Thursday, August 20, 2009

The link between Healthcare and Transportation

While relationships between healthcare and transportation may not seem immediately clear (except for the fact that the people who work for and operate transportation companies/agencies/authorities all generally have healthcare) there are similarities in the debates between the various camps on either side of the issues.

First, let me say that the point of this is not to shout my opinions about Obama's healthcare plan, there are plenty of other blogs where you can find people's opinions about Government healthcare. When reading an article, found by way of The Radical Middle yesterday, I was shocked by some of the ridiculous arguments being made, by both sides on the medical debate. The far left view was that anyone who oposes their idea of Government healthcare is basically a heartless fascist who is just a puppet of big business, while the far right view was that Government healthcare was tantamount to communism and would force poor granny to go in front of a "death panel" that would decide her medical fate.

Both arguments are downright ridiculous, and the people who further these types of arguments should be ashamed of themselves. They turn important policy debate into a turd flinging contest. Their intent is also not to compromise and create the best course of action for everyone but to demean the opposition through the spreading of ridiculous lies and insults.
Where am I going with this you ask? After all, this is not Shadyside Hospital Blog, it's East Busway Blog. My point in this is the same ridiculous, emotional attacks that are clouding the healthcare debate are always present in the transit world, and it's a problem.

When lies, misconceptions and anecdotal arguments are allowed to influence public policy, the outcome is a dumbed down, half-assed version of an ideal policy. A perfect example in Pittsburgh is the hated Allegheny County drink tax. I have made it well known that I support the tax, because I looked at it rationally and to me it makes sense. You've got plenty of drinkers in Allegheny County, and the proceeds from the tax would serve a worthy cause, transit. However, the opposition to the tax was immediate and just plain angry. From radio ads by the owner of the Church Brew Works invoking Abraham Lincoln, to a gentleman who wanted to challenge Dan Onorato to a boxing match because of a tax on his beloved beer.

Most of the opposition was rooted in the fact that people just didn't want to pay more for alcohol, there wasn't a whole lot of rationality to their argument beyond that. The closest thing I saw to a coherent argument was that the tax would cause such an outrage that people would abandon drinking at bars in Allegheny County and flock to neighboring counties (which has happened to an extent, how much however, is not all that significant) which would cause bars to go out of business. However, even that argument which was rooted in rationality was taken to the extreme. Supposedly, the drop in business would lead to some mass bankruptcy in the bar industry, causing huge losses in jobs and revenues.

As it turns out, the "losses" have been minimal. The decrease in drinking at bars has been negligible, and I don't believe there is any quantifiable evidence that the drink tax has caused any bar or restaurant to close and the tax exceeded expectations for revenue. (Check out one of my favorite comment strings from way back on a "discussion" about the effects of the drink tax). My friend "anonymous" may have some valid points, but they are clouded by his insults and condescending tone.

The HSR debate is another example. There are logical arguments why HSR would not or could not work that could be made by reasonable people, and then there are people like this guy. (check out comment number 5). This quote came from Trains for America, and they seem to get more than their fair share of ridiculous, emotion based polarized arguments. You don't like trains? Fine, don't belittle rational discussion with regurgitated garbage you probably picked up off your favorite political radio talk show host.

I know that you find whackos anywhere, and two examples in a blog does not an argument make. However, go onto a news website and look at the comments that follow and article or opinion piece or watch a town hall meeting. It's frightening, not so much what people are saying, but how many people are saying the same crazy things, meaning the lunacy is widespread.

Why this polarized thinking has become so prevalent is another topic for another blog, but it certainly is present in transportation/transit policy debate, and it's damaging our infrastructure and de-railing (pun intended) our future.

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