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Archive for June 18th, 2008

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel When Fixing America

Posted in Main Blog (All Posts) on June 18th, 2008 4:40 am by HL

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel When Fixing America
Good policy is pretty easy to create, and it’s also easy to recognize, but very few people know how to do either, because we so rarely see good policy in the real world. Each post in this series will discuss one rule for judging or creating policy. We’ll start with the simplest rule of all: Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

I’m going to be writing a bit more for FDL over the next while and one of the themes I want to develop is about how to create and recognize good policy.

Good policy is pretty easy to create, and it’s also easy to recognize, but very few people know how to do either, because we so rarely see good policy in the real world. Almost every policy which comes out of Washington, and most other capitals, is sold as doing one thing, but is actually written and designed to serve the interests of those players which have bought various politicians. So, as a result you wind up with “stimulus” bills which don’t include food stamps and unemployment benefits or you wind up with tax “reform” which makes the tax code more complicated and gives most of the tax cuts to the rich. In fact, it’s very rare that any major bill either does what it’s supposed to (No Child Left Behind, for example, has almost certainly done more harm to American education than good) or if it does, that it does it in a way that is efficient and effective. Medicare drug benefits, which were designed to make drug and insurance companies money, not to deliver cheap drugs to Americans, are an excellent example.

Each post in this series will discuss one rule for judging or creating policy. We’ll start with the simplest rule of all:

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

Sometimes another country, or a state or city, has already solved the problem, or has solved a large chunk of it. The prototypical example of this is health care. Every other modern (and some 3rd world) country in the world has universal, usually single payor, healthcare. Most of those systems produce as good or better results than the US on almost all metrics.

And these countries pay, total, about two-thirds of what Americans pay per person, for health care that covers everyone. A side effect is that GM and Ford price in $1,500 of insurance costs into every car, while Toyota avoids that expense, and continues to eat Detroit’s lunch. Meanwhile, 50% of all bankruptcies in America are caused by health care costs. There is virtually no downside to universal healthcare, even for the very rich (the very rich will always have private clinics. They did even in the USSR.) Every health expert who isn’t paid not to know this, knows that universal care is cheaper, and better.

We know it works, because it has worked in every 1st world nation which has tried it. The reason the US does not have universal healthcare, ironically, is the huge amount of money that could be saved—5.3% of the US’s total GDP. That’s a heck of a lot of money, and a lot of people are getting very rich off of it. And those who make a killing use the money to buy lobbyists and politicians and make sure that 50 million Americans don’t have insurance, another 20 million or so are underinsured, that 50% of all bankruptcies are caused by health expenses, and that US healthcare metrics continue to lag other first world countries. They stop real reform because the pain and suffering and financial devastation of all those millions of Americans is earning them a lot of money. Making a “killing” isn’t exactly a metaphor when it comes to US healthcare.

So we know one big, simple way to fix US healthcare and it doesn’t require reinventing the wheel, but simply learning from what others have done.

But healthcare isn’t the only place where this works—one could, for example, look to how other countries handle, say, drug use, and learn some lessons. Or look to their prisons. Or figure out how much smaller countries than the US are able to have effective militaries without spending 50% of the world’s military budget.

This is simple stuff, the basic rule is familiar to anyone who’s ever wanted to learn how to do something and gone to find out how other people do it, looking in particular at the people who are best, then copying what they do and making minor adaptations to your own situation. When I want to learn how to cook something I’ve never cooked, I look it up. When I want to buy a new car, I look up reviews. When I want to build something, I find out how others who have built something similar did it.

So the first rule of making, and recognizing, good policy is just common sense. Learn from others.

Don’t reinvent the wheel.


Late Night: Wedding Song

Posted in Main Blog (All Posts) on June 18th, 2008 4:39 am by HL

Late Night: Wedding Song

“The Wedding Song” from Bob Dylan's Planet Waves album, great lyrics.

It's never been my duty to remake the world at large,
Nor is it my intention to sound a battle charge,
'Cause I love you more than all of that with a love that doesn't bend,
And if there is eternity I'd love you there again.

You turn the tide on me each day and teach my eyes to see,
Just bein' next to you is a natural thing for me
And I could never let you go, no matter what goes on,
'Cause I love you more than ever now that the past is gone.

It's time to get politics out of marriage and welcome a future where everyone is free to love and marry whomever they choose.

This is an open thread.


WHEEEEEEEEEEEEE

Posted in Main Blog (All Posts) on June 18th, 2008 4:38 am by HL

WHEEEEEEEEEEEEE

Broder’s boy bounces all the way to 29%.

McCain will be running into stiff headwinds over the next five months. Bush’s approval rating hit another low in Post-ABC polling and now is 29 percent, with 68 percent saying they disapprove of the job he is doing — 54 percent strongly. Among the dwindling number who approve of the way Bush is handling his job, 80 percent back McCain.

(ht pony boy)


Democrat Hypocrites Drive the Gas Guzzlers

Posted in Main Blog (All Posts) on June 18th, 2008 4:37 am by HL

Democrat Hypocrites Drive the Gas Guzzlers
Democrats rail against big oil yet ride around in chauffeur-driven high-polluting Lincoln Town cars.


Open Thread and Diary Rescue

Posted in Main Blog (All Posts) on June 18th, 2008 4:36 am by HL

Open Thread and Diary Rescue
Tonight’s Rescue Rangers are dopper0189, grog, joyful, srkp23, watercarrier4diogenes, Yashua, and ybruti, with srkp23 as editor. With links to support the compelling facts, snackdoodle reminds us that More Than 8 Million Iraqis Deserve Justice. (ybruti) LoneBlackMan admits that he is cynical and war-weary in A Confession. One sinner to others. (ybruti) Cruise Carter brings us a heartfelt and personal op-ed about one man’s journey through war and peace in A Soldiers Revolution. (Yashua)
—- link

LeftWord: The Best Liberal Blog Posts


Tea Leaves

Posted in Main Blog (All Posts) on June 18th, 2008 4:35 am by HL

Tea Leaves
The Times has a bit more detail about the on-going Inspector General’s and Office of Professional Responsibility probe’s into the US Attorney firings. Seems, as we learned yesterday from the Wall Street Journal, that Bradley Schlozman has moved furthest along…


The Failure of the Republican Party to deliver anything for Blacks

Posted in Main Blog (All Posts) on June 18th, 2008 4:34 am by HL

The Failure of the Republican Party to deliver anything for Blacks

My good friend, Timothy Johnson, Ph.D., was recently honored by the Buncombe County (Asheville, NC) Republican party. Timothy Johnson has been elected party chair. It did not go unnoticed that he is the first black elected party chair in Buncombe County – Republican or Democratic. In an interview with the Weaverville newspaper, Tim commented on how many blacks are “ignorant” of the bedrock beliefs of the Republican Party. Dr. Johnson believes that the ideals of the Republican Party line up very well with the ideals of the Black community.

Before I go on any further, I would like to say that no one and no party has cornered the market on ethics or morality. There are bad and evil people that are motivated by greed and power in both parties. But, with that being said, I think we can look over the past 40 years and honestly begin to evaluate which party truly benefited Blacks and continues to benefit minorities and the underprivileged. Let’s look at a few issues.

Civil rights. This one is easy. There is no contest. In the 60s the Democrats stood with Blacks. Southern Democrats who were opposed to integration did not like the direction of the party and slowly but surely left the Democratic Party and joined the Republican Party. Were there individual Republicans who believed that integration was inevitable? Were there individual Republicans who believed that segregation was an abomination? I think the answer is yes on both counts. Did the Republican party change their platform in 1964 and 1968 to appease Southern Whites? Yes.

The Economy. Republicans like to talk about cutting government spending. I lived in Texas most of my life. Republicans rule in Texas. I saw the state government cut so deeply that some regulatory agencies had to stop regulating. They had to fire some government workers because there was no more money. Republicans stood back and smiled but when you go to the DMV and have to wait 2 or 3 hours just to talk to someone before you can begin the process of getting your license? Please think of those cuts. When you get a brand new tatoo which gives you a skin infection or possibly even hepatitis because there was not enough inspectors to regularly inspect that parlor who’s smiling now?

When Ronald Reagan took office he promised to cut the size of government and to cut government spending. Conservatives talk eloquently about how masterful Reagan was with the budget. They forget to tell you that the budget deficit grew during the Reagan years. No matter how the Republicans like to sugar coat their policies, the fact that under Reagan, Bush and now, George W. Bush the budget deficit has grown completely flies in the face of any fiscal responsibility. Even the conservative Cato Institute, in an article by Chris Edwards states, “Reagan’s failure was that he did not control federal spending growth. By 1989, federal spending was up 69 percent from 1981. The deficit widened.”

In my own book, A Letter to America, I criticized the Bush administration for its tax cuts for the rich. I believe that your tax policy should reflect your morals beliefs. The budget process is more than pushing numbers around. The process should reflect the hopes and dreams of America. A small and simple program like LIHEAP (low income heating and energy assistance program), this program provides assistance to the poor for heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer. Who can be against this program? The Bush administration. Bush tried to cut funding for this program several years in a row. In 2003, it took a Senate vote (88-4) to force the Bush administration to release the funding. You can’t tell me that this helps Blacks, minorities or the poor.

Race. When President Reagan increased the low interest rates on student loans, it was clear that he really did not understand the needs of working Americans. When Ronald Reagan stood by and supported Apartheid well that’s a completely different story or is it? You don’t have to take my word for it, take Bishop Desmond Tutu’s. In 1984, while on Capital Hill, Bishop Tutu blasted Reagan’s support of South Africa, “In my view, the Reagan administration’s support and collaboration with it is equally immoral, evil, and totally un?Christian. . . . You are either for or against apartheid and not by rhetoric. You are either in favor of evil or you are in favor of good. You are either on the side of the oppressed or on the side of the oppressor. You can’t be neutral.”

Right wing Republican think tanks have been working on trying to reverse affirmative action for over 30 years. Affirmative action has been fundamental to the progress that we have seen recently. From Justice Clarence Thomas to Barack Obama, affirmative action has begun to equalize the playing field. Thomas came from a small town in Georgia. Why would Holy Cross take him in 1967? He wasn’t a great student from a small Georgia town. In college, he did well then went on to Yale. Remember before affirmative action, colleges would simply pass over Blacks and other minorities. Whether they were qualified or not. No matter how some folks try to spin affirmative action, it is an excellent program that has benefitted Blacks, Whites, Latinos … Americans.

Education. This is the great equalizer. You can lift someone out of poverty by giving them the winning lottery ticket (Evander Hollyfield’s house is up for foreclosure so having a pile of money doesn’t guarantee that you will keep that pile.) or by giving them an education. There are no guarantees in life but an education maybe the closest thing. Everyone has seen the numbers that the average income for someone without a high school diploma is about $23,000. The average income for someone with a college degree is $52,000.

With student loans harder and harder to come by and college tuition going up faster than the price of gas, college students need some help. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has had none to offer. There is no major program that the Bush administration has designed to help college students.

No Child Left Behind. The fact that the program has never been fully funded should be considered a crime. The whole concept of teaching to a test just never sat well with me. There is no data suggesting that testing equals learning which is the whole basis of NCLB. As a matter of fact, I think that the opposite happens. When focusing on the information for a test, students and teachers miss great learning opportunities.

Reagan, Bush, Sr. and Bush, Jr. have trying to suck funding out one of the only government programs that has been universally praised – Head Start. This program has been credited for helping minorities get out of poverty. We need more programs like it and not less. We need a Head Start like program for middle school and for high school, so our children can get ahead and stay ahead.

One of the best hoaxes played on the American people are school vouchers.
The Republicans have been pushing this idea from coast to coast for some time. The idea is if your public school isn’t performing well then you should be able to take your child out of public school and place your child in some other school using public funds. It sounds great. Of course, if you pull funds out of failing schools how are those schools going to get any better. Actually, these cash strapped schools should get increased funding if they are failing. We need better teachers and better books and facilities in these schools. The other side of voucher hoax is where are you going to try to put your child? Is there a good school that has a bunch of openings for kids from failing schools? No. School vouchers are just another way to cripple the public educational system.

Tim Johnson, I congratulate you on your new position but I don’t think that the Republican party has been friendly to minorities in general or Blacks in particular. I saw Senator John McCain, the Republican party’s presidential nominee, speak last week in Kenner, La, just outside New Orleans. He spoke in front of an almost completely White crowd. Outside of Governor Jindal, I was unable to see any face of color in the crowd. I have watched the video several times. I think that’s telling. You can’t tell me that you can’t find a Black face in Southern Louisiana. Tim, I wish you good luck hopefully you can change the Republican party for the better.


Judge OKs $11m VA Tech settlement

Posted in Main Blog (All Posts) on June 18th, 2008 4:33 am by HL

Judge OKs $11m VA Tech settlement
A judge on Tuesday approved an $11 million state settlement with families of most of the victims in last year’s Virginia Tech slayings that will avoid a court battle over whether anyone but the gunman was to blame….

Army overseer ousted in KBR stir?
Refused to approve over $1b in questionable charges to KBR.


VA testing drugs on mentally distressed veterans.

Posted in Main Blog (All Posts) on June 18th, 2008 4:32 am by HL

VA testing drugs on mentally distressed veterans.
A Washington Times/ABC News investigation released today finds that “mentally distressed veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are being recruited for government tests on pharmaceutical drugs linked to suicide and other violent side effects.” The Times reports: In one such experiment involving the controversial anti-smoking drug Chantix, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) took three months to […]

A Washington Times/ABC News investigation released today finds that “mentally distressed veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are being recruited for government tests on pharmaceutical drugs linked to suicide and other violent side effects.” The Times reports:

In one such experiment involving the controversial anti-smoking drug Chantix, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) took three months to alert its patients about severe mental side effects. The warning did not arrive until after one of the veterans taking the drug had suffered a psychotic episode that ended in a near lethal confrontation with police.

“VA officials defend their use of veterans in medical studies, saying that helping [post-traumatic stress disorder] sufferers to stop smoking would prolong their lives,” the Times notes.


Big Shoes

Posted in Main Blog (All Posts) on June 18th, 2008 4:31 am by HL

Big Shoes
I couldn’t bring myself to do it. In this cold-blooded business we speculate about everything: who’ll win the election, who will get the veep nod, whether the Lakers can battle back against the Celtics or whether Tiger can come from behind on a bum knee to win the U.S. Open.

McCain Addresses Energy Policy
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: Thank you all very much. Governor Perry, Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst, and other distinguished guests, I appreciate your joining us today. And thank you all for the warm welcome to Houston.