Friday, 12 June 2009

I would TOTALLY cut school for this...

Obama writes an absence note for a 10 year old girl whose parents took her out of school to attend his Wisconsin town hall:

First, President Obama called on Corpus to ask a question about his plans for health care reform. As he posed his query, he let drop that his daughter was skipping school to see the president.

Does she need a note? Obama asked.

Playing along, Corpus said he would take Obama up on the offer. To his surprise, Obama was serious.

"What's her name," Obama asked, reaching in his suit pocket for a pen. When Corpus answered "John," Obama repeated: "Her name?"

"Kennedy," Corpus replied.

"That's a cool name," Obama said, as he started to compose the missive.

"To Kennedy's teacher," read the note, written in black ink over the president's distinctive signature. "Please excuse Kennedy's absence.... she's with me."

Voting from Abroad - Iranian Expats In USA

Having worked so hard to register US voters living overseas to vote in our own Presidential election, I can't help but smile at this report of Iranians in the US voting from abroad for their own Presidential election:

Ain't Democracy grand?

Today's Iranian elections are just about the most interesting thing happening in the world right now, with incumbent President Ahmadinezhad (I'm going with Juan Cole's spelling on that one) facing an enthusiastic surge from supporters of his opponent Mir Hussain Musavi. Apparently, Musavi's campaign has been characterised by excitement among young people seeking change and feeling disgraced by their current leader. They've been taking to the streets in rallies of many thousands, and driving the campaign through innovative use of the Internet and neighborhood organising.

Sound familiar?

Musavi is a moderate in Iranian turns - not a flaming pro-American, but someone who has signalled an interest in taking up President Obama's offer of renewed negotiations between the two countries.

It is very difficult to determine what the likely outcome of this race will be - polls suggest it may be close, but they have been very sporadic and unpredictable.

The big question is what happens AFTER the result is announced. If it goes to Ahmadinezhad, will we be able to validate the integrity fo the voting process? Already there are scattered reports of extensive vote tampering.

If it goes to Musavi, will Ahmadinezhad's people allow the peaceful transfer of power?

IF all goes smoothly (a big if) this election could be long-term great news for Iran, no matter who wins. The Middle East is unused to the kind of intensely faught elections, but a demonstration that the nation can thrive while still allowing open political dissent, even if the reformers do not get their way, could be a great step forward.

Or not - Ahmadinezhad has hinted that if he wins narrowly he may make moves to declare himself "President for Life". Ah well. Democracy: easy come, easy go?

Holding my breath on this one...

The Fierce Urgency of Healthcare Reform Now

This past weekend, Organizing for America kicked off a massive public effort in support of health care reform. I had hoped to host an event in support of the Administration's important work here, but I was unable because (as you have learned in my last post) I was suffering from poor health. ("My name is Irony, king of kings. Look upon my works ye mighty and despair.")

Of course, were I in the US right now I would not have access to medical insurance. And I don't just mean that I would have to pay a lot for it (though I would) but that I could not get coverage at all - this isn't the first time my back has gone out, so any US insurer would consider this a pre-existing condition and my coverage would be denied. Since I took voluntary redundancy from my full time job back in February and started working free lance, I've been counting my blessings that I at least will never go bankrupt due to a health crisis.

But I wouldn't suggest that the US adopt a UK style National Health System - the NHS does provide universal coverage but hasn't been able to match other countries in terms of quality of care (although, the UK system does consistently beat the US one on most measures of health outcomes - at half the price! Bargain!).

Instead, I'd like to see a system that focusses heavily on reducing costs and achieving virtually if not completely universal access to health COVERAGE - who does delivery of care doesn't have to change at all.

Our for-profit health system has made care in the US more expensive than anywhere else in the world WITHOUT a compensating rise in quality (read this excellent Atul Gawande article in the New Yorker for a better perspective on how and why this is so).

And most Americans now agree that something fundamental has to change - this is a big change from the 1990's and means this is the best chance we've had to solve the problem in many a year.

I think it's pretty clear something is going to happen in this area. But in legislation, as in needlepoint, the devil is in the details.

The bulk of the shouting is likely to be around what is constantly referred to as "the public option." You may have heard this phrase bandied about and perhaps, like me, you had a vague sense what this was all about but were unsure specifically what it meant or how important it might be.

Well, as best I can figure out, the short version is this - healthcare reform has two basic goals:

1) Reducing costs.
2) Ensuring full universal (or near-universal) coverage.

Both are essential, and doing the former will not only greatly reduce the burden on those who currently have care, but will also make it much easier to achieve the latter.

Although the government could simply regulate strict conditions for existing private insurers (setting prices, for instance) this is a pretty market-unfriendly practice and may in fact ultimately result in not achieving the full measure of cost savings that would potentially be achievable. A better solution is to create market conditions that put strong pressure on private sector firms to be very innovative in finding cost savings as well as providing low cost and appealing options for those who are shut out of the private system.

That's what the inclusion of a public plan will do. Because a national public plan can negotiate lower prices with providers it has a big advantage in finding cost savings.

There are lots of different ways of delivering this, however. Check out this hugely helpful Marc Ambinder article for more info:

For most advocates, the purpose of a public option is to create an "ideal" health insurance plan that can experiment, can decide to pay doctors what it wants, can use what Rep. Henry Waxman has called "creative tension" to compete with private plans, and one that will ultimately serve as a mean toward which all the private plans move. A strong public plan would force private plans to negotiate lower rates with doctors and hospitals, which would reduce health care costs. A "weak" public plan would provide some competitive pressure, but would not be big enough to force the private plans to drastically change their models. Between these two ends, there are many options. Here are five:

It's All About ME - the Self Obsessing Post

Hello friends,

Apologies for the blog silence for the last week and a bit. I think I might has well come clean and let you all know I've been having a bit of a mope. For nearly 3 months now I've been suffering from intermittently sever lower back pain that makes it hard for me to travel, to sit down, to stand still, or pretty much to do anything except lie on my back and occassionally walk slowly. I've had lots of very kind advice and recommendations from many folks about what might help, and I've tried almost all of them. But right now there's no relief in sight and... to be honest, it's been tough.

So I thought I ought to let you all know.

In my life outside this blog, I've been working as a free-lance consultant offering communications and campaigning advice as well as activist training to organisations here in the UK. I'm loving the work, and I'm meeting some wonderful people through it. But, again, my health issues are limiting the amount of time I can spend on it - and I can't sit through even a simple lunch meeting without a lot of pain. So obviously, developing my little business isn't going as well as it might if I were able to do exotic things like going to restaurants and typing at a desk. (Right now, as most of the time these days, I'm lying on the floor with my computer on my knees. It's not dignified, but my cats like it.)

I really love writing this blog. As you all have no doubt noticed, I'm sort of an opinionated person, and it's been really fun to get my thoughts out there in pretty close to real time for my small but loving group of readers. I'm not giving up on it, and hope to do more with it in the very near future. But for now, I can't promise the same level of frequency in the posting as I've been used to doing in the past. Que sera sera. I hope you'll stick with me for when the good times return.

Earlier today I was trying to remember when I started this blog - I went back and dug out the very first post, and it turns out it was a little over a year ago - May 18, 2008. So I missed my own first Blogiversary. Curses.

Here's a reminder of how this blog got started - from the very first post:

There is a longstanding tradition in online debates that as soon as one party in a discussion invokes the spectre of Nazi-ism, the discussion is over and the other party may claim victory.
So I am ready to claim victory over the Republicans today in the ongoing discussion about US foreign policy. In case you missed, it the double-act of George W. Bush and John McCain have this week decided that Barack Obama's foreign policy approach of active engagement withour enemies through robust diplomacy is somehow equivalent to Neville Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler. Uh huh.

How do we even begin to unpick the levels of nonsense in this thinking? (In this analogy, does W somehow fancy himself standing the place of Churchill? Because apart from the thousand other ways in which they differ, there's also the small point that Winston actuallywon his war.... But never mind.)

Happy belated Blogaversary to me. And many moooore...