Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

I Voted. And You?

Image of Chris van Hasselt, having just voted

Taken moments after I voted, early, in the 2012 election.

On Saturday, I visited Carrboro Town Hall and voted early in the 2012 election.  Anyone who knows me or can read between the lines on this blog knows who I voted for.  I don’t have any desire to explain why, or get into a debate over why your chosen candidate is better than mine.

This short post is my reminder to you to vote.  It is a right and a privilege.  Men and women have fought and died for that right. In the Middle East, a great surge of humanity has arisen to demand the right to vote.  The outcome isn’t always pretty, as we’ve seen over and over again during the Arab spring.  Even at it’s best Democracy is messy, and there is a certain trendy view of cynicism about voting: politicians, they are all the same, so why bother.  The result of this has been stagnant voter turnout numbers barely edging above half the voting age population, even for hotly contested Presidential elections.  In my lifetime, the voter turnout has only twice squeaked above 60% of the voting age population, as noted in Wikipedia (with all the caveats that signifies).  In 2000, the voter turnout was barely above 50%, and we all know how well that turned out.

Call me old fashioned, but I believe Churchill was correct when he said “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”  The only way to make it better, or to make it work at all, is to vote.

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A good friend of mine, Richard Goldberg, has taught a senior level engineering project class focusing on assistive technology, through UNC’s biomedical engineering department since 1998.  Over the years, his students have changed people’s lives, and I am sure that the student’s lives have been changed by taking this class.  The video below, produced by UNC, demonstrates the effectiveness of a good educator working to bring out the best in students, and the value for society that such interaction can foster.

It is sadly ironic that while UNC students are away for the summer, North Carolina’s Republican led General Assembly has enacted a budget with massive cuts in secondary and post-secondary education.   Government has few responsibilities more important than education, and for North Carolina to walk away from that responsibility is a real tragedy.  We have yet to see how this budget will affect the UNC system, but it already is having an impact on secondary education.  Trying times ahead for the Old North State.

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Left in the Lurch

Carel Struycken as Lurch in The Addams Family ...

Lurch, the friendly face of modern insurance. Image via Wikipedia

Today’s Raleigh News & Observer headline reads “8,000 Patients Left in Lurch”, and I am one of those 8,000 patients.  I like that headline, as Lurch, the scary yet stupid character from the Addams Family, is the perfect image for modern health insurance in the United States.

Last fall the human resources at the organization that butters my bread had me go through the annual ritual of choosing among various indecipherable benefit plans with varying costs and levels of beneficence to me.  The point of this ritual is a nod to all those on the right who say that when it comes to health care, we need choice, and only the free market can deliver choice to us through competition.   Sounds nice in theory, but in reality one insurance company, AETNA, provided all the available plans, which is hardly competitive.  The alternative was to opt-out of coverage, which I would have done had I been able to see a few months into the future.  You see, we were only informed of the contract dispute between AETNA and UNC Health Care in January, well after the aforementioned annual benefit ritual.

Read on …

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U.S Postage Stamp, 1957

Image via Wikipedia

The international NGO that butters my bread has a very diverse, multicultural and multi-ethnic workforce.  Without considering our international field offices, the U.S. staff consists of many nationalities.  It is a great environment to work in, and a great environment to gather unique perspectives on the world around us.

One of my colleagues, a Pakistani Muslim (although mostly secular in his outlook) gave an intriguing and surprising speech at our Toastmaster’s group today.  He chose to speak about the recent controversy about the so-called Ground Zero Mosque, and offered a very surprising perspective on the controversy.   As with most hot topics these days, rational debate about this issue has devolved into a shouting match across the ever-deepening canyon that separates left and right in America.  So, it was good to hear a rational shout from the bottom of the divide, from a true stakeholder in the issue, a Muslim American.

The media has spread a lot of misinformation, and while some news organizations have tried to wade through the blather and bluster from politicians and others, stirring the pot seems to have caused more confusion than clarity.  To cover the basic background points, the Park51 Center, originally named Cordoba House, is not a Mosque.  It is a community center, planned to have a gym, meeting rooms, recreational facilities, and prayer centers for Muslims, Christians, and Jews.  The organization behind the center works to bridge the religious and cultural divides between Muslims and other faith communities.  The property for the proposed center is not on the World Trade Center site, or “Ground Zero”, but instead two blocks away.

When I first read about this issue, I wasn’t surprised that politicians would trot it out and dress it up as a wedge issue.  The Right moved the center two blocks, and called it a Mosque.  The Left invoked our democratic belief in religious freedom and tolerance, and oh, by the way, there was a strip club closer to Ground Zero, so quit calling it “Sacred Ground.”   Manhattan residents, where the Mosque would be located, seemed to take an open-minded attitude; while many opposed the planned center, Mayor Bloomberg and a majority of Manhattan residents polled supported building the Mosque.  My gut reaction to the matter was, if Manhattan is OK with it, they have the right to build it, so let center stand.

But, my colleague offered a different viewpoint.  Yes, the group developing the Park51 Center has every right to build it, and no doubt it would be tolerated in Manhattan.  But the people most offended, most thoroughly outraged, by this plan aren’t in Manhattan, they are in Alabama, Kansas, Nebraska, Florida, California, and all across this country.  If an Islamic center is built in Manhattan, New York, what becomes of the prospect of building a Mosque in Manhattan, Kansas?  While we all have rights, sometimes it is wiser to choose not to exercise those rights, in support of a larger goal.

I commend  Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf for trying to build a bridge of understanding and tolerance between religions.  But if the Park51 Center is not built, or moved to another location six or ten blocks away, perhaps that act will be the cornerstone of a stronger bridge of understanding and tolerance.

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Why is President Obama railing against insurance companies?  Because he doesn’t like them?  No, because the only thing worse than a government bureaucracy is a corporate bureaucracy, which is what those lucky to have insurance often have to face.  Case in point, a friend who had complaints about prescription delivery:

Is this really the best we can do?  By the way, according to an attorney I know, in North Carolina an individual can record a phone conversation, as long as one of the parties being recorded is aware of it.  No need to tell anyone, just keep those tapes rolling!

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Market Driven Health Care?

I’ve watched with some astonishment the uproar over the congressional proposals to change health care. I usually don’t like to wade into the political fire storms that rage on the Internet, but as I’ve been using Facebook a great deal I’ve seen a lot of back and forth between friends.

Recently, a list of market driven health care reform proposals have surfaced on Facebook – at least that is where I have seen them. Many people I know have been impressed by these alternative plans.

I haven’t read them. I’m sure there are some nuggets of truth, common sense, and smart ideas to be found when you examine these plans. Call me close minded if you will, but I won’t be supporting these reform plans, because of their disingenuous origins.

Read on…

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When you throw your hat in the political ring, as my colleague Mark Enloe recently has, the media come calling.  A  recent interview for the Raleigh Public Record, a non-profit Internet news outlet, gives a good sampling of the issues that Mark is promoting in his campaign. 

It is interesting to compare Mark’s answer to the incumbent mayor’s answer to one question in particular:  what brought you to Raleigh?  Enloe states that N.C. State University brought him to Raleigh after growing up in Moore county, and he planted roots in the community after college.  In contrast, Charles Meeker states that Raleigh is close to the beach in his RPR interview.

A mayor is a city’s ambassador, and when a mayor says he likes his city because it is close to something else, what does that say about the city?  Maybe Meeker should consider running for mayor of  Wilmington, Hatteras, or Kill Devil Hills.

Truthfully, Meeker has a point.  Raleigh, and RTP as a whole, is a pretty boring place.  The schools are pretty good here, the economy is pretty steady, and our three universities draw a wide range of cultural events to the area.  And, yes, we are close to the beach.  But is there anything here that is really world class?  When we have guests from out of town, we are often hard-pressed to recommend anything for them to do.  Certainly, there are no you-must-see-this-before-you-die attractions here, in my opinion.

Can Enloe, Meeker, or anyone else change Raleigh’s, or the Triangle’s, boring image?  Maybe, maybe not.  But if you start from the premise that Raleigh’s best attribute is it’s short distance to the shore, I don’t think you are the right person to really change things.

A few years ago, a group of Durham up-and-comers started the Durham, Love Yourselfcampaign.  When you love your city, warts and all, that is a really good place to start from to change things.  Enloe has that kind of spirit, I believe.

On a completely different note, REI staff take note:  Mark is one of  your best customers, so it wouldn’t hurt to pony up some campaign cash…or at least give him some new threads.

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