Tommy Thompson: The Mission Ahead

Thompson: I’m Tommy Thompson, former Secretary of Health in the Bush administration and I’m also a former Governor of the Great State of Wisconsin\r\n\r\nQuestion: How is the financial crisis affecting health care and what can we do to save the system?\r\n\r\nThompson: If you look back over the last several years, there are a lot of indicators that if people would have paid attention and really acted upon them, we probably would not be in the situation we are today. The fact that, you know, the excess credit, people buying houses without proper foundations and proper credit, as well as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, you know, there were a lot of signs there that they were not doing well. And all of this pointed out that something should be done. The same thing is happening now in the healthcare field. When you look at the cost of healthcare $2.4 trillion of which 16% of that is from the Gross National Product, more than what any other country is spending for healthcare. You can see that Wisconsin or Untied States is in a non-competitive type of situation, and we have to do something about it. The second thing is Medicare, the system that takes care of sort of the ability to close all the holes and be the place to save individuals that ever got serious problems and elderly and disabled, the safety net, Medicare is, that’s going broke by the year 2012. I mean, it’s going broke, whether we like it or not. And then you’ll look at chronic illnesses and that takes up 75% of the cost of healthcare system, and if you want to fix it, you have to go where the money is. As Willie Sutton was asked why do you rob banks, his answer was that’s where the money is. So, if you want to fix the healthcare system, we got to know where the money is and that’s where where it is, it’s in chronic illnesses and chronic things. And in order to fix it, there are things that you have to do such as we have to go to a wellness type of system. We’re in a disease system right now. We wait ‘till people get sick. And then we spend thousands of dollars to get you well. It doesn’t make much sense to me. Why don’t we, why don’t we be smart in America and take care of people upfront, before they get sick, keep them well, you know. Once you pay for insurance and we keep you well, you know, instead of paying for insurance, they get sick before you can collect. It just doesn’t make much sense to me. And the second thing is we got to make sure that people that do have chronic illnesses of which 133 million Americans do have one or more chronic illnesses, we have to be able to have a program so that they’re able to see their doctor on a regular basis. Most individuals, Glaxo-Smith Kline just had a survey of 75,000 people and they found out that 70% of people with diabetes thought they were in good shape physically and thought they were controlling their diabetes, and when they looked at it, they found that their blood sugar count was very high and that they were actually deteriorating. People with asthma, 1/3 of individuals with asthma were not taking care of themselves and the same survey by Glaxo-Smith Kline pointed that out. And so, why don’t we do something about that? Why don’t we manage those individuals with chronic illnesses and try to get them well, because if you improve their quality of health, you improve their quality of life, very simple. And the third thing is we’ve got to make sure that the market place is available and accessible for new tools, new medicines, new therapies, new opportunities, you know, to cure chronic illnesses and that’s education, it’s research, and its development. All of these things are important for the new healthcare system.\r\n\r\nQuestion: Do you support universal health care?\r\n\r\nThompson: I do support universal healthcare, but I do not support a government controlled system. There a difference and most people get confused about that. A universal healthcare system which I think is doable and I think it should be I think it’s basic for America and that is about making sure that healthcare is affordable and accessible to every American, and you have to go through what I’ve already talked to you about in order to get there. And one pair of system is having a Medicare system like we have running all of healthcare out of Washington DC making the decisions at cost and reimbursement and what the procedures you or your family are going to have, what sort of doctors you should see or not, more like the Canadian system. I don’t want to go to that system. I think it’s very inefficient and I don’t think you would allow for that kind of innovation, the development that I think our healthcare systems needs. One of the most important things is for us to allow pharmaceutical companies and biotech companies to innovate and to be able to come in with new drugs, new therapies, new ways of operating [on you] or making sure that you’re healthier. These are great things that we have to do that. I’m afraid the government controlled system would really not kill, but it would certainly help strangle, slow down the development of new drugs and new therapies.

The former Governor of Wisconsin and former Secretary of Health and Human Services outlines his action plan for America's future.

America’s education system is centuries old. Can we build something better?

The Lumina Foundation lays out steps for increasing access to quality post-secondary education credentials.

Sponsored by Lumina Foundation
  • America's post-high school education landscape was not created with the modern student in mind. Today, clear and flexible pathways are necessary to help individuals access education that can help them lead a better life.
  • Elizabeth Garlow explains the Lumina Foundation's strategy to create a post-secondary education system that works for all students. This includes credential recognition, affordability, a more competency-based system, and quality assurance.
  • Systemic historic factors have contributed to inequality in the education system. Lumina aims to close those gaps in educational attainment.
  • In 2019, Lumina Foundation and Big Think teamed up to create the Lumina Prize, a search to find the most innovative and scalable ideas in post-secondary education. You can see the winners of the Lumina Prize here – congratulations to PeerForward and Greater Commons!

First solar roadway in France turned out to be a 'total disaster'

French newspapers report that the trial hasn't lived up to expectations.

Image source: Charly Triballeau / AFP / Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • The French government initially invested in a rural solar roadway in 2016.
  • French newspapers report that the trial hasn't lived up to expectations.
  • Solar panel "paved" roadways are proving to be inefficient and too expensive.
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What was it like to live in a Japanese concentration camp?

During World War II, the U.S. incarcerated over 100,000 Japanese Americans in concentration camps throughout the West.

Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Now that the issue of concentration camps in the U.S. has once again reared its head, it can be beneficial to recall the last time such camps were employed in the U.S.
  • After Pearl Harbor, the U.S. incarcerated over 100,000 Japanese Americans in camps, ostensibly for national security purposes.
  • In truth, the incarceration was primarily motivated by racism. What was life like in the U.S.'s concentration camps?

On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized and directed military commanders "to prescribe military areas … from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion." Under the authority of this executive order, roughly 112,000 men, women, and children of Japanese descent — nearly two-thirds of which were American citizens — were detained in concentration camps.

How did the camps get their start?

With the benefit of a nearly 80-year perspective, it's clear that the internment of Japanese Americans was racially motivated. In response to Japan's growing military power in the buildup to World War II, President Roosevelt commissioned two reports to determine whether it would be necessary to intern Japanese Americans should conflict break out between Japan and the U.S. Neither's conclusions supported the plan, with one even going so far as to "certify a remarkable, even extraordinary degree of loyalty among this generally suspect ethnic group." But of course, the Pearl Harbor attacks proved to be far more persuasive than these reports.

Pearl Harbor turned simmering resentment against the Japanese to a full boil, putting pressure on the Roosevelt administration to intern Japanese Americans. Lieutenant General John DeWitt, who would become the administrator of the internment program, testified to Congress

"I don't want any of them here. They are a dangerous element. There is no way to determine their loyalty... It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen, he is still a Japanese. American citizenship does not necessarily determine loyalty... But we must worry about the Japanese all the time until he is wiped off the map."

DeWitt's position was backed up by a number of pre-existing anti-immigrant groups based out of the West Coast, such as the Joint Immigration Committee and the Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West. For many, the war simply served as an excuse to get rid of Japanese Americans. In an interview with the Saturday Evening Post, Austin Anson, the managing secretary of the Salinas Vegetable Grower-Shipper Administration, said:

"We're charged with wanting to get rid of the Japs for selfish reasons. We do. It's a question of whether the White man lives on the Pacific Coast or the brown men. ... If all the Japs were removed tomorrow, we'd never miss them in two weeks because the White farmers can take over and produce everything the Jap grows. And we do not want them back when the war ends, either."

Ironically for Anson, the mass deportation of Japanese Americans under Executive Order 9066 meant there was a significant shortage of agricultural labor. Many Caucasians left to fight the war, so the U.S. signed an agreement with Mexico to permit the immigration of several million Mexicans agricultural workers under the so-called bracero program.

Life in the camps

Japanese American concentration camp

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Circa 1943: Aerial view of a Japanese American relocation center in Amache, Colorado, during World War II. Each family was provided with a space 20 by 25 ft. The barracks were set in blocks and each block was provided with a community bath house and mess hall.

For the most part, Japanese Americans remained stoic in the face of their incarceration. The phrase shikata ga nai was frequently invoked — the phrase roughly translates to "it cannot be helped," which, for many, represents the perceived attitude of the Japanese people to withstand suffering that's out of their control.

Initially, most Japanese Americans were sent to temporary assembly centers, typically located at fairgrounds or racetracks. These were hastily constructed barracks, where prisoners were often packed into tight quarters and made to use toilets that were little more than pits in the ground. From here, they were relocated to more permanent camps — replete with barbed wire and armed guards — in remote, isolated places across the seven states of California, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, and Arkansas.

Many of these camps, also known as War Relocation Centers, were little better than the temporary assembly centers. One report described the buildings as "tar paper-covered barracks of simple frame construction without plumbing or cooking facilities of any kind." Again, overcrowding was common.

As a result, disease became a major concern, including dysentery, malaria, and tuberculosis. This was problematic due to the chronic shortage of medical professionals and supplies, an issue that was not helped by the War Relocation Authority's decision to cap Japanese American medical professional's pay at $20 a month (about $315 in 2019 dollars), while Caucasian workers had no such restriction. As a comparison, Caucasian nurses earned $150 ($2,361) a month in one camp.

The U.S. government also administered loyalty questionnaires to incarcerated Japanese Americans with the ultimate goal of seeing whether they could be used as soldiers and to segregate "loyal" citizens from "disloyal" ones. The questionnaires often asked whether they would be willing to join the military and if they would completely renounce their loyalty to Japan. Due to fears of being drafted, general confusion, and justified anger at the U.S. government, thousands of Japanese Americans "failed" the loyalty questionnaire and were sent to the concentration camp at Tule Lake. When Roosevelt later signed a bill that would permit Japanese Americans to renounce their citizenship, 98 percent of the 5,589 who did were located at Tule Lake. Some apologists cite this an example of genuine disloyalty towards the U.S., but this argument clearly ignores the gross violation of Japanese Americans' rights. Later, it became clear that many of these renunciations had been made under duress, and nearly all of those who had renounced their citizenship sought to gain it back.

Since many children lived in the camps, they came equipped with schools. Of course, these schools weren't ideal — student-teacher ratios reached as high as 48:1, and supplies were limited. The irony of learning about American history and ideals was not lost on the students, one of whom wrote in an essay --

"They, the first generation [of Japanese immigrants], without the least knowledge of the English language nor the new surroundings, came to this land with the American pioneering spirit of resettling. ...Though undergoing many hardships, they did reach their goal only to be resettled by the order of evacuation under the emergency for our protection and public security."

Potentially the best part of life in the camps — and the best way for determined prisoners to demonstrate their fundamental American-ness — was playing baseball. One camp even featured nearly 100 baseball teams. Former prisoner Herb Kurima recalled the importance of baseball in their lives in an interview with Christian Science Monitor. "I wanted our fathers, who worked so hard, to have a chance to see a ball game," he said. "Over half the camp used to come out to watch. It was the only enjoyment in the camps."

The aftermath

When the camps finally closed in 1945, the lives of the incarcerated Japanese Americans had been totally upended. Some were repatriated to Japan, while others settled in whichever part of the country they had been arbitrarily placed in. Those who wished to return to the West Coast were given $25 and a train ticket, but few had anything to return to. Many had sold their property to predatory buyers prior to being incarcerated, while theft had wiped out whatever else they had left behind. Many, many years later, the 1988 Civil Liberties Act mandated that each surviving victim be paid $20,000, though that seems like a small fine to pay for irrevocably changing the courses of more than 100,000 lives.