Losing our freedoms, eh?

June 4, 2009 at 7:41 pm (Politics) (, , , , )

You know something that is kind of funny (in a horribly sad way) is that the Republican party is really concerned about our freedoms these days.  It’s a word they’ve always been big on using, but now they’re really just all concerned that our freedoms are being taken away from us.

The beautiful irony in that statement, of course, is that what they are referring to is the government doing things like taking over failing business that we can’t afford to let fail (which was started by a Republican administration, by the way).  Or the government raising taxes.  Or the government mandating that health insurance companies sell everyone insurance, full stop.

Now, granted, some of these things are not mentioned in the Constitution.  Certainly taking over GM never made it in there.  But honestly, this is not something the Constitution bars the federal government from doing, and it’s not something that either the states or “we the people” could possibly have managed, so it’s not like the federal government is taking rights away from other entities that are entitled to them.  And, of course, with things like taxation…well, that is specifically mentioned in the constitution.  Specifically, the federal government is allowed to do it.  Kind of however Congress decides to.  So they completely lose on that one.

It’s ironic, of course, because the previous administration took away quite a lot of our rights, and some of our most important ones, too.  We definitely had our freedom curtailed under the Bush administration, and it’s not some gray-area, not-actually-forbidden stuff like taking over failing companies when the economy is about to implode.  It’s stuff like…the right to reasonable search and seizure.  Habeus corpus.  In some sense, freedom of speech and religion.  You know, stuff that was kinda sorta mentioned very specifically in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  Not to mention the Declaration of Independence and, I’m sure, a variety of other documents.

Seriously, never underestimate the desire or power of some people to rewrite history.  I just hope that we as a country don’t let them get away with it.

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Pragmatism vs. Idealism

June 1, 2009 at 8:02 pm (Health Care, Politics) (, , , )

Last night, I amused myself before bed by watching a recent episode of Countdown with Keith Olbermann.  I haven’t watched that particular show in awhile (because we’re no longer in the midst of an election), but it was interesting.

I realize that Keith Olbermann is, in many ways, the liberal answer to Bill O’Reilly.  Except that, for one, Olbermann is a lot nicer to the people on his show, and for another, I think his distillation of various news stories is better.  And I can’t help the fact that I think O’Reilly is morally degenerate, but that’s my biases talking.

Anyway, Olbermann had Rachel Maddow on his show to discuss a revelation about waterboarding, and to talk about torture in general.  One of the people who was very vocal that waterboarding was useful and not torture (I wish I could remember the guy’s name, but I can’t) recently underwent the process himself.  He basically said at the end of it that it is absolutely torture, and he would have told anyone anything they wanted to hear to make it stop.

So Olbermann was saying that the best argument against torture is that it doesn’t even work, aside from being inhumane and cruel.  Maddow disagreed with him, and said that the primary argument against torture should be that we, as a society, don’t do it.  In other words, that torture is immoral and wrong, whether it works or not.

I think it’s an interesting question about how we debate certain topics, especially in politics.  I think it’s very easy to get caught up in pragmatic arguments, like the one Olbermann thinks is the most important, and lose sight of the moral arguments, like those Maddow thinks should have primacy.  I can think of at least two other issues that have similar pragmatic vs. idealistic arguments – the death penalty, and health care.  On the one hand, we could argue that abolishing the death penalty or instituting health care is more cost effective than our current system.  On the other hand, we could argue that it is morally wrong for the state to kill people, or that it is a moral imperative for the government to ensure that everyone has equal access to health care.

I think I personally would side with Maddow in this sort of argument.  Torture is wrong not because it is ineffective, but because we don’t do it.  It goes against our values and our belief system.  It’s not an issue of finding a method of torture that works (which is what the pragmatic argument would lead to); it’s an issue of not even looking for one, because it’s wrong.

Similarly, the death penalty is wrong because the government has no business playing God.  Sure, it’s cheaper to get rid of the death penalty (because you won’t need so many expensive trials), but that argument would lead to an attempt to make the death penalty cheaper to enforce.  Not more just, not more accurate – cheaper.  The point is that no matter how cheap it is, it’s wrong.

And finally, with health care, I think this debate is becoming one about whether or not people have the right to health care.  Is it a right like the freedom of speech, thus deserving of protection by the government, or is it a privilege?  I personally think it should be a right, and that anyone who agrees with me on that is weakening their case by arguing first about cost.  Cost is a consideration (and I really do think it would ultimately be cheaper if everyone had insurance, at least), but the first consideration is that people deserve to have health care simply because it is the right thing to do.

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Google and Anti-Trust Laws

May 19, 2009 at 12:26 pm (Politics) (, , , )

I just finished reading this article in the New York Times, about the Obama Administration announcing that they intend to toughen anti-trust laws that were a lot more relaxed under the Bush Administration.

According to the article, Google is the company that is being most closely watched for anti-trust violations and other corporate misconduct.  That makes perfect sense, of course, because Google has more or less cornered the search engine market, and they offer a variety of other services that really do tie together.

What I find interesting, though, is comparing Google to Microsoft.  Microsoft did have to face legal action because of its corporate practices, but so far, Google has done nothing to warrant that.  The interesting part is that Microsoft was not challenged legally for being large and successful.  They were being challenged for stifling competition.

So since Google has yet to actually stifle competition, they have so far faced only scrutiny.  I get the feeling that it helps Google’s case that nearly all of their services are free.

The whole article just had me thinking about Google in general.  It’s such a ubiquitious company these days that it’s even been turned into a verb.  How many times a day do you hear someone say, “let me google it”?  What that means, I think, is that Google has an enormous amount of power over our everyday lives, because it’s services are honestly extremely useful.

So it makes me wonder about the laws in place to protect us all from overly-powerful companies.  Maybe Google isn’t an anti-trust, but what about their terms of service and privacy policies?  I have to admit, I haven’t actually read either (like most Americans, I imagine, I hit the “agree” button without even skimming), but what if they contained clauses that were actually unfair?  What if they retained the right to certain information that really ought not to belong to them?

I get the feeling that if this ever became a problem (i.e. if anyone ever sued Google over unfair language in their TOS), Congress would probably enact new laws to guarantee that companies have fair contracts regulating the use of their products.

Ultimately, as long as Google does actually obey the law, and the law covers all the bases it needs to, I can’t help but think it’s actually a good thing to have one company offer a lot of interconnected and interrelated services.  Especially in the realm of technology, it’s the easiest way to make sure that the programs you use all work together without anyone actually cornering the whole technology market (a la Microsoft).

And aside from that, the article pointed out that Google is actually bucking Microsoft in much of what it does.  It’s interesting that Google can be large enough to make federal officials concerned about its corporate practices, but still a newcomer and innovative force in the technology industry.

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Socialism (and why I buy into it)

May 19, 2009 at 9:07 am (Economy, Health Care, Politics) (, , , , , )

I’ve been thinking a lot about politics (in a sort of vague and non-specific way) over the past few days.  One conclusion that I’ve come to as a result of all of this is that I unabashedly believe that government involvement is often the best thing for certain types of things in this country – at least as it exists today.  I wouldn’t call myself a statist, because I don’t believe that government should be huge and controlling for any reason at all.  What I am, ultimately, is a socialist.  I really believe that when it comes to protecting and promoting society’s interests, the government is our best bet.

I probably ought to explain this further (since that’s kind of a loaded statement these days), so here goes.  I have no illusions that the government in the United States is perfect – it’s not.  It makes mistakes, and it runs things badly at times.  But I think that someone would be hard pressed to find a large entity of any sort that isn’t like that.  Bureaucracies are run by humans, and humans are fallible – the goal is to make them as good as possible, but it is impossible to make them perfect.

So the question becomes not, do I want bureaucracy?  Rather, it becomes, which bureaucracy do I want to have control over the most important parts of my life?  It’s rather pointless to argue about whether or not we need bureaucracy in today’s world, because the fact that it’s impossible to go through even half a day without coming into contact with one speaks to the fact that it is necessary.  Our society is too large and too complex to survive without the rules and regulations that make up bureaucratic red tape.  It is frequently annoying, and sometimes unfair, but I don’t think any other system would be an improvement.

So what bureaucracy do I want to control things like the military, or health care, or my money?  Corporations of a size large enough to manage any of that have the same flaws as the government.  But on top of that, they also have profit as their primary motivation, and they are accountable to nobody but their shareholders.  The government, on the other hand, takes profit entirely out of the picture, and it is accountable to everyone who actually votes.

There are certainly government employees who are not elected or appointed, but most of those report directly or indirectly to somebody who is.  Again, it’s not a perfect system, but it’s a lot better than a corporation who doesn’t care what the rest of the world thinks as long as its major shareholders are happy and it continues to turn a profit.

One of the most common arguments against a government considered to be socialist is that it redistributes wealth.  Perhaps this may sound a bit flip, but I don’t really see why that’s a bad thing.  Sure, wealthy people earned their money (or someone up the family tree a ways did).  I don’t begrudge them that.  What I begrudge them is the disproportionate amount of power they have in our system.  If they are going to have that much power to influence policy and other things, they really ought to be paying a heck of a lot more into it.  On top of that, they are the ones who benefit most from things like public schools, or the military, or infrastructer.  It is only fair that they should pay a larger share of the cost, since they are getting a larger share of the benefits.

I also think that ultimately, the whole argument boils down to a distinction between what is fair and what is equal.  Those two words don’t mean anywhere close to the same thing.  An equal tax structure would have everyone paying the same percentage of their income; a fair one is graduated so that the people earning the most pay the highest percentage.  The reason why the latter is more fair than the former is that someone who is living paycheck to paycheck spends all or most of their income on necessities; someone who is wealthy doesn’t even spend their entire income.  So taxing everyone at, say, 20% means that the poorest won’t be able to afford all their necessities, and the wealthiest will simply have more money (that they don’t need) to save.

In addition, an equal society wouldn’t be good for other reasons.  In a fair society, everyone would get the same chance at a good education; in an equal society, everyone would need to get exactly the same education.  That basically means that the least capable and the most capable lose out, and everyone gets a sort of middling education.  When it comes to higher education, it is fair to say that everyone who meets certain standards can go if they want (regardless of considerations like class or race); equal would mean they have to accept anyone who applies, even if they fall short of the standards that would allow them to succeed.

Aside from all of that, cutting the poorest (and even the middle class) a break is good for our economy and our society as a whole.  Putting most of the burden of taxation on the non-wealthy means they have less ability to consume (which is necessary for the health of the economy), and it makes it extremely difficult or impossible for anyone to actually have upward mobility.  I don’t think that it fits in very well with our ideology as a country to have solid, stratified classes that have little to no movement between them.  And I also don’t think that even the most opulent spending by the wealthiest Americans could possibly make up for the lack of normal spending by everyone else.

So basically, I am all in favor of a little bit of wealth distribution, and I fully support the idea that the US government should take control of those institutions which are most important to all of us.  I know it may seem easy for me to say I’m in favor of wealth distribution now (when I earn relatively little), but I don’t object to paying taxes.  As long as I have enough money left for me, and the government is being responsible with the money I handed over, I think taxes are a good thing (so phooey on everyone who criticized Joe Biden for saying that paying taxes is patriotic – it is).

And since I can’t figure out how to make this post shorter, congratulations to anyone who actually reads the whole thing!

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*wades back into politics*

May 8, 2009 at 10:52 am (Economy, Politics) (, , , , , , , , )

Okay, I’ve kind of been ignoring the news just lately (which is part of the reason I haven’t been posting).  It’s very hard to read news about financial ruin when your own personal financial situation isn’t especially secure.

However, I think I can stomach it for now, and it’s good to stay informed when possible.

So, how about that stress test?  I will freely admit that I didn’t read the second half of the article, because at some point, financial news makes my eyes cross (and that’s even when the financial news isn’t bad or worrisome).  But I did read Paul Krugman today.  He is, as usual, being a little bit doom-and-gloom, but at least he’s easier to read.

What I find interesting on this topic is that the stress test itself, as Krugman says, tells us very little (and certainly not much that’s actually reassuring).  Where I don’t agree with Krugman is why President Obama is approaching the situation in just this way.  Krugman seems to think that any incentive for changing the financial landscape is fading, and that the Obama Administration is mostly just deciding not to be dramatic here.

But seriously, Obama is Machiavellian.  He is incredibly smart, and able to use that to manipulate situations to fit his desires and goals.  I actually think there’s a very good possibility that he’s going to let all of the banks have a fair shot at getting out of this pickle without major changes precisely because he thinks they won’t be able to do it.  They’ve got less than a month to tell the government how they’re going to raise the extra capital needed to pass the stress test.  So what happens if some or all of them can’t figure out how to do it?  Obama can swoop in and say the government needs to make sweeping changes, because we gave the banks a chance and they couldn’t come up with a solution.

If people complain at that point, Obama can argue that he gave the banks a very fair shot – the estimate of their shortfall in capital was extremely, generously in their favor.  So if they couldn’t even come up with that, then how could they possibly weather the more serious shortfall that many people think is likely?

I hope that’s what he’s doing, anyway.  Otherwise, Paul Krugman’s gloomy outlook is probably right.  I’m just going to hold on to my hope that Obama is smart enough to use momentum he gets for free…but that he’s also charismatic enough to create his own momentum when he needs it.

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Rick Perry really needs to just shut up.

April 17, 2009 at 10:05 am (Politics, This Makes No Sense) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Okay, I was first going to call this post “Texas, please stop embarrassing me,” but I realized that the state of Texas is actually an inanimate object that, as far as I am aware, has never done anything to hurt anybody.

But that’s not to say certain Texans *coughRickPerrycough* aren’t capable of embarrassing all the other Texans on a Texan-sized scale.  Everything is bigger in Texas – including Rick Perry’s hair, his lack of rational thought, and his lack of common sense.

I really wish that somebody would just sit him down and explain that he was only re-elected as governor because Texas law doesn’t require run-offs.  He seems to have missed the fact that, though he did get more votes than anyone else, 61% of the people voting in that election didn’t vote for him.  He also seems to have missed the fact that a significant portion of those anti-Perry voters were Republicans (Carole Keeton Strayhorn, a Republican running as an independent, got 18% of the vote).

So when Rick Perry starts implying, in public, with reporters around, that Texas can secede from the Union (and that maybe it should), he’s embarrassing the state of Texas and all Texans on a monumental scale.  Texas is not a sovereign nation.  The Republic of Texas willingly joined the United States back in 1846 because the 10 year experiment with nationhood left it bankrupt and unhappy.  And the state willingly re-joined the Union after the Civil War because of the ass-whipping the Union delivered to the Confederacy.  I have to say, it sure takes a pair to beg for annexation in 1846, and then thumb your nose and secede 15 years later because that same country that annexed you is expecting you to follow its laws.  I really hope the irony of that is not lost on people.

I also really feel the need to point out, since this goes along with the stupidity of Rick Perry at the moment, that the so-called “tea bagging” movement is highly contradictory and hypocritical (and very inappropriately named).  As far as I can tell, people are protesting high taxes (the rates of which were voted on by a Republican Congress serving under George Bush), among other things.  They are also blaming all of it on Obama, who hasn’t even finished his first 100 days in office.  Because somehow, the economic crisis, size of government, and current rate of taxation (all of which happened before the 2008 election, as well as the Inauguration in January) is President Obama’s fault.

There also appears to be a lot of criticism towards the current government, coupled with statements of patriotism.  Do these people not remember the past 8 years?  Apparently, from 2000-2008, criticizing the government made you a bad American, treasonous, or actually a terrorist.  I may joke about people saying “Why do you hate America?” in response to any legitimate criticism, but that’s what it felt like they were saying.  But now, since the damned liberals are “the man,” criticizing the government to the point of advocating secession is somehow patriotic (and it’s not just Perry who has gone that far).  Because it is just so incredibly patriotic to declare your sovereignty from the entity you claim to be loyal to.

Seriously, I think that being critical of our politicians and other officials is about as American as it’s possible to get.  But there is a point at which it becomes rather counterproductive and, dare I say it, un-American.  Criticizing them because you believe in the system and want your officials to do better (or leave office so someone else can do better) is one thing.  Criticizing them because you’d like to withdraw your loyalty and give it to another entity is something else entirely.

I also feel the need to point out that this “tea bagging” movement is something that was entirely engineered by established conservative pundits, politicians, and think-tanks.  It’s not a real grass-roots movement, because it wasn’t brought about because of ordinary private citizens (or even smaller scale politicians).  This movement is much more properly labeled Astroturf.

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Urban Sprawl and the Stimulus

March 24, 2009 at 7:40 am (Economy, Politics) (, , , , )

There’s an article in the New York Times about Urban Sprawl in Houston that caught my eye yesterday.  Basically, Texas intends to use some of its spending money for a toll road that would connect I-10 with HW-290.  It would end up being out in west Houston where there’s at least one developer who wants to build a new planned community, and it would cut right through some of the Katy Prairie that is currently not developed.

What’s interesting about it is that Obama has said, explicitly, that he doesn’t support urban sprawl, and doesn’t want states to use their stimulus money that way.  Texas is not alone in doing this – I think the article mentioned that New Hampshire, Washington, and North Carolina are also trying to expand freeway networks which would tend to encourage the growth of cities.

It’s an interesting topic, I think.  On the one hand, urban sprawl certainly has a lot of downsides.  Huge cities can be rather unwieldy for those who live in them.  They undoubtedly contribute to pollution because people tend to rely so heavily on cars.  They do eat up the land around them.

But on the other hand, not every large city is the same.  Not every region has the same kinds of issues.  And, dare I say it – I don’t think urban sprawl is always as bad as its made out to be.  Uncontrolled sprawl isn’t a good thing at all, but I don’t think that every city in the country needs to be as dense as those in the Northeast.  And, of course, some of those cities have the worst of both worlds – sprawl and density.

When I think about the way that I tended to live when I was in Houston, it’s not at all the way that people who have never lived there might expect.  There were huge chunks of the city that I never visited in the 22 years I lived there.  Nearly everything I did was within a much narrower radius around my house.  If I had to spend more than 30 minutes driving to get somewhere, I often decided it wasn’t worth it.

And I think that’s part of what can make a city like Houston work.  There isn’t one city center – the Galleria or the Medical Center are just as much population centers as Downtown.  They have their own radii of jobs, housing, and businesses that are really rather separate from each other.  With a more extensive and creative use of reliable public transportation, it could be possible to do most things within one of those centers without a car.  Instead of a network of just freeways connecting these various centers, the city could add high-speed trains to get from one to another.

That said, I don’t think that Houston should just keep expanding outward indefinitely.  As much as I personally love the single family home with a big yard, I think people who live in cities have to come to terms with the fact that they can’t all live in a place like that.  At the very least, everyone ought to scale down their expectations of what a single family detached home can reasonably look like in a big city…and McMansions aren’t really it.

But, I also think that this proposed toll road in Houston is not the best use of the city’s stimulus money.  It seems like a much better use of it would be to figure out how to increase public transportation options for commuters.  Instead of pouring money into more freeways, which only encourages more driving, it would be much smarter to try and find a means of public transportation that people out in the suburbs are actually willing to use.  It might not ever be quite as convenient as driving, but surely there are other incentives for leaving the car on the outskirts of the city.  If people would just open their minds a little bit, they might even see that those incentives are pretty darn good.

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I am woman, hear me…rant

March 17, 2009 at 8:34 am (Feminism, Politics) (, , , )

I saw the other day that President Obama has apparently created a White House Concil for Women and Girls.  This particular event doesn’t seem to have generated all that much media attention, although I did see it in a couple of different blogs.  And, because I’m sometimes a glutton for punishment, I ended up reading some of those blogs’ comments.

How sad is it that I was so unsurprised by the comments who basically said, “Women and girls, huh?  What about men and boys?”  I wasn’t just not surprised – I was expecting that sort of comment.  What does it say about the state of gender equality in this country, I wonder?

I am, unabashedly, a feminist.  It would be difficult to be anything else, growing up in the type of family that I did.  I’m pretty sure I was the only person in my elementary school who was picked up by her dad on a regular basis.  It was normal to have both parents work (many kids went home with friends or babysitters), but it was decidedly unusual to have just my mom working full time.  Anyone can imagine the types of values held by people who decided that was the best arrangement, and never appeared to feel any resentment about it.

So it never ceases to annoy me how quickly some of my concerns, as a feminist, are dismissed.  Sometimes even by women who, by their behavior and circumstances, ought to agree with me.  The fact of the matter is, women are underrepresented in high ranking and high paying jobs, they are paid less on average than men, and they still bear the primary burden of childcare.  Sure, more women go to college than men right now – but doesn’t that make all of those other things all the more shocking?  If colleges are 60% female, and the workforce has a slight majority of women, why are women earning less than men?  Shouldn’t they be earning more?

And if you argue that it’s because women leave the workforce to have children – why is that something that is deemed their lot in life?  Why is the only answer to a biological reality to either choose career, choose children, or kill yourself trying (and often failing) to have both?

I really just don’t understand why this has to be an either/or situation.  The fact is, men have been doing pretty well in western society for, oh, the past few millenia.  A few decades of trying to bring women up to the same level is seriously not going to kill them.  The only people who will have their situation permanently worsened are those people who are overly privileged anyway – I have a hard time feeling sorry for them.

This also ties into a very interesting article that I read in the Atlantic the other day.  It was about the fact that scientific studies have actually not shown that breastfeeding children is overwhelmingly better than bottle feeding them.  There are, perhaps, some slight benefits to nursing in terms of the baby’s health.  But there are also many negatives for women who have trouble nursing, who work, or who just plain don’t want to.  While it’s true that breastfeeding also costs nothing more than time – how much is your time worth to you?

The most interesting point is that when the mother is responsible for all of the feeding of the baby, she naturally falls into the role of primary caregiver.  I think it’s a rather intriguing argument that feeding a baby formula makes it easier for fathers to participate more fully in childcare.

I guess the only conclusion I can really draw from all of this is that I hope the White House Council manages to make a difference.  No matter what your stance on feminism, it’s kind of whiny to respond to that news with, “but what about meeeee?”  Certainly there are social ills that affect men more than women, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to ignore the societal norms that are weighted so heavily against women.

But, most importantly, women are people, and they are part of families.  Helping women is helping families, and everyone belongs to one of those.

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The Real Cost of Health Care

February 10, 2009 at 10:58 am (Health Care, Politics) (, )

One of my major interests, at least for the past few years, has been the health care industry in the United States.  Frankly, I think it’s crap and needs to be seriously overhauled.  I also think that the best way to overhaul it is to nationalize it.  The biggest reasons for this belief of mine are that I think it’s a mistake to classify health care as a commodity (thus, everyone should be entitled to it by law) and that I think the only organization that could possible fix it and keep it not-for-profit is the government.  I am definitely not of the opinion that government is the problem (though I will freely admit that it is not always the solution).

So when I saw a blog post in the New York Times today, I was intrigued.  You can read it in full here.

The basic premise is that the time people spend waiting for health care services is a hidden cost of the health care industry (based on the idea that time = money, which in this case, it often does).  So, from the blog entry:

If you count health care-related activities writ large – including time traveling to a doctor, waiting to see a doctor, being examined and treated, taking medication, obtaining medical care for others, and paying bills – the average American spent 1.1 hours a week obtaining health care in 2007.

If you don’t count quite as many activities as “time spent on getting health care,” the figure is 847 million hours (for all Americans over the age of 15 in 2007).  That is, of course, still quite a lot of time.

But let’s go with the 1.1 hours per week spent obtaining health care.  That means that the average American spends 57.2 hours each year on this activity (and it’s actually quite a bit more than that if you’re over 60 or female).  So how much would that cost, in terms of dollars?

If we value all people’s time at the average hourly wage of production and nonsupervisory workers ($17.43 in 2007), Americans spent the equivalent of $240 billion on health care in 2007.

(Sidenote: I only wish I earned $17.43/hour.  I earn quite a bit less than that right now.)  That’s quite a lot of money.  It’s enough that the official report on health care expenditure for 2007 is 11% smaller than it would have been if that amount of money had been included.

But to put it in more approachable numbers, for the average American earning what’s listed as an average salary, they would have spent nearly $1,000 in wasted time.  Since most doctor’s offices are only open during regular business hours, and most people work between the hours of 8 and 5, I don’t find it hard to believe that it was actually lost income (or used up PTO/sick leave).

Even I, earning substantially less than that and requiring very little health care by comparison, have probably spent over $100 in time over the past year.  Most of that is lost income, because I had to take time off of work and because I don’t have paid sick leave or time off.  And this doesn’t even include the actual cost of going to the doctor, paying for insurance, or buying prescription (and OTC) medication.

This is all interesting mostly because one of the biggest fears Americans seem to have about national health care is an explosion of waits for services.  We’ve all heard horror stories about how long some people in countries with national health care have to wait for non-emergency health care.  Nobody really wants to have to wait years to treat a problem that isn’t life threatening, but does affect quality of life.

But if we include the cost of everyone’s time in our discussions about our current system, and any system we want to implement, we should be able to avoid the worst of the issues that some other countries face.  Talking about time wasted can be somewhat abstract for many people, but talking about money wasted generally is not.

It would probably also serve to highlight the need for more primary care type physicians.  General practice isn’t a terribly popular field of specialization among medical students.  It would probably be well worth creating incentives for people to pursue that if it meant that everybody had more access to GPs or family doctors.  It might keep more people from choosing their medical field based mostly on how much money they can earn performing cosmetic procedures, rather than their interest in that particular type of medicine (dermatology, I’m looking at you).  Even those fields that can most easily turn to cosmetic procedures (like dermatology) are frequently medically necessary.  Dermatologists are needed for treating skin cancer, eczema, acne, psoriasis, and probably a hundred other life-threatening, uncomfortable, or just plain annoying issues.  Even plastic surgery can be considered necessary (or at least, very important) for women who have had mastectomies, or for people who have been disfigured in accidents.  It’s not all about nose jobs and face lifts.

I just hope that, if we ever get to a point where we are discussing national health care seriously, this is a part of the discussion.  Quantifying how much time we all spend sitting around doctors’ offices is a very good indication of the quality of our health care system.  Good health care should be both affordable and easily accessible, and I don’t think that’s an impossible goal.

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Welcome to the real world.

February 5, 2009 at 8:47 am (Politics, This Makes No Sense) (, , )

Okay, I really think this has to be said.

In regards to Obama wanting to cap executive salaries (in companies receiving significant federal money) at $500,000…it’s about damn time.  I’m using stronger language than that in my head, but I’m trying to be decorous here.

For everyone who has been saying for the past decade that CEOs earn way too much, this is fabulous news.  For all that I’m not even 24 yet, I am one of those people.

Seriously, it’s bad enough to have CEOs making close to 400 times as much as the average worker when times are good, and when it is reasonable to argue that the CEO is doing good things for the company overall.  But to try and argue that when the CEO has just laid off half the company and is holding out his hand for a bailout?  Please.  Spare me.

What many people don’t seem to realize is that the only thing Obama is trying to do is introduce reality back into the upper echelons of the corporate world.  In the real world, where the majority of us live, losing a lot of money for your company means that you suffer serious consequences, up to and including losing your job.  I don’t even think it matters if it was your fault – if it’s because of decisions you made, you have to face the consequences.

In CEO la-la-land, losing a lot of money for your company, perhaps even so much that it has to sell off pieces of itself, means you get a raise.  A big one.  Sometimes you even get to sell your company stock before the price per share takes a nosedive.

Reality sure does suck sometimes, doesn’t it?  Now the people at the top have some inkling about how the rest of us have felt for the past 8 years.

So forgive me if I can’t muster a lot of sympathy for people who cry foul when they are offered an income that is 200 times what I make, given to them because they had a direct hand in causing an international economic implosion.  They have made my life, personally and directly, a lot harder.  They didn’t give a flying flip about how their actions affected people like me, so I really don’t see why I should care about them.

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