Health reform, the new Y2K

Remember Y2K? That was the prediction, in the late 1990s, that aging computer programs would be unable to function after Dec. 31, 1999, and social chaos would result when these systems failed. The current anxiety about health care reform — or “government takeover” as the Republicans insist on calling it — has a good deal in common with that earlier panic.

Y2K, short for “Year 2000,” was a code name for concerns about the fact that programmers traditionally used only two bytes to represent the year in a date, e.g. 85 for the year 1985. Programmers in the ’60s and ’70s hadn’t expected that their programs would still be in use three and four decades later, when 1999 rolled over to 2000. Most of these “legacy” programs had been cooked up as needed, with little thought for the long term. But as long as the programs continued to work, it was cost-effective for large organizations to keep using them.

By the late ’90s it was feared that the year 2000, or 00, would be the moment at which they all, or a critical mass of them, stopped working forever. Climate control systems would fail, making most city buildings uninhabitable. Avionics would stop working, and transportation would come to a screeching halt. Electricity would stop flowing, phone lines would go dead. People’s life savings would become permanently inaccessible as the financial record-keeping system crashed. Anything could happen. Continue reading “Health reform, the new Y2K”

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Comic relief during the health reform speech

The South Carolina delegation really did its part to bring a dash of nonsense to the president’s speech to Congress about health insurance reform. I’m not just talking about Rep. Joe Wilson’s outburst, which he quickly apologized for. There was also Sen. Lindsey Graham’s moment of letting a little common sense seep around his solid partisan front.

Take a look: Continue reading “Comic relief during the health reform speech”

How much have you got? How did you get it?

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Attention Conservation Notice: This begins with a note about Alabama politics, then discusses equitable taxation in general, mentioning Winston Churchill.

Today the Alabama legislature’s Republicans are expected to rally (for the fourth time this session) around the medieval principle of “might makes right” — especially its fiscal corollary: that the state should tax heads, but wealth should be tax-exempt.

In brief, taxes are for little people. So the state tax on groceries will survive another challenge today, in order that a state income tax shelter for the super-rich can be saved. (Prior posts are here, here, and here.)

This is an ancient principle that keeps democracy in check: Peasants pay taxes. Castles are exempt. Corporations are modern-day castles. Continue reading “How much have you got? How did you get it?”