Archive for November, 2009
This week is the week for giving thanks and probably a time for a bit of introspection and humility. Of course, one of the things I’m thankful for are the folks who read my blog, the modest set of folks who follow me on Twitter and the handful of folks who listen to my Internet radio show. As I was finishing off a slice of pumpkin pie last night it occurred to me that eating a couple of slices of humble pie might be appropriate for today’s post.
The first slice involves a topic that I have never written about in the main body of the blog but I have mildly debated it within the comments section. I am one of those who champions the notion of climate change and calls climate change skeptics ignorant neanderthals. So, man did I have egg on my face earlier this week when some emails unearthed by a hacker revealed some shenanigans going on with the data supporting global warming. Apparently the following damning sentence was found in email exchanged among scientists at the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit:
I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd [sic] from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.
When scientists use the words “trick” and “hide” it’s natural for us ordinary folks to become a bit concerned. Climate change advocates say the sentence was taken out of context. Climate change skeptics are ready to throw the baby out with the bath water. While I am not ready to throw the baby out with the bath water, this incident does make me reevaluate what government’s role should be in science. I am almost ready to say that our founding principle of separation of church and state should be extended to separation of science and state. I think it ‘s worth investigating whether science becomes contaminated when politicized. I haven’t figured out when is the proper juncture for government to act on the findings of science but I think in the case of climate change it has become uncertain who is the cart and who is the horse. Scientists have always had a problem with pride of ownership that can interfere with their objectivity, but this is doubly compounded when politicians get involved and the stakes for being wrong get too high. If you think a scientist has a problem being wrong, you haven’t seen anything until you look at politicians. Clearly the “climate change movement” has taken a bad credibility hit. We need to restore objectivity and get the politicians out of this for a while (do you hear me, Al Gore?).
The second slice of humble pie involves some intellectual dishonesty on my part. Such dishonesty usually comes back to kick one in the ass and this week I did indeed get my ass kicked. Back in September, I published an article about a census taker in Kentucky who was found hanged under mysterious circumstances. I used the event to prove that the evil right-wing was on the march. The worst offense was the following claim:
Much of the media is approaching this story with caution. Clearly, the investigation is just beginning and this could be either a very bizarre suicide or a “prank” homicide completely unrelated to any political agenda. If either case proves to be true, we should still stop and contemplate this moment. Regardless of what really happened, what are many of us thinking right now and why?
Well, I should have approached the story with much more caution, like not have written about it in the first place. It turns out that the terminally ill census taker staged his own murder so his son could get the insurance. The best part is when I say that regardless of the facts we should still contemplate what happened. This kind of reminds me of when my buddy Rush Limbaugh found out that an Obama thesis story he had covered was a hoax and then said the fiction was consistent with fact and therefore didn’t deserve a retraction.
Well friends, sometimes emotional fervor interferes with clear thinking. When the facts of the case dictate that some right-wing looney tune has gone off the deep end, then and only then is it appropriate to get one’s bowels in an uproar about it. You probably won’t see Keith Olbermann or Rachel Maddow say “my bad” about this one, but you will see me say it.
MY BAD and I hope you all had a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!
During the Obama campaign, I wrote about my theory of religion as a salad bar and I suppose that article could be considered Part 1. In that article I proposed that what kept Obama in Jeremiah Wright’s church for 20 years was the typical salad bar approach that many have to religion. I listen to what pleases me and I discard the rest. Obama claims he never heard Wright say anything inflammatory. That just doesn’t pass the sniff test. I contend, Barack didn’t hear what he didn’t want to hear.
Now we move onto Part 2. For what must be purely political reasons, Patrick Kennedy, Democratic Representative from Rhode Island and son of the late great Senator Ted Kennedy, has decided to air his religious dirty laundry in public. Apparently back in 2007, Bishop Thomas Tobin told Kennedy essentially that he was not a good Catholic and therefore could not receive communion. The crux of the rift between Kennedy and his church was his pro-choice stance on abortion. According to Politico, Kennedy was not the only politician held in disdain by Tobin for a pro-choice preference.
On MSNBC’s “Hardball”, Chris Matthews pulled no punches in his interview with Tobin. If you can get past Matthews’ relentless and often irritating interview style, you get some interesting questions regarding separation of church and state.
When the church holds politicians personally accountable for the legislation they support is that a (not so) subtle way of influencing debate? Is Tobin right that it is the job of the church to provide moral guidance to government even if the church does not actually write the laws? I found Tobin’s argument compelling even if he could not handle the ultimate job of deciding what the punishment should be for illegal abortions.
But I digress. What I really want is to shine a light on the typical “religious so long as it suits me” attitude of Patrick Kennedy who wants to have his wafer and eat it too. I’m sorry dude but you signed up to be a Catholic. No one put a gun to your head to force you into it. Your church says abortion is wrong and if you support views contrary to that, then you’re not towing the line of your church. So it’s very simple, you don’t get communion. To me it’s a lot like the gay couples who want to yell and scream about not getting church weddings. Folks, at least if you’re a Christian, your religion considers your lifestyle an abomination. You’re not gonna change that. So get out of the church or find one that thinks differently. Same goes for Representative Kennedy. Catholicism is no salad bar, despite what you may see many of your hypocritical fellow Catholics do. Either you abide by the teachings of the church or you suffer whatever consequences the church has for you. It’s really that simple.
This is what the Republican members of the Senate did tonight. They voted unanimously that health care reform in this country was not worth debate. Period. No tort reform. No interstate sales of insurance. None of their other supposed solutions that sidestep the public option. Nothing. No debate. Just kill it.
A bunch of irresponsible bastards who will have your children’s blood on their hands if heaven forbid your children 20 years from now can’t get a job with health care and suffer a catastrophic illness. You have today’s ignorant Republicans to blame for your children’s future suffering.
As much as I disdain Joe Lieberman, at least he voted in favor of debate. That’s all we wanted tonight was a chance to carry the ball forward, to debate and amend. That is the American way. Well that is unless you are a Republican dead set on bringing down the Presidency of Barack Obama.
Well guess what, suckers. We had the votes, the votes came through and the debate will commence. I hope the obstructionist punks keep saying no all the way down the line so that true patriotic Conservatives can take notice and throw their sorry asses out of Congress in November of 2010.
I’ve been accused of being all over the place regarding the Tea Party movement. I have called them, in no particular order, ignorant, racist, unfocused and fraternity/sorority boys and girls simply out for a good time. The one thing I didn’t give them credit for was having a small dose of sanity within their ranks.
Today, Politico published an article on rancor within the Tea Party movement. The article confirmed one of my strongest suspicions about the movement, namely that these folks cannot agree on why they are so angry. Such movements simply need the Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin type to get them fired up. They make their signs and show up for a good old-fashioned protest. They robotically cite lines about losing our country and its constitution. But look through the crowd and the signs themselves betray a total lack of focus. Some are upset about taxes (Obama so far has reduced taxes for the middle class), some are upset about gun rights (nobody’s guns have been taken away just yet), and a small but visible minority seem unhappy to have a black President.
One sentence in the Politico article jumped out at me:
In Granbury, Texas, local tea party organizer Josh Sullivan says he believes the movement’s effectiveness is being compromised by extremism.“You have some interesting folks in the Tea Party movement — some of them I can support, but some of them are kind of out there and radical, and I don’t want to associate myself with them,” he said.
Ah, could it be a voice of sanity within the whirling dervish crowd?
All you fans of this grass-roots movement can yell and scream until your faces turn blue. Until the Tea Party movement finds a leader and forgoes free-floating anxiety in favor of a well articulated platform, they will remain an entertaining and sometimes disturbing sideshow.
The stench of hypocrisy rising from the gut of conservatives over the weekend is overwhelming. You see, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM for short) and four other 9/11 terrorists would be tried in the Southern District of New York Federal court. Now we know the GOP is all for good old-fashioned American justice. Perhaps if a Republican administration had made this decision, we’d be hearing about what a proud moment it will be when these thugs get their just deserts in the city they tried to bring down. But alas, the Attorney General in a Democratic administration made the decision and now it is damn near treason!
The folks who want to impeach Obama just for breathing, list a bunch of imaginary horribles for why a federal trial is a bad idea. It makes New York vulnerable. That’s the claim of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (“America’s Mayor”, cough, cough). Of course he didn’t feel that way when the original World Trade Center bombers were brought to justice in New York. Giuliani was all for it then. Rudy also conveniently ignores that Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th 9/11 hijacker was tried and convicted in Virginia and Virginia still stands today, never remotely in danger of any terrorist strike.
Conservatives who are the first to scream and shout about the beauty of our constitution and criminal justice system seem to have suddenly lost all faith in it. What if KSM gets off on a technicality? Well let’s face a practical reality here folks. KSM has so many pending charges against him that if he beats the first charge (not likely), he’ll go right back into custody awaiting trial on the next charge. You won’t see KSM enjoying soul food at Sylvia’s any time in the near future.
So what is really bothering our conservative brothers? What is the “technicality” that really has them apoplectic? Well you see, our country which prides itself on the rule of law, shouted most loudly from the rooftops by chest beating right-wingers, was a baaaaaaad boy over the past eight years. We did nasty things to our prisoners during that time. Some call it torture but just about everyone can agree it was nasty. Now under the rule of law any evidence obtained from a prisoner who suffered under your watch, usually gets tossed out during a trial. As luck would have it, these fanatical thugs left an evidence trail so long and so obvious that convictions will be easy even with the smell of torture in the air. But nevertheless, just the thought that our behavior may be on trial has conservatives in an uproar.
The truth is any public scrutiny of what we did to these defendants while in custody will be an unintended but completely deserved consequence of a federal trial. Dick Cheney and his band of 24 devotees acted with such blatant disregard for international law, that their supporters are now crapping in their pants at the thought that we may have rendered KSM and other Gitmo detainees un-prosecutable. I believe Eric Holder has found a path toward conviction that detours around Cheney’s shenanigans.
There is satisfaction and dare I say justice in watching conservatives squirm right now. What they have claimed was perfectly legal treatment of detainees suddenly has them worried about how legal it will appear in a real court. Richard Nixon once told David Frost (I paraphrase here) that nothing the President does can be illegal. That was the arrogance that informed the Bush administration. Over the next couple of years of prosecutions, we liberals will show the world how our criminal justice system is supposed to work and in so doing, we will atone for the sins of the past eight years.
We will walk it like conservatives talk it. That is poetic justice indeed!
Thanks to a Facebook friend of mine, I stumbled upon a year old segment of PBS’s “Frontline” entitled “Sick Around the World”. The episode highlighted, in a fair and balanced way, how health care is administered in five leading capitalist countries. Most of these systems have cost issues, not for the sick but for the government. Yet each country has prioritized the care of its citizens above fear of deficits. Below, from the PBS web site is a summary of the five systems:
Percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) spent on health care: 8.3
Average family premium: None; funded by taxation.
Co-payments: None for most services; some co-pays for dental care, eyeglasses and 5 percent of prescriptions. Young people and the elderly are exempt from all drug co-pays.
What is it? The British system is “socialized medicine” because the government both provides and pays for health care. Britons pay taxes for health care, and the government-run National Health Service (NHS) distributes those funds to health care providers. Hospital doctors are paid salaries. General practitioners (GPs), who run private practices, are paid based on the number of patients they see. A small number of specialists work outside the NHS and see private-pay patients.
How does it work? Because the system is funded through taxes, administrative costs are low; there are no bills to collect or claims to review. Patients have a “medical home” in their GP, who also serves as a gatekeeper to the rest of the system; patients must see their GP before going to a specialist. GPs, who are paid extra for keeping their patients healthy, are instrumental in preventive care, an area in which Britain is a world leader.
What are the concerns? The stereotype of socialized medicine — long waits and limited choice — still has some truth. In response, the British government has instituted reforms to help make care more competitive and give patients more choice. Hospitals now compete for NHS funds distributed by local Primary Care Trusts, and starting in April 2008 patients are able to choose where they want to be treated for many procedures.
Percentage of GDP spent on health care: 8
Average family premium: $280 per month, with employers paying more than half.
Co-payments: 30 percent of the cost of a procedure, but the total amount paid in a month is capped according to income.
What is it? Japan uses a “social insurance” system in which all citizens are required to have health insurance, either through their work or purchased from a nonprofit, community-based plan. Those who can’t afford the premiums receive public assistance. Most health insurance is private; doctors and almost all hospitals are in the private sector.
How does it work? Japan boasts some of the best health statistics in the world, no doubt due in part to the Japanese diet and lifestyle. Unlike the U.K., there are no gatekeepers; the Japanese can go to any specialist when and as often as they like. Every two years the Ministry of Health negotiates with physicians to set the price for every procedure. This helps keeps costs down.
What are the concerns? In fact, Japan has been so successful at keeping costs down that Japan now spends too little on health care; half of the hospitals in Japan are operating in the red. Having no gatekeepers means there’s no check on how often the Japanese use health care, and patients may lack a medical home.
Percentage of GDP spent on health care: 10.7
Average family premium: $750 per month; premiums are pegged to patients’ income.
Co-payments: 10 euros ($15) every three months; some patients, like pregnant women, are exempt.
What is it? Germany, like Japan, uses a social insurance model. In fact, Germany is the birthplace of social insurance, which dates back to Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. But unlike the Japanese, who get insurance from work or are assigned to a community fund, Germans are free to buy their insurance from one of more than 200 private, nonprofit “sickness funds.” As in Japan, the poor receive public assistance to pay their premiums.
How does it work? Sickness funds are nonprofit and cannot deny coverage based on preexisting conditions; they compete with each other for members, and fund managers are paid based on the size of their enrollments. Like Japan, Germany is a single-payment system, but instead of the government negotiating the prices, the sickness funds bargain with doctors as a group. Germans can go straight to a specialist without first seeing a gatekeeper doctor, but they may pay a higher co-pay if they do.
What are the concerns? The single-payment system leaves some German doctors feeling underpaid. A family doctor in Germany makes about two-thirds as much as he or she would in America. (Then again, German doctors pay much less for malpractice insurance, and many attend medical school for free.) Germany also lets the richest 10 percent opt out of the sickness funds in favor of U.S.-style for-profit insurance. These patients are generally seen more quickly by doctors, because the for-profit insurers pay doctors more than the sickness funds.
Percentage GDP spent on health care: 6.3
Average family premium: $650 per year for a family for four.
Co-payments: 20 percent of the cost of drugs, up to $6.50; up to $7 for outpatient care; $1.80 for dental and traditional Chinese medicine. There are exemptions for major diseases, childbirth, preventive services, and for the poor, veterans, and children.
What is it? Taiwan adopted a “National Health Insurance” model in 1995 after studying other countries’ systems. Like Japan and Germany, all citizens must have insurance, but there is only one, government-run insurer. Working people pay premiums split with their employers; others pay flat rates with government help; and some groups, like the poor and veterans, are fully subsidized. The resulting system is similar to Canada’s — and the U.S. Medicare program.
How does it work? Taiwan’s new health system extended insurance to the 40 percent of the population that lacked it while actually decreasing the growth of health care spending. The Taiwanese can see any doctor without a referral. Every citizen has a smart card, which is used to store his or her medical history and bill the national insurer. The system also helps public health officials monitor standards and effect policy changes nationwide. Thanks to this use of technology and the country’s single insurer, Taiwan’s health care system has the lowest administrative costs in the world.
What are the concerns? Like Japan, Taiwan’s system is not taking in enough money to cover the medical care it provides. The problem is compounded by politics, because it is up to Taiwan’s parliament to approve an increase in insurance premiums, which it has only done once since the program was enacted.
Percentage of GDP spent on health care: 11.6
Average monthly family premium: $750, paid entirely by consumers; there are government subsidies for low-income citizens.
Co-payments: 10 percent of the cost of services, up to $420 per year.
What is it? The Swiss system is social insurance like in Japan and Germany, voted in by a national referendum in 1994. Switzerland didn’t have far to go to achieve universal coverage; 95 percent of the population already had voluntary insurance when the law was passed. All citizens are required to have coverage; those not covered were automatically assigned to a company. The government provides assistance to those who can’t afford the premiums.
How does it work? The Swiss example shows that universal coverage is possible, even in a highly capitalist nation with powerful insurance and pharmaceutical industries. Insurance companies are not allowed to make a profit on basic care and are prohibited from cherry-picking only young and healthy applicants. They can make money on supplemental insurance, however. As in Germany, the insurers negotiate with providers to set standard prices for services, but drug prices are set by the government.
What are the concerns? The Swiss system is the second most expensive in the world — but it’s still far cheaper than U.S. health care. Drug prices are still slightly higher than in other European nations, and even then the discounts may be subsidized by the more expensive U.S. market, where some Swiss drug companies make one-third of their profits. In general, the Swiss do not have gatekeeper doctors, although some insurance plans require them or give a discount to consumers who use them.
Of all the things that struck me in the “Frontline” episode, the most interesting was a comment made by a Taiwanese official who participated in vetting various health care systems in order to construct Taiwan’s. He said about American health care that it is “not a system you can copy, it’s a market, so if you let things happen, it will be like the United States.” In other words, we do nothing as a country to manage the health care of our citizens. We leave the health of our citizens up to the free market, like health is some commodity. Advocates of free market principles believe in just “letting things happen” with the theory that competition breeds quality and naturally controls costs. Well, we’ve seen these free market principles bite us in the ass in the overall market, so why would we put the health of our citizens in the hands of the market?
More than anything else, this program opened my eyes to our fundamental problem. We view health as something that can be bought and sold. If you cannot afford a color television, you don’t get to watch color TV. If you can’t afford quality health care, you don’t get it. You got a problem with that? Tough, you need to be a winner in the capitalist system and not a whiner. Work hard and you can buy your TV and your cancer treatments! Simple, huh?
America should be following Taiwan’s lead and studying other countries’ systems to cobble together the best of the best. Of course, we suffer from not-invented-here syndrome so we are publishing thousands of pages of legislation that will probably do too little too late. And of course, whatever we put together must be subordinate to our love for the almighty dollar. Why else do you think we will force thousands of people into the eager arms of the current health insurance companies?
I never dreamed I’d say this but maybe we do need the current health care reform to fail so we can start over and use the triumphs of other countries as our guide? I’m not a just-say-no Republican. I’m a let’s-do-it-right humanitarian.
Anyone who cares about health care reform owes it to themselves to watch the full PBS special online at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/sickaroundtheworld/view/.
When Nidal Malik Hasan, a military psychiatrist allegedly opened fire on his fellow soldiers at Fort Hood last week, it opened another chapter in the ongoing saga of whether or not Islam is a threat to civilized society. One of the most compelling arguments against Islam has been the assertion that no Muslim ever publicly condemns religious based violence. So I was eager to find some condemnation in the wake of the Fort Hood massacre. First, I saw a headline in the Huffington Post that gave me hope:
Alas, the article was more about Muslim groups preparing for backlash than it was about them delivering an unqualified condemnation. Then on MSNBC’s “Hardball” there was an interview with the national director of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Nihad Awad. The interview almost immediately descended into defensiveness and claims of victimhood with any condemnation of the violence being secondary. I was becoming frustrated. I was beginning to despair that the very vocal critics of Islam who frequent my blog were right and I was wrong.
Then on a subsequent edition of MSNBC’s “Hardball”, I hit pay dirt. Chris Matthews’ guest was Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, President of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. If you can ignore the host’s speechifying and focus on what Dr. Jasser has to say, this clip is well worth watching.
Here are some of the key statements from Jasser that resonated with me:
I will tell you, my parents came here. They taught me. And the reason I joined the military was, this country was able to give my family the protection, the freedom, the liberty to practice our faith like we could nowhere else in the world. …
However, that’s our Islam. There are other forms of Islam that are a threat. And we have to be careful that political correctness is driving us away from protecting ourselves from the enemy within and from the enemy abroad. And there is a political ideology that has masked itself within a theology that I love, but we can’t deny.
It’s time for Muslims to stop complaining and stop being victims, and say, you know, what we have to start within combating, no different than at the time of the American Revolution. They determined that there were Christians that were part of the Church of England, that were enemies of America, and there were Christians that believed in a country based on the Establishment Clause and based on freedom and liberty, that were about what the west was about.
… political Islam has made huge advances, while the West has been asleep against the spread of the, quote unquote, Islamic state movement. And I think clearly there are parts of the ideologies of hate of the West, of America, of conspiracy theories that this guy started to follow that were warning signs. via ‘Hardball with Chris Matthews’ for Monday, November 9 – Hardball with Chris Matthews- msnbc.com.
Without flinching, Dr. Jasser stated that there is a faction within Islam that is indeed dangerous. He confirmed my belief that the answer to our problem is for more Muslims who take messages of love and brotherhood from the Koran and discard the rest, to rise up and oppose the fanatical branch of the religion.
I am no authority on organized religion, nor a particular fan of it. However, history teaches us that reform within a religion is possible. Whether it is the Protestant reformation that strove to drive financial corruption out of the church, or the modern efforts of the Catholic church to wake up to an insidious pedophilia problem or the evolution of Mormonism to reject polygamy as a fundamental cultural phenomenon (albeit under pressure from the US government). There is no reason why Islam cannot be righted by peaceful, law-abiding and outspoken members of that faith.
There are those who want to deport Muslims from this country, stop immigration of Muslims, and essentially outlaw the practice of the religion within the US. Nothing could be more antithetical to the essence of what it is to be an American. The only decent solution to the problems that modern-day Islam presents us is to align ourselves with people like Dr. Jasser to ensure that the peaceful worship of Allah prevails and the barbaric violence of decadent Muslims comes to an end.
For more information on Dr. Jasser’s organization, visit the web site for the American Islamic Forum for Democracy.