Single Payer vs Public Option

I am following up on my last post regarding healthcare – and the different approaches in the Democratic primary.  I am going to do my best to (over)simplify the differences between Single Payer and Public Option approaches.

Single Payer (or “Medicare for All”)

There are a lot of positive things to be said of a single payer system, and most of the top tier candidates actually agree that this is the right aspirational goal for healthcare in the United States.  However, only Sanders* and Warren are still pushing for a Medicare for All right out of the gate. 

The benefits of a single payer system are pretty significant:

  1. Negotiating power for prices of healthcare and prescription drugs will mean lower overall costs to patients,
        
  2. A single payer system eliminates a huge amount of the overhead costs (for providers and the insurer), which will mean lower costs passed along to patients,
        
  3. There will be higher incentives to focus on preventative care and community health initiatives to keep all Americans healthier and costs lower, and finally,
        
  4. All Americans will be covered, allowing us to start working on the systemic injustices that have impacted the health of lower income communities, including rural communities and communities of color.

Most people think of cost as being the primary downside, but it’s too simplified to think of “cost” as a single issue here.  In aggregate, the cost of healthcare will decrease.  America will spend less and be healthier.  Insurance premiums will go away, most visits and procedures will be fully covered, and you’ll have little to no out of pocket costs for prescriptions.  For most Americans, healthcare costs will decrease.  

The actual downsides are… complicated.  

Sanders acknowledges that taxes will go up to cover the cost of healthcare.  That will impact different groups in different ways:

  • For most Americans with health insurance today, the increase in taxes will be less than the decrease in insurance and healthcare, decreasing overall cost.
  • For anyone paying for insurance out of pocket now or anyone who has maintenance medications and numerous doctors visits, your costs will undoubtedly decrease significantly.  
  • If you do not currently have health insurance and you never go to the doctor or have any healthcare expenses, the increase in taxes will not be offset by any reduced costs for you immediately.  (On the flipside, bankruptcy due to medical bills will no longer be a thing that happens, and you will have access to care.)  
  • If you are extremely wealthy, you will pay more in tax increases than will be offset by a reduction in healthcare costs.  (But your community will also be generally healthier and health risks overall will be reduced.)

Elizabeth Warren has pledged that taxes to cover a Medicare for All plan will actually not come from an increase in middle class taxes at all, but would come from tax increases in other places (corporate taxes, taxes on employers, wealth taxes, and tax increases on the wealthiest Americans).

It is also true that it may be more difficult to schedule appointments and access providers, as there will be more people with access to care.  More patients with the same number of healthcare providers will be a difficult problem that will require innovative solutions.

And in Elizabeth Warren’s plan, healthcare providers (doctors, hospitals, etc) will be required to accept lower costs than they do now for many procedures.  Ideally, this could be offset with the savings on overhead in managing insurance, but it’s not clear that this would be true.

The bottom line is that Single Payer is a very big shift in the way that Americans think about healthcare.  In theory, it’s the most cost-effective and efficient way to get healthcare for all Americans, but the transition to change our thinking and to change the industries that support healthcare would be tough.

Public Option (or “Medicare for All Who Want It”)

The public option approach essentially allows any American the option to select a health insurance plan that is managed by the federal government.  In other words, regardless of age, you could choose to enroll in Medicare instead of your employer’s plan. Those that do not have an employer option for health insurance today, and can’t afford private insurance, would be automatically enrolled and covered.   

In my opinion, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has articulated the clearest vision of this approach, although many of the other candidates have proposed similar programs.  

The advantages of a public option are also pretty significant:  

  1. Negotiating power for healthcare costs and prescription drug costs increases, and increases more as even more and more people enroll;
  2. Overhead costs start to decrease (albeit not as quickly or dramatically as a single payer option, given that private health insurance still exists);
  3. All Americans have an affordable option to buy in for insurance, with advantages in overall public health;
  4. Unlike single payer, it provides a choice for consumers, and so private insurance companies are now incentivized to compete with the public plan, potentially lower costs and increasing innovation and other perks;
  5. Because individuals buy into it (ostensibly with premiums based on income), the full cost of the program doesn’t have to be “made up for” in taxes or other revenue streams.

There are disadvantages, though – particularly over a single payer system:

  • Success of a public option depends a great deal on individuals choosing to adopt the plan.  More importantly, it depends on healthy, young people to be included in that group of people who buy into the plan.
  • There is less negotiating power and not as great of a decrease in overhead costs as a single payer system, as private insurance still exists.
  • There are still program costs to be covered by the federal government, as more individuals would be covered by insurance that is fully or partially subsidized.

For many, including Buttigieg, the assumption is that a public option approach will eventually lead to Medicare for All.  If the government provided program (“Medicare”) is a great option with lower costs and better coverage, then lots of Americans will want to use it.  As more people move over to it, private insurance companies either find a way to compete and offer better plans, or they simply start to fade away. 

Where do I land?

I am for a public option, rather than a straight transition to Medicare for All.  Even though I know all of the benefits of single payer, I’m naturally risk-averse; the public option approach is still a huge step forward in terms of the accessibility of healthcare coverage for all Americans, without requiring an enormous change quickly.  (For the same reason, I think it is also politically the better option, as it allows more people to get on board with change in phases.)

As always, if I said something incorrect or incomplete, please feel free to correct me in the comments.  If I was wrong, I’ll definitely update the post to ensure accuracy.  

Also, I do think there will be a third part in this series to address myths, because there are a lot of them out there related to the healthcare debate.

* I really dislike the arguments between candidates and their supporters about which candidate came up with an idea “first”.  However, I do feel the need to give credit to Sanders here, as this really has been one of his hallmark issues for decades.  

Healthcare for all who want it

At least two months ago, someone asked me if I could explain the healthcare debate that is happening within the Democratic primary.  I’m a little bit late, but here’s my high level take on the debate.

Why does this matter?  

The United States is the only developed country that does not officially provide universal healthcare coverage.  And there are two massive problems with that.

First, we actually DO provide universal care, because regardless of someone’s ability to pay for treatment, we agree that allowing someone to die in the street is immoral.  Our public hospitals and emergency rooms care for patients all the time who have no insurance coverage. Those patients can’t afford preventative care, and often by the time they seek treatment, the care they need is urgent and costly.  Either those bills go unpaid or the patients go bankrupt attempting to pay. Either way, those costs are passed along to everyone else in the form of increased cost of care.

Second, our health care is a for profit, bureaucratic mess.  Insurance companies are in the profit business, and while there may be competition to offer lower priced insurance plans, those plans are designed to cover as little as possible.  The insurance provider is incentivized to keep the paperwork complicated and the consumer confused. Front line healthcare providers may try to do the right thing by patients, but even then corporate interests of the provider is often put above the interests of patients.  The result is that insurance companies cover as little as possible, and providers bill as much as possible. Americans are avoiding necessary preventative care, and then going bankrupt paying for emergency care.

The candidates in the Democratic primary field largely agree that something has to change.

There are basically two approaches: Single Payer and Public Option.

Single Payer – often referred to as “Medicare for All” – proposes that all Americans are covered by a government run health insurance program.  All Americans have standard health care costs covered under the same plan.

Public Option – sometimes referred to as “Medicare for All Who Want It” – proposes that all Americans have an option to buy into a government run health insurance plan, essentially expanding a Medicare option for all Americans regardless of age.

Where do the candidates stand on the issue?

(Yes, I left some candidates off this image.  There are just still too many.)

There will be a follow-up post going into more detail on “single payer” versus “public option”. (There might be an additional follow-up on candidate nuances in their approaches.)

Did I get anything here incorrect? Would you have stated something differently? Feel free to weigh in with thoughts, questions, or respectful disagreement!

Our democracy is in real danger. This is not a drill.

I know that I cannot change the mind of folks who are solid supporters of President Trump, but I want to talk to the Republicans who are feeling lost right now.  Maybe you voted for Trump because you wanted someone to shake up the completely ineffective status quo in our government.  Maybe you are a lifelong Republican who just can’t vote for a Democrat.  Maybe you really hate the idea of politics and you just try to avoid it altogether.

I need YOU, specifically, to pay attention to this whistleblower story. This is not fake news.  This is not a leftist attack on the President. 

It is really hard to know where to step into this story as someone who wants to focus on facts and balance.  The allegations that are likely to arise from the story (based on solid reporting that has been sourced from multiple places) are so egregious that an NBC reporter, Ken Dilanian, said that we “need to find different words for unprecedented”, and it’s hard to argue with that.  But right now, we can’t say with absolute certainty what the whistleblower has alleged.  Here’s what we DO know:

  1. A US intelligence official reported an incident to the Inspector General for the intelligence community in early August.

  2. The Inspector General found the report to be urgent and credible, which is a legal classification with specific and high standards.

  3. An “urgent and credible” whistleblower report in the intelligence community must – AS DEFINED BY US LAW – be relayed to Congress, specifically the House Intelligence Committee.

  4. The Inspector General, before following that law, checked with the Justice Department – and was told NOT to relay the report to the Congressional oversight committees.  This is, it cannot be stated clearly enough, AGAINST THE LAW.

The existence of a whistleblower process, with an inspector general who has a specific set of guidelines on what must be provided for Congressional oversight, exists specifically to handle situations in which the very highest levels of our Executive branch commit egregious offences that violate national or international law.  The Executive branch does not have the authority to exert privilege over the report.  If they did, that would make this an authoritarian government run by a dictator. 

I cannot state this strongly enough – there have been MANY violations by this administration that jeopardize our democracy, but this may be the very worst.  The part of this story that we don’t know with certainty yet – what was the complaint about – is likely to obscure the plain facts that we DO know.  The Executive Branch broke the law – and has plainly admitted to doing so by asserting privilege that does not exist – simply by telling the Inspector General to withhold the complaint from Congress. 

Please.  PLEASE.  Keep paying attention to these violations.  I’m not being dramatic when I say that our democracy is in real danger. 

His words matter.

A conversation that I had two weeks ago has been weighing heavily on me, and over the past two days that weight has gotten heavier.  I was having a discussion with someone I love in an environment that was not conducive to a heavy political debate—and when he said, “I think we all spend too much time worrying about what (the President) says”, I simply acquiesced and let the conversation end.

Almost immediately, it felt wrong to let that go.  Even two weeks ago in that safe, friendly moment, I felt like I was part of the problem when I did not point out the danger in the racist, nationalist, and violent language—specifically the language—coming from the man elected to serve as our nation’s leader.  Even in this small, family setting.  Even when it would fall on deaf ears.  Even when no one wanted to hear it. 

Because words matter.  My words matter.  Your words matter.  The wider your audience and the more amplified your voice, the more your words matter.  The President of the United States’ words matter on a global scale.

Our President—and extreme right-wing media machine of Fox News, where he gets his talking points—have consistently used language to dehumanize black and brown people.   They have consistently used language to stoke the fears of a population of white Americans who are already financially and socially unstable because of income inequality, focusing their pain and fear into rage at the Mexican and Central/South American immigrants in the United States. 

Our President has joked and laughed when an audience member at his rally shouted “Shoot them” when he rhetorically asked what could be done to “stop these people”, referring to refugees seeking asylum at the border.

Two weeks ago, I started thinking about how to take a missed opportunity to speak up and turn it into a message.  Two weeks ago, I was thinking about the damage that was being done to our international reputation—damage that we will likely never fully recover from.  Two weeks ago, I was thinking about the pain and fear that was a breeding ground for this hate speech, and the pain and fear that was being caused as a result of this hate speech–and the endless cycle we’re in. 

And then on Saturday, a terrorist—radicalized by white nationalism and using exact words and phrases that he heard from our President and the Fox News network—took a legally owned high-capacity rifle, drove 600+ miles, posted a manifesto online moments before he shot and killed 22 people. 

I’m not responsible for what happened in El Paso, but I am complicit every time I fail to push back on the idea that the words of our nation’s leader don’t matter.   

Tom Steyer: Bringing nothing new to a crowded table.

I’m not going to spend a lot time on this one.  I’ve followed Tom Steyer’s work over the years – he’s been an important Democratic fundraiser and he led an effort to push for the current President’s impeachment.  He’s also a billionaire who has pledged to give away half of his money prior to his death to good causes around the world.  I suspect he’s a decent fellow.

steyerHe brings nothing new to this Democratic field of candidates, as far as I can tell.  Steyer’s announcement video rehashes the same things the other candidates have already been talking about for months.

If you wait this long to get into the race, you are doing so because you either have an ego to feed, or you feel that you have something critical to the country’s future that other candidates are lacking.  I can’t see any evidence of the latter.

No *ONE* is responsible for democracy’s future

Controversial headline.  Hear me out.

We are all collectively responsible for the future of democracy.  Your vote matters.  Your activism matters.  Your voice matters.  Your questions matter.  Democracy requires all of us to participate in order to be successful.

It is for that reason that hinging the future of democracy on a single person feels problematic.  This is basically my plea for everyone to leave Stacey Abrams alone.

abramsI frickin’ love Stacey Abrams

If Abrams decides to enter the Democratic primary, I’m going to have to think long and hard about my top pick.  Like a lot of people, a Buttigieg/Abrams or Abrams/Buttigieg ticket would be my dream team.

I also understand the importance of the Senate races and getting great people to run for Senator in key places, like Georgia.  Abrams would be an exceptional Senator.

Abrams is also an amazing activist for voting rights, and her work to create Fair Fight Action to secure fair voting rights in Georgia is important work that will inevitably spread across the country.

Activist, Senator, Cabinet Secretary, President, Interpretive Dancer – Let Stacey decide.

The role in which Stacey Abrams can make the most impact is whatever role Stacey Abrams decides she is most passionate about taking on.  The intense pressure to get her to run for Senator is unfair – both to her and to other great candidates that Democrats could be identifying and supporting in the Senate race.  Abrams has already addressed a possible Senate run, noting that her particular skill set as an executive leader is not ideally suited for a Senate role.

Stacey Abrams is not personally responsible for the future of our democracy; if she decides to leave politics and become an interpretive dancer, she will almost certainly change the direction of interpretive dance for the future.  It’s her call.

I did not understand the filibuster.

Democratic reform has become a hot topic in the Presidential primary conversation.  There are a number of issues and specific policies that fall into this category, none of which has been more embarrassingly confusing to me than eliminating the filibuster.

stackhousefilibusterThere’s an episode of The West Wing (S2/Ep 17 – The Stackhouse Filibuster) in which a Senator attempts to hold off a vote by refusing the yield the floor of the Senate.  It’s a great episode, but educationally misleading.  For the past 20 years, I understood the idea of a filibuster as refusing to yield and speaking for hours on end.  I knew it wasn’t totally accurate, but I couldn’t seem to get a clear picture of reality.  Quick google searches made me even more confused.

So I did my research, and I hope I have most of this correct.

Filibuster = Refusing to End the Debate

senatefloorWhen a bill is brought to the Senate floor for debate (and there’s a whole process before that happens that happens “in committee”), there must be unanimous consent to end the debate and take the bill to a vote.  Any one Senator can refuse to consent to end the debate, which places a hold on the bill.  This refusal to end the debate is what is known as a filibuster.

It is possible to end a filibuster with cloture. Cloture basically just means ending the debate.  In order to get cloture, you must have three fifths (or 60) of the Senators vote to end the filibuster.

So a simple majority vote in the Senate can achieve almost nothing.  If you are the majority party and you don’t have the votes to win, just get any Senator to place a hold on the debate.  If the opposition doesn’t have at least 60 votes – a supermajority – to break the filibuster, that bill is essentially dead in the water. (Votes for approving federal appointments, other than the Supreme Court, are the exception.)

Is this new?  Was the Senate always this useless?

The filibuster and cloture rules aren’t new.  In fact, until 1975, a two thirds majority vote was needed to end a filibuster.  (It wasn’t until 1917 that there were even any mechanisms at all for ending a protracted debate.)

What IS new is a.) the consistent use of the filibuster as a political tactic, and b.) the way in which the political parties coerce their members to toe the party line.  I blame Newt Gingrich, but I’m sure a decent political historian could make an argument for any number of causes.  We have reached a point in our political system when the members of the party fall behind the party leadership in lock step, rather than using party and personal values to make an educated decision.  While this is a problem on both sides of the aisle, the Republicans do seem to have perfected it.  (That makes the announcement by Representative Justin Amash–where he said he believes that the sitting President did commit impeachable offenses–all the more remarkable.)

Should the filibuster end?

The arguments for ending the filibuster seem obvious – we need a Senate who can actually put bills up for a vote.

But is it really that simple?

Let’s be honest, the problem isn’t the filibuster – it’s existed for a couple hundred years.  The problem is that a.) corporate and lobbyist money in our political elections make our lawmakers beholden to special interests above their actual constituents, and b.) political machines on the right and the left don’t allow a lot of space for lawmakers to make their own independent decisions.

I am not proposing an answer on this one.  The only thing that I am sure about is that I am not yet fully informed on all of the nuances and implications of the filibuster.  But if you, like me, didn’t even understand what it was, I hope this helped a little.

Let Shaun King take on Biden.

Most of the Democratic candidates for the 2020 Presidential campaign have signed onto the We are Indivisible Pledge, created and promoted by Indivisible, a progressive organization aiming to join together grass roots movements and activists around the country.  By signing the pledge, candidates (and supporters) agree to engage in a primary that stays positive and constructive, focusing on “our hopes for the future, and a robust debate of values, vision and the contest of ideas.”  The pledge also asserts that the signer will back winner of the primary and do what is necessary to beat the sitting President in the 2020 election.

I like the idea of this pledge.  Candidates and supporters are essentially saying from the start that this election needs to be about getting the best candidate out of the primary and going all in behind her or him.  Presumably, the pledge looks to avoid the disaster of 2016 when some Bernie supporters were so anti-Hilary as to make the road harder for her in the general election.

What it can’t be

Democrats – candidates and supporters – must still call out bad decisions, poor policy choices, and hypocrisy when they see it in other Democratic candidates.  Not all candidates are created equal.  Some of these candidates have made some bad decisions, and it’s okay to call them out on their bad decisions.  Are some ways of doing that are better than others?  Sure.  But it still needs to be done.

Shaun King and Biden

shaunkingIf you aren’t familiar with Shaun King, here’s some quick background.  Shaun has been a journalist and social justice activist for most of his life.  He gained my attention – and I think wider national attention – during the Ferguson protests, when he live tweeted and promoted the Black Lives Matter movement.  He is the co-founder of the Real Justice PAC (a political action committee focused on getting prosecutors elected in key areas who will reform the criminal justice system), and co-founder / CEO of The North Star (a media company  free of any corporate ownership or money that aims at speaking truth to power).  If someone were choosing an adjective to describe King’s brand of activism, uncompromising is far more likely choice than cooperative.

As an avowed Bernie guy, King has some really good justification for his support of Sanders.  I have a different perspective, but I certainly respect King’s.  Recently, it is his opposition to Biden, however, that has gained a lot of attention.  And on this point, I fully share King’s perspective.

King’s primary critique of Biden is based on his legacy (not just one single vote) of supporting policies that have led to mass incarceration and a criminal justice system that continues to become less and less about justice.  As recently as 2016, Biden has directly responded that he has no regrets about his support of those policies.  Of course, being Biden, he switched his position in January 2019 in advance of announcing his Presidential run to say that he did regret it.  (Biden also fought against school integration legislation in the 1970’s because his white constituents felt threatened.  I don’t know if Joe has regrets about that decision.  Someone should ask him.)

thebreakdownJust today, King posted an episode of his podcast The Breakdown, for which his headline is Joe Biden is the father of modern mass incarceration.  King has a great written intro to the podcast and a link available in a public FB post that you can access here.  I actually haven’t had a chance to listen to the podcast yet – I started writing this post before I became aware of this most recent piece by Shaun King.

Indivisible doesn’t mean Unaccountable

In reaction to FB and Twitter posts by King regarding Biden, a number of people have pointed to the Indivisible pledge and suggested that King is going to help the sitting President get re-elected by highlighting concerns with Biden’s candidacy.  And that is, to put it bluntly, bullshit.

Biden’s flaws as a candidate aren’t trivial.  The only truly positive thing that I’ve heard from anyone who supports Biden at this point is that they believe he can get elected in a general election.  You might also point to his experience as a benefit to his candidacy.  But he’s “electable” because he’s familiar, and his long career is one of supporting a number of really bad policies and making bad decisions.

Let Shaun King be Shaun King

If your argument against calling Biden out is that you don’t want the primary to devolve into negative campaigning, then allowing someone like Shaun King to do the heavy lifting on calling Biden to the carpet for his record is exactly the right way to go.

Keep doing what you do, Shaun.

Photo credit: Shaun King’s FB profile photos.

Buttigieg: The Chasten Factor

There are still a lot of people who don’t know who Pete Buttigieg is.  None of those people follow me on Facebook or Twitter, obviously, but they exist.  (If you don’t follow me, you might have missed part 1, part 2, or part 2A of this series.)

For those who do know who Mayor Pete is, they likely also know at least something about his husband, Chasten Glezman Buttigieg.  Chasten is a 29 year old teacher originally from Michigan.  (The Washington Post did a great profile on him, if you want a bit more about his background.)

And as a political spouse, Chasten Buttigieg is pretty much the perfect “running mate” for Mayor Pete.

Chasten speaks his own truth.

Chasten left his teaching job in January (at least temporarily) to join his husband’s campaign.  It is not uncommon for a spouse to tag along on the campaign trail, but Chasten is no tag-along.  In addition to joining his husband at events, Chasten often makes appearances and speeches on his own.  His role on the campaign is not as a surrogate for Pete, but rather as a messenger in his own right.  Chasten speaks his own truth, draws from his own experiences, and focuses on his own priorities.

In a CBS Sunday Morning interview, Pete talked about Chasten’s visibility in the campaign:

Chasten is one of the more visible spouses as these things go and that’s not a function of our gay marriage, but that’s a function of who he is and how he brings so much to this process.

chasten_hrcGiven his background in theater and education, Chasten is often found visiting organizations that emphasize education, the arts, LGBTQ issues, or issues impacting young people.  He understands many of the challenges that exist within those spaces, and he’s able to translate where the vision of the Buttigieg campaign intersects with the needs of those communities.

And I’m sure Chasten, himself, would want folks to remember that he spoke at an HRC event several weeks before his husband did so.

Counterbalance

In many ways, Chasten serves as a counterbalance for his husband.  And while I suspect this may be true in their marriage, I can only speak to the public perceptions of who Chasten and Pete are as people.  But, so the saying goes, politics is perception.

Where Pete’s personality can be perceived as more reserved, calm, intellectual and serious, Chasten balances that with wit, humor, and a willingness to be a little silly sometimes.  Not only does Chasten’s humor bring welcome levity to what can be a really dry process, but he’s also able to share personal moments and stories that humanize his husband.  As a politician (as Mayor or Presidential candidate), Pete can certainly choose to be funny, but he can’t be perceived as being less than serious about the job or the process.   Chasten, on the other hand, can tease him about the consistency of his message by encouraging Twitter followers to create Town Hall Bingo cards,  announce to the world that Pete is a Hufflepuff, or acknowledge that some standards in campaign fundraising are just dumb.

Different Worlds

chastenpete4

In addition to a counterbalance in personality, the backgrounds and experiences of Pete and Chasten are quite different.  While Pete is an only child of university professors and a first generation immigrant, who went to Harvard and Oxford largely on scholarships, Chasten was one of three sons of small business owners and he worked a number of different jobs to put himself through school.  While Pete came out in his 30s to parents who were immediately supportive, Chasten came out as a teenager and left home temporarily because he felt unsupported and unwelcome.  (His relationship with his parents is reportedly great now, and I do not pretend to represent or even know the full story.)   The two backgrounds provide really rich soil when talking about how policies impact every day lives – and it would be more difficult to use Chasten’s story if he were less visible.

Vulnerability

Where Pete has shown the most vulnerability is when speaking about his struggle with being gay as a teenager and a young adult.  In a speech to the LGBTQ Victory Fund, Pete admitted that he would have done anything to not be gay as a teenager.  It was a powerful admission – honest and likely to resonate with many gay and lesbian listeners.

However, that same story might be perceived differently by the listeners who, due to any number of reasons, just did not have the option to be closeted or to “pass” as straight for much of their lives.  It is here that Chasten’s story might resonate: a young man who found safety in the theater program, studied abroad to get away from high school, came out in his late teens, left home for awhile due to a lack of parental support, and was a victim of sexual assault in college.

I am aware that much of what I’ve said above is true because the world is problematic.

aachasten_twitterprofileIt has not escaped my notice that the existence of sexism and homophobia have a lot to do with why Chasten’s role in the campaign works so well.  If Pete were a woman, there would be a concern that a husband playing such an active role would make the candidate appear weaker in comparison.  If Chasten were a woman, quitting a job to join your husband’s campaign would be perceived as giving up on your own dreams for a man.  And if Pete, as a gay man running for our nation’s highest office, were to be the one who talked openly about being the victim of sexual assault, it would make far too many people uncomfortable and uncertain how to process the information.

The world is problematic, but what Chasten brings to the Pete for America campaign can do so much to change that world for the better, even as it benefits from those privileges.  And I know that I’m not alone in hoping that Chasten continues to be an active voice in this campaign.


I’m updating this post with a video from an event last night (May 17th) that was happening at the same time that I was writing this.  Chasten spoke to educators in Philadelphia, and… it’s just really worth your time to watch.

90% Less Beef

Before I can go forward with this blog post, I have to make a couple of confessions and apologies.

I have been known to make fun of vegetarians in my life.  I’m sorry. For real, regardless of your reasons for being a vegetarian or a vegan, I’m sorry for being an asshole.

I have also been a terrible friend to the environment for the vast majority of my life.  It has never been because I didn’t believe that humans are killing our planet. It is just that in any given moment, I make terrible choices and choose convenience over the life of our planet.  I’m sorry for being an asshole.

I am trying really hard to change, and I’m starting with beef.

90% less beef

The beef industry is really terrible for the planet.  This is a fact that I have been aware of for quite some time, but I haven’t paid much attention to it.  I remember a “calculate your carbon footprint” quiz that I did at least 15 years ago, and I was surprised by how much my consumption of red meat contributed to the carbon footprint I was leaving on the planet.

So I knew, but I didn’t know, you know?

A report was released last October in international science journal Nature which looked at the impact of food consumption on climate change.  There were a number of conclusions, but the most striking was that the world needs to cut its beef consumption by 50% in order to hit targets that keep our current trajectory of climate change from being irreversible.  Western countries – specifically the United States and the United Kingdom – need to cut their beef consumption by 90% in order for the world to have any hope of meeting that target.

90% less beef.  Does that number sound ridiculous?  Does it sound impossible?

I can definitely cut 90% of the beef from my diet.

Why this is the thing that I’m choosing to go all in on when it comes to the environment, I don’t really know.  I love beef.  A well cooked medium rare steak is literally my favorite food on this planet.  And it is simply not Thanksgiving without steak.  But when it comes right down to it, most of the beef that I eat is really pretty pointless and easily replaceable.

I have a ton of privilege when it comes to the food that I eat and my ability to easily shift my diet to other (often higher priced) alternatives.  If more people like me – people who can afford the occasional Impossible Burger (which are delicious at Burgatory and only okay at Houlihan’s), who have the flexibility to introduce more plant-based protein into their diet, and who have the time and energy to make the change – we can help to drive down the price of beef alternatives and create a wider market for plant-based food.

I am, at best, in the middle of the bell curve on adoption

I am not a trail blazer.  On this particular topic, I am representative of those who are pretty much smack in the middle of the bell curve.  Lots of you have been vegetarians for climate-based reasons for years, and for other reasons even longer.  I am not trying to be in any way self-congratulatory on this topic.  As I mentioned earlier, I have been an asshole for much of my life.  But as the need to shift from beef to alternatives becomes more urgent, I realize that I need to get on board.

What I am trying to say – and to quote Bill Nye the Science Guy – is:

“…the planet is on fucking fire.  There are a lot of things we could do to put it out. Are any of them free? No, of course not. Nothing’s free, you idiots. Grow the fuck up. You’re not children any more.”

90% less beef is not free, but it’s 100% do-able – and it’s only one of a million things I’m going to need to personally change about the way I live my life.