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    I’m an opinionated Grumpy Old Man. I enjoy the intellectual give and take that goes along with that, but have very little patience for stupid people (Note: there is a big difference between “stupid” and “educated”. Some of the stupidest people I’ve ever met have a PhD…). Beside arguing, I like to build things in almost any media. Right now I’m mostly building in wood, Lego, and a bunch of different electronic media. I teach in a number of different venues - from preschool all the way through graduate school. Subjects range from talmud to neuroscience to engineering.

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party politics and why Health care reform will never happen – or any other significant legislation

While listening to yet another media report (I refuse to call it news anymore) flogging the whole “kennedy was god” crap, I actually heard an intelligent comment. The talking head commented that without Teddy, significant health care reform had no chance of succeeding. The other talking head commented that not only health reform, but pretty much ANY significant legislation had almost no chance of passing. She was claiming that without Teddy, no legislation could succeed, which I think is simply stupid – even for the kennedy worshippers, but there IS some truth to the statement.

Of course, it has nothing to do with Kennedy, it is all about how politics work in the USA, and health care is a great example. Pretty much everybody agrees that major reform is needed, and pretty much everybody agrees as to what should be done. The problem is that our political system requires the two parties to take “opposing” stands instead of working cooperatively. This is because the american people need something simple to associate with the political parties. Democrats help the poor, and are socially and politically correct. Republicans represent big business, don’t care about the people, and are all about making sure that the rich stay rich, and the poor stay poor. The two parties can’t work together because it would shatter the illusion that they are actually any different. Then, the people (and the parties) would actually have to think, make decisions, and figure out what and who to vote for.

Sure, some of you are going to scream that dems and reps are really different. Republicans have affairs, cheat on their wives, and only pretend to care about family values to keep the religious right on their side. Get real. For starters: Bill Clinton. By all “family values” measures he should be a ‘republican’. Take a good look at the sex scandals, mistress scandals, and all the other trash about politicians, and you’ll find it on both sides of the aisle in equal amounts.

Others will scream that the dems really care about the people, and that the republicans only care about the rich and corporations. If you really think this is true, you should go take a look at the folks that these politicians spend their time with and get their money from. Both parties will make token visits to Podunk village, and make sure that they get lots of photo ops with ‘normal folk’ – especially during election season. The rest of the year, they rubbing elbows with folks that can sling around 5 and six figure campaign contributions, and no one else matters. If they played the game any other way, they’d be out of office PDQ.

As far as the republicans working to keep the rich rich, while the dems work to make sure the poor get a fair shake, simply reread the last paragraph, and put it into context. The main job of any politician is NOT to represent ‘the people’, it is to get re-elected. In today’s world, that means making sure that you’ve got the backing of either the democratic or republican party. What you do is pretty much irrelevant, because a bit of slander, a good add campaign, and a thinly wrapped pack of lies and misinformation is all that really matters – something that we call by the euphemism “campaigning”. And for campaigning to work, there has to be an “us” and a “them”.

So there ya have it. Any real change is destined to fail, or at best get so watered down as to be irrelevant simply because if something DOES get done, one party or the other will be able to take the credit for it. And of course, if one party gets the credit, it means that the other party is left short. The democrats are starting to realize that without absolute control over the house, senate, and presidency, they are stuck in the same mire that they used to try and keep Bush under control.

So, is there any real hope? well, it depends on your point of view. If you have a bazillion bucks to throw into lobbyists on both sides of the aisle, you can pull off fiascoes like the latest GM bailout, the bank bailout, the blackwater (renamed to Xe) cover-up, etc. These work because the folks behind the decisions can line the politicians pockets and campaign chests well enough to throw up a smoke screen hiding what is really happening. A good two-sided campaign of misinformation can confuse the issues so much that anyone can believe whatever they want, and justify their opinion based on “expert opinions”.

Of course, if your particular cause does NOT have those gigabucks to toss around chances are that it’ll never get anywhere. So what are your options? Armed rebellion is a good one. The french revolution is a great example of what a truly pissed off population can do. You can vote third party – it will probably make you feel better, but won’t actually accomplish anything. Or, you can be a Good American, and simply sit there and shut up. When the time comes to vote, you can try and tell yourself that your vote matters, makes a difference, and may even be counted (maybe, if you’re lucky). Then go home, and watch the results on TV with the millions of other delusional sheep. Meaning that there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it. Ain’t america great?

Oh yeah, on the whole kennedy thing – in my last post, I referred to him as ‘compost’. I must admit my error. That dude was so packed with alcohol and other chemicals that he’ll never be compost. Toxic waste maybe, but not compost…

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In memory: Ted Kennedy – one less liberal democrat

OK, so Teddy is now compost. We got the news, so now the news channels and talk radio can stop eulogizing him as if he were some sort of saint. Lets face it folks, this guy started out his career by using his wealth, social status, and families political connections to get away with murder (or at the very least manslaughter).  He’s a notorious drunk, womanizer, and pretty much demonstrated the ethics that we’ve come to expect from politicians – both democratic and republican.

We can all pretend that all the “good work he did” for all of the “powerless minorities” makes up for the fact that the was basically a sleazeball, but if we simply take a look at the attitudes portrayed in that simple justification for his life, we can find the real meaning. Lets see: “powerless minorities” in Kennedy-speak means anyone that isn’t worth a few bazillion bucks, and doesn’t have the political connections to ignore the law, then buy or barter away the penalties associated with the crime. “Good work” means that he had a  successful career as a politician. If you consider that “good”, you’re reading the wrong blog.

It would be pretty easy to take a walk through any federal prison and find some murderer who was willing to “dedicate his life to helping the poor minorities” in exchange for a free pass for his crimes – especially when the pass includes a lifestyle that only a very small minority of people in the world get to enjoy. So why is Teddy and the rest of the Kennedy clan so special? Dunno. I live in New England, and for a lot of the locals, the Kennedys are pretty much akin to some sort of diety, and can do no wrong. As has been demonstrated by repeated escapes from charges of drunken driving, rape, assault, and a slew of other crimes that would put any non-deity behind bars for a long time.

O.K., so its always a drag when someone bites it (well, almost always anyway), but enough with the friggin’ saint kennedy crap. He was a normal person at best, at worst a murder sleazebag that spent his life avoiding the results of his debauchery. We’ve said it, we’ve heard it, now shut the hell up and move on.

Government health care plans.

The feds are at it again. Health care reform. Yet another attempt to pretend that the government can do a better job at managing health care than private industry can. Lets be real folks, the government of the USA couldn’t figure out how to get out of a wet paper bag without spending a few trillion dollars on pork, bribes, bailouts, and a new Star Wars light saber space alien defense system (to keep the Russians at bay), etc.

Then again, the commercial, private sector health care providers haven’t managed to do any better. Health care costs are absolutely insane – prior to the meltdown, unexpected health care expenses caused something like 80% of all individual bankruptcies. The economic meltdown may have reduced that number a bit, but only because there are a lot more people going bankrupt – the number of medical bankruptcies is being diluted, but not reduced.

So, lets take a few minutes and compare a government run single payer system with current health insurance systems.

OK, first an easy one: we KNOW the government will waste huge amounts of money. The feds can’t pass any type of spending legislation without slipping in a bunch of pork, so lets take a look at private sector health insurance and see if they can do any better. We know that health care executives (who do NOTHING to actually provide health care) are among the highest paid executives in the country. I don’t know if that counts as pork, but it certainly does contribute to the insane costs of health care. Remember: we’re talking about the executives at the local hospital, lab company, health insurance carriers, etc. etc. etc.

Drug costs are also supported by the fact that US insurance companies are willing to pay a lot more for drugs (both name brand and generic) than any other country. The same pill, manufactured in the same plant, to the same spec will cost a fraction as much in any other country.  Why? Because the folks that pay for meds in other countries aren’t willing to pander to big Pharma.  They set prices that are competitive and rational. If the pharma company isn’t willing to accept the prices set, they aren’t allowed to sell ANY meds in that country. Hmmm. This is actually an example not only of how badly our insurance industry manages drug costs, but is an example of how well OTHER governments regulate it. Of course, they don’t have the Pharma companies contributing bazillions of dollars to their re-election campaigns like politicians here in the states do.

Of course, what it really boils down to is quality of care. I constantly hear rants about how bad the medical care in countries with government run health care is. I only have limited experience with this – Canada, the UK, and Israel. In all three cases, there are problems – long waits to see doctors is one of the most common complaints. However, a trip to the emergency room always results in quick treatment…. Of course, we also have good emergency rooms here, with private health insurance. The problem is, so many people who do not have health insurance use the ER as their primary care providers, and avoid going to the doctor until they have no choice. I’ve spent a lot of time in emergency rooms (for a lot of reasons), and I’ve found that in the states, I can pretty much always count on at least one person being there because they didn’t get some basic treatment when they needed it. I’ve never seen that in other countries. (note that this doesn’t mean it never happens, it just indicates that it is a lot less common.)

Of course, if you happen to HAVE private insurance, you are only covered if you see a doctor that is covered by that particular program, so if you happen to have an illness that is beyond their ability, you’re left high and dry. Unless you can afford to pay for it yourself. So we’re back to paying. The simple reality is that folks that have more money will ALWAYS get better care. In the countries with socialized medicine, they are the ones that can afford private doctors and hospitals. In the US, the rich are also the ones that can afford private care, or can go overseas to other countries to get care that is not available here. Instead of looking at the top of the scale, we have to look at the average, and bottom of the scale.

At the bottom, there is no real question: the US already has socialized medicine. Medicare and medicaid provide some of the best (and most cost-efficient) medical coverage in the country. About the only better coverage is the health care plans that the government provides to its top employees (the  ones we vote into office). Yes, there are people that fall through the cracks, and yes, the upper limit of eligibility is so low that a lot of people that need medicare/aid can’t get it, but for the folks that do get it, it works.

That leaves those that are too rich to qualify for medicare/aid, but not rich enough to be able to afford private hospitals and medical care. The vast majority of americans. The same ones that are being forced into bankruptcy because their insurance doesn’t cover their kids broken leg (or whatever the unexpected emergency was). The same ones that are livid because their health insurance premiums have risen to as much as 50% of their take-home pay. The ones that select employment based on the health insurance plan – not pay, working conditions, or anything else. The same ones that voted Obama into office – in part because of his health care platform.

Sounds to me like there is a pretty strong call for major health care reform.

Of course, the health care industry – and the insurance industry in particular  – are lobbying hard to convince us that reform is a Bad Thing. “You won’t be able to keep the health care plans you have and love”they say. OK, I don’t know about you, but I don’t know ANYBODY that is currently satisfied with the way their health care plans work, or what they cost. What they’re really saying is “don’t do anything to make us operate more efficiently”.

So, here’s my idea of how to give everyone a fair shake. the insurance companies insist that the people (that would be you) want to continue with their existing policies, and will continue to accept double digit percentage premium increases every year. They insist that the government couldn’t possibly operate as efficiently as the “free market” economy. They claim that the creation of a single payer system will force them to shut down.

So here’s the gig: they claim that their customers love them, and that they are doing a better job, more cost effectively, and with better care than the government ever could. The solution is just too easy. Let the government set up its own health care systems. Let the private industry continue the way it is. Let the people choose what program they like better.

Now THAT is something that terrifies the insurance companies. They know that even with all the pork, mismanagement, and bureaucracy, the cost of running a federal medical insurance company is a lot lower than the bloated profit centered commercial health insurance industry. The real issue is that the private insurance industry sees real competition coming along, and they know that if it happens, they are going to have to tighten their belts, and stop paying their investors and executives huge bonuses and dividends.

Of course, the best solution would be for a respectable private entity to start offering health care coverage at rational pricing, but that would mean no big bonuses for execs, no big dividends for the stock market, and no money for lobbying. The truth is that the government can’t begin to operate a single payer health care system efficiently. The reality is that the ‘free market’ has proved that it can’t either.