Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

I saw Ted Kennedy once.

It was the summer of 1990 and I was working in DC as a congressional intern for my representative. For some reason, I and several other interns went to the Capitol Rotunda where a ceremony was taking place: the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act. As we stood behind a rope, I could see Kennedy walking up and chatting with other Representatives and Senators. I remember being excited at seeing the Senator. Here was a man whose brother was the President, his last name was attached to one the greatest political families in the nation.

When I woke up this morning to the news that Ted Kennedy has succumb to the brain cancer he fought, I felt a deep sense of sadness, even though I disagreed with him. They don't make them like him anymore.

Make no mistake, Kennedy was a staunch liberal and represented the left wing of the Democratic Party. But what was interesting is that even though he had strong opinions and passions, he was able to reach across the isle and work with Republicans to get things done. It seems like he was always working with the likes of Republican Senators like Orin Hatch or John McCain on some bill or another.

Kennedy is the one of the last of a long line of statesman who showed that one can have strong convictions and also cut a deal. That's something that is becoming a lost art these days, as Ronald Brownstein notes in an article about Kennedy's passing. We live in an age where we have convictions, but not much else. Cutting a deal is seen as something akin to treason.

Kennedy, and to some extent, John McCain, reminded us that being an elected official means having to actually govern. Governing means that you have to work with those that might disagree with you and trying to come to some solution that all sides can work with.

Today's political climate is one where we are stuck in a permanent campaign mode. Blogs, special interests groups and talk show hosts do all they can to paint the other side as monsters bent on destroying all that they hold dear.

In doing this, we ignore the issues that really matter; whether that is health care reform, climate change or social security reform. Politics today is all sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Kennedy's passing is not just the death of a figure who made an impact in American life; it is slow death of a climate where people, liberals and conservatives were more interested in finding solutions that in being right.

So, I mourn the death of the "Lion." Senator, know that one Republican thinks the world is a lot less brighter with you not in it.

And So It Begins…

My latest at the Progressive Republican about how the hard-right blog, RedState is going after moderate GOP candidate for Congress, Dede Scozzafava.

And So It Begins…

Monday, August 24, 2009

Two Health Care Plans Republicans Should Support

Whenever health care reform is talked about, Republicans respond in an almost Pavlov-style manner. Immediately we start talking about the evils of the Canadian and British healthcare systems and about the loss of American freedoms. Some even go a step further and claim as blogger John Vecchione writes in a recent post, that there is no health care crisis and when nations make universal health care a goal it also makes conservative parties unconservative.

Such claims amount to sticking one's head in the sand and defending a system that really is undefendable. As I have shared in a recent blog posting as well as in the past, the American health care system is broken. That is not some liberal scheme, this is a plain fact. As some conservative bloggers have noted in the past, the current system keeps people tied to jobs they may not want simply to have health insurance benefits. The other problem is that when one loses their job, they also lose their health benefits. People are also faced with rules like pre-exisiting conditions and recission.

Conservatives are not crazy about having a government-run system for many reasons. One big reason is that such systems tend to be unsustainable. For example, Travis Frey noted in a recent blog post that France is faced with a healthcare system that is cracking under the strain on rising costs:
France claims it long ago achieved much of what today's U.S. health-care overhaul is seeking: It covers everyone, and provides what supporters say is high-quality care. But soaring costs are pushing the system into crisis. The result: As Congress fights over whether America should be more like France, the French government is trying to borrow U.S. tactics.

In recent months, France imposed American-style "co-pays" on patients to try to throttle back prescription-drug costs and forced state hospitals to crack down on expenses. "A hospital doesn't need to be money-losing to provide good-quality treatment," President Nicolas Sarkozy thundered in a recent speech to doctors.

And service cuts - such as the closure of a maternity ward near Ms. Cuccarolo's home - are prompting complaints from patients, doctors and nurses that care is being rationed. That concern echos worries among some Americans that the U.S. changes could lead to rationing.

The French system's fragile solvency shows how tough it is to provide universal coverage while controlling costs, the professed twin goals of President Barack Obama's proposed overhaul.

Conservatives rightly point out the problems in health care systems that have a high amount of government control. But the problems is that we stop there. We pretend there is no problem and maybe offer a few sops to change the system.

But the fact is, as more and more people lose their health care or face problems with the insurance that they have, people are looking more and more to Washington to help solve the problem. If Republicans decide to take John Vecchione's advice, we can expect the public will look towards those who are providing solutions, namely the Democrats. The best way to assure that we have single payer is for Republicans to simply ignore the issue and not care.

But the fact is there are two plans that offer some real change without creating a large new governmental program. If the GOP really cared about offering solutions and not just political one-upsmanship, they could really make a difference.

The first plan is the Healthy Americans Act supported by Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon and Bill Bennett, the Republican Senator from Utah. Their plan basically is a grand compromise that achieves universal coverage and fulfills the aims of both Democrats and Republicans: it allows for the universal coverage that Democrats want and it also injects market forces into the system, something that Republicans would like to see.

The other option is modifying the model that is used by the nation of Singapore. The plan basically is basically as follows:

Singapore’s system requires individuals to take responsibility for their own health, and for much of their own spending on medical care. As the Health Ministry puts it, “Patients are expected to co-pay part of their medical expenses and to pay more when they demand a higher level of service. At the same time, government subsidies help to keep basic healthcare affordable.”

The reason the system works so well is that it puts decisions in the hands of patients and doctors rather than of government bureaucrats and insurers. The state’s role is to provide a safety net for the few people unable to save enough to pay their way, to subsidize public hospitals, and to fund preventative health campaigns. (emphasis mine)

Medisave, which covers about 85 percent of all Singaporeans, is a component of a mandatory pension program. Employees typically pay 20 percent of their wages into the Central Provident Fund (CPF), while employers pay 13 percent. (Since 1992, the self-employed have also participated.) At the beginning of 2007, CPF had over $1 billion in surpluses.

In Singapore’s system, the primary role of government is to require people to save in order to meet medical expenses they don’t expect.Medisave accounts can be used to pay directly for hospital expenses incurred by an individual or his immediate family. Limits are in place on the extent of Medisave funds that can be used for daily hospital charges, physicians’ fees, and surgical fees. The idea is to cover fully the bills of most patients in state-subsidized wards of public hospitals. Beyond that, individuals dip into their own pockets or use benefits from insurance plans (see more on this below). Medisave can also be used for expensive outpatient treatments such as chemotherapy, renal dialysis, or HIV drugs.

Medishield, the second part of the program, is a national insurance plan that covers the higher cost of especially serious illness or accident, which in Singapore’s system is described as “catastrophic.” Singaporeans can choose Medishield or several private alternatives, some offered by firms listed on the Singaporean stock exchange. Premiums for the insurance plans, including Medishield, can be paid using Medisave accounts.

Medifund, the third part, was established by the government for the roughly 10 percent of Singaporeans who don’t have the means to pay for their medical needs, despite the government’s subsidy of hospital and outpatient costs. The fund was set up in 1993 with $150 million, with the budget surplus providing additional contributions since then. Only interest income, not capital, may be disbursed.

Finally, there’s Eldershield, an addition to the 3M structure that offers private insurance for disability as a result of old age. It pays a monthly cash allowance to those unable to perform three or more basic activities of daily living.

The Singapore plan is not a plan that would please liberals, but it would please those who think government should have a minimal role in providing a safety net and putting the power in the lap of the consumer.

Of course, there are those who will say that any government intervention is an anathema. Such a view is not only cold hearted, but will not help the GOP in the long run. The average American isn't looking for a womb-to-tomb welfare state, but they do want help. Most Americans might not like the Obama plan, but they still fear losing their health care or getting sick and finding out that their insurance company will not help them.

It's way past time for Republicans to be truly concerned with health care. Let's stop sticking our heads in the sand and offer real practical solutions.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Universal Health Care: One Man’s Story

This is my latest for the Progressive Republican. It originally appeared at New

Universal Health Care: One Man’s Story

Monday, August 17, 2009

Whole Fools

I rarely shop at Whole Foods, which has two locations in the Twin Cities. If I am looking for organic foods, I tend to look for them at the regular grocery store I shop at or go to Trader Joes, which one person described as the "poor man's Whole Foods."

But I might consider shopping at the grocery chain more in the near future because of the insane and asinine boycott going on by some on the Left. Why would people who normaly shop at the organic retailer decide to abstain? Because their CEO wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal denouncing the Obama plan and offering a plan of his own.
I read that oped and thought it was interesting. I didn't agree with everything, but Mackey made some good points and I thought nothing more of the article.

But obviously it did upset some people who expected that Mr. Mackey should support what they support. This is what was written in a guest voice post at the Moderate Voice:
The thing is, when Rupuert Murdoch published an anti-health care security op-ed from Whole Foods CEO John Mackey in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, a few progressive latte drinkers decided they didn’t need to buy their arugula at Whole Foods anymore, and called for a boycott. After all, the big marketing gimmick for Whole Foods is that they’re a socially responsible company which sells food that is actually good for you (even if the products are very over priced)...

Whole Foods has always marketed itself to a fairly educated and financially secure customer base. This is why they can successfully sell healthy (and primarily organic) foods, at a higher cost. The company has also fostered the image that it has an altruistic streak in supporting progressive causes.

With a single op-ed in an uber conservative national newspaper, this wholesome image has been blown to bits. In the course of writing 1,165 words, CEO Mackey has caused more potential damage to the Whole Foods corporate image than an e-coli outbreak in the meat room.

In calling for support of the boycott of Whole Foods, I’m making an educated guess that their average customer is very politically progressive in nature. And that is why, if liberals and progressives quit shopping at Whole Foods, the impact would be quickly apparent to the company’s Board of Directors. By quickly, I mean by this coming Monday morning when the weekend receipts are tallied.

A Facebook group has been set up and has about 10,000 members. Here's the description of that group:

Whole Foods is NOT a company that cares for communities and they have built their brand with the dollars of deceived progressives. No more. My $ will no longer go to support Whole Foods' anti-union, anti-health insurance reform, right-wing activities.

Whole Foods? Right-wing?

I decided to take a look at the activities going on at my local Whole Foods in Minneapolis. They have a program where you save 10 cents on using reusable bags and you can donate that money to a local charity. The Whole Foods Blog has a campaign to have fresh and healthy school lunches as opposed to the processed foods that kids eat. From my cursory glance, this is hardly a right-wing operation.

Radley Balko shares some of what this "right-wing operation" has done:

Let me see if I have the logic correct here: Whole Foods is consistently ranked among the most employee-friendly places to work in the service industry. In fact, Whole Foods treats employees a hell of a lot better than most liberal activist groups do. The company has strict environmental and humane animal treatment standards about how its food is grown and raised. The company buys local. The store near me is hosting a local tasting event for its regional vendors. Last I saw, the company’s lowest wage earners make $13.15 per hour. They also get to vote on what type of health insurance they want. And they all get health insurance. The company is also constantly raising money for various philanthropic causes. When I was there today, they were taking donations for a school lunch program. In short, Whole Foods is everything leftists talk about when they talk about “corporate responsibility.”

And yet lefties want to boycott the company because CEO John Mackey wrote an op-ed that suggests alternatives to single payer health care? It wasn’t even a nasty or mean-spirited op-ed. Mackey didn’t spread misinformation about death panels, call anyone names, or use ad hominem attacks. He put forth actual ideas and policy proposals, many of them tested and proven during his own experience running a large company. Is this really the state of debate on the left, now? “Agree with us, or we’ll crush you?”

Blogger Freddie DeBoer thinks all the harping on the right about this (in this case a blog post by Rod Dreher) is hypocritical, but the fact is there is a lot of hypocrisy on both sides. Liberals tut-tut when conservatives try to strong arm those who don't agree with them and ignore their own attitudes towards those who have different ideas.

What is interesting here is how so many who used to support Whole Foods think that the company should basically affirm their views. If they support health care reform with a strong role for government, well, then so must Whole Foods. They also tend to assume that beacuse they are "green" and organic, well then they must be left-leaning just like they themselves are.

The fact of the matter is, one can care about the environment and also be a libertarian. One can be into organic foods and vote Republican. Just because someone buys fair-trade coffee doesn't mean they voted for Obama. It just means they like fair trade coffee.

When I buy ice cream, I tend to get Ben and Jerry's ice cream even though I tend to disagree with them politcally. But I also know they do some good things in the world and they have good ice cream. I don't need my ice cream company to agree with me 100 percent.

The problem here is not that Mackey doesn't support the President's plan. The problem here is assuming that Mackey should mirror the view points of Whole Foods' customers.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Rage Against the Machine

So, what do I think about all the town protests? Find out in my latest post for the Progressive Republican.

Rage Against the Machine

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Good LIfe

About 15 years ago, I was with friends and the topic of conversation went to the recent death of comedian John Candy. The two friends, started clucking their tougnes and then said in effect that his death was the result of how lived.

Of course, we all remember John Candy, this big bear of man. He wasn't the specimen of fittness that my two friends were. They tended to believe he reaped what he had sowed.

I remember being bothered by their attitudes. There was something a bit pious and mean-spirited in their pleasant condemnation of Candy.

I tend to be someone that tries to live sensibly. I drive a Prius. I tend to buy organic foods, especially milk that is free of hormones and meat that isn't loaded up with antibiotics. If I have a choice between brown and white rice, I go with brown rice all the time. I don't smoke and rarely drink.

I do these thing for various reasons. But I rarely talk to others about them. I just happen to do them for my own benefit.

One thing that has bothered me at times is this belief that we have to tell others how to live their lives for their own sake.

David Frum has an article on his website about conservatives and living the healthy life. There are some good things in this article, but there were also some things that frankly bother me. Part of it is that I feel that there is a sense of health puritanism that makes me feel that no matter how much I try, I will still fall short of the healthy living goal.

Some of his concerns are worthwhile: I too fear about the amount of antibiotics that are used in cows and chickens. I like eating grass-fed beef. (After my trip to Argentina last winter, I don't think I could ever go back to corn-fed beef.)

But what bothers me is when we start to worry about things such obesity, which as Megan McArdle has said tends to be a moral panic.

What bothers me is also how this fear that people start living right leads into some kind of moral scold. We tend to put down those who smoke for instance. I've seen how people who are at heart good people, treated like they were war criminals just because they lit up. We are starting to do the same thing with those who don't follow the same way of living that we do.

Frum is correct that conservatives should not celebrate bad habits, but we shouldn't denounce an occasional steak or cigar either.

In the end, for me what is important is what we are living for. All of this healthy living sometimes comes from a fear; a drive to live a long life and a fear of death.

But the thing is, eating right is not a guarantee that we will live a long life. I am reminded that Linda McCartney, the wife of Paul McCartney was a committed vegetarian who died of cancer before the age of sixty. This weekend, I saw Julie and Julia, which features how Julia Child became a foodie godess. In the movie she smoked and the food she cooked was rich in butter. She lived to be 92.

I'm not saying we should eat what we want or go out and buy a pack of Winstons. I am saying that we can do all the right things and still die early. And in the end, we will die: no gets out of here alive.

What matters more to me is what I am living for. Do I show my partner, my parents, my friends love? Do I enjoy my life? Do stand up against injustice?

In my view, people won't remember that you drank organic milk every day. They will remember what kind of person you were.

So, yeah I will still do all the things I have done, but in the end what matters to me is the quality of my life. I let the quantity work itself out.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Moderate Republican's Thoughts on Health Care Reform

Below is my latest blog post on health care reform.
A Moderate Republican's Thoughts on Health Care Reform

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Just for Fun: Shalamar's "A Night to Remember"

I'm following Shay from Booker Rising and occasionally posting some my favorite songs. One song that I am enjoying again is "A Night to Remember" by Shalamar. If some of you remember Jody Watley, she was a member of the group from the late-70s until 1983. This song was a bit R&B hit in the States and big pop hit in the UK in 1982.

Below is the video. It's not the best, but then it was 1982. Enjoy...

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Power of No

Christie Todd Whitman and Clive Crook have great articles today taking the GOP to task for not offering real alternative plans on climate change and health care. There is much to agree with and I can basically say to both Whitman and Crook, "hear, hear!"

But as important as I believe it is for the Republicans to put forth some credible ideas on various issues, I am coming to the conclusion that at least at present the GOP will not come up with real solutions on health care or climate change.

It's not because Republicans in Congress do not care about these issues, it's that it is more beneficial to the party to obstruct than it is to find solutions, that it is more important to throw heat than it is light.

I should say off top that such tactics are not limited to Republicans. Democrats have done it in the past and will do it again. In fact what makes it bipartisan is the fact that both parties rely on technology that can enforce people's views and make it hard to offer alternatives or compromise.

For the Republicans, it makes sense to oppose health care reform. Why? Part of the answer lies in how the nature of politics and technology have changed. We highly partisan blogs that scream at people and use shock to gin up the base and drive more readers to their site. We also have organizations, like Club for Growth that can put of out mass email alerts against any representative deemed not conservative enough.

The fact of the matter is, it is a lot easier to talk about "government health care" and fears of "socialism" than it is to get a bunch of representatives in smoke-filled rooms (or non-smoking these days) and hammer out a deal.

Centrists worked well in an age where there was broad consenus on the issues, but differences in how to get the done. But technology has created a world where we can live in a cocoon and get all our views from partisan sites. We no longer agree on the issues like we once did, and woe to the one that tries to forge a compromise.

It would be nice if Republicans offered some real solutions on issues like health care. But that's what a centrist like me wants, not the hard core partisan that will campaing fervently for GOP candidates. What they want to do is obstruct the Obama plan and talk about how bad it is. Which of course, is much more fun. Let's be honest: it's a lot more interesting for many to talk about the evils of health care reform and the trail of dead people left in the wake of socialized medicine, than it is to crank out a plan that might be better than what the President is putting forth. It's not very sexy, and it might mean dealing with those icky Democrats.

Now, I should state, that I don't like the current plan which includes a public option. I do think it is a backdoor way into single-payer care. But I'm less interested in screaming "Socialism!" than I am in finding alternative solutions. Which is why I am supportive of those six Senators from both parties who are cranking away at getting a workable compromise. It's not sexy. It will not make the blood boil. But it might just solve an issue that has been a problem for America for decades.

What can be done to combat the Power of No? I don't know. I don't think it means doing away with blogs, but centrists will have learn how make us of some of the same technology that has been used to divide and find ways to knit us back together. Instead of having blogs where people shout, have blogs that can be forums where we can learn to respectfully disagree and then seek to find a solution that can work for everybody. It might mean building a centrist network that can help support centrist lawmakers as they try to do the people's business.

Will this happen? I don't know. The Power of No is strong, but I have to belive the Power Yes is stronger still.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Keep It In the Closet

During the election last year, we were reminded again and again that Barack Obama was in the vanguard on gay rights, while John McCain was incredibly anti-gay. Nevermind that both candidates had basically the same position on gay marriage: they were against it.

When Obama became President, many liberals and not quite a few Republicans believed that he would advance the cause for gay rights. So far, he hasn't done that much. He has dragged his feet on allowing gays to serve in the military and basically defended gay marriage in terms that make you wonder if we elected the late Jesse Helms to the presidency.

And yet, as James Kirchick writes in Sunday's Washington Post, many liberals still maintain that the President is "secretly" supports them.

This is nothing new. As Kirchick notes, gay Democrats have long maintained that President Bill Clinton supported gay marriage and was forced into signing the Defense of Marriage Act back in 1996 to keep the Republicans from attacking him. Nevermind he then talked about it in radio ads and even counseled John Kerry to not support gay marriage in Kerry's 2004 campaign.

Many liberals tout the passage to work for gay marriage as well as serving in the military as the civil rights issue of our time. On that, I agree. But where I disagee is that while many of liberal friends talk about how this is the new civil rights struggle, in reality this is nothing more than partisan politics dressed up in civil rights garb.

As Dave Andesik notes, if a Democrat was spouting racist talk in public no one would say that such a person secretly supports a certain ethnic or racial group. But yet, when a Democrat opposes gay marriage, he is viewed as a secret supporter, while a Republican who has the identical position is not viewed with such kindness.

If this were truly an issue of human rights, then gay Democrats would demand that their Democratic politicians would support their cause of face the consequences. They would not only castigate Republicans, but their own candidates in the cause of the greater good of gay rights.

Which is why I think that the cause of gay rights will be impeded as long as gay leaders confuse party loyalty with human rights. As long as the gay community sucks up to Democrats that won't support them, we can expect a long hard road towards gay equality.