Monday, August 31, 2009

Oh Dear! Again?

This time, the Curmudgeon (Groothuis) shows that it is possible for a professor of philosophy not to understand that a faulty premise in a syllogism leads, quite inevitably, to a faulty conclusion. Poor students. Here it is:

1. Scientists are mimicking naturally-occurring mechanisms in nature (such as DNA) in order to develop better design plans for various manmade technologies.

2. If (1) is true, this assumes that these naturally occurring mechanisms are themselves designed, since they evince design plans superior to human design plans.

3. Therefore, these naturally-occurring mechanisms (such as DNA) are designed, otherwise they would not be candidates for imitation by technologies.

A high school student should be able to spot the trouble with this syllogism: premise number 2 is arbitrary, and leads to faulty conclusion (3).

Here's my own example of a faulty syllogism:

1. God designed everything.
2. Microchips are designed.
3. God designed microchips.

Easy, isn't it?

Conservative Double-standards and Lies

Victor Davis Hanson, of the Hoover Institution, has recently written a predictable attack op-ed for the National Review Online. Hanson uses typical conservatives catchphrases, like statism, redistribution of wealth, etc., aimed at dragging the average uninformed American into the conservative, anti-Obama, anti-reform camp. But it is his anti-health care reform talking points that are particularly galling because of their intellectual dishonesty and deceitful content. I have highlighted some in the following quote:
Why would intelligent politicians try to ram through, in mere weeks, a thousand pages of health-care gibberish — its details outsourced to far-left elements in the Congress (and their staffers) — that few in the cabinet had ever read or even knew much about?

Victor Davis Hanson's right-eous indignation might have been appropriate when former Goldman Sachs CEO and Bush Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson tried to "ram through a $700B giveaway package of taxpayer dollars that would benefit mostly Goldman and Morgan Stanley." As this excerpt from a post aptly titled Shameless Cronyism reminds us, "[Paulson] does this just as Congress is wrapping up its session and is ready to go home, and urges that it be passed quickly with no amendments or extended debate, or else the world's financial system will unravel."

But a quick web search for the terms "Victor Davis Hanson" and "Paulson" returns, you guessed it, nothing relevant. In fact, the only article written by Hanson that references Paulson manages to besmirch "The utterly corrupt Left-wing members of the House" for the state of the American economy in September 2008, while depicting Paulson as a decisive leader trying to keep everyone in line at Treasury, the way he did when he rules at Goldman Sachs.

Hmmmm, I would call Hanson's position in these two circumstances a double-standard, wouldn't you?

Hanson continues:
Once again, I don’t think health care per se was ever really the issue. When pressed, no one in the administration seemed to know whether illegal aliens were covered. Few cared why young people do not divert some of their entertainment expenditures to a modest investment in private catastrophic coverage.

Here Hanson is guilty of... well, I am not quite sure what he is guilty of, but certainly he is guilty of something. The notion Hanson seemingly supports, that young, healthy people should be able to buy a flat screen TV set instead of investing modestly in a health insurance plan, is precisely the pretext that insurance companies use to justify higher premiums and to exclude pre-existing conditions for the rest of us. If people only buy insurance when they can reasonably expect they will need it, then--insurance companies say--they should be allowed to use policy exclusions and to charge higher premiums because they could not spread the risk across the entire population.

Such a predicament, of course, can only be solved with a universal insurance mandate and with a cap on what insurance companies can charge their clients, which is exactly what the reform being considered intends to do. It is not that smart people like Hanson don't get it; they are simply not interested in universal coverage, they just want to protect corporate profits.

It does not get any better for Hanson (or for us):
Warnings that Canadians already have their health care rationed, wait in long lines, and are denied timely and critical procedures also did not seem to matter. And no attention was paid to statistics suggesting that, if we exclude homicides and auto accidents, Americans live as long on average as anyone in the industrial world, and have better chances of surviving longer with heart disease and cancer. That the average American did not wish to radically alter his existing plan, and that he understood that the uninsured really did have access to health care, albeit in a wasteful manner at the emergency room, was likewise of no concern.

In response to the first highlighted sentence, about health care rationing, I will quote an email that I received just last night:
We seem to hear a lot about people waiting long periods of time in Canada for medical appointments. My Canadian neighbors (one a DR and the other a PA) lost two elderly parents to cancer. They said, their parents received excellent responsive care that was every bit as good a that available in the US. They did say it was necessary sometimes to pay for initial appointments to be seen [...]

I agree that we are hearing a lot of scare tactics, not from facts, but mostly from self interest. I had double knee replacement with complete coverage by Medicare and Tri-Care, so why would I want change???!!!

So much for the long lines that Hanson talks about. But don't believe my email correspondent. Watch Michael Moore's Sicko, which--as even Fox News had to reluctantly admit--gave a fair assessment of the problems with U.S. health care. Or watch any one of the videos posted on the Bill Moyers Journal website, which deal with the rationing accusation that Hanson and his conservative think-tank buddies like to make even as they know it to be exaggerated, if not altogether false.

As for Hanson's contention that the average American wants to tinker, not overhaul health care, it really depends on whom you ask: People who enjoy good company-paid health insurance are probably going to agree with Hanson, but that is only because they do not realize how easily they can be dropped once they develop an "expensive illness" (I cringed just writing that phrase), or how easily they can see their premiums rise beyond their ability to pay for them if anything catastrophic happens to them or their family. Instead, ask those who cannot afford health insurance or with insufficient coverage, and they are likely to disagree with Hanson's point, as are the thousands of Americans that go without needed and easy medical or dental care because either they have no insurance or they cannot afford to pay their deductible. Just watch Remote Area Medical teams provide health care services--services that all other civilized nations provide to their citizens--to thousands of Americans, even ones with insurance coverage, who had gone months or even years without needed care because they couldn't afford it.

And finally, yes, people who need emergency care can and should go to emergency rooms to get it, but the fact is that many Americans go to an ER near them for non-emergency conditions, things that a family doctor is perfectly capable of handling. Not only does this create really long lines in ERs (not the exaggerated Canadian lines that Hanson fantasizes about), emergency rooms do not work for free, so they charge the patients that they treat for money they do not have in the first place (and pursue the money through collection agencies and lawsuits.)

We cannot let people like Hanson take control of the reform debate, because they intentionally use deceptive logic to hide the fact that they do not represent the interest of average folks, but the interest of the very corporations their think-tanks depend on for funding.

The Moral of the Story

"I don't want to live in a country where I am on a hospital floor getting an operation that costs $25,000, and two floors above me someone is being denied that same surgery because he or she has no money. What kind of a civilization is that?"
Bill Moyers - Real Time with Bill Maher, Aug 28, 2009

The Death of Private Insurance Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

I am no fan of health insurance companies, as people who follow this blog know, with one important caveat: It is not the concept of insuring citizens' health that's the problem, it's insurance the American way.

Plenty of other countries have health care systems that rely, to a different extent, on private insurance for health care coverage: Germany, Japan, Switzerland, France, the Netherlands and, yes, Canada, are just a few examples. The difference between health insurance in those countries and in the United States is government regulation.

In the above-mentioned countries, government has set strict regulations on what providers can charge, who is covered, the maximum financial exposure each individual can have in a given year, and what services are covered by basic insurance. Basic, by the way, does not mean "poor", it simply means the services everybody should have access to without the need for additional, optional insurance. The distinction, then, is between basic and elective. In other words, organ transplants are basic health care, because a person's life depends on them; cosmetic surgery is not.

Additionally, none of the countries that rely on private health insurance allow denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions, nor do they allow caps on lifetime coverage, unlike the United States does.

The basic difference between other countries and the United States is that health care outside the United States is seen as a basic human need and, yes, a basic human right. In the U.S. health care coverage is seen either as the individual's responsibility or, in some cases, the employer's job. Consequently, it would not be a stretch to say that other countries are more civilized than the United States, at least as far as health care is concerned.

In the United States all health insurance companies, even those nominally not-for-profit, aim to make a profit, which is used to pay for real estate, equipment, personnel and a host of other expenses and, in the case of for-profit insurance companies, shareholders' profits and executive compensation that would rightly outrage anyone outside our borders. Their main objective is not to cover the insured, but to limit reimbursements and payouts to the maximum extent allowed by law, and since the laws of the states where they operate are designed to protect corporate interests above and beyond the protections offered for patients' health, it is easy to understand why we are in such a mess and why we are literally at the mercy of insurers.

As T.R. Reid put it in an op-ed tied to the recent release of his latest book, The Healing of America, that's why "[i]n terms of finance, we force 700,000 Americans into bankruptcy each year because of medical bills. In France, the number of medical bankruptcies is zero. Britain: zero. Japan: zero. Germany: zero."

There is room for insurance in this country's health care future: Health insurance companies can either accept to play as a public service, as they willingly do in other countries, or they must accept a greatly diminished role as providers of additional services not listed as basic health care necessities. Imposing either role is our right as a people, just as it is a company's prerogative to refuse it. However, if the experience of other countries is anything to go by, companies will play by the rules that "we the people" set for them. They will still make plenty of money, just not the immoral ransom that they impose on captive patients so they can pay their CEOs millions of dollars in salary and hundreds of millions in other compensation.

In the end, any nation that considers the right of a corporation to make as large a profit as possible at the expense of the health of its citizens is in no position to claim moral superiority in the community of nations, or to present itself as an example to the world, and its economic superiority is not only an illusion: it is downright immoral.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Columbo Humor

For my beloved readers, here are two gems that I found on the web while looking up info about Peter Falk, the actor most famous for his role as detective Columbo.

The first is about the glass eye, which Falk had since an early age, after his right eye was removed because of a malignant tumor. From Wikipedia: "I remember once in high school the umpire called me out at third base when I was sure I was safe. I got so mad I took out my glass eye, handed it to him and said, 'Try this.' I got such a laugh you wouldn't believe."

The other one is called The Columbo Made Me Not Do It, from MarkMaynard.com ("For all your Mark Maynard needs", which is a hilarious tag line.) If you have ever watched a Columbo marathon on A&E, then you will know exactly what Mark is talking about.

When Nader's in the Spotlight, It Is Usually for the Wrong Reasons

When Ralph Nader is in the national spotlight, it's usally for all the wrong reasons. Like last November, when he dropped the Uncle Tom bomb on president-elect Barack Obama. (In an interview with Shepard Smith on Fox News, he wondered aloud whether Obama was going to be "Uncle Sam for the people of his country, or Uncle Tom for the giant corporations.") Or in 2000, when he arguably cost Al Gore the 2000 presidential election.

But when he is not busy helping the wrong president get elected, or putting his foot in his mouth as in the Uncle Tom incident, Nader usually makes a lot of sense. For example, in the video below he talks about the dangerous power that coporations have accumulated in American life.

Unfortunately, for him and for us, when he makes sense the mainstream media are not quite as interested in what he has to say, and you have to tune in to Free Speech TV to hear him speak.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Must-Read NYT Editorial and Op-Ed

The first link is to today's NYT's Editorial and is a must read on the technicalities involved in passing health care reform now that Sen. Kennedy is gone.

The second one, called Until Medical Bills Do Us Part is by Nicholas D. Kristof and tells a story that is possible only in America and not in the rest of the world. America once was the land where dreams could come true. It is rapidly becoming one where only the worst nightmares, like the one Kristof talks about, are coming true for the middle class.

Money-Driven Medicine

"Dying is not a big deal to me, but people have got to go through a lot to get there." What people have to get through is the preventable pain that comes from having an illness or a series of medical problems that they cannot afford to treat. What people go through is a system which has not been conceived to make people healthy, but to produce income for companies, CEOs and shareholders.

Watch Money-Driven Medicine, part 1 and part 2, which aired last night on Bill Moyers Journal.

Here's how Moyers closed last night's broadcast (from the transcript on the Journal's website:
BILL MOYERS: MONEY-DRIVEN MEDICINE, a film produced by Alex Gibney, Peter Bull and Chris Matonti; directed by Andy Fredericks; and based on Maggie Mahar's book of the same name.

Log on to pbs.org and click on BILL MOYERS JOURNAL - Maggie Mahar will be there to answer your questions online. We'll link you to the Money-Driven Medicine website where there's more info about the book and the film. We'll also link you to some analysis of what advocates of reform are up against in taking on the health insurance industry, the drug lobby, and the Wall Street equity firms.

Take a look at this recent cover of BUSINESS WEEK. Reporters Chad Terhune and Keith Epstein write that the CEO's of the giant insurance companies should be smiling - their lobbyists have already won. Quote: "no matter what specifics emerge in the voluminous bill Congress may send to President Obama this fall, the insurance industry will emerge more profitable."

And remember that television ad Barack Obama made as a candidate for president?

BARACK OBAMA: The pharmaceutical industry wrote into the prescription drug plan that Medicare could not negotiate with drug companies. And you know what, the chairman of the committee who pushed the law through went to work for the pharmaceutical industry making $2 million a year. Imagine that. That's an example of the same old game-playing in Washington. I don't want to learn how to play the game better. I want to put an end to the game-playing.

BILL MOYERS: Now look at this recent story in the LOS ANGELES TIMES. Lo and behold, since the election, the pharmaceutical industry's $2 million dollars a year superstar lobbyist Billy Tauzin has morphed into President Obama's pal. Tauzin says the President has promised not to pressure the drug companies to negotiate with the government for lower drug prices and has agreed not to allow cheaper drugs to be imported from Canada or Europe - contrary to the position taken by candidate Obama…

Each of these stories illuminates the scarlet thread that runs through Maggie Mahar's book - the story of how today's market-driven medical system gives Wall Street investors life and death control over our health care, turning medicine into a profit machine instead of a social service to meet human need. That's the conflict at the heart of next month's showdown in Washington.

I'm Bill Moyers. See you next time.

One day, we're gonna wake up and find out that we don't have Bill Moyers any more. What a hopeless day it will be.

On Perverse Thinking

Well, if it isn't another delirious Curmudegeon post about homosexuality. The latest entry in the the Curmudegon's hall of shame is Tony Jones on Perverse Unions, the topic being--you guessed it--same-sex unions. It is a notable for the Grootmudgeon's perverse thinking. I will not judge Jones's reasoning here, because I don't think it is as important as judging and countering the fallacies that Groothuis and Christocrat fanatics spew on a regular basis about same-sex marriages, and that is what reasonable people need to get accustomed to doing in defense of an entire (and rather small) class of people that is marginalized and assaulted on a pretty regular basis.

In the beginning, Groothuis accuses this Tony Jones of "opining idiocy." I am sure that he does not consider this an ad-hominem attack, both because he is not calling Jones an idiot, but his opinions, and because he provides "rational" explanations of why Jones's thinking is idiotic. Well, I don't remember ever calling Groothuis an idiot (I will accept corrections on this matter) but I certainly might have called some of his ideas idiotic misleading, and/or dishonest (and other qualifiers), which was sufficient to get me banned from his blog. Tony Jones's idiotic opinion is, it turns out, that he disagrees with the notion of "slippery slopes," and that he "defends blessing and legalizing homosexual and lesbian 'monogamous' relationships. He stares into the camera and opines idiocy with great smugness, packing fallacies and absurdities tighter than sardines in a can run over by a steam roller."

Groothuis's arguments against homosexuality? First, "God said so": "These unions themselves are unnatural, wrong, and ungodly in themselves--whatever they lead to. The biblical norm is heterosexual monogamy [...] [Homosexuality is] sinful autonomy writ large and ugly. We should love, not hate, people in this situation."

There you have it, a philosopher's thinking at its lowest. "We should love, not hate, people in this situation" is a convenient "out" after accusing same-sex couples of engaging in "unnatural, wrong, and ungodly" behavior. The best way to love the GBLT community? To remind them that, though they are sinning against god, people are praying for them to stop being the way they are, while consistently and actively refusing to extend to them rights we all have. My thought on this is: Who cares if homosexuality is ungodly? Only "godly" people, of whom the Grootmudgeon and Ted Haggard are shining examples, I guess. What about those who don't believe in a different god or in no god at all? Too bad for them, because in Groothuis's theocratic, Christocratic plans, homosexuals would be deprived of simple human rights, like being who they are (and we are not talking about pedophiles or mass murderers) and not being discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation.

The next argument goes: "Monogamy refers to 'one spouse.' Spouses are of the opposite sex of their spouse. Using 'monogamous,' as Jones does, for same sex unions is a semantic absurdity." Let's break it down.

First of all, the dictionary definition (for people who live in the 21st century and not those stuck in the Old Testament), is as follows, courtesy of the Merriam-Webster online dictionary:
2 : the state or custom of being married to one person at a time
3 : the condition or practice of having a single mate during a period of time

See? One person at a time, a single mate. As for spouse: ": married person : HUSBAND, WIFE", husband and wife being defined, respectively, as "a male partner in a marriage" or "a female partner in a marriage." Nowhere does it say that a male partner in a marriage must be married to a female partner, and not to another male partner. You can look up the definition of marriage yourselves, will you? Only in Groothuis's world of fervent beliefs are spouses "the opposite sex of their spouse." There is no semantic absurdity, only a straw man, which Groothuis is adept at setting up and destroying for his own enjoyment and the miseducation of his readers/followers.

But that is not all. Let's take the reasoning one step further. I guess there would be no point in reminding Groothuis that until the XV amendment was ratified in 1870, "black man" and "right to vote" in the same sentence would also have qualified as an absurdity, and that for women and the right to vote to exist in a semantically non-absurd sentence we had to wait another 50 years after that. The history of the United States is pervasively spotted with such absurdities and injustices, thanks to a large extent to Groothuis's predecessors in thinking. Luckily, as Victor Hugo eloquently stated, "you can resist an invading army; you cannot resist an idea whose time has come."

The final argument is about the existence of slippery slopes. "Legalizing abortion on demand led to an overall cheapening of unborn life in America [...] Legal scholars are already arguing for the legal legitimation of polygamy, since same sex unions are considered marriages in some (debauched) states."

Again, it would be useless to remind the Grootmudgeon that not all slippery slopes are created equal. For example, I can imagine the slippery slope argument being used by racists who wanted to keep black men from voting: "If you give a negro the right to vote, his horse will be next!" Or, all kidding aside, how about a realistic argument: "If you give a negro the right to vote, women will be next!" Yes, and? Did extending the right to vote to blacks and women end the United States, or civilization as we know it?

Or what about the fact that the same slippery slope arguments used now against same-sex marriages were used before anti-miscegenation laws (preventing interracial marriages) were struck down in the Supreme Court's Loving v. Virginia--in 1967?!? Read, for example, what a Tennessee court said in 1872 (PDF) when it refused to recognize an interracial marriage solemnized in another state:
Extend[ ] the rule to the width asked for by the defendant, and we might have in Tennessee the father living with his daughter, the son with the mother, the brother with the sister, in lawful wedlock, because they had formed such relations in a state or country where they were not prohibited. The Turk or Mohammedan, with his numerous wives, may establish his harem at the doors of the capitol, and we are without remedy. Yet none of these are more revolting, more to be avoided, or more unnatural than the case before us.

Almost 140 years on, and still no trace of "the father living with his daughter, the son with the mother, the brother with the sister, in lawful wedlock", not even in Tennessee, Mississippi, Oklahoma, or Arkansas, the very places where you would have expected the slippery slope argument to become reality (wink wink). So much for that slippery slope.

But let's assume for a moment that the right to same-sex marriage were granted by federal amendment or by a Supreme Court ruling. Does it necessarily follow that polygamy would follow? I suspect not. Aside from the moral reasons that would lead one to want to deny polygamy as a right (I am not saying there are or aren't any), there are practical reasons to do so. If you think that marriage law are complicated now, wait until courts are called to rule on separations, divorces, attribution of property, in a polygamous marriage. Also, one can foresee tax complications of a scale unknown to current society. And again, there would be plenty of parental issues in play in a marriage that involved multiple spouses. The list, of course, goes on.

As Jones correctly says, our society makes pragmatic decisions about these supposedly slippery slopes. So to imply that a different type of 1 to 1 union than the one we currently accept would lead society down the slippery slope of polygamy or interspecies marriage (an argument that the impossibly stupid and odious Sen. Santorum was fond of making--and he was voted out of office) is, itself, on a slippery slope: if we allow it to stand, that will lead us down the slippery slope of granting the status of "logic" to all illogical arguments.

Let's make a deal: I will stop calling "logic-incapable, ghost-believing, sanctimonious individuals" those who believe that the Bible should determine how we all live when Groothuis and his allies stop calling states where "same-sex unions are considered marriages" debauched.

Oh, The Hypocrisy!

The Repugnant Ones never cease to amaze (negatively). Turn the TV on, open a newspaper these days, and you cannot escape a Republican talking head warning us that we must be careful not to allow Democrats to politicize the death of Sen. Kennedy to push through a health reform bill that the majority of Americans does not want. (Never mind the fact that the majority of Americans does support major reform, up to and including a public option, as evidenced here (PDF), here, and here, for example.) They say so IN SPITE OF THE FACT that they did just that when Ronald Reagan died, which happened just a few years ago, when you and I were all alive (as if we didn't remember.)

Not only that, the Repugnant Ones are already hard at work in trying to rewrite history to imply that if Sen. Kennedy were alive they would have worked with him to pass health care reform.

Thankfully, Rachel Maddow did her homework as usual and skewers the Repugnant Ones for what they are:


Not only that: they are inviting Democrats to be more like Sen. Kennedy, whom they are painting as an example of the willingness to compromise and to find common ground. This AFTER they spent all their lives campaigning against Kennedy and his allies painting them all as too liberal for your own good. Just last year, when the presidential campaign was in full swing, this is what the National Review Online was writing about then Sen. Obama:

Republicans, however, insist that they can make hay by showing how liberal the Democratic nominee is. "Senator Obama's voting record, from what I have seen of it, tends to be very left-leaning," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. "I saw Senator Kennedy's endorsement of him as both an acknowledgement of that similar ideological view [...]

It takes people like Bob Bernick, of the Utahn newspaper Deseret News, to reminds us that--contrary to the revisionist Republican rewrite of Sen. Kennedy after his death, one that would almost make you think that the Massachussets senator must have been a moderate and a centrist--a major GOP strategy in Utah for decades was such that "[m]any Democratic Senate candidates from here would see and/or hear anti-Kennedy campaign ads, even if the local Democrats had never met Kennedy and didn't support much, if any, of his social agenda. Turn the local Democratic candidate into a Kennedy supporter and the opposing Republican would squash the Democrat in the general election."

In other words, you can have it both ways if you are a Repugnant One.

Friday, August 28, 2009

On Abortion, Which Side Is Fabricating?

Sorry to bring up the Curmudgeon again, but a couple of days ago he posted ObamaCare/AbortionCare, implying that health reform will pave the road for the use of federal funds to support abortion. To support his opinion, the Curmudgeon selected three quotes: one from TIME magazine, one from the Associated Press, and another one by the non-partisan FactCheck.org (which I have quoted myself in the past). The idea, I guess, is to show that "unbiased" observers agree with the Curmudgeon's premise. Since comments are not allowed for that post, I will point out a few important distinctions here.

First, the fact that all unbiased observers agree with TIME's Michael Scherer's opinion that "[t]he health-care reform proposed by House Democrats, if enacted, would in fact mark a significant change in the federal government's role in the financing of abortions" is not beyond question.

Take for example this post, Does Health Care Cover Abortion or Not? Fact Checking the Fact Checkers, published on BeliefNet.com and on the Wall Street Journal Online. In it, Steven Waldman, editor-in-chief of BeliefNet, says that is is clear that "things have gotten confusing when even the independent 'fact checking' organizations can't agree with each other," citing different interpretations of the facts given by FactCheck.org and by Politifact.com.

After a long analysis and quoting the Capps Amendment, which is devised to prohibit the use of public funds for abortions not already allowed under the Hyde Amendment, Waldman reaches the conclusion that "when pro-life forces claim that, as a result of the 'affordability credits,' taxpayers are paying for abortion, they're being hyperbolic at best, deceptive at worst." He is religious, I am not (though I am not a defender of unlimited abortions), so I thought that his word would weigh more than mine on the subject.

Or take, for another example, Catholics United, an organization that supports health care reform on the grounds that the above-mentioned Capps Amendment states that "no tax dollars will be used to pay for abortion services. This should be acceptable to pro-life Americans who want find consensus on abortion funding in health care reform - so that we are able to provide coverage to the tens of millions who currently lack it." (Emphasis added. This quote is an excerpt from an email thread started by Steven Waldman, with Tom McClusky of the Family Research Council, which opposes H.R. 3200 for its alleged pro-abortion bias, and Chris Korzen of Catholics United. You can read the whole thread here.)

Incidentally, Korzen issued a strong condemnation of the Family Research Council's campaign of misinformation about H.R. 3200, saying that "were groups like the Family Research Council and the Catholic League serious about abortion common ground, they would champion the Capps Amendment's positive points instead of issuing categorical condemnations of its intent." Korzen also points to the fact that special interests opposed to reform "twisted a proposal allowing Medicare to reimburse doctors for purely optional end of life care counseling (discussions about options like hospice and palliative care) into promotion of euthanasia" and further condemns the FRC for producing an ad running nationwide that makes "the false and inflammatory claim that seniors will have to sacrifice needed care so that the government can pay for abortions." So, you see, there are reasonable people among believers who disagree with the broad brush statements that the Curmudgeon likes to post even without allowing others the privilege to reply.

In my humble opinion, while it is understandable and even laudable to try and make one's voice heard in order to shape health care reform in the direction one prefers, it is just absurd to accuse Congress and the Obama administration of pushing the abortion agenda using as an example a bill that is still taking form in the House and in the Senate, is not finalized, and that is months away from coming to a vote on the floor.

The Irony Never Stops

The usual hasty post by the Constructive Curmudgeon produces yet another ironic twist in the Curmudgeon's failed crusade against "Darwinists," as he likes to call them. Here is the post, preserved for posterity with Snipping Tool, before it gets canned by the Curmudgeon, when he realizes his blunder:


For once, I agree with the Curmudgeon: No, it is not fair. But, apparently, neither is the Curmudgeon's accusation that the interview was taken down "because of the bullying from those who did not want to hear [Behe's] intelligent design arguments." Who wanted the video removed? Behe explains it himself on his blog (emphasis added):

After I found out the video was removed I emailed John McWhorter and the editor to ask for an explanation, and John emailed back that he himself requested the video to be pulled because people thought he was too easy on me, which was supposedly contrary to that old Bloggingheads spirit. I find that quite implausible (other shows on the site feature discussions between people who agree on many things). Rather, I suspect the folks at the website weren’t expecting the vitriolic reaction, began to worry about their good names and future employment prospects, pictured themselves banished to a virtual leper colony, panicked, and folded.*

So, let's recap: Behe writes to John McWorther for an explanation, McWorther gives him one, and Behe disbelieves him. Then, somewhere along the way, the Curmudgeon makes up his explanation that it's all the fault of those nasty, debate-hating Darwinists, and voilà, another plate of hot air is served hot from the Curmudgeon's inexhaustible kitchen.

Incidentally, McWorther's bread "is buttered by The Manhattan Institute, which is a conservative think thank," as Razib Khan writes on his blog at Scienceblogs. So, apparently, it is not always liberals who turn out to be the bad truth- and debate-suppressing Darwinists, there are a few truth- and debate-suppressing Darwinists conservatives, too, apparently.

For added irony, a couple of times in the past the Curmudgeon himself has removed posts and banned people from his blog that he deemed, in his indisputable opinion, too controversial or unpleasant, so to accuse others of censoring debate takes quite some moxie, which of course the Grootmudgeon does not lack.



*For those who are interested, here is the text of Blogginhheads' representation of McWorther's request: "John McWhorter feels, with regret, that this interview represents neither himself, Professor Behe, nor Bloggingheads usefully, takes full responsibility for same, and has asked that it be taken down from the site. He apologizes to all who found its airing objectionable."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Astroturf Protest Map

LobbyBlog over at the Huffington Post put together a nice chart that summarizes who is paying to kill health care reform.

A Bad Example For Democracy

I am watching on C-SPAN a town hall meeting held by Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA), with Howard Dean as a special guest, and it is obvious that the "angry mob" continues in its mission to disrupt debates on health care reform.

It's a disconcerting sight, in which camera shots alternate between distinguished individuals, regular folk, and inbred-looking men and women frothing at the mouth and shaking their fists in the air at things they clearly are too slow to comprehend. It's really a pitiful display of America's democracy when people choose to shout over each other to keep spreading lies and misinformation.

But the truly sad lesson is that the media continues to cover these protests much differently than it did the liberal protests against the Bush administration. Eric Boehlert of Media Matters has an interesting examination of this very real bias in Angry right-wingers are important; angry libs are annoying.

One problem with the coverage bias that Boehlert highlights is that it sets a horrible example for those to follow, who can feel encouraged to be as disruptive as they are allowed to be, certain in the knowledge that their protest will be highlighted and magnified beyond its actual significance by a media titillated by the kind of debate that resembles a bar brawl rather than by civilized discussions or the restrained marches of tens of thousands war opponents.

The worst problem is that such coverage bias rewards a type of protest which is meant to stifle debate, instead of promoting it. These right-wing, corporate-funded and -managed protests bear a close resemblance to the type of thuggish activities typical of fascist environment, enhanced by people showing up bearing arms under the pretense of defending liberty.

The media have variously referred to these protesters as "angry mobs", "astroturf protesters", "angry citizens", depending on their political bias. I have also used some of these terms on this blog, and I have erred. I should have called them uncivilized, protofascist bullies, because that's what a great number of them are and that's how they behave.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ted Kennedy, R.I.P.

Sen. Kennedy died Wednesday morning. He was 77 year-old. Controversial as some of his personal life was, in public Sen. Kennedy was a staunch advocate of health care reform. The best thing Congress and President Obama can do to honor him is to pass a bill he would have been proud of.

Monday, August 24, 2009

This Country Needs Health Care Badly: Mental Health Care, That Is.

Every year, thousands of Americans (more than 20,000 according to some estimates) die because they have not received needed medical care, because they could not afford it. That is 7 times as many people as died on 9/11/2001, every year in the last eight years.

Medical bills play a part in 2/3rds of the bankruptcies in this country.

Millions of Americans do not have medical coverage ("go naked", in industry parlance) not because they don't want it, but because they can't afford it or they have lost it due to--wait for it--illness.

And yet, when President Obama outlines the need for reform of the health care system, the Republican echo chamber accuses him of orchestrating a socialist takeover.

Not only that: A significant number of Americans do not believe that President Obama is a natural born citizen.

Not only that: Opponents of health care reform carry around signs equating Obama with Hitler and the Democratic Party with Nazis. In fact, people go to political town hall carrying automatic weapons because, they say, "we still have some freedoms left in this country."

Jonah Goldberg, one of the stupidest and most dishonest people alive today, wrote a book called Liberal Fascism in which he makes the insane argument, rejected by anyone who has a clue about history, that fascism is a leftist ideology. Never mind the fact that typical principles and manifestations of fascism include ethnic purity, the supremacy of the motherland (or fatherland) over any other nation on earth, a sick concept of patriotism in which dissenters are unpatriotic, the violent suppression of dissent, the crushing of labor unions, the imposition of a certain kind of morality, almost always grounded in religion and the refusal to tolerate alternate views and lifestyles, and the complicity of political and corporate power. Never mind that all of these traits were visible during the eight years of unrestrained trampling of the Constitution and progressive values by Bush & Friends, years during which Goldberg was alive (though obviously not well.) He chooses to ignore all inconvenient evidence contrary to his premise and manages to reassign fascism to arugula-eating, Prius-driving, godless liberals, without a shred of reasonable evidence. His book was, needless to say a bestseller.

In Kentucky, there is a museum dedicated to the idea that Noah loaded dinosaurs and humans on the ark, with depictions of said dinosaurs being ridden by humans. In the first eighteen months of operation, it reported 550,000 visitors.

A large number of Americans believe that the Constitution should submit to the Bible.

And now, for final proof that this is a country gone mad: KFC has introduced a new chicken sandwich. Not one with a bun around a piece of fried chicken. One where fried chicken replaces the bun, and bacon and cheese are stuffed between two pieces of chicken. It reminds me of a classic comedy bit by Patton Oswalt about the KFC Bowls:



That is what happens to a country when you pretend long enough that there are always two equally reasonable sides to an argument: You lose the sense of what is sane and what is insane.

Does Florida Allow Recall Elections?

As a matter of fact, I checked, and it does. I suggest, then, that Floridians use their power to remove Gov. Crist from office, because of this little nugget:

Crist noted that just before his election in 2006, Florida had been affected by a total of eight hurricanes in 2004 and 2005.

"Do you know the last time it was we had a hurricane in Florida? It's been awhile. In 2007, I took my first trade mission. Do you know where I went?" said Crist, a Methodist, referring to a trip to Israel.

He then told of going to the Western Wall and inserting a note with a prayer. He said it read, "Dear God, please protect our Florida from storms and other difficulties. Charlie."

Based on Crist's pronouncement, it seems obvious that he does not quite get the constitutional mandate of "no religious test" for public office. How are opponents supposed to measure up to Crist? Should they prove they pray harder, and with better results? Could they? This is not simply a case of a politician expressing his religious belief or conviction, it is a case of a Gov. implying that Floridians are lucky to have him as Governor because he is a believer and prayer is a tool that works in successfully repelling hurricanes. Does that not put an atheist candidate, for example, at an insurmountable disadvantage? For Crist's sake. Crist should be removed from office because he is obviously deranged and unable to serve the people he represents.

Not that I wish a hurricane on Florida (besides, I don't pray, so I don't have the power to make it happen), but I am really curious to see what Gov. Crist will say when the inevitable happens (probably "Thank God for not making it worse.")

The Failed Massachussets Model For All Instead of Medicare For All

Chris Hedges This Isn't Reform, It's Robbery is a must read for anyone seeking facts to counter the despicable talking points of reform opponents. This paragraph by Hedges is perhaps the best summary of where we are heading:

The bills now in Congress will, at best, impose on the country the failed model in Massachusetts. That model will demand that Americans buy health insurance from private insurers. There will be some subsidies for the very poor but not for anyone above a modest income. Insurers will be allowed to continue to jack up premiums, including for the elderly. The bankruptcies due to medical bills and swelling premiums will mount along with rising deductibles and co-payments. Health care will be beyond the reach of many families. In Massachusetts one in six people who have mandated insurance still say they cannot afford care, and 30,000 people were evicted from the state program this month because of budget cuts. Expect the same debacle nationwide.

It is criminal that mantras like "death panels", "socialist takeover", and "government bureacrauts will make decisions that should be made by you and your doctor" have successfully hijacked, courtesy of a useless and complicit media landscape.

Do not sit on your hands, don't be an accomplice. Call your representatives, and let them know you want Medicare For All.

Reagan, The Zombie

Paul Krugman in the NYT:

Call me naïve, but I actually hoped that the failure of Reaganism in practice would kill it. It turns out, however, to be a zombie doctrine: even though it should be dead, it keeps on coming.

Let’s talk for a moment about why the age of Reagan should be over.


Reagan's presidency and his alliance with that other fiend, Margaret Thatcher, have laid the groundwork for the destruction of the middle class which rages on to this day. So, yes, Prof. Krugman, let's talk about it, please. You are in an influential position to pull the wool off America's eyes. Do it, at every opportunity.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Onion Explains Health Care Reform Stalemate to Readers

"The legislative stalemate largely stems from competing ideologies deeply rooted along party lines. Democrats want to create a government-run system for not providing health care, while Republicans say coverage is best denied by allowing private insurers to make it unaffordable for as many citizens as possible."

The rest of the article entitled "Congress Deadlocked Over How Not To Provide Health Care" takes you through a roller-coaster ride of fictitious statements by political leaders that are way too plausible for comfort.

President Obama Must Read Paul Krugman's Latest Op-ed

Over the last few days, I have wondered if the apparent clumsiness displayed by Obama and his aides over the last few weeks was meant to give Republicans the illusion that they could block reform, if only they came together in opposing it vocally and unanimously, only to give President Obama and his allies in Congress the reason to "go it alone" on health care reform. Only such a ploy could successfully explain the president's insistence on bipartisanship even as after it has become manifestly obvious that Republicans don't have, and never had, any intention to come out in support of a compromise.

If intentional, Obama's strategy might prove a masterpiece of political ingenuity. After all, Democrats don't need any Republican help to pass reform, and if they can manage to make the Republicans look like the bad guys in the reform process, all the better. But, to quote Olbermann paraphrasing Churchill on the same subject, "If this is the blessing of brilliant strategy in disguise, at the moment it seems quite effectively disguised." So effectively disguised, in fact, that progressives have reason to doubt that change is on the march. All they have to do is look at the growing list of blunders or promises broken by the Obama administration to realize that, far from a creative way to trap Republicans, the president and his closest aides have just been practicing "business as usual."

Take for example the promise to have an open debate about health care reform and to have public hearings on C-SPAN: In spite of the president's claims to the contrary, that promise has been substantially broken. Or take the list of concessions that the president reportedly made to the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries. And yet, the White House declared itself baffled by the fact that the progressive grassroots supporters that have boosted then Sen. Obama to the presidency last November have failed to rally around the president in support of the health care reform plan currently under way. This bewilderment shows how out of touch the president and his advisors are with the "progressive base" of the Democratic Party.

Paul Krugman explains how President Obama has failed, and continues to fail, the very people he owes his election to. I am one of those who have been disappointed by the first few months of the Obama presidency and I fully subscribe to the thesis proposed by Krugman.

In addition to the mixed messages on health care, Krugman notes that "on such fraught questions as torture and indefinite detention, the president has dismayed progressives with his reluctance to challenge or change Bush administration policy."

Krugman also reminds us of the administration's failures when it comes to dealing with the financial industry:

I don’t know if administration officials realize just how much damage they’ve done themselves with their kid-gloves treatment of the financial industry, just how badly the spectacle of government supported institutions paying giant bonuses is playing.

Indeed, the bailout of the financial sector initiated by the Bush administration under Secretary Paulsen has continued under his successor, Tim Geithner, masterminded with the aid of one of the usual suspect, the dubious Larry Summers. The flip-flopping on rules on executive compensation for those financial institutions that have been rescued with public funds has been particularly hurtful, unnecessarily so.

These are just a few examples, but the scars run deep, for only eight months of business.

Glenn Greenwald picks up the analysis where Krugman drops it, and provides additional insight both on the governing processes and on the causes of the progressives' disappointment with the president so far:
All other things being equal, it's better -- from the White House's political perspective -- that those industries not spend vast sums of money trying to defeat Obama's health care proposal, that they not pour their resources into the GOP's 2010 midterm effort, that they not unleash their fully army of lobbyists and strategists to sabotage the Democratic Party. That's the same calculating mindset that leads the White House to loyally serve the interests of the banking industry that caused the financial crisis.

[...] this is the mindset of Rahm Emanuel, and its precepts are as toxic as they are familiar: The only calculation that matters is maximizing political power.

President Obama would do well to heed Krugman and Greenwald's insights as long as there is still time to re-energize the movement that got behind him last August and that contributed so significantly to his election, at least if he truly believes--as he often repeated during the campaign--that change is a bottom-up process. Or was that also just another example of "feel good" campaign rhetoric?

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Look At Health Care Around The World

T.R. Reid is an American reporter for the Washington Post who may be better known to you for a documentary which aired on PBS called Sick Around The World, in which he examined the way other nations handle health care, spending much less and achieving better outcomes than the United States.

His new book, The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care, has just been released. I have just bought it, and I plan to read it right away and share my thoughts on it here.

In the meantime, I recommmend this essay called 5 Myths About Health Care Around the World, Read's piece in Sunday's Washington Post, to those who believe that there is no health care crisis in the United States and that no one could possibly "do health care better than the USA, USA, USA!!!" Learning something for a change will not hurt you, I promise.

Where I Venture A Prediction

Now that the all the dominoes are falling and that the curtain of pretense hiding the illegitimacy and illegality of a bunch of the Bush Administration's actions since 9/11 is being torn asunder, the latest being the politicization of the terror alert system as revealed by our first DHS Secretary, Tom "Brylcreem" Ridge, I venture a prediction:

Sooner or later (probably sooner than later), a member of Congress will reveal that he or she cast a much needed vote for one of the Bush Administration's nefarious schemes after being blackmailed by the Bush Administration (most likely by Ashcroft or Cheney) with material gathered by means of an unathorized NSA intercept.

Hopefully this person will have time to testify to an oversight committee before "committing" suicide after being overpowered by shame.

Congressman Frank Issues Apology to Dining Room Tables

Today, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), has issued an apology to dining room tables, admitting that he had been insensitive in comparing them to the woman at his rally who accused him, a Jew, gay man, of supporting Obama's Nazi health care reform plan. In retrospect, Frank said he should not have compared a well-crafted and useful inanimate object to the mass of putrid excrement from another planet that had deceptively taken on the semblance of a young woman. Congressman Frank promised to be more sensitive to inanimate objects in the future, and to avoid all comparisons with Astroturf Republican idiots.

Jon Stewart reports below.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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This Is Why For Profit Insurance And Health Care Don't Mix Well

Courtesy of the Brave New Films' Sick for Profit website, here is a screenshot that captures the problem with for profit health care. (Just follow the link above to go to the Sick for Profit website and see a few more shameless CEOs and their compensation data.)

People like the idiot kid that asked President Obama in Grand Junction how on earth can private insurance companies compete with a public entity like the government, which does not need to make a profit, should take a look at executive compensation practices in the health care industry, sit down, and never dare utter a word again. Fucking idiot, and all the fucking idiots like him, go away and shrivel.

Maddow Ridicules Grand Old Phonies

In the first video, Rachel uses a somewhat overwrough basketball analogy to show the insanity of the Republicans' new spin on passing health care reform: reform should pass only if it can garner 80 votes in the Senate. Unbelievable. Where do they find the balls?


In the second video, Rachel takes on President Obama's acknowledgement of Sen. Grassley's effort to reach an agreement on health care reform. Maddow exposes Grassley's hypocrisy asan old lady challenges him not to trust research by the Lewin Group because, she warns him, it is a subsidiary of United Health Care (although, admittedly, she is a little confused on Richard Helmsley's hourly pay. Helmsley is the CEO of United Health Care). Grassley quotes the Lewin Group (actually not just a subsidiary, but a wholly-owned subsidiary of UHC) as one of the objective reasons why he opposes the public option. Sen. Grassley also repeats the ridiculous request that the Senate should pass reform only if it can reach an 80 vote majority.

Jon Stewart Destroys Shill Who Inspired "Death Panels" Meme

You cannot miss Jon Stewart's interview of insurance industry shill Betsy McCaughey, the woman credited as being the inspiration for the "death panels" meme.

From the onset, McCaughey comes on as a patronizing, patrician queen (by marriage) who repeatedly calls Jon Stewart "cute". Trouble is, while this syrupy bitch tried to diminish Stewart's points by calling him cute, the audience knows him to be intelligent, astute, and prepared, while she appeared every bit as the fearmongering liar and health care industrial complex shill that she is.

There are some truly memorable moments in the interview, like when Stewart reminds McCaughey that Reagan's 1961 fearmongering screed, the one in which he warned Americans on behalf of the AMA that Medicare would lead to socialist America and that "you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free", did not come to pass, so why should we believe the Republicans' fearmongering now? Or like when McCaughey tries to put Stewart on the spot by intimating that he is rich enough to take care of health care for all his relatives. Stewart's answer was a classic: "I don't mind being taxed a little more to help people who are not in as favorable a situation. I don't mind it. In fact, I welcome it, because it's a way for me to give back to the country that has allowed me to come this far." Game, set, match, you motherfucking harpy. Now go away.

Watch the whole interview below.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Betsy McCaughey Pt. 1
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The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive - Betsy McCaughey Extended Interview Pt. 1
http://www.thedailyshow.com/
Daily Show
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The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive - Betsy McCaughey Extended Interview Pt. 2
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Daily Show
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Political HumorHealthcare Protests

UPDATE

A little background on inept shill, Betsy McCaughey.


UPDATE 2

According to a press release by Cantel Medical Corp., Betsy McCaughey has resigned from her position as a member of Cantel's board of directors. According to Keith Olbermann, quoting unspecified sources, she was canned.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Another Public "Servant" Blows the Whistle, Only AFTER the Game Has Ended

So now it's official: Tom Ridge, former Secretary of DHS, "was pushed to raise the security alert on the eve of President Bush's re-election, something he saw as politically motivated and worth resigning over."

First of all, if this is news to you, let me quote Congressman Barney Frank for you: "On what planet did you spend most of your time?"

Secondly, what did Tom Ridge do? Did he resign rather than comply? No. He waited until 2009 to admit that he had been pressured to politicize public safety information to help a crook get re-elected, then he put the "explosive" revelation in a book that will probably finance a run for office in 2010.

Frankly, I am tired of people who kiss and wait years to tell, when the information the held secret could have helped the country change its disastrous course. People like Ridge, Scott McLellan, etc. But more than ever, I am also pissed off that cable news networks give people like them a forum where they can advertise their works and make money they do not deserve. They should be portrayed as traitors. Instead, they never go away. They get rewarded with board memberships, think tank positions, appearances on cable news channels, and--yes--book sales.

We should, but we cannot, punish them harshly for their failure to do the right thing AT THE RIGHT TIME, and not years too late. We cannot punish them because that would have a chilling effect on their willingness to come forward. But we should learn from past mistakes, and be savvy to their shenanigans, and we should learn to recognize the signs of their complicity in the havoc wreaked upon us by people in power, and we should get smart enough not to vote them in, or the people that hire them, and to vote them out when it is apparent that they are putting their self-interest ahead of their oath of office and their duty to serve the people of the United States.

News organizations are the element in our society with the highest responsibility to keep people like Ridge in check, to question them, to expose their betrayal. Instead the press is more concerned with "access" than with its institutional duty to help protect the public from crooks.

Interviewing a Ridge or a McLellan on a talk show five years after the fact makes for good entertainment, but it is not investigative journalism, which is a disappearing craft. We need more people like Seymour Hersh, Greg Palast, the Bob Woodard of Watergate--not the one of Plan of Attack. We need them as much as we have ever needed them, just as news organizations all over the country have figured out that it costs more to finance a good investigative reporter than to produce a canned segment with the help of the very people they should be keeping a watchful eye on.

As Ridge's case reiterates, our democracy is in worse shape than most of us realize.

The "Left" Way to Talk about Health Care Reform

George Lakoff, Professor of Cognitive Sciences and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley has an illuminating, if a bit wonky, article on CommonDreams, which explains how the left should have framed and should still be framing the health care reform debate. You should read it, memorize parts of it, and use your newly-gained knowledge to rebut and rebuff conservatives and their myths.

Ignorance, Gullibility, and the Uninsured

The Huffington Post's Sam Stein reports: "States With Most Uninsured Most Likely To Believe Euthanasia, Govt. Takeover Myths".

On the one hand I'd say: I hope that the Kucinich amendments passes, allowing those states that choose to file an application waiver from ERISA to automatically be granted it, so they can set up the a single-payer health care system, and those who prefer not to go for the public option or single-payer... well, to continue to suffer so they can uphold their misconceived, misconstrued, and misunderstood American principles. After all, if ignorance of the law does not excuse one from punishment, ignorance about an issue should carry negative consequences.

However, being the charitable and well-disposed spirit that I am, I hope that the public option passes for the well-being of everybody. After all, while those who live in ignorance should suffer the consequences of their ignorance and their laziness, they are also being misled and duped by unprincipled shills, corporate interests, and truly evil people, who do carry most of the blame.

You see, I believe that if the public option passed for everybody, for every state, it would make the United States a more civilized, a better nation. You know, for the faux-Constitutionalists among you, "a more perfect union."

This is no time for Schadenfreude. It is a time for solidarity.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Here's To You, Congressman Waxman!

At long last, a Democrat with the right idea.

McJoan at the Daily Kos reports that Congressman Waxman has filed a request for "financial records from dozens of large insurance companies, officials disclosed Tuesday, part of an investigation into 'executive compensation and other business practices' in an industry opposed to President Barack Obama's plan to overhaul health care."

I am really looking forward to seeing these financial records. The idiots and crooks that oppose health care reform, like the student that challenged President Obama in Grand Junction last Saturday, always like to say: "How can insurance companies compete with an entity like the government, with much lower overhead and a seemingly infinite reserve of cash and borrowing power like the government?" Well, for one they could start lowering the hefty premiums they charge their captive audience, particularly when a significant chunk of those premiums does not go to health care services, but towards outrageous executive compensation and bonuses, junkets, marketing, and so on.

And I would like to add my own item to the list that Congressman Waxman has demanded from the insurance company: a list of all the assets, liquid and real, seized by or on behalf of the insurance companies from American patients who could not afford to pay for needed care, in satisfaction of their outstanding medical debt. That is a list I think could have devastating effects on the public relations machine of insurance companies to protect the status quo which benefits them, and them only.

As Bill Maher said recently, we live in a country where we have bought--hook, line and sinker--the notion that everything should be for profit. Well, here are some things that should not necessarily be for profit: clean water, health care (people's life and death), public safety, national parks, libraries, schools. I could go on, but these examples should suffice.

We have come to accept the rhetoric of profit, at all costs, under all circumstances, and we have sacrificed our sense of belonging to a union striving to be more perfect.

The signers of the Declaration of Independence, in envisioning the foundation of the United States of America, wrote: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Keeping those words from the Declaration of Independence in mind, I have but two questions for the idiots that rail against health care reform--those who claim that they want to return the country to its past luster; those who walk armed among the crowd at a political rally to protect rights they don't deserve because they selectively choose which rights are worth preserving and which ones they are willing to discard; the Evangelicals who believe that Christ was a free-market advocate and a supporter of corporate power; the people who rant against socialized medicine while their lobbyists fight for their right to have their botox injections be subsidized by the premiums of cancer patients who will be declined coverage because of a pre-existing condition that only a profit-driven enterprise would have dreamed of concocting. Can these people, these idiots, explain to me how on earth anyone can enjoy his unalienable right to life when a hospital can discharge him on a pavement outside the hospital, still severely impaired, because he cannot afford to pay the bill for the care he would receive in any "socialist" country? Or how an individual can enjoy his unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness when he has to lose his house, and everything else he owns, to pay for medical bills that an insurance company or a hospital have declined to pick up?

I expect a wall of deafening silence, or cries of "Down with Obama's death panels!". Past experience teaches me to expect no less, no more.

Silencing Dissent

Over at The Constructive Curmudgeon, the following post has appeared last night:



I congratulated John Stockwell on the official ban (unofficial bans have been enforced for quite some time by the Curmudgeon, who has refused to post any of my comments for some time now.) He replied to me, and I believe him, that he has not sent the Curmudgeon anything inflammatory lately, and that he has simply rebutted a quote "from Denton's book 'Evolution: Theory in crisis' for being the strawman argument that it is."

John, if you are reading this and would rather I removed it, simply email me.

Mr. Groothuis: if you see this and would like to explain why Stockwell has been banned from posting comments on your blog, you are welcome to do so. I know you think that others are guilty of ad-hominem attacks on you that you would never employ against others, and I disagree. Just consider your mean-spirited, unchristian attacks on President Obama or liberals in general. I have often accused you of applying a double-standard on your blog. When I have called you a hypocrite I may have been unkind, but not off-the-mark. I stand by my accusations, which I have substantiated on several occasions.

Regardless, you will never be censored on my blog, unlike me or John on yours. Aside from the obvious fact that you have much more traffic than I do, I am much more proud of how handle things over here: If I disagree with you, you are still welcome to air your views and your grievances, and if you do it rudely, then I think my readers will draw their conclusions on each one of us by themselves.

A conservative academic suppressing debate? Isn't that what you conservatives accuse liberals of doing to you from their liberal enclaves and Ivy League universities? In fact, your own accusations go well beyond. Let me quote you:

"Those who have advocated ID or even allowed its ideas some voice in their classroom or in their journals have been excommunicated by the Darwinian priesthood." Or, again:

"The Darwinists are seldom open to honest give-and-take debate; instead, they typically reject ID as anti-scientific and ban it from public forums."

(To refresh your memory, both quotes are from your review of Expelled.)

I savor the irony.



UPDATE

The post has now disappeared from The Constructive Curmudgeon. Either John Stockwell's permission to post has been reinstated (which I highly doubt) or Groothuis has decided it's better not to leave any traces of censorship. Oh well, that's why I feel I have to keep an eye on him.

Do Two Wrongs Make a Poll Right?

Because pollsters are not as impartial as you would want them to be, as Sam Stein reports for the Huffington Post.

Incidentally, I am not pointing fingers to one side or another: both sides in Stein's example are equally beholden to special interest. "McInturff [the Republican pollster] has done extensive work on behalf of America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) -- a major reform opponent." And, "Hart Research [the Democratic counterpart of the poll] has done work on behalf of a host of unions who support the public option, including the AFL-CIO, American Federation of State, County, & Municipal Employees, and the Service Employees International Union."

Sam Stein writes that Democratic pollster Mark Blumenthal commented that "[b]oth McIntruff and Hart are always hugely conflicted in terms of partisan clients but almost always in opposite directions," but that "[the] long standing assumption is that each serves as a check on the other." Really? Do two wrongs make a poll right? Good grief!

One of America's Most Dangerous People Is Back

Frank Luntz is good at what he does, but not in a good way. He is an influential master wordsmith and strategist that has put his expertise in the service of the Republican party and of some of the most hideous public policy causes in the recent history of America. For example, Salon notes that it is Luntz who suggested that Republicans should talk about "personalizing social security" instead of "privatizing" it, during President Bush's push to destroy one of the most successful public programs in the history of the nation. It is he who promoted the use of "tax relief" instead of "tax cuts". Again, Luntz changed the tone of the debate on the estate tax by reframing it as "the death tax". Samantha Bee had a fantastic spoof of Luntz and President Bush's fake town hall meetings in this segment for the Daily Show.

Now, Media Matters reports, he is back, smack dab in the middle of the health care reform debate, attempting to influence public opinion against it by resorting to the usual spin and lies he has trained us to expect from him. On the August 18th edition of Hannity, Luntz maintained that the only way for the president to pay for health care reform is to slash Medicare benefits: "it's almost like [President Obama is] declaring war on Medicare because it's the only way for him to be able to pay for health care." FactCheck.org noted instead that "The claim that Obama and Congress are cutting seniors' Medicare benefits to pay for the health care overhaul is outright false." [Emphasis added.]

This lie goes hand in hand with the strategy that Luntz outlined in early May in a messaging memo that had the immediate effect of changing the rhetoric used by Republicans to describe their opposition to reform. More about Luntz's 10-point plan at the Daily Kos.

Soon after the Luntz memo on health care was released, Paul Begala offered his response in a 9-page PDF. You can read more about it at The Seminal.

Remember: Informing yourself is the only sure way to defeat Luntz speak.

Joe, The Plummeting

Just when you thought he could not sink lower, Joe the Plumber topped... ahem ... bottomed himself. He said he would take Nancy Pelosi "behind the woodshed and just beat the livin’ tar out of [her]." One of these days we're going to see him armed at a town hall meeting. If Nancy Pelosi happens to be nearby, I hope she's packing and she shoots him in the ass--in self defense, of course.

Aren't you glad that John McCain ran, so he could deliver Joe the Plumber and Sarah Palin to the world of infotainment, where they rightfully belong?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Is Your Representative A Public Servant or A "Pollitician"?

No, the title is not a typo. In my mind, "pollitician" aptly describes the type of politician that puts polls and public opinion ahead of everything in deciding how to cast a vote. These days it's becoming painfully clear that "polliticians", the antitheses of public servants, dominate our political landscape.

Surely, as every politician knows, there is a significant tension between representing the will of the majority and serving the people's best interest. To a large degree, politics is a popularity contest, more than one of skills, competence or effectiveness. Politicians will do almost anything to get elected, including doing the will of the majority of the people, even when they know that the majority of the people is wrong (take, for example, slavery, segregation, supporting the death penalty in spite of its known racial bias, teaching Intelligent Design alongside evolution in backward states, etc.) or the will of special interests. Some do so for personal gain, some with deeply-held conviction, and some because they take the term "representative democracy" too literally. You see, they do not realize or they pretend not to) that the term "representative democracy" is--to some degree--a misnomer.

"Representative democracy" is often (and mistakenly) used as a synonym for "the will of the [majority of] the people," and is easily misinterpreted as such when it is convenient to do so. However, it should not be a paramount concern for a representative to fathom or to mirror the will of the majority. If that was a representative's primary function, then we would be better served by direct democracy, instead of representative democracy. But we know the dangers of direct democracy, because we have seen several examples throughout history, past and recent, of how majorities are often wrong and easily misled, so we have come to accept the fact that it is best to delegate decisions to our elected "representatives."

If the will of the majority should not be the primary concern, neither should it be the politician's own survival or self-interest. And yet, these days we are hearing that this or that politician is leaning towards casting a vote for or against health care reform, not because of his personal convictions, or with his constituents' best interest in mind, but because he is coming up for re-election. So now you know what I mean by "pollitician".

At the other end of the spectrum we have those politicians who understand and correctly interpret their role as public servants: honest, principled and intelligent politicians, who know that their duty is to represent people's best interest, not individual or particular interests, nor the majority's will, and who understand that today's majority may very well turn into tomorrow's minority, and viceversa, so that the only correct vote is an ethical, principled vote. In deciding how to cast a vote, or how to shape legislation, public servants do so after weighing all special interests against all known facts, taking future trends and outcomes into account. If necessary, they even sacrifice their own careers in the process, rather than to lie to and appeas the majority simply to get elected.

If you want to improve the state of the union, the next time you go to the polls ask yourself if your elected representative is a public servant or a "pollitician": Re-elect the former, an be sure to ditch the latter, without hesitation.

Give The White House No Money

Once again, Robert Reich has it 100% right on the current state of health care reform:

The White House wonders why there hasn't been more support for universal health care coming from progressives, grass-roots Democrats, and Independents. I'll tell you why. It's because the White House has never made an explicit commitment to a public option.

I urge you to make it absolutely clear to everyone you know, everyone who cares about universal health care and what it will mean to our country, that the bill must contain a real public option. Tell that to your representatives in Congress. Tell that to the White House. If you are receiving piles of emails from the Obama email system asking you to click in favor of health care, do not do so unless or until you know it has a clear public option. Do not send money unless or until the White House makes clear its support for a public option.

This isn't just Obama's test. It's our test.

This is exactly why I have yet to step up my efforts in support of the White House and of health care legislation. I have had enough of their efforts to seek a compromise with Republican corporate shills like Chuck Grassley, Mike Enzi, Tom Barrasso, but also with Democratic shills like Max Baucus, Kent Conrad, and Ben Nelson, just to single out a few of the worst.

It's time for the White House and the Democrats in Congress to show their hand, then I will decide whether it's worth supporting. Until then, they are making themselves look more and more like Republican Light: A tasteless imitation of an already unpalatable choice.

Just Gloom Or Actual Doom?

Wendell Potter, a voice that all Americans should hear during the health care debate, paints a pretty gloomy picture of the events that are unfolding before our eyes in this health care-centered month of August. Whether gloom will translate into eventual doom, we will see soon enough. (You can find out more about Wendell Potter and why his voice is so important in the debate at the Bill Moyers Journal's section dedicated to health care matters.)

Business Week declared in a recent article that the health insurers have already won. The article is as depressing as Wendell Potter's.

In part, this depressing landscape is the result of deals that the White House seems to have struck with PhRMA and with insurers; in part, it is a result of the fact that the White House and Congress, perhaps intentionally, have failed to communicate to the American people the non-negotiable conditions that must be part of the final bill. Says Reich:
The White House is waiting to see what emerges from the House and Senate before insisting on what it wants, maybe in conference committee.

But that's the problem: It's always easier to stir up fear and anger against something that's amorphous than to stir up enthusiasm for it.

Things are not looking good for those who hope in real health care reform instead of, as Wendell Potter says in his article, "lipstick on that pig of a bill." But all is not lost, at least not yet. In the meantime you should, as I have done twice in the last couple of days already, write to the White House to let the president and his aides know that reform without the cost-containment guaranteed by a true and robust public option should spell disaster at the polls for Democrats and for the White House itself.

In his Squandered Opportunity points out that the next president of the AFL-CIO has threatened that the organization he will chair will sit out the next election if President Obama does not deliver on his campaign promises. Let's hope they don't have to.
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