The Worship of Sports in America

Simply put, Americans take sports way too seriously.

How The Middle-Class Got Screwed (Video)

A most simplistic explanation of how the economic problems of the middle-class has become an actual threat to their well-being.

Why I'm Not A Democrat...Or A Republican!

There is a whole lot not to like about either of the 2 major political parties.

Whatever Happened To Saturday Morning Cartoons?

Whatever happened to the Saturday morning cartoons we grew up with? A brief look into how they have become a thing of the past.

ADHD, ODD, And Other Assorted Bull****!

A look into the questionable way we as a nation over-diagnose behavioral "afflictions."

Friday, January 28, 2011

For The Last Time, Affordable Health Care Is Not Leftist…It’s A Right!

It’s no secret that I am a huge proponent of affordable health care for all Americans. It’s a belief that I’ve held since I was a child, and no, it’s not an ideological stance; it’s a belief borne based on what is simply a pragmatic need for the nation and its people. So suffice it to say that I am—outside of the knowledge that the fight against universally affordable health care is really a conflict of power between opposing parties—left scratching my head as to why individuals would be so vehemently opposed to such a laudable goal.
Obamacare. Socialism. And now job killing. There are just a few of the politically-charged pejoratives that opponents of health care overhaul use to slander the notion that all Americans should be covered by the best health care system in the world.
Last week, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to repeal the Affordable Health Care for America Act (House bill - H.R. 3962) with their own act, the
Job-Killing Health Care Law Act (H.R. 2). Without control of neither the Senate or White House, this act was a largely symbolic measure meant to play to those constituents who are on record as being vocally opposed to health care reform, and who supported last year’s Republican electoral trouncing of the Democrats as they swept into power in the House.
The sad part about this affair is that outside of ideology, the Republicans don’t have a leg to stand on. First, in order to have brought this endeavor to the floor of the one chamber of Congress they control, they had to ignore the findings of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Earlier this month the CBO, which calculates the projected cost of legislation, concluded that repealing the health care overhaul act would increase the federal budget deficit to the tune of some $230 billion dollars for the projected period between 2012 thru 2021 (http://www.ajc.com/news/nation-world/cbo-health-care-repeal-797015.html). Needless to say, political foes against health care reform have taken a “figures-lie-and-liars-figure” stance in discrediting these numbers. In fact, Speaker of the House John Boehner told reporters, "I do not believe that repealing the job-killing health care law will increase the deficit” (naturally, any figures which opposition uses to justify its/their arguments are somehow “more accurate”).
The truth of the matter is that most analysts agree that health care reform does not “kill job” as claimed by opponents. In fact, the opposite is proves to be in evidence even now (http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2011/jan/20/eric-cantor/health-care-law-job-killer-evidence-falls-short/). Just this month, Forbes magazine has published two articles which demonstrate how small businesses have already benefited from the health care reform act. Based on preliminary results, major insurance companies are reporting increases in small businesses offering health care to their employees due in part to tax cuts created by the new law What’s more, the fact that many private insurers are apparently increasing the number of clients they are serving, and that small businesses are taking advantage of the tax benefits in order to shore up the number of employees they offer health care to also kills the argument that the law is a slippery slope to the road to “socialism’ (http://blogs.forbes.com/rickungar/2011/01/06/more-small-businesses-offering-health-care-to-employees-thanks-to-obamacare/). This fear mongering slandering of health care reform is predicated on the argument by opponents that mandating that Americans purchase health care insurance “un-Constitutional.” History would disagree.
In 1798, the 5th Congress of the United States drafted and passed the Act for The Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen. Signed by non other than President John Adams—one of the Founding Fathers of the Constitution—the law created

the Marine Hospital Service, a series of hospitals built and operated by the federal government to treat injured and ailing privately employed sailors. This government provided healthcare service was to be paid for by a mandatory tax on the maritime sailors (a little more than 1% of a sailor’s wages), the same to be withheld from a sailor’s pay and turned over to the government by the ship’s owner. The payment of this tax for health care was not optional. If a sailor wanted to work, he had to pay up
(
http://blogs.forbes.com/rickungar/2011/01/17/congress-passes-socialized-medicine-and-mandates-health-insurance-in-1798/).

This very similar to how truly socialized medicine operates in European countries today. Keep in mind that many member of that Congress were comprised of some of the drafters of the Constitution. Hence, the argument that “no where in the Constitution does it state that government has such authority” (or intention) is moot.
Such related arguments have been used by the dozen or so Republican state governors who have filed lawsuits in federal courts seeking to block enactment of the new law. These governors assert that the new federal health care mandate is an “unprecedented encroachment on the liberty of individuals” and “on the sovereignty of the states.” So does that mean that if a state mandates that its citizens must have insurance that they are similarly “encroaching on the liberty of individuals?” What then is the difference between whether a state government or federal government makes such a mandate? Massachusetts Republican governor Mitt Romney apparently has no issues with government mandates, as he was the brainchild behind his state’s requiring nearly all of its citizens to purchase health care insurance in an effort to cover them. In the early 1990s, in an effort to counter the plan then-President Bill Clinton was proposing, Arizona Senator John McCain (yes, that John McCain) first proposed “individual mandates” with regards to federal health care coverage for every American. And more recently under Bush II, proposed mandates were not a problem when they were proposed by former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson (http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/03/23/1544321/individual-health-insurance-mandate.html)
However, if you want a real anecdotal example of how health care reform is more of a political ideological jockeying for power by opponents, you needn’t look any further than the Republican-controlled House itself. Late last year, newly-elected House Congressman Andy Harris (R-Maryland), an anesthesiologist who defeated his incumbent Democratic opponent by riding an anti-Obamacare platform into office made a small media wave. When informed that there would be a one month lag in time before his federally-mandated, tax-payer-funded medical healthcare insurance plan kicked into gear after his January 3rd swearing in, he questioned why it took so long for his insurance benefits to kick in. He then asked if he could “purchase insurance from the government to cover the gap.” According to reports, he was “incredulous” and stated that “this is the only employer I’ve ever worked for where you don’t get coverage the first day you are employed” (http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1110/45181.html). The eye-opening magic of Karma in action.

Maryland Republican Senator Andy Harris after his November election win

In much the same way that many laws are passed yearly, opponents of affordable universal health care coverage need to give the political opposition a rest. Under the old system of every-American-for-himself, the prior system was simply unsustainable on both cost and individual coverage levels. And lastly, the lack of any proposed alternatives only proves how politically self-serving repeal is for those trying to do so.
Granted, the new law is not perfect—no where near being so—it does provide benefits to both individuals and businesses which the old system failed to do. Small businesses benefit by way of tax credits (up to 35%) which help in the costs for providing coverage for their employees. Young adults can now stay on their parents’ policies until the age of 26. Children with pre-existing conditions can no longer be excluded from health care coverage. And seniors have benefited from having the “donut hole” in coverage for prescription drugs from the Bush-era prescription drug overhaul (2003) filled. Finally, insurance companies get to bring on 30 million more people to insure. It’s simply hard to understand how when so many can benefit from an overhaul in health care affordability why opposition remains. Even more puzzling, how political interests groups and opponents of health care reform can manage to mobilize so many Americans to think and vote against their own their own self-interests.
If opposition to health care reform is a stance meant to protect my “rights,” you can have it; I’d much rather prefer my good health and an ability to maintain it without going broke.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Homelessness...It's Not As Big As You Think.

Now that I’ve gotten your attention by fueling your outrage with such an inflammatory implication in the title of this posting, allow me to state for the record that homelessness is a problem, a major one in this, the most materially gifted and wealthiest country on Earth. The issue was brought to the public’s awareness a couple of weeks ago via the remarkable story of Ted Williams.
For those of you who have been off-planet during the last two weeks, Williams was the down-on-his-luck homeless man in Columbus, Ohio whose luck changed when he was approached by a local television videographer while panhandling on a freeway off-ramp. As is the case with most similar scenarios, the man carried a piece of cardboard placarded with a plea for monetary assistances from passing motorists. In Williams’ case, he advertised a unique gift; a radio-friendly “golden voice” as a special talent which set him apart from other highway beggars. The videographer’s curiosity piqued, he took out his camera, began to roll tape, and gave Williams a chance to demonstrate his radio-friendly speaking abilities on camera. The resulting encounter was posted on You Tube and became a viral sensation, having been viewed over a million times and counting.
As a result of one chance encounter, the once unknown and homeless man with the unnervingly smooth baritone radio speaking voice became an instant celebrity, having been interviewed on dozens of different television news programs, and showered with an equal number of job offers from a moved public. But as usual with sensational news stories, we tend to miss the Big Picture when we allow ourselves to be swept up in cheering for an improbable turn of fortune such as Williams’.

video

What about the million or so other homeless people in America—men, women, and children—who lack a special talent which could conceivably spur the same outpouring of material sympathy by the more fortunate which Ted Williams was shown…what about them? Sadly, what the Williams story illustrates is how selective our memories are, and how we like to insulate ourselves from the harsh realities of life. Every year, particularly around the holiday periods, the usual stream of doom-n-gloom we are treated to via the evening news is punctuated by the obligatory human interest news story about the less fortunate, the final lessons being how the rest of us should be thankful for what we have…and how things could always be worse for us. What such a practice does is that while human faces are put on the tragedy of homelessness in America, we become somewhat desensitized to its reality, and invariably come to accept it as a death- and taxes-like given in our society. This in turn eats away at our resolve to potentially eradicate the problem (or at least try to).
The truth of the matter is that homelessness is not as insurmountable an obstacle as me might think to combat. So, in David Letterman style, I present the 3 top ways which Americans can help confront homelessness.


3 -- Personal Responsibility. This is perhaps the most effective means to combat homelessness (and potential homelessness) in America. We Americans have a strange tendency in this country of opportunity to try to escape our harsh individual circumstances—both real and imagined—by indulging in drugs, alcohol, and other counter-productive activities…and it needs to stop. I’ve personally never quite understood the concept of going through an experience as hard as life with one’s faculties inhibited by chemically-induced attempts to numb our perceptions. Quite simply, any plan of action to change one’s negative heading in one’s life requires a clear head, and attempting to escape the only reality there is—outside of death—is the surest path to sleeping on a concrete pillow. In addition, Americans need to adopt better lifestyle habits altogether, such as dietary, having children which one cannot afford, and financial literacy. It's all tied together.

2 -- Stop Criminalizing Misfortune. It sickens me that some local municipalities take the time to legislatively criminalize activities such panhandling and begging, while not giving a second thought to how to actually combat the problem of homelessness in their cities/towns; half-heatedly treating the symptom and not the problem.
While tightening local budgets are a reality, there is very little reason why towns and cities couldn’t work with their state governments (as well as the federal government) to create a different kind of shelter…one that has a concentration of resources such as employment staffing specialists, clinical/drug counselors, and other volunteers/staff which would actually work toward the interests of the homeless (this is afterall, how federalism is supposed to work in America).
If space is a problem, the federal government could provide emergency trailers for office space, or even temporary shelter until shelter services yielded results.
What we need less of are private, religiously-inspired “shelters” which often refuse service to individuals who wont adopt their way of religious thinking.


1 -- Systemic Changes. We Americans still need to decide what level of poverty we are willing to accept…sleeping in cars or sleeping on sidewalks? Most homelessness is a symptom, not the problem itself. It is simply a manifestation of larger societal problems. Lack of education, lack of family support, poor health, and unmoral concentrations of wealth in the hands of the few (no, I’m not talking about people who work for their money. I’m talking about CEOS and other cooperate types who run companies and banks into the ground and are rewarded with golden parachutes) are representative of misplaced priorities. We pay sports figures millions of dollars a year for entertaining our children, but throw peanuts at teachers who we put in charge of teaching them to read (and for putting up with their unruliness and disrespect).
Then there are the drug laws. It only takes 1 felony drug conviction to hamper any employment opportunity, and by extension housing and bank loans.
We also need to stop demonizing any attempt to help the less fortunate from the federal government as “socialism,” and look at it from a more realistic perspective as being an investment in human capital (such as the $1.5 billion in federal resources distributed through the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program). Such politicized thinking is a chief reason why the resolve to help stem the tide of homelessness is absent among us. At the same time, we must closely monitor every cent aimed at such endeavors and ensure that spending goes to substantive local resources which yield tangible successes, and not those which only look great on paper.