Thursday, September 17, 2009

Take Two Stamps and Call Me in the Morning

“I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

“The government that governs least governs best.”

“Would you want the group that runs the post office running the health care system?”

Amusing bon mots, to be sure. It’s always fun to pick on the Feds. But let’s take a closer look at that last one, shall we? As we debate President Obama’s initiative to provide health care coverage to the population of the United States for the first time in history, let us ask: Would we want a health care system built and delivered by the same institution that gave us the United States Postal System.

Not only “Yes,” but “Hell, Yes!” If we could build a health care system that only rose to a fraction of the efficiency of that hallowed institution, millions of Americans could rest easier knowing their livelihood, savings and retirement wouldn’t be wiped out by one illness or accident.

Originally created by the second Continental Congress way back in 1775, the USPS has been trucking mail across America as long as there have been Americans. At one point, the Postmaster General was in the line of succession for the Presidency! It’s hard to imagine the United States growing through the Industrial Revolution and the Silicon Renaissance without the most efficient postal system on the planet smoothing the way by delivering products, invoices, payments – and yes, even junk mail – in a timely and cost-effective manner. What other system do you know of that will come to your house, pick up a couple of pieces of paper, cart them thousands of miles and then hand-deliver them to your Aunt Rose? And all for less than a buck.

Sounds like a pretty good system to me. In fact, if you wanted to build an efficient Postal System from the ground up, it would probably look a lot like the one we have. On the other hand, if you built a health care system from the ground up, there’s no way you’d design what we have today. Is the USPS perfect? No. I had a discussion with my friend Julia Hoxie the other day and she commented on the fact that they get their mail mixed up all the time. Fair enough. The issue isn’t that the USPS sucks, it’s that it’s been so good for so long that we can’t tolerate errors.

So that brings us to an equally applicable rule: Just because something starts out working well, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t scrap it when it starts to fall apart. The USPS has come under attack from a much more efficient system: e-mail and e-commerce. Can it continue to function the way it has been? Perhaps not. And Postmaster General Jack Potter is already working to revamp the system (presumably he has the time since he doesn’t have to worry about that whole President thing.)

The same can be said for the current health care system. Back when American workers tended to spend their entire careers with one company, and that company provided the benefits, then the program worked. As long as health care costs remained within reach of those who preferred to provide their own savings, it worked. Now? Not so much. And it’s time to replace the system. They say the first step in fixing any problem is recognizing that you have one. We have to recognize that our current system is deeply flawed. All the naysayers out there that keep claiming we have the finest health care in the world are ignoring the fact that this vaunted system is not accessible to a huge number of our citizens. Saudi princes may fly over here to get their arthroscopic surgery, but Frank from South Oak Cliff can’t get a checkup and Mary from Grand Prairie has decided to forgo prenatal treatments because she can’t afford the medications.

So who’s going to fix such a large scale problem? It’s certainly not going to be that amorphous “Free Market” everyone is always talking about. Not on its own, at least. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, in his book Hot, Flat and Crowded, compared the free market to a new garden. Sure you could just throw some seeds in and then watch it grow (the ultimate metaphor for free markets). But your garden will produce a lot better tomatoes if you till the soil, plan your layout, set the stage properly and nurture it with fertilizer and water. Then, Mother Nature, and the free market, will take over and do the heavy lifting.

Face it, there’s not an organization out there that’s big enough to build a replacement for our health care system, except the federal government. That’s right, the same folks that took men to the moon, created the atomic bomb, and built the most efficient postal delivery system the planet has ever seen. So the answer is Yes. I don’t think I’d mind them building a new health care system. They are from the Government. And in this case, they CAN help.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Frisco ISD announces “Office of Presidential Filtering”

(Frisco, TX) In response to the impending intrusion on the valuable lunchtime activities of the students of the Frisco Independent School District by “that guy living in the White House,” un-named FISD “officials” have created the Office of Presidential Filtering. Since clearly our duly elected federal officials have some nefarious plot behind this presentation, local officials have decided that they are best suited to “hone in on important aspects or portions of the message.” At this point, it is unclear as to what criteria would be used to decide what is important and what is not. Nor is it clear just which individuals would assume this post or how those people would be chosen. But FISD wants all Frisco parents to rest assured that no unacceptable content regarding the value of education or the importance of respect for our elected officials would be allowed to sully the minds of impressionable young people. According to unnamed FISD officials, “We feel that our leaders and educators at the schools are best equipped to determine how it (the Presidential Address) should be used. We feel that our staff can best determine impact on instructional time and what facilitating questions and follow-up discussion topics best tie in with our curriculum and learning.”

C’mon, people. Seriously? This is the best they can come up with?

For any number of reasons – from the valid to the ridiculous –school districts around the country have been falling all over themselves to distance students from President Obama’s planned address on Tuesday. Our own Frisco ISD seems intent on doing the same, without quite coming out and saying so. The information page posted on ( cites issues around scheduling (the plan falls during many students’ lunch periods) and timing (the planned message is geared toward students just starting classes, while our kids have been going to school for a couple of weeks already). Both excuses, of course, are tepid, at best. I’ve seen the schools monkey with schedules for a lot less reason and resulting in a lot more disruption. And quite frankly, I give Frisco students a little more credit than it seems they do. I think our kids can grasp the concept that some schools in other parts of the country are just starting.

So, let’s call it what it is: an attempt to wrap some legitimacy around our school officials’ unwillingness to stand up to the ridiculous pressures being placed by the ultra-right wing blog-o-radio personalities and the local parents that have been whipped into a froth. Even worse, they compound the problem with a collection of wishy-washy language that basically amounts to the establishment of the fictional “Office of Presidential Filtering” described above. In their grand wisdom, unidentified “school officials” have reserved for themselves the duty of editing President Obama’s presentation for use in specific classes such as “speech or journalism,” “history or government” or even the more unwieldy “civics/social studies/current events.”

I’ve got a better idea. Why don’t we set aside partisan bickering and show some respect for the elected leader of our nation? This is not just some political hack pushing an agenda. It’s the President of the United States of America. If you don’t agree with his politics, that’s fine. You have every right to speak out against his policies and, even more grand, vote for someone else during the next election. You can certainly – and I highly encourage this – have an open and genuine conversation with your children about the message and the messenger, if you like. In the meantime, perhaps we can try and teach our children to respect the office and just shut up and listen. No editing. No repurposing. No “determining how it can best be used.” More importantly, no prejudging that somehow this President deserves to be censored based on the ranting of a bunch of media hot heads and the over-reaction of a few parents in the school district.