Category Archives: The Worst System of Government (except for all the others)

JEB!’s Debate Failure

[This post is about campaign tactics, not policy. And it’s definitely not an endorsement.]

JEB! has been rightly excoriated for picking on Marco Rubio’s Senate attendance record in last night’s debate and Rubio deserves credit — from a debating standpoint — for his clever rebuttal. Given that JEB!’s attack was obviously pre-planned, it seems like he was advised poorly by whomever was preparing him for the debate.

From a tactical perspective, a better approach for JEB! to win over Republican voters would be to paint Rubio 2016 as equivalent to Obama 2008. Imagine if he had said something like this:

“If we’ve learned anything during the last eight years, it’s that half a term in the Senate is not sufficient experience to be President. Marco, you may offer Obama-esque rhetoric about youthful optimism, but President of the United States is not the place for you to get on-the-job training.”

Alleged H1N1 vaccine distribution unfairness

I don’t understand why people are so bent out of shape about the notion that rich folks might get priority access to the H1N1 vaccine*.  Don’t they realize that this is a big part of the reason that the United States has the world’s best healthcare system?
* – A concern, by the way, that seems largely blown out of proportion.  Sure, large NYC employers like Wall Street banks are getting doses of the vaccine, but at least in theory they’re supposed to be giving it to the portion of their employee populations that are in high-risk groups for medical reasons.  Like owning a yacht.

Does the United States need a CAT?

Having recently read David Kessler’s book The End of Overeating and Michael Pollan’s essay Big Food vs. Big Insurance, I have a proposal for how to address a major health care issue.  Create a “Calorie added tax” that applies to prepared food served in restaurants.  Whether it’s based on the number of calories in the food served or is truly analogous to a Value added tax, it seems like it would be a relatively straightforward way to address the issues that Kessler and Pollan raise.

It appears that the biggest issue with our public health in the United States today is that we are consuming too much unhealthy food – for which calorie count is a useful proxy – and this is leading to a whole series of obesity-related problems.  In addition to Kessler’s observations about the food-production industry’s role in engineering food for maximum palatability, leading to overconsumption, I’ve heard Adam Drewnowski observe that while historically less healthy food had a higher cost per calorie, today the reverse is increasingly true (as Pollan notes about government corn subsidies leading to the increased use of high fructose corn syrup).  Generally speaking, healthier food now costs more per calorie, so people acting in their economic self-interest have a less healthy diet.

If a calorie tax rewards both producers and consumers for fewer calories being served and eaten, or the tax on those increased calories is used to offset the associated health costs of our societal overconsumption, then perhaps we can reverse in some measure the current cost per calorie relationship.

In practice there would be many details to work out:  What’s the definition of “prepared food”?  Is it just restaurants, or does prepared food purchased in a supermarket count?  Does cola purchased in a restaurant get the tax and cola purchased for consumption at home not?  How do you prevent it from being a regressive tax for low-income people who don’t have convenient access to healthier food?  While these may sound hard, states deal with these issues today on a regular basis when assessing sales tax.  It’s not perfect, but it can be made to work.

Is this likely to happen?  I doubt it.  I imagine that Coca-Cola, McDonalds, and many other industrial powerhouses would fight it vigorously.  But if the predictions of the experts are true, we could be on track for a major health-care crisis in the United States and other developed nations.

If you read this and are inclined to be judgmental about people who are overweight or eat too much unhealthy food, I encourage you to read Kessler’s book.  He makes a compelling case that overeating is a by-product of our food industry’s exploitation of humans’ evolutionary history, and that blaming people for this is not much more sensible than blaming people for the color of their hair.

Back to School Remarks 2001

Having read Obama’s prepared remarks to school students, I’m trying to imagine what George W. Bush would have said in a similar context.  Probably something like this:
"… and so, my advice to you students is to be born rich, white, and male.  And it doesn’t really matter how hard you work in school or how many times you screw up, as long as you can rely on your family connections to keep getting you out of jams."

I finally understand what’s going on with Sanford, Ensign, Vitter, etc.

From Sotomayor Defends Ruling in Firefighters’ Bias Case – (emphasis mine):

In his opening remarks to the nominee, [Oklahoma Senator Tom] Coburn apologized for the several outbursts by anti-abortion protesters since the hearings began. “Anybody who values life like I do and is pro-life recognizes that the way you change minds is not yell at people,” the senator said. “You love them.

Nixon Recommends Obama Abortion?

As has been widely reported, e.g. in On Nixon Tapes, Ambivalence Over Abortion, Not Watergate, recently released Oval Office tapes from January 1973 (after the Roe v. Wade decision was announced) record President Nixon saying the following:

“There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white, or a rape.”

I’m sorry, but even in 1973 those were, shall we say, outdated views.  Or perhaps he was pandering to all those pro-choice racist voters?

RMTB* – Competitiveness of Public Health Insurance Plans

Apparently one of the big criticisms of a government-run health insurance plan by its opponents is that it will drive private insurance companies out of business.  But given the presumption that a government-run plan is by nature more bureaucratic and less efficient and that a government-run plan won’t be able to cherry-pick its patients based on criteria like pre-existing conditions, what does this say about the cost structure of a private sector health insurance company if it can’t successfully compete with a government plan?

*RMTB = Riddle me this, Batman

Now We’ll See

For the past few weeks it has been in the interests of the key players to make the presidential election appear as close as possible:  The Obama campaign to ward off complacency, the McCain campaign to ward off despair, and the media to keep people watching.  That all ends tonight.

Last Time in the Booth

I have fond memories of going with my parents to watch them vote.  I loved the mechanical voting machines they had in New York, with the sliding privacy curtain controlled by the same big lever that recorded your votes and the dozens of small switches for individual candidates.  As a child I dreamed of the day that I’d be old enough to vote and pull those levers myself.  Sadly, I only got to do it once (or maybe twice) because when I reached voting age I was out of state at college and voting by absentee ballot. Then I moved to a state with paper ballots, initially the hole-punching kind and now the fill-in-the-oval kind.  Now at least I can appreciate that those mechanical machines were more prone to error and fraud than the ones based on paper ballots.

With my local voting authority moving to all-mail voting next February, I’m faced with the realization that next Tuesday will probably be the last time in my life that I go to a polling place to vote.  I’ve had the option to vote entirely by mail for years (“ongoing absentee voting” in local parlance) and yet I’ve made the choice whenever possible to make the journey to the polling place.  To me, the act of voting is a participatory effort and the ritual involved in making a journey to be with other community members matters.  So while I’ve never been nostalgic about waiting on line at the bank with my parents and I’m happy to be able to shop online whenever possible, I approach the coming election with a measure of regret that has nothing to do with what’s on the ballot.

All Politics is Global

Last year there was a closely contested city council race where I live.  Back then when I discussed this race with friends, several of them planned to vote for one of the candidates because they felt the candidate was more aligned with them on local issues, even if they had potentially strong disagreements with this candidate on broad, national issues.  “Why does it matter,” the logic went, “what they think about Supreme Court appointments or the like?  It’s not like they’re going to be in a position to exert influence on those issues.”

Now there’s a good chance that the next vice president of the United States will be someone who until two years ago was the mayor of a city less than half the size of the one in which this council race occurred.  This may be an exceptional occurrence, but today’s city councilor is tomorrow’s state senator, and tomorrow’s state senator is the next day’s governor.