One of the unintended, and ironic, benefits of the recently enacted “health care” legislation is the government and medical insurance companies are now firmly in the same boat.  They both benefit from anything that would reduce the shared costs of medical care.  However, it may be a stretch to imagine them coordinating their efforts on programs and policies that will actually reduce medical costs by…hold your breath…improving Americans’ health.

Ever the optimist, I’ve taken the liberty of creating a list of programs and policies I believe will make a difference.  I’ve put a focus on the young because they will have the biggest impact on future costs.  And, truth be known, there will be nothing left to pay for their medical care after we – the Baby Boomers – have exhausted all of the government’s resources.  The least we can do is get them off to a good start.

  1. Mandate (and pay for) a nutritionist in every high school in the country.  And mandate that all high school students must earn a nutrition credit before graduating.  I can already hear the screams.  Our public schools can’t afford it!  (But we can afford rising medical costs??)  It’s taking away from other programs!  (There are already health programs in most high schools.  This is just an expansion.  Again: Do we want to spend money on sickness or spend money on health?)
  2. Provide incentives for individuals to spend money on preventative care.  Ever try to use your pre-tax health savings account on a massage?  How about to get a personal training session at a gym?  To visit to a naturopathic doctor?  You can’t!  If the government and insurance companies would like to reduce medical care costs they need to re-consider what can be paid for out of health savings accounts.  Or stop calling them health savings accounts!
  3. Tax junk food like we tax cigarettes and alcohol.   The negative health consequences of regular consumption of junk  food is well documented.  We know that a high sugar/simple carbohydrate diet increases the odds of diabetes (an epidemic in this country and one that is costing us all dearly in personal and financial terms).  And we know that some of the same foods increase the likelihood of heart disease.  If insurance companies really want to improve their bottom line (without increasing premiums) they should direct more of their lobbying dollars on an effort to tax junk food.

It’s a modest list but it would be a healthy start.  And if just these three reforms were enacted future medical cost savings would be in the billions of dollars.  And the tax on junk food might even pay for the other two.  What do you think?  Shall we work to enact these proposals and any others that help reduce our future medical costs?  Or shall we just sit around and squabble about who’s going to pay for an increasingly large medical bill?

Call it Sick Care or, better yet, simply Medical Care.  But stop calling it Health Care!  We’re talking about money spent to cure sickness.  We’re talking about what we pay the medical establishment to fix us when something doesn’t work.  We’re talking about money spent when we’re NOT healthy. We’re not talking about Health Care.  That’s a completely different discussion and it revolves around the food we eat, the exercise we get, and our overall quality of life.  (A worthy discussion, for sure, but not what the President and Congress are calling Health Care today.)

So what’s in a name?  Plenty!  By calling it Health Care the issue becomes much more emotionally charged and the facts get distorted.  Calling it Medical Care allows us to dispassionately break it down into its different components such as major medical events and routine care.  And requiring Americans to have insurance for major medical events is something we can get some form of national consensus on.  After all, we require every car owner to have car insurance today (but not to cover routine care).

Calling it Health Care paints a picture of the government intruding into all aspects of the decisions we make regarding our health.  Do you want that?  Insurance companies, the government, and, yes, even the medical establishment have not proven themselves to be good at improving the population’s overall health.  If they were good at it our medical costs would not be as exorbitantly high as they are today!  Do you really want any of these groups to be responsible for your overall health care and its costs?  The country’s wariness about the proposed “Health Care” legislation says it all.

So, let’s start by calling it Medical Care and simplify the debate.  Let’s try to get some consensus around insurance for major medical events and, while we’re at it, remove any barriers to insurance companies competing for that business.  We can then focus our efforts on reducing medical costs through better health and wellness education.  If the President and Congress really want to have an immediate and measurable impact on medical costs, they should start with more/better health education and healthier cafeteria food in our public schools.  Now that’s a Health Care Plan.

  1. “Good public servants” don’t necessarily make good candidates.  Martha Coakley has been referred to by supporters as a “good public servant” and smart person.  She may very well be (I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting her) but that doesn’t make her a good candidate.  She came across as a lackluster campaigner, a follower of the party line, and someone unable, or unwilling, to articulate any original ideas.  In a word she was uninspiring.
  2. Primaries are a lousy way to pick candidates.  The Democratic primary campaign was yawner despite four quite distinct personalities running to represent the party.  And the least dynamic candidate won.  Why?  Because the primary is dominated by local party operatives and they almost invariably vote for the anointed candidate (in this case Coakley).  In addition, the political uniformity that usually pervades local party ranks forces challengers to spout remarkably similar positions (although this election might have set a new record for candidates agreeing on almost every position).
  3. Voters are real people who make real decisions.  This election might also have set a new record for political complacency (arrogance?).  I suppose it’s easy to become complacent when you have a 30+ point lead in the polls.  But, really, you don’t think voters notice when the candidate assumes the position of senator-in-waiting?  Last I checked we still live in a democracy and voters have the final say.  To make matters worse, Coakley’s demeanor/style conveyed the perception that she could take it or leave it.  Maybe not a true reflection of her desire but it’s the way she came across (see point #1 above).
  4. Negative ads don’t work all that well (at least as a desperation measure).  The last minute barrage of special interest-sponsored ads for Coakley also set a new record…for desperation!  As I’m watching the ads on TV my jaw just kept dropping lower and lower.  And one negative ad would follow right after the other.  I can’t help wondering whether Coakley herself didn’t wince every time she saw one.  They certainly didn’t match her image up until that point.
  5. Betting against last minute Barack Obama interventions (Olympics, Carbon Treaty, and, now, MA Senate election) has become a sure thing.  Wow!  I have only one piece of advice for Obama.  Next time someone calls – or sends you a note on your Blackberry – to ask for help to bail them out don’t pick up the phone!  Or explain to them that, as much as you’d like to help, you have a crisis to deal with in (fill in the blank…Haiti, Afghanistan, Wall Street…) and can’t leave your post.
  6. A relative unknown with a winning personality, a can-do attitude, and a clever campaign is a good formula for a come from behind victory.  What a campaign!  This one will be studied for some time to come.  What else can I say?  Regardless of political persuasion you have to tip your hat to Scott Brown and his team.
  7. “All politics is local.” (OK, Tip O’Neil said it first.  How ironic!)  You have to get out there Martha!  You may be a well known attorney general but that doesn’t mean people really know you.  People vote emotionally for logical reasons.  In other words, they need to justify their vote based on where they stand on the issues but they are voting for a person and how they feel about that person.
  8. Massachusetts has become more diverse.  This is another way of saying that the old Irish-Democratic machine is losing its grip on the state.  I know it’s been going on for awhile – the old machine certainly didn’t make Mitt Romney governor – but this election is another nail in the coffin.  One could argue it was only somewhat sustained until now through the force of Ted Kennedy’s personality and the aura of the Kennedy name.  If you come from that world you can blame your loss of power on immigration and the homogenizing force of the suburbs. 
  9. It’s the economy, stupid!  I went to one of the Democratic primary debates and I was surprised how little the economy was discussed.  Coakley, in particular, was more interested in touting her record as a defender of human rights and civil liberties than providing any original ideas on getting people back to work.  I got the feeling she was just where she was most comfortable – serving as Attorney General of Massachusetts.  The only Democratic primary candidate that made the economy the centerpiece of his campaign was Steve Pagliuca and he had little chance of winning over the party faithful (see point #2 above).
  10. And, yes, we are worried about what Congress has cooked up on healthcare.  Do you really know what’s in the bill?  If so, drop me a note and let me know why I should want it.  I’m not a reactionary on the subject but, quite frankly, I don’t have any faith that Congress and the army of Capital Hill lobbyists is capable of cooking up a healthcare bill that is rational and cost-effective.  (If you’re interested in my position go here.)  Brown cleverly exploited our unease about the bill while Coakley was stuck touting the party line.

So, there you have it.  Democracy works.

My ninth grade son just finished tryouts for the high school hockey team.  He made it – JV that is – but not without plenty of angst for him and us.  And he’s child #3 so we should be used to the process by now!  In fact, I estimate that – between soccer, hockey, and lacrosse – we’ve endured 19 different high school tryout sessions over the past 6+ years.  We have the scars to prove it!  Which got me to thinking about why it’s such a painful process for parents and children alike.  And why do some deserving kids get left behind when some less deserving ones make it?

Let’s face it.  We live in a hyper-competitive world.  Where your child goes to college/university is not just a function of his/her academic performance but whether they play an instrument, volunteer, play on a varsity team, etc.   So high school athletics is not just competing for a spot on the team but also to be able to add another accomplishment to the college application.  So this leads to pressure by parents on their kids to perform and, in some cases, behind the scenes lobbying.  It can get ugly!

But I also think it’s about unrealistic expectations and an inability to effectively assess talent.  We all know about the former and, as parents, we’re all guilty as charged.  So it’s the task of talent assessment that I want to dwell on for a moment.  Why is it that coaches and evaluators get it wrong so often?  It’s easy to understand how it happens when parents are coaching young children.  They’re volunteers who have varying motivations and varying degrees of coaching competence.  You get what you pay for.  But high school coaches?

High school coaches have two mandates: win and help the kids learn lessons from being on a team.  [The latter should be an outcome of striving for the former.  But that’s the subject for another day.]  And the criteria they are supposed to apply to selecting the players is whether the player can help the team win.  In other words, if that player has some combination of skills, work ethic, and desire to be a contributor to team success.  Easy, right?  Not so.

None of these factors can be effectively assessed during a 3-5 day tryout.  Aside from the standouts (and they can usually be counted on one hand), even skills are hard to assess in a tryout environment.  Basic skills such as running, skating, jumping, etc. can be somewhat assessed but what about decision-making skills and an ability to “see plays develop” (both part of sports IQ)?  Very difficult.  And desire to make the team (tryout effort) doesn’t necessarily translate into desire to win in the heat of battle (competitiveness).  Finally, there’s no way to effectively assess work ethic – that is, a commitment to personal improvement – in a tryout.

So what we’re left with is a very imperfect process subject to errors and lobbying pressure.  [In fairness, the best coaches actively solicit third party assessments and also do pre-tryout scouting.]  Nobody’s going to deny the top athletes but below them don’t expect an objective outcome.  All you can do is ask your own kid to put their best foot forward and hope for the best.  And if they don’t make it and have a passion for the game tell them to redouble their efforts in preparation for next year.  Remind them it’s not necessarily about them – it’s the process.  And, when all’s said and done, life lessons come in various guises, including being overlooked for the high school team.

There’s been so much written on this subject that I hesitate to add to the noise.  But a recent article brought me back.  The article – Healthcare’s a Difficult Case – by Thomas Donlan of Barron’s is really a review of the book The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care (Penguin Press) by T.R. Reid.  Reid took his injured shoulder to doctors around the world to determine how each of the different systems works.  His shoulder is still not healed but he knows a lot more about the world’s healthcare systems.  Donlan believes Americans should read the book to better understand the tradeoffs that other societies make to get some form of universal healthcare.

I haven’t read the book but, in some ways, I’ve lived it.  I’m a Canadian living as a permanent resident in the U.S. who was raised in Aruba and lived in various corners of the globe.   I have a wide range of experiences with healthcare around the world and, fortunately, none of them have been bad.  For example, in 1982 I shattered my wrist (yes, shattered) in Saudi Arabia where it was expertly put back together by an Australian orthopaedic surgeon.  Back in Canada my rehabilitation was also expertly managed – and fully covered – by the “socialized” healthcare system.  That was almost 30 years ago and I haven’t had any problems with my wrist despite a 10+ year period as an active squash player.  Now my shoulder on the other hand…

My perspective on healthcare options and outcomes has also been influenced by other factors including my parents experience living in Spain for the past 25 years.  They’ve used both the public and private healthcare options in Spain and have been happy with both.  Last, but not least, six months ago I was laid off and I’m experiencing – for the second time this decade – what it’s like not to have employer-subsidized insurance premiums.  It’s costly and unsettling.  I would prefer some form of publicly funded safety net.
 
Despite all that experience I can’t honestly say I know what the right solution is for the U.S.  Unlike almost every other developed country that has some form of public health care, the U.S. is not a very homogeneous society.  And Americans, in general, have a lower health IQ than people in other developed countries. As a result we have an unhealthy (literally!) over reliance on doctors and the medical system to manage our health.  This no doubt adds to our costs.  
 
Regardless of the unique challenges we face there’s a consensus in this country that everyone should have some form of coverage.  My thought, and I don’t have any data to back it up, is that we should be thinking of some form of free, or relatively low-cost, public health clinics that the government helps subsidize.  These public health clinics should also be supported by the healthcare community including doctors and pharmaceutical companies in the form of charging less for products and services. (It‘s somewhat analogous to our approach to legal aid.)  This approach has the benefit of being true to the American spirit of giving back while at the same time keeping costs in check.  Would do you think?

[In my previous blog on the subject I suggested that healthcare savings accounts would be a good option.  I still believe it would be a good way to bring down the costs of the private part of our healthcare system.  But you still need a public part to cover those that never have the resources to build a health savings account in the first place.]

I’m concerned that we only add cost to an already costly system if we try to create a publicly funded system that mimics the current private system.  But I’m not sure our politicians share that concern.  Congress typically only knows one way to solve a problem – create complicated legislation that serves the needs of as many vested interests as possible, at a tremendous cost to the taxpayer.  Hopefully, our politicians will wake up and realize that building another wing on a burning house will not prevent it from burning to the ground.  It only delays the inevitable.

I think I’ve found a way to reverse the aging process.  Do what you should have done 25 years ago.  Instead of preparing for the end of your career at a large corporation join a startup.  The benefits are endless including the following:

  • You don’t have to worry about climbing the corporate ladder because there’s nothing to climb.  In addition, you don’t have to worry about back stabbing because you don’t have anything your handful of fellow workers would want.  Every position comes with the same salary and benefit package…none.
  • You get to have any position you want in the company.  You want to be an engineer?  Put on the hard hat and start designing something.  You want to be head of marketing?  Open up Powerpoint and start building presentations.  You want to be the president?  Start calling investors and begging for money.  In no time you’ll be working 100 hours a week.  And think of the benefits to your resume!
  • You don’t have to worry about your spouse compaining that you’re spending too much time in the office.  There is no office to spend time at.  Indeed, by working virtually (translation: at your dining room table) you get to spend all sorts of “quality” time with your spouse.  And before long they’re ready to find an office job themselves.
  • You don’t have to worry about becoming entangled in a career-ending office romance.  In fact, you don’t even have to worry about the distraction of conjugal romance (see the previous point)…allowing you to spend more time on your startup.
  • You don’t have to worry about when and where you’ll take your 2-3 weeks of vacation.  Who needs it?!  Vacation is for corporate types who only work 50 hours a week. 
  • And, best of all, you don’t have to pay taxes.  With no income and no benefits what’s to tax.  Take that Uncle Sam!

So, if you’re one of the few people still drawing a regular salary, benefits, and an office you call your own, you might want to reconsider your situation.  What do you have to look forward to?  Early retirement?  More time reading novels, puttering in the garden, or walking the beach?  By working for a startup you get to deplete your savings and improve the odds you’ll be working long after your peers retire.  And, by my logic, if you don’t retire you can’t get old.  Eat your heart out Ponce de Leon!

Dear Kelsey,

I know this past weekend was difficult for you.  You worked so hard and believed so much in your team that it was tough to take the losses you did.   But, above all else, you should be proud of your accomplishments.  You have shown yourself to be a true leader and earned the respect and affection of your teammates.  As a result, your team is a TEAM.  Everyone cares for each other.  Everyone is willing to make sacrifices for each other.  And everyone truly enjoys being part of the team.  I have no doubt that if there was an award for team solidarity Queen’s would have won it.  And you led the way. 

In preparation for next year let me share with you some observations on what Queen’s women’s lacrosse needs to do to improve.  First, your team needs to be more disciplined in its play.  There is too much scrambling and not enough good decision making on the field.  Your team has very good passing and catching skills but you often look bad on the field because passes are rushed and forced into coverage.  The other teams knows this and they crowd one side of the field to force bad passes.  Learn to move the ball from one side of the field to the other to avoid the pressure – even it means moving it backwards.  It’s a big field – use all of it!

Next, remember the three most important things of any team sport  are position, position, position.  What you do when you don’t have the ball is more important than what you do when you do have it.  Another reason your team often passed into coverage is that team members who did not have the ball weren’t doing a good enough job of getting open.  Everyone has to be thinking of ways to get open at all times.  Again, even if that means moving backward temporarily.

Finally, learn to adjust to your opponents.  Western was a very fast team. How do you deal with speed?  Play keep away.  If they don’t have the ball they can’t use their speed.  Toronto had a number of smart, tall, good shooters who were dangerous cutting across the front of the net.  How to defeat that?  Crowd the area in front of the net.   Don’t allow them to clear out the front.  Anyway, I think you know the main story line of last weekend.  Your opponents made adjustments and you didn’t.  Something to think about for next year.  And, if you’re lucky, you might even have a full time coach like the other teams!

Now put this note away for next year and get back to your books!   What do you think I’m paying for anyway??  Varsity sports??

Love,

Dad

This is a special edition blog.  I went to a forum for the candidates in the Democratic primary to fill Ted Kennedy’s vacant U.S. Senate seat.  For those that don’t live in Massachusetts this is essentially the race to determine the next U.S. Senator from the state.  The Republican nominee has about as much chance as a Democratic nominee in Texas.

Those who have followed this blog know that I’ve come out in favor of Steve Pagliuca.  But you also that I’m not an ideologue and I’m more interested in the individual than the posturing.  So let me try to give you an objective assessment of the forum.  The format was that each candidate was brought on stage separately (it was not a debate) and they were questioned for 20 minutes by two moderators.  After the questioning the candidates were given five minutes to make a closing statement.  Here’s my assessment of the candidates in the order they were presented:

Steve Pagliuca.  Steve is anything but a politician and it shows in his delivery.  It’s not that he was terribly uncomfortable on a stage but it was clear he was more accustomed to arguing his case in front of business colleagues than creating excitement about his positions.  But he held up well and he made some very specific recommendations with regards to helping the Massachusetts economy.  My confidence in his ability to make good decisions for both the Commonwealth (of Massachusetts) and the country – particularly as it relates to economic issues – was reinforced.

Martha Coakley.  Ouch.  This is the person who has raised the most money and is the purported front runner?  She is without question a one issue candidate.  And the issue – civil rights – is not the the most pressing issue of our time.  Indeed, she had little of use to say about the economy or global conflict.  I came away with one thought – maybe I should start an “anybody but Martha” campaign instead of supporting a specific candidate.

Mike Capuano.  I liked Mike.  He was probably the most personable of the candidates.  And, very uncharacteristically for a politician, he admitted his mistakes.  Unfortunately, two of the mistakes got us into the mess we’re in today.  He voted for one of the derivatives deregulation laws and he voted for legislation to loosen mortgage lending rules.  In other words, he exposed himself as the worst kind of liberal – one that takes a strong ideological stand but doesn’t necessarily understand the broader implications of his votes.  But he knows how to warm an audience.

Alan Khazei.  Wow!  It wasn’t a debate but he still won.  He was without a doubt the most passionate, most articulate speaker.  And he was the most specific in his policy prescriptions.  I really liked his view and prescriptions for the healthcare crisis.  He was the only one who specifically noted that healthcare reform required tort reform.  And he also made reference to the need for better approach to prevention.  He gets it.  I need to understand more about his other positions but he has definitely piqued my interest.  If the vote was held right after the forum I might have voted for him.

There really wasn’t a lot to distinguish the candidates from an ideological perspective.  They were all liberal Democrats.  But there was a difference in their backgrounds and accomplishments.  The two outsiders – Pagliuca and Khazei – we’re highly accomplished in different, but both impressive, ways.  The two insiders – Coakley and Capuano – were your typical political class candidates.  You got the feeling that their quest was akin to coporate insiders reaching for the next rung in the ladder (although I can’t help feeling that Coakley has reached her ceiling as Massachusetts Attorney General).

If you were planning to vote in the primary then you owe it to yourself and your fellow citizens to learn more about the candidates.  If you weren’t going to vote you might want to reconsider your position.   It’s a political race that counts.

I started running a couple of years ago.  Not every day and sometimes not every other day.  But certainly a few times a week.  So now that I’ve done it for a while what can I say about it?  Well, to start with, it hasn’t gotten easier!!  I still have to drag my butt out the door to get going and I can’t say I notice any endorphin-like effect after I get going.  So, you ask, why do it?  Must be because it keeps me in some sort of shape, right?  No, that’s not it either.  It’s because it keeps me sane.  It helps me clear my mind and come back mentally refreshed.  Let’s just say every time I go out I’m running out of my mind. 

Can you get the same effect from other activities?  Can you walk out of your mind?  Or cycle out of your mind?  I don’t know.  For me it’s a function of pushing myself enough that I have to focus on my running and breathing…not too hard in my case!  So, I suppose if you power walk, cycle hard, etc. you can get the same effect.  But I do think you need to avoid too much external mental stimuli (take note you “stationary bicycle in front of the TV” folks).  And I think you need to set out with the intention of clearing your mind.  But everyone’s different in this regard so let me know what you do to clear your mind (there is a comment section on the blog).

Which leads me to the state of mental health in this country.  (Healthcare is an obsession, isn’t it?)  I’ve known enough people – friends, family – that have struggled with mental health issues that I can’t help thinking about why and what can be done about it.  I think it’s fair to say that it’s directly related to stress and the lack of regular stress relief.  And I think we can all agree that stress is not going to go away.  I get a little irritated with people who preach stress-free living.  Stress is part and parcel of living.  In fact, it may very well be necessary to living.

So, if stress is not going away what’s to be done about it?  This is where the tricky part comes in.  There is no one size fits all solution.  Everyone’s biochemical makeup is different and everyone’s tolerance for stress is different.  But it helps to think of stress in the context of its origins.  At its root it’s related to fear.  And our evolutionary response to fear is flight or fight.  Yet when we’re sitting at our desk absorbing the stress of a day’s work we can’t very well jump up and run out the door on impulse.  And we can’t very well get up and start a brawl with the boss or coworker that’s driving us crazy.  Although both actions would probably be very effective at reducing our stress levels!

This is where you need to develop your own responses to stress.  I’d be lying to you if I told you that I’ve always had ways to deal with it (and I’d be giving Paula an excuse to write a very long comment on my blog).  But I’ve had enough experience with it that I feel I can offer a few recommendations.  First, try to understand the sources of your own stress.  If it’s dealing with incompetent, thoughtless people then recognize it for what it is and don’t internalize it.  Remember that bad behavior is usually a result of someone else’s weakness, not your own.  They’re not likely to change just because you think they should, so learn to neutralize them (in your mind at least).  It took me 20 years to realize that the Peter Principle (people rise to their level of incompetence) is very much a reality and the best way to deal with it is to recognize it.

Money (or lack thereof) is another major source of stress for many people.  Of course, what we consider short money would be laughable to our parents and certainly our grandparents.  But, then again, they didn’t have to own such large houses, expensive cars, and eat out so often.  It’s not easy maintaining such a high level of consumption!  Afraid to say so, folks, but there’s only own one way to deal with financial stress – get a better handle on your finances and, if not, keep reminding yourself that retirement is overrated.  Going back to my previous point about difficult people, if you can’t beat them, outlast them!

If your retirement keeps retreating into the future like mine then you better find ways to deal with stress today (I love circular arguments).  You need to develop your own flight or fight strategies.  In my case, I’ve come to the conclusion there has to be a physical component to it.  I can’t get rid of the mental stress without creating a little bit of physical stress.  For many people running is not an option but, whatever it is – walking (briskly), cycling, yoga, or competitive lawn bowling – you might want to look for ways to “run” out of your own mind.  At least it will feel good when you stop!

No I haven’t gone partisan.  But, yes, I have offered to help with Steve Pagliuca’s campaign to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Ted Kennedy’s death.  And I don’t know Steve from Adam.  What I do know if that he’s a successful businessman from modest beginnings who understands the value of hard work.  He’s been questioned about his ideology (supported Romney, Bush, Weld and is now running in the Democratic primary) but, as you know from my last blog, I don’t care much for ideology.  I care more about competence, commitment, and compassion and, based on his background, I believe he’ll bring all of these to the job.  And if I find out otherwise I’ll bail on him.

The assumption when someone with money runs for political office is that they are simply dilettantes looking to put a feather in their caps.  And, in fact, a certain Boston Globe columnist stated as much in the process of dismissing Pagliuca’s campaign.  But who would want to run for office these days given the intrusive and abusive nature of political campaigns.  No, I believe someone with Pagliuca’s background runs for office because they believe they can make a difference.  Accuse him of being naive, but don’t simply dismiss his campaign as being motivated by the self importance that often comes with wealth.  There are easier, more certain ways of feeding one’s ego, no matter how large.

We need to be careful in putting too much stock in the opinions of the talking heads that populate the media.  They share something in common with professional politicians – an occupation that puts a lot of emphasis on posturing and self promotion.  And, to a certain degree, they depend on each other.  So when an “unknown” enters a campaign there’s a little bit of “where the hell did he/she come from and what dues did they pay?”  Its human nature just like its human nature for professional politicians to not bite the hand that feeds them.

Now that’s one thing I like about independently wealthy candidates.  They are not beholden to lobbyists.  Influence peddling is a problem in every society but – in terms of its size and power – nothing can compare to the Washington-based lobby community.  Meaningful healthcare reform – that is, reform based on logic and efficiency – didn’t have chance once the various lobbies in Washington got mobilized.  (BTW, did you know that Senator Baucus received substantial campaign donations from the insurance industry?  So much for healthcare debate neutrality.)

So I’m supporting Steve Pagliuca’s Senate campaign until someone convinces me that he doesn’t stand for competence, commitment, and compassion.  And being (relatively) incorruptible.  Most politicians can make a credible claim to being committed and compassionate but most fail the test of competence and we’re all susceptible to corruption.  But I like the odds of a self-made multi-millionaire who can’t easily be bought.

Pagliuca faces an uphill battle because he won’t get the support of the Democratic political establishment, including the Kennedy diaspora.  All I can ask of you when you vote – in Massachusetts or elsewhere – is pay less attention to what is said and more attention to the character of the men and women you vote for.  Remember: It’s your money they’re playing with.

[Correction from last week’s blog: Polly Eriksen (my mother) sent me the article from Thomas Friedman via good friend Polly Goldstein. Not the other way around as I stated.  Sorry Mom!]