Niners Off to Hot Start But…

The San Francisco 49ers, about whom I have blogged incessantly for years until last season and who are my remaining sports passion, are off to a remarkable 2-0 start. They are one of only nine teams in the 32-team NFL to do so. What's more, both wins have come within their division, which is a huge leg up for them. During Sunday's game, one of the commentators suggested this lead might already be insurmountable, proving how little he knows about the league. WTF?

It is true that 65% of all the teams who started a season at 2-0 ended up in the playoffs. It is also true that last year, that trend continued a recent-years reversal as a tiny minority of 2-0 teams made it to the championships.

Shaun Hill may be a better QB than I thought, though I think it's awfully early and I also think his 2-0 record is a lot less due to his slightly-better-than-mediocre performance than it has to do with the improved run-pass mix on offense imposed by Mike Singletary and his coaching staff. Without a star-quality quarterback or a polished defense, it's not likely any team makes it to the playoffs. Or maybe I'm just trying really hard not to get my hopes up this early in the season again.

Neither Yahoo Nor Microsoft Can Take Me Away From the Google ((Tags: technology)

Microsoft is spending $100 million trying to get people t switch to its search service, Yahoo! is unveiling a campaign of the same size to woo Google users. But I'm with Edward Barrera at I keep using more and more Googley stuff and can't see any good reason even to consider switching. I wonder how many other people who are techno-freaks are doing the same.

Covering Pre-Existing Conditions Sounds Good, But…

President Obama has proposed a widely popular change to existing insurance law that would prohibit an insurance company from denying coverage to anyone because they had a pre-existing condition. My first reaction — knee-jerk though it admittedly was — was to agree wholeheartedly. Those nasty, ugly, profit-gouging insurance companies shouldn't be able to pick and choose who can get their insurance. But then I stopped for a moment and thought. And I concluded that maybe this isn't such a sound idea after all.

Much as I hate to say it, insurance as a social policy wasn't designed to cover known pre-existing conditions. And I'm not sure it should or can be modified so that makes sense.

Bear with me for a moment here. I know this is not a classic Liberal position to take. But I think it has at least some elements of rationality.

The basic idea behind insurance is the pooling of a group of people who share a common risk and their mutual agreement to create a fund from which those who actually encounter that risk will be able to afford it. Let's create a really simple example. If the odds of anyone contracting, say, Lumbar-Jack disease (yeah, I made that up) is 1 in 5,000, and if the cost of medical care to cure Lumbar-Jack disease is $50,000, under the basic concept of insurance, 5,000 of us could get together, put $10 each into a pot, and then, when one of us comes down with this dreaded disease that makes log-rolling impossibly painful, that one person gets the $50,000 and doesn't have to pay for his own recovery. That's the basic idea.

But what if I already have Lumbar-Jack disease? Can I join your insurance pool? I put in my $10 and then immediately announce that I've got Lumbar-Jack disease and I get the $50,000. I took the odds of anyone in our group contracting the disease from 1 in 5,000 to 100% certainty because when I came in the door, I already had it. Now if you or someone else in the group contracts the illness, where does their compensation come from? Haven't I unfairly shifted my absolutely predictable expense to the rest of you? Was that fair?

In the case of the real world, insurance companies make some of their profits when they are able to beat the odds; if nobody in the pool of 5,000 comes down with Lumbar-Jack disease, the insurance company keeps the $50,000 and has no direct expenses for payments. On the other hand, if they guess wrong and 10 people in the pool of 5,000 come down with the disease, they pay out $500,000 against income of $50,000. They won't be in business long if they do that very often.

I am fully aware that insurance companies break these fundamental rules about insurance as a basic concept all the time. By terminating coverage for people who actually encounter the risk being insured against, by denying claims in every possible situation even when they know they are operating illegally or immorally, and by other illicit means, they have artificially pumped up their profits over the years. And that ought to be stopped. They should be barred, for example, from ever terminating coverage because of a client's claims. And there needs to be a more objective, less profit-driven way of determining when claims are really not legitimate and therefore should be allowed (along, perhaps, with hefty penalties for companies that deny claims without real justification).

But to force insurance companies to take on clients who are guaranteed before they pay the first dime of premium to become potentially expensive drains on the rest of the insured pool — to say nothing of shareholders in the insurance company — seems somehow inherently unfair. I think there are other ways of dealing with the pre-existing condition situation and I think the much-maligned public option is the best alternative.

So, Mr. President, let's trade with the insurance companies: you'll drop the "no denial of insurance for pre-existing conditions" portion of the plan if they'll acquiesce in the formation of the public option portion. They won't easily go for that, but they may see that it's in their best long-term interests to do so.

Let’s Talk Politics Calmly

I've just posted a lengthy blog entry describing the rationale for my plan to launch a new (and hopefully multi-editor) blog called over on my OneMind blog. I'd love to hear from you if you're interested in civil debate on national and international issues of political significance. I'd also love to hear your thoughts about the whole issue of post-partisanship America.

Can We Discuss Politics Calmly?

No sooner did I post my last entry about how my zealous opinions about politics were getting in the way of my passion for peace than my buddy Tony Seton released one of his most insightful SetonNotes ever. Titled "Righteous Anger," it contained some of the pithiest observations I've heard  on the subject. It further moved my thinking toward finding ways to prevent or avoid the conflict that now occupies center stage in my daytime thinking.

Here are some of my favorite quotations from Tony's insightful and thought-provoking piece.

"The sooner we begin to defuse our tendency to get angry and cause anger in others, the more space we will leave for joy."

"One can't discount the importance of reducing the level of anger in our world."

"No anger is a great asset when examined in the light of peace."

Thanks, my friend. I am blessed to have you in my life…and your thoughts nagging at my mind.

If Peace Is Really What You Want…

"If peace mattered more to you than anything else and if you truly knew yourself to be spirit rather than a little me, you would remain nonreactive and absolutely alert when confronted with challenging people or situations." — Eckhart Tolle, "A New Earth," p. 188

This is easily my biggest earthly challenge these days. I believe peace does matter more to me than anything else but when issues of war, peace, politics and the such come up, I tend to move into "I have a need to be right" mode. If I'm asked, "Would you rather be happy or right?" I hesitate. "Can't I be both?" I wonder. Yes, you can, but not always. And when being right fails to bring happiness or peace — or worse yet sows the seeds of conflict and anger and violence — then do I still have a right to choose being right? What about my oblgation to the world as a self-avowed peacemaker?

Heavy questions to ponder.

What Do iPhone, Health Care Have in Common?

Users of the iPhone have no choice of phone vendors. Consumers have no real choice in health insurance. Both create bad situations.

If you're an Apple iPhone user like I am, you're stuck using AT&T for your cellular service. That means that you get less adequate service than any other iPhone user in the world and less than almost all other American cell phone service providers, including AT&T's non-iPhone customers! How's that make you feel?

AT&T's U.S. iPhone customers cannot use two important features of the phone simply because the telecom behemoth has chosen not to make them available We can't send and receive photos, sound files or movies directly on the phone using messaging. And we can't use the phone as a link between our computers and the Internet, a technique referred to as tethering.
That is pure unadulterated crap. They only get away with it because they know that we love our iPhones enough that we're not going to toss them because the service provider sucks and treats us arbitrarily. I've written the FCC and the FTC asking for an investigation of these discriminatory practices. (These aren't the only such decisions AT&T has made; I'm just focusing on two for the moment because they are ticking me off.)

Similarly, in most parts of the United States at least, you as a consumer/employee have little or no choice when it comes to health insurance. You get the plan your employer decides to offer. Period. You may get a few "menu" options to make you feel like you're in control, but you're not. Pricing among plans is like gas price differences: for all practical purposes, non-existent. But you cannot affordably purchase coverage that is better or more closely suited to your own needs even if such a plan is available because your employer selects one plan for everyone. Some larger companies offer employees a choice of multiple plans but that practice appears to have fallen into disuse in a difficult economy.

This is the ultimate reason a public option is absolutely essential to real health insurance reform: it is the only meaningful way to provide true choice to consumers. And only when faced with true choice that consumers themseles can exercise directly, without employer intervention, will health insurance companies have to become reasonable and competitive in their business practices. Otherwise, they are effectively able to operate as monopolies within given market segments or geographic territories.

How do I get this iPhone removed from my rectum where AT&T has shoved it?

Maybe We SHOULD Start Over on Health Care…And Do It Right

The Republicans' latest tactic for trying to derail real health insurance reform is to say we should "start over." I'm starting to think they're right, but not in the same way or for the same reasons they claim.

Since the GOP has made it abundantly clear they will not provide one iota of support for any health insurance reform bill, let's go back to the drawing board and draw this one up the way it should have been done in the first place. Medicare for everyone. Single-player plan. Private insurance for supplemental coverage only and that only for a transition period. Call it socialized medicine. Who cares what you call it since you won't support it regardless of label?

Public option is bad? Cool. Make it public mandatory. Let the GOP go on record as opposing extending the most popular government program in history to everyone (including them and their families, by the way; no more special coverage for Congress) and see how many seats they end up with at the mid-term table.

Enough is enough. These Republican scoundrels are voting for their own pocketbooks, not their constituents' best interests. Make that clear and obvious and then work to get every single one of them tossed out on his keester.

Seton Hits a Right Note on Obama’s Afghanistan Debacle

Internet radio commentator Tony Seton nails Obama on the Afghan war fiasco today. I couldn't agree more.

As my friend says, to say many of us who voted for Candidate Obama are disappointed in President Obama is to plumb the depths of dark despair. He has failed us in so many ways. And also as Tony says, I don't regret for a minute having voted for him ("President Palin" anyone? Yikes) but I'm saddened by the areas in which he's chosen to compromise or, worse, continue the policies of a badly failed regime that he was voted to purge.

Mark these words. If Obama doesn't get health care reform — including a public option — done in this term, he will be a one-term President. I used to think that would be a bad outcome. I'm not so sure today.