Sunday, March 16, 2014


I'm really, really tired of all the hoop-de-doodoo about how terrible Obamacare is, and how the Democrats will lose power soon because of it. Really? Are We the People that stupid? I'm afraid we are.

Is there a reality in America that the majority of people can actually understand? Can people agree to be bothered by the facts, and not just believe the fictions espoused by the plethora of talking heads on digital screens?

How about a very short history lesson to begin being bothered by the facts?  I've selected below a few dates and federal legislative events from a very interesting timeline of medicare enactment:

1912 Social insurance, including health insurance, endorsed in platform of Progressive Party and espoused by its candidate, Theodore Roosevelt.

1935, August 14. Social Security Act signed into law; health insurance excluded.

1943 January. President Roosevelt, in his state of the Union message, calls for social insurance "from the cradle to the grave."

1944, January 19. The Social Security Board, in its eighth annual report to Congress, specifically calls for compulsory National Health Insurance as part of the social security system.

1947 May 19. President Truman, in another special health message to Congress, again requests a National Health Program. S. 1320 introduced by Senators Wagner and Murray; Senator Taft's bill also reintroduced (S. 545).

1962 May 20. President Kennedy addresses the Nation on the Medicare issue in a speech televised from Madison Square Garden.

1964, February 10. President Johnson sends special message, "Health of the Nation," to Congress, advocating Medicare.

1965, July 30. Medicare (as part of the Social Security Amendments of 1965) signed into law by President Johnson.

It took more than 50 years to get national health insurance passed into law, primarily for elderly people on social security. (Take a few minutes to go to the link and read through the timeline; it's fascinating history.) It took almost another 50 years to get a national health insurance plan, based on private insurance, passed into law in the form of the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare." This was a major accomplishment by a President of the United States.

The politically spun message we now hear all the time is that Obamacare is not working (see footnote (a) for a language note). In other words, the new national health insurance program didn't instantly, on day one, become a success, and was therefore a failure. Give me a break! Once again, let's confuse you with the facts. 

First we'll look at a graph showing ACA enrollment over time, below. These data go through mid-February 2014. The goal of 7 million enrollees by the end of March this year might or might not be met, but the trend line looks good.

Now let's look at who is enrolling by age group. This pie chart looks like enrollment is fairly evenly distributed across age categories. These data tell me that people at the beginning and end of their working lives (18-34 year olds and 55-64 year olds) are enrolling at higher numbers than people in the middle (35-54 years old), or kids (under 18 years old). That seems right to me. 

And what about people who need financial assistance to get health insurance? it looks like those folks who have enrolled and need the assistance are getting it.

Earlier this month, the House of Representatives, including some Democrats worried about the coming elections, passed their 51st attempt to repeal or change Obamacare, as reported on Fox Business (that's right, I looked at Fox Business). A number of Republican-led states have tried to sabotage Obamacare by refusing to implement the Medicaid part of the new law. In other words, the Republican Party has done everything they can to promote the notion that the ACA is a failure, bad for Americans, bad for the economy, proof that Barack Obama is a socialist, and thus created a myth that they are counting on to put them in control of the government in the 2014 and 2016 elections. 

These are the same people who shut down the federal government because, well, because they could. These are the same people who have become noted for being the most do-nothing session of Congress. These are the people who vowed in 2008 to do nothing in Congress other than thwart President Obama at every turn. In other words, nothing at all to do with actually governing the country. 

Is the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, a failure. Absolutely not. Is it perfect in every way? Absolutely not. Should the successes or failures of the ACA be the sole basis for casting a vote in 2014 and 2016? I hope not, but I can't do anything about the epidemic of stupid in this country.

(a) PLEASE people, let's stop using the word "disaster" as in "The Obamacare rollout was a disaster." Hurricane Sandy was a disaster. The earthquake and tsunami in Japan was a disaster. Hurricane Katrina was a disaster. The Obamacare rollout was a failure of technology workers to get it right. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014


Future historians will probably look at our time in America as the Age of Don't Trust Government. We've documented the Iron Age, the Machine Age, the Information Age and others, but this new phase of unfolding history is an Age based on attitudes rather than major advances in technology.

Let's start with a short list of examples in which a majority of the public in and around Portland, Oregon has expressed a basic distrust of government.

  • a vote to not allow the City of Portland to add fluoride to drinking water - all credible science, medical and public health sources conclude that adding the proper amount of fluoride to drinking water has public health benefits; however, a misinformation campaign, supported by many progressive citizens, rejected the proposal by a large margin;
  • a ballot initiative will ask voters to take the responsibilities for sewer and water services away from City of Portland Bureaus and place it instead with a newly created water and sewer public utility - missteps and misappropriations of money by City water and sewer bureaus have made headlines, and Portland's water and sewer rates are among the highest in the nation, and continue to climb;
  • voters in Clackamas County, south of Portland, resoundingly said no to Clackamas County contributing funds to replace the Sellwood Bridge over the Willamette River - a large number of people in Clackamas County use the Sellwood Bridge for their daily commute to Portland; in fact, 83% of trips across the bridge begin or end outside of Portland. The Sellwood Bridge is owned by Multnomah County, and funding for the replacement of the old and unsafe structure came from Multnomah County, City of Portland, and state and federal transportation funds;
  • voters in Clark County, Washington, across the Columbia River from Portland, have at least twice rejected funding an extension of light rail across the river, even though huge numbers of Clark County residents commute to Portland for work and shopping (Oregon has no sales tax, Washington does); 
  • voters in Tigard, Oregon, just south of Portland, have passed a resolution that requires a public vote for any high-capacity transit project, such as proposed light rail or bus-only lanes, and further amends the City Charter to state opposition to high-capacity transit - Tigard has some of the worst traffic congestion in the region, with a 4-lane state highway going through the middle of town as a major arterial. Driving into or out of Portland through Tigard on Highway 99 is always a nightmare experience. 
The list is long, but these few examples illustrate the point that citizens flat-out don't trust government to know or do what's right for the public. The rallying cries seem to be "keep government out of my business" and "don't confuse me with facts." I will be the first to admit that every level of government, from local to federal, seems to have serious issues with inability to act, inability to reach consensus, mismanagement and often a deaf ear to reality. The answer to these issues, however, is not to insist that a no answer is the only answer to government programs, but rather to insist that government correct it's deficiencies and truly serve the people (I've always liked that slogan). 

Voters should not be the decision makers concerning public health, transportation infrastructure, public utilities and other items that are basic public needs. Citizens, as voters, should be the watchdogs of government, expressing through their votes what issues are important, and how government should process and reach decisions. And citizens need to be active in public affairs, attending and speaking up at hearings, public meetings, town halls and other opportunities to guide the actions of government.  Just saying no is not productive, it is destructive. 

I think too many people rely on someone else to do the work of exploring and researching an issue. People rely on a TV program, a radio talk show, or any internet site that has an appealing message to form their opinions about public issues. I tend to think that we suffer from a severe epidemic of intellectual laziness. Credible information is a few clicks away on a computer if you really want the facts; it's not difficult to learn the difference between credible, factual information and one-sided opinion. Sadly, a majority of voters seem to be too lazy to seek fact, and default to fiction.

I wonder how the Age of Don't Trust Government will play out. I hope it has a short duration, but I fear that it will hang on for too long, and the consequences will be pretty dismal.