Glassheim on Health Insurance

This is likely the first time I have forwarded an article from the Grand Forks Herald. However, I do keep up with North Dakota issues through the Herald and this opinion piece is so consistent with my own thinking, I thought I would post it here. Glassheim outlines what I would argue is the Democratic position (or at least Glassheim as a Democrat) on health insurance.

Glassheim is a long time state legislator from Grand Forks who has run for national office. The odds of a Dem from ND being successful at the national level is fairly remote, but Glassheim has always had the capacity to present important issues in a lucid fashion.


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When logic fails, talk slower

Various sources have recently decided to contest the value of a college education. For example, consider the following excerpt from (The Inquirer). The title – Want to fix America’s Political Divide? Fix the colleges. As always, I suggest you read the entire article. More examples of differences associated with education are included.

The more I’ve covered about American politics in the 21st Century, the more I see that its No. 1 driving force is anger and resentment. And nothing seems to fuel that divide more than the topic of education and how we perceive it — especially at the college level. The evidence is hiding in plain sight. Nothing drove the changes in the American electorate that, for better or worse, gave us President Trump more than level of educational attainment: Trump and his politics of rage surged among white men lacking a college degree, and conversely — while it’s been largely ignored by the pundits — Hillary Clinton killed it in communities with high levels of college education like Philadelphia’s Main Line, where she even outperformed her Democratic predecessor Barack Obama.

As the title proposes, the article proposes there is some fault in higher education that has created the present acrimony present between Republicans and Democrats. This divide is assumed to be a bad thing (the outcome is bad). The logic then argues that since college educated voted so strongly democratic and those without this level of education. education must contribute to this divide. Therefore, there must be something wrong with education.

The question should be. What possible interpretations are there for these connected statements and is the one advanced by the writer the most feasible. For example, what about the conclusion that the present level of animosity is bad. Is it also possible that the present level of animosity represents an appropriate reaction to the election of a candidate who generates strong differences of opinion on important issues? Should one not be outraged with a decision that is perceived to promote future actions that are unethical and unequitable. The assumption that higher ed must be at fault because voting patterns could be predicted from the level of education of voters assumes there is something wrong with the choices made. I am guessing the argument is not that educated people should have made a different choice (how would this be justified), but that they have now reacted so strongly. If the present outcome predicts inequities and unethical treatment, why is a negative reaction not appropriate even if others are willing to accept or understand that this will happen?

I truthfully cannot remember an election that has generated the level of anger that this election has. If you disagree, then that disagreement might be the starting point for a different discussion. If you do agree, the inconsistency represented by the 2016 case from earlier elections would somehow have to be explained by some hidden consistency. Why are more educated individuals reacting in a different way to Trump than to the Bushes, etc.? What makes this election different and how would that be somehow related to education?

Not all college profs are liberals, but I suppose the majority are. Higher education does tend to promote certain values and positions. A society that gives all a fair chance (equity) would be an example. I would guess that most college profs would also endorse the position that all citizens deserve a reasonable level of health care. Most would also propose the value of a meritocracy such that individuals have a reasonable chance at life success based on skill and hard work and see a reasonable society assuring that the conditions necessary for this to be the case to be provided (related to such issues as health care, support for education, taking actions based on income disparities that are not the fault of the individual, etc.). Educators tend to promote equal treatment without regard to race, sex, religion, characteristics of parents, etc. and see a responsibility of government as assuring that these conditions are met. While educators disagree on many things, there is certainly an expectation that the values I list here are satisfied. How these values are addressed might vary, but support for these values is likely to come through in instruction.

I would hope most professors avoid the discussion of candidates or parties, but I would encourage their discussion of issues and values. So, I would expect those teaching science to argue that humans are influencing climate change is the dominant position among scientists collecting data on this issue. If this is what the research shows, this is what you teach. I would expect those teaching courses in social sciences and humanities to address issues of the causes and consequences of inequities in society and what might be done to remedy these problems. If this is what the research shows, this is what you teach. If the consequences of learning about these things causes one to be labeled a liberal and to vote in a predictable way, I think that being a liberal must be the thing to be and voting as such individuals vote is the thing to do. If an election is unique in being shaped by such differences, I don’t see the reaction to the election as a problem resulting from being educated. I would blame it on a lack of knowledge and values that I must reject.

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Zuckerberg visits North Dakota

Mark Zuckerberg does some very interesting things as a self-directed learner. One year he read a book every two weeks. I tried to keep up for a while. Many of the books just did not interest me and while I did read some I was unable to keep up. I know he spent some time learning Mandarin and gave a speech in the language. Here I decided he was clearly a better man than I and did not even give this a try. Now, he is visiting one city in each state. I have visited every state, but this has been across my entire lifetime. I have even spent some time writing about my more recent travels and wish I could find the time to include my earlier comments with my more recent travel blog. He hopes to learn about people and their interests from his observations. Curiosity is obviously important to big thinkers and those who have the means to act on what they can observe.

Zuckerberg has visited North Dakota and recently posted his observations. Mark’s choice in North Dakota was Williston as a way to learn about fracking. You have to admire Zuckerberg’s passion and openness. It is one thing to travel and observe, but I find it impressive that he then takes the time to write about what he learned and what he thought. He takes in a lot and describes some interesting details of how the ebb and flow of oil extraction has influenced the local economy and way of life. He pulls no punches and includes his thoughts on the importance of clean energy as a way to address climate change.

Like many blogs, this collection of observations is worth following.

[in Minnesota Zuckerberg met with Somali refugees and played a little hockey]

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You can run, but …

A country that longs for the past is poorly suited to address the trends that are inevitably shaping the future. The “make America great” folks are living a fantasy and those who are most clueless are being misled by others willing to perpetuate this illusion for personal gain. The mantra sounds fine, but it translates as international isolationism and internal policies that create rather than curb inequities. This promotion of yesterday is even less defensible when it works to benefit certain individuals at the expense of others. This is the point at which perpetuating fantasies is immoral.

Here are the trends I see as important.

  1. Growing world-wide population.
  2. Aging populations in most countries
  3. Climate change
  4. Advances in technology are replacing many jobs at present wages
  5. Globalization – interdependence of economies

Many of these trends are inconvenient for a country that has long had great advantages, but the trends cannot be ignored. My life experiences have been mainly as an educator heavily focused on technology and I tend to see the role both of these factors play as both responsible for both problems (if you believe the U.S. inherently deserves special advantages) and solutions. Technology ignores the boundaries of distance and borders. Technology promotes educational experiences and allows talented and motivated individuals no matter where they are located to perform work with equal skill and often at a lower cost. Other countries have what might be described as an advantage in that merit is often promoted over equity in education, but the consequence is that those who make it through such systems are quite competitive. Isolation will not discourage such practices and will not lessen the short-term economic disadvantages.

I present the trends I see without thorough analysis. I see the list as fact based, but complex and without obvious solutions. The one point these facts do point to is the need to be realistic about the need for change. Focusing on coal or oil and not renewable energy seems unproductive. Failing to address health care realities with an aging population seems foolish. Withholding resources from education when future work requires more and more diverse skills seems short sighted.

These are not challenges without opportunities. What is wrong with more research and more training and more jobs in health care or renewable energy? What is wrong with investing more in educational experiences that prepare learners for a more sophisticated world and that provide on-going experiences suited to a far more rapid pace of change? What is wrong with an approach, probably government moderated, that allows health care for all? What is wrong with acknowledging that life in this country does not allow all to have an equal chance at success and doing something about it?


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The predictable turbulence as the wave roles through

Some of these ideas (UW Prof predicts Trump win) remind me of observations Toffler made some decades ago in the Third Wave. He notes that significant advances bring a period of disruption and the romanticization of the good old days. Typically, the good old days were not actually that good and the advances made have momentum for valid reasons. Changes this country faces such as climate change, increasing globalization, and the increasing diversity of the U.S. threaten the way many have grown to see their personal worlds. The thing is, their personal worlds are not reality and the examples they allow to influence their beliefs are not consistent with statistical trends that argue otherwise. This issue has become more problematic as political leaders promote falsehoods without remorse. Anxiety is understandable, but resistance to inevitable pressures because many think they would rather live in the past slows productive adaptations and ignores opportunities. Clean energy will provide employment opportunity. New ideas from different cultures and bright minds not jaded by entitlements or the priority of personal wealth will drive advances.

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On chickens and turtles

Most of my recent posts have had a political focus so I decided it was about time to take on a topic of greater and deeper importance.

I have been told that great advances occur not so much from answering difficult questions, but from discovering difficult questions that need to be answered. For example, many folks have concentrated on the question of why the chicken crossed the road. I was driving through the woods of Wisconsin and it occurred to me that this was not a particularly novel or important question. I try to be open to insights from my surroundings and soon my surroundings suggested a much more novel question.

Why do turtles cross the road? I mean turtles are far slower than chickens and even the most jaded driver must notice far more smashed turtles than smashed chickens. Who really cares about why chickens cross the road? Most of them make it.

So having established a more pressing question through sheer creativity, I turned to Google in search of answers. It turns out that while few seem to ask this question, Google can provide the answer.

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, turtles cross the road looking for sex. I should have known. Male turtles continually search for willing partners and some may be in the pond on the other side of the road.

There you have it. A question more important than the one about the chicken and even an answer.

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How is this supposed to work?

 Today is the big day. Soon the President will decide whether the U.S. continues our commitment to the international coalition to address the changing climate. I must admit this situation has led me to conclude that I do not have full understanding of how our government works. The notion that the president makes the decision on whether the country commits or withdraws from collective actions to reduce the impact of humans on the atmosphere was somehow contrary to my understanding of how things were done.
I assumed treaties were like other decisions impacting the direction of the country and originated in the legislative branch. The notion that interested parties petition the President in private to make such a decision for the country seems strange in multiple ways. The President does not have the background to make such a final decision. This would be the case with most Presidents, but certainly with this one. At least when the legislative branch commits to a course of action for the country more of the inputs are out in the open and there is more give and take. If there is a scientific case to be made that rejects the impact of humans on climate I would like to review the best evidence for this position.
I suppose I react to this issue in a different way than many others because the policy adopted should not to me be a matter of differing values. Since scientists have concluded that human behavior is causing the deterioration of our atmosphere and there are and are going to be long-term negative consequences of such deterioration, it seems wise that this country as the leading polluter and the aspiring world leader should commit to remedial action. I suppose as a policy decision we could decide to ignore the inconvenient truth and continue ignoring the problem. I have ethical, moral, and economic objections to such a course of action. In general, adopting short-term and self-serving goals is not the way you promote yourself as a leader if being recognized as a leader is your goal.
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Trust and consistency

Consistency makes an important contribution to trust. I think this is one of President Trump’s greatest issues. Consistency is easiest enough to evaluate given our present ability to check public positions because of recordings of various types and public access. Trump seems to function as if checking this consistency is not possible – what is said about topic A at time A is completely independent of what is said about topic A at time B; what is said in country A differs from what is said in country B. For example, the inconsistency of the complaints Trump made about Obama and Trump’s present behavior or statements. The phrases Trump insists other politicians use in this country and the phrasing he uses himself elsewhere. Trump complaining about such things encourages others (me) to evaluate you by your own standards.

Without consistency, you appear to be catering to the audience of the moment. Without consistency, it seems your positions are not truly held. Without a reasonable level of consistency, it is difficult to develop trust. People do change their minds and this is to be valued, but when such changes happen very frequently and without much in the way of logic or explanation frequent changes imply something else. Was it Kerry the Republicans attacked so relentlessly for being a flip-flopper? I seem to remember being consistent was once a Republican value. I guess times change and flipping on your own expectations for trust is sometimes necessary.

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Understanding political polarization

I have long used the data collected by the PEW Research Center when I write about the educational use of technology. The Research Center collects data on a wide range of topics and is careful about the survey methodology employed making it a source I trust. The Center offers useful insights into other issues and has long provided information on political matters. In 2014, the Center sought to understand media consumption by those labeling themselves as having different political values. The following is their summary contrasting the 20% who label themselves as consistent conservatives or consistent liberals. There is are positive and negative factors (according to my interpretation) in each category.

[the following content excerpted from the PEW site – see the link above for additional information]

Overall, the study finds that consistent conservatives:

  • Are tightly clustered around a single news source, far more than any other group in the survey, with 47% citing Fox News as their main source for news about government and politics.
  • Express greater distrust than trust of 24 of the 36 news sources measured in the survey. At the same time, fully 88% of consistent conservatives trust Fox News.
  • Are, when on Facebook, more likely than those in other ideological groups to hear political opinions that are in line with their own views.
  • Are more likely to have friends who share their own political views. Two-thirds (66%) say most of their close friends share their views on government and politics.

By contrast, those with consistently liberal views:

  • Are less unified in their media loyalty; they rely on a greater range of news outlets, including some – like NPR and the New York Times– that others use far less.
  • Express more trust than distrust of 28 of the 36 news outlets in the survey. NPR, PBS and the BBC are the most trusted news sources for consistent liberals.
  • Are more likely than those in other ideological groups to block or “defriend” someone on a social network – as well as to end a personal friendship – because of politics.
  • Are more likely to follow issue-based groups, rather than political parties or candidates, in their Facebook feeds.


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Insurance, jobs and retirement

I find myself writing a lot about recent political issues. Things seem to be changing and often in ways that make little sense to me. The possible changes to health insurance are an example. As a recent retiree, I had to abandon my university group health care plan and find something new. Luckily, I now live in Minnesota and have three options. Hopefully, any political changes will not destroy this situation. The pre-existing condition issue is a big one for my own family as several individuals face a genetic condition that predicts a high rate of cancer so the true meaning of “access to health care” matters.

It is with this mind set that I have been thinking about other issues. I just returned from a conference I still attend with other professors. Those others are still working while I am not. My decision to retire was based on several factors – did I have enough money was certainly important. Did I have things I thought were important to do but that would be difficult should I continue to work was another? One factor that most may not consider when reaching retirement age weighed heavily on me. I was holding a work position that many would love to have. My position was not a job that required much in the way of physical capabilities. I had tenure and was making a nice income. My intellect was pretty much intact as far as I could tell and without the responsibility of children I should spend time with, I had more time to devote to my job than younger faculty members. What bothered me was the difficulty I witnessed in young PhDs searching for a good faculty job. These jobs are very competitive and I felt I had had my opportunity. It was time for a new hire to have a chance. I do think more folks should consider this reality. Certain job areas are not going to expand and there is some element of selfishness in hanging on. I felt that I could continue the intellectual challenge of the job without requiring an office or a paycheck. Most days reading and academic writing are still what I spend much of my time doing.

I wonder if changes to health insurance will come to influence the type of decision I made. If health care for older individuals becomes much more expensive and care for those with pre-existing conditions become insanely expensive, why would someone like me give up coverage that prevented any such concerns? A group health plan protected me and my wife. Why risk providing someone else a job opportunity with so much on the line?

I happen to think we make health insurance far too complicated. Simply put, the idea is that the risk for a group must be covered by a charge to all. When some do not contribute because they cannot or some simply feel they owe nothing to others, things become more complicated. The affordable care act tried to prevent those who had reasonable means and decided not to become involved by way of a penalty so some funds went into the overall risk pool. Some states were unwilling to enforce this expectation and maybe the penalty should have been larger. Simple math quickly becomes complex when the system can no longer rely on simple division. Now, the system must find other ways to address the risk pool. Throwing out some who on average can reliably be predicted to be more costly is one such approach. Let them fund themselves or recalculate the risk for this risky group. The issue becomes one of whether such an approach is ethical or moral. If some cannot pay already, note that those in the risky group face far more expensive policies with no hope of covering the cost.

Complexity can be introduced in other anticipated ways. I have raised one I am guessing most have not considered. There are predictable relationships between age, access to health insurance, and employment opportunities. Why would employed and protected older individuals leave the job market to offer a high paying job to others should they not be able to count on health insurance? So much of a democracy depends on trusting the system. So much of a democracy depends on shared goals. Systems begin to break down when it is everyone for themselves.


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