Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Steny Hoyer's Town Hall on Health Care

First, let me welcome people new to this blog. Like a good number of cyberspace veterans, I have a personal website. I will probably update it this month as I am getting more involved in Metro Washington Mensa. I'm even running for office. If you want to meet some friends of mine, just come to St. Mark's Episcopal Church some Sunday. I am involved in other things as well, but that is a place that is open year round and welcomes outsiders. Artomatic also welcomes everybody, but it is open only for about six weeks.

Now let me say a few good things about Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. I've gotten to know him and his staff slightly, mostly through my leadership of American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Team Maryland. Congressman Hoyer is a strong, thoughtful supporter of aerospace, as is the rest of the Maryland Congressional delegation. I will say one more thing about him and his staff. I have gotten the impression from both reading about them and from personal experience that he and his staff are trying to promote better relationships among members of Congress. He thinks that people in Congress should spend more time together to get to know each other and their views on issues. I can heartedly endorse this kind of cultural change. I know how hard it can be to communicate with other human beings -- especially when the matter of discussion is somewhat difficult or unusual.

Now let me get to what I saw and experienced Tuesday evening at the town hall. I went with the idea of being a thoughtful observer. The only view I planned to bring up was some research that was reported three years ago. Three years ago a study comparing the health of ethnically similar citizens of the United States and the United Kingdom came out. Briefly, they compared people like myself and my English cousins, Harry, his wife Anita, Irene and their families. People in the UK drink more than we do. They smoke more than we do. The UK spends about half as much per capita on health care as we do. The UK does restrict access to some more expensive, newer kinds of health care. So why do people in the UK live slightly longer? Why are they somewhat more healthy at middle age? I suspect it is because their overall lifestyles are healthier.

I arrived at the high school where the town hall was to be held around 4:15. Before getting into line, I had a brief conversation with Lisa -- Hoyer's political director. Mostly it was about where to get into line. I was waiting in the line by 4:30 - 4:45. I did some photographs before getting into line. When I got into line, I heard three middle aged people (two men, one woman) told me what they thought were negatives about the proposed reforms. The only thing I brought up was the US-UK study. The exchanges were reasonably pleasant -- although I will say the other people were both articulate and quite committed to expressing their views. I did chat a bit more with one man who told me he was a electrical engineer who, when younger, had been a member of AIAA and had written a paper for the organization. When I found out about his engineering background, I asked about his views on energy. He's in favor doing everything to make us energy independent -- nuclear, drilling, etc. He even voiced -- I think -- some support for Boone's proposals for wind energy. I did tell him that Congressman Hoyer supported nuclear. He seemed pleased by that. We also discussed our respective mothers. I told him about my mother's declining years and Alzheimer's. I would describe our discussions as pleasant and friendly. At least it was for me.

Also while outside I had a few friendly encounters (very brief -- mostly just a wave of the hand) with some Hoyer people. I especially remember Terry Lierman and Terrance Taylor.

We were allowed into the building at 6 PM for the 7 PM meeting. I did chat briefly with one Hoyer staffer about the US-UK study. She understood what I was getting at.

Inside the meeting hall we were instructed to fill up seats in the middle of rows first. Only people who had taken numbers and were then selected via lottery were allowed to speak and ask questions. They were limited to 2 minutes each. I chose not to take a number. I wanted to merely observe -- and possibly interact with people around me in the audience.

There was a wide range of people in the hall. There were quite vocal supporters and opponents of reform. I even saw one couple wearing "Impeach Obama" T shirts. People sitting on my right were members of the Iron Workers Union. They were very proreform. People on my left were strong opponents of reform. There was a family in back of me who were also strong opponents of reform. They also appeared to be wearing buttons that indicated to me they were Republicans eager to win back both the White House and Congress. I seemed to get a friendly welcome from both sides. I don't know what they thought of me. I did mention a bit of the ways I was different from most people. I tried to be friendly about it.

Congressman Hoyer entered at 7:08 by my watch. Crowd reactions ranged from loud cheers to boos.

Jim Zinnis (spelling?) announced that he would be the moderator. He informed us that questions would be limited to two minutes. He requested that people keep the town hall civil.

Hoyer began a speech in which he laid out the case for reform and what the bills before Congress would actually do. My notes of his speech are incomplete. I am not a stenographer. I did photograph the Powerpoint slides and graphs that were shown on the screen at the front of the hall. I did record a number of points. Hoyer stated that the country currently loses $200B/year because of the lack of health care for some people. He mentioned quotes from:

  • Truman in 1945
  • Kennedy in 1962
  • Nixon in 1974
  • Republicans McCain, Romney, Thompson, Giuliani in the past few years

all supporting reform.

Hoyer said that if you like your current health care plan, you get to keep it. He spoke in favor of improving Medicare. He said the proposals build on the current system of employer provided health care.

Hoyer did bring up the "death panels" at one point. He said they were not in the legislation. Some people shouted out that they were. There was much booing at this time.

Hoyer mentioned that insurance companies now stood between you and your doctor. Some people cheered. Others booed. There were quite vocal reactions throughout Hoyer's speech.

Next up was a panel of people with varying experiences with today's health care system.

First was a woman with a small furniture business. I think her name was Marilyn McKimm. She spoke of how health insurance problems were affecting her small business. People in the audience started shouting "Get to the questions!"

The next panel member was a Medicare beneficiary, a man who had made a career in the military and was an active Roman Catholic. He praised Democrats for proposing this reform. During his remarks quite a few people shouted out "Read the bill." Some cheered the man. Others booed him. Some people started leaving the hall.

Two more people on the panel spoke. One was a woman pediatrician who spoke of her problems and those of other doctors -- especially with lawsuits and the consequences thereof. The last speaker was an African American retired Lt. Col. by the name of George Forrest. He also favored reform.

The moderator then announced the move to question and answer time. There were loud cheers from the audience.

The first person asked Hoyer if he had read the bill. Hoyer answered that he had now read the bill in full.

The second person asked if members of Congress would get the same health care as the rest of us. Hoyer answered that they would.

The third questioner raised the problem of lawsuits. Hoyer commented that the AMA was addressing that issue.

Many other questions and comments were raised. Some of the ones I noted were:

  • Cost of health insurance for a son with two children.
  • Illegal aliens should not be covered. Hoyer tried to respond with a Christian charity comment. People shouted out "That's for our church to decide."
  • People spoke up in favor of the public option. Hoyer said all three bills had one.
  • Tort reform was brought up by a doctor. He wanted to know about tort reform in Maryland.

At 8:26 I noted a steady stream of people leaving.

One questioner brought up a Ron Paul bill to audit the Fed. He spoke in favor of the bill. He said the bad economy was the highest priority for most citizens.

One African American woman spoke of her 48 year old sister with breast cancer. Hoyer said this woman should keep her current health insurance.

By this time there was a good deal of shouting from the audience -- on both sides. There was also a steady stream of people leaving. After the couple to my left got up and left I chatted a bit with the people behind me. I also took a photograph of the couple.

One questioner brought up how reform would be paid for. Would taxes go up? Would we run deficits? Hoyer answered neither. He then brought up the fiscal mess Obama inherited from the Bush administration. There was a good bit of shouting from the audience.

Another questioner said the majority of Americans now oppose the bills under consideration. Hoyer tried to discuss the complexity of negotiations among Democrats and Republicans. This did not go over well with critics.

By this time it was 8:45. I had a long drive home -- and I had not had dinner as yet. I told the people around me -- on both sides of the issue -- that it was time for me to leave, saying I needed dinner. On the way out I chatted briefly with another Hoyer staffer.

I now have 74 photos up on my Flickr account as the Hoyer Town Hall on Health Care Reform set.

As I walked out with others, we encountered a Larouche volunteer. I told a couple of women about my first Larouche encounter. I mentioned the article in their newspaper about how Queen Elizabeth -- the one who lives in Buckingham Palace -- was head of a world wide drug ring. Both women laughed heartily.

I got home at nearly 10 PM. I sat down to dinner at 10:19.

OK, what do I think of all this? I've read enough that I think some kinds of reforms are necessary. Where they fit I do not know. For instance, I think doctors should get more sleep. I keep saying to anyone who will listen that we humans are not reprogrammable computers. We can't work all the time. If we try, we screw up badly. I also think Americans need healthier lifestyles. That doesn't mean obeying puritanical dictates necessarily. There does seem solid research that indicates that people who drink alcohol are healthier for a number of reasons than total abstainers. Too many of the total abstainers I know eat too much and get too little exercise.

I was somewhat disappointed by the town hall. I thought what Congressman Hoyer tried was important and worthwhile. We really do need to have civil, wide ranging discussions on health care -- and quite a few other things as well. Getting 1500 people into one room and trying to have a good discussion, though, didn't work out the way I would have liked to see it. I don't know if Congressman Hoyer and his staff could have done any better though. This is a very controversial area with a good bit of public interest. It might pay to get smaller groups together -- possibly with a facilitator or two -- to discuss such issues. My personal interactions with both supporters and opponents of the current reform proposals were generally positive. That could be because I'm generally a friendly person who tries to listen to everybody -- and who also will occasionally put in a thoughtful comment of my own that may show people with varying viewpoints the things that they have in common.

I will make further comments on this and other topics in the future. I should start writing more to this blog. Lots of people say I have important things to say.


Papa Ray said...

Good report on a difficult subject. But the Congressman could have gotten points and maintained credibility if he hadn't answered some questions untruthfully.

Or if he did think he was telling the truth, he showed that he was ignorant of facts and circumstances.

Which it one but himself and his maker knows.

I could say more, but it is late and I have to get up and take care of my two grand daughters and get them dressed, fed and off to school in the morning.

Peace- but only through truth.

Papa Ray
West Texas

Chuck Divine said...

Papa Ray,

Thanks for your comment and the compliment. I tried my best.

This is a difficult, complex subject. I'm not just a member of Mensa, I'm also a member of the Triple Nine Society. I have done formal academic study in physics and social psychology. There aren't many people like me.

Guess what? I get things wrong on simpler subjects about which I am on very familiar ground. We are all ignorant in many, many ways.

I've gotten to know Congressman Hoyer, his staff and the Maryland Congressional delegation through my AIAA work. Do I agree wholeheartedly with them all the time? No. Do I respect them and think they are trying to do their best? I do.

In this rather acrimonious debate, there is truth on all sides. There is also error on all sides. One of the reasons I am so strongly supportive of free, democratic cultures is that such cultures do a better job of arriving at the truth than highly authoritarian cultures. There are times and places in which authoritarian leadership does, in fact, work better than open, democratic leadership.

I wrote this report in an attempt to get people to open their minds a bit -- whatever their current position.

Enough of the lecture mode. I hope I did not turn you -- or any other readers -- off.

LynMarcus said...

Good report from a more relaxed and thought out view.

Those were not Larouche "volunteers" you ran into That is for the IRS come tax time.

Larouche is nothing but a convicted criminal and cult leader who was sent to prison in the 1980s for hijacking over 30 million dollars from people who thought that he was a legitimate person. In this regards, Larouche is more of a Bernie Madoff with his cult's promissory note schemes and credit card fraud. Like Madoff, hardly anyone who lost a total of nearly 34 million dollars in this madmans delusions and fraud will ever see a dime.

Larouche has been a socialist, communist, Christian, left/right winger, pro Russian, anti Russian and anything else you can imagine to sucker people to his delusions.For over 40 years he has been running a cult of endless economic collapse, New Dark Ages and Nuclear war to recruit enough naive colege kids to drop out of school and support him. His cult skips many labor laws as he has them called "volunteers" and has them running like hamsters 18 hours a day, 6 1/2 to 7 days a week with one crisis after another for about 20 to 40 dollars a week.

This cult circus has been going on for over 40 years by Larouche who has to recruit new blood to replace the worn out and broken down cult members who are discarded or those who have figured out how this farce works. Several hundred people have left the cult and in the last dying days of the elderly Larouche, he needs a few naive people to keep him and his wife living that millionaire lifestyle.

You can read about how this charade is run on sites like: under discussions where there are over 6K posts from former members about this lunacy.

If you give your name and phone number to the cult, they will be calling you endlessly to save humanity which seems to be only done by emptying your bank account with them. If you are in college, then the way to save humanity is for you to drop out of college, toil endlessly at their card table shrines or boiler rooms raising money for him. You bascialy work for free as most people in cults.

Whatever is the current script is all just a mirage as it can change on a dime when Larouche needs yoo to raise money from another list of people. Last year, Obama was the devil incarnate, later, Obama is being advised by Larouche. Now Obama is Hitler. Read up on how this cult operates so you do not get hoodwinked by them.

You think that this cult of drop outs have any interest in something real except getting money for Larouche?

Watch THIS video to see what cult jokers they are.

Chuck Divine said...


Thanks for the information about the Larouche cult. I've only had two very brief encounters with the group. The first I already mentioned. That newspaper provided much amusement that day. I was on my way up to Columbia where I was studying social psychology. My fellow students were also much amused.

Some years after that I saw a bit of a Larouche video at a space conference. Some engineer with a wicked sense of humor had taped one Larouche broadcast because it was focused on space. At one point Larouche called High Frontier -- led by retired Army General Danny Graham -- a Communist front.

Personally I am rather immune to cults. Credit that to being brought up by fine parents. Being a cradle Episcopalian might help as well.

Mitch H. said...

I'm not just a member of Mensa...

Woah, no kidding. You clearly have an overdeveloped appreciation for the value of ratiocination, and an apparent corresponding faith in technocratic solutions.

Personally, I'm of the opinion that there's no large-scale social problem which is addressable by centralized rationality - which is to say, technocratic approaches. Science and engineering are the fortes of the technological approach. Once you get into macroeconomic affairs, human rationality reaches its limits.

Health care is a *fiendishly* macroeconomic complex, and the more technocrats attempt to centralize and rationalize the systems involved, the worse the situation will get. Any reforms essayed *have* to put their emphasis on decentralization, simplification, and reducing centralized oversight, or else it will just make things worse. A crowd isn't smarter than a single genius, but the crowd can manage its collective affairs better *in the aggregate* than the genius could for them.

It's a simple matter of economy of attention. Even the most brilliant of men can only concentrate on a few things at a time, no matter how excellently or effectively or quickly he organizes his thought. Even the dimmest member of the crowd has a significant fraction of the capacity for attention that the would-be technocrat has for that dimmest member's individual situation.

Chuck Divine said...


Have you understood anything I have written? Seriously. I begin by pointing out that my intellectual abilities surpass those of most humans. Then I say I get things wrong -- even when I am on familiar territory. We all get things wrong. That's normal for humans. What is a reasonable solution? For us to listen to each other and try to learn from each other. That's why free, democratic societies generally work better than top down authoritarian societies. If that isn't a criticism of the centralization of control in the hands of a few, I don't know what is.

Anonymous said...

Good Day i am fresh to this. I stumbled upon this message board I find It incredibly accommodating and it has helped me a lot. I hope to contribute and support other users like it has helped me.

Thanks a load, See You Later.

Anonymous said...

I never thought I would agree with this option.