Here we go again. Net neutrality is not Obamacare either.

To nobody’s particular surpise, yesterday president Barack Obama endorsed a form of net neutrality. And immediately, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) came out swinging against it, calling it, “Obamacare for the Internet.”

Sen. Cruz appears to have either failed to read, or refused to read, the four-point proposal, which is short and simple enough to fit on an index card, if not a business card. He also failed to discuss the alternative–and there is a perfectly fair alternative to net neutrality.

Read more

What’s wrong with American manufacturing and industry

I read a disheartening story today. It’s the story of an entrepreneur, making models out of his garage and selling them. A competitor took a liking to his models and started selling crude copies of them, made in China. The competitor is so much larger than him, he can’t afford to sue.

There’s something even more sad than this story, however. It was some people’s reaction to it.The whole thing started out as hearsay on a train forum. Someone noticed a striking similarity between two companies’ competing products. Fans of the larger company rushed to its defense, and someone who claimed to know someone came in with claims about the larger company copying the smaller. Eventually the person who designed the originals chimed in and confirmed that yes, the designs were his, right down to the placement of the cracks on the sidewalk being identical.

He went on to say in very human terms who it hurt. He’s a guy in southwestern Missouri who could make more money as a draftsman, making buildings out of his home for the love of making buildings. He sells the design to another small company in Maine who buy materials, produce parts, and assemble them into kits for sale, employing a handful of Americans along the way.

And, if sales deteriorate too far, eventually he may have to go back to work as a draftsman. Which most likely means some other draftsman will be looking for a job.

Buying the crude, cheap Chinese-made knockoffs from the other company hurts the designer. But not only that, it ripples over to the manufacturer/distributor and its suppliers, all of whom are employing Americans who are just trying to earn an honest wage working for small businesses.

But the copies sell for about half the price.

To some of the people hearing this story, the end–half-priced models–entirely justifies the means. The cheap copy is, well, cheaper, and more convenient–requiring less assembly and being easier to find, since the larger competitor sells its products in more stores–so that’s all just fine and dandy. Who gets hurt doesn’t matter as long as the purchaser is happy.

Maybe the guy just likes jerking people’s chain, or maybe he really believes this, but he was painting the people who felt empathy for the designer as the ones with the problem.

Others present an easy solution: Sue. Well, he’s not stupid. One look at his models should tell you that. He looked into that. The problem is that a one-man operation can’t hope to compete with a company that sells $50 million worth of product per year. Imagine what happens if the larger company generates a mere 100 hours’ worth of billable work for the smaller company’s lawyer, at $400 per hour. That’s a $40,000 legal bill. If the kits sell for $75, their wholesale price is less than 25. That means he has to sell 1,600 kits to cover the legal bill. And in the meantime he also has to sell enough kits to pay himself enough to pay his mortgage, utilities, and put food on the table.

If that $40,000 doesn’t sink him, maybe the next 100 hours’ worth of work will. All they have to do is delay the trial long enough to make giving up look like the best and most reasonable alternative. They don’t have to be right, and they don’t have to win. They just have to make sure the other guy runs out of money first.

Now I know the majority of Americans have no interest in wood and tin 1:48 scale models of general stores. But the wonderful thing about American capitalism used to be that someone working out of a garage or spare bedroom could make niche products and sell them to the people who want them without breaking any laws. It’s one of the ways our ancestors got ahead in life.

I’m not sure my son’s generation is going to have those same opportunities. Not when a big company can come steal products from guys like Dale in Carthage, Mo. with no fear of recourse, and self-centered consumers will gladly snap them up, just because they’re cheaper, even if they know they’re buying stolen property.

People can blame Barack Obama or George W. Bush or Bill Clinton or NAFTA or unions or any of the other usual scapegoats for being the reason why jobs are hard to find. But none of those guys caused the predicament that Dale in Carthage, Mo. is in.

That’s purely the fault of the people who buy knockoff products, with a narcissistic, end-justifies-the-means attitude, and the people who tolerate it.

But it’s a lot easier to blame the politicians than it is to look in the mirror.

How the Republican Party is losing me

I tend to lean to the right. For as long as I understood what it meant to be conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, I called myself a conservative Republican. In college, I wrote a newspaper column for 3 1/2 years brashly titled "No Left Turns."

In last year’s primary, I voted for Ron Paul for a couple of reasons. One, a lot of things he said made sense. Two, at least he sincerely believed in the things he said that didn’t make sense. And three, he’s a doctor. When Ron Paul predictably didn’t get the nomination, I voted against John McCain and for a Democrat, Barack Obama. The main reason was health care.I come from a long line of Republicans. My great great great grandfather, Dr. Edward Andrew Farquhar, helped the Republican Party get organized in the state of Ohio prior to the Civil War. My great grandfather, Ralph Farquhar, worked for the powerful Ohio Republican Marcus Alonzo Hanna. And my dad was three things: outspoken, Republican, and a doctor. Sometimes the order varied.

In 1992, Dad was very much against Hillary Clinton’s health care plan, but he was very much in favor of some kind of health care reform. The system desperately needed it, even then. Rarely did a week go by without Dad getting an angry letter from one of his patients. The story was always the same. Patient comes to Dad seeking treatment. Dad treats patient. Patient gets better. Dad bills insurance company. Insurance company denies claim. Patient can’t afford to pay.

The only variance was the patient’s understanding of what happened. Sometimes the patient was mad at Dad. Sometimes the patient wanted Dad’s help. All too frequently, what happened was Dad just didn’t get paid. The insurance provider–be it Medicare, Medicaid, or private insurance–wasn’t going to budge. The patient legitimately couldn’t pay the bill. Dad could press, but if the patient paid, the patient would go hungry. If Dad didn’t bill, Dad wouldn’t go hungry. Dad had a soul, so Dad would do what people who have souls do and just tear up the bill.

Someone had to give a crap about these people. Unfortunately sometimes Dad was the only one.

Dad told me once that if I decided to become a doctor, he would lock me away for seven years. Being a doctor is a family tradition. Dad thought there were better things for me to do than spend my life messing with computers, but being a doctor wasn’t one of them. He wanted me to have a better life than he had.

Dad died of a heart attack in 1994, aged 51. Had the health care system allowed him to practice medicine and stayed out of his way, I’m sure he would have lived longer. Maybe he would have been still been alive when my grandmother and father in law needed him.

Fast-forward to 2006. My wife was pregnant, but having a hard time of it. Extreme nausea was keeping her almost bedridden some days. Her doctor found one and only one anti-nausea drug that would work, a treatment normally given to cancer patients. Our insurance was willing to pay for it once. When her 30-day supply was exhausted, the doctor tried every treatment that the insurance company was willing to pay for, but none of them worked. She fell into a vicious cycle of dehydration and nausea. One built on the other, and she ended up hospitalized.

The drug cost about $80 a week to just buy outright. I bought a week’s supply to keep her out of the hospital for a week while I figured out what to do next. The doctor knew I was unhappy. I asked him if it would do any good to get a lawyer and sue the insurance company. I was serious and he knew it. He said he wished someone would do that, but if it was me, the only thing I’d accomplish would be getting some face time on CNN and meanwhile we still wouldn’t have the medicine we needed.

This is the free market compassion that Rush Limbaugh spouts about. I’ve yet to figure out what’s compassionate about cutting off a woman’s medicine so she has to go into the hospital. The insurance company will pay for part of her hospitalization, but not the medicine that keeps her out of the hospital. Oh, and while she’s in the hospital, she can’t work.

Writing some letters succeeded in getting her the medicine she needed. And my employer, to its credit, changed insurance plans the next year, to something that takes better care of people.

Unfortunately, this year I found myself working for a very large company that operated as its own insurer in order to keep the profits to itself. And that company quickly decided that my wife was using too much insulin and my son was using too many vaccines. Their doctors disagreed, but they’re only doctors. What do they know about profits?

One day, after getting yet another denial claim in the mail, I ran into a former coworker in a parking lot. He asked how things were going. I told him, then asked if my old company had any job openings. A month later, I was working for my old company again, with the only health coverage I’ve ever seen that actually covers what I need it to cover. When they offered me the job, I had to think for a whole two seconds before accepting.

Most people can’t do what I did. On paper, pretty much every health insurance plan I’ve ever had pretty much looked the same. But like I said, there’s only been one that ever covered much of anything.

And pretty much any old insurance plan works for me, because I rarely use it. As long as I visit a chiropractor every six or seven weeks or so, I have no health issues. I could save a lot of money by declining coverage entirely and just paying the chiropractor out of pocket.

But my wife has to go to the doctor more often. So does my son. Me paying into the system and getting next to nothing out of it covers for them, who pay into the system and take back out a much higher percentage of what they paid in.

The only companies who aren’t jealous of health insurance companies’ profits are the oil companies. Since 2000, their profits are up more than 400 percent. But year after year, more and more people find it harder to get health coverage.

The system has a good racket going, frankly. Food companies sell poisonous food to the unwitting (or apathetic) masses. The masses get sick and have to go to the doctor more. Doctors give them pills for their problems, but the problems get worse because they keep eating poisonous food. Eventually they develop diabetes or cancer, at which point the insurance company can cut off coverage.

Everyone makes lots of money in the meantime. Except for the consumer-turned-patient, who pays out more and more every year, then eventually ends up with a chronic and painful disease.

I’m not saying it’s a conspiracy. Not at all. The free market just found something that works really well for the people in power. It’s a beautiful system–for those who benefit.

Unfortunately that same system hurts people. I live with two people it hurts. And the system killed my dad.

Sometimes the market needs a referee. That referee is called regulation. And since the Republican Party isn’t willing to regulate, I voted for a Democrat that I knew would press the issue.

Actually what I expected was for Obama and the Democrats to push some kind of socialized medicine, and Republicans to counter with something like the German system, which is all private but highly regulated. You don’t hear much about the German system, mostly because it works pretty well.

That’s what I favor.

Some people may wonder why I care, since I have good coverage now. But if you think the plan I have will last forever, you’re smoking crack. Eventually the plan will get too expensive. Or the company could get bought out, or it could lose the contract I’m on. There are any number of things that could put me right back where I was a couple of months ago.

I’d much rather fix the system. I might need it someday, but not only that, I actually have a soul, and I’m tired of seeing other people suffering.

If that makes me a moderate rather than a conservative, so be it. If it means I’m no longer a Republican, well, some things are more important than labels and party affiliations.

So what now?

The Republican Revolution is over. What went wrong?

Before I try to answer that question, a few words by Dr. Donald Prahlow, my high school history instructor, seem pertinent. In 1992 when Bill Clinton took the White House, Dr. Prahlow stood in front of a classroom full of young, mostly right-leaning students and tried to make sense of what happened. "As a historian, I have to say the best thing that can happen, when one political party has been in power for a long time, is to hand power over to the other one." He went on to give some examples. The most important thing I took from his brief aside before getting onto the day’s regularly scheduled lecture was that no president in history has ever been able to wreck the country irreparably in four or even eight years.

Not Richard Nixon. Not Warren G. Harding. Not Lyndon B. Johnson. Despite my strong feelings on that day in 1992, not William Jefferson Clinton. And regardless of your feelings on the two men, neither George W. Bush nor Barack Obama will be the first.

And I believe that what went wrong with the Republican Revolution, which started with the stunning 1994 comeback in both houses of Congress, is largely the neoconservative movement and George W. Bush.

What’s sad is that the end all started with so much potential. I vividly remember Bill Clinton, interviewed on the evening news on either ABC, NBC or CBS around 2002 or 2003 talking about Bush. He said he thought Bush would be very successful early on, because of two words that are largely forgotten today: compassionate conservatism. I’m paraphrasing, but basically Clinton said that if Bush could deliver Democratic-like social programs while delivering lower taxes, it would be almost impossible for the Democratic party to compete with that.

Unfortunately, nothing ever came of that. Rather than being remembered as the president who popularized compassionate conservatism, we’ll remember the image of Bush flying over New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, looking out of touch and perhaps a bit over his head. Or we’ll remember the bothced recovery effort, which was long on excuses but painfully short on results.

The other Bush promise that never turned into anything was his bipartisanship. As governor of Texas, he had the reputation for reaching out to Democrats and working with them. Unfortunately, as president, we saw a man with little tolerance for anyone who disagreed with him, even if they were members of his own party.

In all fairness, it’s difficult to know how much of what we saw was Bush, and how much of it really was Dick Cheney. And that’s another failing of the Bush presidency: He failed to stand up to Cheney when necessary and put him in his place. The ticket read Bush-Cheney, but
often it seemed the reality was Cheney-Bush.

I don’t think I need to even bring up the wars.

Ultimately, all that came back to bite John McCain. The John McCain who stood up to Bush in 2000 was largely absent in 2008. It’s entirely possible that voters would have punished McCain for the sins of Bush no matter what, but ultimately, McCain didn’t do enough to distance himself from his predecessor. Certainly he risked alienating the 28% of the population who approved of Bush in doing so, but he fell into the same trap the Democrats fell into repeatedly in the 1990s when trying to appease the far left fringes of its party. As long as McCain managed to stay to the right of the Democrats, the minority of the population who favored Bush wasn’t going to abandon him and vote for Obama. McCain needed to concentrate on getting 23% from the center of the spectrum.

Meanwhile, while McCain was failing to distance himself enough from Bush (and was showing he was perfectly capable of being out of touch), Obama was showing up on the Sunday morning political shows, demonstrating that he read things, including newspapers, including the op-ed pages, including the parts written by people he didn’t always agree with. After 8 years of an administration whose idea of keeping informed was listening to Rush Limbaugh and watching Fox News, he probably seemed refreshing.

So what’s next?

The comeback doesn’t have to take as long this time. Remember, the only thing less popular than Bush right now is the Democrat-controlled Congress. They get a pass right now because they’re mostly unpopular for not standing up to Bush. But if the new, bigger Democratic majority fails to get desired results, there’s no reason to believe the electorate will be so sympathetic in two years.

So the Republican party needs to be ready. It has until the 2010 primaries to find its soul, to figure out what it stands for.

For their sake and everyone else’s, I hope it involves smaller and more efficient government and taking the Constitution in its entirety seriously.

And in the meantime, we have a man in the White House who embodies the American Dream and who personifies the result of decades of struggle. Whatever you think of his politics, he will inspire a generation or more, and a lot of good can come from that.

Shut up, McCain. Obama is right this time.

McCain’s camp is mocking Barack Obama’s suggestion that people need to inflate their tires to save fuel.

It’s not like the senator from Illinois said let them eat cake. It’s actually good advice.The biggest problem with Washington is its disconnect with reality, such as the time Bush I went grocery shopping as a publicity stunt and marveled at the scanners at the checkout as if they were something new. Well, newer than unleaded gasoline, perhaps.

Perhaps my biggest frustration with McCain is his lack of understanding at chipping away at a problem. I have news for him. Chipping away can be very effective. I nickel-and-dimed my way to paying off a mortgage in 6 years, partly by doing things like inflating my tires and changing my air filter and using synthetic oil. Besides that, I bought a programmable thermostat, bought compact fluorescent light bulbs, and brought my own coffee to work.

Take small amounts of savings here and there and make them work for you, and you can accomplish something a lot bigger than you might think.

Too bad it’s been seven years since Washington tried to chip away at its deficit. But that’s another issue.

If every U.S. citizen did the routine maintenance that helps improve gas mileage, it would have the dual effect of reducing demand (and therefore prices) slightly, and putting a little more money in consumers’ pockets, so they could better afford the market price.

McCain would rather encourage voters to wait for Washington to fix the problem.

Tell me, which one of these guys is the Republican and which one’s the Democrat? I’m having difficulty telling them apart.

So if a McCain supporter offers you a tire gauge, take it. And by all means use it.

On this issue, Obama is right. As in correct. And conservative, apparently.

WordPress Appliance - Powered by TurnKey Linux