Have the Rules of Politics Changed?

At the end of Star Trek II, The Wrath of Khan, Mr. Spock dies, and when asked by an anguished Jim Kirk why he sacrificed himself, he states simply: “Don’t grieve, Admiral: The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…or the one”

Jonah Goldberg, an editor at large of the conservative National Review Online, bemoans the shifting of the rules of politics, from what has up to now been straight lines from point A of a societal shift, to Point B, our typical response to it; I quote:

“For more than 40 years it has been a rule that environmental disasters – and scares over alleged ones – help environmentalists push tighter regulations…  According to the rules populism is a force for getting the government to do more, not less…According to the rules, Americans don’t care bout the deficit during a recession….And yet (today) none of these rules seem to be applying; at least not too strongly…As a conservative…it’s becoming harder and harder to shake the feeling that something bigger than politics as usual is at work here.”

Indeed, something bigger than “politics” as the public generally defines the concept is at work, and I believe Mr. Spock’s dying words provide the explanation.

We have…voters and legislators alike…abandoned the willingness to do what is best to meet the needs of the many, wanting instead to ensure that our idiosyncratic needs, i.e. those of the few, are met.

Thus the schizophrenic reactions from every body politic, left/middle/right.  The extreme Right wants less government….unless it negatively impacts entitlements they hold dear like Social Security and Medicare; extreme liberals want more government…unless it interferes with individual causes like immigration and sensible regulation of the internet; Centrists may see both sides of the issue, but are paralyzed by indecision, or flip-flop, because they too get mired in what will best serve an individual vs. greater good.  We want what we want when we want it, without regard for either the long-term or overall impact of our choices.  We don’t seem to care about the big picture…the needs of the many.

In Star Trek III, Mr. Spock comes back to life in perfect sci-fi form…so his sacrifice wasn’t a final one after all.  The same is true for us.  By doing what’s best for the many over time, even when it will create some hardship for the few in the (relative) short-run, our sacrifices, too, may be difficult, but will not be permanent.  From energy sources to social security, only once the many agree to place the country’s wellbeing as a whole above their own individual wish lists, will we at last be on the path to a better nation.

Thinking for Ourselves….Part II

Here’s some quick, easy, and helpful tips for self-determination of thought so we can stop relying on TV & Radio pundits to do the thinking for us…

  • Assessing legislation: It’s easy to tell when legislation is designed to help a special interest rather than us (it’s clear in a bill’s language, carved out exceptions, etc.) – what makes this even easier is that pretty much all legislation is designed to help the politicians as much (or more) than their constituents; how would you create that bill (in general terms) so it benefits us, not them?  Now you know how to think/respond to not only the legislation at hand, but your legislators about it…
  • Assessing decisions made by leaders, whether elected or otherwise: Those who have been in a supervisory/decision-making position know first-hand how difficult the job is, and that you can’t please everyone…those who have experienced a variety of supervisors know the difference between a true leader (helps others to do the right job the right way) and a “manager” (tells others what to do/seeks no input); true leadership requires balance – balancing the needs of the many against those of the few, doing the utmost to create a win/win for all concerned and if that’s not possible, ensuring there’s balance between all interests so everyone at least comes away with something they need.   When those at the fringes of both sides of an issue are unhappy with the outcome, that’s a very good sign that the outcome is balanced, that true leadership rather than “management” has taken place, and that the decision is generally a good one
  • Avoiding The Dunning-Kruger Effect: Discovered by Cornell University David Dunning (along with Prof. Kruger) this states that our incompetence masks our ability to recognize our incompetence – wow, that’s a catch 22…and it underpins much of the erroneous thinking we unwittingly do (like letting others do the thinking for us…).  To keep this from happening to you, simply increase your level of competence.  This is easily accomplished by:
    a). some fast fact-checking of claims/opinions/statements made (the internet makes this effort that much easier), thus making sure you form your own thoughts based on fact, not emotion or a situation in process that may not even pan out; and

    b). understand that we all have levels of incompetence and be strong enough to find out what are yours…once you know what they are, you can ensure you don’t fall prey to them…

  • Don’t make decisions when you’re very angry or depressed: When you do, they will most often be bad ones… This is why we see Boomers holding opinions that are self-contradictory (wanting government out of their lives while preparing to collect SS/use Medicare), or choosing to behave badly, from shooting at Census workers to brawling at their children’s sporting events…  That incompetence thing above is fueled by such powerful negative emotion, which masks our ability to think more rationally/use deductive reasoning (or any reasoning at all for that matter…).  These are awfully hard times – making bad decisions that will come back to haunt us later will only make things worse.  Remedy: seek some input/help from someone you trust who isn’t angry/depressed, and listen to them.

As we Boomers, the ones in power and with the greatest influence, wield that power and influence, it is imperative that we live by Spidey’s uncle’s words: “With great power comes great responsibility” – what we do, how we vote, what we say now, will not just make a lasting impression on our young children/grandchildren, but will form the basis of our lives for years if not decades to come.

To do these things with little preparation, in-depth thought, and with too little rationality, is no different that letting a teenager drive with no training and practice (whoa…that’s scary – teens driving with lots of training/practice is scary enough…), seeking a job without a resume let alone a well-written one, or going on vacation without packing for it…

We can do this right.  Let’s start right now.

Thinking for Ourselves…What a Concept!

A woman in Utah is suing Google because a route she took using Google Maps landed her at a 4-lane highway where she was subsequently hit and injured while trying to cross.

Relatedly, a 1998 study of London taxi drivers showed their hippocampi to be much larger than normal due to all the “mental maps” they stored over the years in their work; scientists fear if those same cabbies start to rely too heavily on GPS rather than their own brain power, their hippcampi will most likely shrink along with their self-developed mapping skills.

Folks in Florida, and no doubt other states, are indicating they’d vote for candidates based solely on their TV ads, in spite of (in Florida) both candidates’ dubious past business practices (one ran a company indicted for Medicare/Medicaid fraud; the other made his zillions on the subprime mortgage mess that put the state/country in turmoil)

We’re led to believe that “multi-tasking” is an important part of getting ahead in the 21st century, when research clearly shows that heavy multi-taskers have “fractured thinking” meaning they have greater difficulty filtering out irrelevant information, which in turn greatly reduces an ability to focus; our brain power actually diminishes.

Folks watch Glenn Beck/MSNBC, or listen to sound bites on CNN, using others’ thoughts, or blurbs that offer far too little information, to replace  a cultivation of their own independent thinking and issue assessments through research, fact-finding, and good old deductive reasoning (comes in handy when politicians and media pundits contradict themselves, which they often do to sound good at the moment).

Before 24 hour news and the world wide web, we had to rely much more on discussions/debates with friends/colleagues/acquaintances – which also meant we weren’t as able to “filter” out those with whom we may not agree as we can now by attending to only the shows/web-info that feed our biases.

This in turn compelled us to rely more heavily on our own ability to form judgments and assess situations to make an informed decision (we knew that crossing a 4 lane highway has inherent dangers of which we must be keenly aware prior to attempting…); there was little else to turn to (well, the rumor mill will always be available…).

It also forced us to take a broader view of situations rather than continuously and by design sustain an “information bias” – the fact that some of those folks with whom we “debated” the issues of the day were not in agreement with us made us, at least for the duration of that discussion, hear opposing points of view and the thinking behind them.  Even if no minds were changed at the moment, at least we got out of our very narrow perspective for a short time…and doing that enough times, over time, can make one a tad more broad-minded.

The more we abrogate independent, informed, self-developed thinking, just like not voting, the more we allow everyone but ourselves to ultimately control our lives.

No wonder we’re so angry.

Let’s Cut Through the Media’s Political Histrionics

Sheesh.  In our hearts and the back of our highest-on-the-food-chain thinking caps, we know that desperate 24 hour news stations, and newspapers with declining sales, will resort to any attention-pulling concept to stay afloat.

But really, how many more times are we going to fall for it?  Fool me once…twice…you know the adage….what is the exponential consequence for “fool me for the umpteenth time…”?

The latest is the tarot-card-reading interpretation of the Massachusetts senate race results.  They forbode any or all of the following:

  • A full referendum to oust every Democrat in the House & Senate
  • Total disgust with health care reform, or anything put forward by Democrats for that matter
  • Complete dissatisfaction with anything thought about, uttered by, or having to do with Barack Obama

I expect the tea-partiers will glom onto all they can to keep the party hopping.  Same goes for the far left.  But the rest of us (which is the majority of us) are capable but perhaps not willing to take that needed step back and see the facts over the hyperbole.

As with the Governor’s race in NJ, the Senate race in MA was lost by the Dems more because the candidate was weak if not a tad goofy; a strong, well prepared, somewhat more middle-leaning candidate might well have won.  Are folks steamed because the party in power is concentrating more on their own agenda to get healthcare reformed before addressing our economic woes (after all, only 1% of us go uninsured, while 9-12% of us remain unemployed)?  You betcha!  But that is no better…or worse…than the Republicans creating the economic mess in the first place.

I think (I hope) that we more tempered, thoughtful, non-berkenstock-wearing/tea-throwing types understand that one party is not better prepared to make the best decisions on our behalf than the other.  So I think (hope) that we would not continue to ping-pong to & fro from one to the other and back thinking that will somehow change things.  The definition of insanity is doing the same dysfunctional thing repeatedly and expecting different results.  I think, and really hope, that we as an electorate are not insane.

Equally disproportionate is the whole 60 seat supermajority “mandate” self-imposed by the Dems to pass health-care reform (and the real reason they took this on right away in the first place…).  Beyond the fact that the party has shown itself incapable of getting the thing accomplished with such a majority, our legislative process has become so indolent that it has been abandoned on the doorway of political expediency to feed the beast of re-election.  Both parties would, and have, done the same thing.

So, putting this past week’s events in a more rational perspective,

  • MA Dems were aburdly overconfident and that’s why they lost
  • Dems still have an impressive majority in both national legislative houses and could continue work on/eventually pass a well-designed healthcare reform package but will panic nonetheless and pass one that is so weak as to make it relatively meaningless…a year wasted, while simultaneously tackling the jobs/economic reforms issue (if they can still do two things at once…
  • President Obama is human after all (who knew?), has done some good things and made some mistakes, cannot fix our country’s woes in one year and/or all by himself, and has proven himself to be much more middle-of-the-road (rankling folks on both ends of the spectrum) than he is being portrayed as a whole, and
  • Each party has its tome of evils, just different ones – one is no better than the other, each’s ability to do right by us continues to deteriorate as they concentrate evermore on re-election rather than legislation.

What we, the electorate, do from here will determine the direction this country will take over the next few years.  Volleying back and forth from one party to the other will get us nowhere.  Holding those already in office to handling our best interests over their own, will get positive results.

But that requires continuous effort on our part beyond showing up at a polling station every couple of years (and so few of us even do that…); staying abreast of the facts, regularly communicating our expectations to our representatives, pushing for more than just 2 parties from which to choose, and, of course, voting en masse.  Thus far we have shown ourselves far less willing to do these effective nation-fixing things than we are willing to believe the media’s rantings.

It would seem the indolence is actually ours.

An Open Letter to My Peers…And Congress

I am:

  • a business owner
  • a centrist Democrat
  • a woman (we are still the gender majority and statistically the greatest users of healthcare)
  • a Boomer (we too are a large number & statistically the ones who have the most to win/lose w/any reform)
  • a member of the middle class (ditto above)
  • self-insured (e.g. not through my business)

As you see, I represent a broad cross-section of those most impacted by any healthcare reform, and as a Centrist Democrat, I believe in fiscal responsibility while helping my fellow Americans who fall ill and/or die every day because they have no insurance.  Useful reform requires thinking and/both, not either/or.

I wish to speak directly to each constituency, member to member.

To my fellow business owners:

When we want to address a problem that only our company/industry is in a position to resolve, we would not ignore it – we would most likely take out a loan (or shall I say would like to if banks were lending…), and get to work on expanding what we must to take advantage of a window of opportunity.  We would carefully calculate the risk and determine that if we do it right, we will not only be able to pay back that loan, but make a profit. 

The “problem” that needs to be resolved here is that clearly the competition created between private insurers alone has not only not reduced customers’ costs, but continues to increase them, so that model has not worked in our market place.  Therefore a new model is called for.   Applying this business model to reform, the Feds would become an insurer so that we “customers” can then reap the benefits that such good ol’ American competition would generate with private insurers (because they are the only “industry” in a position to do so).  There will be an upfront cost – of course.  But using that as a reason for not doing it at all doesn’t make sense.  Doing it in a way that will ultimately pay back the “loan” and then remain solvent, does.

We say that compelling private companies to compete with the Federal Government is not fair competition, thus insurers will be placed at a huge and unAmerican disadvantage.  After all, without significant government subsidies, no insurer has attempted to provide coverages that compete with Medicare.  That said, however, this model has worked in other industries.  The best examples: public and private colleges/universities; what has compelled the US Post Office to work more effectively (or at least try…) has been the private company competition to it.  There is simply no well-thought reason this model cannot also work with health insurance. 

As for co-ops, those few in existence work so well because they are non-profits – like the government, they are not in it to make money, but simply put their earnings-above-expenses back into improving their services.  Therefore, isn’t that unfair competition to for-profits that must pay huge salaries and give shareholders returns on investment?  Either way, private industry will be competing with a not-for-profit entity of one sort or another, so in essence, co-ops would be equally “dangerous” as competitors.  Then, there is the icing on the co-op concept-as-misguided cake: the fact that the plan being considered right now would be in very few States/areas, and most likely would not be available to the majority of Americans in our lifetime.   There is another glaring flaw to the co-op concept, and that I’ve covered in “to my fellow self-insureds” below.

To my fellow Centrist Democrats (&  you, too, Republicans): 

Given the above formula, you disappoint me greatly by not seeing the fiscally responsible window of opportunity here to both improve competition/significantly lower insurance costs for us with a public option, and do so in a way that will pay for itself so any upfront costs are “repaid” and on-going costs offset.  That is both social and fiscal responsibility… which is what you purport to be all about.

To my fellow(?) women:

As the greatest users of healthcare, from child-bearing to the ever increasing incidence of breast cancer, we have the most to lose with reform that does not create real and significant competition – it is only such competition that will lower costs…that is capitalism…that is the American way and it works.  As I mentioned above, relying on insurance companies, even if you can purchase “across state lines”, to lower your costs as a result would be continuing to trust an industry that clearly does not have our ability to afford them at heart.  For example, they can simply congregate in states that have far less stringent laws for coverage, and then offer a lower premium…for less coverage – this is not a savings.  They will continue to do what they do now:  the two largest health insurers held half or more of all enrollments in 40 of the 42 states studied just last year by the American Medical Association.

Without an outside force keeping their prices in check, they have proven to us over almost a century that they will simply find ways around any lesser legislation, and we will continue to pay for it.

To my fellow Boomers:

All of the above in the “women” section, plus as we age we will be the major users of healthcare, and many of us have miles to go before we qualify for Medicare (the other “public option” of which we will happily avail ourselves).  That means years of exorbitant premiums, even if insurers can no longer drop us when we get sick or refuse to cover us with a pre-existing condition.  Great – we qualify – but we still can’t afford it….

To my fellow Middle-Class:

The poor will be covered – the rich can afford designer care so they don’t care – we’re the ones who will be left to live with the final results of this legislation.  So, what will reduce our costs without sacrificing the levels of coverage we need to stay healthy…or survive a devastating illness?  We’ve said we don’t trust the government to do a plan right…do we really trust insurance companies more…?  With reforms to Medicare to bring its spending under control, it becomes an excellent model to replicate. Apparently even without those controls everyone on Medicare loves Medicare and the rest of us can’t wait to get on it… If Medicare is that effective, useful, needed, it is worthy of replicating for younger Americans as an alternative to private insurance for those who qualify (which, like Medicare, would hardly be “everyone” but in fact quite limited – enough to make a real difference without creating an unfair advantage).

There is only one way we will realize not just immediate but on-going cost reasonableness while not sacrificing our coverages.  We can have both – this is America – when we want the best approach badly enough, we make it happen.

To my fellow self-insureds:

You, like me, have most likely at some point had insurance through an employer prior to buying your own for whatever reason.  Back in 2000 when I worked for someone else, I was given a choice of diminished coverages for the same employee share cost, or increased costs for keeping the same coverages.  This trend has continued and worsened for those with employer provided coverage.  To quickly emphasize this with a real example: Dawn Smith is an aspiring writer living in Atlanta; four years ago, she was diagnosed with a rare, but treatable brain tumor; her doctors are ready to remove it, but they can’t because CIGNA refuses to pay for the surgery.  This is a battle happening right now.

We know that this is then magnified 100% when we pay the entire bill ourselves, and with no more guarantee than has Dawn that we will be covered when we need it the most.

I have seen my insurance bill rise by 33% over the past 1.5 years.  This is simply unacceptable.  Yet I have the lowest-cost insurance available to me here in Florida, and the bare minimum of coverage (“catastrophic” only).  Of the “cost-reducing” options being forwarded in lieu of a public option by some members of Congress, one is the ability for us to go across state lines – in reality, that would reduce my premium very little (I’ve checked) and “co-ops” would take years to develop to the point of efficacy – that’s only after the years it will take to get them up and running…the existing co-ops being used as models have taken as long as 20 years to get to the point where they are now the models to be emulated.  You truly want to wait 20 years? 

And as for cost, co-ops may have premium increases that are less than their competition’s, but that doesn’t make those increases necessarily affordable. Washington State’s Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound had annual increases for averaging 12.3 percent since 2000; they were 24.2 percent in 2003.

My fellow Centrist Dem’s/Biz Owners/Boomer Women/Self-Insureds, I ask you to consider my words to you peer-to-peer; they are long in coming and carefully thought out, I promise.  I have done my homework – do my own fact-finding rather than relying on pundits with a clearly self-serving motivation (ratings) on both sides of the issue.  I, like you, have the most to gain or lose if this is done…or not done…right.  I ask you to not only refuse to dismiss a public option, but insist on it. In fact, it is our only chance for reform that will be both meaningful and lasting.