Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Brainwashing or encouraging?

I was quite surprised at the outcry over President Obama's plan to speak to America's school children yesterday, commemorating the start of the school year.

Perhaps the strongest response came from the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, Jim Greer, who issued a press release condemning the speech and the President's motives:
September 1, 2009

Greer Condemns Obama’s Attempt to Indoctrinate Students

Tallahassee – Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer today released the following statement condemning President Obama’s use of taxpayer dollars to indoctrinate America’s children to his socialist agenda.

"As the father of four children, I am absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama’s socialist ideology. The idea that school children across our nation will be forced to watch the President justify his plans for government-run health care, banks, and automobile companies, increasing taxes on those who create jobs, and racking up more debt than any other President, is not only infuriating, but goes against beliefs of the majority of Americans, while bypassing American parents through an invasive abuse of power.

"While I support educating our children to respect both the office of the American President and the value of community service, I do not support using our children as tools to spread liberal propaganda. The address scheduled for September 8, 2009, does not allow for healthy debate on the President’s agenda, but rather obligates the youngest children in our public school system to agree with our President’s initiatives or be ostracized by their teachers and classmates.

"Public schools can’t teach children to speak out in support of the sanctity of human life or traditional marriage. President Obama and the Democrats wouldn’t dream of allowing prayer in school. Christmas Parties are now Holiday Parties. But, the Democrats have no problem going against the majority of American people and usurping the rights of parents by sending Pied Piper Obama into the American classroom.

"The Democrats have clearly lost the battle to maintain control of the message this summer, so now that school is back in session, President Obama has turned to American’s children to spread his liberal lies, indoctrinating American’s youngest children before they have a chance to decide for themselves.”
Hyperbole? Over the top? Seems so to me. However you can judge for yourself by watching the President's remarks.

Ironically, ABC News reported on Monday that Jim Greer had changed his opinion of the speech, calling it a "good speech" and one he would actually allow his own children to watch. However, he did not back down from his press release, claiming that his protest caused the President to change the speech and the lesson plan materials being sent to schools by the Department of Education.

I find it hard to believe this stuff actually happens.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

More on health care comparisons

Continuing my research into the health-care systems of other countries, here are a few resources that provide additional information.

In a comment to yesterday's posting, Burns referred to an NPR Talk of the Nation program about Canada's health-care system. I searched the web site and believe this program is the one he was referring to.

I also found an interesting Wikipedia article that compares the Canadian and American systems.

Finally, this AP article shows the irony of Britons' views of their system, which is prone to criticism within the country — unless Americans are dissing it.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Canadian's perspective of health care

Prompted by the health care debate in the U.S., I asked a family friend who lives in Canada about the Canadian system.

Canada and the UK are often the poster children of government-run health care. Critics cite these two to prove that "socialized medicine" delivers poor medical care, with rationed or limited access and long waits.

In an e-mail, I asked this family friend to speak of her family's experience with Canada's universal coverage. Here's her response, slightly edited to preserve anonymity. The italicized items are my additions to clarify meaning.
Hello Gary:

I am all for it. My husband and I pay a total of $96 a month to cover the two of us, and when we go into the doctor or hospital there is no bill coming later in the mail. We are not stopped from going into the hospital because everyone is required to have B.C. (British Columbia) medical or a medical from their employment which is very reasonable.

Dental (unless you have a plan with your employment) is not a requirement, although children whose parents have a lower income are able to receive dental care — which I might add would be a boon to a lot I see in the U.S. (sorry to be so blunt).

They did for awhile have a $5 or $10 fee for emergency use but ... have dropped that now.

We even see specialists without a fee.

I NEVER had had to worry about not being able to see a doctor or use the hospital, ever.

I know years ago my friend just about died in Redding (CA) when she was a little girl (appendicitis). Until her parents could prove they could pay, they (i.e., the hospital) would not look after her.

I believe that health care and education are the most important things a country has to provide for their people (of course food and choice of religion are a given).
I will concede that this is a single data point. Nonetheless, I think it's relevant. Additionally, when I was in Europe on a business trip in May, I had a fascinating dinner conversation about health care with two colleagues, one German and one British. Both were quite satisfied with their national health-care systems.

Perhaps a universal, single-payer system isn't the bogeyman that some make it out to be.

Update, Sunday, August 16

My friend sent me another e-mail, largely covering family items; however, she did include additional thoughts about Canada's healthcare system.
You will probably be amazed at the fact that Keifer Sutherland's grandfather, Tommy Douglas, was the creator of our medical system. He was a political party leader in Saskatchewan and went through very critical abuse by doctors, politicians, etc. over this, but he hung in there and got this benefit for all Canadians. We have lost some of it through abuse from immigrants and greed of politicians over the years, but it is still a good system.

We usually go to Yuma, Arizona each winter and do see the effects of your medical system. We always purchase extended medical so that we are covered while we are in the U.S. Our system will cover what they pay here, and the rest then is covered by our extended plan. It is not cheap.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The price of liberty

This Memorial Day was sunny and warm, the perfect occasion for a barbecue with neighbors and friends. Except for the parade downtown this morning and the day off from work, today seemed like just another weekend day.

That we could enjoy the day as we did, with hardly a care, is testimony to the men and women who have served the country, since before its inception, to help create and preserve our liberty. From their service — many losing their lives — we have the ironic privilege of taking our liberty for granted.

A statue outside the National Archives in Washington, DC, bears the inscription: Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. A Google search reveals sources that attribute the quote to either John Philpot Curran (1750-1817) or Wendell Phillips (1811-1884).

The citation for Wendell Phillips contains the quotation in a speech he gave to the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society in Boston in 1852. His words seem as relevant today as they must have been in 1852:
Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty — power is ever stealing from the many to the few…. The hand entrusted with power becomes … the necessary enemy of the people. Only by continual oversight can the democrat in office be prevented from hardening into a despot: only by unintermitted Agitation can a people be kept sufficiently awake to principle not to let liberty be smothered in material prosperity.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The future of your public radio station

KUNR, the public radio station serving most of northern Nevada and northeastern California, devoted its Friday morning Nevada Newsline program to soliciting feedback about the station. Given my roots are in Reno, I enjoy listening to the program to keep up with some of what's going on in the area. And I couldn't resist the opportunity to provide my own feedback to David Stipech, the General Manager.

I just finished listening to the podcast of Friday's Nevada Newsline. I enjoyed hearing the discussion of how KUNR is serving the community and the programming trade-offs the station has made in the past year. Also, I appreciate your willingness to do a show soliciting feedback and the spirit with which you took constructive criticism.

This e-mail will add to your feedback. My perspective reflects a different yet, I believe, growing segment of your audience.

First, a bit of background: Born and raised in Reno, I left the area for college and career. Now living in New Hampshire, I still have family and property there and feel a strong connection with my roots. This leads me to want to stay abreast of what's going on in Reno and to relocate back there one of these years. That explains why I listen to Nevada Newsline via podcast.

I am also a long-time listener of NPR and currently support New Hampshire Public Radio (NHPR), WBUR, KUNR, and KCFR — the latter since I regularly listen to their podcast of Left, Right, and Center. Historically, my listening was via radio. With the advent of the iPod and podcasts, though, my public radio consumption has shifted largely to podcast. Podcasts also allow me to find and consume programs that are not available on my local radio stations, such as Left, Right, and Center and Nevada Newsline. In addition, I have the freedom to access programs that are not on the radio: NPR's Planet Money, the New York Times World View podcast, the Washington Post's Post Politics Podcast, and EconTalk.

While my listening habits are probably atypical for my over 50 demographic, they likely reflect the preferences of the under 30 and, perhaps, even the under 40 media consumers. It's certainly the trend. The question this begs is if I can access NPR programs via podcast, how does KUNR remain relevant, and why should I remain a member? Arguably, the time and geographic limitations of radio, contrasted with the unlimited bandwidth and time offered by the Internet, will increasingly limit public radio's reach and success.

The solution to this conundrum lies in the same rationale used to advocate free trade between countries, i.e., let each do what it does best. KUNR cannot compete with NPR in delivering national and international news. Thankfully for KUNR, NPR cannot compete with KUNR in understanding Reno, Northern Nevada, and Northeastern California, nor in transforming that understanding into programs that inform local citizens. To survive and thrive, KUNR must increasingly focus on unique programs that address the needs of the community. And KUNR should offer multiple channels for people to access this programming, i.e., the Internet in addition to traditional FM.

Thanks for reading through this, which is offered in the spirit of building upon the good work you and your staff are doing for so many listeners. Hopefully, my points aren't new to you or the KUNR board, and the topic has generated thoughtful reflection and discussion, including even revisiting the fundamental mission of KUNR. You have a few years to respond, as this trend will take the next decade to play out, even though the direction seems clear.

Having spent my career in high tech, I often observe how technology improves our lives, usually by disrupting the "old order" and business models. In this case, I hope KUNR will be one of the change agents and not a casualty.

Best regards,

Gary Lerude

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Do Mexican trucks endanger American drivers?

One of the items tucked into the 2009 budget bill was a provision to end a pilot program allowing Mexican trucks access to U.S. highways. In response, the Mexican government is moving to impose tariffs on 90 American products imported into Mexico, valued at $2.4-billion according to an editorial in the San Jose Mercury News.

Enacted as a result of NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), the pilot program was one step on a path to establish “freer” trade by allowing Mexican truckers to transport goods throughout the U.S. and American truckers the right to deliver freight into Mexico. Before Congress moved to end the program, the outcome of a successful pilot would likely have been the permanent presence of Mexican trucks on U.S. highways and American trucks in Mexico.

Canadian truckers currently have no restrictions that prevent them from driving on U.S. highways.

Voicing the argument against the Mexican truckers, the Teamsters Union claims that Mexican trucks and drivers do not meet the same safety standards required of U.S. truckers and, therefore, threaten American drivers. The Sierra Club takes the position that Mexican trucks do not meet U.S. emission standards and will degrade America's air quality and contribute to pollution-induced illness and disease.

Contradicting the Teamsters' claims, former Department of Transportation Secretary Mary Peters has stated that the Mexican companies in the year-long pilot are required to comply with all U.S. safety regulations and standards and to carry insurance with a licensed U.S. firm. Drivers must hold a commercial drivers license, carry proof of medical fitness, comply with the hours-of-service rules, and be able to understand questions and directions in English.

While I agree with the Teamsters that imposing uniform standards and regulations is only fair, I doubt this is their only motivation in opposing this provision of NAFTA. Competition from Mexican drivers who make a fraction of the Teamster's pay will cause some U.S. truckers to go out of business and their Teamster drivers to lose their jobs. The Teamsters, understandably, want to prevent this to maintain their standard of living.

The benefit of allowing competition will be a more efficient industry with lower costs for shippers, leading to lower costs for consumers. Competition leads to what economists call creative destruction, which benefits society. I favor competition over protectionism, having developed this belief from the perspective of my career in the high-tech semiconductor industry, where the competitive race never ends. Another good perspective on this topic is found in Thomas Friedman's book, The World is Flat.

So let's establish common standards for all truckers, hold them accountable, and open the highways.

Sources and Additional Information