Friday, June 20, 2014

DiBlasio's Vision Zero and 25mph in NYC

The New York State legislature recently passed a measure that gave to New York City the right to enact a citywide 25mph speed limit (it is currently 30mph).

This law is a product of Mayor DiBlasio's Vision Zero, a plan to reduce to zero the number of pedestrian traffic deaths in New York City.

At a recent press conference the DiBlasio administration released the following statement as justification for lowering the speed limit:

"70% of accidents involving pedestrians are the result of speed or the failure to yield" 

This statement is disingenuous as it conflates two concepts. If the speeding statistics were so jarring so as to merit a speed limit reduction, they would stand on their own without needing be paired with "failure to yield" numbers. 

It also strikes me as outrageous that this legislation is considered an appropriate response when the current speed limit of 30mph is largely unenforced in the city.

Not enforcing the speed limit is tacit approval of the speed limit and occasional departures from it. Seeing cars pulled over for speeding with some degree of regularity gives drivers incentive to obey they law rather than to flout it.

Having spent time in traffic court (the NYC traffic violations bureau) studying cases, I can confidently state that police officers, when they enforce traffic rules, give the most citations for failure to yield and for various minor moving violations like failure to use a turn signal. 

To me, common sense says that the primary problems that drive pedestrian traffic fatalities are aggression and distractedness on the part of both the driver and the pedestrian, not driver speed. I will concede that the speed at which a pedestrian is hit will largely determine their prognosis, but under no circumstances will I ever agree that speed (that isnt reckless) alone is the cause of accidents. 

The people who speed in the city are the exception, not the rule. An NYC DOT traffic study that I read recently declared this to be the case on a major avenue in my neighborhood in Brooklyn. This avenue could be an anomaly, but my observations as a pedestrian, cyclist and driver confirm that this conclusion is the case across the city.

On another note, I think that NYC drivers need to unite to ensure that transportation policy reflects our interests. It is far too easy to get support for anti-car legislation in a city where so few residents drive. Maybe I need to be the person to start it.
Photo Credit: NY Daily News

Friday, April 4, 2014

Brendan Eich forced to resign as Mozilla CEO over 2008 Prop 8 donation

Brendan Eich, the CEO of Mozilla donated $1000 in support of Proposition 8 in 2008.

He was CTO when he made the donation. Two weeks after being appointed CEO by the Mozilla board, he was forced to resign amid controversy surrounding his donation. This controversy was started by online dating site OKCupid who blocked firefox users from accessing their site. You can read New York Times coverage on the issue here.

Here are my thoughts on this issue: At the end of the day, I just don't think it is right for someone to lose their job for a personal conviction that in no way affects their ability to perform their job.

Especially when the open, inclusive and supportive environment at Mozilla is one that he helped to create. The only reason why we know he made the contribution is b/c California requires that a name and an employer be attached to all political donations.

Should people fear donating money to candidates or causes for fear of future retribution? In the world where CEOs can be forced to resign, it looks like the answer is "yes". This sets a terrible precedent.

I think this is a case of zeal gone awry. It is a partisan redefinition of the word tolerance. I'm a christian and I believe that gays should be afforded equal rights and protection under the law as quickly as is possible in every state in the union. But I also believe that as a citizen, I should have the right to freely believe and practice my religion without fear of losing my job. I would not have donated in support of prop 8, but I do agree with what the bible says is "sin". Religious groups are protected classes under the law. All citizens, regardless of their religious beliefs - no matter how subjectively weird/backward/repulsive they may be - deserve equal protection under the law.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

What's wrong with Obamacare?

A friend of mine recently shared an article from viral nova about the $55k bill a 20 year old reddit user received after he went to the hospital with appendicitis. The first thing that came to mind for me when i read this article wasn't "why doesn't he have insurance?" rather - it was "WHY IS A SIMPLE PROCEDURE SO EXPENSIVE?!?!?

The Affordable Care Act does a good job of guaranteeing insurance for those who want it. However, where the ACA fails is in addressing the root issue - and the root issue is cost.

There's no good reason for health care to be as expensive as what it is. On a per capita basis, America is a world leader in health insurance cost ($8,608, which equates to $2.7T or 17.2% of GDP). America also ranked 46 out of 48 countries in a recent Bloomberg study on health care efficiency (life expectancy vs absolute and relative per capita cost of healthcare). Suffice it to say that in America, medical care smells of rent seeking behavior.

Expensive health care means expensive insurance. Just because I get someone else to pay for something that is very expensive for me does not make it any less expensive. Insurance companies are not charities - they will pass their high costs onto their consumers.

I browsed bronze-level insurance options in NY: The most affordable option for me had a $4k annual premium and a $6k deductible before 50% coverage with no out-of-pocket maximum kicked in. Essentially, I would have to pay $10k out of pocket before getting 50% coverage. Presented with choosing between this "affordable" option and a 1% penalty for 2014, I would choose the 1% penalty every time.

But why is health care so expensive? Here is a partial list:

  1. Insurance (for doctors): One of the (many) reasons why health care is expensive is because insurance for medical providers (malpractice etc) is expensive. Median ob/gyn salary is around $200k, however, ob/gyn malpractice insurance premiums can run anywhere between $85k and $200k - and let's not forget the fact that with malpractice lawsuits come legal fees. All these things *must* be factored into the price doctors charge for their services
  2. Tort Reform: One of the reasons malpractice insurance is so high is the lack of effective tort reform in this country (I don't know what effective tort reform will look like, but i know that it can help). Tort reform efforts in Texas have not had much of an impact, but that is a reflection of ineffective legislation. Patients may need to bear a larger portion of the risk inherent in receiving medical care. I'm not 100% sure here.
  3. Price Transparency: Another reason why care is expensive is because of the lack of price transparency. Price transparency would place downward pressure on prices as consumers would shop around to get the best value (and no one would go to hospitals that charge $2000 for anti-nausea pills and an overnight stay when they know another hospital located 2 miles away charges $500). In no other sphere of life do we make purchases without having some idea of what said purchase will cost...and there is a societal "cost" associated with this behavior. Especially when you consider the fact that a high cost option for you is ALSO a high cost option for your insurer who is covering between 50 and 100% of your costs. High costs for your insurer means high costs for all the other people they insure.
  4. Corruption: One reason (of many) why there hasn't been significant change in policy that affects the cost of service (contrasted with Obamacare, which addresses coverage for the cost of the service) is corruption. The medical lobby is strong and many of our politicians have been bought. I'm convinced that in the same way that corruption is the largest driver of instability and inequality all over the world, corruption is the largest driver of high medical cost in this country. It is easier to legislate change that affirms our current medical cost structure than it is to expose the medical industry's ridiculous pricing and impose regulations that make the US healthcare system one that is more fair for all American citizens.
edit (1/4/2014): here's a video that i stumbled across on facebook concerning corruption 

I don't know how to fix everything, but i know that there is no good reason for our costs to be as high as they are.

just thinking aloud. I welcome your disagreement/agreement/augmentation