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Posts Tagged ‘Economic Recovery’

I have a special place in my heart for anyone trying to give guided instruction in current events, especially lately. For one thing, we as a country are in the middle of an incredibly interesting journey on which we’re throwing it all on the table, getting it out in the open, and hashing out some things that have been swept under the rug for a long time. For another thing, the analysis of current events always looks different a month or a year or a presidential term later, so what we first see as truth is bound to change a little eventually. But someone has to get the conversation started.

I have a friend who says he’s teaching a class in civil discourse this coming semester. I think that’s a brave thing to do – I imagine it means he’s going to try to teach young people how to communicate without using anger or irrational behaviour. The more I think about it, the more I think it should be a required class in our schools. All of them. Catch the kids with the attitude problems before they’re old enough to buy guns.

The evidence is piling up in favor of paying extra attention to our country’s educational system. And that’s normal – schools need new rules all the time in response to a changing society. Remember typing class? That changed a bit over the years, didn’t it? In the seventies, it was typing class. In the nineties, it was keyboarding class. I have no clue what they’re calling it nowadays. For all I know, they’re now teaching 5-year-olds their ABCs using the touch typing system, word processing software, and the media controls on the computer, which takes care of all three skills at once.

So I made a little list of the new classes I think ought to be added to each and every school’s curriculum, and be made a requirement for high school middle school graduation. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think these new classes will really make a difference in the lives of the young adults we throw out into the world with questionable social skills.

– Civil Discourse: how to state opinions and discuss issues in productive ways, especially in response to angry and hateful boneheads (must earn a B or better to pass)

– Criminal Law 101: introduction to the nature of crime and punishment, the penalties for various laws in their local area, and the difference between movies and reality (unit on survival skills to be made available in certain gang-infested school systems)

– Beginning Personal Finance: everything from making change to balancing a checkbook to the joys of compound interest (or the avalanche of compound interest, in the case of credit cards), with a special section on how to avoid getting ripped off

– Fifth-Grade Ethics: why and how to act in everyone’s best interest, how to begin figuring out what that is, and when and how to speak up in the face of injustice (violators of other school rules must repeat this class with the fifth-graders, no matter how old they are)

– Introduction to Gun Safety (mandatory in TX, NM, and AZ; optional everywhere else): how to safely handle, clean, and fire a gun; with emphasis on hunting, the difference between self-defense and self-importance, and the dangers of semiautomatic weapons (prerequisite, Ethics; must be taught concurrently with the class on Civil Discourse)

Feel free to add your own, but I think these five classes could be the start of some cool new rules in school – and save lives, and save the government a heck of a lot of money down the road, and…

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I’ve been reading a lot of pontifications from people who think that they’re personally having to pay for the new health care law. They see that greed exists on both ends of the economic spectrum, and they’re offended at the possibility that they’re paying more than their share. I can understand that.

But when they start talking like everyone who doesn’t work or pay their own way is lazy or not worth a hill of beans, I’m sorry – I can’t let that one roll.

I was recently remarried, and if it weren’t for my husband, I would be one of those without health insurance, so I know what it’s like to have to go without. Most of my friends are still in that situation. They don’t ask for handouts, and if they’re eligible for food stamps, they don’t abuse the system any more than sharing their extra food with hungry out-of-work friends who have even less to eat. Their pride gets in the way of trying to actively work the system.

We’re not redefining greed to borrow from Robin Hood’s “steal from the rich and give to the poor.” Not all rich people are greedy, but not all poor people are greedy. We’re all naturally motivated to get money so we can have edible food and a decent roof over our heads, and some people in every economic situation take it to extremes and find greed to be a wonderful survival tactic.

What has been redefined is how the media works. It is now easier to spread the word about decent people who honestly can’t provide for themselves and earn their keep. Many times it’s not about whether or not they want to work. Employers won’t keep sick people on the payroll if they can help it – and that goes for both physical and mental illnesses. People without insurance tend to stay sick. Others get fired because they either call off work too much or they come to work sick because they’re afraid they’ll get fired – but they’re not operating at 100% so some get fired anyway and they lose their ability to pay the doctor.

It’s a big vicious circle – and it’s a realistic explanation of why people flood the emergency room when they get sick instead of seeing a regular doctor. They know that they can just get the bill later and hope they’re working by the time they get it. A lot of my friends don’t do either one. They can’t pay a regular doctor, and they don’t want the bill collectors blowing up their phone. They’d rather stay sick than incur a bill they don’t have much hope of paying, which in turn screws their chances of staying gainfully employed and screws their kids out of being able to pay attention in school, and it just goes round and round.

Health care reform is really an economic issue as much as a social issue. Full employment means getting the right leg brace and PT for someone with a bad leg instead of letting them limp around everywhere and depend on others. It means early detection of everything from the flu to cancer. It means making sure people with certain types of mental illness get the meds they need to be functional, productive members of society. Just a little bit of the right type of health care can put a lot of people back into the workforce (job availability permitting). More payroll tax income, more sales tax income, and more property tax income could make a real difference in the country’s cash flow.

And if you don’t like Obamacare, I suggest you get execs from the insurance, provider, pharmaceutical, and technology industries together and figure something else out, because what we have in the existing free market doesn’t really work for anyone but the top brass raking in the dough. Lock everyone in a room and don’t let them out – not even to go to the doctor – until they craft a system that everyone can live with.

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The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) began its journey into the wild blue yonder today.

You know the laundry list of benefits that went into effect today. There’s no way some part of the media has not reached you by now. Across the board, we’re getting ready to see:

  • elimination of lifetime coverage limits
  • restrictions on or phaseouts of annual coverage limits
  • extension of dependent coverage up to age 26
  • no more policy cancellations for sick people

And these changes are also being made, but only for employer plans or new individual policies – they may not apply if your insurer chooses not to amend your existing policy:

  • no more plans that deny or cancel coverage for children with pre-existing conditions
  • free evidence-based preventive care services
  • no more out-of-network increases for medical emergencies

Now, I think that making predictions about what these changes will or won’t do is a little like predicting whether getting a new job will make you a happier, more productive person. The grass may look greener, but you don’t know until you get there. There are too many variables involved.

But I have another list for you.

According to the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, we have the following facts staring us in the face:

  • 26% of Americans have a diagnosable mental disorder.
  • Only 29% of those people actually receive treatment.
  • 50% of Americans with a mental disorder have problems by age 14.
  • Mental disorders are the leading cause of disability for Americans age 15-44.
  • Major mental disorders cost America at least $193 billion per year in lost wages alone. This study only focused on comparative wage levels – it didn’t include the costs of presenteeism (showing up but being unproductive) or absenteeism (calling off work) on the job.

Insurance parity is an economic issue. Mental health parity is great, but it isn’t enough. Now we need to get people into treatment and back to productivity, and cost – lack of insurance coverage – is the biggest roadblock to getting that help.

Think of the cost savings if we could get people off of public disability assistance and/or Medicaid. Think of the extra cash flow that America could experience with additional payroll tax income, sales tax income, and property tax income because so many more people would be able to work and buy things like appliances and furniture and homes. Think of what could happen if all those kids got help and became productive citizens instead of being homeless or in jail.

No matter who reacts how to the new law, we’re taking another step in the right direction for the good of our country as a whole. You can talk about bleeding hearts all you want, but the return on investment here is too great to pass up.

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I actually found a completely rational explanation of the corporate bonus debate in an article today:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/34809700/ns/business-answer_desk//

The best thing about it? The writer goes through a whole article on that particular subject without once pointing fingers at people who had nothing to do with creating the mess. Gotta respect a guy like that. Danke, Mr. Schoen.

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This isn’t your father’s town hall meeting anymore. This is disturbing.

The coverage of the local town hall meetings across the country has been interesting, to say the least. I don’t know whether some of the townspeople are shooting themselves in the foot or having trouble extracting it from their mouth. The yelling, the rudeness, the harsh words that have nothing to do with healthcare – you’re being compared with primates, for Pete’s sake.

These town hall meetings are supposed to be a forum in which we the people can voice our concerns in person. Our elected officials are making time to listen to us, and in some cases, we’re showing appreciation by blowing up on them. We’re going backward, not forward – and by “we,” I mean the bellowing, belligerent blowhards that keep disrupting the meetings. This isn’t productive conversation. This is the Middle Ages, complete with ignorant peasants and public stonings largely due to hearsay.

If you need to yell at public officials because you’re unhappy with the current healthcare bill, you need to know that you’d get your point across better with a carefully-worded question based on mutual respect and the need to clarify what the hell is going on. You don’t have to agree with the politician at the podium, but it would be a good idea if you respect him or her as a person and realize that this person is probably not personally responsible for the bottleneck.

You’d get more done if you stay on point, too. You won’t solve anything by telling a speaker that they will go to hell for what they’re doing. The subject is Healthcare, not Religion. And by the way, your God is probably pissed at the way you’re trying to make that call for Him.

Get a grip, people, and save the yelling for your therapist. Don’t let the angry rants of others get in the way of your ability to think for yourself. Make good use of the time at those town hall meetings, because if you want your voice to be heard – if you don’t want to be dismissed as an out-of-control, crazy jerk – you might want to present your justifiably strong opinions in some sort of civilized manner.

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A lot of people seem to be trying to psychologically explain what happened to the economy.  Was it greed?  Impulsive risk instead of calculated risk?  How about the need to crawl back into the womb?

I don’t know about that last one, but even Freud would have acknowledged that the other two are getting a lot of press.

There is a certain perception of the people who control the financial markets.  We don’t hear their stories very often, so all some of us see  are guys and gals who dress up in fancy suits, playing an adult version of Monopoly with other people’s money, and thinking “what they don’t know won’t hurt them.”   It’s easy to attribute that to greed and impulsive behaviour.

Most of those guys and gals are probably thinking that they worked hard to get where they are, they are just normal people with nicer clothes, and in their business, they have to think fast to keep up.  If they take a risk and lose, that’s the way the game is played.  That’s why they call it RISK.  True, true, and true.

Perceptions aside, there’s one phrase that keeps popping up when the psychologists speak up:  human nature.

Scientific American ran an interesting article today about this, with a word or two by the author for those who think that the free market will work everything out itself. 

He’s not so sure about that, given the “what they don’t know won’t hurt them – and if it does, that’s the breaks” mentality.  He seems to think that completely rational behaviour isn’t as common as people think it is.

What do you think?  Are you feeling it?  Is it really that simple?

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Here’s another encouraging bit of news:  mental health is getting more funding in the form of grant money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).  The main requirement is that those funds be used for research projects that have the potential to make a difference in scientific advancement in under two years.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), which bills itself as The Nation’s Medical Research Agency, really does sponsor a great deal of medical research, so feeding over $8 billion to the NIH was probably the best way to provide research funding to the most projects at once.  Autism research was one of the main target areas, along with opportunities for science educators and existing short-term research projects which were running out of funds.

Some of that money is going to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).  On their web pages, I found a couple of interesting grant opportunities that I’d like to keep an eye on.

One priority area is developing new ways of evaluating the brain without actually cutting into it.  From what I understand, just about every other organ in the body can be biopsied and analyzed without significant damage to a person’s health.  I’ll bet there aren’t very many people who are willing to give up a chunk of their brain for the advancement of science, so this new technology (whatever it is) will be great.

They would also like to get a report card on the current system of “community re-entry programs” for prisoners in need of mental health services.  I have a hunch that they’ll find that it needs major help.  I know a guy who knows a guy who regularly steals something when he’s having a hard time coping just so he can go back to jail.  He thinks that the struggle to survive is easier there.  Most jails are now being seen as modern variations of the “funny farms”, so new information here could have an impact on quite a few areas.

The grant money will also target the nature of schizophrenia and other major mental disorders, the genetics of mental illness, how to improve services for racially and ethnically diverse populations, intervention strategies for youth and young adults, and how to develop low-risk drugs that might be better solutions for some of us, among other things.

The big news will have be the results of the “Grand Opportunities” grants.  The NIMH is going to give out money to anyone who comes up with research studies which will find out more about brain development (or which part of our brain went haywire at what point to impact our symptoms), which genes specifically affect the risk of mental illness, and – my personal favorite – “Neurodevelopmental Genomics:  Trajectories of Complex Phenotypes”.

In plain English, this means we could end up with a better understanding of how genetics, physical growth, environment, and behaviour all work together over time to make us who we are.  We could end up with a more accurate system of categorizing mental and emotional disorders, which in turn might make it easier to accurately diagnose and treat them.

Click here for the full story on what the National Institute of Mental Health is doing with their piece of the pie.  I’m really looking forward to the “How Are We Doing?” page on the federal government’s ARRA website to see how this all plays out.

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