Thursday, August 28, 2008


Universal Health Care

This is a political issue. It shouldn't be. The issue should be "how" to achieve universal health care, not "whether" to achieve it. Today is issue is "whether." Conservatives (Most Republicans and some Democrats and Libertarians) argue that government should not undertake to provide universal health care to all Americans. Their reasons vary. The usual excuses are (1) it's too expensive and we can't afford it and (2) if government tries to run it, it will be poorly and inefficiently run because government can't do anything right. Liberals or Progressives argue that universal health care should be a right, just like the right to fire and police protection and the right to a public education of good quality.

A majority of the public wants and has wanted Universal Health Care for many years. The political parties should debate how to provide it. Should we use the model of the Canadians, with government providing the payments to private hospitals, doctors, clinics, etc.? Should we use the model of the British, with doctors and other health care providers employed by the government to provide medical services as needed? Should we use the model of the Germans with pools or associations to provide affordable insurance to all?

We should debate how, not whether.

Caucasian Adventure with insufficient Information

Our President's determination to intervene in the disputes involving Georgia, Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Russia are a good example of what I don't like about his foreign policy. He is committing American money and manpower, including lives of our service men and women, in an adventure in which we have little information. From one point of view, not supp0rted by facts, it appears that Russia is gobbling up parts of the Republic of Georgia by encouraging dissidents in two regions (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) to rebel against Georgian authority and declare independence. Of course, after independence, these regions will become parts of the Russian Federation.

From another point of view, again not supported by facts, the Georgians have grossly mistreated the Abkhazians and Ossetians who happen to speak languages that are quite different from Georgian. Russia has intervened simply to protect the oppressed Abkhaz and Ossetian peoples from oppression and probable ethnic cleansing.

When I write "not supported by facts" I mean that facts exist but we don't know them. They haven't been reported in any American news media. We don't know what to make of the claims that Georgians tried to practice ethnic cleansing against Ossetians or that Ossetians tried to do the same to Georgians. About all we can conclude is that the Russians are either deliberately taking advantage of ancient hatreds to grab some additional territory or are foolishly involving themselves in quarrels that would best be left alone. If the Georgians, Ossetians, and Abkhazians want to duke it out, stand back and let them. Without any other facts, we can conclude that the Russians are either greedy or foolish. Perhaps they are both.

Russian President Medvedev has scolded the United States and its allies for intervening in the fracas. After all, if it was "right" for Kosovo to secede from Serbia and become independent with American support, why is it wrong for Abkhazia and Ossetia to secede from Georgia and become independent with Russian support? One obvious answer is that the United States has no interest in annexing Kosovo while Russia is very eager to annex Abkhazia and somewhat eager to add South Ossetia to North Ossetia, which it already controls.

It seems to be an innate instinct of humans to dislike other humans who are a bit different. The difference can be skin color, religion, physical size, language, or other characteristic. The language difference can be slight. Years ago Czechoslovakia split into two countries, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, because the languages were slightly different. In fact, they are about as different as the languages of New York City and New Orleans, or Swedish and Norwegian. Belgium is united by religion but divided by language: Flemish (or Dutch) and Walloon (or French). There is perpetual friction between the Flemmings and the Walloons. Switzerland sets a counter example. It is a nation with four official languages and a few other dialects. Canada also has two official languages: French and English. There is friction between the speakers of these two languages.

China learned two thousand or more years ago how to unite a country with many languages that are mutually unintelligible even though related, much like French and Italian. The Chinese developed a writing system that can represent any language. Words are represented by pictures or ideograms, not by symbols that represent the sounds. No matter what the sound of the word is in the local dialect, every educated Chinese recognizes the ideograph for "house" or "woman" or "three," etc. Japanese is written with Chinese ideographs, and educated Chinese and Japanese can read each other's languages even though they can not converse in them. One could use Chinese ideographs plus a few other simple signs to represent English, Spanish, Basque, Hebrew, Swahili, or any other language spoken on this planet.

Returning to Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Georgia, I have looked up the languages of these places in Google. Ossetic is an Indo-European language rather closely related to Persian or Farsi. Abkhazian and Georgian are classified as Caucasian languages and perhaps have a common ancestor that was spoken perhaps ten thousand years ago. These three languages, and Russian, are all mutually unintelligible. After the Ossetians and Abkhazians have been annexed by their Russian protectors they will become restless and long for their freedom and independence, much like the Chechens. The Ossetians and Abkhazians should study the recent history of Chechnia before embracing the idea of joining the Russian federation.

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Saturday, August 23, 2008


Family Cottages and Newspapers

I recently spent a pleasant week in a cottage on a lake in Michigan. The lake is near Traverse City. The cottage is jointly owned by members of the family of my late sister's husband. He has a 1/7 share of the cottage and the property. The other six children of his parents each inherited a similar share. By now most of the original heirs have died and bequeathed their shares in the cottage to their children. Some of the children have 1/21 share each of the property.

At first all the heirs shared in the upkeep of the cottage. They still share in paying the property taxes owed each year to the county and the township in which the cottage is situated. However, many of the heirs now live in distant States: California and Nebraska and others. These distant heirs rarely if ever visit the cottage and are annoyed at the prospect of having to share in paying the utility bills, let alone painting and other repairs needed on a regular basis because of the harsh winters in Michigan. The task of maintenance falls on the two heirs who still live in Michigan.

Sooner or later the time will come when the family will decide collectively that maintaining the cottage is too much bother for a family and will decide to sell the cottage and the land it occupies. I suspect the new owner will raze the cottage and replace it with a more modern dwelling.

A similar fate seems to overtake newspapers that are owned privately. The original creator of the paper started with a small weekly and gradually expanded it into a daily paper. He or she worked hard to build up a news staff and a business staff to solicit advertising. Eventually the paper became one of the leading news sources in the nation.

Meanwhile, the original owner died and bequeathed the newspaper to his children. They in turn bequeathed it to their children, and so on. The newspaper was a good source of revenue for the family, and excess money was invested in other enterprises. The family became wealthy.

Finally, the family found that they could no longer agree on how to manage the newspaper. They decided to convert it to a publicly held corporation and sold shares of stock. For a while members of the family retained ownership of a majority of the shares, but eventually they decided to invest their money in something more profitable. Another news corporation took over the paper and discovered that the return on the investment was lower than the average return on other shares traded on Wall Street. The new owners undertook to cut costs by getting rid of some of the members of the news gathering staff. This started a downhill path for the paper. Less news meant fewer readers. Fewer readers meant fewer advertisers. Fewer advertisers meant less money. Costs were cut again by laying off more news staff. And so it went.

By now you may have guessed that the newspaper in question is the Los Angeles Times. It has been acquired by the Tribune Company and is experiencing the decline described above.

The moral is, family ownership of a cottage or a newspaper is fine as long as the family is interested in maintaining the cottage or newspaper. When the family loses interest, the property is sold and the new owners demolish the property (cottage or newspaper) and sell the remainder (the lot or the building and equipment of the newspaper).

Sic transit gloria mundi.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008


The Fickle Public

It is depressing to me to realize that volatile public mass opinion drives American Politics. I wish it were different. In an ideal democracy, calm public judgment rather than volatile mass opinion influences policymakers and policy. Not in our nation.

Last year and the year before the big issue was the War in Iraq. Americans were tired of the war and wanted it to end. In 2006 the Democrats won a slender control of Congress on the issue of ending the War. The War is big, expensive, and it is an enterprise of the Bush Administration. It is also a colossal blunder. You'd think it would it would continue to be an important issue to the voting public.

Not so!!! The big issue this year, and apparently the issue that will decide who will be the next President is the price of gasoline. Now the hard truth is that there isn't anything that our powerful federal government can do about the price of gasoline. However, Mr. McCain and the Republican Party has put forth the claim that if the government would only allow drilling for oil in various off-shore and environmentally , sensitive locations, the price of gasoline would drop. Mass opinion, not careful public judgment supports this belief. At the moment a majority of Americans favor more drilling. Rather than face the unpleasant reality and tell the public the truth, both candidates seem to go along with this opinion. Mr. McCain started before Mr. Obama in advocating more drilling and exploration and seems to have an edge on this issue.

I am reminded of a Will Rogers movie in which two candidates for Congress are debating. One candidate promises to reduce taxes. The other candidate, recognizing that his audience consists of drought-stricken farmers, promises rain. Guess who wins the election!

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