A Quick Note on Healthcare

March 30, 2010

Everyone is sick of talking about healthcare (pun intended, sorry), so I’ll make this brief.  The following speaks to healthcare on a macro level and is not meant to take a position on the merits of the bill currently before Congress.

By law, hospitals must treat patients in emergency situations, even if the patient has no insurance or alternative means for covering the cost of care. A significant percentage of ER patients do not have insurance. This study, for example, places the number at 25%. This means the rest of the system, namely the insured, must absorb the cost of the uninsured i.e. pay higher premiums.

The solution is to 1) insure everyone, 2) refuse medical treatment to the uninsured.

(Keeping the current system is not an option.  Medical costs are rapidly increasing – 3x since 1990, 8x since 1980 – and will continue to do so until some kind of reform is implemented.  That point, at least, is well settled.)

Now, many believe option #2 is morally reprehensible, while others counter that option #1 is an unwarranted government intrusion into personal rights and privacy (personally I’d be more concerned about things like Sec. 203(b) of the Patriot Act, but that’s for another day).

Those who oppose universal healthcare have plenty of valid reasons for doing so.  However, it’s important to acknowledge the cost of not implementing universal healthcare: no insurance = no care.


Politics is About Policy NOT People

June 10, 2009

PopeYesterday U.S. Senators Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham sponsored a provision to the $100B spending bill for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The provision would bar the release of photographs showing U.S. abuses of suspected terrorist detainees (read: Guantanamo Bay).

This is a sensitive issue with compelling arguments on both sides.  However, like many of today’s hot-button political issues it essentially boils down to freedom (the right to know) versus security (or the perception of).

The alarming aspect of this debate is not the prohibition itself but the justification provided for it.  Yesterday Sen. Graham addressed his constituents and the possibility his provision may be removed from the bill:

“I cannot believe that we’re about to do this.  That we’re going to dismiss the advice of our commanders who are leading our country in the time of war to give in to the fringe element.”

(an audio clip can be found here)

Senator Graham believes his provision should pass because “our commanders advise it.”

This kind of blind faith in “authority” lead Congress to authorize the Iraq war before confirming the existence of WMDs.  This kind of blind faith is not patriotic.  It does not safeguard America or Americans; quite the opposite in fact.

One of the beautiful aspects of America is our intricate network of checks and balances.  However, for the American government to function properly, each division must remain autonomous – pursue its own interests, voice its own concerns, and rarely (if ever) defer to an authority on the sole basis of rank and file.

There is a plausible argument for preventing the release of certain photos.  It is not one that I personally agree with, but that is because of policies I support (e.g. freedom of information, full disclosure of government actions, and torture is never acceptable in any situation) not because an authority or commander says so.

People are fallible, policies need not be, and political decisions should be based on the latter, not the former.


Hoovervilles, Dustbowls, and Slavery

April 8, 2009

The Dark Side of Dubai is a profound narrative, and worthwhile read, by journalist, author, and playwright, Johann Hari.  It touches on everything from the horrific effects of the current recession to the ironic truth that gays are the most free of all (non-ruling) classes in Dubai.

The Dark Side of Dubai

The wide, smiling face of Sheikh Mohammed – the absolute ruler of Dubai – beams down on his creation. His image is displayed on every other building, sandwiched between the more familiar corporate rictuses of Ronald McDonald and Colonel Sanders. This man has sold Dubai to the world as the city of One Thousand and One Arabian Lights, a Shangri-La in the Middle East insulated from the dust-storms blasting across the region. He dominates the Manhattan-manqué skyline, beaming out from row after row of glass pyramids and hotels smelted into the shape of piles of golden coins. And there he stands on the tallest building in the world – a skinny spike, jabbing farther into the sky than any other human construction in history.

But something has flickered in Sheikh Mohammed’s smile. The ubiquitous cranes have paused on the skyline, as if stuck in time. There are countless buildings half-finished, seemingly abandoned. In the swankiest new constructions – like the vast Atlantis hotel, a giant pink castle built in 1,000 days for $1.5bn on its own artificial island – where rainwater is leaking from the ceilings and the tiles are falling off the roof. This Neverland was built on the Never-Never – and now the cracks are beginning to show. Suddenly it looks less like Manhattan in the sun than Iceland in the desert.

Once the manic burst of building has stopped and the whirlwind has slowed, the secrets of Dubai are slowly seeping out. This is a city built from nothing in just a few wild decades on credit and ecocide, suppression and slavery. Dubai is a living metal metaphor for the neo-liberal globalised world that may be crashing – at last – into history.

I. An Adult Disneyland

Karen Andrews can’t speak. Every time she starts to tell her story, she puts her head down and crumples. She is slim and angular and has the faded radiance of the once-rich, even though her clothes are as creased as her forehead. I find her in the car park of one of Dubai’s finest international hotels, where she is living, in her Range Rover. She has been sleeping here for months, thanks to the kindness of the Bangladeshi car park attendants who don’t have the heart to move her on. This is not where she thought her Dubai dream would end.

Her story comes out in stutters, over four hours. At times, her old voice – witty and warm – breaks through. Karen came here from Canada when her husband was offered a job in the senior division of a famous multinational. “When he said Dubai, I said – if you want me to wear black and quit booze, baby, you’ve got the wrong girl. But he asked me to give it a chance. And I loved him.”

All her worries melted when she touched down in Dubai in 2005. “It was an adult Disneyland, where Sheikh Mohammed is the mouse,” she says. “Life was fantastic. You had these amazing big apartments, you had a whole army of your own staff, you pay no taxes at all. It seemed like everyone was a CEO. We were partying the whole time.”

Her husband, Daniel, bought two properties. “We were drunk on Dubai,” she says. But for the first time in his life, he was beginning to mismanage their finances. “We’re not talking huge sums, but he was getting confused. It was so unlike Daniel, I was surprised. We got into a little bit of debt.” After a year, she found out why: Daniel was diagnosed with a brain tumour.

One doctor told him he had a year to live; another said it was benign and he’d be okay. But the debts were growing. “Before I came here, I didn’t know anything about Dubai law. I assumed if all these big companies come here, it must be pretty like Canada’s or any other liberal democracy’s,” she says. Nobody told her there is no concept of bankruptcy. If you get into debt and you can’t pay, you go to prison.

“When we realised that, I sat Daniel down and told him: listen, we need to get out of here. He knew he was guaranteed a pay-off when he resigned, so we said – right, let’s take the pay-off, clear the debt, and go.” So Daniel resigned – but he was given a lower pay-off than his contract suggested. The debt remained. As soon as you quit your job in Dubai, your employer has to inform your bank. If you have any outstanding debts that aren’t covered by your savings, then all your accounts are frozen, and you are forbidden to leave the country.

“Suddenly our cards stopped working. We had nothing. We were thrown out of our apartment.” Karen can’t speak about what happened next for a long time; she is shaking.

Daniel was arrested and taken away on the day of their eviction. It was six days before she could talk to him. “He told me he was put in a cell with another debtor, a Sri Lankan guy who was only 27, who said he couldn’t face the shame to his family. Daniel woke up and the boy had swallowed razor-blades. He banged for help, but nobody came, and the boy died in front of him.”

Karen managed to beg from her friends for a few weeks, “but it was so humiliating. I’ve never lived like this. I worked in the fashion industry. I had my own shops. I’ve never…” She peters out.

Daniel was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment at a trial he couldn’t understand. It was in Arabic, and there was no translation. “Now I’m here illegally, too,” Karen says I’ve got no money, nothing. I have to last nine months until he’s out, somehow.” Looking away, almost paralysed with embarrassment, she asks if I could buy her a meal.

She is not alone. All over the city, there are maxed-out expats sleeping secretly in the sand-dunes or the airport or in their cars.

“The thing you have to understand about Dubai is – nothing is what it seems,” Karen says at last. “Nothing. This isn’t a city, it’s a con-job. They lure you in telling you it’s one thing – a modern kind of place – but beneath the surface it’s a medieval dictatorship.”

Read the rest of the article here


Today’s Ignorance Courtesy of Jack Cafferty

March 31, 2009

CNN’s Jack Cafferty writes in his column today:

One senior Harvard economist estimates we spend $44 billion a year fighting the war on drugs. He says if they were legal, governments would realize about $33 billion a year in tax revenue. Net swing of $77 billion. Could we use that money today for something else? You bet your ass we could. Plus the cartels would be out of business. Instantly. Goodbye crime and violence.

Really Jack?  The cartels would be out of business?  Goodbye crime and violence?

I hate the illogical “War on Drugs” as much as the next literate, reasonably well-informed person – and don’t get me wrong, hyperbole is one heck of a literary device – but, no.

No, the cartels would not be out of business (according to UN estimates – p. 127 here – North America consumes less than half of the global illicit drug market).  No, it is not immediately obvious that crime and violence would decrease (see points 5 and 7 here).

The War on Drugs in its present form is ludicrous.  However, overstating the dissenter’s position does nothing to illuminate this insanity.


Chuck Norris Can Cure Cancer but is Baffled by the Principles of Logic

November 25, 2008

chuck-norris-douche1

Chuck Norris put forth the following argument in an editorial piece he wrote for Townhall.com:

  1. Because Obama was elected by the popular vote, I accept his presidency
  2. Proposition 8 was passed by popular vote
  3. Therefore everyone should accept Proposition 8

I know what you’re thinking – this argument isn’t even valid, let alone sound! What kind of moronic imbicile penned this drivel? Unfortunately it was authored by the prophet himself, Mr. Walker Texas Ranger.

To review, here’s a valid argument:

  • If A then B – If I eat then I’m happy
  • A – I eat
  • Therefore B – I’m happy

The conclusion (I’m happy) will always be true if the premises are true (If I eat then I’m happy; I eat)

A sound argument is just a valid argument with all true premises; so the argument above is both sound and valid. However, if it wasn’t true that “If I eat then I’m happy” or “I eat” then the argument would be valid but not sound.

Make sense?

Here’s Mr. Norris’s argument in symbolic terms:

B= Barack Obama

e= was elected/passed by a popular vote

a= should be accepted by the general public

P= Proposition 8

  1. Be -> Ba
  2. Be (implied premise)
  3. Pe
  4. Pa – conclusion

This argument isn’t valid becuase even if premises #1,2, and 3 are true, the conclusion (Pa) could be true or false.

Thus, little Chucky’s “serious” political diatribe is actually quite funny becuase even if the premises he puts forth were true (e.g. points 1&2) there’s still absolutely no reason for concluding “people should accept Prop 8.” It’s cute really. Kind of like the boy in Kindergarten who draws a purple dog… not exactly right but at least he’s trying.

What’s missing, and the most difficult part of the argument (no surprise Norris left it out) is this:

B=P

Meaning there are enough similarities between B and P that for the purposes of the argument everything that applies to B also applies to P.

Barack Obama and Proposition 8… why, they’re virtually twins!


Quote of the Day

November 24, 2008

stephen-king

I don’t want to speak too disparagingly of my generation (actually I do, we had a chance to change the world and opted for the Home Shopping Network instead)

– author Stephen King, 61 yrs old


Dear Government, Please Don’t “Save” Our Industries

November 11, 2008

grapes-of-wrath-dvdcover1The current recession combined with bad business decisions have put US automakers on the verge of bankruptcy. Now there are talks of instituting government subsidies to save an industry that is “vital” to American prosperity.

Let me tell you a little story about another industry that used to be “vital” to America.

In 1930 25% of Americans were farmers. The Great Depression hurt farmers (like everyone else) but because farming was such an “important” industry, the American government provided subsidies and other programs like the Agricultural Adjustment Act to help struggling farmers stay afloat.

The Great Depression was not the reason small farmers were losing money. Private farmers were struggling because maintaining a small farm was no longer a viable business model in any market. The government should have gotten out of the way of capitalism and let the market dictate where workers went and what prices were set.

Fast forward to today – 2% of the population lives on farms and 150,000 large farms make up 72% of all US farm sales. Farming is hardly the lifeline of blue-collar America. However, many of the subsidies created during the depression still exist today. From 1996-2002 American taxpayers paid $16 billion per year in subsidies to farmers. In 2004 it was lower – only $8 billion – but still a ridiculous figure that is even more absurd when you learn where this money is actually going.

1930’s farming = 2008 automobile production