Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Expecting perfection

We’re perfect, at least I am, and expect everyone else to be perfect too. Whenever there’s an incident like the recent Christmas attempt to bomb a plane, we immediately begin looking for who’s at fault. And being at fault usually means not being perfect.

A person can be imperfect in hindsight – he should have thought of that possibility before the incident. Or a person can be imperfect in performance – he didn’t interpret the rules properly. And it’s true that if everyone had been perfect the incident could have been avoided. Perhaps if the evil doer had been perfect the incident would never have been considered in the first place..

But, we’re not all or even near all perfect. As a matter of fact, we’re mostly average with all the imperfection that entails.

There’s a measurement device called the bell curve. It distributes various arrays of data (competence, cost, energy, profits, etc.). The low end of the curve shows the probability of the least desirable results. The high end shows the probability of the most desirable results, perfection. The high point near the middle shows what most probably will happen. The high and low probabilities are much less frequent than the probability of getting average results as the central portion of the curve would show.

This average result is somewhere in the middle and is where most people would fit. Plotted out, this data curve approximates the shape a bell.

Given the ways of human nature and probability, rules, procedures and regulations are not created by the incompetents at one end of the curve, nor by the super competent at the other end. If that were so, the super competent would be doing all the work and the rest of us taking it easy.

So what we end up in the airline safety realm are sets of procedures developed by average people that will work most of the time under the “most of the time” conditions if carried out by people of average skill. That’s reality.

Given the forecasting and organizational ability of the average person, the 9/11 attack would not have been prevented. But also, given the learning process of the average person, steps have been taken to insure there will never be an aircraft attack like 9/11. This is reinforced by every pilot knowing that letting his plane be taken over would be fatal to himself.

The same could be said about the USS Cole bombing. I’m sure the navy has done just what the average person insuring against another 9/11 has done. It will never happen that way again.

Between the cable networks interest in keeping any crisis type situations going and the encouragement that gives the average person to keep complaining, crisis and incidents will always be blown out of proportion to their real importance.

I try to keep in mind the saying, “You can make things fool proof but not damn fool proof”, whenever this craziness erupts. Let’s keep in mind that no system is damn fool proof.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Energy policy and solutions

I was just watching a panel presentation on the energy problem and how it might be resolved. This panel had big people on it, (including an Assist Secretery of Energy), and was discussing big solutions that would cost big money and require big legislative approvals.

Let me diverge here for an anecdote.

If you were to have a traffic congestion problem, (people moving), the solution would be determined by what kind of expert you hired to suggest a solution. A Highway Engineer would recommend additional lanes. A Transportation Planner would suggest mass transit. A Sociologist would point to developing car pools. And a Land Use Planner would recommend locating housing close to the jobs.

In the instance of the energy panel above, all the participants represented important players in energy industries, (including alternative and renewable sources) and government. It might be expected that they would all suggest large scale solutions.

But imagine what a different panel might recommend. Residential rooftop units tied into individual property generation alternatives. Might not millions of private rooftop units work better than hundreds of megawatt power plants?

Sounds good but it would be more difficult to implement than one mega generator. Or would it?

My case is that it might be better to have an energy policy focusing on individual power generation than centralized power generation. Power from one thousand one kilowatt generators might cost more for the same power than from a one megawatt plant, BUT, it might be a quicker solution to the overall problem in the long run.

We’ve all heard of the efficiency of mass transit and how it should replace autos for a cost effective solution for the daily commute. We also understand how it is totally dependent on taxpayer subsidies to keep fairs acceptable.

On the other hand, we’ve all heard about the inefficiency of using a personal auto for the commute trip. But it’s totally funded by user fees, vehicle taxes and fuel taxes. Not only that but all labor and maintenance costs are taken care of by each individual vehicle owner at no cost to the public.

And the auto is the choice of three quarters of all commuters, urban and rural.

Imagine an electrical generation system provided by the multitude of users (like the commute auto). I’m convinced that in only a few years, individual solar energy units will replace all use of central energy generation during the hours of sunlight. And the development of means of storing electrical energy for autos might lead to a way to provide power to residences during the non sunlight hours.

It would take a book to discuss all the pro and cons. Let me leave you with just the thought – small might do the job better than big.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Afghanistan, why are we there?

We’re at a critical decision point regarding our continued presence in Afghanistan. Other than trying to make it up to the Afghan people for abandoning them after the Russians pulled out in 1989 or 90, I see no reason to stay. It’s basically a civil war situation and the most powerful force (the Taliban), which we don’t like, will most likely prevail if we leave.

We use whatever temporary logic prevails to justify doing whatever we want to do. In this instance, the military can’t accept “losing” by leaving and letting the internal interests in Afghanistan fight it out for control of the country. The political cover for this is to proclaim we can’t leave Afghanistan as a base the jihadists can use for training for another attack on America.

But, look at the record. We’ve been there for at least 8 years and the Afghan government hasn’t been able to field a credible army of its own. How many years do we have to wait before we can decide they’ll either make it on their own or they won’t?

Our prime political rational for staying is also that we can’t give al Queda a base in which it can train fighters for another 9/11 type operation. This is whooey. According to most published reports, al Queda has moved most of its operations to Pakistan anyway.

Did the 9/11 hijackers actually train in Afghanistan? Was that the best place to offer such specialized training? Was this the only country that would have permitted it? Will the next attack (if it ever comes) require training somewhere similar to Afghanistan in 2001?

I can see the need to save pride as a nation keeping us from pulling out. But, unfortunately, I see a much more direct reason for staying in that many providers of services and products are making a lot of money from the continuation of this operation. Cynical, you bet! Other than national pride and the reputation of major political figures, I only see the continued spending of vast sums on this operation as benefiting some in the private sector financially.

How much of a tax increase would YOU be willing to pay to continue this so called war? Perhaps that question should have been the lead sentence of this piece.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A commute solution

Many of the things we do for the environment come from making many small adjustments over long periods of time. The introduction of more fuel efficient vehicles and the retirement of older gas guzzlers eventually results, over time, in the use of much much less fuel and the associated reduction in pollution. Similarly, recycling of waste materials further reduces the energy use that would be required to produce new items from raw materials. Over time, this also has great impact on the environment.

I think something similar can be done to minimize commute traffic. Telecommuting has the result of instant reductions in traffic but probably only in a limited amount due to the current nature of face to face employer/employee relationships.

My thought, in a nut shell, is for businesses to hire the prospective employee who lives closest to the business doing the hiring.

In any job being filled, (assuming an adequate supply of applicants), there will be little job related difference between the top contenders. Hiring will more relate to the decision being made by the person doing the hiring than to absolute job capabilities. And, most of this will be subjective.

Why not instead simply hire the person from the top tier of candidates who lives closest to the job?

Over time, this would result in large portions of the work force having shorter commutes and thereby reducing long distance commutes. This in turn, would lessen the number of employees, commuters, clogging up the roads during the commute period. It will also provide more likelihood that transit will be used by short distance commuters further reducing traffic.

We mostly have a picture of employees commuting from the suburbs to central city jobs. This isn’t necessarily correct. In major metropolitan areas as much as 75% of the home to work trips aren’t to the central city but between suburbs. This offers the opportunity for more reduction in long distance commutes with the additional reduction in traffic and fuel consumption.

Think about this and how, over time, everyone would save time, money and the frustration with traffic. Only new hires would be affected and only a policy decision to hire the closest applicant would be required.

Business doesn’t usually feel responsible for paying for off site programs. Here’s a program that’s centered on their work locations, that can benefit everyone at no additional cost.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Can we be satisfied with enough?

Sometimes I think many of the problems of our society revolve around our not taking the time to think about what constitutes “enough”. “Enough” is defined as - sufficient to meet a need or satisfy a desire; adequate.

Most people seem to always want more; more money, more and better clothes, a newer car, a bigger house, etc. The past several decades have made wanting to have it all and have it all NOW not only seem to be an acceptable goal but positively normal.

The 80’s were the “Me” decade where conspicuous consumption was the norm and the 90’s the “Sky’s the limit” decade of ever increasing expectations for the economy. Everyone who could get stock options wanted them and expected to eventually be rich. Everyone who couldn’t was envious. The 2000’s may be a time to rethink having it all.

Television advertising, all advertising, continues to show us what we DON’T have and causes us to want more. There is nothing in our culture to promote, to cause us to think about, what is “enough”. After all, if you had enough you wouldn’t purchase the new products being advertised.

If you had enough, you wouldn’t have to work longer or harder or have two incomes in the family to buy more things. What you would have is more time for yourself and your family, less stress in your life because you wouldn’t be chasing more income to buy more things, and the satisfaction that you, and not the advertising world, were running your life.

This is a good season to think about what constitutes enough in our life. It’s the season when there is the most advertising to tempt us to buy things. It’s the season when we receive things others think we will like. And we do like many of those things. But, how many do we need?

Perhaps people have to be mature, to have wanted, acquired and used up many things before they can think in terms of “enough”. It may take the experience of time and of living to sort out what really matters in our life.

It may be that those who could benefit most by thinking about what is enough don’t have the time to think such thoughts. They’re working so hard to get what they think they need that the idea of enough isn’t even a thought they’d have.

Has such thinking become a luxury?

Can we be satisfied with

Monday, October 12, 2009

We're a capitalistic country

Let’s accept it, we’re a capitalistic country. That’s not good and that’s not bad, it’s just the choice of social and financial systems we’ve accepted as our model. But, along with that we must accept the type of society capitalism creates.

Capitalism focuses on money. Money focuses on personal financial gain. Personal gain emphasizes the “Me”, and not the, “Us” point of view.

I consider the majority of Americans (myself included) as capitalists regardless of their income. There are those who have interests in a more communal society but, even the majority of these, are financially secure outside of their pursuit of these broader interests.

To be even more blunt, we’re self centered and selfish. Only as our personal financial and other needs are satisfied do we become more aware/concerned/interested in others. It’s most direct to consider we’re interested in money and list the exceptions. The list of exceptions is much shorter. This isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just capitalism.

We’re currently in the midst of a national debate about restructuring our health insurance system and the prime position of most seems to be “I’ve got mine and I don’t want to lose it”. The “devil we know” argument. Of course, those with no insurance have no devil to know.

Health insurance is about having the resources to obtain health care. Health care is medical intervention in our personal health problems. Insurance, not care is what we’re talking about. Let’s not confuse or equate them.

Insurance is also about individual security within a group effort to spread the risk. That’s an “Us” game and not a “Me” game. Perhaps that’s why in this current discussion of health insurance, the 85% of us who already have insurance are reluctant to change the game.

Jumping to health care, that’s a very personal factor. Here, we can rightly be expected to look at what is best for “Me”. The mix of group insurance VS individual care may be what makes it so difficult to mingle the two.

I’m thinking that, in the end, the health insurance debate will be answered by the perceived benefit to the individual capitalist.

While lamentable that 15% of our citizens don’t have health insurance, the flip side is that 85% do. These 85% see themselves as possibly having to give up or pay more for something they already have to insure that those without health insurance are somehow protected.

Where is the fairness of it all? The problem I see is that the administration seems to be failing to address the concerns of the 85%.

Along this line, why does the administration as well as the media refuse to discuss how the major developed countries have handled the problem. Do you really think the well organized Germans adopted some funky system that is costly and ineffective? Do you think the French (One for all and all for one) have a system their countrymen don’t like?

Why, in the midst of this major debate don’t we at least check out how the competition has handled the problem.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Immigrants and taxes

One of the complaints I hear is that illegal immigrants don’t pay taxes. This may sound probable in that many are paid under the table but it doesn’t mean they’re getting around paying taxes. If their kids go to school that’s paid for from property taxes collected by a local body. Many local services are paid for from sales taxes paid by the retailers who collect it from the customer. And any income immigrants receive is what’s left after their employer deducts income taxes.

When was the last time YOU paid taxes? Taxes paid directly to the taxing body that is.

We’ll all mention state and federal income taxes due that were not deducted from our wages. Some will list property taxes. But that’s about the whole list.

We DON’T pay taxes directly to the taxing body. Someone else does.

Our employer pays (or is supposed to pay) all due income, Social Security and Medicare taxes. Retailers are supposed to pass on to the state the sales tax we paid. The oil companies pay government the various taxes on gasoline. Our landlord pays the property tax and includes it in our monthly rent bill. We, individually, don’t usually pay any regular taxes directly.

So, what’s the problem? The problem is that the businesses that are required by law to collect and forward taxes to the appropriate body aren’t paying or forwarding those tax payments. And the immigrant workers are being blamed for not paying their taxes.

How come there’s no shouting and table pounding about the business owners stealing from the government by not paying these taxes? If immigrants can be thought to be escaping from paying their taxes it’s only because we never think that we don’t pay taxes directly either. Those who are supposed to collect and forward taxes to the appropriate government body are keeping the taxes for themselves.

For a year or two a few years back very prominent people who were being considered for high government appointments were withdrawing their names because they hadn’t paid the taxes on their privately hired household help. No outrage there.

We should check the condition of our glass house before we start throwing stones at our neighbors.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Afghanistan and reality

How come we can take an 18 year old American, induct him into the army, train him for 12 to 24 months and consider him ready to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan, but we can’t take an Afghan or Iraqi, who live in a culture of violence (note all the civilians with AK 47’s) and do the same?

We’ve been fighting in these two countries for 8 years and yet they don’t seem able to recruit enough of their own citizens to create an military to defend themselves.

If a key policy point for us is not to leave a government until it is able to defend itself, the fact that they haven’t accomplished this in 8 years leads to the conclusion that we’re never going to leave or that we’ll unilaterally pull out and watch all our efforts to create a stable government collapse.

The other impact of this is that recent discussions in Washington D.C. indicate the option of leaving Afghanistan precipitously is on the table, is that the Afghan civilians have no incentive to choose sides in their situation. If we leave they’ll be at the mercy of the Taliban. And, that’s not much mercy.

You can argue about all the training the Afghans need, everything from flying helicopters to maintaining a supply system, but that washes out when you see in both Iraq and Afghanistan their opponents don’t have these skills either. It’s an even match except that the insurgents may care more about winning than the government troops might.

It’s time to cut our losses and leave. It will be humiliating and another example of how we don’t stand behind out allies, but the same results will be experienced if we do it a number of years from now.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Afghanistan, let's get out now

Let’s get out of Afghanistan now before we shame ourselves again.

After the insurgents we funded drove the Russians out in 1989, we rapidly abandoned the Afghans. Our contest was with our cold war enemy, the Russians. With their defeat, we could declare victory and go home. And we did.

Unfortunately, by leaving the Afghans on their own, the freedom fighters we supported against the Russians became the Taliban who sheltered Al Qeida. This group then oppressed the Afghan people and helped Al Queida carry our their attack on New York.

So we went in again in 2002, this time with our troops to get some vengeance, hopefully find Bin Laden and clean things up. Unfortunately, we again substantially abandoned Afghanistan and its people after Iraq became our number one enemy.

This allowed the Taliban to reform so that they are now our latest number one enemy. Our strategy now is to clean out the Taliban and again restore security to the Afghan people. This takes their cooperation in working with us and informing on the Taliban insurgents. We say we’ll stay around to protect them.

Fat chance!

We’re already talking about exiting Afghanistan. Why should any of these people stick their necks out helping us when the Taliban will be there, whenever we leave, to wreak vengeance on them?

It’s a nation sized version of the police asking a neighborhood to help clean out drug dealers but then leaving and leaving the people who helped the police to suffer retaliation from the criminal element. We did it in Vietnam when we declared victory and left, leaving the South Vietnamese to suffer at the hands of the North.

We’ll do it in Afghanistan when our public and politicians get tired of the whole mess. Let’s leave now and minimize our shame at abandoning them again.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Mad as hell

An old movie, I think it was titled Network, had the principal actor so frustrated that he (a TV anchor man) urges his viewers to open their windows, lean out and shout, “I’m mad as hell and I won’t take it anymore.”

I think this level of frustration is happening nation wide in relation to all the major government initiatives which have happened or are happening. This is culminating in the uproar about the proposed health insurance plan.

Somewhere in the 60’s we began to stop trusting government to be straight with us. It’s taken many years and several presidents but it’s now reached the point where more than half of us don’t believe or have any faith that government is looking out for our interest.

During the present financial upheaval we’ve seen the banks being bailed out while the little guy loses his home. Exorbitant bonuses are still being given to those already earning millions. Government seems to have no backbone to confront power.

On the health insurance fiasco, we’ve been asked to support it without any details being given out about it’s impact on various segments of the population. I’m tired of being asked to “just trust us”. It’s time for us to be talked to like equal partners or to stick our heads out the window and shout.

Between the conservatives lying about everything and the liberals pouting that if they don’t get everything they want, they’ll vote against it, we’ve been reduced to spectators watching an ideological food fight.

The one saving grace might be a plan to adopt a “public” option if the private health insurance industry can’t come up with a private sector solution within three to five years. This should partially satisfy the conservatives for now by postponing that public option. It might satisfy the liberals in that they’re sure the private sector won’t be able to do enough to solve the problem.

Let’s go back to 1993/94 when the Clinton health plan was introduced and defeated. One of the cries from the conservatives then was that the subject was so important and the plan so detailed that they needed more time to work on it. Fast forward 15 years and, even after having 15 years to develop a plan they could live with, they’re still asking for more time.

I think time has run out for both sides. If nothing comes of this effort this time, both sides should be punished. Neither the liberals with their insistence on perfection nor the conservatives as, “The Party of No” are representing the vast majority in the middle.

If this is accepted, perhaps, as they don’t represent us, we shouldn’t vote for them. Think about that, not necessarily voting for the opposite party but just not voting for anyone.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ted Kennedy and the end of an era

The death of Senator Kennedy marks the closing of an era of politics. The era mostly existed until the end of the Regan Administration where he and House Leader Tip O’Neil, although on opposite sides in most issues, could maintain a friendship after business hours.

While national politics has always been a game of hardball, it was also a game with rules of behavior. Participants were civil to one another and willing to compromise so that both sides received something from any legislation. This is the era that has passed to be replaced with the no-quarter-given process we now see.

Ted Kennedy could play hardball but he could also see the benefits of working together in the interests of the American people. He was the last holdover from that time, with the possible exception of Senator Byrd of W. Virginia, who defends the Senate’s reputation for civility.

I blame the passing of the era on the politics of our time. It may not be the politicians themselves who brought it about but the special interests on both sides who see their narrow interest as the only issue worth considering. Their lobbying has turned us into a 50/50 nation with half of us for or against everything. And the politicians didn’t fight that.

We work remarkably well in times of crisis but quickly return to our partisan positions as soon as the crisis passes. I’ll be watching closely to see how quickly the rosy glow of this weeks memorial events for Senator Kennedy fades back into the present bare knuckles tactics we’ve become familiar with.

The senator was the champion of those many Americans who had no special interest lobby to lobby for them. He truly was concerned with all Americans.

I hope there will be someone to take up his causes but don’t feel too certain that there will be.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The professor and the sergeant

Now that’s it over, I’ll put my two cents in on the subject of the professor and the police sergeant.

We were subjected to two weeks of various views of a confrontation with apparent racial implications. I suspect race had little to do with it. It was just a matter of the sergeant saving face when confronted with someone who wouldn’t comply with his commands.

Backing up for a minute – a basic operational point made in police training is that the officer has to keep control of the situation. We’ve all seen instances on TV when video cameras in the police car show non-compliance leading to confrontation with the officer. The police always win.

My guess on the situation between the professor and the sergeant is that, by verbally arguing with the officer, the professor put the sergeant in a position where he wasn’t in control of the situation. How to regain control?, arrest the professor.

If the professor had been white I believe the outcome would probably have been the same. This racial version has been allowed to stand because, one, possible racial over tones play well, and two, because it would be an even bigger stain on the police if they acknowledged that charges such as public disturbance are used to punish someone who doesn’t obey an officer’s commands.

Spending several hours being arrested and booked will make anyone question the value of arguing with a police officer.

This might be what happened.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Can you or the environment afford bottled water?

I’ve been thinking about bottled water. As an old and frugal New England Yankee I can’t comprehend the concept of buying bottled water.

Although I’ve heard of places where tap water had either a foul smell or taste, I’ve never lived in a place where tap water wasn’t satisfactory to drink. This causes me to wonder why so many people won’t drink tap water. (Well users may be exempt)

From a cost only point of view, 2 pints a day of bottled water ( half the recommended daily water consumption) at $.25 a bottle, is $182 a year. That’s $730 per year for a family of 4. The equivalent amount of city water, where I live, (365 gallons) cost less than $1.50.

Based on measured purity, it appears that many bottled waters aren’t any purer than local tap water. Forgetting scientific purity, many bottled water companies simply take water from the taps where they’re located, filter it some more then put it in bottles for sale. As those bottles sit on the shelf they gradually develop bacterial growth. So much for purity.

But, most of all, I’ve been thinking about the environmental impact of drinking bottled water. Think about the process of moving water from one point to another.

First, a bottle has to be created from basic petroleum. Then it’s filled ( a pint bottle contains one pound of water), loaded on a semi-trailer, transported at least several hundred if not thousands of miles, and finally sold to a consumer.

Once used, if the bottle is recycled, it takes energy to collect, sort, transport and remelt the plastic into raw material to produce another bottle.

For the roughly half of the bottles not recycled, there’s the landfill taken up by all the nonrecycled bottles. People talk about sustainable processes, well non degradable bottles will sure make a landfill sustainable.

In the two paragraphs above, imagine the energy it takes to perform all these operations.

If you want to calculate energy use like a dedicated environmentalist, consider the energy it took to construct and operate the bottling plant (don’t forget the energy associated with the employees in the plant), the energy to build the trucks and trailers, a portion of the cost of roads needed to be built and maintained to permit distribution, the extra size of the store needed to display the bottled water; the energy to find, obtain, process, distribute the fuel (oil) used in the trucks, etc.

Here’s a question. What’s the carbon footprint (considering the above) of the bottled water industry? What’s the contribution to your carbon footprint if you use bottled water?

I can’t understand how environmentalists can co-exist with this situation while anguishing over the minor impacts of a few homes or some additional parking for a new business.

It appears to me that environmentalism is segregated and compartmentalized so people can select and choose which particular portions or facets of the environment they will promote and which they will ignore.

Am I an environmentalist because I compost kitchen and garden waste? Or, am I NOT an environmentalist because I drive a mini-van? Am I an environmentalist because I grow my own fruit or am I NOT because I use chemical sprays on them? Am I an environmentalist if I do drink bottled water or if I don’t? It gets confusing.

I consider myself a practical environmentalist in that I practice and support moderate but not extreme positions. How many environmentalists support the full environmental program and how many preach only for those portions they can support without personal inconvience?

Bottled water anyone?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Kidney transplants

There’s been a bit in the news lately about kidney transplants being done overseas. The point of interest is that poor third world people are selling one of their kidneys to people from richer countries. This is news because in this country payment for a kidney (from either a live or deceased donor) is prohibited.

This seems rational in that we want to make sure the poor aren’t exploited by the wealthy. But what is really the case?

No one in the U.S. can be compensated for donating a kidney to avoid the above possible exploitation. BUT, the doctors and the hospital where the donated kidney is removed from the donor are compensated for their part in the process.

The companies that specialize in transporting a donated kidney (or other organ) from the donor’s location to the recipient’s location are compensated for their part in the process.

The doctors and the hospital where the donated kidney is placed into the recipient are compensated for their part in the process.

Everyone except the donor (or the donor’s estate) gets paid. Think about it. If it wasn’t for the donor, none of the above players would be participating in a paying, for profit, procedure which they all benefit from. Why is this necessary.

I can understand the basic origin of the process, fear of exploitation of the poor by the wealthy. And the fairness of someone needing a kidney not being able to jump to the front of the line by paying for and having a purchased kidney available for their personal use.

What would I suggest? First, that the law prohibiting the payment for donated organs be replaced with an open procedure facilitating compensation for a donated kidney whether from a live or deceased donor.

The donor or the donor’s estate should be compensated at a cost equal to (several options) a percentage of the total money that changes hands in the process, the money paid to the surgical team implanting the kidney, or any other open process that can be regulated.

Over 6000 people a year die in this country while waiting for a donated kidney to become available. This process would encourage some survivors of a deceased person to donate a kidney. I would limit donated kidneys to those from deceased persons.

But some people would be willing to donate a kidney to a friend or relative if compensated for the risk and/or cost to themselves. In such cases, perhaps a donor needs to take off work for a month or two to recuperate. Even if there were no compensation, I think a living donor should receive a priority commitment for a future kidney replacement if his or her one remaining kidney were to fail.

The poor will always be at a disadvantage no matter how it’s arranged. We just saw Steve Jobs of Apple jump to the head of the line for a liver transplant because he could get from California to Tennessee within 8 hours on a private jet (there are some rules).

The wealthy in the world will always be able to fly to exotic locations to take advantage of another country’s rules. The poor here are stuck with our rules.

Why should 6000 people a year die in this country just so a few can be sure life is fair? Which it isn’t.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How about a 32 hour work week?

The present fiscal crisis might be an opportunity to establish a 4 day, 32 hour work week as the norm. Think about having every weekend as a three day weekend. Four 10’s would work too for those businesses that need that much time from their employees.

In California state, county and local governments have implemented several furlough days a month (usually a Friday) to shorten the work week and reduce costs. It started as one day a month and increased (at the state level) to three days a month. It will only be a short time until a “standard” four day state week will be the norm, if only so that the public won’t have to remember which Fridays of the month most government offices aren’t open.

It looks like many businesses that can will also adopt a 32 hour work week or some other reduction as a way to reduce costs without having to lay off employees.

The principal problem for employees will be the reduction in gross pay by 20%. This brings up the philosophical question of why do people work.

If it’s for the money, what is the money used for? How much of the money is for things that are needed VS things we don’t need but only want? If we reduced our “wants”, how much could we have left for “needs”?

How much could be saved by not going to work one day a week? The transportation costs, lunch cost, some clothing costs, are obvious. But how about shopping and the TGIF lunch which tends to be more expensive than others?

For some day care cost might be reduced. It’s possible with an extra day off, homeowners could forgo a landscaper to take care of the yard by doing it themselves. What does that save?

Singles would have more time to play and families would have more time together.

And what would that day without pay really cost you? If you’re in the modest 25% tax bracket, you’re only losing 75% of that day’s pay (25% is already lost to income tax). And you’re not paying the 7.5% FICA tax for Social Security and Medicare (neither is your employer). Now you’re down to losing only 67.5% of the full day’s pay. Maybe similar reductions for state or local income taxes can be included also.

So what are you gaining? For less than that 67.5% loss, you’re getting a full day off. Your work week has been cut by 20% but your time off (Saturday and Sunday) has increased from two to three days, an increase of 50%.

If your business needs to remain open 5 days a week, consider alternate Fridays and Mondays off for half the staff – one four day weekend and one two day weekend.

This isn’t for every business or person but it could work for many if not most. In the early 1900’s six 12 hour days were the norm in manufacturing. When I was young, five 8 hour days and a 4 hour day on Saturday (no overtime) was the norm. So don’t get hung up on the idea that the work week is fixed.

It’s reported that managers often put in a 50 hour week. But note, this hasn’t kept a 40 hour week from being the norm for most businesses.

Try to think of reasons how it might be done and not reasons it can’t be done.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Why we don't trust government

Criticism of government is very biased and unfair. When we talk about government we each recall what we’ve experienced or have been told by others about ANY foolish (to us) governmental action. If a local zoning board does something weird, that’s filed away as a typical government way of operating. The same for every questionable local, county, state or national governmental act we come across.

We accumulate ALL these in a file we could call “government foul ups”

But consider how we view private sector mistakes. If we order an appliance from Sears and it doesn’t work properly, we don’t blame capitalism or the whole appliance industry, we blame Sears. The same for every other less than positive experience or relationship we have with numerous private sector providers. The individual private sector provider associated with a problem is the only one blamed.

The bottom line is that we only blame industry for specific difficulties we experience with specific providers. But, we accumulate our grievances against any level of government and develop an attitude that ALL government is therefore always messed up.

Think about this. If we accumulated all our complaints against individual private sector operators into one complaint file called “capitalism screw ups” we would be down on capitalism as a whole and not just the providers of poor products or services.

It’s the same with our political views. Congress has very low approval ratings and yet we continue to re-elect our local congressman (or woman) at around a 95% rate. We listen to much criticism about congress and legislation which we accumulate into our grievance against government but hear little about how our representative voted on many of the same things we don’t like about government.

So, take a minute to think about what government has done during the last year or two that you can directly relate to how your personal life has been impacted. I’ll bet it’s a short list.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Access to a basic medical package

I was reading a summary report by a group of local doctors who had met to discuss how the proposed national health plan might be structured. It struck me as insightful that they came up with the mission statement or core purpose that any proposed health plan should provide, “ access to a basic medical package”.

I focused on the word “basic” as the bottom line of intent. They didn’t say access to equal care, or standard care, or quality care. They said “basic” care. So let’s for a moment assume any solution or implementation of a federal public plan accepts that some people will have to accept a “basic” level of care. There will be those who say there shouldn’t be varying levels of coverage as everyone deserves to receive the same quality and amount of health care. This,"basic" concept isn’t really as radical as it might seem.

I’m personally covered by the much referenced federal health program. But, I still have to decide among many programs and between high and standard options. The latter two are mainly a choice between higher co-pays or lower monthly premiums. Those with more money can easily opt for the high option. Those with less must make a cost decision.

As I chose a core (named) plan I also have to look at what’s covered and what’s not. The plans don’t provide the same medical options.

So here we have an existing federal precedent. All plans and all coverage doesn’t have to be equal.

Why then shouldn’t any public plan start off with the,"basic", package with an option to increase the package at additional out of pocket cost to the recipient? This would be a first step towards reducing any public costs.

Now on to cost reduction.

I’ve seen a hospital charge daily room rates in the $3000 range but accept Medicare reimbursement of a tenth that amount. And private health insurance reimbursement at much reduced levels. I can say the same for in home care for the elderly.

Emergency rooms staffed for 24 hours have the same total daily cost whether they see 5 patients or 50 patients as long as additional doctors aren’t required. Their monetary loss for caring for indigent patients is much less than we’ve been led to believe. Many of these costs are accounting gimmicks and tax dodges. Let’s review what a 24 hour emergency room actually costs to operate. If I’m going to be asked to pay for this plan, I want to be sure there’s no double counting or tax breaks being passed on to other players.

Reductions here would lessen the amount of public money paid out to this type of care. The cry of, “ Look at all we do for free in our emergency rooms”, might be silenced or at least muted.

The public sector shouldn’t EVER be billed for services at a rate higher than what the lowest private health insurance plan is billed. Nor should they be billed any lower as that becomes unfair competition.

I think it would be accepted as a national statement of intent that no one should starve in their homes, die in the streets or die from the lack of "basic" medical care. Let’s not let a search for perfection stop “access to a "basic" medical package” that is “good enough” .

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Health care costs

There have been many comments about health care cost, present and future, and how it might be paid for. A basic point to remember about most costs is that for one person to pay less, someone, patient or provider, must receive less.

Let’s discuss major exceptions first. While there are many examples of reducing costs in manufacturing and service industries through more efficient operations, machinery, materials or the economies of scale, the human body and its internal functions don’t much lend themselves to manipulation for maximum medical efficiency.

Almost all efficiencies will have to come from making the current health care support system more cost effective. This will require changes in what service is delivered and how it’s delivered.

In the same vein (no pun intended), medical advances tend to increase the patient’s end costs. Automated lab work can reduce costs but this leads to greater use of lab testing to help the doctor make a decision. Or, results might be improved at the expense of a more costly treatment.

From the big picture point of view, reducing end costs under current practices is more a myth than an achievable objective.

Back to how health care costs might be reduced.

The most obvious method is to ration health care. This brings out the cry of a class warfare and would be met as strongly as is the concept of choosing your own doctor. A sacred right.

But is it? Does your present insurance plan allow you to select any doctor no matter his cost? To go to him as often as you’d like? Would the most highly paid and sought after doctor take you for a patient? Could you, like Steve Jobs of Apple, travel to another state to get a transplant?

We already have medical rationing but it’s based on our ability to pay. Let me recite an anecdote. There was an auto repair shop with the sign, “ quality work done quickly, inexpensively --- pick any two”.

Isn’t this how we relate to our medical needs? Except that we want all three. That’s if we’re not in the 47 million who have no insurance.

A quick thought – if health care costs are to be reduced, some way will have to be found to utilize the tens of thousands of Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT’s) working in this country, mostly for fire departments. They could become the staff for a pre-emergency room, a place for medical screening to vastly reduce emergency room costs.

You can come up with many reasons this won’t work, but all someone has to do is come up with one way for it to work.

Enough for this blog. I’ll take it on again in a while. During the interim, think about what health care people of various ages normally require.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Private health insurance

Just to clarify the record, there are two types of private health products. There is health insurance, where individual facilities and medical personnel are contracted with to provide health care services to owners of specific health insurance plans, and there are health care packages where organizations operate their own health care facilities (clinics and hospitals), employ their own medical personnel and are usually referred to as Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO’s). Kaiser is probably the largest of these.

The current national discussion about health care focuses on the possibility of the government becoming a major player by developing a means for all Americans to obtain health care coverage. The fear from the private sector is that government will offer a health plan the private sector can’t match and put them all out of business.

Accordingly, the criticism so far has been directed at raising fears in the general public that government can’t operate efficiently and will just cost more tax money and destroy private health businesses without providing quality health care.

Government response so far has consisted mostly of saying, “No we won’t” and retreating into waiting for legislation to be initiated.

Why hasn’t government challenged the private sector to participate in the discussion by offering a wide array of private options that would make health care available to all Americans?

In that way it would become obvious where the private sector was willing to participate and where they aren’t. Government could then take care of those that the private sector isn’t prepared to serve.

To avoid letting the private sector pass off to the government responsibility for covering the poor and elderly, (current Medicaid and Medicare) certain parameters of service would have to be developed to protect these two groups. There would be disagreements but eventually some “rules of the game” would develop.

If the private sector is flexible and innovative they should be able to better the government’s plans. If they can’t, then let them compete with government offerings.

The devil is in the details but you have to start talking about the issue in general before the details begin to immerge. Just throwing rocks at each other isn’t discussion.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Obama’s Strategy

During the election campaign when Obama was being attacked, his supporters urged him to counter attack. He ignored them, didn’t attack, held the moral high ground and won because of it.

After the election and swearing in, he took on a full agenda of programs. He had health care, the financial crisis, GM and the auto problem, Iran, plus others front and center. His supporters, and some who weren’t, said he couldn’t accomplish his goals unless he selected one or two programs to concentrate on. He didn’t pay any attention to that advice either.

I think I see his strategy.

There are only so many hours of critical cable pundits and news broadcast a day. There are only so many print outlets that will criticize him. He’s decided to offer them a multiple number of programs to attack with the knowledge that his opponents either have to select one or two programs to focus their attacks on or split their effectiveness by trying to attack ALL his programs.

He has succeeded in that his opponents have been unable to coordinate their attacks because of their individual primary issues and ideologies. The results is, yes much criticism, but no concentrated attack on any one program.

Even those that attack him on all his different programs come off as nasty cranks, rather than dispensers of information. He wins again.

Add to all this mix the random daily events that impact America and there isn’t sufficient broadcast time or print coverage for others to define who he is and how his programs will hurt their various special interests.

Further, by appearing regularly on TV, he keeps the public on his side by showing he wants them to remain informed about what he and government is doing.

This guy is operating from a playbook that those inside the Washington beltway don’t even know exists because he’s not following THEIR rules.

Think about the Clinton health care plan in 1993 and how it was defeated by their opponents being able to all focus on that one topic.

Obama was paying attention.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Blogs & Columns

As well as this blog, you may also find my most current published newspaper column at and an archive of my past columns at