Healthcare Reform a No Brainer ?

Our grandfather used to say he had a “no brainer” when he was dealt a hand in gin rummy where he could lay down his hand after drawing one card off the deck. Webster’s dictionary defines a no brainer as something that requires minimum thought. I can’t for the life of me understand why reforming our healthcare system isn’t considered a “no brainer” for most people because we spend more than any country and everyone isn’t covered !

This article from the New York Times a couple years ago points out many of the flaws in our system and very little has changed in the two years since this article was written, except for the fact that the number of uninsured is now 48 million. President Clinton was on Larry King the other night and said that because the United States spends 17% of its GDP on healthcare it puts us at a huge disadvantage when competing for business on a global basis against other countries.

Again this month Money magazine had an article “Focusing on the Real Health-Care Risks”. To summarize the article they said that the debate we are currently having is about risk.

Risk 1 – Reform Hurts Care – to which they say our current system is hardly a fine tuned machine. We have short wait times for cutting edge cures (that’s why big wigs from other countries come to the United States), but our death rate is the highest amoungst rich nations and everyone is not covered.

Risk 2 -You Can Lose Your Coverage – when the discussion turns to helping the uninsured most Americans think of these uninsured people as “other people”. Even those with good coverage are not sensitive to the price of their care which pushes costs up, making their insurance more expensive and over time causing their employer to drop their coverage. 

Risk 3 – Medicare Implodes – People on Medicare are worried that reform will mean a cut in benefits, but if we do nothing the trust fund will be tapped out by 2017. The escalating cost of the Medicare program is the main driver of our long term deficit and can’t be fixed in isolation. The Medicare program just buys healthcare in the regular healthcare system so an overall reform that covers everyone which will make the system more efficient and slow the growth of Medicare costs which would in turn lower the risk of future benefit cuts.

To me it all comes down to a case of the “haves” versus the “have nots”. Most of us who are now “the haves” need to show compassion towards our fellow man “the have nots” because they are less fortunate than us. If healthcare isn’t reformed this year I know that it will be in the near future, most likely when more than 50% of our citizens no longer have private insurance because business can’t afford it and the “haves” become “the have nots” !

Another View From Abroad

Here’s an interesting perspective from Australia on the international perception of President Obama — complete with an entertaining reference to the “Fonzie” codicil to foreign policy.

Regardless of whether this writer is correct or not in his assessment, it should be concerning that people overseas are writing openly about our President as weak or out of his depth.  Even if that perception is flat out wrong, the mere existence of the perception could tempt one of our adversaries into taking a reckless action that they might not have tried otherwise.  Similarly, if the President comes to appreciate the existence of such a perception, it may cause him to take an action he would not have taken under other circumstances in order to try to correct that perception.

When it comes to foreign policy, it seems crucial to project strength and resolve, and then to back up words with actions.  The best American pop culture reference probably is not Fonzie, but rather the John Wayne character in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

A Fan Of Fog

I’ve been to San Francisco quite a bit lately, and one of the things I’ve enjoyed about my visits is the fog.  Typically, it seems to be very foggy in the morning, and then as the day progresses the fog burns off and rolls back.  By afternoon, it is clear over the city, but as you look out past the Golden Gate Bridge you see the fog banks lurking out there, waiting patiently like a living thing, ready to roll back in and blanket the city once more.

We don’t have anything like this in flat, landlocked Columbus.  On the few occasions we do have fog, it usually is a few pathetic wisps that cling to the low-lying areas — nothing like the thick, plush fog banks that you see in San Francisco.

Although I imagine driving in the fog is a pain for San Francisco residents and commuters, I think the fog makes the City by the Bay a more interesting, dreamy, mysterious place.

Hotel Soap

At some point in the not-too-distant past — I’m not sure exactly when — every hotel in the United States decided that it needed to stock guest room bathrooms with soap that is an apparently random combination of fruit, plant, and flower fragrances.  In my latest hotel stay, the soap, as well as the shampoo, conditioner, and every other personal hygiene item, uses a lime/coconut/verbena combination.  At other hotels, I’ve used soap that featured fresh mint, basil, mandarin orange, lemon, mango, sandalwood, witchhazel, organic flax seed, and countless other scents.



Why must this be so?  Am I the only traveler who yearns for a bar of Ivory soap, or Dial, or even Irish Spring?  It cannot be that every hotel guest wants to emerge from his hotel room, fresh from a morning shower but smelling like a riotous collection of every item stocked on the shelves of the neighborhood greengrocer.   And who comes up with these curious combinations?  Do soap companies now employ rugged fragrance hunters who hack their way through the rain forest, looking for new plants with new odors?  Do they have labs where they test weird fragrance mixtures concocted by mad scientists?

What is verbena, anyway?  I checked, and it is a flower . . . and a pretty one, at that.  Doesn’t smell bad, either — it is just not what I necessarily want to smell like when I head off to a business meeting on the road.

A Different Perspective

An interesting debate is occurring in Great Britain about assisted suicide and right to die laws.  Previously, much of the coverage has been about a woman named Debbie Purdy, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and who has led a fight to clarify Britain’s assisted suicide laws.   Now, a prominent scientist who, like Ms. Purdy, has multiple sclerosis, weighs in on the opposite side of the debate.  His basic message?  People should be talking about how to live, not how to die.

H1N1 In The Air

I had to fly yesterday on business, and the dire warnings about a new, more virulent outbreak of H1N1 certainly make air travel more exciting.  Any time you are in an enclosed area with a bunch of people you are bound to hear a certain number of coughs, sneezes, and sniffles, and if you are paranoid you wonder whether any public surface you touch — like the armrest on a chair in an airport waiting lounge — has just been exposed to the drippings from a kid’s runny nose.

Most Americans seem to ignore health warnings, or at least don’t let them affect their everyday lives.  I don’t know whether many Americans are taking H1N1 more seriously, but on the plane yesterday I did see an older woman wearing one of those white masks.  She may have been trying to avoid infecting people or trying to avoid being infected.  In any case, it was an unusual, and somewhat unnerving, sight to see.

Leaking Like A Sieve

It is appalling that General McChrystal’s confidential report on conditions in Afghanistan for President Obama was immediately leaked to the Washington Post.  Who was the leaker?  Someone in the White House who thinks the war in Afghanistan is wrong and wants to exert pressure on the President to stop the fighting?  Someone in the military who wants the public to know that the military is recommending more soldiers on the ground, so that there will be pressure on the President to follow that recommendation?  Or is it just someone who got a copy of the report and wants to curry favor with the Post in hopes of getting some fawning Style article at some point in the future?

Does no one in government put the best interests of the country over their own self-interest or their personal political views?  Don’t the few people who got copies of this report feel sufficient loyalty to President Obama to allow him to review and carefully consider a confidential report about a military matter?  The people who leak these important reports to the press seem to think it is all some kind of Washington insider political game.  It isn’t.  The decision on how to proceed in Afghanistan — which unquestionably was an important base for terrorists before 9/11 and still serves as a significant refuge and threat — is an important one that the President should be permitted to make after quiet reflection and consultation, without being rushed or prodded by unseemly leaks.

As a former journalist, I am all in favor of open government and vigorous press coverage of important decisions.  A government has to be able to keep some secrets, however — particularly when it comes to military and intelligence matters.  Right now, our government seems incapable of performing that essential activity.  At some point, it will cost us.

Another Putrid Exhibition

I read UJ’s post on the woeful Browns, and I am forced to agree with him that they stink, big time.  I realize that the NFL season is 16 games long and only two games are in the record books, but I am seeing nothing that indicates that the Browns will be anything other than awful this year.  So, it is likely to be another year of egregious failure and painful embarrassment for long-suffering Cleveland sports fans.

I must grudgingly admit that I could not even watch yesterday’s game to the end.  After seeing the offense sputter dismally in the first two series of the second half, I decided that life was too short and switched it off.  I’m glad I did.  The Broncos may be a defensive powerhouse on the order of the 1985 Chicago Bears — but somehow I doubt it.  I think the Browns are just bad.  Watching their futile, pitiful thrashing on offense is an affront to any knowledgeable football fan.

I don’t think the Browns defense is horrible, just not very good.  They put up a fight at first, then get worn down by being on the field two-thirds of every game.  The Browns offense, though, appears to be so terrible that it may rewrite the record books. Defensive coordinators must rub their hands in glee when the Browns show up on the schedule.  The Browns offense seems to run two first-down plays — an unsuccessful pass or a two-yard run.  Their second down play typically is a three-yard pass, and on third and five either Brady Quinn gets sacked or he completes a pass for a two-yard gain.  There is no big-play threat, no stretching the field vertically, and not even an effort to consistently throw to a receiver who is past the first down marker.  The offense struggles to get into field goal range; an offensive touchdown is a pipe dream.  It is maddeningly frustrating to watch them and wonder how a team that has spent millions of dollars on talent and coaching can be so stunningly inept.

Still, I can’t quit.  A fan has to be a fan.  I admit that there was a certain freedom when the despised Art Modell took the team to Baltimore and there was a football-free interregnum in Cleveland.  But when the Browns returned as an expansion team and Russell started following them, I was sucked back in like Al Pacino in Godfather III.  Now, I’m stuck watching disastrously bad football, with no end in sight.

I keep hoping that one year the cosmic tumblers will fall the right way and years of gut-wrenching losses will be rectified as the Browns surprise everyone, finally make it to the Super Bowl, and win the big game.  If you were to quit before that glorious day occurred it wouldn’t be quite so sweet to enjoy.  Of course, that theory presumes that the Browns someday will be a winning team again . . . .

Letter To My Brother Bob

Dearest Brother Bob,

You are one of the smartest people I know and I rarely feel that I need to give you advice, but I think that time has come. STOP watching the Browns because they are going nowhere this year and they STINK ! With Cincinnati much improved, a review of their schedule shows that the Browns might not even win a game and could go 0-16 if not for the game at Detroit in late November. So another high pick will be forthcoming in next year’s draft that will probably be used unwisely !

Don’t get me wrong you are a GREAT fan, way better than most and your continued faith in the Browns is commendable, but is it warranted ? You have stuck with them way longer than I have because you continue to watch their games. I haven’t watched one of their games from start to finish in probably the past five years. I got to the point where I asked myself is it worth my time and ENERGY to sit down and watch the team they are fielding and the conclusion I came to was no, not until the organization proves to me that they are willing to field a better team.

I noticed in your blog ” Bad Start” after the Minnesota game where you said “maybe the Browns are not as bad as they looked in the second half, well my response to that is YES they are that bad. The Broncos are not a good football team and their quarterback, Kyle Orton is not one of the better ones in the NFL yet they rolled up twenty seven points against the defense and Cleveland’s offense is pathetic scoring only one touchdown in thirty three quarters going back to last year ! So trust me, from BIG bro to LITTLE bro when I say the quicker you realize that there is no hope for the Browns this year the better !

Sweet September

I think September is the finest month, weather-wise, in Ohio. The mornings are cool and perfect for walking. The days are crisp and dry. Daytime skies are blue and virtually cloudless and nighttime skies offer clear views of the constellations. You can sleep with the windows open, enjoy the night air and gentle breezes, and hear the chirrups of crickets and the buzz of insects. During the days the temperatures generally hit highs in the 70s; at night and in the early morning hours the temperature gets down to the low 50s.

At about this time of the month the leaves begin to turn, there are hints of the first fall colors, and you see some leaves begin to drift to the ground. The message about what is to come is unmistakable — which just makes enjoying the fine weather all the sweeter.

Too Much On His Plate?

According to this story, President Obama has sent a messenger to New York Governor David Paterson, advising him that the President does not want him to run for election in 2010.  Apparently the President prefers that Andrew Cuomo be the Democratic standard-bearer in the Empire State and is afraid that a run by Paterson — whose poll numbers are awful — will encourage Rudy Guiliani to run.

I don’t know much about New York politics, but I am surprised that the President is trying to micromanage gubernatorial races that won’t occur until next year.  It is impossible to avoid President Obama these days; he is everywhere, seemingly doing everything.  He gives regular speeches on his health care reform efforts, today he appeared on multiple Sunday morning talk shows, last week he decided to change the approach to missile defense, he’s been on Leno, he’ll be on Letterman, he’ll be chairing a meeting of the U.N. Security Council, and now he is trying to tell New York’s Governor what to do about his future political career.

Perhaps Presidents have always tried to control political decisions at a state or even a local level.  With everything else that is going on, however, I would feel better if the President and his advisors would leave New York political decisions to New York politicians and focus exclusively on the many things he already has on his plate.  As my grandmother used to say, those who try to do too much end up doing nothing well.

Foreign Policy Blues

There has been a lot of criticism from the right, and some other quarters, of President Obama’s recent decision to scrap elements of a missile defense system for Eastern Europe.  The move has bitterly disappointed our allies in Poland and the Czech Republic, who were to host elements of the system and viewed it as important to their security against a resurgent Russia.  Mark Steyn’s typically acerbic view of the matter is here. This article argues, on the other hand, that the disappointment felt in Eastern Europe is actually the product of a series of failures, many of them by NATO, to live up to promises and agreements.  In other words, the writer suggests that the bitter reaction in Eastern Europe to the missile defense decision should not be laid totally at the feet of the Obama Administration.

Still, foreign policy is a constant challenge, as nations jockey for position in pursuing what they believe to be in their own best interests.  Any national leader worth this salt is regularly assessing other leaders and drawing conclusions about whether those leaders can be pushed or prodded, threatened or cajoled, or moved by guilt or fear into changing a position or staying their hand in the face of a new challenge.  When Vice President Biden predicted, during the recent presidential campaign, that President Obama would be tested by some foreign policy crisis early in his presidency, I think Biden was thinking in this terms.

When world leaders look at America today, in the wake of the missile defense system, what conclusions will they draw?  Will they see a country that seems to be looking inward, focused on domestic issues like health care and the economy, to the exclusion of international affairs?  Equally important, when world leaders look at Eastern European countries, or other erstwhile American allies, will they see nations that are perhaps a bit less confident in the prospects of getting help from the West, and therefore more susceptible to sabre-rattling?   These are the kind of realpolitik evaluations that are not really affected by well-crafted speeches.  We need to show our allies that they can count on us in a pinch, and we need to make sure that other contestants on the world stage know that as well.

Independents’ Day On Gay

I had to work today and I’m glad I did, because today was “Independents’ Day” on Gay Street, where the firm has its offices.  As I was working this morning I heard Independents’ Day organizers setting up the Gay Street sound stage and tents right outside my window.  They blocked off the street and had mapped out squares of the street for use by chalk artists, who began to work their magic.  Soon thereafter street vendors and stands for various artists, radio stations, newspapers, community organizations, and groups set up.  It was a beautiful day, and the atmosphere was loose and festive.

The view from my office window, looking down and west on Gay

The view from my office window, looking down and west on Gay

By the time I was wrapping up my work for the day the first acts began to perform on the Gay Street stage, and the chalk art on the street below began to take shape.  I listened to some fine sets from the Andy Shaw Band and Bush League All Stars — who did an excellent rendition of the Beatles’ I Dig A Pony — and then was struck by a band called Burglar which featured a stand up bass, fine guitar, keyboard, and drum work, a female horn player, and a lead singer wearing hot pants.  They were pretty good if I don’t say so myself, and provided some very enjoyable music to keep me company.

Chalk artists and stands outside the venerable entrance to VSSP at 52 East Gay

Chalk artists and stands outside the venerable entrance to VSSP at 52 East Gay

After I finished with work I went down and walked around.  I admired the work of the chalk artists (who included Richard’s friend Roland and his girlfriend, whose name I unfortunately have forgotten), listened to some more music, and browsed around some of the stands.  There was a dunking tank for members of the Ohio Roller Girls roller derby team and a group called “Art Squatters” had taken over the vacant bank building at the corner of Gay and High and set up some interesting artwork there.  The folks whose apartment is directly across the street from my office had the windows wide open and were loudly proclaiming their efforts to break a hula hoop endurance record.  The crappy photos accompanying this posting, taken with my Blackberry, are a dim attempt to capture the almost ’60s-type atmosphere.

Sunlit chalk art on Gay Street

Sunlit chalk art on Gay Street

What is Independents’ Day?  One of the people I talked to said it is simply a way for the various independent organizations in Columbus to get out into the community, bring people together, and hopefully get some attention.  Whatever it was supposed to be, it was a lot of fun, and the kind of thing it is important for downtown areas in cities like Columbus.  Cities need periodic festivals and gatherings where people can congregate, mingle, and enjoy the cityscape.  Gay Street is the perfect street for such an event because it is centrally located one block from the Ohio Statehouse and has an interesting variety of turn of the century-type buildings (i.e., no building more than 10 stories or so), wide sidewalks, and readily available parking.

If you read this on September 19, consider going down there and supporting a new event that doesn’t take itself too seriously.  Apparently they are going to be showing movies by local filmmakers this evening, projecting them right on Gay Street.  Pretty cool!  Next year I might just make a full day of it.

Organic Odyssey

First Lady Michelle Obama apparently is a big fan of vegetable gardens, organic food, and healthy eating.  She encouraged a group that runs farmers markets in the D.C. metropolitan area to set up a market near the White House, and on Thursday she decided to visit the market to buy some “organic Tuscan kale.”  This story — which emphasized how her one visit inconvenienced workers and residents in the area, the “carbon footprint” of her one block drive to the market accompanied by Secret Service agents and staff, and how much the hoity toity offerings at the market cost — was the result.  

Mrs. Obama thinks that organic foods are important to healthy eating.  Although a recent study in the United Kingdom disputes that conclusion — and although I personally wouldn’t recognize “organic Tuscan kale,” much less eat it, under any circumstances — supporting healthy eating seems like as good a “First Lady cause” as any.  Her experience with the farmers’ market just confirms that the First Family lives in a fishbowl, where legitimate security concerns make it impossible for the President, or the First Lady, to do simple everyday things without great dislocation and expense.  Articles like the linked piece inevitably will result.

A bigger concern for the Obamas, I think, is that emphasizing much more expensive organic kale, or free range animals, or eggs laid by chickens in the wild, is going to strike many Americans who are going through tough economic times as weird and totally out of touch.  A home vegetable garden, which Mrs. Obama planted at the White House earlier this year, is just fine.  A visit to an upscale market that features “organic dandelion greens” for $12 a pound, when many Americans are dining on the cheapest box of Kraft macaroni and cheese to save a few bucks, sends a message that probably isn’t helpful to the President.  Talking about her discussions about vegetables with “kings” and “queens,” as she did on Thursday, doesn’t seem like a good message, either.

A Distant Ancestor

They’ve discovered a fossil in China of what appears to be an ancestor of the Tyrannosaurus Rex — except this creature lived 60 million years earlier and was 90 times smaller. It features the same massive, dagger-toothed skull, the same small “arms,” and the same apparently acute sense of smell. Even though it was smaller than a T Rex, you still wouldn’t want to meet it in a dark alley — it weighed about 150 pounds and looks like it could rips a normal-sized human to shreds in short order.

The BBC story on the find is interesting, although their depiction of what the dinosaur looked like it a bit unnerving. Tufted with a brown mane, it looks like a crazed horse on steroids.