Thursday, January 27, 2011

Stating the obvious

I was thinking yesterday.

Right now we have a system that allows the uber-wealthy to take enormous risks with our economy. When they lose, they are sheltered from the consequences (golden parachute anyone?) and the working class suffers. We need to create a different system where the wealthy are allowed to take enormous risks with their own money, but the working class is protected from the fallout.


In a market-based economy, money determines value in the absolute sense. The United States is an example of a market-based economy. In the United States, 10% of people have most of the money. Therefore, 10% of the people largely determine value.

Neither of these statements is profound. They are actually rather banal. I just saw them in new light last night. Who would purposely propose and adopt such a system?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The State of the Union

I thought I'd add to the echo chamber on this year's State of the Union Address. There was Obama's speech which ran just over an hour and then two much shorter responses from the GOP. Paul Ryan spoke first with the official Republican response and Michele Bachmann followed with the "Tea Party" response (all three are provided below).

I'm in kind of a sober political mood right now. Actually I have been since December when Barack capitulated on taxes and renewed the tax cuts for the wealthy. I wrote about it in November and started another draft in December, but didn't post it because I thought the tone was much too inflamed.

Tonight, while I'm always excited by something political, I sat down to the speech prepared to be disappointed by a president taking a calculated and misguided tack to the center. The tax cuts were my greatest frustration, but Obama's recent comment about government regulations holding the economy back was additionally irritating (he either missed or completely misunderstood the economic crash in the fall of 2008–too busy campaigning I guess).

However, tonight's speech transcended more than just my disappointment; it transcended a nation caught up in malice after the midterm elections and horror after the Arizona shootings. I'll be honest, even though I pointedly disagree on some points, I'm excited about what Obama said. He proposed some truly radical and sincere (and specific) solutions.
I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal: by 2035, 80% of America's electricity will come from clean energy sources. 
Granted, the timeline is too long, the goal too low, and the definition of "clean energy sources" likely too broad, but that kind of rhetoric is exciting and energizing. This sort of leadership renews my faith in the hope Obama talked about in 2008.

Here are a few more proposals that caught my ear:
Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80% of Americans access to high-speed rail, which could allow you go places in half the time it takes to travel by car. For some trips, it will be faster than flying – without the pat-down. As we speak, routes in California and the Midwest are already underway.
So tonight, I'm asking Democrats and Republicans to simplify the [corporate tax] system. Get rid of the loopholes. Level the playing field. And use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years – without adding to our deficit.
To help businesses sell more products abroad, we set a goal of doubling our exports by 2014 
And if we truly care about our deficit, we simply cannot afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans. Before we take money away from our schools, or scholarships away from our students, we should ask millionaires to give up their tax break. It's not a matter of punishing their success. It's about promoting America's success 
In fact, the best thing we could do on taxes for all Americans is to simplify the individual tax code. This will be a tough job, but members of both parties have expressed interest in doing this, and I am prepared to join them.
Let me take this one step further. We shouldn't just give our people a government that's more affordable. We should give them a government that's more competent and efficient. We cannot win the future with a government of the past.... In the coming months, my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate, and reorganize the federal government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive America.
In the coming year, we will also work to rebuild people's faith in the institution of government. Because you deserve to know exactly how and where your tax dollars are being spent, you will be able to go to a website and get that information for the very first time in history. Because you deserve to know when your elected officials are meeting with lobbyists, I ask Congress to do what the White House has already done: put that information online. And because the American people deserve to know that special interests aren't larding up legislation with pet projects, both parties in Congress should know this: if a bill comes to my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it. 
Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love. And with that change, I call on all of our college campuses to open their doors to our military recruiters and the ROTC. It is time to leave behind the divisive battles of the past. It is time to move forward as one nation.
This is not a compilation of the things I agreed with. This is a compilation of the things that struck me as particularly significant. To be honest, some things I quote here give me great pause and concern, but the following quote does something to subdue my fears:
I'm willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without. But let's make sure that we're not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens. And let's make sure what we're cutting is really excess weight. Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine. It may feel like you're flying high at first, but it won't take long before you'll feel the impact.
A word cloud might reflect the speech well:
Obama's word cloud

Ultimately, this speech was one of great optimism and inspiration. It was brave in its policy suggestions and firm in its themes. This speech made me hopeful.

I'll only spend a few lines on the other two speeches of the night. They are hardly worth that. Both were in stark contrast to the president's speech. Both were accusatory and dark. Both were founded on the politics of fear.

Interestingly Ryan's tone was more ready to move forward. In that way it was similar to the president's. It was still incredibly negative and no doubt its most important goal was to instill fear of the impending financial doom:
Ryan's word cloud

Bachmann's, on the other hand, was firmly grounded in the last two years. It sounded as though she hadn't heard any of the hopeful tones of the past several months. In this way, it painted a contrast between a president ready and energized to move forward and a Tea Party that is still boiling mad about first two years of his administration:
Bachmann's word cloud

I guess I'm grateful for the clarity provided by the two themes: past-laden fear or energizing hope. I know which I'm choosing.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Solutions to Heath Care

If you aren't aware of the problems with our health care system, come out from under your rock and blink your eyes in the harsh light of reality. The problems range from high cost (it's going to bankrupt the country eventually) to inaccessibility (not everyone has it) to quality concerns (I wrote about these here). Ultimately, a good organization to familiarize yourself with is the Commonwealth Fund.

Today, I'm going to detail my health care plan without going too much into the details of why. The data (much of it from the Commonwealth Fund) will come later.

The first part of my plan is a single-payer, government-run health care system (socialized much like Canada's). In Canada, the government acts as a massive insurance company and provides everyone with health care insurance. While Canada does not have the best of single-payer systems (England's is better–it provides actual health care–the government employs the doctors and nurses), I think we can overcome the shortcomings of the Canadian system with the second part of my plan.

But first I want to say a little bit about why we need to move to a Canadian-style system (often referred to as a European-style system). Every other industrialized nation in the world (meaning: besides the United States) has a government-run (socialized) health care system. There is a reason for this: it's better. There is also a reason we don't have it: the people who make money from the status quo are very politically powerful.

Let's detail (again without going into the data... yet) how a government-run system is better:
1. It's more accessible (health care for everyone is about as accessible as you can get)
2. It's cheaper (we spend more than double, per capita, what socialized health care systems spend)
3. The care is higher quality (by almost every measurement, from life expectancy to surgery success rates to wait times to recovery time to patient satisfaction to medical errors, etc. socialized systems perform better)

The second part of my plan involves cost-savings and incentives for healthy lifestyles. In addition to socializing health care, my plan would impose a surcharge on those who insist on burdening the health care system through consciously unhealthy lifestyles. For one year, we'd give everyone health care. At the end of one year, we would institute a surcharge for those who insist on adding extra cost to the system: people with a BMI exceeding 30, smokers, people who have received a DUI, etc. We'd still be giving these people health care, but they would be charged for the additional cost their decisions introduce into the system.

Coupled with that, there would be an appeals process for people required to pay the surcharge. Mostly this would be for people appealing the ruling on BMI. Often very strong people have higher BMI's because muscle is much heavier than fat. Additionally, people may have medical conditions that force them into higher BMIs. For these people, we would make exceptions.

I think this two-pronged solution would solve our cost problems, inaccessibility, and many quality concerns.

Friday, January 7, 2011

A formulaic life

After months of being absorbed in LSAT study and then law school applications, I'm excited to be blogging again. I'm doing something a little different for Christmas this year. Instead of getting people things they don't need, I'm giving people a copy of the same book. I'll be reading this book and then blogging about it and I'm inviting all those who are receiving this book (and anyone else that wants to) to join the discussion on this blog. We'll see how it works.

Now for a few updates: I finished up my time at the National Geographic Society on a good note (they offered to keep me on) and have since taken a job as marketing director for the Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO) in Roslyn Heights, NY (on Long Island).

For those who know me, I'm pretty passionate about education policy and pedagogy and thus I'm really excited to be working in the alternative education field. Rather than talking about what my vision for education is, I want to discuss exactly why I'm passionate about education.

I've blogged about Donella Meadows before. In her article Leverage Points, Meadows talks about "systems thinking" and where we ought to intervene if we want to enact change. When it comes to our society and its problems, it is my belief that most problems are caused by two things: poor parenting and poor schooling. Hence, I'm immensely interested in both, but let me explain more...

Writing my personal statement for law school applications turned out to be a really fascinating and introspective process. I'm fairly introspective normally, but I rarely think about myself for the purpose of "selling" myself (which is precisely what one has to do in a personal statement). I came to an important realization. At one point in my statement I say:
I can unequivocally state that my life goals are expressed by the following: to identify social problems, develop solutions, and work to implement those solutions. 
The trajectory of my life has really developed into a three-point formula:

1. Identify social problems
2. Develop solutions to those social problems
3. Work to implement the solutions from item #2

Fortunately, this is not something that I have to put effort into, I do it automatically. I'm continually trying to understand why something isn't completely optimized or what could make it better. Constant improvement is the name of the game and I find it fun.

Ultimately, this formula is driven by something larger than itself (as they most often are). I'm going to blog more about this later, but I believe I've determined the purpose of life: to love.