Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Supreme Court takes up Health Care Reform

It is official today. We had all four seasons this month with the below freezing temps this morning.  Funny that it took until after spring officially began to get a winter morning.  The summer weather we had last week was quite interesting.  I drove to work in my shorts and bare feet, changed into work clothes, then changed back to shorts for the drive home.  Can't recall doing that in March.

If you haven't heard, the Supreme Court has begun debating the various challenges to the individual mandate section of the health care reform bill passed in Congress,  and signed by the president two years ago.   Interestingly, some other aspects of the reform package have already taken effect.  Young adults under the age of 26 can now be covered under their parents health insurance, pre-existing conditions can not be used to deny health care coverage to an applicant, certain preventive care procedures do not require a co-pay, and there are no longer lifetime monetary caps placed on health care benefits.  None of these have been challenged; in fact, I would think that the vast majority of people would agree that each is a good thing.  I guess the health care reform package was not completely unpopular or off base with the beliefs of most Americans.

The Supreme Court's ruling is expected in the summer.  If I were to predict the results, I expect a split decision, which would effectively reflect the views of Americans at large.  My gut feeling is that a number of rulings will be forthcoming, but the big decision on the mandate will be 5-4 upholding its constitutionality.  This, of course, will not be the last word.  Those in agreement with the decision will proclaim that the system has worked as designed by the founders with all three branches of government in agreement with the concept.  Those against the decision will decry the result as judicial activism and will vow to continue to fight the law and the ruling by bringing it back to the Congress and President, especially if the Senate or Presidency changes party in the fall.  Clearly, as is the case with the Roe vs. Wade abortion decision in the 1970's, this ruling will be challenged over and over again.

Curiously, many of those you see on TV everyday railing against the individual mandate have health care insurance. Certainly every Congressmen or Senator has not only one of the best health care packages but one that is priced to them under "market" value, if not altogether free. And anyone over 65 against the health care reforms is probably receiving their health care coverage via Medicare. Those people against government interference and participation in the health care industry who are receiving their coverage via a government agency may want to rethink their position. Or at least admit to themselves and us that they believe they have a right to health care provided via our tax dollars but that others do not.  Personally, I would like to see someone from either party propose a law eliminating the health care benefit for our elected officials, especially those in Washington. They generally have jobs outside their elected positions, let them get their insurance through their employers. Or on the open market where they will pay an individual premium based on their individual or family health history. Perhaps the conversation would be altered a bit.

The unfortunate thing is that this debate over health care, whether an individual mandate is constitutional or not, is not the debate we should be having.  We are an aging country.  How much are we aging?  My research indicates that the median age (the age where half the population is above and half below) has been increasing by 2 years every 10 years for the last 4 decades.  While this trend will not continue forever, it will continue until those born in the 50's and 60's, when the birth rate spiked producing the "baby boomer" generation, begin dying off.  In other words, we will continue to age, as a country for another 2 decades or so.  Additionally, we are living longer so while the percentage of the elderly in our nation will increase via the high birth rates of the 50's and 60's, these same people will live longer to boot. 

Whether we want to admit it or not, the longer we live, the higher chance of health issues, the higher cost of health care.  So, for those who think that the individual mandate will reduce the costs of health care, they are being naive.  As are those who think that a market solution will somehow lower costs.  Frankly, I don't believe there is any program that can be devised that will reduce the cost of health care.  The discussion should be focused on how we can best survive another 20 years of rising health care costs.  How much of our resources we are willing to allocate to the health of our aging citizens.  How we will change our priorities so we can provide the proper health care access and services to the generation born after World War II when America was full of promise and potential.

So, what are the real issues.

1.  Too many Americans without health insurance at all.

2.  Too many sick Americans who can't afford the insurance they need

3.  Too much money being spent on everything except actual health care.

Americans without health insurance cost America everyday.  Through emergency visits for health issues that could best be addressed by general practitioners, through missed sick days in the work force, through accumulating symptoms that end in debilitating disease that could have been treated earlier and cheaper.  Now, whether the cost of adding these people to the health care equation would be less or more than the savings resulting from reducing the extent of those occurrences is debatable.   What is not debatable is that the sickest Americans will certainly cost more to insure.  But the question shouldn't be, what plan is the least expensive, should it?  Certainly, that shouldn't be the issue if we are serious about our claim to be a Christian nation.   Health care access and services defy the ability for the "market" to provide a solution because those with the most need will invariably have the least amount of resources to satisfy that need.  The poor get sick.  Probably more sick because by being economically disadvantaged they miss out on the benefits of preventive health care. 

So, if we assume that health care costs will increase because more people will be insured, including those previously uninsured because they were sick, is there enough money being spent in the health care industry that is not directly being spent on acutal health care services.  Should some of the profit for health care insurers be sacrificed to help fill that gap?  Should certain medical professionals learn to live on a bit less income?  Should patients who are accidently injured or even killed (not through malpractice but because humans sometimes make mistakes) be limited to compensation that is fair without being destructive to the health care provider or facility?  Should a lawyers compensation be capped when a lawsuit is successful,  and conversely should a lawyer be responsible for the costs when a medical lawsuit is considered frivolous?   Should Americans who have decided to take any and all pills to correct any and all maladies then be allowed to seek huge damage claims when that particluar medication results in a side effect that was clearly indicated on the bottle?  Should the pharmaceutical industry cover its costs for research on Parkinson's, breast cancer, HIV, ect, by making up diseases and then producing a pill to cure it.  Shift work disorder?  Restless leg?

I would like to think that if we all did our part, the pharmaceutical industry, lawyers, health care providers, health care insurance companies, and patients, if we all decided that access to the best health care system in the world for everyone guarantees us all the best health care in the world, then we would have the money to insure all Americans, sick as well as healthy. 

Finally, if nothing else is done, how about we do these two things.

Insure the health of all Americans based on the biggest pool possible; all Americans.  All 30 year olds pay the same premium for the same coverage.  As do all 50 year olds, etc.  One big pool determined by actuarials who already know the incidents of illness, death, etc via their work for life insurance companies.

Mandate that all Americans carry catastrophic health insurance.  This premium will be collected via a payroll tax, or through an unemployment check, or social security check, or IRS refund if needed.  But it must be placed in a lockbox where it is not used for anything but costs associated with someone whose resources exceed their ability to pay.  (See major mistake made with the Social Security Trust fund, as reference for what not to do).

Like it or not, disease does not care about one's politics, race, economic status or occupation.  Yet we seem to be embroiled in the discussion about health care as if these traits mattered.  It is not only a shame, but it reflects poorly on our claim to be the greatest country in the world.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Blue Lake

I wrote the following story while still in college, almost 25 years ago, for a children's literature class I was taking.  As all good children's stories should have, there is a moral to the story which is hopefully presented in a simplistic way via likable characters that a child can relate to.  If you are a parent or grandparent, or anyone who reads to children and you would like to share this story, feel free.

                                                                  The Blue Lake

Once upon a time there were three young children, Manny, Edith and Fred. They lived in a poor village with their parents who loved them very much, and although the family did not have many possessions, they were very happy.

Everyday, the children played with the other boys and girls of the village, while their father worked in the woods with the other men, cutting down trees and carrying the wood back to the village. Sometimes their father saved small bits of wood and made little toys for the children to play with and share.

It so happened that in these woods there lived a fearsome dragon. It was fifteen feet tall and had two heads, each with glittering, razor-sharp rows of teeth. It also had a short, spiked tail, and large scaly hands and feet, each with long claws that could fell a tree in one swoop. Everyone in the village was afraid of this dragon, and there were many stories of people carried away by the loathsome creature, never to be seen again.

One sunshiny day, the children were playing tag in the village paths when the men came shouting and running from the woods.

“Help!” they cried and “it’s terrible, oh my!” All the children scurried home fearing the dragon would appear at any moment. When Manny, Edith, and Fred arrived at their house, they found their mother weeping by the window, gazing tearfully towards the woods. Two of the town’s elders were with her. They patted the children on their heads, and left with downcast eyes and saddened faces.

“Mother, mother, what’s wrong?” cried Edith. The children fell at their mother’s feet and she told them that the evil dragon had surprised the men at work, and captured their father in one of its enormous hands. Some of the men tried to rescue him, but the dragon was just too big and powerful to catch and subdue. The dreadful dragon escaped deep into the woods, still clutching the children’s father. They joined their mother in tears and cried themselves to sleep in their sadness.

When the sun arose the next day, the world looked brighter and the children were filled with hope.

“I’ll find that dragon’s lair and slay him”, declared Manny. So, off he went to the village blacksmith where he got a glorious sword and shield. Then he led Edith and Fred into the woods to find the dragon. After a few hours of searching, they spotted the dragon eating the leaves of tress and small bushes. Stealthily, they followed it to its cave near a beautiful, blue lake. When the dragon went inside the cave, Manny cautiously crept up to the entrance and surprised the dragon when it came out. With a strength fueled by his love for this father, Manny fought the dragon, stabbing with lightning speed and blocking the dragon’s attacks with his unbreakable shield. But the dragon’s skin was too thick for even Manny’s sword, and he finally returned to Edith and Fred, exhausted and tearful.

Back at the village, the children told their mother of the cave and Manny’s heroic but futile efforts, and they all cried themselves to sleep.

The next day dawned clear and crisp, and again brought hope to the family.

“I’ll go to the cave and I’ll trick the dragon”, vowed Edith. So off she went to the village shaman where she learned a brilliant trick to fool the dragon. This time, the children traveled directly to the dragon’s cave by the glass-smooth lake, and set their trap by the entrance. When the dragon came out, it stepped right into the trap, and was caught by one of its green, scaly feet. Joyfully, the children rushed into the cave to free their father but he was not to be found. The dragon had a trick of its own, and had hidden the man behind a huge rock where he couldn’t see or hear the children, nor they him. The children hurried out of the cave for the dragon had almost chewed through the thick rope holding his leg.

Back at the village, they told their mother of the successful trap but their failure to find their father. They agreed he must surely have been eaten, and cried themselves to sleep once again.

The third day was even more beautiful than the two before. The air brought pure delight with every breath and the sun enlivened everything it touched.

But only Fred noticed the glory of the new day. The rest of the family could only see the image of their father, and the horrible dragon that killed him. So Fred went into the woods alone, and found the cave by the clear, blue lake. And there, staring at its image in the lake, sat the dragon, crying large, blue tears into the water. Unafraid, Fred walked up beside it and patted one of its scaly feet.

“Why are you crying?” he asked.

“I am so lonely,” began the dragon. “Whenever I meet the village men in the woods, they run and scream and try to hurt me with their swords and stones. They are afraid of me because I am so big and ugly. Sometimes I manage to catch one before he runs away and I bring him back to my cave. I feed him and talk to him but none ever respond. Usually they simply die of fright.”

More huge, blue tears rolled from the dragon’s four eyes and into the lake. Fred also began to cry, partly because he now knew his father was certainly dead, and partly out of sympathy for the dragon.

“But why are you crying?” asked the dragon.

Fred recounted the story of the last few days, tearfully ending with the death of his father.

“But wait,” countered the dragon. “Your father is not dead, just hidden behind a stone in my cave.”

Well, Fred’s face lit up immediately and he hugged the dragon’s foot as hard as he could. The dragon gently picked him up, and carried him into the cave where he rolled back the rock and revealed Fred’s father. They hugged and kissed and thanked the dragon for his kindness. Then they all went back to the village where they lived happily ever after, especially the dragon, who spent his time helping the men cut trees in the woods and playing tag with the children.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I am the President

Last week, I encountered someone with an outdoor table and a sign attempting to engage passersby in a discussion about politics. I was tempted, as you would expect, but I was discouraged by the sign he was using to initiate the discussions. His sign had a picture of President Obama which included a Hitler mustache, and the words “He’s nuts” in big letters. Perhaps this person may have had some intelligent things to say about the topics of the day, but I did not approach him due to the disrespect he was showing the President. Not necessarily the words, but certainly the depiction with the mustache.

That got me thinking that perhaps President Obama needs to go on TV and give the following speech.

My fellow Americans. I am the President of the United States of America. I am the president of over 350 million people, millions of whom voted for me in 2008, and millions who did not.

I am the president of those who believe that everyone should have a gun, and those that believe that no one should own one.

I am the president of those who believe that abortion is murder, and those who believe that abortion is a decision that is best left to a woman, her family and her doctor.

I am the president of those who believe that gay marriage violates God’ will, and those that believe that in their
pursuit of happiness, marriage among two consenting adults should not be regulated by the government.

I am the president of those who believe that the separation of church and state means the government should make no law respecting the establishment of religion, and those that believe that their particular religion is better than the rest and should be established.

I am president of those who believe that our surging national debt is the biggest threat to our country, and those who believe that sometimes debt created to avoid a national disaster is the lesser of two evils. 
I am president of those who believe that income inequality is the natural result of capitalism, and those who believe that income inequality is a threat to democracy.

I am the president of those who believe that business needs less government regulation, and those who blame our recent economic disasters on the lack of strong government oversight.

I am president of those who believe that we need to close our borders and deport anyone who is illegally in our country.

I am president of those who believe that health care coverage should be available to all Americans, especially those who are sick and of limited income.

I am the president of people who believe that their elected officials should never compromise on the big issues of the day, and those who believe that without compromise, the country cannot address and solve its problems.

I am the president of the most diverse population on the planet. An assemblage of individuals with as wide a range of viewpoints, and the greatest freedoms to express those views, ever to exist.

I am the president of all these people, all of you, accountable to you in both the voting booth, and as you discuss the issues of the day around your dinner tables and by your water coolers.

I am the President, but not the dictator, of the United States. That means that I must work with the Congress, your other duly elected officials, to steer the ship of state. That means that I must temper my decisions to reflect the majority will while also respecting the rights and views of the minority.

And so, as your president, I will make decisions and policies that many of you support, and many of you do not. To some, I will act as a champion for justice, to others, a threat to your freedom. At times, I will be perceived as America’s greatest ambassador to the world, at others, America’s biggest joke.

I am the President of the United States.

As such, all I ask is for is your support when you agree, and grievances when you do not. But please, support and disagree with respect. If not respect for me or my office, respect for your fellow Americas whose love for this country is just as great as yours, but whose opinions might be the polar opposite of yours.

Let’s show the world America’s greatness by working together to solve our problems despite our differences, rather than spiting each other because of our differences.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

An Open Letter to Rick Santorum

I was fortunate enough to have two letters published recently in my local newspaper, the Perkasie Herald.  The first, to candidate Rick Santorum appears below after this additional comment about Mr. Santorum.  It seems he is being skewered over his statement that he doesn't care about the unemployment rate, he is more concerned about the bigger issue of government takeover of our lives.  Of course, his opponent in the Republican candidate nomination process jumped on the initial part of this comment, by making it clear that he does care about the unemployment rate and that should he be elected the CEO of America, he will be able to create jobs thereby reducing the ranks of the unemployed.  I imagine that, as conservatives, both men believe that the best way for a president to create jobs is to get out of the way of business and let them do their thing.  Perhaps Mr. Romney thinks he can teach the business community a thing or two about creating jobs, but then, wouldn't that mean interfering in the market, the very thing that conservatives abhor about the government?  Perhaps Mr. Romney's version of conservatism assumes that government intervention is OK when the intervention is from a conservative, but not when it originates from a liberal. 

I thought that the more interesting comment made by Mr. Santorum was that he would eliminate all the government programs designed to help Americans because he believes that Americans should take care of each other, not expect the government to do it for us.  On the surface, that sounds good.  Take care of each other.  A very Christian attitude.  And, when a community is hit with a natural disaster, this attitude would result in other communities helping out.  One could continue this analogy until we reach the point where all Americans participate in the assistance to all other Americans who need some help.  An entire nation sharing the mindset that we have each others' backs.  Isn't that precisely how local, state, and federal assistance programs started?  Isn't food stamps for the disadvantaged, unemployment for the recently laid off, subsidized medical assistance for the sick who can't afford the private sectors' premiums, a social security check for the elderly who can no longer work, aren't all those programs the logical result of Americans helping each other, caring for each other, doing their part to prevent fellow Americans from being hungry, going without medical care, losing their home? 

I guess I just don't understand why a government program to help the citizens of America is bad?  Isn't the government supposed to be "we the people".  Aren't each of us, collectively, the government of the United States of America?
Anyway, here is my letter to candidate Santorum.

An Open Letter to Rick Santorum,

Congratulations! Through personal hard work and via a consistent message, you have become a serious candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. While you still face an uphill battle until the national convention, it is clear that you have secured the backing of enough deep pocket donors, the support of the evangelical community, and the respect of many everyday Americans, to be a force to be considered for the remainder of the primary season. You have demonstrated a faith in your candidacy when few political pundits took you seriously. Truly, your rise to become one of the potential nominees in a two man race is a wonderful example of the American dream where persistence and fortitude are rewarded. And, if the trend continues and you are victorious in August, you will have accomplished the herculean task of overtaking the presumed candidate in a very short time.

But, Mr. Santorum, there will be no time to revel in your success. The presidential election will be here in the blink of an eye. Your opponent will surely have a huge advantage of monies available to spend. And, while I expect those nominees whom you have bested will lend their verbal support, I would not expect them to be daily advocates of your campaign. You may need to go it alone, just as you have up until now.

More importantly, you will need to convince the middle 20% of voters, those that haven’t already decided to vote for the incumbent or the challenger, that you are the better choice. The problem is that these voters do not believe as you do. Perhaps it’s the insulating nature of a political campaign, but just because those who surround you every day, those who attend your rallies, those who advise and support you, just because they all tell you that your message is on target and your vision is shared by all Americans, it doesn’t mean that is true.

You see, the reality is that a large percentage of Americans do not share your religious convictions about gay marriage, abortion, birth control, war. Many Americans, Americans of similar, dissimilar and no faith at all, patriotic Americans who have personally served or have family currently in a branch of the service, or who may have lost loved ones in service of our great country, many Americans believe differently than you. And many of these Americans comprise that middle 20% of the vote that you will need for your dream to come true and gain the White House.

Mr. Santorum, it is easy to make friends of and gain support from those who agree with you. It takes no great effort or persuasive personality. It is those that disagree with you that require the effort. And while you will most likely fail in the effort to make your opinion that of all Americans, it is precisely this disparity of opinion that makes America the great nation that it is today. Not in our ability to agree with each other, but in our ability to disagree and still respect each other. In our ability to take opposing viewpoints and find common ground. In our freedoms which allow everyone’s perspective to see the light of day even when that perspective violates our religious tenets.

In the end, sir, you do not have all the answers despite what your strong faith might suggest. It is in a diversity of opinion and perspective that the real solutions to our problems will be discovered. As in nature when too much commonality produces a strain that is most susceptible to disease or extinction, so to must human interactions include the range of ideas and expressions to survive and flourish.

Your path so far has been admirable. But if you really mean to cross the finish line first, you must untangle yourself from the bible. While it is a wonderful inspiration for personal growth, it is not the basis for this great American experiment in government. By insisting that we use it in place of the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, you impose a viewpoint that denies access to the American Dream to those with a different religious perspective. And, ultimately, a theocracy is not the direction that the middle 20% of voters are willing to embrace.


Monday, March 12, 2012

Contraception and Sex

Unbelievably nice weather for the beginning of March.  Maybe climate change will be a good thing, if you can look past droughts, record heat, rising coastal tides, and melting ice caps.

When I first started sending letters to the Inquirer, I was lucky to have started a correspondence which is still ongoing.  We agree more than we disagree, but we maintain a respectful tone when we express our opinions.  We recently communicated a few times in regards to the contraception broo-haha that resulted from the Catholic church protesting the requirement that they provide family planning as part of their health care packages.

Here is the last email to my friend on this subject

I think that the problem is the focus on sex. You say that sex is not a bodily function required for survival. Yet, there are many people who decry homosexual sex precisely because it does not result in human reproduction. From that point they justify demonizing those who practice gay sex, and then go even further by denying the gay community the benefits of marriage. So, while sex may not be required for personal survival, it is certainly a necessity for the continued survival of the human race.

This is the mistake, the focus on sex, that a certain radio talk show host made when he portrayed a young woman as a whore for testifying in favor of insurers providing for family planning. Or the rich Republican donor who was quoted as advocating the "aspirin" method of birth control; woman should keep an aspirin between their knees. What is as disturbing as the attack on this young woman is the assumption that the woman is the slut. Does the man have no responsibility? Should not these comments also include attacks upon the young men having sex as well? Perhaps there should be a "Pinocchio" effect on the men who impregnate a woman. I wonder if a growing nose, say relative to the size of the woman's belly, would shed a new perspective on the men who are so quick to label woman who have sex as whores. It would certainly make paternity suits and there requisite denials (by the man) a bit more clear cut.

What is truly ironic is that the Catholic Church, the prime "victim" in this recent debate, has as one of its main tenets the belief that all sex acts must include the understanding that a child may be produced, which is why any form of birth control is anathema. The fact that the birth rate among Catholics has dropped in the past two generations resulting in a precipitous drop in parochial school enrollment must be a mystery to those who believe that Catholics do not use birth control. Perhaps we should remember that increasing the population of the fold is an understandable motive for any institution, religious or otherwise, and that one of the best ways to encourage followers to have more children is to make not having children a betrayal of the group. Like it or not, our various societal institutions, religious or civic, have encouraged or discouraged reproduction, hence sex, for as long as the connection between sex and reproduction has been understood. It is a way to control the flock, the citizenry, or whatever the appropriate term be. And it is usually men controlling, or trying to control women.

Not to mention the perception that that permeates our current culture that woman who have sex are loose, and men who have sex are virile.
In the end, sex is not the issue when discussing contraception, family planning, birth control or whatever phrase you want to use. It is about providing the most information, options and choices for women. It is about treating them as more than walking wombs. It is about men realizing that forcing women to have babies is not a reflection of "God's will" but a reflection of the lack of respect and humanity that men have historically shown to women. As I have said before, the conversation would be quite different, if men had to carry and birth our next generation.

As for abortion, I understand your abhorrence. But, to turn your back on all family planning because of the belief that abortion kills a human life when abortion is a very small part of the family planning tool kit seems shortsighted. While abortion should be the last choice, disavowing all other birth control methods seems to be a recipe for an increase of the very act of abortion that is so distasteful. If we restrict women's access to the various methods of preventing unwanted pregnancies, should we not expect both more aborted fetuses as well as unwanted children?

Look at it this way. The slums of the world all have one thing in common. Too many people in too small a space. Doesn't it make sense to encourage family planning as a way to reduce income inequality? Poverty? Disease? When we see pictures of children dying in far away lands from dysentery, malnutrition, dehydration, and then we don't make the connection between the lack of family planning that is provided for the women of these lands, the influence of religions that tell them that condoms are evil and that having babies is their duty as females, the sheer arrogance demonstrated by men who condemn women for having sex while all the while pretending that it isn't men they are having sex with, then we are blind to the consequences that these beliefs have on those children as they die.

It is a wonderful trait to honor and protect life. But to honor and protect it in the womb then forget about it once it is born casts a shadow on its sincerity.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Bees and Politicians

This past weekend marked the first Saturday and Sunday that I didn't have to awaken at 3:00 AM since last July.  I must say it was nice to sleep until light, and to find a newspaper delivered to my doorstep by someone else.  Unfortunately, I was still not able to post at all last week as I worked on my day off and a did a double shift to cover for a sick fellow assistant manager.  Perhaps this week will afford me some more time.

In my last post, I reported on the major bills voted upon by the House and Senate.  This past week, 3 bills were detailed in the Inquirer, two in the House and one in the Senate.

The House voted 303-114 to repeal new Department of Education rules for for-profit colleges and universities.  Among others, these rules would have required these for-profit education providers to meet accreditation requirements in each state in which they have a presence, established state-by-state processes for handling student complaints, and would have set a uniform definition for a "credit hour" for purpose of allocating federal financial aid.  These rules were set to go into effect in July 2014 but now they will not.  All local Republican reps voted in favor, and half of local Democrats.  The 2nd bill overrides or weakens existing California and federal laws and compacts related to the allocation of San Joaquin River water in the Central Valley and Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.  The bill directs more water to agriculture users in the Central Valley and less to the benefit of farming in the delta and less to fishing, environmental and recreational interests in other parts of California and Oregon.  This bill passed along party lines; all local Republican members voted yes, all local Democratic reps voted no.

In the Senate, by a vote of 51-48, an amendment was tabled (killed) which would enabled insurers and employers to refuse to insure any medical procedure, item or device that conflicts with their "religious beliefs or moral convictions".   Both Pennsylvania senators, one of each party, voted in favor of the amendment while both senators from NJ and DE (all Democratic) voted against the amendment. 

Yesterday, I read an interesting article in the Smithsonian Magazine (March 2012 edition, "Hive Mind") about bees and how they make collective decisions.  In essence, a bee swarm makes its big decisions in a "democratic" fashion.  For instance, scout bees bring information about moving to a new location, and communicate this info to the hive via length and intensity of their dance.  The more positive a scout bee feels about the new home it has scouted, the longer and more frenetic its dance to its fellow bees.  This encourages other bees to "check out" the scout bees research, and as they return to communicate their agreement, again, their dance indicates the intensity of their feelings.  Once enough bees become of similar mind, the hive departs for its new home.  Of course, there is more to it than this simplified summary.  Other scout bees also may be bringing info about a new home, dancing as long or as passionately, thereby inspiring other bees to check out their findings.  In the end though, the decision to move to a particular home is made by a quorum of bees who have been exposed to a number of different locations but have decided, as a group, to which home to move.  (The decision is not the queen's, by the way).
What seems striking to me is how this behavior compares and contrasts with our democratic process.  One could consider our elected officials as our scout bees, in charge of plotting out the future of our human hive.  We listen to their speeches, feel their passion, sometimes we even check out the facts for ourselves.  Of course, the scout bees of a hive seem to be operating under the guidelines of "what is best for the hive" whereas there seems to be many politicians who pretend to vote and govern for the betterment of the people but who sometimes seem only concerned for their particular group of constituents (or worse, themselves) rather than the country as a whole.  And, once the hive makes its decisions, all the bees work together to make the decision work.  It seems that  in this time of political partisanship, we are in a pattern where those whose "dance" is not chosen, work to inhibit the success of the winning dance, regardless of whether it is in the best interest of the hive or not.  We seem to believe in a democratic process to decide but only when that decision agrees with our own.  I imagine this "my-way-or-the-highway" approach would devastate a bee swarm. 

Nature, whether by its examples of the collective behavior of bees or birds, ants or whales, repeatedly demonstates the power of the group to achieve more than what can be accomplished by its individual members.  Clearly, humankind has evolved beyond the instincts that enable bees to individually find a new home then collectively decide which home is best.  Like bees, we allow the majority to rule in most decisions, yet we also maintain a respect for the individual and a voice (and limited) power for the minority. 

Imagine then, how amazing the accomplishments of men will be when we can combine both the individual power of our best with the collective power of the whole.