October 2004
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Month October 2004

Early morning ferry line…

There’s little that can boost my spirits more than sitting in an early morning ferry line, watching the gulls wheel over the foggy water, sipping a steaming cup of coffee. Knowing that in minutes, I’ll be sailing north into green tree-covered islands. Wind in my face, standing outside on deck smelling the salty air. Perfect.

Hope everyone reading is having their ideal Sunday morning, just like I am.

Brief slowdown in posting…

I’ve been traveling a bit over the last week and haven’t posted much. I hope to get back to my regular rhythm this coming week.

Will we be as safe as we….used to be?

Schieffer’s question in last night’s debate didn’t really cause the neurons to fire at all — during the debate I was busy listening to how the candidates answered the questions. But later, before hitting the sack, I did something I often do to restore my faith in Western Civilization: I watched an episode of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, digitally remastered on DVD.

My subconscious must have been twitching a bit, because I managed to choose the last episode, Who Speaks for Earth? Sagan wrapped up his late-1970’s series by calling our attention to the juxtaposition between the best and worst of human instincts. The best, represented by peaceful scientific endeavor to understand our world. The worst, represented by the deadly standoff between superpowers which held the world hostage with tens of thousands of individual nuclear warheads, many set to “launch on warning.”

The episode, and indeed the series, was a triumph of scientific rationalism and a call to action. Today, however, they feel more like an elegy for the Enlightenment. It’s hard to watch the series without feeling like we’ve lost something essential in the last decade. But that’s a subject for another time.

As I think about Schieffer’s question, it’s hard to accept the premise. When, precisely, were we safe? Certainly not during the forty-five years of the Cold War, with its policies of mutually assured destruction and hair-trigger missile launch windows. Not during the Korean War, as we played a game of chicken with the Chinese and by proxy, the Russians. Not during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and not during Vietnam. There’s a case to be made that the United States has been safer since 1990 than the previous forty-five years.

Certainly, today we face enemies of a new and different type. I disagree with those who say that analyzing the causes of radical Islamic insurgency is “defeatist” or “irrelevant”, but again that’s a topic for another time. It’s enough here to acknowledge the threat as a real one, and acknowledge that we’re not as safe as we can and should be. But I can’t help but feel that we’ve developed a dangerous myopia in this country since 9/11/2001, where suddenly the threats we face are of epic and unprecedented proportions. So quickly do we forget the much greater, much broader, and much more final threat we lived under for several generations.

Remembering the breadth and depth of that historical threat — the superpower nuclear standoff, mutually assured destruction, overkill, and nuclear winter — is important to help us bring today’s threat back into perspective. We’ve faced deadly threats before, without losing our heads, without destroying civil liberties (except for episodes like McCarthy’s reign of terror), and we can do it again.

And so, my answer to Bob Schieffer is this: we are just as unsafe as we have been for the last 50 years. We need to strive to become as safe as it seemed we would be in those halcyon days of 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell, and everything seemed possible.

Final Presidential Debate Thoughts

The debate seemed pretty clear-cut to me. Bush showed better than the first debate, but poor compared to the second debate. He kept his temper under control, but some of the answers were confused, and lacked much in the way of punch.

OK, I’m a sucker for a good joke. Whomever wrote “Being lectured by the President on fiscal responsibility is a little bit like being Tony Soprano talking to me about law and order in this country” deserves a raise. I suspect we’ll hear that one quite a bit between now and November 2nd. And we’ll see the video juxtaposition between his statement tonight on Bin Laden and what he said a couple of years ago. Over and over. Jon Stewart is probably on it already.

Bush’s answer on the flu vaccines was ludicrous. ‘Nuff said.

I do think Schieffer is asking some tough questions — homosexuality, better jobs questions than we’re heard thus far. I do think everybody ought to stop talking about Dick Cheney’s daughter. Heck, I want Kerry to win, and I don’t want to hear the poor woman used to smack the Administration again.

Wow. Instant reaction, but Kerry is laying on the religion and bible references pretty heavily tonight. Not sure that will convince any evangelical Christian to vote for him, but I suppose he’s aiming at some undecided demographic. It sounds a little odd coming from Kerry, however.

Here’s a question. What the heck is a “maternity group home?” Sounds like a poor house to me. Vaguely Dickensian. (definition here).

The President is not even close to credible on why health care costs are going up. Health care costs are going up because they’re not using information technology? Huh? The President gets the best health care of any human being on the planet, and hasn’t noticed all the computers?

Of course, Kerry’s answer isn’t really very convincing either — no mention is made of the fact that newer, high-technology diagnostic and therapeutic procedures are massively expensive and increasingly widely applied. This is a huge driver for cost increases, compared to per-capita costs in other countries. So it’s a tough problem, because who wants to not have the latest and best?

Gotta stop at this point because I’m getting kind of bored listening to the debate for the second time.

Newspaper endorsements going to Kerry

Newspapers are starting to issue editorial endorsements for Presidential candidates, and the tide is turning against the incumbent. Kerry leads Bush 11 – 8 in terms of endorsements (as of 10/11), with the bigger papers dominantly going to Kerry (4-to-1 ratio in total circulation). Here’s the list as of Monday:

“G” and “B” refer to whether the paper endorsed Gore or Bush in 2000:

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (G): 418,323
The Philadelphia Inquirer (G): 387.692
Detroit Free Press (G): 354,581
The Oregonian (Portland) (B): 342,040
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (G): 281,198
The Seattle Times (B): 237,303
Seattle Post-Intelligencer (G): 150,901
The Philadelphia Daily News: 139,983
Arizona Daily Star (Tucson) (G): 109,592
Portland Press Herald (Maine) (G): 73,211
The Day (New London, Conn.) (B): 39,553

Total Pro-Kerry Daily Circ: 2,534,377

Las Vegas Review-Journal (B): 170,061
Tulsa World (Okla.) (B): 139,383
Mobile (Ala.) Register (B): 100,244
The Columbian (Vancouver, Wash.) (B): 51,498
The Pueblo (Colo.) Chieftain: 52,208
Amarillo (Texas) Globe-News (B): 51,105
The Sun (Lowell, Mass.) (B): 50,369
The Courier (Findlay, Ohio) (B): 22,319

Total Pro-Bush Daily Circ: 637,187

Kind of speaks for itself, except that Editor and Publisher forgot that the local Crawford, TX paper endorsed Kerry as well.

Health Care Finance Professionals Don’t Agree with Bush

Tonight ought to be interesting on domestic policy. Kerry needs to “close”, and President Bush will really need to keep misrepresenting Kerry’s policies since he has little new to tell us about his own. But misrepresentations get fact-checked quickly, and opposed nearly immediately. Health care is a case in point.

President Bush’s claim that Kerry’s health care proposal is socialized medicine are bogus. In case we couldn’t tell that for ourselves, however, leading health care finance and management professionals have circulated a letter saying:

We have reviewed the health care finance proposals put forward by Senator John Kerry. Their primary thrust is to make the federal government a reinsurer when a single insured individual incurs health care costs greater than $50,000 in the course of any one year.

Because high-cost individuals account for a large proportion of the total cost of health insurance, this reinsurance is intended to make private health insurance more affordable for both employers and individuals and thus reduce the number of uninsured individuals and families. This approach is fully consistent with maintaining a health care finance system largely run by private insurance, private employers, and private medical providers.

Although Senator Kerry’s proposals should be subject to a full analysis of their cost and impact, any claim that they amount to “government run health care” or a “government takeover” of the health care system or of health care decision-making is simply inconsistent with the facts. We are not aware of any expert in health care or health care finance, whatever his or her political orientation, who believes otherwise.

At current count, 74 professionals have signed the statement.