Saturday, April 27, 2013

Smorgasbord Saturday

In the last two weeks, there have been an insane number of stories to keep track of. Far too many to share. However, here are a few stories that may not have come to your attention due to the sheer amount of information we have all had to sift through to make sense of the Boston chaos, the Texas explosion, the ricin mailings and the gun vote in the United States Senate.

Friday, April 26, 2013

My Introduction to George Jones

Our memories are often influenced by sound, smell and taste. When I read this morning that the great George Jones had passed away, I immediately thought of my grandfather.

My childhood introduction to music came through my grandfather. My grandfather had this dual deck cassette player that he used to play and I would sit and listen to whatever he put on. I remember listening to Dick Thomas, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings, Kitty Wells, Glenn Campbell and George Jones. That was my introduction to country music (what my grandfather called country-western until his death). Eventually he introduced me to Perry Como, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and others. But it was my introduction to country music that remains the strongest memory.

Thinking about George Jones today, I was taken back to the hard cement floor in my grandparents' living room, listening to "White Lightning" for the first time and having no idea what it meant, but that it was fun and that the singer had one of the best voices I had ever heard. Now I can truly appreciate how special that voice was. There's a reason why George Jones was Johnny Cash's favorite singer. A very special reason and one I am very thankful my grandfather introduced me to two decades ago.

George Jones (1931 - 2013)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Shame of the United States Senate

President Barack Obama delivered the following speech this afternoon in the Rose Garden. He was flanked by the families of Newtown, Vice President Biden and former congresswoman and shooting victim Gabby Giffords. I share his anger and disappointment. I find myself furious with the cowardice of the Senate and the ridiculous process requirements that resulted in the background check amendment receiving a majority of votes, yet failing.
A few months ago, in response to too many tragedies, including the shootings of a United States congresswoman, Gabby Giffords, who's here today, and the murder of 20 innocent schoolchildren and their teachers, this country took up the cause of protecting more of our people from gun violence. Families that know unspeakable grief summoned the courage to petition their elected leaders, not just to honor the memory of their children but to protect the lives of all of our children. 
A few minutes ago a minority in the United States Senate decided it wasn't worth it. They blocked common-sense gun reforms, even while these families looked on from the Senate gallery. By now it's well- known that 90 percent of the American people support universal background checks that make it harder for a dangerous person to buy a gun. We're talking about convicted felons, people convicted of domestic violence, people with a severe mental illness. 
Ninety percent of Americans support that idea. Most Americans think that's already the law. And a few minutes ago, 90 percent of Democrats in the Senate voted for that idea. But it's not going to happen, because 90 percent of Republicans in the Senate just voted against that idea. 
A majority of senators voted yes to protecting more of our citizens with smarter background checks. But by this continuing distortion of Senate rules, a minority was able to block it from moving forward. I'm going to speak plainly and honestly about what's happened here, because the American people are trying to figure out, how can something have 90 percent support and yet not happen? 
We had a Democrat and a Republican -- both gun owners, both fierce defenders of our second amendment with A grades from the NRA come together and work together to write a common-sense compromise on background checks. And I want to thank Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey for their courage in doing that. That was not easy given their traditional strong support for second amendment rights. 
As they said, nobody could honestly claim that the package they put together infringed on our second amendment rights. All it did was extend the same background check rules that already apply to guns purchased from a dealer to guns purchased at gun shows or over the Internet. So 60 percent of guns are already purchased through a background check system.
This would have covered a lot of the guns that are currently outside that system.
Their legislation showed respect for gun owners, and it showed respect for the victims of gun violence. 
And Gabby Giffords, by the way, is both. She's a gun owner and a victim of gun violence. She is a Westerner and a moderate, and she supports these background checks. 
In fact, even the NRA used to support expanded background checks. The current leader of the NRA used to support these background checks. 
So while this compromise didn't contain everything I wanted or everything that these families wanted, it did represent progress. It represented moderation and common sense. That's why 90 percent of the American people supported it. 
But instead of supporting this compromise, the gun lobby and its allies willfully lied about the bill. They claimed that it would create some sort of "Big Brother" gun registry, even though the bill did the opposite. This legislation in fact outlawed any registry, plain and simple, right there in the text. But that didn't matter. And unfortunately, this pattern of spreading untruths about this legislation served a purpose, because those lies upset an intense minority of gun owners, and that in turn intimidated a lot of senators. 
And I talked to several of these senators over the past few weeks, and they're all good people. I know all of them were shocked by tragedies like Newtown. And I also understand that they come from states that are strongly pro-gun, and I have consistently said that there are regional differences when it comes to guns and that both sides have to listen to each other. 
But the fact is, most of these senators could not offer any good reason why we wouldn't want to make it harder for criminals and those with severe mental illnesses to buy a gun. There were no coherent arguments as to why we wouldn't do this. It came down to politics. They worried that that vocal minority of gun-owners would come after them in future elections. They worried that the gun lobby would spend a lot of money and paint them as anti-Second Amendment. And obviously a lot of Republicans had that fear, but Democrats had that fear, too. And so they caved to the pressure, and they started looking for an excuse, any excuse, to vote no. 
One common argument I heard was that this legislation wouldn't prevent all future massacres. And that's true. As I said from the start, no single piece of legislation can stop every act of violence and evil. We learned that tragically just two days ago. But if action by Congress could have saved one person, one child, a few hundred, a few thousand; if it could've prevented those people from losing their lives to gun violence in the future while preserving our Second Amendment rights, we had an obligation to try. And this legislation met that test. And too many senators failed theirs. 
I've heard some say that blocking this step would be a victory. And my question is, a victory for who? 
A victory for what? 
All that happened today was the preservation of the loophole that lets dangerous criminals buy guns without a background check. That didn't make our kids safer. Victory for not doing something that 90 percent of Americans, 80 percent of Republicans, the vast majority of your constituents wanted to get done? It begs the question, who are we here to represent? 
I've heard folks say that having the families of victims lobby for this legislation was somehow misplaced. A prop, somebody called them. Emotional blackmail, some outlets said. Are they serious? Do we really think that thousands of families whose lives have been shattered by gun violence don't have a right to weigh in on this issue? Do we think their -- their emotions, their loss is not relevant to this debate? 
So all in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington. But this effort is not over. I want to make it clear to the American people: We can still bring about meaningful changes that reduce gun violence so long as the American people don't give up on it. 
Even without Congress, my administration will keep doing everything it can to protect more of our communities. We're going to address the barriers that prevent states from participating in the existing background check system. We're going to give law enforcement more information about lost and stolen guns so it can do its job. 
We're going to help to put in place emergency plans to protect our children in their schools.
But we can do more if Congress gets its act together. And if this Congress refuses to listen to the American people and pass common-sense gun legislation, then the real impact is going to have to come from the voters.
To all the people who supported this legislation, law enforcement and responsible gun owners, Democrats and Republicans, urban moms, rural hunters, whoever you are, you need to let your representatives in Congress know that you are disappointed and that if they don't act this time, you will remember come election time. 
To the wide majority of NRA households who supported this legislation, you need to let your leadership and lobbyists in Washington know they didn't represent your views on this one. 
The point is, those who care deeply about preventing more and more gun violence will have to be as passionate and as organized and as vocal as those who blocked these common-sense steps to help keep our kids safe. Ultimately, you outnumber those who argued the other way. But they're better organized, they're better financed, they've been at it longer and they make sure to stay focused on this one issue during election time. And that's the reason why you can have something that 90 percent of Americans support and you can't get it through the Senate or the House of Representatives. 
So to change Washington, you, the American people, are going to have to sustain some passion about this. 
And when necessary, you've got to send the right people to Washington. 
And that requires strength, and it requires persistence. And that's the one thing that these families should have inspired in all of us. I still don't know how they have been able to muster up the -- the strength to -- to do what they've been doing over the last several weeks, the last several months. And I see this as just round one. 
And when Newtown happened, I met with these families and I spoke to the community, and I said something must be different right now. We're going to have to change. And that's what the whole country said. Everybody talked about how we were going to change something to make sure this didn't happen again, just like everybody talked about how we needed to do something after Aurora. Everybody talked about we need to change something after Tucson. 
And I'm assuming that the emotions that we've all felt since Newtown, the emotions that we've all felt since Tucson and Aurora and Chicago, the pain we share with these families and families all across the country who've lost a loved one to gun violence, I'm assuming that's not a temporary thing. I'm assuming our expressions of grief and our commitment to do something different to prevent these things from happening are not empty words. I believe we're going to be able to get this one. Sooner or later we are going to get this right. The memories of these children demand it, and so the American people. 
Thank you very much, everybody.

'Raindrops and Background Noise'

As the United States Senate prepares to vote on amendments to the Manchin-Toomey background check bill today, I would like to talk about access to guns. I am not going to talk about access in our big cities, cities like New York City and Chicago that are constantly dealing with an influx of guns that inevitably end up killing people, but I do want to talk about access to guns in my home state of Idaho.

Both of Idaho's senators voted against cloture and therefore debate on the gun legislation moving forward in the United States Senate. This despite the fact that at least fifteen people have been killed by a gun in Idaho since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut that served as a catalyst for the recent push to address gun safety in America. In fact, Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho) took the lead as spokesman for the group of senators opposed to ending the filibuster prior to that effort failing.

Here is what Senator Risch had to say about expanding the background check system in this country:
“One of the problems we have here is this debate here now is focusing on expanding a background check system that simply does not work and casts a burden on people that are exercising a Constitutional right. And I think everybody has to accept that this is a Constitutional right, the right to keep and bear arms. Having said that, we should start the debate beginning at what we all believe – what everyone believes – that you should keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them – convicted felons and people who have serious mental difficulties.”
Senator Risch is certainly not the only politician that is saying that the current background check system does not work. Many members of congress do not believe that background checks do any good. Risch is certainly not the only member saying that the Manchin-Toomey bill places a "burden on law-abiding citizens." And Risch is not the only member saying that criminals and the mentally ill will find a way to get a gun whether or not a criminal background check system exists. What these senators are not opening their eyes and hearts to is the possibility that legislation like this could prevent one more shooting. Legislation like this could prevent one more Newtown. Legislation like this could prevent one more person who could not get a gun otherwise from taking their life or the lives of others. Do we not have a moral responsibility to at least try? Do Senators Risch and Crapo not have a moral responsibility to ensure that a Newtown does not happen in one of our many elementary schools across the Gem State? Do they not have a moral responsibility to do everything in their power to bring down the suicide rate in Idaho where currently it is the second leading cause of death among Idahoans 15-34 and young men 10-14? Do they not have a moral responsibility to at least try?

As an Idahoan, I am not unfamiliar with guns. Like much of the rural West, guns are a way of life here. As a child, I grew up with guns in my household. I knew that my father kept rifles in the bottom of his closet, in their unlocked cases. We even kept a gun there that belonged to a neighbor who did not want the gun in her house with her four young boys. As a teenager, I knew that there were various guns in the gun cabinet in the house. Sometimes open, sometimes locked, the key to the gun cabinet was always near the cabinet. I remember often finding unsecured guns in the family car after one or more family member went out target shooting. Each of my brothers took hunter education and all of them hunt. Guns were not something I was ignorant about. However, of everyone in my family, I was the most averse to guns. My aversion stemmed from a childhood full of reasons to question whether guns should not all have a trigger lock, should not all be kept away from places where children might have access to them, should not exist on our streets if they exist in theaters of war for the only purpose of killing human beings, and yes, should not all require a background check upon purchase. None of these things have ever seemed unreasonable to me and all were arrived at thoughtfully in the wake of events that impacted my young life.

I remember watching my mother cry during the nightly news as they reported the school shooting in Stockton, California when I was four years old. At the time, my mom was finishing her teaching degree and, like the rest of the country, could not fathom how a person could target school children at a place where they felt safe and should have been safe. I was too young to understand what it meant, but in the self-aware world of a four-year-old, I knew I would be starting school soon. The gunman's history should have prevented him from purchasing the assault rifle that he used on that schoolyard.

When I was ten or eleven, a classmate of mine shot himself and bled to death as he waited for EMTs to get to his rural home in Albion, Idaho. The gun was an unsecured rifle belonging to his father. Whether or not he knew that the gun was loaded or intended to fire it was never known.

In my final year of elementary school, I was out trick-or-treating with my cousin as we watched life flight touch down on the football field at our elementary school. We later found out that her brother had shot someone at a Halloween party across town. All we knew that night was that we needed to be in the house, our parents fearing the unknown. Her brother, the shooter, was convicted of the crime. He had shot another cousin at a party, fueled my alcohol. As a minor, he was not legally allowed to own the handgun used.

As I got involved with Special Olympics as a teenager, I got to know a young man who, as a teenager not much older than me, shot himself in the head and failed in his attempted suicide. With severe brain damage, he spent the rest of his life a shell of his old self, something he was painfully aware of. Unfortunately, he had complete memory of the lead-up to his shooting and remembered his life before that day. The gun he used was an unsecured weapon belonging to his father. He, like my elementary school friend, had grown up with guns present and was not unfamiliar with their danger.

In the fall of 1997, a girl that I sat by on the school bus each day, a girl just three years older than me, stayed home from school one day and shot herself in the head in her bedroom. She was found later that day by her older brother, just before the school bus would have normally been dropping her off after school. The gun she used that day belonged to a family member.

The spring before I began high school, Columbine happened. It was timing like that of the Stockton shooting nearly 10 years earlier for me. And what scared me most about starting high school in the wake of Columbine is when I heard that a classmate had told someone that the shooters were misunderstood. That got him called into the counselor's office. What were the signs that something like what happened in Littleton was going to happen again? How was I to know if one of my classmates was capable of a similar act? All this time later, we know all about the guns that were used that day and how the gunmen acquired them. Preventing straw purchases would have made a difference that tragic day at Columbine High School.

In 2003, a troubled former classmate of mine was arrested for the murder of a man he had an altercation with over a drug deal. Tyson Buss shot and killed a man in an Idaho Falls alley. I had known Buss in my final years of elementary school and unfortunately, I was not surprised to find that he had been arrested. What scared me most about Buss' arrest for murder is that it brought me back to an incident that got him expelled from our elementary school. He assaulted a fifth grade teacher and was barely restrained by the 6'2" burly, Harley-riding, sixth grade teacher until the police could arrive. What might have happened had that 12-year-old had access to a gun?

As a college student at Idaho State, Virginia Tech happened. I was a part of student government then and we were asked to wear ribbons in honor of the lives lost on that campus. I remember having a meeting that week to discuss how ISU would be increasing security measures. The entire time I was thinking about how open the campus in Pocatello is and how anyone could walk onto campus from any number of locations. It was a terrifying thought. How do we keep our schools and campuses safe when access to guns is far too easy?

In his final year of high school, my younger brother lost a close friend of his who, after breaking up with his girlfriend, didn't see anything good in his life and went home and shot himself with a rifle of his father's that was not locked up.

A former friend and softball teammate of mine was murdered last year by her husband before he took his own life with an illegal handgun. Lisa England lost her young life in her Arimo home, leaving behind a 3-year-old child and an extended family that will wish for the rest of their lives that they had seen the signs. At the time, it was already the third gun death in Bannock County that year, something nearly unheard of.

Like most Americans, I was devastated by the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. In the hours and days that followed, all I could think about was the first grade classroom where my mother teaches. Her classroom has the exact split of male and female first graders as that of Lauren Rousseau's classroom of children that was massacred at Sandy Hook. I could not help but think of how close her classroom is to the front entrance of the school she teaches at. And for days afterward, I found myself holding back tears as I saw young children walking to their school bus stops. What happened that day should never happen again, but preventing another such tragedy is going to require whatever steps we can take as a country.

Just recently, a friend and former co-worker's boyfriend led the police on a high-speed chase through the city of Pocatello, arriving eventually at Petco where he took a young man hostage, effectively committing suicide by cop. Her boyfriend, a felon, was carrying an illegal handgun. His family spoke about the mental illness he had battled for several years, something he had under control for a time, but lost control of when he lost the health insurance coverage that had been paying for his treatment. Many have surmised that he did not want to return to prison and knew that his actions that day would have resulted in exactly that. In his state of mind, perhaps he felt his only out was suicide by cop. He left behind two young children. How might that day have ended had he not had access to that gun?

I realize that not all of these instances involved guns that would not have been attained had laws like those in the Manchin-Toomey bill been on the books, but some of them might have been prevented. And if just one of those shootings had been prevented, lives would have been saved.

Last week I listened to Senator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) talk about the tragedy in Newtown and the gun violence that occurs in this country on a daily basis. A segment of his floor speech on April 10th:
"But really, Mr. President it's happening every day. And this country has just gotten so callously used to gun violence that it's just raindrops. It's just background noise. And that reality, the one in which we are losing 30 Americans a day to gun violence in which a chart that shows you how many have died since December 14 is almost unreadable because it's a cast of thousands, that reality is just as unacceptable as what happened in Sandy Hook that day. And so the question is are we going to do anything about it or are we going to sit on our hands like we have for 20 years and accept the status quo with respect to everyday gun violence and these increased incidences of mass shootings? If we're really serious about doing our jobs here we can't."
I was struck by what he said about gun violence being "just raindrops...just background noise." Unfortunately, in my young life, that has been the case. As I looked back over all of the incidents of gun violence that have taken place in my twenty-seven years, I am afraid it may have become just raindrops and background noise. We cannot let this happen.

Today we will see how many members of the United States Senate truly grasp that we as a country have the responsibility to prevent as many shootings like Newtown, Aurora, the Tucson shooting that nearly took the life of a sitting congresswoman, Columbine, Virginia Tech,  Trolley Square, and the Cleveland School massacre. Just as important, we have a responsibility as a country, a moral responsibility, to prevent individual shootings where teenagers get their hands on guns and take their lives, where returning soldiers suffering through the hell of PTSD access a gun to take their own lives. Will this legislation prevent all of these things? Of course not, but it is a step and the first step that has made it this far since 1994. Now is the time.

Monday, April 15, 2013

On Boston

I had intended to post a piece today about the gun legislation proceeding to a vote in the United States Senate this week, but with the news out of Boston I have decided to hold that piece for a day or two. My thoughts are with the victims of the senseless tragedy at the Boston Marathon today, their loved ones and the public officials in Boston who are sorting through the evidence. May the great city of Boston find comfort during these dark hours and take solace in knowing that many of us look to it as one of the premiere cities in this country.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The President's Weekly Radio Address

Editor's Note: Nothing I can say will do justice to how important it is that the President allowed the mother of one of the victims of the Sandy Hook tragedy to give his weekly radio address. It is important and it is moving.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

To the Brink: JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis

While the conservative right in this country is up in arms about a completely legal, sanctioned trip to the island of Cuba by two of the world's biggest celebrities, it seems fitting that this weekend the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum is opening the To the Brink exhibit.

To the Brink: JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis relies heavily on documents, audio recordings, artifacts and photographs from the National Archives (where the exhibit first debuted). It debuted on the 50th anniversary of the crisis last year and will be on display at the JFK Library until December of this year.

Why is an exhibit like this important in relation to the current uproar about traveling to Cuba? First, the conservative right has embraced the hardline on the Cuban embargo in the last several decades. As Democrats have distanced themselves from the positions that formed in the early 1960s as a response to both the Bay of Pigs invasion, Cold War hysteria and the Cuban Missile Crisis, it's important to understand what those positions are and how they came about. As travel restrictions to Cuba have finally started to loosen some 50 years later, it's important to understand why they even existed.

While many members of the conservative right could do with a whole array of history lessons, if the former press secretary for the President of the United States didn't even know what the Cuban Missile Crisis was, it's probably a good idea that everyone have a crash course in U.S./Cuban relations. Eventually they might even want to loosen up their stranglehold on the hardline with Cuba.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Hitchcock: Is Head Start Working?

Editor's Note: The following opinion column was published by the Idaho State Journal and appears here with the author's permission.

by Leonard Hitchcock

The final portion of a Health and Human Services (HHS) Department report on the Head Start program was published in December of 2012.  Fox News and the Heritage Foundation pounced on the report immediately, alleging that it proved Head Start to be a “completely ineffective program” (Fox News), and provided “definitive evidence that the federal government’s 48-year experiment with Head Start has failed children and left taxpayers a tab of more than $180 billion.” (Heritage Foundation)

In their detailed accounts of the report, those two ultra-conservative organizations utilized a common tactic of the far right when describing government programs for the poor, viz. accentuate the negative and eliminate the positive.  I would like to attempt my own “fair and balanced” account of the HHS report in what follows.

The Head Start study began with a randomized selection of test subjects from a pool of children who qualified for admission to the program, i.e. children whose families had sufficiently low incomes.  Two pairs of cohort groups were formed, one for 3-yr.-olds, one for 4-yr.-olds.  In each pair, one group attended Head Start and one did not (i.e. there was  a “treated” and  a “control” group).  Treated 3-yr.-olds attended Head Start for two years before entering kindergarten; treated 4-yr.-olds attended Head Start for one year.  A variety of achievement tests were given to the cohorts from the end of the first Head Start year through the end of third grade.  Because Head Start seeks to address “the whole child,” those tests addressed not only cognitive skills but socio-emotional skills, health, and the parenting practices of those who cared for them.

Here is a broad-brush depiction of the results of the study:

1)    For the 3-yr. old cohort in their first year of Head Start, and the 4-yr.-old cohort in their single year in Head Start, all tests revealed that the Head Start groups had significantly higher achievement levels than the control groups.  This occurred despite the fact that both control groups were permitted to attend day-care or preschool programs other than Head Start, and roughly 60% did so. 
2)    In the second year of Head Start for the 3-yr.-olds, control group members were permitted to enroll in Head Start, and a great many did, with the result that the achievement gap for that cohort virtually disappeared by the end of that year.
3)    When the two cohorts entered kindergarten the average test score differences between the Head Start and control groups began diminishing, and the two groups were almost indistinguishable in terms of performance by the end of 3rd grade.

A detailed account of the results reveals an even more perplexing mix of success and failure. For example, Head Start participants from the 4-yr.-old cohort sustained their advantage in reading ability through 3rd grade.  But on the measure of grade promotion, the 3-yr.-old Head Start children’s outcomes were worse than the control children’s at the end of the study.  Parents and teachers disagreed about Head Start impacts upon the 4-yr.-old children’s behavior: parents reported improved behavior through the 3rd grade, teachers reported problems. At the same time, the 3-yr.-old cohort seems to have exhibited favorable socio-emotional impacts, vis à vis the control group, for the entire study period.

Looking at the results for sub-groups that the study tracked, the impact of Head Start was similarly mixed.  Children in the 3-yr.-old cohort categorized as “high risk” due to their family environments showed sustained cognitive achievements through 3rd grade.  Among the 4-yr.-old cohort, Afro-American children showed continuing benefits in both the cognitive and socio-emotional domains through 3rd grade.  White children, however, showed negative impacts in the socio-emotional domain.

A full understanding of the HHS study, and a fair assessment of Head Start, requires knowledge of the relevant research literature.  The surprisingly rapid “fade-out” of test gains made by Head Start students, for example, is not unique to Head Start, but common to pre-school programs in the United States and abroad.  The reasons for that phenomenon are not yet understood.  But what is understood, and evidenced by scores of studies over the past twenty years, is that “early intervention” in the form of educational activities prior to kindergarten, has positive long-run effects.  While the HHS study ends in third grade, other studies have tracked Head Start and non-Head Start students into their adulthoods.  What those studies find is that Head Start kids are more likely to finish high school, attend college, and earn a decent income, and less likely to be out of work, to engage in criminal behavior and to be in poor health.  Economists, including Nobel-laureate James Heckman, have therefore argued(contra the Heritage Foundation) that Head Start provides a significant economic return on society’s investment.

Nonetheless, intellectual honesty justifies only a provisional approval of Head Start.  The evidence that it is beneficial is persuasive, but we do not really understand why it succeeds in some ways and fails in others.  Given the incredible complexity of children’s biological and psychological development and their interactions with parents, teachers and peers, that ignorance is not surprising.  We must hope that eventually, by wielding the tools of scientific investigation, we will come to understand how children learn.  In the meantime, rattling political swords (and misreporting scientific findings) will get us nowhere.

New Music Tuesday

Every now and then a musician or song surfaces that you find yourself drawn to for absolutely no logical reason. Recently I heard a song by an artist named Jake Bugg on a television show I watch and I found his voice unique. Today his self-titled album was released (available here on iTunes). He has several music videos available on iTunes--this is one for a track that I'm inexplicably drawn to. It's called "Taste It."

The Unfinished Business of Medicaid Reform

Editor's Note: The following op-ed was penned by Democratic state senator Dan Schmidt and deserves a read. Since the session ended, I haven't stopped thinking about the message in his op-ed and what a huge opportunity the GOP-driven legislature passed up. The money saved by the state by expanding Medicaid as well as the many benefits to the people of the state who desperately need an expanded Medicaid program apparently does not outweigh the political points scored by conservative legislators who can continue to rail against the socialism and federal government overreach of such an expansion. The entire situation is terribly sad for a state that could benefit greatly.

Unfinished Business
by Senator Dan Schmidt

The Idaho legislature adjourns with unfinished business. As health care reform moves forward, Idaho will have 100,000 people, many working poor without health coverage unless they have a catastrophic illness or injury. Then county taxpayers will pick up the bill, after the injured is found indigent, liens are filed and bankruptcy ensured.
Last year, that cost counties about $40 million in property taxes. And if the cost per case is more than $11,000, the state pays the remainder. Last year, that cost Idaho taxpayers $35 million in general fund dollars. Almost all these people could have insurance coverage if Idaho chose to revise and expand Medicaid coverage as allowed and funded through the Affordable Care Act, yes, Obamacare. And that right there might explain the political reluctance. The numbers are clear, but this should be about more than just numbers. This needs to be the right choice.
We currently pay for health care for this population in an inefficient way. After the care has been provided, the injured or ill are determined to be impoverished then the hospital and physician are reimbursed with taxpayer dollars. Does this make sense to you? I understand the fear of expanding an entitlement program. As a family doctor, I always encourage appropriate use of services. If my patients, my neighbors or my family act irresponsibly, they hear from me. Health is something for which we can all take some personal responsibility. But that doesn’t mean we need to be stuck with how we have always done it. The Governor’s Work Group concluded that more of the same old Medicaid program wouldn’t suit this population or Idaho. So a unique benefits package was proposed that enrolls this group with monthly premiums and co-pays and a health savings plan.
Understand that by having these otherwise uninsured people paying co-pays and monthly premiums, even at very low rates, we will encourage people to avoid seeking their primary care in the emergency room and instead put the pressure of wise consumption and market forces onto our rising health care costs. This benefit plan can inspire responsible consumption. They can contribute, as we all can to the solution.
Health care costs are crippling our economy and clouding our future. We cannot control costs after the care has been given. Enrolling all Idahoans, managing the costs, holding patients and providers responsible can start Idaho down a different path. If we as a state don’t have the courage to take on this problem, then we aren’t behaving responsibly. We have work to do. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

TGIF Tunes

The problem with YouTube is that the acoustic performances of songs like "Give Me A Sign" by Breaking Benjamin are poorly recorded or have too much background noise. Alas, I'm left to share the official music video for the song, rather than the acoustic, solo performance by Ben Burnley.