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Archive for March, 2010

One of my biggest problems with our existing health care system is that it relies on employers to provide coverage. By doing so, it complicates matters for the unemployed or for people whose employers can’t afford to offer such a benefit.

I feel it also has a profound impact on small businesses, and I like small businesses. Big businesses have huge advantages for providing health care to their employees, not only because they have more capital with which to provide it, but also because they can purchase it at a lower cost due to the quantities they’re buying. Their larger pool of employees also shields them from sharp spikes in premium costs due to individual employee sicknesses, pre-existing conditions, advanced age, and other health liabilities.

For me, the only complete solution for me is to remove health care from employment entirely. It’s actually one of the points McCain made in his campaign for president. He argued that the insurance policy needs to stay with the person, not with the job, and I agreed.

But that didn’t happen in this law, and it probably won’t because big business lobbies fought to keep health insurance in their control. I’m not sure why, but I can guess that it actually saves them money. A big business can provide employees not only with some money toward their premiums, but because of their purchasing power, also with a price on the policy that employees could not achieve individually. In other words, the insurance policy is more valuable than money for the employee and cheaper than money for the employer. But that only works if the company is big enough to command this purchasing power.

The new law by no means solves the problem for small businesses, but it does level the playing field a bit. For one, it provides a tax credit to small businesses who provide health care. The credit itself seems a bit limited, but it’s a nice gesture if nothing else. More importantly though, the law sets up exchanges that pool together many other small businesses allowing them to purchase health care with a similar economy of scale that big businesses enjoy.

I think this approach has promise. It’s uses the natural forces of free enterprise without imposing burdensome mandates. It doesn’t involve one person subsidizing another person’s coverage, and it doesn’t penalize anybody. I’m not sure if big businesses will like the increased competition, but I’m personally not worried about that.

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Ran across this post today about a boat made from 12,500 plastic bottles.  Very interesting to say the least.  Check out the post to read more, and view the video below for a trailer about the project.

Added bonus… the guy who made the trailer and is on the boat filming has a film company in my hometown of Long Beach, and it looks like he’s been filming some cool stuff.

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One of the few immediate effects of the health care bill is the elimination of exclusions for children with pre-existing conditions, and I couldn’t be happier about that.

Right now, my daughter is receiving a specialized treatment that involves trips to a specialist and one shot a month. Off hand, I’m not sure how much the office visits cost, but we do know that the shots are $1500 a piece. There are also several expensive tests and lab work that go along with the treatment. Under most existing plans, if I were to lose my job, and therefore have to switch plans, we would lose coverage for this treatment permanently.

My daughter’s condition is no fault of her own. It’s not from smoking, overeating, from sky diving, or anything else that she has chosen. She was born with it. Lucky for us, it’s not life-threatening. However, a life threatening disease would fall under the same category.

I am very thankful to the Democrats for fixing this problem, and I think the Republicans should look a little more closely at who they will hurt in their attempts to dismantle this bill.

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I have added a new category to CAI’s “cloud” of topics that are search-able on the right side of the blog here.  It is labeled Unintended Consequences.  I have written a post specifically about this before, and mentioned it at other times, but I realize that I notice this pattern quite often and so thought I would try and point it out more.  Sometimes it can be positive or fortuitous consequences… but more frequently it seems to be negative repercussions brought on by glowing intentions.

In that effort I point you to this article from WaPo about how foreign aid in Haiti has made their devastation from the earthquake even more acute.  They import over 50% of their food, including 80% of their most-eaten staple rice.  The unintended consequences are two-fold as far as I can see:

  1. Because of historical and current aid their local economy has not grown as it should.  Their president recently requested less aid so that local producers can start to contribute to the recovery of the country.  So as a consequence of continually supporting a country through aid efforts it wass possible to actually undermine the growth and stability they need to no function efficiently as a country..
  2. As the Washington Post article describes, subsidies from our government to our local farmers makes the rice we export cheaper than the Haitian-grown variety.  We push for lower tariffs in their country, while using subsidies in our own to gain a market advantage, all in the name of free trade.

What seems as beneficent global aid in one instance, and separately as a boon to our local farmers in the form of subsidies… can be linked to increased depression in a third-world country.  Certainly Haiti’s woes are not limited to these agents, but this tragedy is serving to bring to light the inequities these specific policies may have contributed to.

It is too trite to recite the adage of what road good intentions pave.

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Attention all CAI readers… you can now update your bookmark for this blog to criticismasinspiration.com so that we can all seem cooler by being on a site without wordpress in the url.  (more…)

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Last week I had written post about American Idol, and how I was finally coming around on it after years of hating the very idea of it, reluctantly watching it to appease my wife, and/or guiltily enjoying it with a large dose of self-loathing.  I wrote that this season was different and offered some of the most creative and talented women to ever grace the stage (the men are still pretty boring though).  The show seemed to be embracing a wider palette of expression than ever before.  Then Lilly got voted off and I scraped the whole thing.  Lilly was really incredible- sort of a female version of Devendra Banhart- a truly unique talent and something completely different from the American Idol mold.  Last week she played mandolin and had an ultra-creative (by A.I. standards at least) arrangement of some sweet old-timey song.  But she was voted off, and I’m back to my primary criticism of American Idol- that it sucks any and all creative life blood from the contestants and pushes them to appease the largest American Idol-watching demographic, which seems to be teenage girls and senior citizens.

My frustration with American Idol allows me to identify, on some level, with liberals who wish our policy makers were less beholden to Middle America.  ‘Who cares what 60% of the country thinks- they’re all knuckle draggers anyway!’  I’m reminded that democracy sucks, except that it’s better than every other form of government.  I hate that Lilly went home, but I’d rather it be because of a million teenage girls than because of the whim of a Simon Cowell or Ellen Degeneres.  The only thing worse than the “uneducated” opinion of the masses is the “special” opinion of the “experts.”

Speaking of which, another frustration I have with the show that has really emerged this season is just how arbitrary the judges are.  Randy will say, ‘that just wasn’t a good song for you.’  Then Simon says ‘that was the perfect song for you.’  So who’s right?  What exactly are the criteria of a “good song” for a particular contestant?  What does that even mean?  If the song is too “good”, then there’s a danger that the contestant might be “playing it safe.”  Rarely, if ever, do the judges make a single objective and/or verifiable statement other than the occasional “it was a bit pitchy.”  Here’s another one: “it felt like karaoke.”  Well how so?  Last week one of the judges criticized a 16-year-old contestant for singing a song about a father calling his wife and kids- something he couldn’t really identify with.  Well I’m pretty sure he’s never had a girlfriend, sex, or a political opinion, so what do we want him to sing about?   Studying for his A.P. exams?

And yet, I’m holding out hope that America will surprise me and anoint Crystal Bowersox the winner.  If you haven’t seen Crystal perform then you owe yourself a viewing.  She looks like a hippy, has bad teeth, and is all around unpolished by pop standards.  Yet she sings incredibly, plays guitar really well and has a bit of a punk edge to her- sort of a streak of cockiness that is strangely refreshing.  I have zero confidence that she will win because of this demographic problem discussed earlier, but I’m stoked she’s made it this far.  I actually kind of hope she doesn’t win, so that she wont be forced into the American Idol recording mold.  She needs to form a band and get signed to an indie rock label.  There’s another girl that I really like- Siobhan Magnus.  She may not be as roundly talented as Crystal, but she’s kind of bizarre and unpredictable, and, as demonstrated with her version of Aretha Franklin’s “Think,” has some serious pipes.  All in all, there’s a lot of interest with the women, so I plan to continue to watch with great disappointment until all the interesting ones have been weeded out and we’re left with that insipid 17-year old girl as the winner.  I really can’t complain- I don’t vote.

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In full disclosure, I am about to make some broad generalizations here, so if you feel maligned by what I say please don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments and we can hash it out. That said-

I recently ran across a Facebook group called “Stop Having Kids“, which led me to “Global Advocates for Negative Population Growth“, both of which have a general interest in sharing with each other how repugnant people are who have children whilst the following is taking place; children un-adopted in undeveloped countries, children starving in foreign countries, global warming increasing due to over-population, and world resources plummeting due to over-population, etc. I was somewhat dismayed to discover the group(s) after seeing some family members join them on my news feed… disheartening because of what they must think about my daughter and their niece. I haven’t spoken to them directly yet so cannot speak to their views exactly.

But these groups bring up a discussion that I have had on numerous occasions with (shall I dare say) my friends that may or may not take offense at being labeled liberals – and most definitely not in the classical sense. They hold the belief that we are vastly overpopulated and having children is highly irresponsible. But the point of this post is not specifically about the views of over-population, but rather with how views from these liberals most often clash with political views they hold simultaneously.

To a man (or woman) they are also, as many liberals are, lovers of big government. They want increased social welfare, universal health care, and seemingly every entitlement imaginable… but who will pay for it? Just yesterday Social Security started receiving less money than it is paying out, a situation we have known is coming for years. Are these no-birthers at the forefront of cutting off social security? What will pay for universal health care – future taxes? We can’t pay for our entitlements with a growing population let alone a shrinking one.  Look at Europe where social welfare is most heavily instituted.  All their birth rates are well below the replacement rate (2.1 per woman), and even the levels they are at are slightly inflated because of immigrant births there.  So they have opened their doors to immigration as the only way to maintain a tax base that will pay for their entitlements.  And speaking of health care, let me be extra cynical and ask why liberal no-birthers would want better health care at all… that just leads to longer lives and that dreaded over-population. To truly support their over-population fears this group of people should be firebrand members of the NRA, knowing that gun-toting blowhards could take out a good portion of the population through their reckless shooting. Maybe they should become active supporters of wars in the Middle East so those ever-reproducing Muslims will be stopped! So who exactly are they talking about to stop having kids?  Westerners?  We are all demographically shrinking if not for immigration, so we can’t be held responsible right?  U.S. birthrate is 2.04 so we are slowly (very slowly) shrinking.  Britain is 1.7 so it’s not their fault.  Where are the immigrants coming from that prop up the population and the birth rate?  Well, mostly Africa.  Poor under- and undeveloped countries are reliant on children to help farm to survive… plus you need extra in case some die (Africa also has the highest mortality rates as well).  Is the answer to cut off aid to Africa so that country can finally be swallowed up and stop over-populating?  Haven’t seen that in too many liberal platforms.  Aren’t liberals pro-immigration too?  Don’t they know that is where America’s growth is coming?  Wouldn’t it be consistent to be anti-children AND anti-immigration?

It is very frustrating when people hold conflicting views – and I’m sure I’m guilty of some as well. How can you support entitlements based on future tax revenue growth, and hold that those future tax-paying generations should be smaller? It’s analogous to an American who wants low prices but supports protectionist price-raising policies. Sometimes you can’t have your cake and eat it too. But its not really possible to have no children and reduce benefits is it? In traditional cultural roles, children and grandchildren take care of their elderly parents and grandparents. Whether this is having them come live with you, or constant visits, or paying for them to be admitted to a care facility, the onus is on the family to take care of the plans. With no children, couples are thereby relying on government institutions (I’m assuming, since – remember my broad generalization note – most liberals seem to be anti-private everything) to plan for and take care of them in old age. So therefore they cannot support reduced old-age benefits because they are the very ones who will need them.

It reminds me of people who want gun-free zones, and then are dismayed when armed lunatics disobey the posted rules and kill dozens of students or workers, while no one around has a gun to protect themselves or save others. (I won’t go any further into this, but to say that most accounts of where an even worse tragedy was averted was when some parent or off-duty policeman with a gun took out the assailant).  Policies have consequences… you want no more growth, you need to support smaller government.  But those never seem to go hand in hand.

This has been a bit of a rambling diatribe, to be sure. But the point was to acknowledge the inconsistency I see in the views of those supporting reverse population growth. I’ll rely on you dear reader to do your own reading on the policy itself, and whether or not our resources will be gone (see: Ehrlichs’ population bomb theory – fail) or what population control measures lead to (see: gendercide). I especially feel sorry for the children of the mother who is guilty about having kids because of what it will do to mother Earth.

My final thought on this is highly cynical, and morbidly childish. But I find it interesting that every person that believes the world is over-populated has immediate access to alleviating that problem by one… but I don’t ever hear them offering to do so.

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As of today, House Democrats are close to a vote on the Senate Health Care Bill, which they intend to pass and then modify through a budget process that will circumvent Republicans.

I think we can all agree that it’s sad if not demoralizing that something so important as health care should be put through a process so ridiculous as this, and that the result could be as ineffectual as the Senate bill promises.

The bill’s lack of popularity comes from all sides of the political spectrum. Some fear it imposes too much government while others fear that keeping health care in the private sector accomplishes nothing. Abortion rights advocates claim that it could prevent health insurance companies from providing abortion coverage, while abortion rights opponents claim that the bill could provide tax-payer money for abortions. Some people worry that it doesn’t tax “cadillac” health plans enough to pay for itself, and people with “cadillac” health plans lament a possible new tax.

The health insurance industry worries that the penalties for not buying insurance are not substantial enough, others doubt the plausibility of a mandate with no public option to assure that all people can afford it, and others still simply reject the idea of a government mandate for buying anything. Many people see little in the bill to reduce health costs, and most people question the effectiveness of a bill that lacks bipartisan support.

I’m definitely disappointed. Health care reform is so important. Our system leaves out millions of people, and millions others remain less protected than they think, which exacerbates the misery of a health emergency by tacking on a devastating  financial one. The way the system is presently designed, the health insurance industry is the least motivated to provide for people who need the coverage the most. That’s a pretty backward economy if you ask me. Furthermore, the system is channeled through employment benefit packages, which makes lay-offs so much more troublesome, and which simply isn’t consistent with today’s transient workplace.

I’m disappointed in both political parties. The Republicans have been despicable. It is very clear that they see a distinct political advantage in blocking this effort, and they’ve put that goal ahead of the needs of people. Most disturbingly, they continuously repeat lies and mistruths about the legislation that have distorted perceptions and derailed the process. I would like to hear just one Republican tell the truth on this subject. I would like to hear one Republican stand up and say something like this:

“I don’t support this plan for good reasons, but I reject the lies that my party is spreading. Sarah Palin lied about death panels. She was referring to end of life counseling. They are not death panels, and she, herself, supported them in the past. This plan is not a socialist takeover of health care. It’s too much government, yes, but the government will not takeover the companies. Furthermore, there’s nothing in the plan to limit your choice of doctor or to prevent you from keeping the coverage you have now. It’s still a bad plan, and here’s why…”

I would deeply respect such a republican, but as of now, no such republican exists.

Republicans claim that they do want reform and they’ve been bringing stellar ideas to the table, but those horrible democrats won’t let them contribute. I have real difficulty believing this. Republicans had control of executive branch for 8 years and full majorities in the house and senate for six of those years. During that time, the best they did for health care was pass a perscription drug plan that failed to help anybody in any way. Instead, they preserved the status quo, while my health insurance premium tripled and my co-pay quadrupled.

I’m also disappointed with democrats. For one, they are up against air-tight voting discipline from the republicans. In general, I’m opposed to such tactics, but health care is too important. The democrats need to have discipline of their own in this case. Their fragmentation on this issue has not only jeopardized the bill itself, but it’s also caused the public to lose confidence in their efforts.

More problematic for me is their inability to achieve bipartisan support. They say that Republicans won’t come to the table, while Republicans say that democrats won’t let them come to the table, and there’s really no way for us to know the truth on this. My guess is that it’s both. What we do know, however, is that tort reform did not make it into the bill at all, and that’s inexcusable. This issues is one of the major problems affecting health care that needs to be addressed, and it should have been a starting point for building consensus with Republicans. There also should have been no chance that abortion could enter into this debate. Allowing any language that could possibly lead to tax-payer money funding abortions is not only unacceptable, but politically stupid. My belief is that democrats wanted to do this without republicans, which means that they would do it without half the country, and that simply can’t work.

My concern on this issue isn’t just based on health care. This process we’ve been through makes me seriously question our country’s ability to tackle any problem in our future. Republicans will have power again soon, and democrats will use the same tactics against them, and possibly worse. Imagine the consequences of such a spiral.

On the question of health care reform, I would like all people involved in this debate start with one simple question: should every American citizen have health coverage? I’d like a yes or no answer on this. If the answer is no, then explain who should be left out an on what criteria. If the answer is yes, then I’d like to know how that can work for our country. I believe that clarity on this question will build common ground and lead to much better problem solving on the issue.

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Release the penguins!

Ironically, my brother Greg was writing a post on our Uncle John at the same time I was.  However, as he is an infinitely better writer than I am, I would suggest you check out his post over at Lost In the Cloud.

Our uncle was a reclusive, witty, and highly intelligent fellow who has become a bit famous posthumously because of his wit and absurd composition ability.

RIP uncle John.

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I’m not quite sure if this post will produce mockery or appreciation for wonderful advice… I’m going to bet on the former.  Regardless, I want to tell you about how you can foil “The Man”, that corporate fat cat who wants to rip you off, at lease as far as hair care for men goes.  Here it is.

Sportin’ Waves.

Ever since I was in college I have kept my hair relatively short, but long enough that it needs some sort of product to style it… if you want to call what I do with my hair style.  Anyway, I had tried many products, gels, spray, and what not over the years and then someone introduced me to Murray’s.  Its cheap and was pretty useful for keeping my hair up without turning hard and crusty like hair spray and gel would.  Problem is that Murray’s is a wax and it does not want to come out of your hair – not to mention what it does to your pillow lest you go to sleep without showering.

Well, let me introduce you to Sportin’ Waves from SoftSheen Carson.  It’s a cream pomade so it washes out easily.  It styles your hair great, and it is $2.99 for a 3.5oz can, versus $16.50 for a 2oz can of Bed Head.  If you use Bed Head or other products, try this out.  It’s so cheap it won’t hurt you if you don’t like it… but I can almost guarantee you that you will switch.  Plus it must get you in good with the brothers and sisters, at least it would seem so from their website.  SoftSheen is missing a target market here… white hipster wannabe’s.

Do I have street cred now?

As I said, I’m sure my first post foraying into the world of hygiene and hair care will produce mockery from my friends.  But hey, at least I have hair to style – ANDY!!

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