Health Care Reform: Another Look at the Numbers

Discussion of most political matters involves numbers, but the debate over the health care reform bill has presented us with a huge discrepancy in numbers such as “how many people support repealing the bill?” and “how much will the bill cost or save?” as presented by different sides. Some numbers result from polling, others from government agencies, and still others from demographics and other statistics.

How is the average American to know which numbers are more accurate than the others? Which ones can be computed exactly and which ones can never be more than estimates? How are the statistics computed and what potential errors exist? Does everyone need courses in statistics, political polling, and accounting to truly understand?

Naturally, a person who has background in one or more of those areas has an advantage over someone who does not, but the rest of us can improve our interpretations of all these numbers with knowledge of a few basic concepts.

Numbers that result from polls, such as the percentage of the population that wants to repeal health care, can be determined in more ways than one. For example, a person could ask all of his/her friends what they think. Most Americans know that is not a valid way of polling, since the result is biased in favor of the individual’s own beliefs. Similarly, a poll that is restricted to a certain group will be affected by the self-selection of group membership (think about asking the health care repeal question at a rally held by the Tea Party). That is why the phone-in or text-in polls created by news networks do not really mean much. The sample consists only of people who watch a certain news show.

In order to give truly valid results, a poll must be conducted with a randomized sample. For instance, a computer program can be designed to select phone numbers at random from all the phone numbers in Texas, or even in the entire United States. Then pollsters call these numbers and ask the questions of interest. Sometimes even this method can result in misleading results, since respondents must agree to answer the questions, but it is one of the best methods available to those who seriously want to find the truth.

In the course of discussion about the health care bill, numbers regarding the financial effects of the bill were bandied about. Some said the bill would result in extra costs which would then be transferred to taxpayers, while others said the bill would actually save the government money. Most of the time numbers like this are meaningless since there is just no way of predicting them, considering the many factors that are involved. One might as well attempt to predict the value of the S&P six months from now. Any stock trader will tell you it’s impossible. An estimated value can be determined, but there are huge margins of error because we just don’t know what will happen between now and then.

The best prediction that can be made about a new government program is that it will cost more money – possibly just a little more, possibly a lot – because very few programs have been known to actually decrease costs.

When demographics are used only in a descriptive fashion, the information obtained can be very accurate. The Census conducted every decade produces an excellent resource for many scientific studies. In between, smaller studies are carried out with the same purpose of describing the characteristics of a certain population. Although demographics always fall behind reality (during the time in which the data are collected and interpreted, the population has already changed), they represent a valid way of presenting facts about a population as a whole.

Problems may occur, however, when data about smaller groups is extracted from the larger census or from a randomized polling study. At the highest level (the population or the random selections), the study may be sufficiently randomized, but lower levels such as “all blacks” or “all Christians” may not be randomized. It is a good idea to check the source of the numbers, regardless of whether they are demographics, polls, or financial predictions. This is particularly true in the health care debate, which still rages on despite having been signed into law. Legislators and their constituents should take a long look at the numbers associated with health care reform to find out where, when, and how they were obtained. With that information, one can make a determination of which side to support.


Modern poorhouse, anyone?

It appears that the Tea Party (Republican) candidate for governor of New York has a surprising-but-not-new idea for dealing with poverty.

Carl Paladino’s plan includes consolidating inmates and possibly privatizing prisons, then opening the empty prisons for the poor to enter “voluntarily.” He compares his program to the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps.

There are several differences, however.

Paladino has previously said that his state’s social services programs encourage poor and illegal immigrants to move there.  He also states that his “poor prison” plan will teach needed skills and “personal hygiene” to those who enter, and that they will need to do work for the government as needed in return for their keep.

Requiring work from those helped in this way is similar to the CCC and to current social programs like welfare. According to Jessica Pieklo at, however, Paladino does not comprehend the causes of poverty in the US.

While I appreciate the irony in Paladino giving credit to the CCC for his idea, I’m more than a little disturbed by his overall misunderstanding of poverty in this country.  For a large percentage of the population, poverty is not simply a function of a lack of skills or poor hygiene.  Those who do receive some kind of public assistance already work in exchange for those benefits.  They have to.

I perceive that Paladino does not miss any meals or wonder where he will sleep each night. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean he can’t empathize… except that he doesn’t, quite.

The Huffington Post also covered this story, emphasizing Paladino’s plan to have the poor work in various types of service including military service. He has not specified whether they would get pay or not, nor from where the money for this program will come. However, he promises a 20% reduction in New York’s budget and a 10% reduction in income tax.

I believe that Paladino’s plan could work, with certain caveats.

  1. Moving into the former prison wards would be strictly voluntary.
  2. Families would be able to live together.
  3. Children would go to school as usual.
  4. Workers would receive payment, at least minimum wage, but hopefully more since the minimum wage is below poverty level.
  5. Every person living in the dorms would receive medical, dental, optical, and mental health treatment free of charge. The reason for this is that a healthy individual is better able to take his/her place in society as a functioning, contributing member.

IMHO, this plan is good, IFF (if and ONLY if) the above characteristics are met. If done properly, it could totally change the economy and crime level of a state.

Blog Migration

I’ve moved my old blog to this one — fortunately, there weren’t too many posts on it.

Racial Politics

25 Jul 2010 Leave a Comment

by wideeyedbohemian in future, politics, psychology Tags: , , , , ,

To deny the existence of racism, even among people who consciously choose to treat others with equal care and respect, is terribly naïve. Racism is instilled in an individual by upbringing, whether directly or indirectly. Before desegregation it was also evident in the structure of society, particularly in the South. A person who has been taught racism as a child will retain that teaching, even if his or her behavior does not show it.

People who later learn that racial principles are false and that it is unethical to treat others differently based on the color of their skin will alter their behavior. However, it is characteristic of human nature that fear can quickly bring racism to the forefront. When a person is afraid and the “fight, flight or freeze” reaction takes place (see previous post), the prefrontal cortex of the brain is another area that does not get as much oxygen as normal, since blood flow is pushed towards the extremities.

The prefrontal cortex is the area responsible for judgment, initiative, and cognitive control. If this area is oxygen-deficient, it seems reasonable to conclude that it may not be fully functional, and as a result, judgment and self-control are impaired.

Politicians and leaders have used this principle for a long time without having any idea why it works. All they knew at the time was that inciting fear in one group with regard to another would result in anger and hatred, powerful emotions that could be manipulated to accomplish their goals.

Let’s examine the classic example of Adolf Hitler, who successfully encouraged the entire German nation to feel violent anger and hatred against a racial minority, the Jews. Hitler vituperatively declared that Jews were responsible for Germany’s loss in World War I. He called them filthy criminals, liars, deceitful. The Treaty of Versailles, which had humiliated Germany, was the result of a Jewish conspiracy.

(It should be noted here that during the worst years of the Black Death in the 14th and 15th centuries, Europeans, particularly those in the area now known as Germany, believed that the plague was caused by wells poisoned by Jews.)

Coming back to the 21st century, we see that many sources have been stirring up racial tension in various ways. Most of the fear is projected at African-Americans and Latinos, the latter because of the common belief that illegal aliens from Mexico are taking jobs away from white workers. Muslim jihadists are against anyone who is not a Muslim. Why all this simmering racism and its accompanying fear, anger, and hatred?

Some Muslims believe that the Koran instructs them to kill any infidel who does not convert; the meaning of jihad is “holy war.” Groups of white supremacists (neo-Nazis) appear to be growing. One group declares, “Only white non-Jewish heterosexuals should be American citizens. Anyone not meeting this definition will be allowed to work here but not as a citizen.” Although these groups have existed for a long time, the election of a mixed-race President may have increased their popularity.

African-Americans, Latinos and other groups are understandably nervous about anything that looks like discrimination. Thus, they are afraid, too. Fear is dividing the U.S. into numerous splinter groups.

What will happen next? If the path we are on continues its downward trend into more fear, anger, and hatred, I believe we will begin to see riots and perhaps assassination attempts by the middle of 2011. I doubt that organized civil war will develop, because the combatants are mixed together throughout the U.S. Instead, domestic terrorism will rise on all sides. By the beginning of 2012, living in the U.S. will not be as safe as it is today.

Cheerleader Illness

24 Jul 2010 Leave a Comment

by wideeyedbohemian in psychology Tags: , , , ,

This video clip from ABC news asks the question: are this cheerleader’s post-flu vaccine symptoms real?

This is a ludicrous question. But first I want to define terms. The word “real,” as used here, refers to symptoms that are not consciously created with the intention of gaining attention or other benefits.

The symptoms may be closely related to the patient’s state of mind. Illness always has an emotional component, but the extent of emotional effects varies depending on the illness and the individual.

Somatization of emotions (e.g. unconsciously turning emotions into physical sensations) is a common means of coping when the emotions are too strong and overwhelming to deal with any other way.

“Non-real” symptoms are created intentionally by the individual for the purpose of gaining attention or other benefits. Is there any evidence for saying that Desiree is purposefully acting sick? I do not see any symptoms that appear to be faked; therefore I suggest the question is ludicrous.

In a later story ABC News finally got around to the question of psychogenic disorders. Could Desiree have a psychogenic disorder? Yes, it’s quite likely. The thoughts and feelings of the mind have a demonstrable effect on the human body.

For instance, the familiar “fight, flight or freeze” reaction that occurs when a person perceives danger can lead to a variety of disorders depending on which aspect prevails. “Fight” and “Flight” responses include activation of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) resulting in release of adrenaline and hormones which increase the heart rate and send blood to the skeletal muscles in preparation for fighting or running away. Simultaneously, the digestive system, reproductive system, and other core organs partially shut down as oxygen is shunted away from these organs and to the muscles.

A “freeze” reaction results when both the SNS and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) are activated. The PNS works in balance with the SNS, and they cause opposite reactions. Long-term activation of “freeze” in particular — but also “fight” and “flight” — can do permanent damage to the systems listed above.

Thousands of soldiers have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (ptsd). PTSD results from chronic stress to the SNS and PNS, as well as behavioral characteristics. Persons with ptsd are usually hyperaware, watchful, distrustful, and anxious. They may have nightmares or flashbacks (reliving the event).

Treatment may take a long time, and many individuals never fully recover. Desiree Jennings may be experiencing PTSD, and/or additional physical symptoms.

Chinese Oil Spill

22 Jul 2010 Leave a Comment

by wideeyedbohemian in man-made disasters Tags: , ,

Yahoo! has disturbing pictures (released by Greenpeace) of the oil spill over in China, which in some ways appears to be much more severe than the one in the Gulf. This is probably due to the large amount of sludge that can be seen floating on top of the water.  It just looks disgusting, to put it bluntly. Another picture shows a fireman who was attempting to fix an underwater pump and came out of the water covered in sludge. Personally, I would not have done it without underwater breathing apparatus ( scuba gear and definitely goggles to keep the stuff off my eyes).

The pipeline at the port of Dalian has been repaired, but many gallons of oil remain in the Yellow Sea, waiting to be cleaned up. The Chinese are using oil-eating bacteria (I wonder if Gulf scientists thought about that?) as well as absorption methods (straw mats, booms). So far their methods appear to be working, but this spill is much smaller than the Gulf spill.

What will be the effects of the spill in the Gulf?

  • Long-term suppression of marine wildlife in the waters and marshes
  • Possible extinction of some species, if they cannot find other habitats.
  • Loss of work for fishermen, shrimpers and other seafood gatherers, as well as those who provide the goods and services that sustain them
  • Fewer people along the coastal areas where the greatest amount of oil has appeared (especially Louisiana)
  • Long-term effects on tourism — I know the coastal cities are trying to play up the idea that their beaches are clean, but I don’t think it will stay that way, and besides, who wants to swim in a bucket of grease?

I expect there will be many other far reaching effects that we can’t even begin to imagine at this time. In any case, I see China’s response to their oil spill as much more organized and effective than ours. Does capitalism necessarily include chaos and inefficiency?

I think I’ll save that for another post.

Sherrod; Lockerbie and BP

21 Jul 2010 Leave a Comment

by wideeyedbohemian in man-made disasters, politics Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I feel sorry for Shirley Sherrod. It is absolutely ridiculous to take what someone did 24 years ago, pull it out of its context, then display it as a fact about that person today. Hell, I was a completely different person 24 years ago! I had attitudes — such as how to raise my children — that have changed radically over the years. Does this make me a “bad” person? Does it mean that I am lying now and I still have those old opinions?

No! Of course not. I would like to know why only a part of Shirley Sherrod’s speech was examined at the first. Why did the conservative blogger and Fox news take the racist part and show it, completely ignoring the rest of the speech, which put those racist thoughts she had (24 years ago!) in context. The irony is that she was trying to explain how she became less racist. And so she gets fired for that?

I realize that this is really a political game. The Tea Party — which is more or less a part of the GOP — was mad because the NAACP complained about racist remarks and signs at rallies. The truth was disputed; that’s not an uncommon occurrence inside the Beltway. But why turn it into a Marx Brothers style circus? Have all our politicians forgotten how to reasonably discuss issues?

It seems to me that many, if not most, politicians don’t even try to reasonably discuss anything important.

Moving along… It’s interesting to consider that there may be a link between the Lockerbie bomber and BP. I have yet to understand the ins and outs of this accusation. Is it meant to imply a relationship between BP and Muslim extremists, or BP and Libya, or both? Is BP really the ruthless oil (money) grabber that it is portrayed to be?

The First Minister of Scotland denies that BP lobbied for al-Magrahi’s release. Well, of course he does; would he be so stupid as to admit it, if it were true?

Perhaps the exchange took place for the benefit of all UK citizens, not just those in Scotland. So-called “leaked memos” reveal that the prisoner exchange (not just al-Magrahi) was linked to an agreement between the UK and Libya regarding oil & gas drilling.

I realize this is old news. However, now that we’ve had the Gulf oil spill and seen BP’s remarkable example of ads (propaganda) and clean-up videos (propaganda), it’s easy to think back to the earlier deal with Libya and wonder just how cold and uncaring it was.

Also, the deal making going on here reminds me of the last Pirates of the Caribbean movie, in which Lord Cutler Beckett of the East India Trading Company betrays everyone he possibly can in search of “good business.” He ends up having his ship and himself blown to bits. But real life isn’t like the movies; the good guys don’t always triumph.

Sweet Home Arizona

19 Jul 2010 Leave a Comment

by wideeyedbohemian in immigration, man-made disasters Tags: , , , , ,

According to CBS news, the Arizona border with Mexico has seen a new group of “border protectors” moving in. They are called new-Nazis since their belief system is very similar to that of Nazi Germany — they believe that only non-Jewish, white heterosexuals should be true American citizens. (see National Socialist Movement)

I find this disturbing on the face of it, not just whether or not I meet the “qualifications.” It is ridiculous to even think of turning the clock back that far. Next they’ll repeal the Nineteenth Amendment! These guys truly scare me  — they are heavily armed and they mean business.

Is it proper for non-governmental civilian forces to patrol the border in the first place? I believe there was difficulty  because of inadequate governmental patrols, so the government allowed civilian groups such as the Minutement Militia to participate.

But Neo-Nazis! That’s pushing the envelope too far, in my opinion. Where do we draw the line between helpful civilians and fascists?

Edit: I just read about the oil spill in China. Nothing like the Gulf oil spill, of course — the opening in the pipeline was soon closed. Yet the location of the spill could have a substantial impact on imports and exports at the Dalian port. Has this stuff been happening all along and I just didn’t notice it?

Tea anyone?

19 Jul 2010 Leave a Comment

by wideeyedbohemian in politics Tags: , ,

It’s been interesting watching the “Tea Party” movement grow from local rallies in 2009 into a proto-party with candidates winning against Republicans in primaries. Last summer I thought they were kooks, quite frankly. I thought, ‘surely people aren’t stupid enough to believe this crap.”

Alas, I was proven wrong. The Tea Party has divided the Republicans and is itself composed of splinter groups arranged in a loose consensus. To be accurate, there is no single Tea Party.

It isn’t surprising, then, that the Tea Partiers recently rejected one of own, Mark Williams, a leader in the party and coordinator of the Tea Party Express. This is not something to ignore. I believe it makes a powerful statement about the Tea Party, as well as about the Republican party.

  • Republicans are losing ground due to the divisiveness of the Tea Party movement.
  • The TP itself is disorganized and unstable.
  • Groups associated with the TP may have individual concerns and agendas, some of which are mutually exclusive.
  • However, one group is attempting to consolidate the movement by kicking out anyone who does or says something widely regarded as offensive
  • Thus, the Tea Party itself is the Party of Internal Squabbles

What does all this mean for the Democrats? If they can develop a clear message — clear enough for almost any American citizen to understand — and strongly promote it (with the backing of the White House), they may have a chance at keeping their seats in Congress. The biggest challenge they are faced with is the semi-religious character of the Republican Party in general and the Tea Party in particular.

Democrats must learn to appeal to the emotions of their base, as well as independents, because  their opponents excel in reaching people’s emotions. A well-defined platform is essential, of course. But Obama won his presidency  with a tide of emotion that swept through young people, minorities, and other Americans.

Now, it appears Obama and the Democrats spend too much time defending themselves from accusations of the “right.” Perhaps they would get further by focusing on who they are instead of who they are not.

Fight the Future

16 Jul 2010 Leave a Comment

by wideeyedbohemian in future Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Much of humanity is going to extremes — and not on the good side, either. Fundamentalists of many major religions cause trouble by their ‘squeaky wheel’ approach to getting what they want ( I have to mention the Tea Party here as well). No one is really sure about the kind of weapons held by potential belligerents such as Iran and North Korea (and others). It is likely that they have nuclear warheads, some of which they might use to produce HEMP (high-altitude electromagnetic pulse) that would render all or almost all electronic devices unusable. The weather has been “off” — it’s cold where it should be hot and vice versa, the same with rain and drought.

The dollar is in a downtrend; no one is absolutely sure what the effects of the BP oil spill will be, regarding the price of oil and other commodities. Of course it’s a good sign that it is capped now — let’s hope it stays that way. Several years ago the U.S. grappled with gasoline prices almost double what they are now. Could that happen again? How would it affect the cost of food (and any other product that must be transported by truck)?

Of course there are the earthquakes around the world. Seismologists say that the number of strong earthquakes is approximately the same as usual, but that this year more of them are in areas of high population, such as Haiti.

Given the facts as they are at this moment, there are many possible outcomes for, say, 5 years from now. Imagine a collection of possibilities that are more widely separated as time goes on — similar to the “cone” meteorologists display when predicting landfall of a hurricane.

Unfortunately, given the amount of rancor between Democrats and Republicans and Independents, increased racial tension in some areas, unemployment rates, and general “cussedness”, it is unlikely that anyone can agree on a) what the range of possibilities really is and b) how the country can adapt to changing circumstances.

My advice? Move to the Yukon, or perhaps Costa Rica if you prefer the heat. If you can’t stand cold or heat, then you’re out of luck; most of that land has already been taken.