We’re Living Through The Morton Downey Jr. Presidency

morton downey jr with american flagThese are odd times.

Regardless of which party you support, we can all agree that politics as usual has been upended in Washington and in many parts of the country. Voters have thrown surprising levels of support to complete outsiders (Donald Trump) or fringe figures (Bernie Sanders) who had never before been taken seriously as political forces.

A serious problem with today’s political climate, however, is the amount of rage which drives the conversation, at the expense of realistic, detailed proposals to address serious issues. Donald Trump leads the way there, as he shows little interest in public policy debates on healthcare, taxes, or anything else, and only wants to be seen as “winning” by his supporters.

This all reminds me of an episode we’ve been through before, when a loudmouthed blowhard tore up behavioral norms and enjoyed huge success in the media.

For a while there, it looked like Morton Downey Jr. was going to take over the TV world.

The Morton Downey Jr. Show

For those of you who don’t remember, Morton Downey Jr. hosted a talk show in the late 1980’s which enjoyed a sensational run on syndicated TV. Downey broke all the rules regarding civility and decency on American television, and opened up new terrain for the likes of Jerry Springer and Maury Povich to explore.

He yelled, he berated those he disagreed with, he rolled up his sleeves and chain-smoked with abandon as his audience roared their approval and begged for more.

Just see for yourself:

So is this the path we’re heading down as a country?

Has civil discourse descended into the gutter, with political discussions forever breaking down like an audience fight at the Geraldo Rivera Show?

Perhaps not.

As flashy as Morton Downey Jr.’s rise was, his fall was swift and relatively quiet. The show’s run lasted just under two years, a blip on the radar of TV history, really. On the way down it was pushed out of the way by The Arsenio Hall Show, an utter reversal not just in terms of diversity but civility as well.

Sure, you can still find shows that link back to Downey’s style in various corners of the media market, which is a much broader and specialized business than it was 30 years ago. But it has fallen far from the heights it enjoyed back then.

There’s hope that just as TV viewers back then grew tired of the yelling and screaming, our American voters of today will begin to ask for leaders with adult solutions to adult problems.

Will the cheap thrill of rage politics wear off by the 2018 mid-terms? That’s the big question facing both parties over the next year.

A Colin Kaepernick Meme

So I decided to share a meme on Twitter today…

In these times of highly-charged political talk, people often get upset about name-calling, so I wanted to present a simple test that people can use to determine if someone is truly racist.

It seems to me that if you’re OK with people parading around with the battle flag for a cause that sought to tear our country apart***, but get upset about a guy kneeling during the national anthem in silent protest against social injustice, then you’re not really focused on honoring the American flag or the countless soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice to defend our country and our freedom.

No, the obvious explanation is that you’re OK with Whitey speaking up for his “heritage”, but don’t want to see a black guy remind you that the color of your skin still matters in this country.

So make sure to share this meme with your social network and see whose nose gets bent out of joint!

***Notice how we don’t even have to get into a silly argument over what the Civil War was fought over. Whether “states rights” or slavery, the bottom line is that the Confederate battle flag is a symbol of a cause that took up arms in rebellion.

Single-Payer Healthcare: Why Republicans and Business Leaders Should Push For It

The Republican campaign to “repeal and replace Obamacare” has ignited a furious debate about the healthcare system in America. Who should have coverage, who should pay for it, what services should or should not be covered… the arguments are intense.

For many, the dream is to get the United States to move to a single-payer healthcare system, where the government basically serves as an insurance provider for all. That dream is typically viewed as a left-wing fantasy, “socialism” applied to a large portion of the economy.

There are compelling reasons why single-payer healthcare may actually be a huge benefit to business and labor markets, however.

Single-Payer Takes A Burden Off Business

Think for a moment about the burden placed on businesses to select and purchase health insurance for employees.

Almost all businesses have to devote time and resources on a regular basis to set up benefits for new employees and process COBRA for employees who leave, requiring constant Human Resources attention. There’s the annual “open enrollment” period which involves negotiating deals with insurance providers, educating employees on any changes coming up in the next year, which plans are available to choose from, and how much of the cost will be shared between the business and the employee. And that’s before you even get to processing the paperwork!

It’s all a massive burden, and distracts everyday businesses from focusing on providing the goods and services which represent their reason for existing.

Why not take that duty off of businesses across the country and let them focus on real, valuable work?

Employer-Based Health Insurance Distorts The Labor Market

There is a downside to landing a job with a generous healthcare program, in that the health insurance can become an anchor keeping that person in that particular job. Another opportunity may come up (a job with a small startup, going to school, etc.) that an individual simply cannot choose to take because they can’t afford to give up the health insurance they currently have.

This is where Obamacare’s ban on restrictions involving pre-existing conditions plays an important role. Before that rule was put in place, many people had to rule out any job change because of the potential loss of healthcare coverage for themselves or a family member suffering from a long-term, chronic health issue.

That ban is very much “up for grabs” in the current healthcare debate, potentially putting workers back into a situation where they have to stick with a particular job simply due to the associated health insurance.

What if, instead, we had a labor market that was completely disengaged from these considerations? Where health insurance didn’t impact an individual’s career choices?

Under a single-payer healthcare system, the labor market would have this serious obstacle taken away, allowing it to work better for both workers and employers.

Employer-Based Health Insurance Hurts Older Workers

We all know that health insurance costs rise with age, and since our current system has businesses paying the bulk of those costs, this adds to the cost of an older worker from their perspective.

That additional cost quite literally forces employers to push older workers out of jobs in favor of younger, more affordable employees. This situation hurts both employers (who lose experienced workers) and the older employees themselves, who are often forced into retirement far earlier than they would have chosen.

For the unemployed, this age-related disadvantage presents an additional obstacle to finding work. Faced with a number of candidates for an open position, employers have a built-in reason to reject older workers due to the additional healthcare cost they would have to take on.

Again, this distorts the labor market by allowing health insurance factors to play a role in a decision which should be left to an employer and a worker, with nothing else getting in the way. Under single-payer healthcare, this issue simply goes away.

Employer-Based Health Insurance Hurts Small Business

Much of our current healthcare system is built around pricing schemes negotiated between insurance companies and healthcare providers, like hospitals or physician networks. Then the insurance companies negotiate deals with employers to offer coverage to their employees. As with most negotiations, the bigger one side of the negotiation is, the more influence they have to get a better deal.

In practical terms, that means large companies with thousands of employees can negotiate better benefits and/or lower prices for health insurance. Small businesses, on the other hand, get stuck with fewer choices, less coverage, and higher prices. The Rand Corporation published a report detailing just how differently insurance rates grew for large vs small companies over the course of several years.

Small business, however, is the engine that drives employment and economic growth in the U.S. According to the Small Business Administration,

Small businesses make up:
99.7 percent of U.S. employer firms,
64 percent of net new private-sector jobs,
49.2 percent of private-sector employment,
42.9 percent of private-sector payroll,
46 percent of private-sector output,
43 percent of high-tech employment,
98 percent of firms exporting goods, and
33 percent of exporting value

So why do we hang on to a healthcare system that puts small business at such a disadvantage, in an area that has nothing to do with commercial activities?

Single-Payer Healthcare Would Let Business Off The Leash

So as we’ve seen, there are four major factors from adopting Single-Payer Healthcare which would free businesses to focus on their work and allow US labor markets to work much more efficiently:

  1. Eliminate the burden placed on employers to select, purchase, and administer health insurance for their employees;
  2. Workers would gain freedom to make career choice independent of health insurance considerations;
  3. Older, experienced employees would stay in the work force longer, and have an easier time finding work if unemployed;
  4. Small businesses would no longer be at a disadvantage at providing health insurance relative to larger firms.

Maybe it’s time for Republicans to start talking up the tangible, serious economic benefits for the labor markets and small business in particular that would result from implementing a single-payer healthcare system?

Fake News vs Media Bias: A Citizen’s Guide

“Fake News” has been a hot topic this election season, as bizarre stories have motivated citizens in the voting booth and beyond (witness the “Pizzagate” gunman). Faced with a firehose of supposed news stories from a variety of sources, it can be hard to separate the good from the bad at times.

The bigger problem, however, is that too many Americans use this excuse to immediately reject any news report that doesn’t support their views, by calling into question the honesty of the source. In their minds there is no difference between a professional news organization which takes an editorial stance, and another media outlet that spins pure fiction.

Just try posting an anti-Trump article on Twitter from the New York Times or the Washington Post, and see how many “fake news” replies you get. Go ahead, I’ll wait!

The “Fake News” Cop-Out

This “fake news” retort is nothing more than a cop-out, plain and simple. If you dismiss serious news organizations as “fake news”, then what media outlet could ever be trusted?

It’s easier to do that, I suppose, than honestly examine the source of a given story and think about where editorial bias might factor in.

An informed citizen considers the source of a story and makes a judgment about it without necessarily throwing the whole thing out. Is the outlet you’re reading favoring one side or the other? Maybe you need to check that story from the other side of the divide to get an idea of what they are thinking, and come to your own decision.

Media Bias vs Fake News Infographic

I recently found the following image on Facebook (you can find the explanation and updated image here, thanks to @torrHL on Twitter for the tip), and it illustrates this issue quite neatly.

Basically, any of the groups above the “Meets High Standards” line try to get the underlying facts in a story right. Failures do happen, but when they do the organization owns up to the mistake and tries to do better in the future.

Below that line, the game is all about attracting visitors in bulk. Particularly in the bottom left and right corners, where you find the most shrill partisan outlets, sensational half-truths are put forth on a regular basis to fire up their readership.

Where do your favorites fall in here, and do you seriously consider content from both sides of that “Mainstream” line?

My personal favorites are the Economist, the New York Times and the Washington Post. Recently I’ve enjoyed watching Bloomberg News, I’m not sure exactly where it falls on this chart but I’d put it more to the “Complex” side than other TV news. I’m also warming up to both The Atlantic and The Hill.

How about you? Speak up in the comments below and let us know where you find the good stuff!

Fake News vs Media Bias infographic

 

How Empathy Led Donald Trump To The White House (Really!)

Donald Trump

There are many words one can use to describe Donald Trump’s personal qualities, but I’m guessing “empathy” isn’t high on many people’s list, whether they support him or not.

Empathy may have been the critical factor in his 2016 Presidential election victory, however.

The reason can be found in the latest episode of Waking Up (“Abusing Delores“), the podcast from Sam Harris. It brought up an insightful discussion that speaks to one of the main reasons I recently started this anonymous blog.

Empathy vs Compassion

Harris and his guest Paul Bloom talk about a difference between empathy and compassion, two words that most of us consider to be wonderful qualities that help bind moral societies together.

  • Empathy is defined as personally engaging with the emotional experience of another person, as in the classic Bill Clinton line, “I feel your pain.”
  • Compassion is about wishing others well without necessarily having that emotional attachment that is implied in the concept of empathy.

The twist here is that empathy comes with certain pitfalls. By nature, we are more likely to have empathy for people who are similar to us: family, neighbors, those of the same ethnic or religious background, etc. Those who are unlike us are harder to empathize with.

You can see where this leads.

Empathy Can Be A Double-Edge Sword

“Identity politics” has been one of the buzzwords of the 2016 election cycle, and it neatly ties in with this discussion. By targeting his appeal to white, Middle American voters, Trump struck a number of empathetic points with them (“Make America Great Again” is music to their ears), building that sense of a collective movement within that group. His off-the-cuff speaking style helped by making his rallies more of a conversation between speaker and audience than a typical teleprompter-driven political speech.

People felt that he really understood their concerns, even though a billionaire who lives in a gold tower is pretty much as far away from the world of a rural central Pennsylvania working-class family as you can get.

While all that sounds wonderful, we are also familiar with the flip side.

That kind of group dynamic has a consequence, that people outside the group do not get the benefit of that empathy. Immigrants and refugees are just two obvious examples of groups that were discarded if not outright vilified by Trump supporters, as the recent wave of hate-related incidents has shown.

The bottom line is that we have to be very careful with this type of empathetic thinking; it leads to preference for one’s own group above all others, which can be incredibly dangerous in an open, diverse society.

When it comes to public policy, compassion is a steadier guide. Motivation for the concern of all, not just those who are familiar to you, is the rational choice for long-term progress.

Why I Launched This Anonymous Blog

This issue relates to why I launched this blog anonymously. I have written before on other platforms, and ran a very successful website that dominates its field to this day. In the aftermath of the election I wanted to find a new outlet to talk about politics, policy and how we can move our society forward, with compassion.

I want this to be about the ideas, however, rather than the messenger. I don’t want your reaction to my words to be preconditioned by what you know (or don’t know) about me.

It’s all too easy to dismiss an article you don’t like by immediately discrediting the source. We all do that from time to time. So I’m doing what I can to neutralize that effect, and let the work stand on its own.

So I hope you will take a look around this site, follow me on Twitter (@tupatriot) and contribute to a conversation about how we, as a country, can move forward in the wake of what has been an incredibly divisive political season.

Everyday Americans: Let’s Take The Word “Patriot” Back

You know how it goes.

Jump into a political discussion on Twitter, and you’ll see plenty of right-wing accounts that are loaded with nationalistic images and words. Flags, eagles, and guns guns guns are usually part of the theme. They present themselves as the ultimate patriots, waging a social media war to defend America against those who want it destroyed (Hillary Clinton, liberals, minorities, etc.).

But you know what? Those folks aren’t any more patriotic than you, or me, or another decent American.

I, for one, am sick of these people pretending that they are somehow more American than the rest of us. I mentioned this on Twitter and the idea caught on like wildfire (at the time my Twitter account @TUPatriot had like 10 followers, so this response was enormous):

I truly believe that if we are to move forward as a country, we can’t pretend that only one side of the partisan divide really loves America and wants it to prosper.

Guess what? Almost all of us want that, we just have very different visions on how to get there.

I pay my taxes, obey the law and care about making our society a better place. That makes me just as big a patriot as any flag-waving, gun-toting blowhard. I suspect you are, too.

Moving Forward, Together

My goal with this site is to (yes) get my opinions and analysis out there regarding American politics and public policy, but also to celebrate our country and try to find points upon which all of us can agree and enjoy. It’s not enough to shout like a maniac with supporters cheering you on and detractors ignoring every word.

We have to find a way out of this mess together, and that starts with recognizing that everyday Americans are patriots, too. If we start from that place of declaring what we love about this country, we actually have a chance of connecting with and listening to each other.

Are you ready to join in a more positive and productive conversation about America’s future? Tell me something you love about this country in the comments below, and share this post on social media to see how many everyday American patriots we can get involved.

OK, I’ll start!

One thing I love about this country is our system of National Historic Parks. Visiting historic sites like the Statue of Liberty, Independence Mall or Ellis Island brings you in touch with our common backstory in a way that no book or movie can possibly do. If you’re looking for something fun to do over your next free weekend, find a National Historic Park near you!