Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

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An Open Letter to America

In Life,Politics on November 9, 2016 by thebetweenthoughts

Dear America,

WTF???  No seriously, WTF???

What did we do last night?  How did we elect a misogynist, racist, con artist as the President of the United States?  Why did we just hand over the keys to the most powerful nation in the world to the most unqualified and unstable person for that job?

Part of the answer to these questions lies in the fact that “we” no longer really exists.

As exit polls and electoral college votes came streaming in last night, a glaring division in our population became evident.  This was an election that pitted the white voter v. everyone else.  For the past eight years, the constant message was how racially diverse we were becoming as a country.  We heard how the Obama coalition – a multi-ethnic, gender-diverse, youthful group – was the wave of the future and they were going to dictate elections from here on out.  We heard how the rise of Latinos would impact races across the nation and how resonating with that specific group would be the key to winning in the future.

So what happened?

I’m sure political scientists will be looking at this election for years in order to understand how pollsters could have erred so horribly.  But it seems, at least on the surface, that the white vote (especially those that have been impacted the most economically over the past eight years) came back with a vengeance.  They were tired of hearing that they didn’t count anymore.  They were tired of hearing that they had a dwindling share of power in this nation.  They were tired of hearing they didn’t matter anymore.

So when a white nationalist candidate becomes President…what does that say about America?  What does that mean for everyone that doesn’t fall into that category?

Over the past 35 years of being an American-born citizen who is Asian, I’ve experienced subtle racism, institutional racism, blatant racism, egregiously blatant racism…but I’ve never really thought of America as a racist nation.  America had racists (so does every country and every population), but the country itself wasn’t racist.  Right?

Sadly, I now have to question that assumption.  Trump is a bigot and he campaigned on a white nationalist platform that targeted anything considered “the other”.  And “we” just elected him as President.  Maybe you’re the voter that convinced themselves that Trump’s economic “message” (or gobbledygook) resonated with you.  You were negatively affected by free trade and you weren’t seeing the economic gains other parts of the country experienced.  Or maybe you just couldn’t move past the Clinton scandals (even though they pale in comparison to Trump’s).  Or maybe you just wanted “change” in the status quo.  So you voted for him for these reasons – but you also have to come to terms with the fact that you just validated the rhetoric of the most blatantly racist candidate in recent history.  All candidates have flaws, but these are disqualifiers.

If there is an increase in violence toward Muslims in America – that’s on your soul.

If there are families torn apart by aggressive deportation – that’s on your conscience.

If there are people bullied because of how different they are – that’s on you.

We elected a President that stirs up and promotes all of these aggressive and negative emotions…and I’m honestly scared.

So what happens now?  That’s the question that made some people (me in particular) queasy this morning and made others rejoice this morning.  Is it possible to even create a “we” in this political environment?  Or is this going to be four years of trying to bring down the progressive coalition that’s been building in this country?

Being Asian, I thankfully haven’t been the direct target of Trump’s assaults.  But I wonder if I could be in the future.  Let’s say China or North Korea starts antagonizing Trump.  How will he respond and will he turn his vitriol to Asians in America?  It sounds idiotic (especially since I’m Filipino) – but nothing is off the table anymore.  This is the new America to which we’ve woken.  A country where logic and truth just don’t matter anymore.  It was a constant stream of lies out of the Trump campaign and half of the electorate just didn’t care.  How is it possible that someone who 61% of the population thought was unfit to lead…became President?  Is America really that intent on shooting itself in the foot?

I have been angry about election outcomes, but I’ve never been despondent.  I’ve never been inconsolable.  I’ve never worried about the future (as in, the actual existence of tomorrow).  This election has broken the American spirit.  Not just in its outcome, but in how we were all dragged through this disgusting process over the past 18 months.

Can we become stronger as a nation with this potentially authoritarian leader?  Can we heal as a nation with such a divisive figurehead?  Can we survive the next four years?

I hope so.  But obviously my voice doesn’t matter as much anymore.

;P

 

 

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Thoughts from a former Republican

In Politics on July 26, 2016 by thebetweenthoughts Tagged: , , , , ,

I was raised to be a Republican.

Like most immigrant families…(specifically, Asian immigrants…a relevant distinction), my parents came to America with the hopes of fulfilling the American Dream.  They came for opportunity, for freedom, for safety and stability, for the chance for our family to become what they saw as the ultimate goal in the world – to be rich and white.

Naturally, the Republican party was their preferred choice of political party affiliation.  (The social conservatism also appealed to their Catholic upbringing…even though the party itself has a history of being skeptical of non-Protestant Christians.)  And so, throughout my life I was told that Republicans were superior to those dirty, socialist Democrats.  If you believed in capitalism and earning your own way (without any handouts), then you should be Republican.

As I’ve grown older, my perspective on social issues leaned toward the liberal side, but I still believed in the fiscal conservatism of the Republican party.  I was a moderate Republican…someone in the vein of (don’t laugh) Arnold Schwarzenegger, Colin Powell, or John Huntsman, Jr.

After watching the RNC (and really the whole primary process), I’m not sure if a moderate Republican exists anymore.  The Republican party is one that has cast off science (yes…climate change is real), cast off reason (just watch the logical contortions any Republican politician goes through when they talk about gun control or immigration), and cast off any sense of sanity (Donald freakin’ Trump).  What happened to this party?  How did it transform from the party of Reagan to the party of Trump (and Cruz…he’s as much at fault as anyone).  Based on the RNC, it’s now the party of anger, fear, and hate.  It no longer provides solutions…just obstructions.

And it’s so sad to see this transformation because I can’t fully support the Democratic platform.  I agree on many of the social issues (LGTBQ rights, pro-choice, etc.) but I still can’t fully buy into all of the measures they’re proposing on government programs.  It’s a highly progressive platform…that’s hard for me to accept because all that I’m wondering is how they’re going to pay for all of this.

Yet the Democrats haven’t rejected science, reason, or sanity.  In this current political environment, they’re the only party that’s actually presenting a clear vision for the future of the country.  I don’t necessarily agree with it…but it’s better than the vitriol of the Republicans.

Is that what our choices have come down to?  “Something” v. “an angry orange goblin”

If there’s anything that this primary season has proven, it’s that our current two-party system is broken.  We live in a fractured America that have very distinct needs and wants.  Shouldn’t we have a political system that services those individual needs, but also strives to build coalitions when those needs align?  We have forgotten that politics and governing is about compromise and we are creating an unnecessary binary choice.

Is it time for a real third party?  One that’s practical and pragmatic…and above the name calling and extremism present in our current parties. Is it time to vote Libertarian?

Haha…of course not.  I wouldn’t waste my vote on them.

I’m voting Democratic this year because the Republican party has left me behind.  More than that, they’ve left reality behind.

At least I’m still holding onto my core ideals of voting for rich and white.

;P

 

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Healthcare Technology – A complete cluster….

In Politics on June 13, 2016 by thebetweenthoughts Tagged:

…I’ll let you all finish that tagline.

Given all of the medical advances that are available within the US healthcare system (at least to those that can afford it), I’m sure you may be wondering why I would have a title like that for this blog post.  But if you’ve ever wondered why it takes so long for your medical claims to be processed, why it’s so confusing to read the “bill” (either the the Explanation of Benefits from your insurance plan or the actual invoice you receive from your doctor), why checking the status of claims or finding a doctor is so difficult to do online…then this post may be for you.

[If not, feel free to check out The Ringer – the new site from the folks that brought you Grantland.]

One of the core tenets within our current technological revolution is the ability to access and transfer our information easily.  With the rise of technologies specifically made to make connections between information systems and applications easier (e.g., APIs), we almost take for granted the ability to switch between applications and see all of our information populated.

Yet in healthcare, we see insurance plans and healthcare providers working with archaic administrative systems that are designed to specifically prevent the transfer of information to another system.  While the US government is pushing for greater interoperability (e.g., the ability for systems to connect and transfer information), the current state is one where your medical records, your medical claims, and your personal health information are all locked into one system or another.  For the longest time, I just assumed that this was how things were always going to be.  In a “free market”, you have competing systems doing everything they can to lock in customers.  And one of the most successful ways to do that…is to prevent other systems from accessing your information and preventing your customers from being able to switch to a competitor.  It makes sense from a capitalistic, market-driven perspective…yet I ask once again, is that the system that we want for our health?

Upon reading  The Healing of AmericaI learned that in France and other European countries, all of their medical records (e.g., procedures, claims, etc.) are kept on the security chip that you see on most credit cards these days.  While this chip technology is “new” in America, it’s decades old in Europe…and they’ve taken advantage of it in more ways than just security.  By creating a common system to store and process medical data, they’ve been able to lower the administrative costs associated with healthcare (to the tune of around 5% for insurance plans…vs. the 20% that you typically see in American insurance plans).  Why can’t something like this exist in America?

Sadly…it’s capitalism.  As much as I am a believer in the free market system, I have to question whether or not it should be applied to healthcare.  From a purely technology standpoint, I know many will make the argument that innovation and progress can only be made through the free market system.  But a free market system inherently creates winners and losers…and do we really want losers when it comes to our health?

The healthcare industry (and in particular the healthcare technology industry) truly is the Wild Wild West.  While a few standards do exist, we honestly haven’t seen a more forceful push by the US government to shape the industry into something that will ultimately benefit healthcare consumers.  Obviously, it’s a product of the US government lacking the vision (or at least the consensus vision) of what it wants out of healthcare.  But the longer that we drag our feet as a nation when it comes to answering the question of “what do we want out of healthcare?”, the more entrenched we become in the cluster”what?” that is our current healthcare environment.

;P

[Update: here’s an article on the current state of interoperability.]

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Is Healthcare a Privilege or a Right?

In Politics on May 20, 2016 by thebetweenthoughts

[Note: This may be the beginning of a series of tirades against our current healthcare system…or it may not – you know how I am about blogging consistently.  I hope you’re as excited as I am about what the outcome may be.]

After years of health care reform being the top priority for both Democrats and Republicans, it’s sad that we still haven’t addressed the fundamental question of healthcare in America – is healthcare a privilege or a right?

Where you stand on that question will lead you towards the various infrastructure, regulatory, and market decisions that create a healthcare system.  For every other developed nation in the world, the answer is “right”.  The citizens of a nation are entitled to free access to healthcare at some level.  No person goes bankrupt because of their medical bills.  No person stays away from care because they can’t afford it.  No person dies because of their inability to pay for a treatment.

America, on the other hand, has chosen a different answer to that question.  We have chosen the path that seeks to profit on our health (or lack thereof).  We have chosen as a nation to allow money to dictate what level of care we receive.  And because of that, we’ve created a system that is costly and a country that lags behind others in actual health.  Our decision to let “the market” and profit drive our healthcare has led us to having one of the worst healthcare systems of all developed nations.  How is it possible that we spend so much, yet receive so little care?

[For anyone that wants to learn more about the other healthcare systems in the world, I’d recommend reading: The Healing of America, by T. R. Reid.  It’s a fascinating book that will leave you frustrated and angry about our current healthcare system…exactly how I like feeling.]

I don’t know what the solution is – it isn’t something as simple as a single payer system or the elimination of medical expense waste.  It’s more about how we think about healthcare and what we, as a nation, want out of our healthcare system.  Do we want to create a stratified world where some people aren’t able to receive care?  Do we want to encourage people to be healthy or do we value our individual freedoms so much that we would risk the health of all?  In a previous article, I made the case that it really was on us to learn more about our health and how healthcare works.  I still believe that to be the case, but now what we need to answer is if we care about the health of those around us?  Do we believe that our neighbor deserves to receive the same level of care as us?

It’s amazing that Republicans are still rallying against the Affordable Care Act, yet have no alternative to the reforms that have been in place for the last few years.  Healthcare shouldn’t be a political issue…it should be a moral one.

Every other developed country has based their healthcare system on the moral choice to make healthcare available for all of its citizens.  Are we prepared to make the same moral choice or are we destined to stand alone?

;P

 

 

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Retro Repost: The Public Option

In Politics on May 16, 2016 by thebetweenthoughts

(Originally published by The Rapt in 2009)

The Public Option
How will America deal with the growing healthcare crisis?

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

We expect our government to help create opportunities for success.  We expect our government to protect our freedom.  But when it comes to the most basic ideal in that founding phrase – life – should we expect our government to be responsible?

For the next few weeks, Congress will be intensely debating the concept of a “public option” in the healthcare reform bill they hope to pass by August.  For Republicans, the public option is another step towards a socialist state.  For Democrats, the public option is a method to control the rising prices of private insurers and to provide healthcare insurance to the tens of millions of uninsured.  For most of the American people, the public option has no meaning at all.

We treat our healthcare system the same way we treat our health, we only deal with it when something is gravely wrong.  The government has ignored the problem of rising healthcare costs because the American people have not seen it as a priority.  Currently, healthcare expenses are consuming 16% of our GDP.  At nearly $8,000 per person, America has, by far, the costliest healthcare system of any country.  Yet, healthcare reform has only recently become a topic in the national conversation.  In times of economic prosperity, we can afford to be ignorant.  Money, although not the best solution, generally tends to be the quickest and simplest one.  Our incomes were rising along with our premiums and deductibles, so we failed to notice a difference.  The financial crisis has taken away the safety net and has exposed various economic issues across the country: the inefficiencies of the automobile industry, the poor budgetary management of California, and the deep flaws in our healthcare system.

Although rising costs and a growing population of uninsured citizens are the most pressing concerns being addressed by the government, the deepest flaw in our healthcare system may be our general ignorance towards the inner workings of the healthcare industry.  Most Americans have no idea how their health insurance works; their only interaction with the healthcare industry involves their initial application and yearly renewals.  Healthcare has become nothing more than a few dollars automatically deducted from our paychecks.  No one knows how physicians are compensated, how insurance companies operate, how the pharmaceutical companies work with both to increase their own profits – it is an ignorance we treasure because in the end, we hope that we will never have to use what we have purchased.  With any other “product” this attitude would be absurd, but with healthcare, the most personal and vital purchase we will ever make, this is the norm.

The current free market healthcare system promotes profits over patient health.  Insurance companies have no reason to attract the sick and elderly, no reason to accept claims – their business model is based on denying coverage.  Pharmaceutical companies focus on drugs that will increase their profit margins, not necessarily on what will provide the greatest health benefit.  This same revenue-driven mentality carries over to providers, physicians and hospitals, who overutilize treatments to increase the money they will be reimbursed from insurance companies.  The physicians’ motto, “Do no harm,” applies to our bodies, but apparently not to our wallets.  Is this solely their fault?  No.  It’s a culture created by our indifference to our health.  Just as we have turned a blind eye to warnings about smoking and obesity, we have overlooked the fundamental inconsistencies in healthcare compensation.  Healthcare professionals are only working within the framework that we have given them.

Where does this ignorance come from?  The healthcare industry is intricately linked.  It is complicated.  But it is knowable.  The information is out there in the public domain, we just choose other streams of entertainment and distraction instead.  Sadly, this ignorance is just our standard approach to things we feel are beyond us.  If a topic is not force-fed to us through employee trainings, school or television, we feel no need to learn about it, regardless of its importance to our lives.  As the amount of information available to us has increased, so has our indifference to it.  We close off our minds to only the easiest of thoughts.  We have stopped being active participants in government and only engage in thoughtful discourse after issues have been distilled to their simplest and most visceral forms.  Healthcare reform is just another “large” concept that we, as normal citizens, do not feel capable enough to weigh in on.

Given the intricacies of our current system, one tidy solution does not exist.  One bill cannot replace an industry that has lasted for half a century, but it can establish the foundation for change – a change that will ensure all citizens are taken care of for their basic health needs.  On the surface, universal care seems like a path to higher costs for taxpayers.  But in our current system, the uninsured become even greater burdens on taxpayers as they often receive their health services through a costlier path: the emergency room.  The majority of uninsured ER services are billed to the government; the services that are not billed become absorbed by the hospital and eventually result in higher expenses for other insured patients.  A government-sponsored plan also benefits the insured, as a larger pool of insured citizens will lead to lower premiums and deductibles.

Universal care is only the first step in reform though.  We need to embrace our market-driven healthcare system and become informed consumers.  We need to dedicate ourselves to understanding the products the insurance companies, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies are offering.  We need to think about preventative care and how we can best utilize these offered products – not just for illnesses, but also for how we can continue to be healthy.  The public option we are facing is not a government health plan, but the decision of whether or not we are going to take full responsibility for our health.

;P

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The Trolling of America

In Politics on May 5, 2016 by thebetweenthoughts

So…we’re really doing this Trump thing, huh?

[I’ll put aside the normal ramblings about not writing consistently enough – more than a year since the last post! – and save that for another post…which hopefully will happen in less than a year.  No promises!]

As fascinating as the Republican primary has been…did anyone really think this was going to happen?  We were all reveling in the trainwreck of the Republican party (Disclaimer: I once considered myself a Republican…I fit all of the demographics in terms of income status and fiscal theories…but I can’t honestly accept a party that has become so anti-science…anti-logic…anti-anything, really.]…but I think we all thought that at some point during the process, the Republican base would wake up to the disaster that a Trump nomination would be.  Well…that point has come and gone.  And now, we’re left with a caricature of a human being at the top of the Republican ticket.  You can’t blame “The Donald” though…he was the only one on the Republican side to figure out what was fueling politics in this day and age…blind anger.  (Bernie Sanders is doing the same on the Democratic side, but he’s going against the Clinton political machine.)

Trump was able to tap into the id of America and foster this rage against all things “un-American” – which by his rhetoric includes Mexicans, Muslims, the political establishment, anyone that disagrees with him and protests him, and, of course, coherent thought.  I don’t fault Donald Trump though – as with any savvy (or smarmy) businessperson, he identified a weakness in the market and exploited it.  It’s just that in this case, the opportunity that he’s exploiting is the American people.  I’m more disappointed and scared for us as a country that we could give credibility to someone like Trump.  Are we truly that fed up with the “political establishment”?  Are we really in such dire straits and hopelessness that we would hand the country to a man with a bankruptcy-filled business record?

Admittedly, I live in New York City, so maybe I’m just not aware of the state of the rest of the country.  But, as a consultant, I travel to some pretty small and middle-class urban areas…and I haven’t seen the level of decay that Trump (and the rest of the Republicans) talk about.  Our country isn’t falling apart…it doesn’t need a savior.  Yet the two candidates that have sparked the most enthusiasm in the country are the ones calling for a revolution.

What happened to us?  Eight years ago it was about hope and change…we were in low point economically and politically…and (I thought) we came together through a candidacy of optimism.  Where did we go wrong?

Internet trolls are the people that harass others without any fear of recrimination due to the anonymity of the internet.  They incite anger and devolve conversations into single-minded, insult-driven affairs.  There really isn’t a point to their anger, they just want to bring out the worst in us.

…other than the anonymity, I think that pretty much describes what Trump has done to the political process.  Are we going to realize this anytime soon…or will Trump soon be trolling the rest of the world?

;P

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Hillary for America?

In Politics on April 15, 2015 by thebetweenthoughts

Nothing inspires me more than a completely open Presidential election – let’s do some bloggin’!

Hillary for (those that don’t really vote in) America!

I actually liked the Hillary’s announcement video.

(Random sidenote: Is it a good or bad thing that we reference her as just “Hillary”? All of the Republican nominees are known by their full names…even the one with some history [I’m looking at you Rand Paul]. Why do we ignore the “Clinton” aspect of her candidacy? Is it just because we know the name so well…or are we trying to ignore the association?)

Given the focus on Hillary’s personal and professional failings recently, the video was an interesting shift away from her and to the “everyday Americans (her term not mine)” for which she’s fighting. The implication here of course is that she’s going to fight the 1% who have been ruining our country (at least that’s the phrasing that I have in mind when she made that line). It’s an interesting tact that appeals to the population who vote in the Presidential elections, but don’t vote for anything else. With America’s general apathy towards politics and voting in general (but coupled with a propensity to bitch about everything), we basically vote ourselves into a corner every four years. “The People” vote in their President and then “The People” fail to support them in the intervening years.

Do I think Hillary is going to win? Probably. With the most name recognition (a more important factor in the Presidential election – notice a theme here?), she has the best chance of connecting with those voters who show up to vote once every four (or 8…or never) years. The video actually appeals to a broad coalition of “underserved” – small business, minorities, same-sex couples – which of course means the flip side is that it might actually repel the older, white base that represents the bulk of the voting population. But this is the problem with politics obviously. All it does is push people to the extremes – Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, yes…or no. It seems as if we’ve lost the ability to make nuanced decisions. We especially have lost the ability to explain…and subsequently understand nuance.

Surprisingly, Hillary does seem like the candidate most likely to embark on this nuanced path though. Through her experience in the State Department, we’ve seen her react not on liberal or conservative lines but in ways that represent a painstaking decision process. As a President, this thoughtfulness doomed Obama. But as a candidate, this might still be an appealing trait.

We all speak from our own political leanings – I can only voice the perspective of someone totally jaded by the political process (who votes every four years…maybe)…someone with a well-paying job (not 1%…but top 30%?…hopefully)…who is liberal in his social policies, but lean towards the fiscal conservative side. I’m in favor of the Affordable Care Act. I’m was in favor of the bank bailouts. I’m confused on immigration reform. I’m for same-sex marriage. I’m also an anarchist at heart…yet have one of the most conservative and status quo promoting jobs. Ha.

I don’t know if I’m representative of my generation at all – a 30-something demographic that have decent jobs, but aren’t really invested in what is happening around us. We recycle when we remember (or are guilted into it). We donate to non-profits (but rarely care what happens to that money). We bitch about unfair taxes (until we hit the next bracket). We are the apathetically ascendant. We stand to inherit the country, but we’re fine with our parents running things for now.

Will I vote for Hillary? Probably. But that’s more a function of the lack of current competition. (Which I’ll cover in a future post.) It’s going to be an interesting campaign season. I’ll watch every minute of it…and then try to remember to vote.

;P

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