ACORN pimp videos: the most troubling response from a Yale alum (4 of 5)


The rudest response to my ACORN post on the Yale listserv didn't bother me as much a private* email from another alum who I'll call "Healthy Discussion." Here's the body of her email in full:
"Your [listserv] email does not provide much room for debate or healthy discussion, and therefore I do not see the merit of your posting on this listserve,
unless your purpose is to offend those who may disagree with you."
The central problem with this email lies in the word "offend." Humor columnist Dave Barry explains what I mean in a video made by the folks at FIRE. He begins (at 1:55) with this observation:
the one place where you'd think free thought and free speech and conflict of ideas would be most encouraged [, the University,] has somehow become the most restricted and constricted and most intellectually constipated area of American life.
Then (at 2:32) he performs a wonderful riff on the O-word:
Any time anyone says that he or she is offended by anything, that's all you have to say--that's the magic word--"I'm offended"--and everybody just backs down and says "Oh my god, we don't want to offend anybody." . . . At some point the right to voice your opinion got trumped, at least in the universities, by the right not to be offended . . . Which makes a complete joke out of the concept of intellectual diversity and intellectual freedom.
Here's the thing about important and difficult topics: you can arrive at a healthy discussion from almost any starting point. But you can't have a healthy discussion if the fear of even mildly offending anyone stifles the discussion before it starts.

TOMORROW: ACORN, Yale and the double standard on free speech

*It was not part of the public listserv conversation.


Eating locally grown food: does it really reduce your carbon footprint?

Probably not, say Christopher L. Weber and H. Scott Matthews of Carnegie Mellon University in a piece on Kiplinger.com:

While locavores often cite “food miles”-- that is, the distance food is shipped to market -- as a reason to eat local . . . transportation accounts for only 11% of total greenhouse-gas emissions associated with food, while 83% is related to production.

I've always been skeptical about the carbon benefits of locally grown food, but I'd never seen numbers before that back up my skepticism.

Adds, Art Carden, an economist at Rhodes College, in Memphis, Tenn:

Produce grown close to home may be fresher and taste better. But food grown where conditions are most auspicious will require less fertilizer, pesticides, labor and investment in tools

Carden continues:

If you really want to reduce the carbon footprint of your diet, cut back on consumption of red meat, which Weber and Matthews say is responsible for producing 150% more greenhouse gases than chicken or fish.

From 10 Green myths debunked at Kiplinger.com.


Five local watershed groups in Baltimore announce plan to merge

From the November newsletters of the Herring Run Watershed Association and the Gwynns Falls Watershed Association:
Executive directors and board representatives from local watershed organizations – Herring Run [Watershed Association], Jones Falls [Watershed Association], Gwynns Falls [Watershed Association], Baltimore Harbor [Watershed Association] and the [Balimore] Harbor Waterkeeper – have met several times during the past several months to evaluate a strategic restructuring involving the five groups. . . .

The five organizations have signed a Good Faith Resolution to move forward toward the goal of evaluating restructuring to form a single organization, focused on water quality issues in the greater Baltimore metropolitan area.
Sounds like a good idea to me as long at they can handle the merger process reasonably quickly and smoothly.

Five organizations merging at once should be a challenge, given that mergers of two can be difficult. So it's probably a good thing that they've hired a consultant with experience in organizational development and restructuring.

Each of the groups has retained the option of withdrawing from the merger if they find that the final arrangements aren't to their liking.


"Human rights are the wrong basis for healthcare"

Congressman Ruppersberger, please take note.

Willam Easterly, an economist at NYU, had a nice op-ed piece in the Financial Times a few weeks ago.

He gives some history and context:
  • The notion of a “right to health” has its origins in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
  • The [World Health Organization] shifted from pragmatic improvement of health outcomes towards “the universal realisation of the right to health”.
  • Even Amnesty International . . . added a new section to its human rights report in 2009 on the “right to health”.
  • President Barack Obama recently held a conference call with religious leaders in which he called healthcare “a core ethical and moral obligation”.
Unfortunately, all of these groups--and President Obama--are on the wrong track. Their intentions might be good, but their efforts seem counter-productive:
the global campaign to equalise access to healthcare has had a surprising result: it has made global healthcare more unequal.
Why is the concept of "healthcare as human right" so flawed and problematic?
It is impossible for everyone immediately to attain the “highest attainable standard” of health (as the health rights declaration puts it). So [the question of] which “rights to health” are realised [becomes] a political battle. Political reality is that such a “right” is a trump card to get more resources – and it is rarely the poor who play it most effectively.

The lesson:

The pragmatic approach – directing public resources to where they have the most health benefits for a given cost – [has] historically achieved far more than the moral approach . . .

[The concept of a] “right” [to healthcare] skews public resources towards the most politically effective advocates,
who will seldom be the neediest.

The bottom line: those who frame health care as a "right" are serving up empty rhetoric.

Explaining the obvious to Michelle Goldberg

In a diavlog last month on BloggingHeads.tv, Michelle Goldberg claims--with astonishing arrogance, condescension, and superficiality--that she doesn't understand why so many folks are opposed to the health care reform bills (32-second clip):

Some responses to her questions & assertions.

ITEM #1. "Do [Townhall protesters] think the current system is acceptable?"
RESPONSE: No. The people who say at town halls that they are "satisfied" with their current health care plans are probably either (1) healthy younger folks who don't have to deal much with the current system and/or fear that they will have to shoulder more of the burden by subsidizing older folks, or (2) they are retired or soon-to-be-retired folks who fear losing elements of their existing Medicare coverage. Both of these fears are warranted, and people tend to fear losing something they already have more than they relish getting new benefits that they don't already have.
ITEM #2. "The worst part is the paperwork"
RESPONSE: Duh. Most people who have dealt with the system agree that the paperwork is awful. I'm just not confident that reform bills proposed by Democrats will reduce paperwork. Expanding government programs hasn't been a good formula for that in the past.
ITEM #3 "There's lots of misguided love for insurance companies among reform opponents."
RESPONSE: Matt Welch--he's amazingly polite to her--does a terrific job of dismantling this assertion, which is just not true. (Clip below, length 1:58, is different from one above):

ITEM #4. "Jim Wilson [yada yada] Glenn Beck. You can't argue 'death panels' and you can't argue 'totalitarianism' "
RESPONSE: If you revisit Aristotle's Rhetoric--the part on style in Book 3--you'll see that use of metaphors is one of the most powerful and effective methods of persuasion and argument. Opponents of health care reform use the terms "death panel" and "totalitarianism" as metaphors for rationing and encroaching government. Yes, they are gross exaggerations. But these metaphors (especially the death panel one) have touched sensitive nerves in the public. So yes, you actually CAN argue death panels and totalitarianism. And responses to these arguments (from Pelosi et al.) have been weak and unconvincing.
ITEM #5. "Just give me something like the French health care system."
RESPONSE: I'm no expert on the French health care system, but some quick Googling indicates that the French system does not suffer from problems the U.S. has with malpractice insurance, defensive care, and the tort system. This means that one of the key steps for getting us to something like the French system is tort reform. To my knowledge, the current Senate bill does little or nothing to deal with this issue.
ITEM #6. The reasons for opposition are "more psychological than economic".
RESPONSE: This was the most condescending of all her statements. If Michelle had looked to some of the more thoughtful folks presenting alternatives to the reform bills she would have found plenty of economic reasons to criticize the reform bills. I can think of three examples:
I. Check out David Goldhill's piece in the Atlantic Magazine How American Health Care Killed My Father. His suggestions:
  • Move away from comprehensive health care as the single model for finance health care.
  • Put the consumer, not the government at the center of the system.
  • Give government the primary task of bringing greater transparency and competition to the health care industry and directly subsidizing those who can't afford care.
  • Fund routine care out-of-pocket (not covered by insurance) so the people who care most about cost--consumers--are in their proper, primary role of trading off price, quality and value.
  • Fund massive, unpredictable expenses with insurance.
  • Replace our current web of employer- and government-based insurance with a single [mandatory] program of catastrophic insurance open to all Americans. . . with fixed premiums based solely on age. . . a single national pool, without underwriting for specific risk factors [that] would ultimately replace Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance. [With a high threshold for defining "catastrophic" at approximately $50,000 or more.] Limit insurance payouts in any year to the amount of available premiums.
  • Over time, shift over to funding all non-catastrophic care from an improved, mandatory version of HSAs.
  • Fund intermediate level expenses (e.g. appendectomies) just as we do things like new cars: with credit. But allow people to borrow against future deposits into their HSA.
The bottom line for this approach:
Imagine how things might change if more people were buying their health care the way they buy anything else. I’m certain that all the obfuscation over prices would vanish pretty quickly, and that we’d see an end to unreadable bills. And that physicians, who spend an enormous amount of time on insurance-related paperwork, would have more time for patients. . . .

It will do a better job than our current system of controlling prices, allocating resources, expanding access, and safeguarding quality. And it will do a better job than a more government-driven approach of harnessing medicine’s dynamism to develop and spread the new knowledge, technologies, and techniques that improve the quality of life. We won’t be perfect consumers, but we’re more likely than large bureaucracies to encourage better medicine over time.
II. Dr. Peter Weiss of Medically Incorrect makes many of the same points in this video. Dr. Weiss's prescription for reform includes the following items:
  1. Increase competition among insurance companies by allowing them to compete across state lines.
  2. Allow people to buy health insurance through affinity groups like AAA or Costco without regard to pre-existing conditions (just as employees get insurance through large employers).
  3. For employees who lose their jobs, allow them to buy COBRA insurance at the employer was paying (not the double or triple rate that COBRA charges).
  4. Strive for major illness insurance. Insurance is meant for catastrophes, not for everyday expense. Make people pay out of their own pocket for small predictable expense like office visits and PAP smears.
  5. Have a system where consumer must take ownership of expenses (because cost is the main culprit, not access or quality).
III. Then, there's Congressman/Doctor Tom Price's alternative bill titled Empower Patients First (H.R. 3400). It suggests:
  • Fix the unfairness in the tax treatment of health insurance by extending a tax credit or deduction to those without employer-sponsored insurance;
  • Use automatic enrollment, with a right to “opt out” of health insurance coverage, and promote defined-contributions for employer plans, instead of using government coercion and mandates, to expand coverage;
  • Establish health plan portals in the states so that patients can own and control their own health insurance;
  • Offer low-income Americans the option of a voucher to purchase private coverage; and
  • Give states incentives to experiment with how best to cover high cost individuals.
The full clip on health care is here (length 10:52):