Tag Archives: General Interest

Fast Times in the Big City

2 Jul

Last Sunday, I took two oldest boys and their grandpa to Toronto to the SkyDome Rodgers Centre to see the Blue Jays throw away a three run lead to the Phillies and lose 5-4.

Today I took the kids, plus assorted grandparents and aunts and uncles, to the Field Museum in Chicago.

It had been several years since I was in either city. The chance to see them, even briefly, back to back, was quite a treat. I swear half of each skyline was brand new. Ralph Wilson is right – the condos on the way to TO are impressive, and Chicago has some new world class forty story buildings.

Chicago Condo

I could write about many items from such a trip, but I only have time for one small topic: traffic and public transportation.

I drove to both locations.

TO and Chi

If there was ever a time to take public transport, this was it. In fact, we tried to board the South Shore Express in Indiana, but were denied because it was full (Michigan City is not Tokyo, obviously). But except for five minutes waiting to get on the Gardiner off of Spadina, I never regretted driving into Toronto or Chicago. Which helped me realize, again, why public transport will never take off in Buffalo. It takes traffic and a lack of parking to make public transport feasible. Buffalo has neither. TO and Chi-town have both, but not enough to get me out of my car. I parked across the street from the Field Museum, and four blocks down from the Rodgers Centre.

Maybe there will be a time when every surface lot in Buffalo gets filled in, and the mass traffic and parking shortage spurs calls for an increase to the Metro line. But until then, its a novelty.

Supremes Get It Right

29 Jun

The Supreme Court came to the right decision today, in Ricci vs. DeStefano, in which 18 white firefighters in New Haven brought suit because they were passed over for promotion. It turns out you can’t change the rules half way through the game just because you don’t like the result.

First, a thought on Sotomayor. Yes, she was part of the three judge panel on the 2nd Circuit that just got overturned. No, that alone does not make her unqualified to sit on the Supreme Court; no more so that Breyer, Ginsburg, Souter or Stevens, who voted in the minority here. But much is also being made of the fact that Sotomayor had “no choice” in how she voted when hearing the case on the 2nd Circuit. I’m not sure I buy that. After all, she has bragged that Circuit Courts set policy. Was precedent so overwhelming here that she couldn’t find in favor of Equal Protection? I am not a lawyer, but it seems like you could at least write an opinion before you take away someone’s promotion.

Second, a thought on the merits of the case. Its about time that discrimination is seen as discrimination not matter which direction it flows in. New Haven was not in an impossible situation, as they have described. They can set the standards for promotion, and even include “extra points” for being a minority. But when your Affirmative Action weighted system still produces no African-American candidates, you live with the results. We do want the most qualified firefighters, don’t we?

ricci

Conservatives take quite a beating for being unfeeling automatons, for not understanding that laws affect real people, and not being empathatic enough.

So someone, who disagrees with the ruling in the case, please explain something to me. Explain how denying Frank Ricci his promotion atones for decades of discrimination against minorities living in other parts of the country, or even in New Haven. Is Frank Ricci a statistic, a demographic, or is he a real person being discriminated against? Frank Ricci wasn’t even alive during the worst of authorized segregation and Jim Crow – why punish him for someone else’s sins? What did Frank Ricci ever do to you?

Reframing Healthcare: Part III

26 Jun

In Part I, I talked about reframing healthcare insurance, and by admitting we already have Universal Healthcare, shift the focus to the healthcare itself. In Part II, I gave a Republican argument for Universal Healthcare, based upon National Security and Business needs.

But what should this Universal Healthcare look like?

A Conservative definition of the role of government is that it should exist to provide services that an individual can not do on their own. National defense, the printing of money, and paving of roads traditionally fall in this catagory. Healthcare should as well. Universal Healthcare needs to be seen a social service. That is, a service provided to members of the community, for the overall good of the community, and paid for by the community through taxes. While police protection and garbage collection count as social services, the model for Universal Healthcare is public schools.

Did I already lose you? “But we have failing public schools”, you say. “Why would we want a healthcare system as bad as our schools. Isn’t this proof Universal Healthcare is a bad idea?”

Public Schools are the right model for healthcare for a number of reasons.

1) Public Schools are funded through a mix of funding: local, state and federal. We do this because not only does the country as a whole recognizes the need for public schools (thus federal funding), we also believe in local control of schools. Healthcare should be the same way. It should be funded with large block grants from the feds for a minimum amount of services (Medicare, plus the new Universal Funding), but then also funded by the state (Medicaid), and controlled and funded by local governments. Healthcare should be locally controlled because healthcare needs vary by community. Buffalo has a higher rate of heart disease than the national average. Local control would allow our healthcare system to better reflect this.

2) The existence of Public Schools does not preclude the existence of Private Schools, Charter Schools, home schooling, and other options. There has been a lot of fear-mongering that Public Healthcare would crowd out Private Healthcare. Why? Private Schools shouldn’t be able to “compete” with Public Schools under this argument. Why would I pay for schooling when my kids could get it for free? Well, millions do, because they like a Private system better. The Catholic Health System can still exist, because it has a clientele.

3) Public schools have physical infrastructure distinct from Private or Charter schools. The same with hospitals. I believe hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities would have to “choose” to become Public Hospitals, or Private non-profit or for-profit hospitals. The government could also choose to fund Charter Hospitals. How these hospitals would provide emergency services and reimburse each other would have to be worked out. But a model already exists in the VA Healthcare system.

4) We may argue about how to fix public schools, but we don’t argue about their right to exist. We should view Universal Healthcare the same way.

But how to pay for it?

In 2008, the average cost of healthcare for a family of four was $12,680. That works out to a $1 trillion a year, roughly, for the country as a whole, and is paid for by a mix of employer contributions and premiums by individuals. Not to mention the $100 billion we spent as a country to provide healthcare to those without insurance. I am not advocating that the government raise $1.1 trillion in taxes next year. But efficiencies won’t be realized immediately, and it will look costly at first.

Our country raises money three main ways: property taxes, income taxes, and consumption taxes. Property taxes are too linked to housing bubbles, as currently being experienced in Florida and other states. Income taxes are already a mess. A national VAT would be initially unpopular, but is the fairest way to keep the tax progressive. One benefit of Universal healthcare is that it may finally spark a national conversation on tax reform. And any sale of this plan to the American people who have to show how they would have an average of $1000 extra in their paycheck every month.

Is this a bridge too far? Republicans went from the party of “Abolish the Department of Education” to “No Child Left Behind” in one year. We can move to the right side of the healthcare debate too.

Sanford Too

24 Jun

Remember everything I said about Ensign last week?

Image: South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford

Double it. When you want to be the party of family values, you can’t use taxpayer money to fly to Argentina to bang your querida.

MoralizingFAIL + Two Helpings of Hyposcrisy – Viable Candidates = Bad Time in 2012 Unless We Turn It Around.

Some Buffalo Perspective

23 Jun

One of my goals when starting this blog was to talk about Buffalo’s view of itself, and how that sets us back. Many cities and places have mythologies. Some, like LA’s, are about opportunity and optimism – deserved or not (its the sunny weather). Others, like Buffalo’s, are suspicious and defeatist. In the Buffalo mythology, China and Mexico stole our jobs, Charlotte stole our children, Toronto will steal our Bills, and Brett Hull stole our Stanley Cup. We look with wistfulness and regret back at what we had, instead of planning what we will be in the future. When a new plan is announced, we plan for its failure instead of contributing to its success.

buffalo-casino

Its been almost two years since I moved back. More on that later. Moving away for 12 years, living in five different states and visiting 49 of them, I came to realize the benefits of Buffalo. Unfortunately, I think Repats often appreciate Buffalo more than many of those who stuck around. I’m sure those that are born and raised in NYC, Chicago, and many other places, know the good thing they have. Buffalo is more of an acquired taste – you need to eat a lot of burritos, Jack-in-the Box, and BBQ to long for a Beef on Weck.

Las Vegas, southern Florida, and Phoenix are brand new places that sprang from nearly nothing. Everything is new and exciting and no one is from there. Everyone I knew in Vegas was from Pittsburgh, Cleveland or Kansas. Contrast that with Buffalo, where few new people move in, lots move out, but the die hards have little frame of reference outside of WNY.

These die hards go to NYC once in a while to see a Yankees game, to Toronto to see Beauty and the Beast, and to Ft Meyers to visit their Grandma. But Charlotte is a magical place full of money and jobs and your sister’s kids. Ditto for San Diego, Denver, Chicago and Portland. Did you hear they have no income tax in Florida? Did you hear they built a new VW plant in Tennessee? My neighbor’s cousin just got a job in DC. Why don’t we have a new VW plant in Buffalo? Why do the taxes go up as fast as the jobs go away?

Legitimate questions, probably. But my point is, in other cities, and other states, people bitch too. Sometimes they bitch about the same things. Sometimes they bitch about different issues, things that Buffalonians take for granted. And sometimes, things are really bad, but the people aren’t organized enough to bitch, and simply give up caring. But the grass is no greener, and I’m here to show you that, one city at a time.

For the last week and a half I’ve been in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Fayetteville is proof that not all of North Carolina is a boom town.

fayetteville

I’m in Fayetteville because I’m doing some business at Fort Bragg. That’s why most people are in Fayetteville – they are stationed here, used to be stationed here and got stuck when they exited the Army, or can’t figured out how to leave. It is called Fayette-Nam by many soldiers, and that is not a term of endearment. I hear gunshots outside of my new build hotel in the “good” part of town. In fact, Fayetteville has a score of 2 out of 100 for safety from crime.

If I told you Fayetteville was a city of 120,000, you might be confused that it is half the size of Buffalo. Silly New Yorker – in the booming South, cities are allowed to annex property. Buffalo may not have changed boundaries in 150 years, but that’s not true everywhere. Which brings me to my Grass-Is-Not-Greener issue. Fayetteville is not half the size of Buffalo, it is one tenth the size. Because it has no suburbs, as it annexed all adjacent communities, farmland, and surrounding areas.

Over-annexation is a major issue down here, as cities can annex neighborhoods, towns, and subdivisions against the wishes of the residents. I am a fan of AG Cuomo’s push to make it easier for government entities in NY to merge. But we certainly don’t want the system run amok down here in North Carolina. There is a reform bill moving its way through the NC State legislature, but it still doesn’t give residents a vote in the manner, and in the meantime, cities scoop up higher tax base areas adjacent to them, with no obligation to provide city services. In fact, some areas annexed by Fayetteville in 2005 are not even scheduled to receive city services (water, sewer, etc) until after 2020.

I am a Regionalist at heart, and we need consolidation in WNY. But beware of how its implemented, and be thankful NY does not allow wonton undemocratic shuffling like this.

A Dwindling Iranian Revolution?

22 Jun

Some are willing to make predicitions for Iran. Stratfor, a private intelligence company, sometimes called a shadow CIA, produces unclassified intel summaries for military professionals and serious amateurs. This week, its founder, George Friedman, an unabashed geo-politicist that I am greatly enamored of,  talks about the revolt in Iran. In his opinion, Iran has not passed the revolution test, and this is all going to go very badly.

He starts with discussing the three stages a revolution must go through:

Successful revolutions have three phases. First, a strategically located single or limited segment of society begins vocally to express resentment, asserting itself in the streets of a major city, usually the capital. This segment is joined by other segments in the city and by segments elsewhere as the demonstration spreads to other cities and becomes more assertive, disruptive and potentially violent. As resistance to the regime spreads, the regime deploys its military and security forces. These forces, drawn from resisting social segments and isolated from the rest of society, turn on the regime, and stop following the regime’s orders. This is what happened to the Shah of Iran in 1979; it is also what happened in Russia in 1917 or in Romania in 1989.

Unfortunately, according to Friedman, other segments have not joined the main Mousavi-supported segment, so we have never gotten out of Phase II. Instead, the security forces, in the form of the Basij, re-establish control.

His proof:

1) Those in the streets are still primarily students and Mousavi supporters. Foreign media have been amazed at how all of the demonstrators speak English, carry smart phones, and Tweet. Friedman sees this as a weakness, as the crowds are too homogeneous.

2) The security forces are not the Twittering classes, and remain loyal to the central government. They will not side with the demonstrators, and let Yeltsin crawl on top of the tank. Instead, its a much much worse version of the riots in Chicago at the Democratic National Convention in 1968. Then the students protested in support of the poor and down trodden. In the meantime, the poor and down trodden had gotten jobs with the Chacgo Police Department, and beat the students.

3) The protestors are alleging that 13 million votes were stolen. If there was broad support for an uprising, a much larger number of those millions, and voters for other candidates, would have gotten involved. But they didn’t. While the demonstrations look large, they are mostly in Tehran, and mostly among core Mousavi supporters.

So what will happen instead? Friedman sees the real strife not on the streets, but in the clerical class:

That no revolution broke out does not mean there isn’t a crisis in the political elite, particularly among the clerics. But that crisis does not cut the way Western common sense would have it. Many of Iran’s religious leaders see Ahmadinejad as hostile to their interests, as threatening their financial prerogatives, and as taking international risks they don’t want to take. Ahmadinejad’s political popularity in fact rests on his populist hostility to what he sees as the corruption of the clerics and their families and his strong stand on Iranian national security issues.

The clerics are divided among themselves, but many wanted to see Ahmadinejad lose to protect their own interests. Khamenei, the supreme leader, faced a difficult choice last Friday. He could demand a major recount or even new elections, or he could validate what happened. Khamenei speaks for a sizable chunk of the ruling elite, but also has had to rule by consensus among both clerical and non-clerical forces. Many powerful clerics like Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani wanted Khamenei to reverse the election, and we suspect Khamenei wished he could have found a way to do it. But as the defender of the regime, he was afraid to. Mousavi supporters’ demonstrations would have been nothing compared to the firestorm among Ahmadinejad supporters — both voters and the security forces — had their candidate been denied. Khamenei wasn’t going to flirt with disaster, so he endorsed the outcome.

The Western media misunderstood this because they didn’t understand that Ahmadinejad does not speak for the clerics but against them, that many of the clerics were working for his defeat, and that Ahmadinejad has enormous pull in the country’s security apparatus. The reason Western media missed this is because they bought into the concept of the stolen election, therefore failing to see Ahmadinejad’s support and the widespread dissatisfaction with the old clerical elite. The Western media simply didn’t understand that the most traditional and pious segments of Iranian society support Ahmadinejad because he opposes the old ruling elite. Instead, they assumed this was like Prague or Budapest in 1989, with a broad-based uprising in favor of liberalism against an unpopular regime.

Tehran in 2009, however, was a struggle between two main factions, both of which supported the Islamic republic as it was. There were the clerics, who have dominated the regime since 1979 and had grown wealthy in the process. And there was Ahmadinejad, who felt the ruling clerical elite had betrayed the revolution with their personal excesses. And there also was the small faction the BBC and CNN kept focusing on — the demonstrators in the streets who want to dramatically liberalize the Islamic republic. This faction never stood a chance of taking power, whether by election or revolution.

Reframing Healthcare: Part II

21 Jun

In Part I, I argued Republicans could steal the heathcare debate by quitting the talk about insurance, and instead talking about the care. Specifically, Universal Healthcare. But why would any Republican, conservative or moderate, worth his salt, advocate Universal Healthcare?

Because healthcare is a significant Business and National Security issue, and historically, we have it all backward.

Let’s start with our current situation. Medicare covers 40 million people, or 14% of the population. That number will only grow as our society ages. Medicaid covers an equal amount. SCHIP grabs another 12 million children, or 4% of the population. That’s one third of our population, while barely breaking a sweat. Add in 5.5 million veterans who receive care from the VA, another 4 million that are US military and receive free government care, the millions of federal, state and local government workers, and we, as an American people, are already covering nearly 50% of the population.

But we are covering the most dependent, least productive, portion of the population.

healthcare-fro-workers

It is an unhelpful historical anachronism that healthcare insurance is tied to one’s employer. Because while it is certainly in the employer’s interest to have healthy workers, it is also in the nation’s interest to have a productive workforce. We are no longer a country of limited inter-state competition. We live in a flat global marketplace, where the US is daily competing with industry and business from around the world.

So while it is altruistic, moral, ethical, and commendable that our country provides care to the aged and the poor, there are still 40-50 million without health insurance. And who are they? They are disproportionately young workers. 20% of working adults do not have any healthcare, and 90 million workers (18-64) were without health insurance at some point in 2006 and 2007.  These are our recent college graduates, young entrepreneurs, and innovative leaders of tomorrow. Richard Florida, the proponent of the Creative Class and Creative Cities concept, is an advocate for workers in creative industries to be highly mobile, and to change jobs and cities frequently. It is an investment in the future of the country, and our National Security, to have these young workers, and all workers in the prime of their effectiveness and productivity, as healthy as possible, as often as possible.

Businesses themselves will be happy to shed this burden. A significant amount of time, money and resources, is wasted by companies trying to provide healthcare to their workers. If a company could shed that dead weight, and concentrate on their core mission, they will be more productive as well. In the end, GM became a healthcare company as much as a car company. Allowing America’s businesses to concentrate more on their business can only be a good thing.

Providing universal healthcare is good for this country’s National Security, and American Business. What would this universal healthcare look like?

Coming soon in Reframing Healthcare: Part III.

Amazement in Tehran

20 Jun

Like many, I am entranced by the current events in Iran. A couple thoughts:

1) Twitter seems to have fulfilled the dream promised by Radio Free Europe and Voice of America: completely democratic organized mass movement. As the protests have evolved from anger of an election to anger over the system, Mousavi has stopped being the leader or even a figurehead. Dictators around the world long ago learned to control traditional media: newspapers, television and radio. Voice of America was meant to break news into this echo chamber, but it has had mixed, and only incremental success. The internet posed new challenges for dictators, but by limiting access, and censoring websites, they still had a lockdown. But Twitter is different. It is a US company, and vulnerable to some  US political influence. To shut down Twitter, Iran has to shutdown its cell phone network and cripple the country and their own government. It is organic, and completely “flat” instant communication between large groups of people. Was this uprising possible before Twitter? Possible, yes, but clearly more difficult.

2) While the Bush Administration has taken much deserved criticism for encouraging democracy without regard to possible outcomes, there is a new lesson to be learned here. Many on the Left have chided that elections do not equal democracy. But clearly elections get people thinking about democracy, and when an election appears tainted, that can have transformative effects.

3) I find it fascinating that no one has any idea how the hell this going to turn out. Pundits normally pontificate, and are often wrong, but rarely admit that they have no way to predict the future. I have found few commentators willing to predict the end of this mess. For myself, I hope it is more Berlin Wall than Tiananmen Square. But that is only a hope.

Reframing Health Care: Part I

19 Jun

I advocate Republicans once again be the party of ideas. Obama claims to be transformational, but in reality, his initial administration priorities seem to be refighting old fights (health insurance, Gitmo, Torture, Defense of Marriage, etc etc). R’s have an opportunity to reframe the old fights, and be the idea party again. We used to be so good at this that Dem’s wrote books on how to copy us.

So, let’s start by stealing and reframing healthcare. Currently, the Republicans are on the wrong side of the healthcare debate. To be fair, so are the Dems. Its time to start over talking about healthcare, by getting it back to healthcare.

Everyone repeat after me: we already have universal healthcare.

This gets confused because everyone seems to be arguing about health insurance. But the Frankenstein system of Medicaid, Medicare, private insurance, SCHIP, co-ops and other systems is only the way we currently pay for healthcare, not the healthcare itself. Insurance is a parasite. It contributes nothing.

er

If you walk into an emergency room right now, with a broken leg, massive heart attack, or runny nose, you will receive free healthcare. If you are a child, SCHIP pays. If you are poor, Medicaid. If you are old, Medicare. If you are uninsured, the hospital takes a loss, and makes up that loss in charges to private insurance plans. This pre-existing condition of universal healthcare overwhelms any logical discussion of health insurance, because it immediately confirms that insurance is only an artificial bureaucracy placed on top of this system, whose sole purpose to create profit for private companies. Those private companies, however, are large campaign contributors, and often well liked by their customers. Thus the system contains great inertia, and is not easily changed.

Republicans need to reframe the debate by reclaiming the position as the party of competence, efficiency, and good government. They need to do this by dropping the insurance arguments, and steal the healthcare talk from the Dems. America has the best healthcare in the world, and the most inefficient. For example, our healthcare costs per capita are double Germany, Canada and France, and triple the UK and Japan. Republicans need to attack those inefficiencies, of which insurance company profit is the most obvious. Instead of fear mongering about government incompetence, lay out a conservative path for efficient and effective government to be able to act as the healthcare payer, not the healthcare provider or arbiter of care.

As I have said before, Republicans have lost the small government argument. Americans don’t want small government, and Republicans certainly can’t provide it. As George Will has said, the natural result of Reagan Republicanism is bigger government, not smaller, because it held the American people blameless for their desire for services, but blamed government for its problems. Instead of blaming the government, of which Republicans are a part, they could try to improve it. Americans want effective government, and Republicans could steal the debate by showing how government can be part of the solution.

But why should government be part of the healthcare solution at all?

Coming Soon: Part II – A Republican’s Business and National Security Case for Universal Healthcare

Ignorance

19 Jun

Want to know why Democrats have a bad reputation with the US Military? Self-righteous Ignorance.

Want to know why Liberals have a worse reputation? They mistake respect for sexism.

@ Senator Boxer: General Walsh has been calling women who outrank him in the US Military “ma’am” for the last 30 years. Its a habit, like breathing. He wasn’t being condescending. He was taught good manners, and knows the title “ma’am” is respectful. Get off the high horse. We know you are a Senator. The general doesn’t need lecturing that exposes your lack of manners, lack of knowledge on military courtesy, or both.