Americans Battle Over Coverage and Ignore Real Healthcare Problems – this is pitiful

I ran across two interesting articles on FiveThirtyEight related to health care. It’s good to understand the history of our weird hybrid system and important to know the facts – but depressing.

[A Department of Health and Human Services

Congress argues over a band aid on America's health care

As one of my favorite science fiction franchises says, the answer doesn’t make any sense unless you know precisely what the question is.

report says] health insurance marketplaces set up by Obamacare were relatively stable in 2016. Contrary to the “death-spiral” narrative, the CMS report found that the mix of healthy and sick people buying insurance on the Obamacare marketplaces in 2016 was surprisingly similar to those who enrolled in 2015.

That doesn’t mean the marketplaces are working for everyone. There are millions of people who don’t qualify for subsidies, face high prices in the private market and likely haven’t enrolled in insurance as a result. That’s a problem that needs solving, but it’s a different problem than the marketplaces being in a death spiral.

The agony of repeal and replace is unnecessary – the current political agony and future individuals’ agony if the CBO’s estimate of who loses health care is roughly correct. A bipartisan effort to repair the dysfunctional parts of the Affordable Care Act (drop Obama’s name and maybe the Red Team will feel better) could succeed. Especially if followed by an honest effort to tackle the nation’s real problem – rocketing health care costs. Continue reading

This Should be an Expression :)

International Potato Center - yes, there is one!We’ve posted several times on GMOs (genetically modified organisms, usually in the context of food crops) and this meme captures part of the arguement for GMOs perfectly. Let’s make “being a firefighter in a very slow truck” a new expression. Write down this meme so we’ll remember where it came from. Choose one of our GMO posts from here.

Thanks to a facebook post: https://www.facebook.com/cipotato/

How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love Climate Change

My Facebook feed has been abuzz lately with postings from a Progressive friend about climate change. As one might expect, the view from that side of the political street is not looking good.  One particular article put forward the ultra-gloomy contention that human-caused global warming is likely irreversible and most of the world will soon become unfit for human habitation even if we exceed the most ambitious goals proposed in the Paris Accords to curb our carbon emissions.  The crux of the authors’ hypothesis is that present CO2 levels are already so high that vast areas of permafrost in the sub-Arctic are starting to melt.  Permafrost contains huge amounts of methane, a gas with almost ten times the heat retentive capacity of CO2.  Release of even a small portion of this entrained methane will cause a warming feedback loop which will raise global temperatures at an exponential rate, melting more permafrost and releasing more methane.  The result?  Catastrophic warming that may very soon and very quickly progress beyond our ability to slow it down, let alone reverse it.

As is usually the case with climate change literature, the dire outline of the scientific problem is followed by a proposed political solution.  Our slim chance of survival, say the authors, hangs on humanity  suddenly acquiring the wisdom to reject the nationalist, capitalist economic/political model that has landed us in this frying pan and put Big Government in control of, well, everything.  The Ship of State needs to make a sharp turn, and we mean right now!

Hmm!  Putting aside the obvious inconvenience that ships, especially the State variety, are seldom capable of sharp turns no matter how urgent the need, what exactly would this course correction look like?  A possible answer comes from another Facebook post, from the same source.  It linked to a group calling itself The Climate Mobilization.  Their stated goal: To transition the US to 100% renewable energy within the next 10 years, by whatever means necessary.  I paid a visit to their website for a look at these  “means” and found they are right out of the Radical’s Handbook; boycotting and blockading businesses and whole industries, general strikes, massive protests and other “non-violent interventions”.  Their timetable warns of their intention to “escalate until we win!”  Does this sound like anarchy itching to be unleashed?  I thought the idea was to turn the Ship, not sink it.

The irony is tasty.  According to these posts the solution to our intractability in dealing with climate change is exponentially more government intervention or bypassing government entirely.  Bigger government and/or no government.  Or maybe there is no solution and all of this is nothing but a thought experiment?  Because relying on either more intrusive government or a grass-roots uprising to “solve” the problem of climate change is akin to wishing that unicorns hadn’t been left off the Ark. By the time we recognize the problem it may be too late to solve it.

The scientists and the anarchists are both right; the climate is changing.  It always has, and until very recently without any help from us. Through the ages the planet has seen palm trees in Antarctica and ice a half a mile thick at the equator.  We arose as a species in the middle of one of the most favorable climatic windows the world has ever experienced, and we continue to live charmed lives under threat from wayward asteroids and super volcanos that could destroy our idyllic environment at a stroke. Our folly is that we have expected the climate not to change.  Do we now intend to compound our error by assuming that we can keep it from changing by ceding our economic freedom to Big Government or worse?

Who or what is responsible for the warming of the planet is the wrong question to ask. The right question is, what can reasonably be done to allow us to survive and thrive in this changing environment?  The answers, if they come, will come from technology perhaps as yet unknown but likely birthed in the womb of free market capitalism.  If government has a role it will be to encourage, through practical policy and limited financial incentive, the R & D of the most doable initiatives.  Supporting independent research is one of the few things the Feds do well.

Our species was set on an irreversible path to a techno-future the day we discovered fire.  The alternative would have been to remain just another race of desperate primates, spending our days digging roots and dodging predators instead of exploring the universe and following the Kardashians on Twitter.  If technology got us into this climate predicament, technology will have to get us out.

We are in the climatic frying pan.  By counting on government fiat or populist ardor to get ourselves out, we risk winding up in the fire.  Might a more sensible plan be to focus our considerable resources on figuring out how to deal with climate change rather than expending them in what may be a fruitless effort to stop it?

 

Let’s Try Something Else.

No-major-partyTired!  That was all I could feel the day the Senate released its plan to replace Obamacare.  Not only had Senate Republicans formulated their bill in virtual secrecy, they had somehow seen fit to leave out nearly every free market cost control idea that they had promised to include.  No negotiation on Medicare drug prices.  No interstate competition for insurers.  Nothing to force hospitals to publicize their price structures.  No tort reform to protect doctors and hospitals from spurious lawsuits.  Nothing but a mildly saner version of the House’s previous work; in short, nothing to make their newly acquired blue-collar voters happy or to actually make the Affordable Care Act affordable, either for the country or its citizens.

It was as if Congress had determined to live down to its single-digit popularity rating.  After facing for months the stiff and steady verbal breeze coming from Senators Warren and Sanders, et. al. about how the only real solution to the healthcare conundrum was complete capitulation to Big Government and Bigger Debt, I had hoped the GOP would counter with a remotely defensible alternative.  Nope.  All they did was infuriate half the nation and disappoint the other half.

And so it goes. Democrats and Republicans, apparently dedicated only to the preservation of their respective tribes, each more  interested in blaming the other for the woes befalling the Republic than in fixing them.  The political landscape has become a living civil war battle site; one army led by a clinically demented megalomaniac seemingly devoid of empathy and the other rendered virtually leaderless as its sclerotic old guard struggles against semi-anarchic newbloods for whom no amount of empathy is enough.  As the war of words escalates with every rant and tweet, the temptation among the general populace to hunker down and disengage becomes stronger. Does anybody really want either of these two crews of zealots running things?

Continue reading

GMOs – Why It’s Not an Argument We Can Solve With Facts

tomato_plant.svg.medI once read that, if two scientists have a disagreement, it’s easy to solve. They get more facts. And if they can’t get more facts, they happily have a beer together – friends until more facts arrive.

We’ve posted a number of commentaries about GMOs (genetically modified Organisms) on this site. There’s a new documentary that tries to address GMOs from a factual, scientific perspective. They even have Neil DeGrasse Tyson as the film’s narrator. (To which I say – why would an astrophysicist know anything about GMOs? I’m not sure that helps.) But as this article explains, they will fail to change anyone’s mind.

Even if you took the time to painstakingly verify all the claims and counter-claims, most people aren’t interested in listening or changing their minds based on the evidence… In reality, it ought to have admitted that what [GMOs are] facing is an ideologically charged debate that, like climate change, is increasingly immune to facts.

What about Monsanto?
For many people, the GMO debate isn’t over science. It’s over big tone-deaf uncaring corporations (bad guys) who send lawyers to public meetings vs friendly boutique farmers and consumers (good guys) who shake hands at farmers’ markets. Monsanto often fell into the stereotype, trying to side-step local concerns and throw their political weight around. It didn’t help than one of the first GMO crops to get publicity was a soybean that could be sprayed with Roundup. Great – allowing more poisons to be used on food. I continue to think that if the first major GMO had been Golden Rice the conversation would be different. Too late now.

GMO opponents can’t be dismissed. They use a piece of heuristic reasoning that often serves well: I listen to people like me who had time to investigate. Given how big the world is and how much effort it takes to research any significant topic, this is inevitable. I use the trick myself. And given the history of Big Tobacco’s assault on science, having the title doctor in front of someone’s name is no guarantee they can be trusted. The battle of the experts has become standard in law and the media.

So what are we going to do? About GMOs? Climate change? Contraception – gun violence – immigration – healthcare? This list is long. It will be a long sad slog back to a place where we can all find someone to trust.

It must start with a renewed dedication to facts. And with so many people rewarded for their BS this won’t be easy. But we’ve got to do it. Some people are trying. What ideas do you have?

We’re technical folk on this site and search for facts, so if you’re interested, more of our GMO posts are here.

Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge Safety

Activists who made a living protesting the Rocky Flats Plant are continuing their careers by using the legal system in an attempt to prevent public access to completely safe areas in the vicinity of the now closed Rocky Flats Plant. Vincent Carroll, a former editorial writer for the Denver Post, has written a powerful editorial filled with pertinent facts that deserves wide readership. I’ll submit a few key points from the editorial to encourage you to click on the link and read it in its entirety.

  • The title is “Activists ignore the science that says Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge is safe.”
  • A lawsuit has been filed by activists to prevent access to the Refuge by the public, which, if successful, “…would also amount to a triumph of fear-mongering.”
  • The activists “…have stoked their exaggerated fears of Rocky Flats for too long and the habit is apparently incurable…”
  • “The rest of us can only marvel at their dismissal of science that has been conducted at the site and the consensus among relevant government agencies…that the refuge is safe for visitors and wildlife employees.”

There are many more important points in the editorial, and I request you forward the link to everyone you know who has an interest in the Rocky Flats Plant. My hope is that those who remain skeptical of the legacy of the Plant read and consider the information in the editorial. Thanks to Vincent Carroll!

Are You Ready for a Real Shutdown?

Sometime in the next few weeks Congress, as divided and intractable as ever, will begin its annual (or is it monthly?) confefe over increasing the Federal debt limit, bringing with it the usual hand-wringing over the possibility of a government shutdown.  In spite of a barrage of dire warnings from Congressional leaders and media pundits, the reaction of most of the public seems to have been a collective raised eyebrow.  Perhaps this has to do with the thick layer of unconcern that we have built up over the years regarding Congressional gridlock and media wolf-crying.  But there is also the inordinately small ripple of national disruption that occurred the last time the government ostensibly ran out of money.  Remember the year?  Me neither, so I looked it up.  It was 2013, during the fight over funding for Obamacare.

Why the blank in our memory banks?  Maybe because, for the 95% of Americans who neither work for the government nor were trying to get into Yellowstone National Park that week, this shutdown, like the 18 previous ones, had almost no immediate effect.  There are several reasons for this, the principal one being that the government didn’t really run out of money and most of it didn’t really close down.  Tax revenue continued to come in and Social Security checks continued to go out, as did welfare payments.  Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements were a little later than usual – no big deal, doctors and hospitals are accustomed to such.  Some Federal employees were furloughed, but none lost a dime of pay.  So-called vital services were unaffected.  On the scale of imminent disasters soon to befall the Republic only the Y2K Bug has been a bigger flop.

True, an extended shutdown (or an actual government bankruptcy, such as might happen unannounced on, say, next Tuesday) would have some dire consequences. Luckily, the 5% of Americans (the ones Congress really pays attention to) who are most directly affected when the Feds stop answering emails have always managed to scream loud enough to keep shutdowns brief.  The longest so far, during the Clinton Administration, lasted three weeks.  Apparently tourists upset at being turned away from the Smithsonian have a lot more clout than those silly economists worried about our existing $20 trillion obligation.

This time, however, the string of abbreviated interruptions may be broken.  President Trump recently mused that “what the country needs is a good shutdown”, which taken literally (as almost everyone loves to do with Mr. Trump’s pronouncements) is like saying somebody needs a good heart attack.  But there is occasionally a particle of sense in the President’s blatherings, and what he might be trying to say here is that a prolonged absence of government assistance (as well as the absence of government interference) might prod citizens to recognize what elements of the Federal bureaucracy we might be able to do without.  Or he might just be flipping a Tweet at Chuck Schumer.  What is certain is that if he is serious about confronting Congress over the debt ceiling, the 21-day Clinton/Gingrich shutdown record will be in real jeopardy come September.  Because when it comes to intractability, nobody in Congress is in Trump’s league.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said that cities and states don’t need the Federal government to fight climate change, that they can do it on their own.  This Fall we may get a hard look at what else cities and states can, or can’t, do on their own.  It will most certainly be a learning experience.