Politics, Information Technology, and Genomics

Health care expansion expands more than just coverage

January 6th, 2010 dd Posted in politics 1 Comment »

Fareed Zakaria is one of those rare news analysts that has a deep understanding of issues and is able to distill complex topics into their most salient points. Early this past November, nearly two months before the Senate even passed a bill, Mr. Zakaria’s column in Newsweek had this to say about the health care overhaul.

There are two great health-care crises in America—one involving coverage and the other cost. The Obama plan appears likely to tackle the first but not the second. This is bad economics but also bad politics: the crisis of cost affects 85 percent of Americans, while the crisis of coverage affects about 15 percent. Obama’s message to the country appears to be “We have a dysfunctional health-care system with out-of-control costs, and let’s add 45 million people to it.”

With the recent passage of the Senate’s bill, one that expands coverage but does nothing to control costs, his statement is even more true. So why is the cost of health care not getting adequately addressed? Because there are large corporations that are making huge sums of money from the system as it currently exists and they are willing to spend a small fraction of their earnings to “convince” lawmakers that their continued profiteering is good for those lawmakers, er, America.

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The End of Idealism

January 5th, 2010 dd Posted in politics No Comments »

To many it seems that idealism and partisan rancor in politics is at an all time high. While the latter may be true, the former is not. Over the last several decades, the two major political parties in the United States have loosened their ties to the traditional planks in their platforms and tightened their ties to lobbyists. There are many examples that show that each party is defined more by whether they are in power or not than any long-held beliefs. The most recent example is how politicians should behave in a time of war. A few years ago, Democrats freely criticized the President’s handling of the War on Terror. The Republicans were quick to denounce such criticism as unpatriotic and dangerous. With a new President, the roles have quickly reversed.

Similarly, a few years ago the Republicans decried the use of the filibuster while the Democrats defended it. Now, with the current Republican minority breaking a record for filibusters, the roles are reversed. The same holds true for the President’s judicial appointments, Medicare expansion, deficit spending, Wall Street bailouts, the farm bill, etc.

Aside from the social issues that the parties use as a wedge but never actually do anything about, there is really not much that either party stands for now; nor much of substance that differentiates them from each other. Rather, each party happily does the bidding of their lobbyist overlords, each framing the gifts as something that has always been at core of their party’s platform.

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Change Congress

December 29th, 2009 dd Posted in politics No Comments »

Below is an email from Lawrence Lessig of Change Congress.

The Senate passed its health care bill last week, and as you may have noticed, the final version looks quite different from the original legislation introduced last summer.

What’s happened in the meantime is a case study in what’s wrong with Congress — and a map of the work that lies ahead of us as we enter into a new year.

Take a look at one popular bogeyman of the day, Joe Lieberman. The people of his state strongly supported the public option, 68 percent to 21 percent in a recent poll. But Senator Lieberman almost single-handedly killed the public option, threatening to filibuster any legislation that included it. So why’d he do it?

Maybe Joe was acting on principle, and perhaps he believes every word that’s come out of his mouth in the past month. We don’t know. What we do know is that special interests in the insurance, health care, and pharmaceutical industries have given Joe Lieberman millions in campaign contributions.

It’s easy to pick on Joe Lieberman, but he’s far from the only member of Congress whose motives we can’t know. The point isn’t that these 535 people are evil. It’s that a vast and confusing network of influences stands between the public and our elected representatives, undermining trust in Congress and giving us no choice, finally, but to assume the worst whenever a member doesn’t vote the way we might have liked.

Fixing the problem doesn’t mean voting out the feckless Democrats or the obstructionist Republicans. It doesn’t even mean voting out Senator Lieberman. As long as our legislative process is held in thrall to an economy of influence that nearly requires members to play nice with the special interests, the will of the people — on the left and on the right — will continue to be stymied on every issue, in every Congress, under every administration.

The good news — yes, there is good news — is that, thanks to the health care mess, the public has never been more engaged on the issue of electoral reform than it is today. People who hated the bill and people who loved it have watched with growing disgust as the process seemed to be derailed, and the legislation itself torn apart by the highest bidders.

And what these people want to know is: How can we build a system in which the American people are the highest bidder?

I’m grateful you’ve decided to join our campaign to achieve real reform and finally take the money out of our political system. In the new year, we’ll be expanding these efforts — and your continued participation will be critical to our success. To get started, forward this email to your family and friends and tell them to visit http://change-congress.org to learn more.

The challenges have never felt more urgent, and never more daunting. But the will to win this fight has never run so deep, or so wide. 2010 is going to be a very good year for our movement.

Thank you, and a happy and healthy New Year to you and yours.

– Lawrence Lessig

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ELSI wrap up

December 16th, 2009 dd Posted in genomics, politics No Comments »

Dan Vorhaus over at Genomics Law Report just posted a PDF of all essays in the What ELSI is New? series. This series has a lot of good essays about how the current genomics era interplays with ethical, legal, social, and health issues.

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Joe has gotta go

December 16th, 2009 dd Posted in politics No Comments »

First he torpedoes the public option, now he has done the same to the expansion of Medicare. This despite the fact that he has repeatedly campaigned on expanding Medicare and as recently as three months ago spoke favorably of expanding Medicare. Seems his health insurance company sponsors are keeping Sen. Joe Lieberman on a very short leash lately. I wonder if he will start wearing their logos on his suits soon.

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He must really love the Senate’s tradition of the filibuster, which is strange since in the 1990′s he sponsored a bill to eliminate it.

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I guess old Joe still has a few scores to settle with the Democratic party for not nominating him as their Presidential candidate in 2004 and failing to override the Connecticut Democrats’ votes when they did not choose him as the party’s nominee for Senate in 2006. And hey, if he gets to line his pockets with a few million dollars from health insurance lobbyists while he settles those scores, who’s to complain? I mean, other than the people of Connecticut who overwhelmingly support a public option and expansion of Medicare. Oh, and the rest of the country who also support the public option.

This is not how a democracy is supposed to work. Elections are supposed to have consequences. Apparently Sen. Lieberman thinks the only election that should have a consequence is the 2006 Connecticut Senate Democratic primary.

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Dumming it down

December 16th, 2009 dd Posted in politics No Comments »

This is funny… and sad.

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For the people?

November 13th, 2009 dd Posted in politics 1 Comment »

Why are Sens. Lieberman and Bayh threatening to filibuster health care bills if they contain a “public option”? Well, both Senators and their wives receive large sums of money from the private health insurance industry. Millions of dollars. Is this why? Does it matter? Just the fact that this question is relevant indicates something is severely wrong with our system of campaign finance and lobbying. You can learn more about their relationships with the private health care industry and make a difference at Change-Congress.org.

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Stimulating research

November 12th, 2009 dd Posted in genomics, politics 2 Comments »

Yesterday on NPR there was a story that questioned the utility of using stimulus funds for long-term research. I am not sure exactly why they use the phrase “long-term” since all of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) funds need to be spent within two years; perhaps two years is long-term thinking nowadays. In any event, as a recipient of a significant amount of ARRA funds, I can say that we have spent a lot of the money, have hired a bunch of people, and have plans to hire several more. That’s what was supposed to happen, right? Where’s the problem? People are quick to criticize but no one seems to have a better mechanism for spending a lot of money very quickly. Without going through existing channels like research and transportation funding, the money would have taken a lot longer to get out and likely would not have the long term benefits that this spending will have.

Update: The Daily Scan picked up this story. Since they posted the story two days after it aired, they probably first saw it here but for some reason did not feel the need to link here (they often link to both the original story and the blog where they picked up the link). This is not the first time that has happened. Perhaps I have offended them somehow.

Update2: The above was a tongue-in-cheek comment about The Daily Scan. It was not intended as an indication that I really think they are snubbing me. There are many legitimate reasons for their delay in posting the NPR story.

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What ELSI is New?

October 7th, 2009 dd Posted in genomics, politics No Comments »

My contribution to the Genomics Law Report’s What ELSI is New? series appears today, Personalized medicine, leave U.S. behind. The piece discusses the challenges our current health care system presents to genetic research and proposed reforms that would improve the situation.

For the record, while this opinion piece was just published, I did write it before this similar piece appeared.

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Collins vs. Colbert

October 5th, 2009 dd Posted in genomics, politics No Comments »

Francis Collins, Director of NIH, was on The Colbert Report last Thursday. Colbert did not give him much time to speak, but he did get to take his glasses off and shake out his hair.

Update: Yesterday the New York Times published an article about Dr. Collins.

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