideologies. But, I digress; McCain and global terrorism are not part of this discussion.

No, this discussion is about devising an affordable healthcare plan that’s inclusive of all Americans. While both the Clinton and Obama plans are better than the current one, neither of them goes the full distance. Each relies on a mish-mash of obsolete ideas and outdated methodology to achieve less-than-perfect results.

Although most everyone agrees that the healthcare system needs an overhaul, few agree on how to do it. Granted, it’s a complex subject not given to quick or easy fixes, so maybe it’s better to drop the notion of an overhaul and begin thinking in terms of designing a new system from the ground up.

The first consideration in devising a new healthcare plan is trimming costs without paring away essential services. Make every healthcare dollar count by adopting more efficient methods, eliminating wasteful spending, and by taking advantage of numerous medical and medicinal alternatives.

A single-payer system seems like the best option for providing broad-spectrum healthcare coverage to all citizens at the lowest possible cost. Private and group health insurance carriers need to make a profit in order to survive, and every dollar that goes toward insurance company profits is a dollar not spent directly on medical services. At least 30% of the money now spent on healthcare insurance is essentially wasted because it disappears into the black hole of insurance company profits.

Prevention is almost always cheaper than the cure, but vast sums of money are wasted because preventive medicine is often disallowed, thereby assuring that preventable or easily cured illnesses evolve into ailments that are both more difficult and more expensive to treat. Could annual health checkups for everyone ultimately result in lower healthcare costs due to early detection and treatment of potentially life-threatening or life-changing illnesses?

The uninsured also contribute to rising medical costs because they tend to delay seeking treatment until an ailment becomes life-threatening, at which point they enter the healthcare system through a hospital emergency ward, where medical costs are among the highest, but where, by law, treatment can’t be refused because of an inability to pay.

Over-reliance on prescription drugs is another factor in rising medical care costs. Natural remedies are sometimes as effective as their Big Pharma-supplied counterparts, and they’re almost always less expensive. Unfortunately, lower-cost alternatives are either ignored or banned outright while high-priced pharmaceuticals drive healthcare costs ever higher.

Personal choices also affect the cost of health care. Emphasize health education by making health studies a mandatory part of the school curriculum at every grade level. An increase of health awareness will surely lead to better diets and nutrition, optimal physical fitness, and smarter lifestyle choices, all of which have the potential to extend life expectancy while lowering overall healthcare costs. Personal responsibility for one’s health is not something that can or should be left out of the healthcare equation.

Financing and administering a universal healthcare plan pose the greatest challenges to providing comprehensive care to everyone. To simplify things, why not roll universal health care under the Social Security umbrella? Create a new healthcare fund to co-exist side-by-side with the Social Security retirement fund (but in a separate account), with both employers and employees paying into it, just as they now pay into the Social Security fund. Employers and employees alike will pay substantially less to a single-payer insurer than they now pay to group insurers, and get a better level of healthcare in the bargain.

The foregoing ideas are preliminary, basic, and intended only to provide the barest framework around which to build a viable, comprehensive healthcare plan that works for everyone. No doubt that much work remains to be done. Others will have different ideas, perhaps better ideas, but all ideas must be considered until such time that our political leaders, grassroots activists, and citizen voters pool their collective resources to devise and implement a workable healthcare package that leaves no citizen behind.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Of Tangled Webs and Weaving

Even though Hillary’s campaign seems to be losing momentum, might in fact be dead, it refuses to grind to a dead stop. Hillary bravely soldiers on, much to the delight of dwindling numbers of supporters—and GOP members made ecstatic by the continuing divide within the Democratic Party. At this point, by remaining in the race she does the party more harm than good.

Frankly, I can’t understand why so many people continue to sing Hillary’s praises. Why would anyone vote for a proven liar who campaigns mostly in the State of Denial? Wait! Let me answer my own question: For the same reasons many of them voted for George W. Bush. But possessing great mass appeal is not the same as possessing the qualities found in great leaders, and (to use Bush in another example) having shit for brains does not automatically endow one with a fertile imagination or advanced critical thinking skills.

There’s no doubt that Hillary is smart, I’ll give her credit for that. But she’s also ambitious, power-hungry, disingenuous, manipulative and conniving; her unwarranted attacks against Senator Obama did nothing so much as reveal her true character—junkyard dog attributes of ferocity and tenacity, with none of the endearing qualities such animals possess. That she vastly overstated both her experience and her accomplishments present other obstacles to her ascension to the Presidency. In short, a surplus of negatives and a dearth of positives tend to distance her from the office she covets.

As if things couldn’t get any worse, her statement about coming under fire in Bosnia was over the top. The news video of her arrival in Bosnia, which was re-released shortly after she made the sniper comment, clearly showed her strolling serenely away from the aircraft while daughter Chelsea stopped to greet a Bosnian child. If fusillades of snipers’ bullets threatened them, everyone pictured in the video was oblivious to the danger, including Hillary.

A question that has never been answered to my satisfaction is what part would Bill play in a Hillary Clinton administration. Would his proximity to the White House cast him in the role of de facto President, de facto Vice President, or some other influential position? Sorry, but Bill served two terms as President; he’s not eligible to serve another.

Although I think the time is right for a woman to occupy the White House, I don’t think Hillary is the right woman. If you’re bent on voting for a woman in this election, why not vote for Cynthia Ann McKinney, the 6-term Georgia Congresswoman and Green Party candidate? She has more practical political experience than Hillary, and she better represents progressive values.

Blame Hillary for her campaign’s steady reversal of fortune. Last June, she led in the polls by a wide margin, but then she started talking and it was game over. Perhaps Hillary does that shot-to-the-foot thing as a prelude to—and justification for—inserting her foot in her mouth.

Did Hillary flunk Ethics 101? Apparently so! It appears she forgot her lessons about tangled webs and weaving and the downside of the practice of deceiving.

I wish I could say that I wish Hillary well, but in truth I wish she’d just go away.

Addendum: Head on over to Chuck for . . . to see what Chuck Butcher said about Hillary in his latest blog post.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Salmon and the Sea Lion

It’s always gratifying to engage an expert in debate about subjects of interest to me and discover that what I think I know is not all that far removed from scientific reality. Such was the case on the afternoon of this Sunday past when I cornered my neighbor, who just happens to be a fish biologist, and solicited his educated opinion on the long-term prospects for Pacific Northwest salmon. Hint: Don’t look for cheap salmon anytime soon.

As it turns out, sea lions play a less important role in the decline of salmon runs than do dams and deteriorating ocean conditions. In fact, salmon (and other commercial fish species) face numerous threats, almost all of which relate to human activity. Global warming, air and water pollution, and overfishing are major contributors to the sharp decline of nearly all marine species.

Sea lions infiltrating inland waterways are a fairly recent phenomenon. But the fact that sea lions are dining at Chez Bonneville Dam rather than at Sea Lion Caves Dive ‘n’ Thrive is of little consequence to salmon’s long-term survival. Sea lions have always dined on salmon, among other fish species.

That so many sea lions have found it necessary to learn a new behavior in order to keep themselves fed brings to mind the famous (infamous?) Willie Horton quote: When asked why he robbed banks, Willie answered, “Because that’s where the money is.” It’s highly probable that sea lions are feasting at Bonneville Dam because they’re not finding sufficient sustenance in their normal ocean habitat.

The human impact on oceans is huge, and it’s taking a toll on all life forms on the planet—not just those that live in marine environments. If only humans would change their behaviors in ways that lessen their impacts on Gaia’s ecosystems, fewer other species would find it necessary to change theirs.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Taxing Ideas

In a recent TV campaign ad, Steve Novick, one of several Oregon Democrats vying for Republican Gordon Smith’s U.S. Senate seat, says that even millionaires should have 100% of their earnings subjected to Social Security tax. He’s exactly right. If having 100% of earnings subject to S.S. tax is good enough for those making less than $97,500 a year, it’s good enough for those who make more than that amount, too.

But why stop there? Why not make all income, regardless of its source, fair game for Social Security taxes? And while we’re at it, why not subject all income, regardless of source, to the same tax rates? The idea that investors are entitled to special tax rates on investment income because invested money is “at risk” capital is specious bullshit.

If risk is a legitimate argument for preferential tax treatment, then people who work in hazardous occupations should also qualify for lower tax rates. After all, their “capital”—their health and physical well being—is also at risk whenever they engage in hazardous occupational activity. Any injury or health defect sustained in the course of earning an income has the potential to compromise one’s ability to earn future income.

The newly enfranchised tax break beneficiaries must include loggers, miners, fishers, truckers, construction workers, commercial pilots, cops, firemen, machinists, bartenders, convenience store clerks, production workers, office workers . . . oh, hell! Let’s just include all workers regardless of their job. Everyone, during the course of their work, is at risk for some type of injury or adverse health consequence that can be attributed to the job.

A question we should all ask ourselves is if working-class people paid the same tax rates currently enjoyed by the wealthiest 1%, could the government continue to provide services at the same level it now provides. If the answer is yes, then Congress should immediately (and retroactively) extend Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy to include the not so wealthy. If the answer is no, then Congress should rescind Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy and strive to make taxes equitable across the board.

Damnit, I know that taxes can seem onerous at times, but try funding fire and police protection, primary and secondary education, transportation infrastructure, military defense, and a litany of other services that government agencies normally provide out of your own pocket and see how little your money—without government involvement—will buy. Suddenly, taxes begin to look like a bargain.

Granted, government spending is often wasteful, but reining in corporate influences over government entities, providing better oversight of government policies and programs, demanding personal accountability from our elected and appointed officials, and eliminating overlaps and redundancies to streamline government services and make them more efficient would go a long way toward reducing costs and restoring the public’s confidence in government. There’s no incentive more important to taxpayers than the perception that their tax dollars aren’t wasted, that they’re actually spent to pay for things that have demonstrable value.

No one likes paying taxes; I get that. But if you think that the answer to taxes is to slash government services, privatize as much as you can of what remains, and outsource everything else in the mistaken belief that corporations can provide a higher level of service at a lower cost than government can, you haven’t been paying attention.