Monday, August 31, 2009

Episode 74: Anime and Politics

I don’t know if many people who know me know about this, but I am a huge anime fan. One anime in particular, Rurouni Kenshin is my top five favorite anime shows. I just finished watching the entire series for a second time through. The first run is usually just plain exciting, but in the second time, since I know when all the action is coming, I look for the deeper meaning. In doing so, I found so many parallels between the struggles in that show and the current political landscape, it was staggering!

The story of Kenshin is fictitious, but based on real Japanese history. Kenshin was a samurai considered to be a legendary manslayer, which is basically an assassin. He was an imperialist trying to overthrow the Tokugawa Shogunate in what became a very bloody revolution. The Tokugawa Period may be described as similar to the Western middle ages – it was a monarchy ruled by a shogun, there was a class system (samurais would be like European Nobility), legalized prostitution, etc. After 10 years of bloody war and lots of lost lives (especially at the hands of Kenshin). The Shogunate was overthrown, and the Meiji government took its place (which is around the time of the American Civil War). The Meiji government is the beginning of the transformation (maybe integration) from Japanese to a more Western styled culture which employs a democratic system. This is where the anime starts; Kenshin, after succeeding in his mission to help bring about the Meiji government becomes a wanderer, swearing to never kill another human being again, and atones for his sins by using his sword to protect others. In doing so, he winds up on a grand adventure.

Throughout the series, Kenshin faces a series of enemies who are “shadows of the revolution” (let’s call this group the republicans). They hate the new Meiji government (let’s call them the democrats) because it is full of corrupt politicians who manipulate money, the times, and people for their own personal gain. Kenshin battles these foes throughout the series, but has the handicap of sticking to his vow to not kill. Of course he is victorious, but in each battle he is able to convince his opponent that the times have changed and they need to stop living in the past. All of his opponents to some extent buy that argument and make changes in their lives to adapt.

The interesting correlation between the anime and today’s political landscape is how resistant people are to change. I think it has to be human nature that our first instinct is to destroy things we don’t understand or don’t like, and our second instinct is maintain a status quo. In the anime, people went through incredible lengths to try and bring down the Meiji government, all of which included forming a massive amount of funds to start a new revolution and creating a new army of the people to violently overthrow the new system. The interesting thing is not one enemy in the show ever suggested anything to improve the system, they just wanted to destroy it outright. The irony, is many people from the Tokugawa era wound up becoming Meiji government officials, so the people the enemies hate are the same people of the old system. Also, ironic, is the number of bad apples in the system is far less than the number of people doing the right thing. The anime starts in the 10th year of the Meiji (the Tokugawa period lasted for 265 years) so before any change could really be made, the bad guys want the Meiji to crumble.

In today’s politics, We have a new president with new ideas, and he couldn’t even get into the get before people wanted to shut him down. We have bad guys like Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney who use their influence to cut down the president with every shot they get. All the while, the opponents never seem to mention any of their faults: big business is just as corrupt as government, the wars we’re fighting are mistakes, water boarding is torture, and we’re too oil dependent, among others. So they would bring Obama down, only to put back in power the people who created the problems in the first place. There is, and has never been, any discussion of working together; in fact the republicans made a resolution on the very day Obama was inaugurated to say “NO” to the bailout without even hearing the ideas on the table from an official authority! (keep in mind Obama was technically powerless for two months). The republicans seem hell bent on ignoring (or worse, not believing) the problems many Americans face. Take healthcare for example. I’ve continually argued that maybe we’re not in position to provide 100% universal coverage. Maybe the government doesn’t have to participate in the program. I outlined a bill that has very minimal government involvement. But rather than provide ideas, the republicans are more concerned with tearing Obama down to build their image (which consequently and ironically makes them look worse). Take green cars. Hybrids and electric cars would significantly lower are carbon footprint, save money, and lessen our dependence on oil. There is even a hummer coming out that is alleged to get 100 miles per gallon! But the conservatives squabble over the $1,300 more for a car. First off, for buying a car, $1,300 really isn’t that much, and second as the technology is perfected the price comes down. But rather than argue about different ways we could achieve the same goal, maybe more investment in battery technology rather than hydrogen technology for example, they argue about price? How about that war you dragged us into for an introductory price of $8 billion?

The Japanese and American cultures are so different but the battle between liberal and conservative ideology is the same no matter where you go. It seems to be more than a coincidence that when liberals want to build, conservatives want to destroy. Then they put people back in power that necessitated liberal ideology in the first place. When conservatives are in power however, they never seem to make good use of their time. As it was depicted in the anime, so it is done in modern American politics.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Episode 73A: L Comment/NCG Healthcare Debate: Argument 1, Access (I'm Back!!)

Wow, it's good to be back! I just moved to a new house and haven't had internet for almost two weeks! Being a tech head, that's a tough pill to swallow haha. But alas, I'm back, and I'm happy to see the debate has been alive in my absence. Moving forward, the healthcare debate with New Conservative Generation will continue, and we'll be talking about a bunch of current events so stay tuned!


There is absolutely no doubt that healthcare reform will be an extremely expensive endeavor. No matter what course we take, be it 100% “socialist” or 100% “capitalist,” any major reform will cost more money than the current system because an entirely new infrastructure must be designed and implemented. Thus the debate in my opinion is a matter of prioritizing Americans over the American dollar. According to the National Coalition on Healthcare, approximately 46 million Americans do not have health insurance. Those who do have health insurance primarily receive their coverage through their place of employment. However, studies show that premiums have increase just shy of 120% since 1999, causing many employers to limit the coverage they offer or stop offering healthcare all together. With our standard of living steadily declining due to decreasing annual incomes, the number of uninsured will continue to increase. The worst-case doomsday scenario shows that up to 66 million Americans will be uninsured if we remain on our current trajectory.

One of the biggest problems with the healthcare debate is the notion of whether or not all Americans should have some kind of coverage, regardless of who is providing it. There are many people who truly think things are fine the way they are, and if you can’t afford insurance for any reason, tough luck. This is absolutely unacceptable. The fact is, more access to healthcare in time will decrease costs. This is because more people will address illnesses because they reach critical mass. It is an unrealistic notion to assume once universal healthcare is passed, the emergency rooms will be flooded the next day. In fact, it would be the opposite – the empty clinics will once again have customers! In border states, many people travel to Mexico to get significantly cheaper healthcare. When Americans have access to healthcare, they will see traditional clinic doctors. This will lessen the burden on emergency rooms and save money there. This will also decrease the burden on Free Health Clinics, who rely on donations and volunteers to stay in operation. Also, ER doctors are required by law to treat anyone who comes to the ER. The patient will still receive a bill, but they don’t always pay it. Those expenses are passed off to you, dear taxpayer. There are a lot of savings like these that cannot be included in the Congressional Budget Office report because they cannot include projected savings, only actual savings on the ledger lines.

When talking about access to healthcare, we must also talk about the converse – denial of healthcare. While my worthy opponent CGen has, to a certain extent, denounced the claim of “death panels,” there are still many others who believe a government option would decide when to “pull the plug.” My question is, does this not happen already to some extent with private insurance? Our president’s own mother fell victim to the denial of coverage due to a “pre-existing” condition. And while we’ll never know the truth behind the insurance company’s decision not to cover her medical costs, doesn’t it stand to reason that a cancer patient with limited window of life expectancy would cost money the insurance company doesn’t want to pay? Now we can’t be too presumptuous here, only President Obama, his mother, and the insurance company knows the facts of this story. Still, these kinds of things happen every day. It has happened to people I know. People who have insurance don’t get proper treatment because the insurance companies find any way to not pay your claim. The right talk about the fear of your claim going through endless review from bureaucracy, but how is that any different from calling your private insurer, and having your issue moved up to tier 1, then tier 2, only to find you have to call billing and support, who then send you to tier 1 support, then tier 2 before they send you to their manager who informs you have to call the first number you called…

Many opponents of universal healthcare are saying something to the tune of “I’d rather see no healthcare bill passed than this one.” I don’t understand why so few on the right is talking about making this bill better rather than question whether or not such a bill should exist. Again, it is all about priorities – The American, or the American Dollar. I know we have the intellectual brainpower in this country to develop a plan that reconciles the need to ensure all American citizens have some kind of insurance while finding a way to curb the cost over a decade. That’s not what are conservative counterparts are talking about however. They are talking about reforming a system that they still give significant tax breaks to, that will continue to jeopardize the well being of American citizens in order to line the pockets of those who really control access to the system – private enterprise. If conservatives argued that we were trading one kind of control (private enterprise) for another (the government), then there would be consistency in their argument. However, the primary deniers of healthcare come from the very industry they are standing up for – private insurance. That is why we need some sort of public option to a) offset the balance of power for big business and b) dissuade private enterprise from cheating Americans out of the coverage they paid for with a competitor that will provide at least the basic services without question. Access to healthcare is the short-term and long-term solution to the healthcare crisis.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Episode 72: The LC – NCG Healthcare Debate!!

Ladies and gentlemen, the next series of posts will be special ones. In my last post I argued that we needed to put the rhetoric aside and engage in real, healthy, and fruitful debate on healthcare. Frequent visitor, good friend, incredibly smart and excellent right wing blogger who argues with great points, not baseless rhetoric, New Conservative Generation asked if I’d be interested in debating with him on the subject of healthcare, and of course I accepted – nothing fires me up more than a great debate! The debate with New Conservative Generation, CGen for short, will span the next few episodes. We will post our opening statements, and then over the next few entries offer several arguments on the various aspects of the HR3200 bill. You will find my rebuttals of his arguments on his blog (also found on the blog roll), and his arguments against mine right here on The L Comment. Please comment often and bring all your friends to this one because I’m sure it will be good. The finale of the debate will kick off the new “The L Comment: Sunday Comment” web radio show. CGen will be my first guest on the show and I will read and respond to some great comments on the show! Without further ado, my opening argument.


It is my opinion that Healthcare reform may very well be the single most important piece of legislation for President Obama, and arguably the boldest legislation in the past quarter century. America has tried and failed to reform healthcare 2 administrations ago, and the results are clear as day. We were happy with the status quo and as a result, healthcare premiums have skyrocketed, coverage has decreased, deductibles have increased, and most importantly, more people than ever before – 45 – 50 million Americans – are uncovered, unprotected. We have heard the tragic stories: the relative who died from a preventable illness because she had no health insurance, the brother whose unexpected illness costs so much money, his parents had to file for bankruptcy, and the young couple who work and have private insurance, who suffered from an illness the insurance company won’t cover, whole or in part, for a myriad of reasons. The time is now to put an end to all this and enact legislation that will provide some kind of health coverage for all U.S. citizens.

The right has made the healthcare debate a battle to maintain the moral and constitutional fiber of our great nation. I don’t disagree with the sentiment. I think it is moral to tend to all of our sick. I think it is moral that a nation as intellectually, morally, spiritually, and yes, even financially wealthy as ours to make healthcare a top priority. I think it is constitutional to enact legislation that will help our citizens fulfill the true meaning of the creed penned in our Declaration of Independence: “…that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Thus, it is my goal to show you that the HR3200 bill is a one we must pass for the following reasons:

1) All American citizens should have access to at least basic healthcare services to help diagnose preventable diseases
2) Though a significant amount of capital is necessary to build the foundation for lasting healthcare reform, its result, including fewer visits to the ER for non-emergency procedures, focus on preventative medicine and procedures, and more competition to drive down costs will ultimately save money in the long-term
3) A Medical IT network, designed and implemented with private enterprises, will just about eliminate the bureaucracy, which will significantly increase efficiency, and further drive down costs (which are by law, not calculated in Congressional Budget Office cost projections)
4) America is not the leader in many aspects of our healthcare system – many aspects that could be fixed with healthcare reform
5) Private insurance, when left unchecked, is not a reliable solution for the healthcare crisis because they do not have the citizen’s best interests at heart

The most important factor to consider in this bill is we are trying to design a bold system that is uniquely American. There are many lessons to be learned – good and bad – from universal healthcare systems practiced in other modern nations. I strongly believe the debate should not about whether or not we have a universal healthcare plan, but rather how to implement one in a fashion that does not compromise our strength in medical technology, skilled practitioners, high quality healthcare facilities, and world-class medical research, while still being affordable for every citizen. It times of peril, America has always risen to the occasion by working together and staring the status quo straight in the eyes. We have won every time we were serious about major reform. This issue should be no different.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Episode 71: Red vs. Blue: Healthcare

There is a war going on. The war I’m talking about is not thousands of miles of away. It is right here in our backyard – The war on The American Healthcare System.

Tom Brokaw asked Obama and McCain a question in the debate that is so relevant to the healthcare debate, he might have had a crystal ball. He asked if the candidates thought healthcare was a right, privilege, or responsibility. This question is the crux of the healthcare debate. Debating this question has caused the most divisive political environment we’ve seen since Operation Iraqi Freedom. Let’s try to dig into the question a bit and try to understand the ideologies of each side and try and separate facts from myth.

If you are Blue, you most likely believe access to health is a right

I will state at the onset I most definitely squarely in the Blue side of this debate. I believe access to healthcare is as much of a right to free access to water. Being in good health should be like drinking from a water fountain; if I’m thirsty, I should be able to quench my basic human need for free. I am not always thirsty, but I know that whenever I am, I can get a drink. Humans can survive weeks without food, but we can’t go longer than a few days without water. I realize I could pay for premium water (Aquafina is by far my favorite) and there may be times when I want or need to do so. I also expect to pay for some kind of maintenance – I pay a quarterly water bill like most Americans. However generally speaking, being thirsty is rarely a concern I ever have because I know I have access whenever I need it.

Analogies aside, the other critical issue from the Blue point of view is there needs to be more emphasis on preventative measures. Everything from regular checkups to wearing condoms, to having medicine to treat diseases before they become major problems is an important aspect of Blue agenda. Preventative measures will ultimately cost the system far less, and also serve to make the emergency rooms more efficient because they will be treating real emergencies, not a bad case of the sniffles.

If you are Red, you most likely believe access to health is a responsibly

You work hard. You earn a paycheck. You raise a family. The fruits of your labor should be yours to enjoy. If healthcare is important to you, then you will go shopping for different providers, make an informed decision, and buy your own plan with your own money. The problem with people is they want things for free, and people who want and get things for free are less likely to work. Thus your hard earned paycheck is going to help some loafer who doesn’t do anything to help his own situation. But you have a heart. There is a local hospital you donate money to. You run the 5K race for cancer to help raise awareness and to do your part to contribute to your local community.

The critical issue for you is the feeling of losing the moral fiber of this country. “Obamacare” is a socialist plan that will kick start a series of big legislation that will turn this country to the United States of Sweden. You are not just fighting for your paycheck, but also for your way of life. Moreover, you have an natured or nurtured distrust for the government. We’ve watched our last President squandered a surplus. We’ve watched governors send their states straight to financial ruin. And a quick look at C-Span reveals many of our elected officials are spineless nincompoops whose head would fall off if it weren’t attached to their neck. So if the government is largely ineffective, then how the hell can they run the healthcare system?

If you think access to healthcare is a privilege, you are (hopefully) wealthy and will likely have to fund this program

I say hopefully because the word privilege would imply some people deserve healthcare while others may not. Because I’m a blogger, I do not need to abide my rules of objectivity; if this is your stance I think you are pretty heartless, and I’m dying to hear how you could possibly defend that stance. Unless…

…you are rich. If you make over $250,000 per year, your increased taxes will go toward paying for this plan. If you are paying a significant amount of money to fund a program, I think it is understandable to not want to give away your hear earned dollars to just anybody. However, if you make $250,000 or more, then you should’ve been seeing this coming all long because Obama made no secret about coming after your tax dollars. Therefore, if you voted for Obama and you choose not to believe what Glen Beck says, then you probably fall into the Blue camp. Conversely, if you voted for McCain or have been completely turned off by the democrat’s lack of focus on the issue, you stand with team Red.

The only thing I think most people can agree on is the system needs reform. That’s a start, but the problem with this debate, more so than most debates is we’ve hit a political stalemate because there is no middle ground here. If you think healthcare is a responsibility, there is no midpoint; I have to convince you it is a right all Americans should enjoy. Likewise I believe access to health is a right, and there is nothing you can say to change my mind. I got high fives from the right in my last post when I stated my displeasure with Obama to seize control of the problem, using a fire extinguisher to put out the fire in the living room while the whole house is on fire. While I love high fives, let me be clear, I still very much think every American should have healthcare.

That’s why the healthcare fight is so dirty. It’s an all or nothing bill. Each side is pulling out all the stops to push their agendas, and each side is pulling dirty, low-blow tactics. Right wing media has Glen Beck, Hannity, Limbaugh, and O’Reily as their champions, controlling the message, feeding the lies, misinformation, and conspiracy theories to delegitimize our President and his plan. Left wing media has Keith Olbermann, Chris Mathews, broadcast news, and NPR as their champions, controlling the message, hiding the true costs, future implications, and asserting their omnipresence to paint the right wing as crazy (which I still the far right is legitimately crazy), using the President’s popularity and conservative’s unpopularity to propagandize the effectiveness of this bill.

What is missing from this debate is the debate on the ISSUES! Read the blogs, watch cable news, look at the Daily Show or Dennis Miller, listen to the radio, read the paper… there is no good news to be found. Neither side can argue their point without resorting to a shouting match. Even the calm, cool, collected Obama has raised his voice in frustration during town halls.

If you read my blog, I think it is a fair statement that I try very hard to find middle ground in all the 70 debates we’ve had here. I am going to break character here and not find middle ground on healthcare. I’m going to state my case on healthcare, not on the grounds of costs, effectiveness, or deficits, but rather on the philosophy that access to healthcare is a right. I’m going to devote the next couple of debates convincing you, dear reader that healthcare is indeed a right. Bring your A game, because I’m bringing mine. If I do convince you however, then the question should be not whether we should have free access to healthcare, but how do we do that in a cost effective and American way. Let the debate begin.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Episode 70: Change We Could Believe In

There is a problem in America. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to live these days. Food costs too much, money is hard to come by, if you’re sick and uninsured, you’re screwed, and every solution seems to be a short term fix. There is a lot of talk in the Obama administration about looking into the future, and I do believe they are doing that. However, their eyes are so far down the road sometimes, it seems they lose track of the short term goals that need to be accomplished in order to achieve the long term goals. Let’s look at some things that have happened in my short absence:

Cash for Clunkers
A government program to entice people to trade in their cars to buy fuel efficient ones by receiving a $4500 credit on a trade for an old car. The program cost $1 Billion dollars, and it ended a few days ago. Ford, Chrysler, and GM reported their inventory was, for the first time in a long time, very low which is great news. Is it likely those sales figures will sustain with the closing of the program? Probably not. If you give a mouse a cookie, it will eat it. In essence, we spent $1 Billion dollars to make far less than that on sales and fuel savings.

This debate is just about over. The democrats lost control of the message and never got it back. During the campaign, Obama made it personal. He told the story of his dying mother who was arguing with insurance providers on whether her treatment would be covered because of pre-existing conditions. That was a great place to start the debate. During the campaign, Obama weathered the accusations and slander storm by sticking to the personal matters – the single mother with 3 children who works three jobs and attends all the PTA meetings, the elderly couple who saw their life’s work vanish in the stock market crisis, the teacher who has to teach 45 children in a small classroom that is 60 years old and in terrible repair. Now, he is going on the attack, playing the blame game, pitting democrats against republicans, and pretty much abandoned the spirit of cooperation he promised.

While I’m thinking of it, wouldn’t make a lot of sense to give small businesses the money for healthcare? They could split the costs of healthcare to make it more affordable to small businesses, offer free healthcare to Americans 18 and under who have social security cards, and provide unemployment health insurance like we do with jobs. That way, every business HAS to have a healthcare plan (which would be private) so every working American has healthcare. Unemployed Americans file for free healthcare using the same conditions for unemployment – showing they are actively looking for work, make less than X amount of dollars, etc.

The Economy
Jobs are still being lost at alarming rates. He campaigned to create or save 3 million jobs by creating more jobs at home, reinvesting in our infrastructure, rebuilding our schools, paving the way for 21st century innovations, and getting broadband access to every American. Yet he wants to tax the rich, tax businesses (mostly the larger ones), and still hasn’t fully addressed the banking situation that makes it difficult for small business owners to operate their businesses. Let alone effectively tackling the healthcare issue to ease the burden off small business. There is no shame in a democrat lowering taxes for businesses, especially small businesses, as long as we make provisions to reform the system and close the loopholes that help people to unfairly and unjustly benefit from the system.

The War
I have a deep post coming up on the war very soon. I’d like to ask my readers, on a scale of 1 -10, 10 being the highest, how much do you care about catching Osama bin Laden at this point? Personally, he has been downgraded to a “Target of Opportunity.” We lost 76 of our brothers and sisters in arms since the new Afghanistan plan. The exit strategy is just as non-existent as it was with Bush. While I’d never suggest they are fighting this war for nothing, Obama is going the absolutely wrong way about this war. Oh yeah, we’re STILL in war aren’t we…

I’ll defer to Nate Silver and his bulls-eye-accurate polling abilities for the actual numbers, but living in New York again, I live amongst the richest and poorest in the country. Going strictly by unscientific observation, I have concluded:

There is an inverse relationship between those who favor Obama and those who don’t, such that the less money one makes the more they love Obama and conversely, the more money one makes the less the like Obama.

For the middle class, it depends on your region and socio-political philosophy. While I’m upset with Obama, I do think that with much fine tuning he can regain control of his agenda, because I personally believe in doing things for the common good. However if you are of the belief that one’s treasures are his own, and it is solely his choice to decide who to share with, you probably don’t like Obama. The good news is Obama’s policies are consistent with his actions for his whole political career. He has spent his political life as the defender of the little guy, trying to get them to a point where they can compete with those of higher socio-economic status. He was especially successful with this approach early in his career as a community organizer, and was able to translate those results in the Senate. However as president, he must realize that diminishing the socio-economic gap is not the way to long-term economic prosperity and longevity, it is instead a by-product of invigorating the middle class. We saw this in the 90s with Bill Clinton. Part of the reason why crime was so low in my city of New York was a lot of people had jobs! It wasn’t catering to the poor class that generate jobs, it was creating opportunities for lower-middle class people to create the jobs that employed the poor class, thus lifting them up into the middle class, and lifting the once lower-middle class up a bar as well!

Such government programs like clunkers for cash, or local city programs like Jobs Corps do stimulate movement in the lower echelon of the socio-economic chain, but government programs have never been a suitable way to garner long term improvement of unemployment. They were intended to be ways to train employees for better jobs in private enterprise. When a government program is not used as it was intended, it becomes a serious drain on the state, which is exactly the opposite of what we need right now. In order for Obama to achieve his vision, he needs to get the middle class in action and now! No more arguing, finger pointing, and partisan crap. I think we all want the same thing, so let’s put our heads together and make it happen, starting with getting private enterprise back in the fold.