djonn: Self-portrait (Default)
I've been mostly sitting on the sidelines as health insurance and health care have taken over the mediascape and the blogosphere.  For me, much of the "debate" has been an exercise in frustration -- there's a lot of railing against the Evil Insurance Companies, the Evil Government Bureaucrats, and the Evil Drug Manufacturers, and even many of the more thoughtful commentators have not, to my mind, really managed to come to grips with what I consider the real underlying problems.

I also note for the record that much of my own context on the discussion arises from observation of my father's professional career.  He spent virtually his entire working life in the nonprofit health insurance field, beginning in the 1950s as a claims clerk for a smaller Blue Shield plan.  By the time he retired in the 1990s, the company had become a great deal larger, and his final big project as a senior executive and general counsel was coordinating its evolution into a group of affiliated Blue Cross & Blue Shield plans covering most of four western states.  As you might expect, I am therefore easily irritated by those who rail indiscriminately against Evil Insurance Companies; by the standards of many such commentators, I am obviously the Spawn of Evil and thus irredeemably tainted.

However, as [livejournal.com profile] e_moon60 points out in an excellent recent post, the foregoing is not itself a point of civil discourse; it's an emotional response.  And as it happens, a different post from [livejournal.com profile] kateelliott crystallizes for me what one of the key issues actually is.

It's this: people can tell you without too much difficulty what they've spent on health insurance and/or medical care in a given year, and frame that figure as a dollar amount (call it $xxx for simplicity's sake, recognizing that there are often more digits than that in the real figure).  But in order to accurately frame the the economic context, we need a second number.  We need to know $yyy, where $yyy is the value of the resources received for that expenditure.

This leads to two distinct levels of complication. )
djonn: Self-portrait (Default)

For those following developments regarding Sen. Obama and the remarks made by now-retired pastor Benjamin Wright:

It so happens that I grew up in a United Church of Christ church household (and attended several different UCC churches before eventually falling out of active church membership).  And it seems to me that little if any of the news coverage I've heard on the matter has acknowledged a key characteristic of the UCC that provide important context for the response (or lack thereof) to the Rev. Wright's statements.

Specifically: the UCC is a denomination in which there's a very high degree of congregational autonomy -- pastors are hired and employed by each individual local church, and to the extent that there's a central denominational hierarchy, its function is almost entirely administrative rather than theological.  An illustrative analogy: the Catholic church operates as a unified corporate hierarchy, in which local churches function essentially as branch offices or wholly owned subsidiaries, with everyone ultimately answerable to Corporate HQ in Vatican City.  By contrast, the UCC is essentially a coalition of hundreds of local, independently owned businesses -- while they all operate under the same brand name, and have set up regional and national networks to pool resources and manage the brand, each congregation is fully self-governing.

As a result, when a UCC pastor says or does something controversial, the only people in a position to easily discipline or fire him are the members of his own congregation, which is run in much the same way as any other mid-sized nonprofit organization.  Yes, this means precisely what you think it does: the committee structure and internal politics of a typical UCC church aren't all that different from, say, SFWA's....

djonn: Self-portrait (Default)

I got a call a month or so back from a political pollster, wanting to know my views on a charter amendment coming up for a vote next month, which would if approved change Portland's form of government rather drastically.  I answered all the questions to the best of my ability, but told the caller that I hadn't yet made up my mind, as I was waiting to get my Voters' Pamphlet so I could read the measure and study it in detail.

The Voters' Pamphlet arrived today -- but it's not going to be as much of a help as I'd hoped.

Why not, you ask?  Because the text of that proposed charter amendment isn't in it.  Nor are the texts of any of the other three proposed charter amendments Portland voters are supposed to be voting on in the upcoming election.

It must be a misprint or a defective copy, right?  Apparently not.  All the pages are properly numbered.  Everything else is there -- ballot title, short summary, arguments in favor and in opposition -- but not the proposed amendments themselves.  And a Web check reveals that neither Web iteration of the Voters' Pamphlet (HTML or PDF) includes the amendment texts either.  Nor does any version of the Voters' Pamphlet include so much as a URL where one might find the amendment texts.

No . . . as far as I can tell, it appears that city and county officials are asking voters to decide four significant issues without letting us read the legislation we're supposed to be voting on.  And here Portland is supposed to be one of the most progressive cities in the US, too.

I have sent off a polite but astonished note via the county elections office's Web-feedback form.  I have also sent off a note to my favorite local TV news station.  We shall see what happens....

djonn: Self-portrait (Wabbit)
I got a phone call today from a Republican phone bank, and in light of the current complaints from elsewhere in the blogosphere, it seems appropriate to report the following:

I got one, and only one, call.

The Caller ID correctly labeled the caller as "Oreg Republican", with a local number attached.

It was a live caller, not a recording.

The caller promptly and accurately identified himself (by name as well as affiliation), and while he noted that he was calling on behalf of the Republican candidate's campaign, he simply encouraged me to vote. (I've got the ballot filled out, and will drop it off tomorrow.)

He was polite, brief, and to the point, and he concluded the call promptly.

Now as it happens, I'm not voting for his party's candidate in that race. But I think it's encouraging that the local GOP was conducting such a courteous, responsible telephone effort. And I think they deserve credit for doing so.
djonn: Self-portrait (Default)
No, I didn't invert that title accidentally. I've been reading a lot of comments in various quarters in the wake of the Katrina disaster on what should have been/should be/isn't being done in response to what's happened -- in large part prompted by a call by the mayor of New Orleans to flood various federal offices and officials with complaints urging them to Do Something Now.
Which is a natural instinct in our present culture of complaint and protest -- but to my mind, exactly the wrong response to present circumstances.

Time (and the labor it represents) is a resource. And right now, the most constructive use of that resource is not complaining, it's doing. Ten thousand quarter-hours spent writing aggrieved emails to George Bush (who will, say all too many of the letter writers, ignore them anyway) are ten thousand quarter-hours that have not been spent in the community, helping people cope with the disaster. Nor do you need to be in New Orleans or Texas or elsewhere in Katrina's path for those quarter-hours to matter; your quarter-hour can go toward replacing the labor of someone in your community who's gone to New Orleans or is otherwise responding in person to the Katrina crisis. It can go toward helping out in your local schools or in other social service programs for which funding may be reduced as Congress diverts money to dealing with Katrina's aftermath.

And what's more, if enough people stop spending enough quarter-hours complaining to the government and start acting to help address the needs of their own communities, the government might not -- gasp! -- need to spend so much time and money addressing those problems with bureaucratic solutions. (We might, as Arlo Guthrie suggests, start a movement....)

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