Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Proud to Have Supported Sen. Al Franken

This is one example of why I am proud of having supported Sen. Al Franken.

The Republican Health Care Reform Plan

This is the Republican health care reform plan according to Rep. Grayson of Florida.

I cannot agree with the second part of Rep. Grayson's presentation. Republicans don't want sick people to die quickly. They simply don't care what happens to people after they get sick. Republicans view everything as an economic issue, as in "how much money can we and our corporate sponsors make or save when someone does get sick." Which is way, I guess, this is the only country in the world where sick people have to sell everything they own in order to pay their medical debts.

As I said before, if Republicans thought that the health care system needed reforming, they had plenty of time to do it when they held the country hostage for four years, with majorities in both chambers of Congress and a corporate puppet in the White House. They did not. That's all you need to know.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Massachussets Model

The New Republic has an interesting article by Jonathan Cohn called Going Dutch: Life After the Public Option, which suggests a possible solution to the U.S. health care disaster that does not require the public option, a more and more unlikely component of health care reform after today's vote of rejection by the Senate Financial Committee.

Cohn's article looks at the way the Netherlands have solved the health care conundrum for their people and suggests that it might be a model for the United States to follow. However, it neglects to mention one important fact: The closest the United States has come to date to implementing the Dutch model is the health care reform adopted by Massachusetts just a few years ago, which did not go far enough because it lacked the will to do what the Dutch system does: strictly regulating insurers.

The current against government regulations in the United States is so strong, even among some Democrats, that any suggestion of government regulation is met with cries of socialism even in areas that are completely non-controversial in the rest of the world, like consumer and environmental protections. For that reason, and that reason alone, we should be very skeptical of any reform which rests on the ghost of future regulation as an acceptable substitute for concrete government intervention.

In an op-ed written earlier this year for the Boston Globe, Susan Kin--a practicing physician--sums up the results of the Massachusetts refom with the title Mass. healthcare reform is failing us.

According to Dr. King's article, the Massachusetts model, which is often cited by some conservatives as a preferable alternative to a "government-run" health care system, has a number of flaws that clash against the criteria for good health care identified by the Institute of Medicine, which is part of the National Academy of Sciences. Some of the flaws are:

  • It has not achieved universal healthcare, although the reform has been a boon to the private insurance industry
  • The program is not affordable for many individuals and families
  • Costs are too high for even skimpy coverage
  • Spending for the Commonwealth Care subsidized program has doubled
  • additional out-of-pocket expenses can result in many people not using their insurance when they are sick

The way things are playing out on Capitol Hill shows that one of the goals of reform opponents (perhaps their single most important goal) is to trick Democrats into passing a much weakened bill by themselves, without any Republican support, one that is set up to fail. A bill that resembles much too closely the Massachusetts model.

If Democrats insist on trying to dilute the substantive elements of health care reform for the sake of unattainable bipartisanship and to appease the more moderate or downright conservative elements in their party, they will end up passing a bill that will fail to achieve universal coverage, will do nothing to contain costs, and will represent another massive giveaway to insurance and pharmaceutical companies. The damage done by such a bill will far exceed the good accomplished by it, and Democrats, including the conservative Democrats who are doing all they can to sabotage real health care reform, will end up paying in 2010 and beyond. And deservedly so.

A Letter To The Paladins of Special Interests

Today, five Democratic senators (Blanche Lincoln, AR; Kent Conrad, ND; Max Baucus, MT; Ben Nelson, FL; Tom Carper, DE) voted against an amendment for the public option introduced by Sen. Rockefeller (D-WV). (Later the first three also voted against the Schumer amendment, which posited a somewhat weaker version of the public option.)

I wrote the five paladins of moneyed interests and traitors of the people the following letter:

Dear Senator:

I am one of the majority of U.S. citizens and legal residents, including a majority of doctors, who supports a strong public option for health care. In fact, my preference would go to Medicare for All.

With your vote against Sen. Rockefeller's amendment, you have just ensured my active opposition to any run you should choose to make for public office in the future (Senate, President, dog catcher, whatever.)

The argument that a vote for the public option would ensure the failure of the reform effort proposed by the Senate Finance Committee prompts a response of "So what?" from those who, like me, thought that it was a pretty disastrous bill to begin with. Additionally, it shows just how out of touch you and some of your colleagues are with the priorities of the nation. The objective should not be to pass some sort of reform. We need reform that not only expands coverage to everybody, but that ensures that health care costs go down, both for the nation and for individuals. The bill being discussed achieves neither goal, and has been described by several economists and health care experts as a huge gift to the health care industrial complex.

Moreover, the argument that a public option would be fiscally irresponsible ignores the fact that all other rich countries have systems in which the government plays a much larger role in health care, resulting in much lower costs than in the U.S.

Finally, saying that we have to start from the system we already have, and preserve much of it, flies in the face of reason. It is the system that we have that brought us to where we are: We are the country that spends the most on health care by far and the only one where families and individuals go bankrupt because of medical bills and where tens of millions lack coverage.

In sum, due to your stance against the public option, I will actively support your primary opponent(s), should there be any--even your Republican opponents in future election. Why? Because the country does not need, and can no longer put up with, Democrats who do the Washington two-step like Republicans when it comes to choosing between the interests of common people and the moneyed interests of their donors.


If you want to write your own letter to them, please click the named links above.

How To Preserve the Status Quo

Jon Stewart had a brilliant clip on last night's The Daily Show. It shows that those who want to preserve the status quo need only create non-existing problem and rant about them, distracting attention away from real problems, of which there is no scarcity.

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

For The Douches Who Think Government Can Do No Good

Again, from Rachel Maddow.

I hope that, consistent with their principles, all a-priori opponents of government regulations are all driving the '59 Chevy Bel Air.

With Democrats Like These, Who Needs Republicans?

Rachel Maddow reports on Congressman Mike Ross, D-AR, and how he seems to have sold his soul on real health care reform in exchange for favors from the pharmaceutical industry. Truly, truly shameful, this is the type of douchebag America should get rid of.

The King of the Turds

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you Sen. Jon Kyl, R-AZ.

He objects to having to pay for maternal care since he is a man and does not require it. Unfortunately, Sen. Stabenow, D-MI, did not have the presence of mind to reply: "Well, Senator, I do not have testicles so I object to having to pay for the ballectomy that I am going to perform on you as soon as we are done with this hearing, you heartless piece of shit." With incredible restraint, she was able to contain her reply to "I think your mom probably did."

You can also read Donna Smith's rightfully indignant thoughts on the subject, if you wish.

Incidentally, with his truly turdy comment, Sen. Kyl unwittingly exposed one of the biggest causes of the high cost of health care in this country: If your goal is, as is the goal of an insurance company, to specify each and every service and procedure that is covered under each particular policy with such detailed complexity that it becomes possible to hide all the exclusions that can be used to pad the company's profits, then you are going to have to hire legions of lawyers, plan administrators, adjustors and so forth, to keep the system working as confusingly as it is designed to. If, on the other hand, the system were built in such a way that everyone simply paid in proportion to his or her ability to pay, with no coverage exclusions for basic health care, then no one would have to define a plan's benefits with the degree of specificity that madmen like Kyl want to impose on us.

There is always the possibility, of course, that Sen. Kyl is perfectly aware of the cruelty and the despicable quality of his comment, and that his real intent is to "filibuster" the amendment process by introducing amendments--or the discussion thereof--solely designed to impede progress. In that case, he is even more turdy than I gave him credit for.

For comments like Sen. Kyl's, I really wish death panels were true.

Poll Shows How Confused Americans Are About Health Care Reform

A much touted joint CBS News/NY Times poll shows that 65% of Americans support a "GOV’T HEALTH INSURANCE PLAN" (i.e. a "public option), while 26% oppose it. More interestingly still, "SUPPORT HEALTH CARE REFORMS WITHOUT A PUBLIC OPTION" is only at 38%, with 40% opposing reform without it, and 22% unsure. Good news for proponents of the public option, yes? Who knows. Because the next question in the poll is "SHOULD GOVT. GUARANTEE HEALTH INSURANCE FOR ALL AMERICANS?", to which 51% of American reply "No", down from 64% three months ago, and down 5% from 1996. The question is: if the government should not guarantee health insurance for all Americans, who do Americans expect to provide and pay for health care? The health care fairy? Haven't Americans noticed that, short of a government guarantee, the health insurance sector has shown that it is not willing to sacrifice its gargantuan profits for the well-being of America?

To recap: The majority of Americans favor a public option and even opposes, by a slight margin, reform that does not include it. But, at the same time, they do not want the government to guarantee health insurance for all Americans. So, presumably, they want the government to ask health insurance companies to please be nice and take a small hit on their profits to give the impression of reform. What am I missing here?

The American public is confused. No wonder, given the fact that it so easily misinformed and so easy to manipulate with emotions rather than sticking to logic.

For example, since last April, the percentage of Americans who believe that the system is fundamentally fine and needs tweaking only has risen by 7% (and yet, 78% of Americans favor fundamental changes in the system, up to and including "rebuilding" it.) This seems to show that the politics of no peddled by Republican shills has had an effect on the national psyche, at least for some. But, curiosly, the percentage of Americans who are very or somewhat satisfied with the health care they receive is also 78%.

How could it be that 78% of Americans are satisfied with the health care they receive and the same percentage wants the system to be fundamentally changed or rebuilt? The only explanation I can offer is that they are happy with the quality of care they receive, but they nonetheless sense that the system is too expensive and not dependable. And in fact, this can be evinced by the next question: "HOW SATISFIED ARE YOU WITH THE COST OF YOUR HEALTH CARE?". 73% of respondents are somewhat dissatisfied to dissatisfied. However, when asked which is more important, keeping costs down or providing coverage to the uninsured, 59% went for the latter against 35% for the former.

In other words, the American people are clueless as to what they really want.

I believe that much of the blame for this confusion can be laid at the President's door: The winning case for health care reform is the "moral imperative", as the last statistic I quoted shows. Universal coverage should have been the foundation for reform. But the president and his allies were less than clear about the goals of reform, mixing the need to provide coverage for the uninsured with the issue of cost. It seems to me that if the president had made a strong case for covering everybody first, and then tackled the issue of cost, we would be much closer to meaningful reform than we are now. Instead, we are close to getting reform that will not achieve universal coverage, with the most optimistic figure leaving 5% of the population uninsured. And because reform will likely not include a public option while at the same time setting an individual mandate, costs for the insured are going to rise, ensuring that a larger number of people will find it harder and harder to be able to afford what the government has mandated.

What an ugly mess.

Random Thoughts, Weekend Edition

I took a week off blogging, and it was nice to relax, but the world hasn't stopped to wait for me. Here are some highlights from the week that was.

PBS aired a must-see episode of Now, devoted to health care. I watched it, you can do so below. The episode highlights the horror stories, unfortunately all too normal in the U.S.A., of people who have been crushed by "the best health care system in the world" as Republicans shilling for the health-industrial complex like to call the tragedy that normal people call a disgrace to the nation.

While watching, I was asking myself: what have these people done that was so wrong that they ended up in their predicament? The answer: Nothing. It happened to them, it could happen to me, or you for that matter.

And talk about perverse incentives: The couple whose story is highlighted must earn as little as possible in order to be able to receive health care under Medicaid, lest their young daughter should go without needed care. They have had to turn down promotions and refuse raises, so they safety net that our maligned government provides to the poor would not be taken away from under them.

Their parents would like nothing more than to help, but they are buried under their own pile of medical debt: After two bouts with cancer, they are over $100k in debt, and risk losing their house.

Meanwhile, Dr. and Sen. Coburn (R-KS) preach about the fact that the government is the problem, not the solution, even as Medicaid was the only help the O'Reillys could get for their sick daughter. Unbelievable.

You can watch Now's report here.

In another health care horror story, Congressman and minority whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) told a woman who was asking what a relative without health insurance should do to treat the cancer she has been diagnosed with that she should try out one of the programs for indigent people (in other words, if you own anything let go of it and join the ranks of the indigent so you can get treatment) or that she should look for charities to help. Again, unreal.

Paul Krugman, the recipient of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, likened the United States, "on a bad morning", to Latin American countries (not a compliment, in case you were wondering, though one might say that some Latin American countries are at least on the right track these days). Krugman went on to say that we are not in good shape (an understatement) and that the American Dream is all but dead, at least for now, and that other countris are doing much better than the mighty U.S. of A. on many factors, including social mobility. Watch.

On Thursday, SNL nailed Glenn Beck down. If you have not seen it, watch this short clip:

To end this review of the week's best (and worst), Stephen Colbert puts Republicans (politicians and talking heads) to shame in this classic clip:

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Whether You Like Your Insurance or Not, You Still Need Health Care Reform

Think Progress has a list of conditions/medications and occupations considered uninsurable by certain health insurance companies. I have no beef with my current insurance company, but then again two of the medications I take daily are on that list. What would happen to me if I lost my job? Would I be uninsurable? Or would it simply mean that I would be insurable at higher rates that I can no longer afford to pay? In my case, I can always go back to the country where I was born and grew up, and get needed health care there. But do you have the same opportunity that I have?

Folks, listen: this is no joke. Health care reform which includes strict health insurance reform is a must, not an option.

Insurance is fine for things that do not happen every year, and that do not happen to everyone in a lifetime. We carry car insurance under the assumption that many people will never have an accident in their life, or that they will have one only every several years. We carry homeowners insurance against the very unlikely event that or that our house or our belongings will suffer damage. We insure our valuables against the infrequent possibility that they will be stolen. Those are all valid uses of insurance.

But health insurance? Everyone gets sick, every year, sometimes tragically. Each one of us can be counted to need surgery several times in our lifetime, or medication, doctor visits, and specialist care a few times a year. Now, there is a place even for health insurance but in a heavily-regulated market, where costs are contained within pre-set limits and where profits are not boundless for insurers and shareholders (and shareholders are at the heart of the problem); where no one is denied coverage for any reason, and where annual costs cannot exceed a fairly stingy cap; where everybody participates in the system because the risks are high and need to be spread across the entire population. We don't have such a system, and--regrettably--we are the only ones in rich countries who do not.

So stop protesting about slippery slopes, socialists takeovers, and death panels. Especially, stop decrying the loss of freedom: The only freedom you have now is to get sick, to be jettisoned, and to go bankrupt or die when your insurer decides your time has come.

We do not have the time for your antics. Please, climb aboard the reform train, before it leaves the station.

Those Who Protest Accusation of Racism Leveled Accusations of Anti-Patriotism

I happen to believe that the charges that at least some "tea party" protesters are racists are well founded. There is ample evidence that there is a creeping subtext of racism at rallies of health care reform protesters, evidenced by some of the signs that have been spotted around the nation, portraying President Obama as an illegal worker, as a monkey, as an African (yes, African, not African-American), and so on.

Keith Olbermann, the ultimate documenter of facts, put together an illuminating segment of the atmosphere that the right has been drumming up.

Most annoyingly, and hypocritically, those who now bemoan the accusations of racism leveled against them are the same types who have demeaned all who opposed President Bush's policy as unpatriotic.

There literally is no shame left, on the right.

Armey The Hypocrite Leads Army of Loons

You gotta watch this clip from last night's Bill Moyers Journal to believe the lunacy and the hypocrisy.

Moyers correctly points out that, when they were in power, "[Republicans] did nothing about health care except let its costs soar while their corporate backers reaped huge profits. Since then costs have more than doubled and are escalating now at twice the rate of inflation. There were around 39 million americans without health care coverage then. There are more than 46 million now."

Now they are saying that President Obama should hit the reset switch and start the health care reform debate from scratch, supposedly to get it right. They were lying about their desire to reform health care then, they are lying now, and they will continue to do so as long as there are enough gullible Americans to dupe with chants of "Freedom works!" The problem is that there seems to be an inexhaustible reserve of them.

Friday, September 18, 2009

It's the Weekend, Enjoy!

Classic clip from SNL, Weekend Update Thursday Edition. Featured:
  • How Joe Wilson's "You Lie!" outburst came about (at the beginning of the clip), and
  • A funny skit with "James Carville" (towards the end)

President Clinton On Health Care Reform

President Bill Clinton was on The Daily Show last night. There are three clips available. In the third one, presented here, President Clinton makes some very important points about the current effort to reform health care, with historical comparisons to programs of the past, what they contained when they were passed, and what they look like now.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

My Prescription For Health Care Reform

I have followed the national conversation about our broken health care system, and how to fix it, long enough and with sufficient depth to be able to come up with a list of suggestions (which, in fairness, I have drawn from different sources, such as Dr. and Gov. Howard Dean, T.R Reid, etc.) Here we go.

1) Everybody in, nobody out.
All Americans and legal residents would be automatically covered for basic health services (defined further down). No more exclusions for any reason whatsoever, no rescissions. Basic dental and vision care should also be included.

2) Shared, progressive responsibility for health care costs.
With the exclusion of those who make less than a certain amount of money, who shall receive free or subsidized health care, everyone must pay according to his means, with increasing surcharges and/or out of pocket expenses as income increases, not to exceed a maximum cap. This would be a simple and fair way to recognize the fact that we have a shared responsibility in the well-being of our fellow Americans.

3) Basic and necessary care v. elective care
Public option or no public option, the government shall produce a list including all services considered necessary, basic health care. Everything else would be covered under voluntary supplemental policies. Necessary does not mean cheap, it means non-elective. For example, reconstructive plastic surgery would be covered under the basic plan. Elective plastic surgery (rhinoplasty, breast implants--except following mastectomies) would not be covered under basic care, but would be covered by the voluntary supplemental policies. Dental implants would not be covered by basic care, but crowns, full or partial dentures would be, and so on. Heart surgery would be considered necessary care if it is the only or best way to address a patient's heart condition, all other considerations being equal, including quality of life.

We should pay particular attention to simplifying the list of what constitutes basic care without burdening it with exceptions, and also of what is tax deductible. For example, an entertainer might argue that a botox injection is a necessity even though it is a necessity for a factory worker. Well, sorry: I would argue that it still and elective procedure and, as such, that it should not covered under basic care. And I would cap tax deductions (or not allow them at all) for procedures that a doctor does not consider necessary (which would entail the necessity of an independent audit of doctors' practices to determine if they have been gaming the system to their advantage, or their patients'.)

Also, I don't know what the rate of hypochondriacs is in this country compared to others, but apparently a problem with the current system is that some individuals are guilty of overuse. Well, to address this problem, which I am sure is exaggerated, the system could be set up to pay up to a certain number of exams, procedures, etc., deemed necessary by a doctor. Any test, procedure of care beyond that limit should fall under the voluntary supplemental coverage. If a patient disagrees with a denial, s/he should be able to appeal the doctor's decision and the appeal process should be handled by a competent panel, expeditiously for cases in which the life of a patient may be at risk.

Call this rationing, if you like. The rest of us, people of at least average intellect and disposition, will call it common sense.

4) Incentives to doctors and patients for improved health.
Doctors should be paid more as their patients' health improves. For those who say this is unrealistic or difficult to measure, the National Health Service in the United Kingdom already does it. Additionally, patients should be rewarded with discounts for improving their general health, as this can help to reduce costs. Subsidies should be provided for those who exercise regularly.

I strongly believe that incentives are preferable to disincentives because they eliminate (or at least minimize) the danger of discrimination. For example, you could offer disincentives against risky behaviours, like smoking, and make smokers pay a health care surcharge (which is what insurers already do). But there are other risks that we currently have no disincentives against, for example eating fast-food, drinking soft drinks with high a content of high-fructose corn syrup, snacking too much on unhealthy snacks, and so on. Snowboarding may be considered healthy on one hand, risky on the other hand. How would you determine when the benefits of a behavior outweigh its risks? Who would decide. It would be hard to reach agreement on which behaviors should be discouraged, and which ones should not. Besides, there would be strong opposition from targeted industries, which would make disincentives harder to achieve than positive incentives (in the form of discounts.) It would be much easier to measure the effect of positive incentives than to gauge that of negative behaviors.

5) Medical Tort Reform
In other countries, as T.R. Reid notes in his book, The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care, it is uncommon for a doctor to ever be sued, so much so that doctors usually don't remember the amounts they pay for their malpractice premiums. You would be hard pressed to find a doctor in the United States who is not painfully aware of that information.

Let's be honest. The United States is a litigious country compared to many others. Given this premise, I will accept the conclusion that many malpractice lawsuits are frivolous. However, many are not. I am no expert of tort law, but there must be a way to limit the ability to impose damages only in cases of gross or recidivist negligence by a medical practitioner or hospital, while throwing out all others.

There are no guarantees in life, much less the guarantee that a remedy or procedure that worked for one person will not cause another to die or to be impaired. But unless it can be proven that such consequences have resulted from discriminatory or seriously negligent care, people should just accept two basic facts of life: life is not always fair and shit happens to the best of us.

6) Single-payer care for basic care.
Finally, the government should run the reimbursement system for all basic care services. Insurance companies can continue to run their operations as usual for elective care. This is an important point, perhaps the most important point, of any health care reform.

As mentioned in my previous post, T.R. Reid explains that we pay so much more than other countries to provide health care to a segment of the American population because we are the only country where the middle-man, insurance companies, is allowed to make a profit, and a handsome one, on basic health care services. One way that insurance companies use to increase their profits, and dividends for their shareholders, is to deny as many claims and to rescind as many policies as possible. I have already noted elsewhere on this blog that insurance companies refer to every dollar paid out to reimburse a claim, whether by a patient or by a doctor or hospital, as a "medical loss." Good grief, what a country!

Also, for every dollar patients pay for their premiums, insurance companies are typically allowed to keep up to 20 cents for administrative costs (which include the cost of paying for claim reviewers whose job is to find a way to deny claims, executive compensation, marketing costs, etc.) There may be exceptions to this rule that I am not aware of (and I bet you that, if they exist, they are skewed to favor the insurance companies.) This is insane! In the middle of a growing health care crisis, allowing an insurance company to waste one fifth of the money it takes in instead of directing it to services that should never be denied approaches the definition of insanity (and falls squarely into the definition of immorality.) The United States is the only country that not only allows such waste, but sanctions it with the weight of law.

Under a single-payer system, the government would have the authority to set the maximum amount of money that an insurance company can claim for its profits (and of money a pharmaceutical company can charge for its products), and would have the authority to set the maximum rate that a company can charge its customers for a basic premium. There would be no limits on what insurers can charge for supplemental policies, leaving companies free to charge their customers what the market can bear (but the government should guarantee adequate competition in this regard.) This is what the governments of Germany, France and Japan, to give just a few examples, already do successfully. The one thing they have in common is that they provide no less care, and no worse care, than the United States, at much lower costs. Anyone who tells you differently is either shilling for the status quo or is simply ignorant or misinformed.

This list is only the beginning. It is open to criticism and improvement, and I would love to hear your opinions on it (or your encouragement, if you think it is a good start and could be expanded.)

There is a very good chance that health reform in Washington will either fail to pass or, if it passes, that it will be inadequate and that it will not contain some or all of the elements listed above. But there is a backdoor for reform, and that is at the state level. T.R. Reid has predicted that in January 25 states will introduce their health care reform proposals in state legislatures. That is how health care reform started in Canada. It started in Saskatchewan and spread like wildfire, until the whole nation embraced it. While I am not too optimistic about the reform that is taking shape in Washington, I know that justice will eventually be achieved. Whether it is a matter of months or years remains to be seen, but I will not give up until it happens. And I welcome your help.

The Healing of America, a Book Presentation

Last night I attended a book presentation at the Tattered Cover, LoDo, a local Denver bookstore. The book was "The Healing of America" by T.R. Reid. The book covers how all rich countries do health care more cost-effectively and with better outcomes than the U.S. mess of a system. It focuses on 5 countries and proves, for the benefit of skeptical Americans, that the equation "government intervention = socialist takeover & death of private insurance" is blatantly false.

It was an interesting lecture/discussion with many profound take-aways, but the single, most important point Reid made is this: We pay so much more than other countries to provide healthcare to a segment of the American population because we are the only country where the middle-man, insurance companies, is allowed to make a profit. Doctors and hospitals in other countries run for-profit operations and compete with each other, but health insurance companies--who can be viewed mainly as administrators and paper pushers--are not allowed by law to make money on basic health care services. They are permitted to make as much money as they are capable of making on supplemental policies, but they cannot profit on the skin of patients for health care that is considered necessary. Instead, they must run a break-even operation. The question I did not hear, and would like to have asked, is how are insurance company employees (particularly executives) compensated in other countries for basic health care? My guess is that limits are set by the government on how much money insurance companies can make and that they need to work within the compensation limits and guidelines set by the government. That is not socialism, it is just a very fair, and very logical way, of addressing the need for everyone to receive affordable health care for non-elective services and procedures.

The other important point to emerge from the evening was that while waiting times are a fact in all systems that aim at controlling costs, it is a meme that no Americans are subjected to waiting to receive health care services. In fact many countries have, on average, shorter waiting times than the United States. The difference is that other countries make a logical and fair distinction between elective and necessary procedures. The latter are handled promptly in all systems, and waiting times apply almost exclusively to the former. The range of what is considered necessary v. elective also varies on a country-by-country basis. For example Viagra is considered non-elective in the U.K. (most likely due to the fact that the fellow who discovered it is a Brit), while in France it is considered elective (Reid reports that a French doctor, when asked why, replied "Ze French men do not need it.")

I am still reading the book and will post my comments about it once I am done.

Republicans, Christocrats, Insurance Companies, and the "Sanctity of Life" Bullshit

You already know that domestic violence is a pre-existing condition. Guess what else is a pre-existing condition in this "bananas" republic?

Really, anyone who opposes health care reform, and particularly health insurance reform, given the condition health care in this country, is a dick.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Corporations and Congress v. the Constitution of The United States

In an interview with All Things Considered, Len Nichols, a health care economist with the New America Foundation, said that "Even if Democrats and Republicans do generally agree on things like curbing the ability of insurance companies to exclude people because they have pre-existing health conditions [...] legislation to do that by itself would be vehemently opposed by the insurance industry." (Emphasis added.)

The bolded phrase highlights exactly what's wrong with our political system. Instead of working to promote necessary change, politicians of all stripes use insurance companies opposition to reform as an excuse to save the untenable status quo as far in the future as possible. Of course the insurance sector will oppose any reform likely to make a dent into their gargantuan profits, earned in spite of decency and morals. But, whereas Congress certainly needs to keep in mind the economic interests of corporations when shaping legislation, our elected representatives are supposed to put the collective interest of the people before the absolute best interest of any economic concerns. In fact, they have a constitutional duty to promote the general welfare of the people of the United States, those living and those not yet born, not the particular interests of a few.

What we are talking about when we talk about reform is not putting insurance companies out of business. Those who make that disingenuous point are defending the status quo with all the weapons at their disposal, including--especially--fearmongering. After all, insurance companies operate in other countries and still make handsome profits. What we are saying is that there comes a point in a democracy where we can, and must, put limits to the unfettered free market when it becomes obvious that its interest are in conflict with the majority interest of the American people. All other coutries that many American politicians like to berate have found a way to accomplish what America has been unable to do: to provide universal coverage to its citizens, either through government manage health care systems or through private insurance (or a combination of both) at costs which are often half the costs of what Americans pay.

Since the beginning of the millenium we have found the will and the money to wage two wars, to bail out auto makers and financial behemoths; we have never failed to find room in the budget for huge subsidies to the agri-business; we have no qualms when it comes to letting energy companies run away with the loot generated by gauging American consumers at the pump and in their homes. But, somehow, we never find the will or the money to help those in need, who are steadily growing in numbers, to meet the challenges of a world more adept than ever at chewing them and spitting them out, because, I suspect, of their inability to compete with corporate donors. You see, only big business is good business, ordinary folk never were.

Lights Out On "The Shining City On The Hill"

Stevem Hill, of the New America Foundation, wrote an op-ed for the Guardian in which he sums up the demise of the American model. Ignore at your peril.

An Open Letter To Sen. Baucus

Dear Senator:

This is the first time I have ever written to you. I have written emails to you before, but I have never "pulled the trigger". Why? Because I wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt. I wanted to wait until your plan was out, so it could be analyzed by people who know better than I do. Well, now the plan is out, and you are proud of it. Congratulations! You have written a bill "that can pass the Senate." Hooray. Except, that should not have been the goal. The goal should have been to pass a bill that would improve the life of the American people, not one that would line the coffers of the insurance industry.

Wendell Potter, a former VP at Cigna, said in yesterday's testimony to a congressional committee that your plan might as well be called "the Insurance Industry Profit Protection and Enhancement bill", because that's what it actually is.

Sen. Baucus: you and you colleagues have shamed the people of Montana by putting your insurance industry contributors ahead of the welfare of your constituents and of the rest of the American people. Well done!

Unfortunately it will be a few years before I can donate to your opponent when/if you have the gall to run for re-election, but rest assured that I will, and I will participate in any campaign against your re-election.


Fabrizio Siracusa,
Denver, CO


I also wrote the White House and asked them to pay attention to the fact that, in the Senate Finance Committee bill presented by Sen. Baucus, the cap for Flex Spending Account (which is a pre-tax benefit) drops from $3,000 to $2,000. Where I come from, that translates into higher taxes, which goes against President Obama's campaign pledge not to raise taxes on 95% of Americans. It is only one of the many ways in which the "Max Tax" sticks it to the middle class.

More on this as facts develop.

The Moral Bankruptcy of Thomas Sowell (Behind His Not So Glittering Words)

"One of the secrets of being a glib talker is not getting hung up over whether what you are saying is true, and instead giving your full attention to what is required by the audience and the circumstances of the moment, without letting facts get in your way and cramp your style. Obama has mastered that art."

And so, apparently, has Thomas Sowell, author of the paragraph cited above.

You see, Sowell even titled the article that contains that little nugget about deceiving one's audience Listening To a Liar: Part II. It really does take a special kind of liar to write what Sowell writes:

To tell us, with a straight face, that he can insure millions more people without adding to the already skyrocketing deficit, is world-class chutzpa and an insult to anyone's intelligence. To do so after an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office has already showed this to be impossible reveals the depths of moral bankruptcy behind the glittering words.

Except that, quite incoveniently for Sowell, this is what the president actually said in last week's address to Congress:

First, I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits -- either now or in the future. (Applause.) I will not sign it if it adds one dime to the deficit, now or in the future, period. And to prove that I'm serious, there will be a provision in this plan that requires us to come forward with more spending cuts if the savings we promised don't materialize. (Applause.) Now, part of the reason I faced a trillion-dollar deficit when I walked in the door of the White House is because too many initiatives over the last decade were not paid for -- from the Iraq war to tax breaks for the wealthy. (Applause.) I will not make that same mistake with health care.

You see, the part I emphasized is really important because it negates Sowell's ill-conceived accusation that "To tell us, with a straight face, that he can insure millions more people without adding to the already skyrocketing deficit, is world-class chutzpa and an insult to anyone's intelligence." The intelligence that Sowell refers to is counterbalanced by the dishonesty that Sowell never lacks in his attack on the sitting president, whom Sowell likes to call our "Charlatan-in-Chief."

Sowell, the incorrigible charlatan that he proves himself to be, says that if Obama's health reform plan passes "government-run medical care in the United States can be expected to produce what government-run medical care in Canada, Britain, and other countries has produced-- delays of weeks or months to get many treatments, not to mention arbitrary rationing decisions by bureaucrats."

The problem for Sowell is that for each article or study that he fails to produce in support of his assumed theory about the delays in getting health care in other countries, I can produce one to back the fact that waiting times in the United States are in fact worse than those of the countries that have health systems Sowell would like us to fear. Here is one such article, and here is one such study. It took me all of two minutes to find them. I guess I am not as lazy as Sowell, or perhaps I am more concerned with backing up statements with facts than he is.

And when Sowell refers to "the arbitrary rationing decisions made by bureaucrats", I guess he refers to the fact that bureaucrats are only to be feared if they work for the government; if they work for insurance companies they magically morph from bureaucrats into savvy business people, who--as we know--are much preferable because how could they ever do us harm, even when they determine that domestic violence is a pre-existing condition.

Stories of claims being denied by health insurance companies abound, as well as those of people who have no insurance because of pre-existing conditions or because they cannot afford to purchase it. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) collected a few such stories in this pamphlet. (.PDF) And imagine Sowell's elation when he read (did he?) this congressional memorandum about the practice of rescinding insurance policies for things as simple as a typo in an insurance application, knowing that only insurance bureaucrats were involved instead of those scary Washington bureaucrats.

In his total committment to shamelessly misrepresenting reality, Sowell suggests that supporters of universal health care should ask themselves where the president "is going to conjure up the additional doctors, nurses, and hospitals needed to take care of millions more patients"? Wait a minute! Aren't conservatives like Sowell always telling us that the uninsured already have access to great American doctors, nurses, and hospitals, even if they cannot afford insurance? If it is so, why would we have to look for more?

I cannot think of a better quote to close this post with than the one below, written by a great connoisseur of confidence games:

Con men understand that their job is not to use facts to convince skeptics but to use words to help the gullible to believe what they want to believe.

Why, that sentence describes Thomas Sowell's article, and Thomas Sowell, to a tee! He should be proud: He wrote it himself.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

In Spite of Claims to the Contrary, Republicans Stand Steadfast Between Americans and Their Doctors

Republicans like to say that they don't want any government interference between patients and their doctors.

However, recent polls show that both the American public and American doctors strongly favor the choice of a public alternative in health care reform.

So, why are Republicans standing between patients and their doctors, if both favor a public option? What do you know: We must be a nation of "socialists", after all.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Republicans Won't Allow Anyone Between Their Doctored Photos and the American People!

This is funny! Check out this photo:

The organizers of Saturday's 9/12 rally in Washington, a gathering of opponents of President Obama's health care reform, would have you believe that the crowd numbered in the millions, two million people, to be exact. This meme was reprised by the likes of Rush Limbaugh on today's radio show. As proof, they offered the photo above.

Turns out that the photo was taken before 2004 and is not a photo of Saturday's rally. In fact, the Washington Fire Department, those liberal bastards, put the real figure at roughly 60, 70,000 people. (You can click the photo above for a report on the story behind the picture, via Think Progress.)

You can click the photo for more on this latest conservative fiasco. Oh, and by the way, here is what 2 million people on the National Mall look like:

A Shot Across the Corporate Ship's Bow

Watch this and join Ann Minch in her fight.

Note that Ann was a "good" customer: she made her payments, on time, and continued to do so even now that she does not have a permanent job.

Some people commented that she deserves the treatment she got from BofA because she signed a contract that allowed the bank to do as it did. Yes, we share part of the blame, but the system that Congress has allowed to go into effect, which allowed banks to raise a customer's interest rates to usury levels for reasons unrelated to the relationship they had with a specific lender (for example a late payment on another credit card, an increase in the debt to income ratio, etc.) is a poisonous system, stacked against the consumer in favor of the banking concerns that we, the American taxpayers, had to bail out. This is a matter of simple justice and fairness.

Let's give Ann our support!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Conservative P.O.V. Worth Heeding

It's not often I find a conservative whose point of view I can agree with. But then again, it's not often I come across a conservative willing to accept and analyze facts. Well, hear hear, I found one.

Steve Chapman wrote a post for the rarely enlightening The title of the post is The Republican Health Care Failure. Huh? Is there one? Well, actually there is and I mentioned it on September 1st in my own An Inexhaustible Source of Hypocrisy, in which I raised the issue that it is only too convenient for Republicans to complain about Democratic health care reform plans now that they (Republicans) are in the minority, instead of doing something about health care when they were in power themselves just a short three years ago.

Chapman's article expands on the topic.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Worst Persons in the World?

On Thursday' Countdown, the worst persons in the world, according to Olbermann, were those who dupe the public, like Dobbs, the hosts of Fox and Friends, and Hannity. I disagree. The worst persons in the world are the dupes that let themselves be duped by these hacks. At some point, we have got to start calling members of the public out for their willingness to be duped.

Remember Vince Foster?

Sources say "key Blagojevich probe figure is dead". It won't be long before the Limbaughs and Hannitys of the world start claiming that this has somehow something to do with President Obama.

Nothing New on the Right

On Salon (via Commondreams), Glenn Greenwald makes the point that, while Rep. Joe Wilson's outburst during Obama's address to Congress last Wednesday may have been surprising to some, it should not have been.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Reality for Dummies

Health care reform oppponents like use the word takeover (often accompanied by the adjective "socialist") to mobilize people against any sort of government intervention to regulate or intervene in the unhampered operation of the free market. So, in recent times, the word takeover has been used in relation to the bailout of the financial sector (as in "the government has taken over the bank system"), or to describe the help extended by the government to beleagured car manufacturers. Never mind the fact that the stated goal of government intervention in these areas is not for the government to take over the banks or the auto industry, but to give them subsidies to save jobs in the middle of a recession and to prevent the recession from getting more dramatic, turning into a depression. No one in their right mind would believe that the American government is really seeking to nationalize free enteprise in America. It is absurd, simply because the corporations that own it would not allow it (and many people would revolt against such an attempt.)

Regardless of the fact that the word takeover completely misrepresents what the government has done with the bailouts and is trying to do in attempting to reform health care, those who like to throw the word around so glibly would do well to remember this: There would be no reason for this supposed takeover and for health care reform were it not for the fact that health insurance companies, drug companies, some doctors and hospital chains regard Americans as consumers of the products they offer (and America a nation to pillage and plunder), instead of a people to serve while making a reasonable profit.

Remember: it is not reasonable for the CEO of a health insurance company to walk away with a figure in excess of $700M in stock options, when a good chunk of that money is not earned by running a company that provides a needed service but by running one that sees to maximize profit by letting people die and taking cover behind the laws written by the regulators the commpany buys every 2, 4, and 6 years. This is not hyperbole. It is a shamefully accurate description of the way a large number of health insurance companies operate in this country, aided and abetted by complicit politicians.

Opponents of reform also raise the threat that the entrance of the government into the health insurance market will eventually drive insurance companies out of business. This is an unfounded claim, as it has not happened in other countries where the government plays a greater or smaller role in providing health insurance to its citizens. The risk is also not born out by the domestic examples that the president has mentioned last night and in the past, and those that we can easily identify ourselves, if we stop to think about them for a minute:

- public and private schools coexist, and in fact the push is to allow a larger number of private schools, not to eliminate them;
- the USPS exists along with Fedex, UPS, and other courier services (though they do not provide exactly the same services);
- community colleges and private universities exist in a rather healthy mix
- PBS and NPR are no threat to major networks or cable channels, though they do provide a healty and necessary non-profit service;
- and, finally, my favorite example: there is ample access to all kind of non-government provided beverages along while water is being provided by public entities.

In other words, there a few examples of public and private concerns coexisting in our society, where public does not threaten private (if anything, it's usually the other way around).

Finally, government intervention, government regulation, and government takeover are completely different concepts that cannot and should not be used interchangeably; unless, of course, the true intent of doing so is to deceive. Pro-corporation conservatives would have you believe that any intervention and regulation always equals a takeover, as if the United States was Cuba and Obama were Fidel Castro. But, hear hear, not every person who supports health care reform is a communist in disguise, not even president Obama. Those who would have you believe otherwise are peddling reality for dummies, as in the type of reality that can only be sold successufully to the ignorant and the misinformed.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go and think about how best to mobilize people in support of socialized medicine, for the glory of our Supreme Leader.

What a great country!

Meanwhile, over at the Constructive Curmudgeon...

The controversy about Obama's address to the nation has yet to reach its climax (it will start happening tomorrow, after Republicans ad their corporate and Christocrat allies have figured out just how to spin it).

Meanwhile, over at the Constructive Curmudgeon, would you believe it that Groothuis has just killed the controversy over President Obama's speech to school children by writing the last word about it? But first, a few highlights from what BJ The Tornado, Groothuis's most vocal remaining opponent on some subjects. I quote extensively here because, on occasion, Groothuis has been known to throw a hissy fit and delete entire posts. I believe that at least some the Tornado's points should be preserved for posterity.

Quite reasonably, the Tornado writes:

"I read the Titus article. It is entirely based on speculation as to the President's motives." Indeed, the Tornado is 100% correct. Not only that, it is based on the worst possible speculation about the president's imagined motives, so the Tornado continues in his entirely correct argument:

Sure, if you assume the absolute worst motives for your political opponents, then just about everything follows and anything you point to will count as “evidence” for your position.

That's the tricky thing about such bad reasoning and conspiracy theories: even when you AGREE with what someone is doing on the face of it, you point to even it as evidence that they are actually just trying to trick us.
OF COURSE, he'd say that, you argue -- he wants us to believe that... but he really doesn't.

This is insane.

Undeniably insane. But not only it is insane, it is--as evidenced by Groothuis's continued uncharitable attacks on Obama--fraudulent.

The highlight from the Tornado's long post follows:

Your position seems to be boiling down to this: If President Obama is in favor of X, and I agree with it, then he's actually lying. If, on the other hand, President Obama is in favor of Y, and I think that is wrong, it is further evidence that he is evil.

What an interesting position you've set up. To wit: Anything Obama does, he's wrong.

... This is a very dangerous road to go down.
Once you assume, across the board, the absolute worst in the motives of your political opponents, there is no longer any rational discourse or engagement. I pray you turn back.

I emphasized the last sentence because it is something that Groothuis, the self-important Christian teacher, could learn from one of his students (I believe BJ the Tornado was a student of Dr. Groothuis, I will accept corrections on this). Specifically, the lesson is: You can disagree with someone, but you do not have to demonize them or hate them, as Groothuis with the president; you can, and as a Christian probably should, pray for them. Never in Groothuis' writings on the Curmudgeon do I remember reading something so simple, and yet so poignant. It is a sad reflection of how bitter Groothuis is as a person and of how poor he can be as a teacher that he has to be reminded how a Christian might act by one of his students.

And then the Tornado addresses Groothuis directly in his closing:

You wrote: "These are not paranoid concerns, but very real. We should be warned and take action."

Dr. G, I love you and respect you and so I am sorry to have to be the person to tell you this so frankly, but, YES, they ARE paranoid concerns. When you take the President talking to children about staying in school and then draw a line from that to German/Italian Fascism (as you did), well, sorry, but that is a paranoid concern.

The President encourages kids to stay in school… he must actually be trying to brainwash the kids to be socialists… therefore, Mussolini/Hitler.

I shake my head in disbelief.

I tell you this because I respect you so highly...

Well said, Tornado. True to your name you have flattened Groothuis's fraudulent attack with logic. I would simply say this: I don't know where you got the idea that Groothuis deserves any respect. Perhaps he did at one point, but he has not earned it in his dealings with me, nor has he earned it with the great majority of his vitriolic, unsubstantiated, irrational, and nakedly partisan ideas that he posts on his blog on his political opponents. Maybe it is just a matter of time for you, as it has been for me, until you lose the respect you still hold for the man.

Groothuis did write the last word on the subject, another chilling example of hatred, lack of reason, and lack of Christian charity:

Your harsh language is inexcusable, BJ. I may be wrong, but my convictions come out of my knowledge of Obama's beliefs and strategy (Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals"). He is a bad and dangerous man. Following his campaign should have told you that. You judge a man by his ideas and friends. For Obama, both are abysmal. He cannot be trusted, given the evidence of his life.

If Groothuis considers BJ's language harsh and inexcusable, then I am not surprised that I have been banned from his blog. It is symptomatic of his attitude to Obama that he calls him "bad and dangerous." As BJ said in his response, "if you assume the absolute worst motives for your political opponents, then just about everything follows and anything you point to will count as 'evidence' for your position."

Of particular interest is Groothuis's affirmation that "you judge a man by his ideas and his friends". Surely you should judge a man by his ideas, preferably fairly, but as far as friends go I prefer Joseph Conrad's quote: "You shall judge a man by his foes as well as by his friends."

Between Obama's friends and his sworn enemies my preference comes down squarely on the side of the president.

A Speech Does Not Policy Make, Nevertheless It Was Magnificent

President Obama just finished delivering his address on health care to Congress and to the nation.

No one will have heard everything they wanted to hear. But there was much to be inspired by, particularly the tribute to the late Senator Kennedy that morphed into a tribute to the best America has to offer, or the recognition that good ideas, including one proposed during the campaign by Sen. McCain. It was nice to see two politicians who fought each other so fiercely, so recently, smile warmly at each other.

To be sure, not even a magnificent speech can be certain to automatically translate into tangible results. But it will make it much harder for opponents and for those who were sitting on the fence to defend the indefensible status quo.

There are no certainties, but hope is alive.

Robert Reich's Video on Why He Supports the Public Option, and Why You Should, Too

Nothing to add, Robert Reich says it all in 159 seconds.

If Obama Were Jackson Evans

Progressives, the incurable dreamers they are, are hoping that President Obama's address to the nation on health care, to be given later tonight, will deliver a knockout punch to opponents of health care reform, which include not only the scaremongering Republican politicians who peddled lies about "death panels", government bureaucrats interposing themselves between you and your doctor (as if health insurance companies hadn't already been doing that for years), socialist takeovers and similar bullshit, but also those who simply sat idly through it all, corroborating the lies with their silence, and the Blue Dog Democrats and the other various Pontius Pilate-like figures who have been acting as if appeasing the ignorant, misinformed, and maddened crowds at town hall meetings were more important than solving the crisis that each year costs the lives of 7 times as many Americans as 9/11 has. I am no fortune-teller, but I can tell them this: If they hope for a knockout punch, they don't know Obama.

Those who have watched Sen. Obama campaign for a year and a half before getting the nomination, and then watched him campaign against John McCain for the presidency have often wished that he would directly confront his detractors: Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Sarah Palin, and their surrogates. How many times have I sat through one of the many debates hoping that candidate Obama would forcefully confront a lie and throw it back at its source's face? How many times have I wished that he would expose the hypocrisy of an opponent's statement? Hardly ever did he do that, and even when he did he never went for the knockout punch, preferring instead to work his opponents with a series of body blows--not too violent, not ruthless, just firm.

Barack Obama is poised, cerebral, controlled--to a fault. Stretching the boxing analogy, his ideal bout would be one won by decision, one in which he wouldn't let a single blow land on him, while his opponent would end up falling to the mat, exhausted and vanquished, at 2 minutes and 52 seconds of the last round.

So I predict that when the president steps to the podium tonight, he will make a rational case for why the country needs health care reform, without committing to a public option, with or without a trigger, without raising the threat of a veto.

He will underscore the commitment of the pharmaceutical industry and of some insurance companies to lower costs and expand access to their products, while stressing the importance of voting on a bill that eliminates lifetime caps on health care benefits, pre-existing conditions, and price increases over a certain threshold.

He will point to the fact that the system works very well for some but that it does not work for everyone, for too many in fact, but he will gloss over the fact that if it does not work for everyone, as is the case in all other civilized countries on earth, it cannot be said to work at all.

He will point to the Pyrrhic victory of signing a bill that will cover a large number of uninsured, without mentioning the fact that without covering everyone thousands of people will continue to die in America for lack of access to the affordable, basic health care that hundreds of millions of Europeans, Asian, and Oceanian citizens in dozens of countries all over the world get from their governments, not for free, but for a price everyone can afford. He will say that true and complete reform will be incremental, not a one-shot affair. And on, and on, and on.

And, in a last effort to make reform look bipartisan he will solicit the support of Republicans, who--to this day--have only worked to stall reform, to smear it with unconscionable lies, and to scare people about it.

Some of these things are good, desirable even, but they are not enough.

I would hope, but do not believe, that the President would see it fit to shame Congress into giving the rest of America what Congressmen and women, along with all federal employees, already get from the American taxpayer: access to a variety of affordable, comprehensive plans. Or what Iraqi and Afghan citizens already get: universal health care, bought and paid for, no less, with American taxpayers' money.

I would hope that the president will make a moral case for health care reform, rather than a business case.

Finally, I would hope, but do not believe, that that President Obama will borrow and adapt a few lines from the fictional president of The Contender, President Jackson Evans, played by Jeff Bridges (SPOILER ALERT: the link and the passage below can give away the end of the movie, if you have not seen it):

And I'm now calling for an immediate vote for the expansion of Medicare to all Americans who would choose to enroll, including those younger than 65. And Mr. Speaker, I would like to make this a live roll call. I want to see the faces of those of you who would eliminate the possibility of guaranteeing health care as a basic right of all the citizens of our nation because of half-truths, lies, and scare tactics.

I will not be deterred by partisanship.

I will not be deterred by lies.

I will not be deterred by hate.

You have now come face-to-face with my will. Support my decision, heal this nation, and let the American people explode into this new millennium with the exhilaration of being true to the glory of this democracy.

I can hope, but I have no illusions: President Evans is a fictional character. In reality, we only have President Obama.

I'd love to be wrong.

Trigger Unhappy

With the usual aplomb, Robert Reich explains why a trigger on the public option is nonsense. Read and assimilate.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Gays Are Getting Married And... The Sky Is Falling!

Is it, really?

To all the Chickenshit Littles out there in the increasingly unbearable Christian conservative camp, I recommend this post, from Dispatches on the Culture Wars.

With gay marriage on the books for six years, divorce rates in Massachusetts have dropped--you read right: dropped--to pre-World War II levels. Perhaps it is because Christian couples that, absent gay marriage, would ordinarily have divorced, have instead decided to stick together to prove the "sanctity of marriage." Or, perhaps, it is because the Falwells, the Dobsons, and the Colsons of the world, who were warning us about the fall of society if gays were allowed to marry, were full of sanctimonious shit from the beginning.

How do you think the Christian right will spin this incontrovertible little fact? Your guesses are welcome.

Monday, September 07, 2009

I'm Sorry, Cult of What?

Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, says that tomorrow's speech to school children to inaugurate the beginning of the school year appears to be in service to the "cult of Obama." I only point it out because, although Mohler cloaks his observation in gentleness and apparent reasonableness, it is one that many conservatives like to make (sarcastically referring to Obama as the Obamessiah, the savior, etc. In spite of the explicit call to reason in his op-ed, Mohler still manages this: "This is not the Soviet Union or North Korea. We do not need a cult of personality around this White House." (Emphasis added.)

The reference to a cult of personality is both suspect and dangerous and is aimed at demeaning and demonizing this particular president. Maybe Mohler does not know, but do you know what "cult of personality" is code for among fringe, and not so fringe, conservatives? Hitler, Mussolini: that's what.

And what is the evidence that there is an Obama cult of personality? Well, first, the Department of Education suggested this: "Teachers can extend learning by having students write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president. These would be collected and redistributed at an appropriate date by the teacher to make students accountable to their goals." In other words: the President and his administration are working hard to make sure that children have everything they need in their school to improve their learning experience (better teachers, better books, better infrastructure, better computers, you name it), so what can children to in turn to help the president accomplish his goals? That suggestion, however clumsily worded, according to conservatives, is proof of the cult of Obama? Really?

The other "evidence" given by Mohler that the cult of Obama really exists is this video, which was produced by supporters of Obama and released on the day of his inauguration:

Let's say for a moment that the video goes overboard in idolatry of the newly-inaugurated president (I happen to think that it is as ridiculous as I believe it to be innocently well-meaning), and let's assume that this is the definitive proof that "the cult of Obama" is widespread, instead of looking at it as an enthusiastic if ill-realized paean to a promising, intelligent, rational president after the previous eight dismal years. Are conservatives really in any position to give lessons about the cult of personality? Really?


Groothuis's Continuing Delirium About Obama's Speech To School Kids

Predictably, rather than admitting his error and asking his readers to forgive him, Groothuis takes his rant about Obama's speech to school children (see my previous post) to a new level of delirium:
A talk to kids is fine. Obama reads a mean speech, so it will seem inspiring to some.

Encouraging them to pledge to support the president and giving curricula to the schools to that end is something else. Apparently, some of this has been rescinded given the outcry against the demogogery and arrogance of the original plan. (Emphasis added.)

Just so we're on the same page on the definition of delirium, here's the Merriam Webster's definition: "an acute mental disturbance characterized by confused thinking and disrupted attention usually accompanied by disordered speech and hallucinations." All characteristics of delirium are present in Groothuis's take on Obama speech, particularly the hallucinations about anything being "rescinded given the outcry against the demogogery [sic] and arrogance of the original plan." What original plan, may I ask?

People like Groothuis, and their tactics, are so pathetic that anyone with an ounce of brain matter can see through them a mile ahead. And gifted people, like Ed Brayton, can write oh-so presciently:
Prediction: The right wing loonies who threw a hissy fit over this will respond in one of two ways.

A. Continue to rant like nutballs. Or,

B. Claim a victory because they forced Obama to change his speech and take out all the political indoctrination they hallucinated would be in there in the first place.

I will make the Curmudgeon an offer: I will stop calling him an intellectual fraud if he posts on his ridiculous blog a White House statement or press-release (not a meretricious Fox News fantasy bulletin, or the fevered fantasies of people like Titus, Groothuis or anyone like them) of the speech that the president intended to have given, before the outcry, complete with highlights of the revisions?

A true Curmudgeon should love a challenge.

The Problem With American Education

So now the pompous Curmudgeon accuses President Obama of arrogance ("arrogant" being the one of the most charitable assessments given by Groothuis on the president.)

Here is the full text of Obama's speech to American's schoolchildren.

Read and decide whether Obama "wants to cast his spell on the children of America by imposing this personality and socialist worldview on the state-run schools", something akin to Hitler or Musssolini in Groothuis' dangerously deranged mind, or whether Groothuis is one pathetic charlatan.

I am sure, being the intellectually honest person we know him to be (?), that Groothuis was equally enraged in 1988 when President Reagan gave a speech to American school children which CNN defined as "politically charged", in that Reagan actually called taxes "such a penalty on people that there's no incentive for them to prosper ... because they have to give so much to the government." You can read the transcript here .

The fact that Groothuis has "never seen anything like this" is a testament to his willful blindness and intellectual dishonesty. The problem is that he is indoctrinating scores of students, albeit ones already predisposed to be led to self-delusion, from the halls of Denver Seminary. Obama's speech to school kids is not the problem with American education. People like Groothuis are.

A Curmudgeon reader, who is privileged enough to be allowed by Groothuis to post comments, wrote the following (emphases added):
I have this strange feeling you won't claim that Bush [in 1991] was trying to brainwash children, cast a spell on them, or indoctrinate them into a political philosophy in that talk.
Rather, I bet you'll think he was just being a good president, using his platform to encourage our nation's students to do well in school.

And you'd be right.
And that's the same thing Obama is doing here. This should not be controversial in the slightest. That is [sic] has been made into a fake-outrage is, sadly, more telling of the state of conservatisim than anything else.

When the conservative "movement" goes looking for a leftist-socialist-conspiracy under every rock, the world stops taking you seriously. When you cry wolf 10 times, we are much less likely to listen on the 11th.

Groothuis responded "Did you read the Herbert Titus article?! There is much more going on than the platitudes. It is an agenda to get Obaha's ideas insinuated into the curriculum." And "Please consider more carefully what I am saying and why I am saying it before jumping to conclusions and accusing me of being an ideologue."

Well, Mr. Groothuis, I have read Titus's article. It is a litany of straw men and red herrings designed to construct the "fake outrage" that BJ the Tornado, your dissenting and discerning reader, warns you against. A few appalling and ridiculous examples of Titus's technique should suffice: "While President George Washington was the father of our country, Barack Obama would be the father to the nation’s children." And "While President Washington was the nation’s first commander-in-chief of America’s armed services, responsible for training America’s army and navy, President Obama would be the nation’s first principal-in-chief, empowered to oversee the education of her boys and girls." It would be bad enough to criticize President Obama for giving a speech to school kids if Bush and Reagan had also been criticized by people like Groothuis and Titus when they did the same. But they were not.

Hey, it's a free country: if you don't want your children to hear the President of the United States encourage kids to work hard and stay in school, send them to bible study or home school them. But if you try to paint the speech as an attempt by a "socialist president" to indoctrinate them and turn them into good nazi brown shirts and fascist black shirts, like Hitler and Mussolini, and then make the argument you are not an ideologue, do us a favor and go fuck yourself, you pathetic, little self-righteous prick!

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Obama and the Blue Dogs are Miscalculating

Obama and the Blue Dog Democrats believe that an incremental approach to health care reform is the best we can hope for. Both the president and conservative Democrats seem to believe that it will serve them best to appease the opponents of a public option in health care reform, in order to protect the re-election chances of moderate Democrats in districts that tend to vote Republican. Nothing could be further from the truth, as McJoan and a host of others point out in this brilliant post at the Daily Kos.

I agree with the post's premise that, in fact, Blue Dogs and moderate Democrats are the ones who stand to lose the most if they refuse to support real reform of our disastrous health care system. Take away the votes of those Democrats they can usually rely on, and their re-election is in doubt. Who needs people like Ben Nelson, Max Baucus and Kent Conrad, just to single out a few, if they cannot even stand for the most basic principles of fairness and social justice, health care for all, without a profit motive? All other countries in the world have managed to do it.

I have already written the White House to the effect that if the president caves in on the public option (or, better yet, Medicare for all who want it) I will actively campaign against him both in the 2012 primaries (because there will be a progressive opponent running against him). If on the other hand he were to run for re-election unopposed, I will either abstain from helping his re-election campaign or even help his Republican opponent, no matter how offensive s/he will be (and chances are, it will rate very high on the "offensive" scale). If that seems like a case of cutting off one's nose to spite one's face, it isn't: We need to send a definitive message to Democrats who will chose to run on a platform of "change we can believe in" or similar campaign inducements that betrayal of one's promises has consequences, and that neither the vote nor the patience of progressive can be taken for granted.

If anyone wants to try to convince me that this is the wrong approach, please try.

Denial of Claims = Death Panels

Watch the segment below, from Keith Olbermann's Countdown.

Does every claim denied result in the death of a patient? Of course not.
Does every claim denied result in a bankruptcy personal bankruptcy? No, but too many do. (About 700,000 bankruptcies in the United States result every year from medical bills.)

But, it is important to note, this only happens in the United States of America. Yes, the mighty USA preys on its citizens and allows thousands to die every year because preserving for profit health care is more important than protecting lives. "Pro-lifers": have you no shame after all?

Since the number of people that die every year from preventable medical conditions is, according to most estimates, between 18,000 and 22,000, one wonders why the death of 3,000 people on 9/11 sparked two wars, at least one of which was entirely arbitrary, but the deaths of sick people have not sparked an equal desire to wage war on sickness. Follow the money, as usual.

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