Thursday, March 29, 2012

An Unhealthy Debate

This week the Supreme Court heard arguments about the constitutionality of so-called "Obamacare," officially known as The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law in 2010. The issue at the core of the debate is whether or not the U.S. Congress can mandate that all Americans purchase health insurance or pay a penalty (which may or may not be considered a "tax"). The idea behind the mandate was that if all Americans have to buy health insurance, insurance companies can charge lower premiums for everyone--even those who are chronically ill or have "pre-existing conditions."

Most critics of "Obamacare" think the government is overstepping its bounds, and that the market for health insurance should remain unregulated. I, too, think the individual mandate is a bad idea, but for different reasons. I think it is a sign of the government doing too little, not too much. By forcing all Americans to buy health insurance, the government is putting even more money into the pockets of insurance companies who profit off people's illness. What I wish the government would do, instead, is to do what nations like Britain and Canada have done--create a single-payer system in which we all pay a health-care tax and are thus all covered. I'd much rather have the money I pay now for health insurance, which goes to a private company, go to a government agency, as long as that agency could really deliver decent health care for all Americans, regardless of employment status, age, sex, or past health. Since that agency would be operating for the public good--not for profit--one would expect that it would be less expensive and more accountable to those it serves (i.e. voters). Also, one wouldn't have to worry about losing one's health coverage if one lost one's job.

If "Obamacare" does get struck down by the Supreme Court, I hope Obama can--in his second term--find the political will and capital to pass something more ambitious, not less. Rather than coercing citizens into filling the pockets of insurance companies, he should show us that truly socialized health care can be more economical and effective in promoting the nation's health than the troubled status-quo.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Tale of Two Floridas

For the first time ever, I traveled someplace warm during Spring Break. (Little did I know that it would actually be quite warm at home while I was away.) Yuriko and I went to the Florida Keys, and we had a fabulous time. Here is a list of some of the highlights:

  • Sandspur Beach -- Located in Bahia Honda State Park, this beach is simply gorgeous. Aside from a few sand fleas, it was perfect. I was a little worried that my super-pale-senstitive skin would be burned beyond repair, but covered in SPF 50, I was able to soak up some sun and live to tell the tale.
  • Great Seafood -- Yuriko and I both love to eat sea creatures, and we sure indulged last week. Nearly every place we dined had fresh mahi mahi (which they call "dolphin" -- not to be confused with regular dolphins, which are super-intelligent mammals, not tasty fish) and grouper. We also had some great shrimp, oysters, and even sushi.
  • Bicycling -- We rented two bikes and rode out on this really long bridge (about a 2 mile section of "Ye Olde 7 Mile Bridge"). This was easily the most scenic bike ride I've ever taken, surrounded by endless, clear blue water on both sides. Here's a picture of us on "Pigeon Key," where the bike trail ended:
  • Great Weather: 80 degrees and sunny each day; 70 degrees and breezy each night. Only significant rain we saw was on the day we left.
  • Wildlife: Our last two nights we stayed at a bed and breakfast on Big Pine Key, which has a nature preserve to protect an endangered species of small deer. We saw one particular deer hanging out on the beach all the time, and I was able to take several pictures of it. Also saw this cool little lizard.

All in all, a great trip -- we can't wait to go back next year. My one issue was that I didn't like spending so much time in the rental car. The car was perfectly fine, but I wish there was a train or monorail or something that you could take to the keys from the Miami airport, and from key to key.

While my personal little trip to Florida was blissful, I--like many others--have been profoundly disturbed to hear the news coming out of Florida this week. Nearly a month ago, on February 26th, an unarmed, seventeen-year-old black teenager, Trayvon Martin, was shot and killed by a self-appointed "neighborhood watchman" by the name of George Zimmerman. While Zimmerman claims he shot this kid in self-defense, there seems to be little reason to believe that Martin could have posed any kind of a threat to him or the community. The local police, however, failed to investigate or file charges against Zimmerman. As far as I know, Zimmerman is yet to face any charges or even have his gun license revoked. Many community members locally and protesters nationally have been calling for Zimmerman's arrest. It looks like the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI are now looking into the case, since the local police obviously did not do much. I'm hoping to get my English 100 students talking about this case this week, and following it in the weeks to come.