Sunday, November 29, 2009

Heniz 57 Legislation

Shorter New York Times editorial:  
  1. The public option will be open to almost no one and may end up insuring a number equal to the 1917 population of Finland;
  2. will have none of the negotiating power, capital, or healthy beneficiaries of the large insurance companies and thus will probably cost more;
  3. should raise its premiums or go under if it can't compete with its arms tied behind its back;  and
  4. will be hobbled going into markets where the insurance companies and medical providers already have well-established systems of commerce. 
So we should have one because it offers "choice" and might slow raising health care costs.

Really? That's "choice", as in:  here are 3 bottles of ketchup on the shelf. Two cost $20, but you never knew which ones had mouse feces in them, and they were the only bottles you could get until the House and Senate created a "public" ketchup from a compromise recipe. Now you can buy public ketchup for $22, but only if you qualify for food stamps, and now the bottles with the mouse feces will be clearly labeled. And after about 10 years people not on food stamps will be able to buy it, and maybe by then the other ketchup companies will blow up or go broke and you will be able to have the public ketchup for only $43.99, because the tomato providers will have to negotiate serious savings with the Secretary of Health and Rodent Waste.

Bring it on, you daring iconoclasts.

(Edited for clarity.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Calm Down

Thanksgiving is coming and so are my guests. After I get the last of what I need to get ready for their arrival, I'm going to settle in and enjoy some family time. Black Friday will be, as every year, a walk through the neighborhood if the weather cooperates, and then movies and wine in front of the fire. All day. With breaks for eating leftovers. My best to you and yours, and stop buying shit.



Enjoy your blessings.

More Change We Can Believe In

Thanksgiving is coming, and I'm thankful to live in a country where dissociative identity disorder is a national religion:
The United States won't join its NATO allies and many other countries in formally banning landmines, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said during his midday briefing Tuesday.

"This administration undertook a policy review and we decided our landmine policy remains in effect," Kelly said in response to a question. "We made our policy review and we determined that we would not be able to meet our national defense needs nor our security commitments to our friends and allies if we sign this convention."
What he means is we won't be able to do this, or this, because we have the 3rd largest mine arsenal in the world and what if we decide we need to start blowing up more hapless passersby again?

But it's all right; we'll clean up after ourselves:
Kelly said the United States continues to work with governments as well as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to help remove landmines.

"The U.S. is proud to be the world's single largest supporter of humanitarian mine action," Kelly said. "Since 1993 the U.S. has provided more than $1.5 billion worldwide dedicated to building new partnerships with more than 50 post-conflict countries and supporting efforts by dozens of NGOs to promote stability and set the stage for recovery and development through mine clearance and conventional-weapons destruction programs."
He's proud, because we have lowered the bar of acceptable atrocity so low in the last 8 years that it's now considered real humanitarianism to help other countries wipe up the blood we caused while we preserve the potential for spilling more by reviving our own landmine production. But what else would you expect from a guy who works for a broad who likes cluster bombs?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I Got Yer Camel's Nose Right Here

It really does pain me to see liberals wasting their time throwing insults at each other, or making goofy-ass attacks on Obama, instead of having a serious discussion about how to rescue current efforts at reforming health care and health insurance. We divide cleanly down the middle between those who would rather see nothing at all rather than another financial load on people who are barely making it already, and those who think any reform, no matter how toothless, is a major accomplishment, a toe in the door, the camel's nose under the tent, that will inevitably lead to major, positive changes over time. As someone who holds the former view, let me explain why I think my loyal opposition is deluded by irrational exuberance.

We are NOT Canada. Our history, social structure, and general philosophical leanings as a people are very different, and far more conservative, than Canada's. In addition, this is not 1965, and the current polarization, fractiousness, and intransigence of our political groups is completely off the chart, even compared to the partisans who fought the civil rights wars. In fact, the ability to compromise that made Congress once amenable to passing Social Security, Medicaid, and the Civil Rights Act, was so damaged by the lasting effects of those battles that it may no longer be possible to find some reasonable middle ground for anything at all. Right now we have a party of "No" and a party of "No, don't be mad, I didn't mean it", and that's not a recipe for meaningful change any time in the foreseeable future.

Look at the Senate, and tell me that you really believe this is a body that, should any reform pass at all, will go back and begin cleaning it up and making it useful. And if the Dems don't haul their guts back off the floor and into their bellies and start pushing for changes that will help, not hurt, working people, the pig wallow you see right now is as good as it's going to get.

Americans have very short memories and even shorter fuses. They only know what you did for them lately, and the longer Democrats flub on this (don't even get me started on the FIRE sector mess), the more it will become their problem rather than one they inherited from Republicans. A weak bill that does nothing but shake down taxpayers for protection money to fill the overflowing coffers of private industry, while achieving little to no good for the people who need it most, is a guaranteed donkey-killer. When the elections come around, it will be the Republicans who will look like the only logical alternative, and if they can turn seats around in both 2010 and 2012, you can kiss your camel's nose good-bye. The GOP has effectively become a fiscally libertarian, culturally totalitarian theocracy machine, and wait till you see that prosperity-gospel megachurch they're going to build at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. That nose will be bloody, bruised, and booted back out into the dust storm, and the only question will be how long it will take till the bill is completely destroyed.

People are saying, "this is our only chance, and if something, no matter how putrid, doesn't pass, we won't get another chance for 50 years." Listen: if we don't do the hard work and make the difficult decisions on this the first time around, the Republicans will tear up the blueprint and toss it into the shredder. You're going to be back to square one anyway, only this time with the seething resentment of millions of voters to make sure you DON'T get another chance for 50 years.

Get rid of the abortion language. Require a powerful public option open to anyone who wants it, that can negotiate prices and require participation by medical providers. And for Christ's sake, lower those goddam premium caps to no more than 3% of income; most people don't earn the money of an op-ed journo or a Senator. And finally, screw the subsidies. Just establish a sliding scale fee for what private insurers can charge. This is not the free market. This is a captive audience that has no choice but to grow old, get sick and die. They are a gift being offered up to the same companies that have been screwing them for years already. Let those companies feel some pain, too.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Throwing Bad Votes After Bad

My comment at Kevin Drum's blog on the devolving "healthcare reform" now melting into a puddle on the Senate floor:
"The House Bill with its "compromises" was bad enough, but it was stronger than this pap. Do you really think the House will adopt the tattered remnants of reform that might survive whatever Reid shepherds through the senatorial gauntlet? I can't stress this part enough: this is not just about extending coverage to another 12 people (as Reich put it); this is about AFFORDABILITY. There is nothing that is going to be affordable about this once the Dems give the entire goddam thing away in the name of political feasibility. It will create a previously non-existent financial burden on people who can ill afford it, force shitty coverage down their throats in exchange for their hard-earned money, and once the full horror of its consequences begin to perk through the heartland, the Dems won't be able to get elected dogcatcher in a town full of puppy mills.

On the other hand, if we refuse to pass this shell of a bill, yes, the Republicans will get what they want---no reform---but is that a good enough reason not to do the only thing that makes sense? If this is not a strong bill with teeth, the Republicans WILL get back in, trust me, and they will dismantle what's left of it in record time, leaving Dems with both public enmity AND no health care reform. Get real. Dump this dog and start over. And get Obama out there to DO something about it, instead of sitting around trying to play the Buddha card."

How About a Newer Deal?

Problem:
Over the year, jobless rates increased in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The national unemployment rate rose to 10.2 percent in October, up 0.4 percentage point from September and 3.6 points from October 2008.
Solution:
As cities have grown rapidly across the nation, many have neglected infrastructure projects and paved over green spaces that once absorbed rainwater. That has contributed to sewage backups into more than 400,000 basements and spills into thousands of streets, according to data collected by state and federal officials. Sometimes, waste has overflowed just upstream from drinking water intake points or near public beaches.

There is no national record-keeping of how many illnesses are caused by sewage spills. But academic research suggests that as many as 20 million people each year become ill from drinking water containing bacteria and other pathogens that are often spread by untreated waste.
Problem:
America is hungry and getting hungrier, with 49 million people - 17 million of them children - last year unable to consistently get enough food to eat, according to a report released yesterday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

These figures represent 14.6 percent of all households, a 3.5-percentage-point jump over 2007, and they are the largest recorded since the agency began measuring hunger in 1995.

Of those 49 million, 12 million adults and 5.2 million children reported experiencing the country's most severe hunger, possibly going days without eating. Among the children, nearly half a million in the developmentally critical years under age 6 were going hungry...

To help battle hunger, Obama said yesterday, "the first task is to restore job growth, which will help relieve the economic pressures that make it difficult for parents to put a square meal on the table each day."
Solutions:
Hazardous Waste: Hundreds of thousands of contaminated sites exist across the country, representing millions of dollars of untapped economic potential. Redevelopment of brownfield sites over the past five years generated an estimated 191,338 new jobs and $408 million annually in extra revenues for localities. In 2008, however, there were 188 U.S. cities with brownfield sites awaiting cleanup and redevelopment.

Bridges: More than 26%—more than one in four—of the nation’s bridges are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. While some progress has been made in recent years to reduce the number of deficient and obsolete bridges in rural areas, the number in urban areas is rising. A $17 billion annual investment is needed to substantially improve current bridge conditions.

Roads: Congestion on the nation’s roads is increasing and the cost to improve is ever rising, causing the roads grade to decrease to a D- in 2009 (Report Card for America’s Infrastructure). Americans spend 4.2 billion hours a year stuck in traffic at a cost to the economy of $78.2 billion, or $710 per motorist. Poor conditions cost motorists $67 billion a year in repairs and operating costs.

Public Parks and Recreation: Parks, beaches, and other recreational facilities contribute $730 billion per year to the U.S. economy, support nearly 6.5 million jobs, and contribute to cleaner air and water and higher property values. Despite record spending on parks at the state and local level, the acreage of parkland per resident in urban areas is declining. While significant investments are being made in the National Park Service for its 2016 centennial, the agency’s facilities still face a $7-billion maintenance backlog.

Schools: No comprehensive, authoritative nationwide data on the condition of America’s school buildings have been collected in a decade. The National Education Association’s best estimate to bring the nation’s schools into good repair is $322 billion.

Energy: Progress has been made in grid reinforcement since 2005, and substantial investment in generation, transmission, and distribution is expected over the next two decades. Demand for electricity has grown by 25% since 1990. Public and government opposition and difficulty in the
permitting processes are restricting much needed modernization. Projected electric utility investment needs could be as much as $1.5 trillion by 2030.
Here's a blueprint, Mr. President. Try it. God knows no one's proposing anything better.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Land of the Free-Flowing Current

Digby, who has done some excellent documenting of the out-of-control use of tasering by poorly-trained police, links to yet another recent taser antic:
During protests over the past two days, at least a few students were tasered. UCLA officials said two were tasered on Wednesday and photos show that at least one student was on Thursday.

A witness to Thursday's incident tells LAist that two people were tasered during a scuffle captured in photos. "In fact with this particular incident," said the student, "there were actually two students who were tasered, the girl lying down next to Rustin O'Neill on the right in the first photo posted was also tasered, once, in the arm, and Rustin was tasered multiple times over the heart."

UCPD officials were not immediately available for comment...

A memo and training bulletin from Taser that gained media attention last month warned agencies that "if a stun gun is discharged to the chest, a lawsuit likely will follow, charging that police used excessive force," according to CNN in an aricle called "Taser makers say don't aim at chest."
Of course, Rustin O'Neill, who is revealed in the article's accompanying photos as being spectacularly laid out by campus cops for felony sidewalk-sitting, just happens to be black. Sheer coincidence.

I posted about this back in 2007, and at that time it seemed unlikely it could get much worse. But now it seems every time I turn around I read of some new and more ridiculous use of tasering. Got a tantrum-throwing 10-year old girl who won't take a shower? Call the cops. Gesturing while black? Take him downtown! Won't stand up when the cops tell you to? That broken back is no excuse! Confused? Let the cops relieve you of that confusion. Bi-polar? Pow! Off your meds? Pow!! Oh we love to give it to the crazies. Pow!!!

In Darius Rejali's "Torture and Democracy", an incredible treatise against "stealth" torture, he writes a major indictment against tasers ("instruments of torture"), recommending that they be banned entirely. He begins his book with a vignette on the arrest of Rodney King, and notes that while the world focussed harshly on the beating police gave him, the tasering he received got little attention:
Koon’s Taser model possessed two dart cartridges. Koon lodged the first pair of darts on King’s back and the second on his upper chest. Each discharge delivered short pulses of 50,000 volts, eight to fifteen pulses per second.

The pain was not trivial. The California Highway Patrol officer said King was “writhing.” LAPD officer Timothy Wind stated that King “was shouting incoherently from the pain of the taser.” Even Koon, who was nine feet away, declared, “He’s groaning like a wounded animal, and I can see the vibrations on him.” While Officer Laurence Powell beat King on video, Koon depressed the button a third time, draining whatever charge was left in the batteries. This was not a trivial discharge either. LAPD recruits knew that whoever touched a tased victim would also “get zapped. They don’t become unconscious . . . they just go down.” Officer Ted Briseno claims that he intervened at this point to stop the beating. Koon and Wind believe that “Briseno wasn’t trying to stop the violence; he was trying to prevent the TASER charge from hitting Powell and Wind.” At any rate, the third tase didn’t subdue King, and the beating continued.

If these beatings led to the Los Angeles Riots of 1992, the multiple high-voltage shocks barely impinged on public consciousness. Indeed, what would have happened if King had suffered no fractures, only the mere burn of the Taser? At the trial, the defense produced Dr. Dallas Long to contest whether there even was a burn scar. As Koon puts it, “Rodney King had no burn; a TASER dart doesn’t leave one.”

A democratic public may be outraged by violence it can see, but how likely is it that we will get outraged about violence like this, that may or may not leave traces, violence that we can hardly be sure took place at all? A victim with scars to show to the media will get sympathy or at least attention, but victims without scars do not have much to authorize their complaints to a skeptical public. A trial can focus on the specific damages of a beating—where did the blows allegedly fall? Were the strikes professional, necessary or neither?—but what precisely can a trial focus on with electric shocks that leave few marks? Some argue we are desensitized to violence we see on the evening news, but about violence we can’t see—even when its effects lie before our eyes, shaping very flow of traffic on our streets—we cannot reflect, much less react.
Even when the cops themselves are injured by this "safe" alternative to guns, SNAFU remains the status quo. As of March 2009, Amnesty International reported 351 deaths from tasers in the US since July 2001, and it looks like we're in no mood to quit now. Yet somehow our Daffy Defenders of Liberty have remained strangely mute on the subject.

I guess "freedom" as they see it means, not freedom from oppression, but freedom from oppression by the wrong people.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Get Over It Already

For me, this is the most important paragraph of an important post by Maggie Maher on the bru-ha-ha over mammograms:
No one is going to stop covering mammograms. But responsible physicians will begin giving patients more information about what the medical research shows, including the fact that for most women, the danger of undergoing unnecessary radiation –or an unneeded mastectomy or lumpectomy –far exceeds the likelihood that a mammogram will save their lives.
In my life I have had only one mammogram, when a lump I discovered in my breast suddenly appeared from nowhere. I was about 46 at the time.  Nothing came of it.  The lump mysteriously disappeared after I went through a series of tests, including sonogram,  mammogram and biopsy, none of which were conclusive.  It's been 10 years, and I feel no urgent need to go back.  What I have always felt was that the frequent exposure to radiation could be far more damaging than not getting the tests, and while I'm not convinced that this vindicates my cynicism, I feel at peace with my decisions.  I also feel comfortable with my instincts telling me that no matter what I do, my environment and those who poison it have far more control over whether I develop breast cancer than anything I can do.

Update:   Never ones to let an opportunity for politicization slip past, the Health Reform Free Marketeers are beating their chests to alert the rest of the troop:
Republicans are seizing on this week's recommendations for fewer Pap smears and mammograms to fuel concern about government-rationed medical care — and to try to chip away support by women for President Barack Obama's proposed health care overhaul.
"This is how rationing starts," declared Jon Kyl of Arizona, the party's second-in-command in the Senate, during a news conference. "This is what we're going to expect in the future."
Said Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska: "Those recommendations will be used by the insurance companies as they make a determination as to what they're going to cover."
 A little late for all this concern, isn't it?

Ask Not For Whom the Stereotype Fails; It Fails For Thee

I was listening to the Communist radio show Tell Me More this afternoon, during a discussion of the martydom of St. Sarah, and heard columnist Mary Kate Cary hold forth on the very "one-of-us-ness" of Palin, and how representative she feels to the flyover types who find their unwilling noses forcibly pressed against a window into the babylon of eastern liberal hegemony. And she said something to the effect that Palin feels more like a real person, coming as she does from a state where there is no crime compared to the lairs of the citifed elite.

Well, that sounded odd to me, given the free-wheeling wild west ways of the Alaskan frontier. So I had to look it up. Imagine what I found:
"The crime rate in Alaska is about 8% higher than the national average rate. Property crimes account for around 83.6% of the crime rate in Alaska which is 3% higher than the national rate. The remaining 17.7% are violent crimes and are about 29% higher than other states."
That's 4041 crimes per 100,000 people!  Who has lower crimes rates than Alaska?  Well, the whole United States on average, for starters (3731 per 100,000).  Also these states, in descending order of crime:
  • California             (3556 per 100,000)
  • Massachusetts     (2825 per 100,000)
  • Rhode Island       (2850 per 100,000)
  • Pennsylvania        (2778 per 100,000)
  • Connecticutt        (2656 per 100,000)
  • Maine                  (2547 per 100,000)
  • New Jersey         (2542 per 100,000)
  • Vermont              (2447 per 100,000)
  • New York           (2393 per 100,000)  New York!!
  • New Hampshire   (2029 per 100,000)
And that's only 9 of the 31 states with fewer crimes than Alaska.  But let's not be unfair;  there are states who are more crime-ridden.  Eighteen of them, to be exact.  And among them are these bastions of liberal evildoing (in ascending order of crime):
  • Kansas               (4132 per 100,000)
  • Georgia              (4394 per 100,000)
  • Alabama             (4420 per 100,000)
  • Arkansas            (4482 per 100,000)
  • N. Carolina         (4553 per 100,000)
  • Texas                  (4632 per 100,000)
  • Louisiana             (4806 per 100,000)
  • Tennessee            (4840 per 100,000)
  • Arizona                (4897 per 100,000)
  • S.Carolina            (5060 per 100,000)
That's a powerful indictment against liberalism, all right.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

When Will They Make "God Bless the Child" Our National Anthem?

Reporters at the New York Times might try reading their own paper. Here’s Javier Hernandez’ partial explanation for the sudden decline in housing construction:
“Part of the overall decline in housing construction might be explained by the uncertainty in October over whether Congress would extend a tax credit for first-time home buyers. Earlier this month, lawmakers voted to extend the credit through April, but builders may have been reluctant to begin construction in October without assurance that homes would be bought.”
Just this past Saturday, Gretchen Morgenson quoted some builders who already answered the question:
“So what do these companies plan to do with their refunds?
Ken Campbell, the chief executive of Standard Pacific, said the money would allow his company to continue buying land. “Will we build more houses or will there be more people employed in the first quarter? Probably not,” he said. “Will employment accelerate when the market starts to grow? It will.”

Caryn Klebba, a spokeswoman for Pulte Homes, said in a statement that the company planned to use the funds it receives “to support its current operations and, when market conditions improve, fund future growth and expansion.”
In other words, like the banks before them, these companies will sit on the money, or use it to maintain the status quo. Buying land is not going to translate into more construction, although it will certainly remove from conservation all that nasty undeveloped green space cluttering up the landscape.

At a time when so many are suffering, there is no earthly excuse for this kind of largesse. And what if it did inhibit them from building more housing? When the median home price is running at $188,850, and the median yearly wage is only $32,390, how on earth is it a bad thing to discourage builders from throwing up even more unaffordable temples to ambition and ego, to squat in their un-landscaped middens as far as the eye can see?

1st World Bank Accounts, 3rd World Results

We really do belong in some kind of category all our own, the United States. When it comes to a decent standard of living, everyone is expendable, especially if it's going to cost money or discomfort someone who has it:
The United States lags far behind other nations in offering paid sick days, paid parental leave and other workplace benefits that proponents consider vital to public health and workers rights, according to research released on Tuesday.

The eight-year study found the most economically competitive nations offer forms of paid leave to workers that the United States does not, according to researchers at Harvard University and Canada's McGill University.

Of the world's 15 most competitive nations, 14 mandate paid sick leave, 13 guarantee paid maternal leave and 12 provide paid paternal leave by law, they said. Eleven provide paid leave to care for children's health and eight provide paid leave for adult family care.

The United States legally guarantees none of these policies to workers...
These comparisons may not be entirely fair, of course, given that the other countries in question have had the advantage of years of civilization. After all, there are around 193 countries in the world. But even widening the comparative pool doesn't help:
Looking more widely at 190 countries, the researchers found 163 guarantee paid sick leave and 164 guarantee paid annual leave.

Also, 177 nations guarantee paid leave for new mothers, 74 nations guarantee paid leave for new fathers and 157 nations guarantee workers a day of rest each week, they said.

The United States has none of these, they said.
And we won't, if Mike Enzi and the US Chamber of Commerce have anything to do with it. Even now, the Senate is shaming itself, defending "small business" from the communist encroachment of mandated paid leave for those with H1N1, despite the obvious public health benefits that could easily overshadow any inconvenience to employers. After all, if your entire staff goes down with pandemic flu because they couldn't afford to stay home and not infect their co-workers, who's going to do the work for you? But still they trot out the same hoary arguments they use to prevent the minimum wage from going up ("It's going to cost jobs!"), despite years of empirical evidence disproving them every time. Perhaps with Poland and Croatia leading the way, the US can figure this out some day. If we ever learn how to stop hunger, that is.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Final Word on Health Care Reform

Charles Pierce at Altercation sums it up so perfectly it needs nothing more than a blockquote:
I'm sorry but while both Ezra KLEIN and Jon COHN have done great work on this issue, they are talking here about a country and a political system that no longer exist. And their responses to Marcia Angell's CRI DE COEUR are largely political, and not really to the point of her piece, which is that no substantive reform of the system is possible until the control that the insurance industry exercises over the practice of medicine is broken forever. The now-familiar argument is that the House bill--even if it had a snowball's chance in hell of surviving the Senate intact, which it doesn't--represents a good first step. When exactly was the last time our political system--to say nothing of the Congress--did anything in "steps"? We don't progress. We move a step ahead, and then there's an election, and then we move another step in the opposite direction. The idea that the current debate will produce a system that will somehow be immune to our febrile and idiotic politics is naive to the point of translucence. For this to have worked at all, it had to be so huge and transformative as to immunize itself thoroughly in the event that Congress or the White House--or both--change hands. It had to be so immense as to be unmovable so that it would be permanent enough for enough people out in the country to become invested in it that the political danger would be to monkey with it at all. (Which is pretty much the way things are in Canada now. Their system, for all its flaws, is politically sacrosanct.) It also had to be a big enough change to overcome the fact that one of our two parties will be completely off its head for the foreseeable future. Whatever comes out of this process is going to be far too fragile to survive the kind of boneheaded thinking that produced this NONSENSE this week. And Social Security has a more solid constituency than whatever the new healthcare plan will have.
My fear isn't that he is right; I know he is.  My fear is that the industry foot now on the necks of the people who pay it will gain cleats from any bill putrid enough to become law, and that it will sink them into the economic jugular of the nation and bleed us out until nothing remains of the middle class but old re-runs of Leave It To Beaver.

Pro-Coathanger or Pro-Life?

Tristero likes "pro-coathanger" for anti-abortionists, although he recognizes its inflammatory qualities. Yet, as a way of invoking almost-forgotten memories of dead girls so terrified of giving birth that they were willing to chance death, it's pure genius. Why is it inflammatory? Because it suggests that all those people crying themselves silly over un-anchored blastocysts might not be the compassionate paradigms they paint themselves? No one who has ever spent any amount of time with them would doubt that there are few pure enough to wear the label they prefer. The phrase "pro-life" is such an ethically pure concoction that it's almost impossible for anyone to don it without hypocrisy, unless he is Gandhi or Albert Schweitzer. And the phrase itself speaks volumes about the fact that the vast majority of those who own it (aside from saints and bodhisattvas) feel no conflict amongst their positions, because everyone "knows" that it doesn't refer to war, or capital punishment, or a non-toxic environment, or freedom from slave labor. No, it's a very targeted phrase referring ONLY to one's attitudes toward pregnancy and fetuses, and that narrow definition allows for the implication that only fetuses matter. At this point it seems unlikely that "pro-life" can be rescued from the anti-abortion bin within my lifetime, but that doesn't mean its hypocrisy shouldn't be attacked, as many times as needed, and by whomever it is used.

But while we're in the room, let's talk about the received wisdom being bandied about of late that "the majority of Americans are now against abortion". The fact is that there has been no essential change in the positions held by most Americans since Roe v Wade. The phrase "pro-life" becomes malleable when people are left to their own devices in defining for themselves. The Gallup poll, which has been ballyhooed as the Revealed Truth on this, shows that currently 23% believe abortion should be legal under all circumstances, and yes, this is a decline from 2008. But about 23% felt the same way in '75-'77, '84-'85, '97-'98, and 2005, and that number rose and fell constantly over that time. If anything, the peak for this position rose starting in 1989 and fell in 1997, but rose and fell again thereafter. Likewise, the shift in percentage points over that time is similar for those who think abortion should have limitations, and those who think it should always be illegal, with a baseline (53-54% and 21-22% respectively) that has not significantly changed since 1975. This is the face of American attitude toward abortion: about 1/4 each believe it should be legal or illegal without exception. The rest have mixed feelings, and this has never really changed. What has changed is the media, using this latest nothing of a poll to trumpet falsehoods about the country being anti-abortion now (do you recall any of them talking about this in 1997?). And the more this becomes accepted, the bolder the pro-coathanger crowd will feel in pushing things like the Stupack Amendment down our throats, until one day we'll wake up to Bush's Supreme Court ripping up Roe v Wade and we can all go back to the bad old days where women AND fetuses died together.

And that's an image of the world "pro-life" people can live with.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Chemical Banks

My two cents' worth in commentary over at the New York Times in response to this:
As the nation’s war on cancer continues, with little change in the overall cancer mortality rate, many experts on cancer and public health say more attention should be paid to prevention.

But prevention has proved more difficult than many imagined. It has been devilishly difficult to show conclusively that something simple like eating more fruits and vegetables or exercising regularly helps...

...measures that are often assumed — and marketed — as ways to prevent cancer may not make much difference, researchers say.

For example, public health experts for years recommended eating five servings of fruits and vegetables a day to prevent cancer, but the evidence is conflicting, at best suggestive, and far from definitive.

Low-fat diets were long thought to prevent breast cancer. But a large federal study randomizing women to a low-fat or normal diet and looking for an effect in breast cancer found nothing, said its director, Ross L. Prentice of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

Fiber, found in fruits, vegetables and grains, is often thought to prevent colon cancer, even though two large studies found no effect.

“We thought we would show relationships that were strong and true,” said Dr. Tim Byers, professor of epidemiology at the Colorado School of Public Health, “particularly for dietary choices and food and vegetable intake. Now we have settled into thinking they are important but it’s not like saying you can cut your risk in half or three-quarters.” Others wonder whether even such qualified support is misplaced.

There has to be a reason the research disappointed, said Colin B. Begg, chairman of the department of epidemiology and biostatistics at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Perhaps the crucial time to intervene is early in life.

“That’s one possibility,” Dr. Begg said. “The other is that it’s all sort of nonsense to begin with.”

Many hold out hope for exercise or weight loss. Studies have associated strenuous exercise with less cancer. But that is the same sort of evidence that misled scientists about aspects of diet.

“I think it’s wishful thinking,” said Dr. Susan Love, a breast surgeon and president of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation. “We would like things to be more in our control. I think that’s part of it. And in the absence of anything else, what do we tell women about how to prevent breast cancer? We tell them to exercise and eat a good diet.”

As for obesity, researchers differ. Studies that observed large numbers of people often found that fatter people have more cancer. But many of the correlations are weak, and different studies have pointed to different cancers, raising questions about whether some of the effects are real.

Dr. Otis W. Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, said he was convinced. The strongest link, he and others say, is with obesity and breast cancer. But there, Dr. Brawley says, the crucial period may occur early in life — girls who gain weight when they are young, he said, tend to start menstruating earlier, which increases their breast cancer risk because it adds years of exposure to the body’s estrogen. It may be that weight loss in adulthood does not help.
was this:
A strong correlative to cancer is a toxic environment, but one hardly ever hears such a possible cause discussed seriously by cancer researchers or in the cancer education programs directed to the public. It is the elephant in the room. Every year that passes increases the amount of toxic materials in our air, water, pharmaceuticals, household goods, building materials, food packaging, and foodstuffs. A recent study found not one sample of fish caught in US streams to be free of mercury. The CDC found that metabolites of plasticizing phthalates, which are finally being phased out here, have already become part of the human body, and studies show that the effects are concentrated especially among the overweight because of adipose storage. Look at breast cancer, where women have been beaten over the head with prescriptions involving fiber, diet, weight, and everything else under the sun, and shamed into guilt about bringing it on themselves. Yet breast fat is some of the most sensitive adipose tissue in the body to environmental toxins, and fatty tissue holds onto chemicals, where they continue to build up over time. If environmental causes are at the bottom of our cancer epidemic, it would make sense that obesity would be an indicator: more fat, more storage capacity for deadly chemicals. Yet no one seems to have made this a centerpiece of any anti-cancer campaign. Why? It's easier to blame individuals for "lifestyle decisions" and invoke "personal responsibility" than it is to really do anything about changing the environment, where a collusion of business interests would certainly push back against any such attempt. Better to just keep doling out the false hope that people can control their own fate, and let them keep dying.
UPDATE:In the Great Minds Think Alike Department, the latest issue of Harper's has this.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

I'll See Your Moral Objection and Raise You One

Digby writes a sarcastic post intended to flip the "moral" argument against tax money going to insurers with abortion coverage:
I have a moral objection to paying for any kind of erectile dysfunction medicine in the new health reform bill and I think men who want to use it should just pay for it out of pocket. After all, I won't ever need such a pill. And anyway, it's no biggie. Just because most of them can get it under their insurance today doesn't mean they shouldn't have it stripped from their coverage in the future because of my moral objections. (I don't think there's even been a Supreme Court ruling making wood a constitutional right. I might be wrong about that.)

Many of the men who are prescribed this medication are on Medicare, so I think it should be stripped out of that coverage as well.
Remember, too, that only after ED drugs hit the market did insurers begin to cover women's birth control products, to avoid sex discrimination lawsuits.

But there is a very real reason to object to paying for the use of Viagra, and even though it's old news, nothing I'm aware of has changed:
America's CIA has found a novel way to gain information from fickle Afghan warlords - supplying sex-enhancing drug Viagra, a US media report says.

The Washington Post said it was one of a number of enticements being used.

In one case, a 60-year-old warlord with four wives was given four pills and four days later detailed Taleban movements in return for more.

"Whatever it takes to make friends and influence people," the Post quoted one agent as saying.

"Whether it's building a school or handing out Viagra."

'Silver bullet'

The newspaper said the use of Viagra had to be handled sensitively as the drug was not always known about in rural areas.

It quoted one retired agent as saying: "You didn't hand it out to younger guys, but it could be a silver bullet to make connections to the older ones."

In the case of the 60-year-old warlord - the head of a clan in southern Afghanistan who had not co-operated - operatives saw he had four younger wives.

The pills were explained and offered. Four days later the agents returned.

"He came up to us beaming," the Post quoted an agent as saying. "He said, 'You are a great man.'

"And after that we could do whatever we wanted in his area."

The pills could put chieftains "back in an authoritative position", another official said.
Ha ha ha. Do whatever we want, once again over the disposable bodies of women. As for the chieftains, they've been in an "authoritative position" for a long, long time. Anyone who has followed the fate of Afghan women and girls knows the brutalization, rape, and indignity they suffer in their role as men's slaves and breeding stock:
Jamila was married off when she was seven years old. Subjected to brutal beatings for nine years by her husband, she approached her father-in-law for help. For this "shame," a family member shot her in the leg.

During a rare visit to her parental home, she sought a divorce. A jirga, or assembly of local elders who act as informal dispute-resolution mechanisms in the absence of a formal justice system in many parts of Afghanistan, rejected her plea and sent her back to her marital home.

Jamila, whose real name and location cannot be revealed for her own safety, was punished once again, this time by her father-in-law, who beat her, cut off one nostril, shaved her head and tied her with a rope before throwing her outside the house.
Or this:
Afghanistan has quietly passed a law permitting Shia men to deny their wives food and sustenance if they refuse to obey their husbands' sexual demands, despite international outrage over an earlier version of the legislation which President Hamid Karzai had promised to review.

The new final draft of the legislation also grants guardianship of children exclusively to their fathers and grandfathers, and requires women to get permission from their husbands to work.

"It also effectively allows a rapist to avoid prosecution by paying 'blood money' to a girl who was injured when he raped her," the US charity Human Rights Watch said.

In early April, Barack Obama and Gordon Brown joined an international chorus of condemnation when the Guardian revealed that the earlier version of the law legalised rape within marriage, according to the UN.

Although Karzai appeared to back down, activists say the revised version of the law still contains repressive measures and contradicts the Afghan constitution and international treaties signed by the country.

Islamic law experts and human rights activists say that although the language of the original law has been changed, many of the provisions that alarmed women's rights groups remain, including this one: "Tamkeen is the readiness of the wife to submit to her husband's reasonable sexual enjoyment, and her prohibition from going out of the house, except in extreme circumstances, without her husband's permission. If any of the above provisions are not followed by the wife she is considered disobedient."
Nice. This, by the way, is what we're sending people to die for over there, in case anyone forgot. And this is what we are assisting with the dispensation of ED drugs. Not that clever bastards the world over haven't used it for rape before.

You think good old American men haven't thought of it, too? Let's take it to the logical conclusion: allowing insurance companies to cover Viagra once the new insurance exchange is in place is tantamount to using your tax money to facilitate rape.

Oh, but silly me, that's ok. If their victims become pregnant, the Stupak amendment will let them abort, assuming they can find a way to pay for it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

For Veteran's Day

Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and

Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations; and

Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.
It's not often remembered that Armistice Day, the precursor to Veteran's Day, was intended not only to memorialize the deaths of soldiers, but also to give voice to the hope that we would not wage war again. We have proven with ferocity that we are too much the brethren of the murderous chimpanzee to ever achieve that dream. We are, in fact, more horrific and violent and warlike than ever before, and evidently helpless to check this addiction to killing. This is a good moment to remember how pointless and empty continue to be the sacrifices we make of our young. So the homily today comes from a man who has seen more war that most warriors: Chris Hedges.

Republicans, Democrats, and the Alien Problem

If I had to boil down the principles for which the Republican party stands, they would be have to be Money, Power, and Punishment.

1) Amassing money for themselves or their friends through privatization, eminent domain, and the legalized chicanery of the free market is a quasi-religious endeavor; the plutocracy is sacrosanct, as the Roberts court is proving. One can never have enough of it, except for the poor, in which case there's really never enough, so they won't be getting any.

2) Power is so important that, despite decades of sneering at government, they just can't stop running for office and schmoozing with those who wield it. This is why, despite all the pandering to the lowest common denominator amongst their constituents, they can always be counted on to vote on behalf of those who can buy their ear when roll call time comes. This is also why the religious right aligns with them, seeking to force a particular creed onto the nation, which is for them ultimate power.

3) And since they believe that human beings are essentially bad and mostly irredeemable, punishing those who have neither of the first two qualities by expanding the criminal code, criminalizing petty or poverty-driven behavior, and dehumanizing the penal system, are the most satisfyingly self-righteous ways for them to turn fear-mongering into another stint in the belly of the damnable government beast.

As for the Democrats, well, they come off looking even worse. They are certainly as venal and power-hungry as the Republicans; they've proven that over and over. But what makes them even worse is that they parade around waving their humanitarian banners as thought they really give a shit about the have-nots, and then, in a remarkable collapse of backbone, sell them down the river every time a reactionary yells "liberty!". One really has a difficult time telling them apart anymore, as Gore Vidal repeatedly warned:
"...the United States has only one party—-the property party. It’s the party of big corporations, the party of money. It has two right wings; one is Democrat and the other is Republican."
To their credit, Dems find the totalitarianism of Republicans, with their demands for compliance with the party line, anathema. But they are far too cowardly for my taste, with no real statecraft to allow them to distinguish between when compromise is needed and when it needs to be left in the dirt. It's as though, despite their humane platform, the Democratic party is beset by an alien hand, one that keeps hitting them over the head with dinner plates:

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

It's Over

I've given this a lot of thought, and it's really hard for me to say it, but it's time to kill this bill. The Stupak amendment was just the final straw. It will create a de facto ban on abortions as effectively as if the old laws of the pre-Roe era were back in place. That it will do so within the context of a bill that will lay an enormous financial burden on the middle class without providing them nearly enough real health care compensation in return, is simply unsupportable. I'm with the 41 liberal House Dems who have told Pelosi they will off the bill in conference if the amendment is not removed. The line has finally been crossed, and it's time to junk this thing. For those who say it can be fixed in incremental changes over time, I say, look at how the Hyde amendment and the ripples created by Casey v Planned Parenthood have been changed over time: states and even reactionary federal governments have turned the screws on women ever tighter, until a legal medical procedure has become basically unobtainable to women in 87% of the country. If our elected Democratic officials, riding a wave of anger so palpable that a black man with an Arabic-sounding name could be elected President of the United States, were unable to craft a law that put the needs of their people ahead of their own trifling self-interest, why on earth would anyone think a different breed of politico is going to come down the pike in 5 years and fix it later?

And if you think this can eventually be corrected by the Supreme Court, you haven't been paying attention to the Roberts court decisions.

Too many cowards taking our tax money to sell us down the river. Too many bad decisions about to become enshrined in law. I'm out.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Just Like California

Krugman predicts dire economic consequences if the reactionaries take over the government:
...elections aren’t necessarily won by the candidate with the most rational argument. They’re often determined, instead, by events and economic conditions.

In fact, the party of Limbaugh and Beck could well make major gains in the midterm elections. The Obama administration’s job-creation efforts have fallen short, so that unemployment is likely to stay disastrously high through next year and beyond. The banker-friendly bailout of Wall Street has angered voters, and might even let Republicans claim the mantle of economic populism. Conservatives may not have better ideas, but voters might support them out of sheer frustration.

And if Tea Party Republicans do win big next year, what has already happened in California could happen at the national level. In California, the G.O.P. has essentially shrunk down to a rump party with no interest in actually governing — but that rump remains big enough to prevent anyone else from dealing with the state’s fiscal crisis. If this happens to America as a whole, as it all too easily could, the country could become effectively ungovernable in the midst of an ongoing economic disaster.
This scenario is much more frightening than Krugman has painted it. Economists know that the very people who oversaw and approved the recent bubble build-up and crash are the same ones in charge of any potential systemic change, and their lack of will for any genuine reform has set the stage for bigger and better crashes in the near future. Here was Simon Johnson in late September of this year, speaking on WHYY's Radio Times:
Marty Moss-Coane: But are you saying that Wall Street is essentially back to its bad old ways? Before the bailout and the implosion last fall?

Simon Johnson: Oh yes, absolutely. I think in some ways we're in worse shape than that. Now I'm not saying that we're going to have another crisis immediately. Back to back, severe financial crises are very rare. Instead, of course, you go through another cycle where people feel good and the major players take on a lot of risk. Of course, they'll have a good run for a while. They'll pay themselves massive bonuses. When there's an upside, they get the upside. When the downside comes -- 2? 3? 5? 7? maybe 12? years down the road -- it's huge. Look back over the last 20 years. Think about Alan Greenspan's achievement as governor of the central bank, as chairman of the Federal Reserve in this country. In 2001-2005, people said he's the greatest central banker we've ever had. Now you look back and say, "I don't think so. I think he was actually a disaster." What happened over the past 20 years. He was probably the worst central banker this country has ever experienced.

Marty Moss-Coane: What do you say about Ben Bernanke so far?

Simon Johnson: [laughs] Ben Bernanke has done a very good job as a fire fighter. Once the financial fire broke out and once the meltdown occurred, he worked really hard to prevent that from spreading and from becoming even more damaging. But of course fire fighters have two jobs, really. One is fighting the fires when they break out. The other is trying to prevent fires, trying to think ahead, trying to design systems and strategies that make fires less likely -- and less damaging when they break out. And on that one, I'm afraid his track record is not so good! When he worked at the Fed under Alan Greenspan, he was absolutely in line with the Greenspan idea that you don't worry about bubbles or financial frenzies when they're building up, you just clean up afterwards. That's what we just done, the last 12 months. You really don't want to do that and you really don't want to do what we've been doing the past 12 months again. More importantly and more relevantly, in terms of what he's saying now about what he's planning to do...you know, he's been giving speeches -- he gave a speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington and he laid out his view of what the problem is and what reform [inaudible] is, and so on. It's all very technocratic, all very hollow-sounding. And it is hollow. He's not confronting or even speaking about the deeper, underlying political realities here and the power of the financial sector and how it's going out of control.
And yes, if Americans vote with their stupid bone, the crazies will be in charge when it all blows up. But don't worry, they will still manage to blame the liberals.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Not Too Big To Fail; Too Dumb To Govern

For my own benefit, I wanted to be able to re-read this again and again, and thanks to Tyler Durden and Digby, I can. I wish it was permanently papered onto the side of every financial building, hung in prominent areas of both chambers of Congress, and pasted into the front page of every banking and investment website in the United States, along with the caveat "Too Dumb to Govern."

Not So Fast

Yes, I know, everyone's breathless over the passage of the House health reform bill. But just remember this: requiring people to pay for insurance does not mean they are going to get health care:
Because of costs, Massachusetts hasn’t solved the problem of guaranteeing access to health care. Even residents with coverage can’t afford medical treatment because of co-payments and the charges that insurance doesn’t cover, according to a September 2009 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation with headquarters in Menlo Park, California.
This is how you get a 97% coverage rate that looks good on paper: you force people to buy coverage that drains their budgets and costs so much to use that they can't afford to get the health care this was supposed to be about in the first place.

This is what I fear is coming down the pike from our millionaires in Congress, too, where a cap of $12,000 on premiums is considered affordable, and allowing insurance companies to charge older people twice what they charge younger ones is a fair deal.

And as for those vaunted cost savings? Not so much in the Bay State:
Private insurance premiums in the state rose more than 12 percent through the end of 2008, according to an Oct. 21 report in the New England Journal of Medicine co-authored by Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary JudyAnn Bigby. The cost of buying insurance increased 10 percent so far this year, the report said.

Price increases like these put pressure on the finances of businesses that provide insurance to employees, workers who pay part of that cost and individuals who buy their own coverage.

“President Obama is a visionary and he’s going to use Massachusetts as an example of how his ideas might play out,” said Regina Herzlinger, an economist at Harvard Business School in Cambridge. “But Massachusetts is a wealthy state and it can afford things that other states cannot. And even now Massachusetts is having trouble.”
I will grant you that Massachusetts put the cart before the horse and rushed everyone into eating an insurance plan before cost reductions had been worked out. But the essential flaw in the system--the idea that you can craft a device that will affordably grant health care to the masses while ensuring corporate profits--is going to cripple every attempt to fix it until it is recognized for the myth it is, and the free market is eliminated from basic health care coverage.

Terrorist? Not A Terrorist?

This is how the public herd is encouraged to stampede. From the most recent New York Times headline:
Little Evidence of Terror Plot in Base Killings
"Little" evidence? Then that must mean there is some evidence, right? You can just hear keyboards all over reactionary America tapping furiously with the news: See? Even the communist Jew York Times says he could have been a terrorist!! But when we get to the actual body of the article we find that "investigators have tentatively concluded that it was not part of a terrorist plot." Mind you, that's only tentative. Something else may have yet to surface. Something Muslimy. What else do they know? Well, this:
One significant investigative thrust has involved determining whether Major Hasan had contact with extremists who preyed on his increasingly angry and outspoken opposition to American policies in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But so far, investigators have unearthed no evidence that he was directed or steered into violence or ever traveled overseas to meet with extremist groups, as defendants in some recent terrorism cases are accused of doing, the officials said.

The officials emphasized that their findings were preliminary and that the investigation was fluid. New information could alter their perceptions of Major Hasan’s motives. But the early conclusions are already influencing the course of the inquiry, including which law enforcement agencies lead it.
Still fluid, yes, as are all investigations until they are completed, although the way they are reported in the news nowadays, you'd never know it. Once the first edition hits the streets, we stay locked into whatever preliminary information we read, and our minds are made up. Couching incidents in language like this headline only cements those first impressions. Then there's this:
The officials said a continuing search of Major Hasan’s computer indicates that he had logged on to Web sites that celebrated radical Islamic ideologies and that he had exchanged e-mail messages with like-minded people, some possibly overseas. In addition, they believe that he may have written inflammatory Internet postings that justified suicide attacks, though that has not been concretely established.

Still, investigators have found no evidence that Major Hasan sent e-mail messages to known terrorists or anyone else who encouraged or helped him to orchestrate the shootings.
Maybe he did. Then again, we just don't know. Why are they sharing this speculation with us? This is the kind of perfectly legitimate back-and-forth any investigator has to engage in to eliminate all possible dead ends, but to outsiders, it may just look like enough "evidence" to support whatever racist agendas they already have.

And then there is this:
The possibility that the Fort Hood attack involved terrorism arose for a number of reasons...friends and work associates of Major Hasan have described his increasing doubts about the American military missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In interviews in recent days, friends and others have portrayed Major Hasan as a troubled man, deeply concerned about being deployed to the war zones.
Jesus. He had doubts about the wars, and he was worried about being sent there. I guess after years of protests against the war, that makes me a suspect of terrorism, too. Having concerns about being dropped into the meatgrinder of somebody else's Big Idea, that's also cause for suspicion.

After playing this "Terrorist? Not a Terrorist?" game show through most of the text, the article finally boils down to this: investigators seem to be mainly concerned with gathering evidence to show premeditation so they can pre-empt any wussy insanity defense. Not that such a defense has been very useful since 1984 for even the most obvious cases. Because as God is my witness, even a hallucinating schizophrenic will get his comeuppance here in the Land of the Free to Not Give A Damn About Your Problems.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Strange New Fruit From the Same Old Tree

Been a long time since they've been able to have themselves a lynchin' in North Carolina. Them animal spirits keep building up and up until somebody's just gonna have to cut loose. And since all this political correctness, a decent Amuriken has to find his fun where he can take it.

Now that the reactionary fringe has managed to make "standing up to political correctness" a synonym for "proud of my ignorant hate-mongering", anything goes, even among those who once felt constrained to at least appear un-bigoted. Bet rope sales up on the Hill have been off the charts since this nasty bitch has been stirrin' up the good ol' boys. Hey, yew know whut, Miz Sue? How 'bout we put all the Muslims in those FEMA Death Camps!

Another Mass Murder? Oh, Help America to Its Fainting Couch

The spectacle never ends here in the land of the free-flowing ammo. In fact, 2009 is shaping up to be one of the prime years for connoisseurs of mass murder. Somehow, in one of the states with a much ballyhooed concealed carry law, this fool managed to cut a swath through his ex-employer's workplace and no one shot back. Later, I watched Charlie Gibson cover the story of the Orlando shooting, and then turn his pained eyes on Jake Tapper to ask whether there was any solution for these kinds of tragedies. Of course, not once did the possibility of keeping control of our weaponry come up. That was so far beyond the pale that no one could even bring himself to raise the question, despite the fact that Florida, the 9th deadliest state in the Union in 2008, has some of the most risible gun "laws" on the books, including allowing employees to bring loaded guns to work, so long as they keep them outside in their locked cars. Here are a few more examples of Florida's daffiness:
1) Legal to use deadly force as a first resort in public (excellent for taking out a harmless passerby in the street who looks at you wrong).

2) Criminal background checks are only required if the buyer goes to a federally-licensed gun store - no other sales (gun shows, swap meets, want ads) are subject to the background check. (This is actually almost beside the point, because as history has shown ad nauseum, many assaults are committed with guns by people with no criminal records).

3) No restriction on the sale of Saturday night specials, "junk" handguns, or snub-nosed handguns that are easily concealed.

4) No state requirement that gun owners register their firearms.

5) Police are forbidden from keeping any record of gun sales. Police must destroy records on gun sales within 48 hours and are prohibited from maintaining gun sale records that could be used for gun tracing and criminal investigations. The state has no way of knowing whether people who bought guns in the past have become criminals and are no longer allowed to possess firearms.

6) No restriction on the sale or possession of large capacity ammunition magazines that can fire 30, 50 or even 75 rounds without reloading (because we know that in America, bigger is better, including death counts).

7) Police chiefs and state sheriffs are required to give concealed carry permits to anyone who can buy a handgun, allowing them to carry loaded, concealed handguns in public.
Now, you may say, it's not as bad as it could be. Look at Utah, where local police needn't be informed of a concealed carry, and loaded guns are allowed in state facilities, churches, and colleges. Or Oklahoma, that requires no record-keeping on guns whatsoever and allows them to be taken, loaded, onto a private employer's property. Or Vermont, which places virtually no restriction on carrying a loaded handgun.

It seems that there is nothing, and I mean nothing, that could possibly shock Americans into placing some commonsense restrictions--things on a par with restrictions on driving and alcohol--on the very thing that causes these atrocities, atrocities they can be relied on to weep fat, heavily-publicized crocodile tears over each time a new massacre erupts. Oh, we wring our hands and run to the local blood drive (because it doesn't cost us anything to give blood, but don't ask us to pay taxes to really help others), and we wail about how crazy the killer must be, oh, how evil, and why does this keep happening to us, and how can God let this happen? Well, God helps those who help themselves, sweetheart, and we aren't doing one damned thing to try to stop it from happening again. If you think that sweeping up after the fact is some kind of preventative, you must be blind to the lessons you've been taught from years of living with human beings. This is what we do: we get pissed off; we get stressed out; we get shat upon and taken to the cleaners and conned by big American companies taking our tax money, and we reach our limits. And the difference between an incident that may end in the stabbing of an individual, and the mass killing and maiming of many, lies in whether that stressed-out maniac can get his hands on a weapon of mass destruction, or only a kitchen knife. Every day someone without a criminal record shoots someone else, and the only thing that made him a criminal was being able to get hold of that gun. Human beings will get pissed off. But what they do with that anger too often becomes a matter of opportunity bestowed on them by the rankest weapons non-regulations in the civilized world, hand-crafted by the country's biggest numbnuts and first-rate cowards.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Myth of Personal Protection, Times Twelve

So far, 12 dead at the Army's Fort Hood in Texas:
Fort Hood, the country's largest Army post, was the scene of a tragedy on Thursday, a mass shooting. Details are still a little fuzzy as reports come in, but the Army says 12 people have been killed and another 31 were wounded...

At a press conference, Lt. Gen. Bob Cone told reporters that the shooter was among those killed in the incident as authorities responded to the violence, but did not specify if the shooter is counted among the 12 reported dead. Cone said two more soldiers had also been apprehended as suspects in the shooting, but he provided no new details about the circumstances surrounding those suspects. He did say that the shooter used two weapons, both handguns.
Here was a place where nearly every last person had a gun or carried a gun, in a state that never saw a weapon regulation that it could stomach, a state, in fact, that wanted to let teachers carry loaded guns to school, for Christ's sake. This is how they look at it in Texas:
According to Barbara Williams with the Texas Association of School Boards, Harrold remains the only Texas school district with a guns-on-campus policy...

“This is Texas. I have a magnet on my refrigerator of the state with a plastic gun glued to it that says, ‘We don’t call 9-1-1.’ We find that funny in Texas,” she said.
Really? Well, you must be pissing yourself with laughter now, Babs.

Even in a place like Fort Hood, where people are trained to handle weapons as professionals, even there, their guns could not keep them safe. How long do we have to listen to the weapons industry propagandize their profits through the mouths of puppets like Williams? How long before the lies and myths become so glaring that even the ventriloquists' dummies choke on the talking points? Guns, and the sense of omnipotence and invulnerability they confer, create criminals. Carrying one doesn't keep you safe; it makes it all the more likely you will die, no matter who you are.

Update: How many times can you use the word Palestinian in a sentence? BTW, where was the concern about Catholics when Tim McVeigh blew away all those innocents in 1995? I can't remember any priests rushing to assure people that, despite centuries of murder and terrorism, 99% of Catholics are good, law-abiding people.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Inmates Aren't Running The Asylum...Yet

Maybe since the ultra-reactionary wing of the Republican party has devolved into the Home for the Confused, this is a sign that the few remaining sane are tunneling their way to freedom:
Democrats won a special election in New York State’s northernmost Congressional district Tuesday, a setback for national conservatives who heavily promoted a third candidate in what became an intense debate over the direction of the Republican Party.

The Democratic candidate, Bill Owens, led with 49 percent of the vote, while the Conservative Party candidate, Douglas L. Hoffman, had 46 percent...

Leading conservative voices — including The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page and The Weekly Standard and the talk show personalities Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck — took on the Republican nominee, Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, who supports gay rights and abortion rights and had embraced some Democratic economic policies like the federal stimulus package. They labeled her as too liberal.
The attacks on Ms. Scozzafava eventually took their toll, and she stunned her party over the weekend first by withdrawing from the race and then by urging her supporters to vote for Mr. Owens, a 60-year-old lawyer from Plattsburgh.
But you can bet there will be the usual Greek chorus of rightist wingnuts wailing that they just haven't been crazy enough, and if only they could find some Miss America-looking twit to spout lunacies they could take back America!.

Update:
BTW, this will not end well. He's going to lower taxes and still maintain good schools? Say goodbye to your roads and bridges, and hope you can find a place to haul your garbage to.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Once More Into The Affordability Breech, Dear Friends

If I'm going to bitch about every health care reform plan that comes out of Congress, I suppose I'd better explain what I think affordability means. It does not mean 10% of one's income for premiums, and it does not mean another 10% in deductibles and out of pockets before one's insurance actually begins doing what you have been paying it to do.

With regard to expanding utilization of current programs:
  • First, Medicare drops to cover everyone 40 years old and older. Age discrimination law protects all those over 40, and many illnesses begin to manifest after this age, so this seems a good starting point.
  • For those under 30, the option to stay on their parents' or guardians' insurance.
  • For the low-income, Medicaid up to an income of $25000, no matter the size of the family.
Regarding the cost of insurance premiums for everyone who doesn't fall into the above categories, no more than the following % of income, on a sliding scale:
$25,999—1% ($260 yr, $22 mo)

$30,000---2% ($600 yr, $50 mo)

$70,000---3% ($800 yr, $67 mo)

$100,000—3 ½ % ($3500 yr, $292 mo)

$150,000---4% ($6000 yr, $500 mo)

$200,000---5% ($10,000 yr, $833 mo)

$250,000---6% ($15,000 yr, $1250 mo)

$300,000---7% ($21,000 yr, $1750 mo)

$400,000---8% ($32,000 yr, $2667 mo)

$500,000---9% ($45,000 yr, $3750 mo)

$1 million and up---10% ($100,000 yr, $10,000 mo)
The excess amount charged to those in the higher income categories can be used to underwrite the costs of insuring those in the lower-income brackets.

What the above chart tells you is that:
1)  No insurance company, no matter how venal, is ever going to charge $100k a year for a family's insurance. This means that the rich will always be at advantage over the poor when it comes to paying premiums. If you found yourself looking at that chunk of the millionaires' share and thinking, “Wow! That's a little steep!”, just imagine how more more cruel that 10% will be on the backs of those with only a fraction of that income; and

2)  Even a small percentage, taken from a limited income, is going to weigh heavily on that family or individual in ways that could break them if other expenses are not taken into consideration.
Deductibles and out of pocket cost limits should be minimal, rare, and for very extraordinary situations; say, cosmetic surgery for purely vanity reasons. For those paying 1% of their income for premiums, they should not exceed the cost of those yearly premiums. For those paying 3-6%, they should not exceed twice the cost of those yearly premiums.

The regulations allowing direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription pharmaceuticals should be eliminated, to cut down on the costs of those drugs ( % of drug company costs are related to advertising and marketing) and reduce patient demand for drugs that may not be appropriate or advisable for their situations.

Accountability should be created by requiring insurance companies to provide regular yearly financial statements to their customers showing where their profits are coming from and where they are going, including top executive salaries and all political contributions and PAC connections.

No this isn't meant to be comprehensive, but it give you an idea of where I'm coming from.

"Unprecedented"---(def.) Business as usual

This is going nowhere:
Speaking at a news conference with Clinton on Saturday, Netanyahu repeated the concessions he is willing to make: Israel will build no new settlement communities, expropriate no land for existing ones and limit the number of permits for new housing construction.

In previous statements, Israeli officials had said they would permit no more than about 3,000 new homes for nine months after a new round of peace talks starts.
This is what Hilary's creaming her jeans over? But wasn't the U.S. requiring a full stop on all settlement activity? Seems once upon a time it was so:
The settlements, built on land Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East War, have been a stumbling block in decades of efforts to end the conflict. The last round of U.S.-brokered talks broke off last December, in part because Palestinian leaders felt the process was undermined by ongoing settlement activity. Nearly 500,000 Israelis live in settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.

Palestinians contend that under a U.S.-backed 2003 peace plan, Israel is obliged to halt settlement growth.

President Obama called last spring for a freeze but, in the face of Israeli resistance, changed course. To the dismay of Palestinian leaders, Obama demanded only "restraint" on settlements when he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas in September.
Well, if the Israelis don't like it, that's good enough for us! Richard Boudreaux, the author of the LA Times article quoted above, points out that back in 2003 we backed a plan that would have ended all settlement activity, so this is not new. Neither is the wussing-out of American diplomacy when it comes to tiny Israel throwing a tantrum to get what it wants.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, trying to coax Palestinian leaders to restart peace talks with Israel, said Saturday that Israel was offering "unprecedented" concessions to limit the growth of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Clinton's remarks moved the Obama administration closer to Israel's position and further from that of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has refused to return to negotiations without a total freeze on settlement activity on land Palestinians claim for a future state.
You know, it's one thing to say, "Well, this isn't what we hoped for, and we want to see even more progress in this area, but at least this is better than what Israel was offering before. Let's see if we can get to the peace table and then move forward." But that isn't close to what Clinton has said. No, she's fairly crowing that this is "unprecedented", and what a helluva guy Netanyahu is, and the Palestinians better just suck it up. Hardly even-handed in tone. President Abbas, who supposedly "controls" the West Bank, still gets no say in how many carpetbaggers and landgrabbers steal the places belonging to his people, more private roads for the thieves are being planned to carve up Palestinian property to exclude Palestinians and create checkpoints, and everyone dogpiles on the Goldstone Report for mentioning Israeli atrocities and spoiling their makeup even though the situation in Gaza remains a humanitarian nightmare and international goddamn shame. For some reason the Palestinians don't welcome this "concession".

(BTW, you see how I re-structured the order of the Boudreaux article above? This is how most reporting is written nowadays...like a damn movie trailer, starting out with a teaser, then broken up in bits and pieces that have to be jigsawed back together to create some kind of sense. This is what the confluence of entertainlment reporting and real news has created.)