Thursday, July 30, 2009

Making Sausage

There’s an old saying that if you want to continue to enjoy eating sausage never go to a sausage factory. I’ve never been to a sausage factory, but I can tell you from personal experience that if you want to continue eating chicken never go to a chicken processing plant. I still eat chicken, but I didn’t for a while.

The problem with the “health care” debate is that it has exposed the process of legislation to public discussion to far too high a degree. We get pundit after pundit opining on the current “legislation” and its flaws, when what’s being discussed is not legislation at all but is merely the latest leaked committee proposal with various lobbyist requests still in it, many of them contradictory, and all of them mostly in it for show and placed into it with the full intention they it will be stripped out of any final legislation before the issue reaches the floor.

Legislating in the United States Congress is a dirty business and, for the most part, has been kept below the radar of the American people. We don’t really want to know all of the wheeling and dealing that they do to arrive at the verbal garbage that is finally crafted into “bills” and put into law. All of the excitement over this topic has brought this process into the open, and the American people are quite properly repulsed by it.

It’s perfectly legitimate to quote Senator Snuffbottom as saying, “I’m against the public option,” and then write an editorial to the effect that, “Senator Snuffbottom is an idiot for being against the public option.”

It is ridiculous to write an editorial opining at length about how horrible it is that, “the current legislation does not include the public option,” when as yet there is no current legislation. There are three competing committee plans in the House and nothing whatever in the Senate. There are a hundred or so legislators shooting off their mouths about what they intend to have in the legislation but, to repeat, there is no legislation.

There is a bunch of chopped up meat on the sausage factory floor. Yuck.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Jim Johnson 1941 - 2009

Jim JohnsonJim Johnson died of cancer yesterday at 68. He will be missed by his family and friends more than by those of us who watched the defenses he coached, but he will be missed by us too. He was a very special kind of coach. He created defenses that made offensive units tremble at the sound of their name. He didn't need a Shawne Merriman to create a defensive unit that made the ground shake and the skies darken.

You never knew quite what his defense was going to do, but you knew two things; you knew it was going to be aggressive, and you knew it was going to be unexpected. Jim Johnson's defense never sat back on its heels and waited for the opponent to bring the game to them, they took it to the opponent on their own terms.

We'll see Jim Johnson again, in the Hall of Fame.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

California Thinking

To give you an idea of how California finally arrived at a "balanced" budget, one of the methods was to increase income tax withholding. Not income tax, as they cannot do that, merely the amount withheld from paychecks during this fiscal year. Residents will get a refund next year, but that is next year's problem. California income tax withholding is already greater than the amount of the tax, so this will mean helping to balance this year's cash flow at the cost of even bigger refunds next year.

Erudite Thinking

I have never been a fan of writers who consider themselves erudite thinkers, although I rather like reading writers who actually are and never refer to themselves as such.

David Brooks comes to mind, and his column in the New York Times yesterday is a case in point. He says that he makes a daily check of a blog which is "famous for its erudite authors." Oh boy. He then cites an example of their erudition, which he said was "fantastical but thought-provoking." Omigod. Do I really want to read the rest of the column? Do I really want to know what the "fantastical but thought-provoking" erudite thought was?

Well, the thought was, "What would happen if a freak solar event sterilized the people on the half of the earth that happened to be facing the sun?" Not killed; sterilized.

His thoughts (thoughts?) on the subject answered the other question; no, I did not want to read the rest of the column. It sounded like the ramblings of a college sophomore at 4am after he'd been smoking pot all night. Maybe a high school sophomore. After about three paragraphs I started skimming, and I think he was skimming something when he wrote it, too.

And this was in the Gray Lady, Opinion section.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Bailout Blues

Glenn Greenwald has a fascinating piece yesterday about the Inspector General overseeing the administration of the funds used for the financial bailout. He’s writing about the attack being made on the IG’s independence (the Obama Administration wants the guy placed under the direction of the Treasury Department) but in the process he brings out some interesting numbers about the bailout itself.

You really should read the piece, and the podcast at the end is well worth listening to, but to focus on the numbers here.

Congress authorized $700 billion to bail out financial institutions. What has actually been spent is $3 trillion, $2.3 trillion more than authorized by our elected government, or 328% over budget. Who injected that money? The Federal Reserve and the FDIC.

In addition to the $3 trillion expended, our government has created an additional $20.7 trillion in financial exposure, something like you create when you cosign a loan; you are on the hook for the money if the borrower defaults. That exposure was not authorized by our elected government either, but by the Fed and the FDIC.

What’s being done with that money which, let us remember, was for the purpose of stimulating lending? The Treasury Department says that we cannot know and that it’s silly to even ask. The IG came up with a novel idea of simply asking the banks what they are doing with it. Turns out some of it is being lent, some is being used to buy up smaller banks, and some is simply being held.

Treasury wants to give the Fed, who have already handed out $3 trillion and put us at risk for $20 trillion more, more authority and power; and wants the IG to shut up.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Not Boring Volcano

volcanoSometimes Kilauea is less boring than other times.

A Degree In Every Pot

In his speech to the NAACP the other day, President Obama talked about education and said it was his goal to assure that every single child in this nation got an education all the way through college. He spoke of going to college as “fulfilling the promise” that life held for everyone, and here I am as a 66-year-old retiree without a college degree. He’s saying, in effect, that I did not “fulfill the promise” of my life, and I’m a bit insulted by that.

After high school I went into the Navy, where I was trained as an electrician. I then worked in steel plants as an electrician, machine operator, maintenance mechanic, and supervisor. I later did get some advanced education, worked in plant management and later formed my own company, but that does not mean that I did not take great satisfaction in my career as a blue collar worker. I enjoyed it a great deal and took pride in being an excellent electrician and mechanic. In some ways those were better days than the white collar jobs that followed.

I thought back to when I was an electrician at Allis Chalmers Manufacturing. We built electrical transformers that were so big you could live in them. They were for the Tennessee Valley Authority, and they were not as big as a house, they were as big as an apartment building. They carried voltages and electrical currents that you cannot even imagine. We built those things, and they helped light up half of America. There were several hundred of us working on those transformers; not one of us had a college degree, and we did something pretty valuable and contributed something to our community and to our nation.

A few weeks ago I happened to be watching when our garbage can was emptied. The truck was the type with a mechanical arm operated by the driver and, after dumping the can, the driver moved forward, extended the arm just a bit and neatly set the can in our driveway rather than leaving it in the street. I had a slight urge to go out and shake his hand. Here was a garbage truck driver, taking pride in his job and doing it with flair and style.

We need those garbage truck drivers who take pride in “doing it right.” We need the electricians wiring up the motor controllers and repairing the cranes. We need the crane operators at the docks, and the truck drivers on the highways. These are not just “bridge jobs” to be suffered through while you wait for something better, they are honorable jobs that need to be done by people who take pride in doing them well.

When you hold out a college degree as the necessary expectation of every child you denigrate these jobs and many others like them which do not require advanced education, and you discourage today’s youth from any willingness to fill them. You turn these jobs into the infamous “jobs that Americans don’t want to do.”

Arguing With Idiots

Idiots at Work
Never argue with idiots.
They will drag you down to their level,
and beat you with experience.

I’m not sure which is more entertaining; watching the frustration of a sane person arguing with an idiot, or watching the sheer chaos of two idiots arguing with each other. It is definitely a case of the latter when one of the news talk shows invites a person on to talk about Barack Obama’s purported lack of a birth certificate.

Chris Matthews had Gordon Liddy as a guest on Hardball wanting to know why Liddy was questioning Obama’s citizenship. He waved a piece of paper in front of Liddy, who mumbled, “That’s not a birth certificate, that’s a certificate of live birth.” That went right past Matthews, who apparently saw nothing remarkable in Liddy’s disclaimer that a “certificate of live birth” is not the same thing as a “birth certificate” because by that time Matthews had completely lost his mind, driven nuts by Liddy’s incoherent mumblings.

Of course, for Matthews that's more like a chip shot than a drive.

The segment went on for a while after that, but Liddy had already won hands down. Matthews was from then on demanding to know who was in on the conspiracy to forge Obama’s citizenship by planting false birth announcements forty-odd years ago. Said forgery was apparently pretty skillfully done, since it got past the various federal agencies which gave Obama a Top Secret Drop Dead security clearance.

In the picture above, the guy on the right is not the idiot because he is trying to tell David Shuster, the idiot on the left, that the GOP actually does have something to gain by allowing the fruitcakes to perpetuate this “birther” thing. He’s pointing out that it is a distraction, and that every minute that is spent talking about Obama’s birth certificate is a minute not spent talking about health care reform, which is something that the GOP doesn’t want to talk about. Duh.

Shuster keeps screaming at him, in an increasingly angry manner, “But it’s nonsense.” To which the guy makes quite moderate replies such as, “And the media keeps giving it air time,” and, “And we’re talking about it right now on your show, David.”

Who are the idiots, really? The “birthers” who question Obama’s citizenship? Or people like Chris Matthews and David Shuster who keep giving them the air time on which to do it? Or maybe people like me who watch the show?

Well, hell, I’ve got to watch something, and they’re entertaining.

Friday, July 24, 2009

WSJ Cites Healthcare "Losers"

The Wall Street Journal has an article today about the “hidden losers” in the proposed health care reform bill. Given that Congress doesn’t actually have a proposed health care reform bill, their discussion seems a little prescient, but the WSJ is seldom insistent about basing its discussion on facts so...

One group that “loses” is young people, according to the WSJ, because the premiums that insurance companies will be allowed to charge is not as low for them as it should be. “The House and Senate bills do let insurers set premiums based on age, but only up to a 2-to-1 ratio, versus a real-world ratio of 5 to 1.” The young are five times healthier, so they should only pay one-fifth as much in premiums.

The WSJ apparently doesn’t think that young people, suffering now, are ever going to become older people, benefiting then. Well, nobody ever accused the WSJ of overthinking an issue.

Seems to me, based on WSJ reasoning, to the extent that the WSJ is capable of reasoning, that people with diabetes or cancer should pay much higher premiums that people who are healthy. Probably not.

I sort of question both their hyphenated 2-to-1 ration and their unhyphenated 5 to 1 ratio, since I was about 70 times more healthy as a young person than I am now. Of course, I drank heavily as a youth, so I’m not altogether certain how unhealthy I was back then.

I believe that everyone should start paying premiums as soon as they start working, and that everyone should pay exactly the same premium regardless of age, state of health, genetic makeup or, I don’t know, eye color. Oh wait, we do that now; it’s called Medicare. Maybe we could adjust the premium and have it start providing medical care earlier.

Pay higher Medicare? Horrors. You might be more willing to consider that if, while the Republicans and the WSJ are screaming at you about the higher taxes, they were not drowning out your thoughts about “no insurance premiums” and “no medical bills.”

A More Perfect Union

There’s a scene in "An American President" where Mike Douglas is giving his daughter a book about the constitution. She is not thrilled and he tells her that “this is exciting stuff.” He goes on to give her a little talk about how American governance and its origin is not the dull stuff of books, but is an ongoing experiment in human nature. It’s a small scene, but it’s one of my favorites.

The original purpose of this blog was to provide a place to vent about the outrage of the Bush Administration, but it reengaged me in politics and that “American President” is right, this is exciting stuff. Even when we do it badly, American governance is an awesome process. Decisions are being made that directly affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people and indirectly affect the lives of billions.

How can one not be excited about this process which occurs not just in the halls of Congress or the West Wing of the White House, but in newspapers, on television, in coffee shops and libraries and across the breakfast tables all across the nation? And, yes, in blogs on the Internet.

There’s a saying in some parts of the country that, ”If you don’t like the weather just wait a minute.” Such, in a way, is the nature of our government as elections have their seasons. We are in a season that promised change. It has delivered little, but it is still the season of that promise. What will be the nature and degree of that change?

We are in a season of corruption and naysayers claim that cannot change because it is the corruption that must change itself. They are wrong. The ultimate power still lies with the electorate and when someone or something awakens them that change, too, will come.

How can you not be excited in times like this?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Obama Speaks

I noticed that Obama was talking about “insurance reform” at first, he used that term repeatedly, and I thought he was finally giving us a measure of honesty. I can get on board with insurance reform, if that’s the best we can do. I’d rather see a reform of the health care system, but if we can’t do that let’s at least make the insurance system better. It wasn’t long into the Q&A session, however, before he was talking about “health care reform” again.

I actually got kind of excited when he said the following, thinking that we were finally going to talk about the 500# gorilla in the living room. Other nations do it a lot cheaper, so maybe we ought to look at how they do it.

“…on average we, here in the United States, are spending about $6,000 more than other advanced countries where they're just as healthy. And I've said this before, if you found out that your neighbor had gotten the same car for $6,000 less, you'd want to figure out how to get that deal.”

Nope, because he followed that with absolute gibberish, which involved something about paying for the increased cost of the reformed system. The first sentence isn’t even a sentence, notwithstanding the punctuation in the transcript, which I left in place. Emphasis is my addition, and note that he’s back to referring to “health care reform.”

Now, what we did very early on was say two-thirds of the costs of health care reform, which includes providing coverage for people who don't have it, making it more affordable for folks who do, and making sure that we're, over the long term, creating the kinds of systems where prevention and wellness and information technologies make the system more efficient.

That the entire cost of that has to be paid for and it has got to be deficit-neutral. And we identified two-thirds of those costs to be paid for by tax dollars that are already being spent right now.

So taxpayers are already putting this money into the kitty. The problem is, they're not getting a good deal for the money they're spending. That takes care of about two-thirds of the cost.

The statement about some sort of generalized making the system more efficient “takes care of about two-thirds of the cost” is magical thinking if I ever heard it. We take care of paying for the higher cost of the reformed way of doing what we pay too much more for by reducing the cost of what we’re doing while reforming it so that we are doing it at a higher cost. It makes my head hurt. He babbles some gibberish at us, figuratively wipes his hands in satisfaction and announces proudly with a big smile, “That takes care of about two-thirds of the cost.”

It’s like that $6000 cheaper car. We get that $6000 discount by giving the dealer $4000 and asking him to raise the price of the car by another $4000 so that... Wait.

And that part about “creating the kinds of systems where prevention and wellness and information technologies…” supposedly in the bill? That’s the first time anyone has mentioned any of that, other than the $19 billion that has been donated to the computer industry to create a computer system that will be delivered about the time we have our next Republican president and will almost certainly be unusable.

Anyone who believes that today’s computer industry is going to suck up $19 billion and deliver a working, useable, nationwide computer system needs their head examined. The industry may or may not be capable of it, probably is, but it will certainly not deliver.

Nobody is going to have to give up anything, except maybe some millionaires will have to pay just a tiny smidge more in taxes. And when one reporter pins him down on a specific example then, yes maybe perhaps that very eldery woman might not get that procedure. The system will cover 98% of Americans because we don't want to cover 100% like some despicable "single payer system, where everyone is automatically enrolled" would do.

Finally, Obama repeatedly said that the goal of his plan is to “reduce the rate of health care inflation.” To the degree that he did attempt to discuss reducing present costs, he tried to make the medical profession the “goat” by saying that they order too many tests, don’t talk to each other, and prescribe treatments that do not really add to quality of life. Doctors, apparently, do things merely because they can, or because the “fee schedule” makes it to their advantage to do so.

He didn’t mention the role that the legal system plays in the cost of health care, nor the role that is played by the administrative costs and profits of the insurance industry, nor the corporate culture of the medical and pharmaceutical industries.

Those things, of course, have nothing to do with the cost of health care.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Why, Again, The Drop?

Much is being made of Obama's drop in the polls, attributing it in part to the the health care reform plan and concern over cost. Even Democrats loyal to Obama, it is being said, are concerned about how to pay for this reform bill.

I haven't seen anywhere a concern that Democrats loyal to Obama, such as this one, are upset that this "health care reform bill" increases the costs of delivery without even slightly reforming health care.

And to pundits who use Medicare as an example of socialized medicine:

Socialism: n. Any of various theories or systems of social organization in which the means of producing and distributing goods is owned collectively or by a centralized government that often plans and controls the economy.

I pay money from my income into a trust fund for forty years and receive nothing in return. At age sixty five I begin drawing on that money to receive medical care provided by privately owned hospitals and doctors in private practice. Where, precisely, is the communal ownership in that?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Oh, Snap

Read in the comments at Balloon Juice:

Re: “I guess I was delusional. I truly thought after the election that McCain might want to try to slip into the role of an elder statesman of the opposition party.”—- He is being the elder statesman. But these days the GOP is like a psych ward, and the elder statesman is just
the guy who’s been hospitalized the longest.

Blogging will be on the light side for a week or so; too many doctor appointments, and they tire me out. This too will pass.

I wiil just add that when someone is insisting that you sign on to something in a big hurry, not willing to give you time to consider it at leisure, they are usually trying to sell you a con-job; like "health care reform" that raises the cost of what we already pay for at twice the rate of any other nation.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Narrow Thinking on Healthcare

An editorial in today’s New York Times, discussing health care, at least takes the conversation beyond providing health insurance to all Americans. It discusses reducing costs, but offers no comprehensive scope for the discussion. It talks about the cost to government, mentions lowering Medicare payments to the most costly hospitals and doctors for instance, but doesn't have much to say about the costs to individuals, failing to mention the 60% of personal bankruptcies that are due to medical crisis.

While it does mention the possibility of changing the present fee-for-service method of payment, it merely comments, “The problem is that nobody is sure of the best way to do that.” And so we pass a bill insuring everyone and drop the ball in reducing cost.

What it does not do, of course, is suggest looking at the ways that other nations deliver health care to their citizens and asking how those nations deliver equal results for half of what we spend. That little fact is always left out of the discussion; we spend twice as much as any other nation, and we do not get better results.

It does not bring up the impact of the legal system on the practice of medicine; neither the frequency of medical malpractice lawsuits, nor the staggering size of awards. I do not know how we rank internationally in either regard, because that issue never enters the discussion of health care costs. I do know that the subject has an effect, and not a small one, and that it is twofold; the insurance premiums paid by medical providers, and the practice of “defensive medicine” in the form of ordering marginally justifiable tests and procedures.

What is that effect in other countries? Well, that issue will have to become part of the conversation before we can know much about it.

Mostly the discussion is about how to raise money to pay for more insurance. If you give that a moment’s thought you will realize that is a plan to pay more for what we are already paying too much for. We have just got to take the stupidity out of this discussion.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Revised EFCA

I am not a big fan of Sally Field; I like some of her movies but mostly find her a bit cloying, and she drives me nuts in the commercial where she bemoans the horror of having to take a pill every week. Don’t get me started on how often I have to take how many pills. But by the end of the movie Norma Rae I am usually marching around the living room with a union sign.

The New York Times on Friday announced that the Employee Free Choice Act is being revised, and I view that revision as good news; the change allows me to get on board and support that act without reservation. The act was formerly known as the "Card Check" bill; it was that provision that I opposed, and it was that provision that was removed.

Proponents of Card Check insisted that a secret ballot election could still be had if the employees wanted one and chose it, but that was smoke and mirrors. In order to choose a secret ballot election they had to do so in a non-secret process, rejecting an outright installation of union stewardship in the process. That is a process ripe for abuse.

With that provision removed, EFCA provides for correction of much that is wrong with our labor laws today, and I urge Congress to pass it without delay. Right now business has the upper hand and balance needs to be restored. It needs to be restored not in a way that gives equal power to both employer and union, but in a way that to the greatest degree removes the employee from the middle of the battleground.

One way to do that is to shorten the battle, and EFCA seeks to do that, requiring that unionization election campaigns be limited to five or ten days.

To further address labor’s concerns that the election process is tilted in favor of employers, key senators are considering several measures. One would require employers to give union organizers access to company property. Another would bar employers from requiring workers to attend anti-union sessions that labor supporters deride as “captive audience meetings.”

I fully support both measures. Union reps should have full and free access to employer property during that short campaign. Although some restraint against interruption of the business might be reasonable, if the business is disrupted to some degree so be it. Union representation is an important issue.

I’ve heard it said that strengthening unions in a struggling economy is a bad move, one that will further damage the economy. I could not disagree more. Employers’ ability to abuse workers is enhanced in these economic times, and unions are needed more than ever to protect a struggling society.

Pass Revised EFCA.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Doing It Fast

Last fall Henry Paulson took a group of members of Congress aside and whispered in their ear some threats about impending economic disaster that were so dire it had them leaving the room pale and shaking. Literally, by their own admission, pale and with their hands trembling. If Congress did not pass a bill authorizing $700 billion to provide for the purchase of certain “toxic assets” within a few days, our economy would “melt down” in a manner not seen since 1929.

It’s seems farcical in retrospect, and did to many at the time, but the nation took it seriously; so seriously that McCain suspended his presidential campaign to deal with it. It later turned out that the $700 billion was merely a number that Paulson and Company pulled out of their collective backside because it “sounded big” but wasn’t too big to pass muster with Congress. The toxic assets never did get bought and are magically not toxic any more; somebody waved a wand or something.

This was all under the Bush Administration and a Republican Congress though, so… Oh wait, the Congress was Democratic. Oh well, they had that Republican Administration misleading them and we were about to elect a Democrat to the White House which would “change everything.”

Now we have this health care “reform” bill that has to get passed before the August recess. Part of the reform that has been being demanded by Obama is that it reduce the cost of health care, which is going to be difficult since the bill consists only of extending health insurance to everybody who doesn’t have it. That doesn't sound like a big cost reduction move and, sure enough, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office determines that the bill, in its present form, not only does not reduce cost but actually raises it. So of course Congress in it’s entirety rises up and says, “Whoa.”

Well, no, other than Republicans who are saying “no” anyway, exactly six members do that, and they are decried as obstructionists. Their point is that we need to slow down a bit and do health care reform in a manner that makes sense rather than doing it in such a hurry that we get it wrong. (Maybe like we did the relief for “toxic assets” last year.) The President, Democratic leadership, and “progressive” media punditry all scream that we cannot slow down and that health care reform must be passed by August.

Because, what, if we get it right the insurance companies might suffer?

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Cost of Health Care

The Congressional Budget Office is now saying that, while extending health care to more people, the plans being offered by Congress do not reduce the cost of health care, and may even increase it. That comes as no surprise to me, since the so-called reform is nothing more than a plan to extend health insurance to more people. Praiseworthy that may be, but it is not reform, and to change the cost of something you need to reform the way it is done.

Why is our health care system so much more expensive than any other nation? No answer than I have seen presented has really seemed entirely reasonable to me.

Some suggest it is because we have the most modern and expensive technology, but several arguments mitigate against that. Modern technology has driven the cost of pretty much everything else down; compare the cost of a computer from 30 years ago to what you can buy today, to name but one example. What part of our technology is not being used by other nations? Even given that we have it, that it is actually that costly, and that it is unique to us, why do we need to use it so extensively? It doesn’t seem to be producing very good results, since our health results are pretty poor.

Anecdotally, all of this modern technology has not been able to pin down my cardiac arrhythmia firmly enough to persuade the doctors to be able to deal with it. We know it was present at one time and was throwing blood clots into my brain, but since it isn’t now showing on their instruments they simply shrug and have me taking a blood thinner. Last week it threw another blood clot into my brain. My neurologist is furious and wants something done, but cardiology doesn’t see anything on the monitor because my heart doesn’t do it when the monitor is attached. This has been ongoing for more than four years, so I am not really sold on the modern technology thing.

To finish my anecdote, everybody is making lots of money during this process, of course, so the only one that’s really unhappy is me and my family.

One explanation I really enjoy is that the cost is due to people who don’t have insurance. These people, it is claimed, go to emergency rooms and then cannot pay the bill, and that cost is passed on to the paying customers. I’m not even going to bother with all of the ways in which that is a mixture of irrelevance and circular reasoning. Suffice it to say that we are talking about societal cost here, not about individual cost.

Obama is proposing a system of electronic medical records to reduce the cost of health care and, while I don’t oppose that, I don’t really think it will have significant impact even if it doesn’t wind up being a huge boondoggle. So far to date, every massive non-military computer system that the government has called for has cost the taxpayers billions and has been so poorly implemented that it has wound up being scrapped.

The bureaucratic overhead cost is certainly a factor and, of course, the proposed “reform” does nothing to address that issue as it leaves the existing insurance structure in place. There is some discussion of “standardized forms,” but don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

Obama cites “savings” in Medicare and Medicaid as insurance covers more people and so those two programs are relieved of that burden, but that is smoke and mirrors; that cost is not eliminated, it is merely transferred to the private sector.

One cost that seldom to never gets mentioned, certainly not by politicians, is the impact of our legal system on the cost of health care. I have no statistics to verify it, but I will pretty much guarantee that no other nation has even close to as many health care-related lawsuits, or has judgements that even approach in size the awards that are routinely granted in this nation. Doctors not only have the cost of malpractice insurance premiums, but they constantly have to bear in mind the threat of lawsuit as they treat patients. Every patient is a potential lawsuit. It’s called “defensive medicine” and is doesn’t come cheap.

No one wants to tackle that issue, though, and not just because they don’t want to offend trial lawyers. No one wants to jeopardize the great American right of becoming immensely wealthy in a court of law.

To engage in “fundamental reform” of the healthcare system, something Obama claims to be doing, we need to do a lot more than extend health insurance to those who do not have it, which is what Obama is doing.

We need to change the way that the patient seeks healthcare, and his expectations of what he will receive when he gets it; not insanely wealthy by means of lawsuit, for instance, or an MRI because he has a head cold. We need to change the expectations of practitioners; doctors should be respected and very well paid, but should they expect to become multi-millionaires? We need to change the fundamental manner in which medical expenses are billed and paid.

I don’t know the ways and means that these changes need to be made. I am a former landscaper, for heaven’s sake. We have people who can figure these things out, but it won’t happen when we are beating the drum for a program of extending health insurance to those who don’t have it and labeling that as “fundamental reform.”

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Taking It On

I had been getting a little weary of hearing the Obama Administration saying over and over that they had "inherited a mess." Well Obama has now taken it on his own shoulders, and I admire him for doing so and for the manner in which he did it. Referring to "Some who say" that the economy was now on him he smiled and said, "Okay, give it to me. I'll take it. I'm responsible..." Good for him. I love it when he does stuff like that.

Choosing a Surgeon General

Possibly the least understood position in the U.S. Government is that of Surgeon General. As head of the Public Health Service, the holder of that position automatically holds the rank of Rear Admiral, a result of the service having initially been formed to serve the needs of members of the Merchant Marine. (I was once asked why the Surgeon General always came from the Navy.) It was expanded to help prevent the spread of communicable diseases such as smallpox.

One of the great achievements of the Public Health Service was stamping out Malaria as a deadly plague in the United States. Until the mid-1900’s Malaria was endemic in the entire Eastern US, particularly in the South, and killed thousands of people every year. Yes, in this country. The Public Health Service mounted a campaign to eradicate the mosquitoes that spread the disease, and in less than five years had eliminated that disease as a threat. Today Malaria is occasionally contracted, but only rarely, and is almost never fatal. That effort resulted in the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, which is part of the Public Health Service today.

I have no doubt that Dr. Regina Benjamin is an outstanding doctor and a wonderful person, one greatly to be admired. All of the writing about her makes much of her background in the delivery of healthcare to individuals, and it is profoundly admirable. However, none of what I have read relates to her qualification as Surgeon General.

Public Health Service is not about delivery of health care to individuals; it’s not about delivery of health care at all. Public Health Service is about maintaining the systems which underlay the state of the public’s ability to remain in an overall condition of good health. It’s about monitoring the spread of communicable diseases and studying ways to stop that spread. It’s about looking at water delivery systems and evaluating the ways in which those systems are affecting the overall health of the communities they serve; not just one water system, but the water systems of all of the communities in the nation. To name just a few.

The Public Health Service is the agency which takes the information about issues affecting the health of a community that is discovered in one place, and disseminates that information to all other communities which might be affected by it. The PHS has to communicate not only the problem, but the cause of the problem and solutions to the problem, and they have to put that information into a package that is understandable and useful.

We certainly need doctors like Dr. Regina Benjamin, in fact we need more of them than we have, and we need to recognize what they contribute. But we also need those who rise above the individual and do the “big picture” work of protecting the community as a whole, and the characteristics of those two people may be entirely different.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

SCOTUS Hearings (updated)

Okay, two people have now asked me why I am not writing anything about the Sotomayer hearings. The first reason is that she is not going to say anything even remotely interesting; she is going to say all of the neutral meaningless legal mumbo jumbo she has been briefed to say that will get her confirmed. Do I need to say that the Senators will be mindnumingly boring? They will never actually ask a real question, but will do a lot of posturing and will make speeches with question marks on the end. The most boring person in the universe is a United States Senator.

Update: Thursday, 7:15am
Pundit, after news commentator, after pundit is prating about how the Republican Senators questioning Sotomayor are shooting themselves in their feet. Their blatant racist posturing, it is claimed, is costing them votes in the Latino and other minority communities and will cost them heavily in the upcoming 2010 primary and general elections.

They are wrong on several counts. First, those communities are not watching these hearings, and so are not hearing all of the racist posturing. The only people who have the faintest interest in these hearings are the pundits and news commentators, and those Senators don't care about those dozen or so votes, which aren't in their states anyway. If the pundits and news commentators write about the racist posturing, the general public will see the headline, yawn, and turn to the sports page.

In any case, this is 2009. If any of the general voting public did see or read about the racist posturing now, they will have completely forgotten about it by Fall of 2010. The only thing about which the American people have less interest than soccor is politics.

Gasp: Signing Statements

The Democratic Congress is in a massive snit with President Obama over signing statements. You may recall that George W. Bush used signing statements with great profligacy to thwart the will of Congress, and now Obama is doing the same thing. Well, forget the profligacy part, he's done it twice, but Congress is nonetheless in a major case of the vapours over it.

Seems Obama promised to contribute $108 billion to the IMF, which turned out to be a little rash since he had not yet asked Congress about it. Congress reluctantly said okay (they don't like the IMF), but said that he had to impose some restrictions on the money. He signed the bill, but in a signing statement said he wasn't bound by the limitations.

Congress was so massively pissed off that the House passed a new bill overriding his signing statement by a vote of 492-2 429-2 last week. I'm not sure, but I don't think that's ever been done before. They also sent him a letter that if he uses one of those atrocious signing statements again they will cut off the funds in question altogether, which would be just a little bit embarrassing for the President.

What is interesting to me is that George W. undoubtedly used a whole herd of signing statements with this same Democratic-controlled Congress, and we never heard a whimper. But let President Obama, a member of their own party, do it and they are in a state of righteous indignation like some sort of jilted bride.

Congress is just plain weird.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

On Becoming Liberal

My sister once asked me when I had turned into a Liberal, and I realized the other day that I always have been. I always called myself a Republican (conservative), but when you asked me about any single issue I very often held a more or less liberal position on it. I finally realized that when your individual positions are more often liberal than conservative, on a 4:1 ratio or so, you are a liberal.

I kept my life simple, of course, by limiting topics of discussion to those on which I held a conservative view. I think it was Ronald that finally made that untenable. Maybe it was George the 1st.

Reason for Selling a Kidney

Andrew Sullivan published a letter from a reader today regarding the legalization of selling kidneys, a topic that is apparently becoming a hot one these days. (Yikes, the economy really is bad.) Buried in the letter was this little gem, " I think about a loved one whom I lost last year, I would have gladly sold one of my own kidneys, if this would have helped pay for better medical treatment for him."

Maybe "healthcare reform" needs to be more than insurance extension?

Monday, July 13, 2009

We Need Real Reform

If you waited to pay into a retirement system until you were ready to retire, the premium would be ridiculous. You would have to pay a premium every year amounting to a living wage to pay for a benefit that you could live on. You solve that problem by paying into that insurance early in life, at a low rate for your entire life, and allowing that money to accumulate so that it can pay the benefit when you are in need of it.

Health “insurance” is priced, however, as if each year stood on its own. Your premiums are based each year on how much is expected to be paid out on your behalf that year, and if too much payout is anticipated you are denied coverage.

In part, that’s because insurance is an individual responsibility and young people, feeling the “invincibility of youth” don’t sign up for it. That leaves insurance companies bearing the burden of paying out for the unhealthy and elderly without the benefit of receiving the premiums for the young and healthy who would not be incurring costs. Mandating insurance would seem to correct this imbalance, but there are flaws in that argument.

One such flaw is that we are still looking at individual years and, with many insurance companies competing for profit, the system is all too easily gamed. Premiums can be adjusted to attract the young and healthy and drive off older people, for instance. Individuals can also game the system by shopping insurers as they age or as health conditions change.

And, gamed or not, as long as the insurance is based on individual years, the older and less healthy the age group becomes the more the cost of insurance rises. That’s why Medicare was created; private insurance premiums were unaffordable to that age group. Our existing system had utterly failed that portion of our population.

Extending the existing system of health insurance to people who do not have it is not “fundamental reform.”

One form of actual reform would be to instigate a system of health insurance modeled on retirement; you obtain health insurance at birth, at a fixed premium adjusted only for inflation, and you maintain that same insurance for life. In your youth you are paying more than you receive, and the insurance company “stores” your money and uses it for investment, just as is done with life insurance and retirement funding today. As you age the money is paid back in the form of “no deductible, no copay” payment for medical services.

Would that work? I have no idea, but this is the kind of thing we should be looking for; not just an extension of our existing system, but real reform.

When your plan isn't working, do something different.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Slow Stimulus (clarified)

No, I am not a Republican claiming "Unemployment is still high, therefore the stimulus did not work and Obama is a bum."

What I am being critical of is that more than six million jobs are needed immediately, and Obama and Democrats are patting themselves on their collective back for passing a bill that creates jobs in two years.

When criticised for the ongoing slowness in the economy, they tell people who are still jobless to "be patient" because they are creating some jobs right away and, for reasons which are purely political and self-serving, some jobs two years down the road.

Slow Stimulus (updated)

If I’m in an emergency room and my heart stops I certainly hope that the doctor in charge doesn’t decide to apply an "Obama stimulus" to restart it.
I don’t think that one volt applied for 200 minutes would do much good.

The $787 billion stimulus was a misnomer to begin with, of course, since 42% of it was trivial tax cuts that were about as simulative as a picture of Alaska’s Ted Stevens to a teenaged girl. The part of it that was job creative was seemingly designed to create jobs over a period of several years, which is social policy not stimulus.

From the San Francisco Chronicle today,
High-speed rail projects are slower going. Caltrans met the Friday deadline to submit preliminary applications for $22.3 billion in passenger and high-speed rail projects in three main corridors: San Francisco-San Jose (which includes improvements to San Francisco's Transbay Terminal), Los Angeles-Anaheim and the Central Valley.

Six months after passage of the stimulus bill the process of applying for, making “preliminary applications” for, $80 billion of that money, for high speed rail projects, is still in process. Not only has that money not yet been spent, not only is that money not yet creating jobs, we do not yet know where it will be spent. The high speed rail projects are not only not yet off of the drawing board, they are not yet on the drawing board.

That is social policy, not economic stimulus, and it is tying up funds that could have been used as stimulus. It is holding out a promise of jobs at some indefinite date in the future, and could have been used to provide jobs now, which was the purported purpose of the stimulus bill.

Not only did Obama allow Congress to craft this sham of a “stimulus bill,” but he praised it as a “signal accomplishment” and is continuing to do so to this day.

Republicans made a mockery of the high speed rail issue, but it was valid criticism and they should have addressed it in a more serious way instead of making jokes about it and allowing the supporters of the bill to disregard their jokes.

The fact is that Congress did load this bill with issues like the high speed rail that were social policy and with items that were just plain pork; all of which diluted its ability to create immediate jobs and stimulate the economy. The concomitant fact is that Obama failed to call Congress out for doing that, and instead praised and signed a bill that made a mockery of its purported purpose.

And now, when then inevitable weakness of the bill is being manifested, we are told to “be patient” because the wise leaders in Washington know better than we do.

Update, 9:30am: In a Washington Post article today Obama is quoted as saying, "As I made clear at the time it was passed, the recovery act was not designed to work in four months -- it was designed to work over two years."

Why would one craft such a plan? With more than six million people out of work, and hundreds of thousands losing jobs every month, why would you deliberately design a plan that waited two full years to create jobs? Is there some value that Mr. Obama sees in people staying jobless for two years?

I have said it before and I will say it again. When FDR was confronted with a host of jobless people he didn't address social policy; he didn't address some long-term social needs; he didn't call for something on the order of an interstate highway project. He cared about the people who were out of work and he demanded projects that would put them to work immediately. It wasn't about the projects, it was about putting paychecks in the hands of people who needed to feed their families.

Obama doesn't give a damn about the jobless; he cares about his projects.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Obama Visits Africa

Obama in GhanaThis scene struck me as something special. Everyone looked really happy, including the President. This is a quite beautiful moment, and it made me feel good to watch it.

I do feel the need to comment that when Obama met the Pope the media was all over the paper that the Pope gave Obama about abortion, on which the two of them disagree. Only one person commented on an even longer paper that the Pope also gave to him regarding economic matters, on which the Pope thinks Obama is doing a lot of the right things.

Obama's Preventive Detention

Deborah Pearlstein, posting at Balkininization on the subject of the Obama Administration’s “preventive detention” policy, uses a simile where, in a modern day equivalent to an earlier war, “the U.S. Army takes into its custody a Nazi soldier implicated in the murder and rape of civilians.” He is tried for those crimes but the witnesses fail to appear and he is acquitted. Ms Pearlstein addresses the claim that he could continue to be held as a Prisoner of War despite the acquittal of those crimes.

I have trouble following her conclusion, which apparently depends on the legitimacy of the AUMF for some reason, but the argument itself illustrates to me the difficulty with the whole “War on Terror” fallacy, which General Counsel Johnson claims as justification for holding the Guantanamo detainees indefinitely; they are prisoners of the war on terror.

First we had the “war on drugs,” which is absurd enough. Drugs don’t shoot back, so how does that war work, anyway? Now we have a “war” against an emotion. Maybe this is a solution to our crowded courts; once you capture a murderer you can dispense with all of the collection of evidence and juries and stuff, just declare war on him and hold him forever as a prisoner of war.

The people we are holding in Guantanamo have not been captured in uniform and, almost without exception, have not been taken anywhere near a battlefield. The trials in question are not for crimes unrelated to the basic reason for their detention, the trials are central to their detention. It’s not a case that we’re holding them as terrorists and, having been found not guilty of rape and murder we can continue to hold them as terrorists.

We are holding them because they have been charged with being terrorists, which they claim they are not. We are putting them on trial to prove that they are terrorists, and claiming that having failed to prove our case, with the court having found them not guilty of being terrorists, that we can continue to detain them indefinitely anyway.

Detaining them indefinitely because, apparently, we’re afraid of them.

Friday, July 10, 2009

1000 Posts

SnoozerMolly is unimpressed by being the subject of my 1000th post; doing what she does best. Click on the picture to "biggify" it.

First post was Aug 10, 2006. In that year I averaged 12 posts per month; in 2007, 18 per month; in 2008 (an election year) 35 per month. So far this year I am on a pace of 47 per month. I'm not entirely sure I like the trend.

Strange Bankruptcy

Virtually every headline I can find refers to GM “emerging from” or “exiting” bankruptcy, and in the articles that I have read that theme is continued; that GM has set a record for a major corporation exiting from a Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding. The exception is this article in the Business section of the NY Times, which bears the rather cryptic headline, “With Sale of Its Good Assets, G.M. Tries for a Fresh Start.”

Parenthetically, my reaction to the headline was sort of, "Wtf, you're going to get a fresh start by selling your good assets?"

The normal Chapter 11 proceeding is that a business puts itself under the protection and direction of a judge for however long it takes to reorganize the company. Financing is examined, contracts are renegotiated, business plans are evaluated, product lines are evaluated for profitability... Loans may have their terms extended and or interests rates reduced, for instance. It may be determined that a product is not profitable and should be dropped.

Did all of that happen for General Motors in a couple of weeks? In a word, no. Longer answer, oh hell no. Here’s what the Times tells us,

“Earlier, G.M. and the government completed the legal paperwork needed to put the company’s most desirable assets, including brands like Chevrolet, Cadillac and GMC, into the new company — now named Vehicle Acquisition Company but soon to be renamed the General Motors Company. The federal government will hold nearly 61 percent of the new company, with the Canadian government, a health care trust for the United Auto Workers union and bondholders owning the balance.”

In other words, GM went into bankruptcy, sold all of its good stuff to a newly formed company and is remaining in bankruptcy. The new company will be renamed GM, so I’m assuming that the GM which is still in bankruptcy will be dissolved, its bad assets sold for whatever they will bring to pay off the holders of the debt, and the rest of its debt just written off. The money that was gotten from the sale of the good assets will presumably be used to pay the debt as well, of course.

I don’t know if this was a good deal or not, as this is certainly not my area of expertise, but there is suspiciously little commentary about a process that is really unusual. What I am pretty sure of is that a curve ball is hanging over the plate and the media is not swinging at it, and that always makes me suspicious. I am also quite sure that all of the statements about “GM exits from bankruptcy” are not accurate.

They should read, “GM is dead. Long live GM.”

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Insanity Posing as Reform

During the discussions of bailing out the auto manufacturers, much was made of the need for healthcare reform due to the burden that was placed on American manufacturers by having to provide healthcare for their employees. (Actually they provide health insurance, which is by no means the same thing, but...)  American manufacturers are at a disadvantage, it was claimed, because they are competing in the world economy with the manufacturers of other nations who do not have that burden. We need to have healthcare reform, and we need it immediately, to take that unfair burden off of the backs of our manufacturers.

Now we are proposing a “healthcare reform” plan that has an “employer mandate.” What is that? It is a clause that requires all businesses with 25 or more employees to provide health insurance to their employees.

How insane has this discussion become? First we need healthcare reform to relieve employers of a terrible burden, and then we propose a package of reform that will impose that burden on all sizeable employers who do not already bear it.

We’ve already had a Nobel Prize winner get all heated up in the NY Times about how we spend too much on healthcare, twice as much as any other nation in the world, and then propose in that same editorial, adoption of reform package that does nothing to address that excessive cost, actually increases it, and label that package as “fundamental reform.”

He even touts that package as being a bargain because it only increases expenditure by a mere $1.3 trillion, saying that such an amount is “less than 4 percent of the $33 trillion the U.S. government predicts we’ll spend on health care over the next decade.”

I’m hoping that, with the “Swedish thingy” and all, he knows he’s conning his readers, and that he realizes that the $1.3 trillion is government spending, while the “we” in that $33 trillion is not government; it’s the American people, American businesses and government, with the latter being a rather small part of it. So adding $1.3 trillion to government spending is not quite the, “Gee whizz, it’s easy to trim 4% off our current spending to offset that” which he so disingenuously presents.

Meanwhile, single-payer, and the various hybrids of single-payer and national insurance that are used with great success by other civilized nations, are not even allowed into the discussion.

We are truly governed by idiots and are being advised by morons.

Which is an easy, cool, but inaccurate conclusion. The reality is that the discussion has been so thoroughly sidetracked by the corporate health insurance and pharmaceutical industries that any meaningful conversation in the political arena or in the corporate-owned media has become utterly impossible. And that means that any "fundamental reform" of the manner in which health care is delivered in this nation is doomed.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Window Dressing

President Obama promised to close Guantanamo and he kept that promise within days of taking office, signing an order that the facility be closed within one year. Given the policies that he has pronounced regarding the people held in that facility in the months since that announcement, I am having difficulty coming up with a label for the nature of his duplicity.

It’s not really a broken promise, because he is still closing the facility, but he talked about “restoring America’s honor” and things like “the rule of law” in making that promise. If he continues to hold the people of Guantanamo in a different facility using the same lack of accountability that was keeping them in Guantanamo, then how is he keeping the spirit of that promise?

According to the Wall Street Journal today, military tribunals are still on the table despite his promise to restore these detainees to the American justice system. These tribunals will be allowed to consider evidence obtained by torture (or as the government calls it “coerced evidence”), provided that the tribunal “deems it credible.” Even if found not guilty by the tribunal, the detainee’s release is a “policy decision” to be made by the executive.

I’m not going to make hyperbolic charges of “that sounds like Bush” or “that’s what the Soviet Union used to do.” Well, actually I am; it sounds very close to both of those things. I do know that it is a travesty. I do know that it is not something that I want my country doing. I do know that it is not what I cast my vote for.

We get an “economic stimulus” in which only 10% of jobs creation funding gets delivered in the first six months of the crisis and fully 50% is in the “planning stage” for late in the second year. We get financial reform that devotes $700 billion to taxpayers and $3 trillion to Wall Street. We get “health care reform” that consists of making every person in America purchase health insurance; merely an extension of our existing, broken system to those not presently covered by it. We get the closing of a symbolic gulag and the continuance of those policies in another location.

I voted for change, I voted for action, and I'm getting window dressing.

Update: Wednesday, 6:00pm
For an in-depth, really excellent and expert discussion of just how appalling the Obama position on "indefinite detention" really is, read today's post by Glenn Greenwald at today.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

American Priorities

The Earth stopped rotating today with the weight of the display of grief over the death of a has-been pop music star of extremely dubious character.

The deaths of seven American soldiers who gave their lives in Afghanistan in defense of their nation was not mentioned.

We have our priorities, you see. Freedom, and the men and women who fight and die to defend it, we take for granted. Pop music and stardom, now that is important stuff.

Light in the Cultural Darkness

New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks has a piece dated yesterday which is of little real import, but which quite appealed to me.
He talks in it about today's lack of a "dignity code;" with athletes doing self-promoting end zone dances, and governors... Well we all know about governors at this point. He speaks about society's loss of a code of dignity not in anger or condemnation but gently, and with dignity and restraint.

It's worth reading for his last paragraph in which he reminds us of our current president. He says, in part, "Whatever policy differences people may have with him, we can all agree that he exemplifies reticence, dispassion and the other traits associated with dignity."

Read the entire column. It's not long, and it's worth your time.

Monday, July 06, 2009

More Mouse in the House

After two days of "de-virusing" a computer that turned out not to have a virus but actually had a gradually failing mouse, my wife's wireless mouse failed completely on Saturday. Then on Sunday our Cox Internet went out and, while coming back on briefly several times, was out all day. So far today seems calm, although we discovered this morning that the rats in the garage have eaten into another bag of pesticide.

"Fundamental Reform"

It continues to baffle me how people can discuss the Obama health plan and talk about it being a “reform” of anything; it doesn’t really reform the health insurance industry in any fundamental way, and it certainly doesn’t reform the way we deliver health care to the citizens of this nation, the effectiveness of that health care, or the cost we pay for it.

The Obama plan is not a terrible plan, and it probably should be implemented, but it merely extends our existing insurance plan to people who presently don’t have health insurance; a worthy objective, to be sure. The more honest and optimistic proponents of the plan say that it will lead to reform as the “public option” drives the private insurance industry out of business, but that was said of Medicare (as a "dire prediction") when it was put into place many years ago, too.

Read Paul Krugman’s op-ed piece in yesterday’s NY Times. He says the plan will cost about $1 trillion and that we should not worry about that because, “it’s less than 4 percent of the $33 trillion the U.S. government predicts we’ll spend on health care over the next decade.” He goes on to say that we can “probably” offset that with savings that we can achieve by eliminating overpayments in Medicare and similar "efficiencies," and then adds in a burst of perfectly irrelevant hyperbole,

“So fundamental health reform — reform that would eliminate the insecurity about health coverage that looms so large for many Americans — is now within reach. The “centrist” senators, most of them Democrats, who have been holding up reform can no longer claim either that universal coverage is unaffordable or that it won’t work.”

Well, the plan is a long way from a status that will “eliminate the insecurity” that he speaks of. The people who go bankrupt due to health crisis because they have no health insurance will be able to go bankrupt due to health crisis in spite of having health insurance as millions do every year now, for instance. The people who do not go to doctors because they have no insurance will, in many cases, still not go to the doctor because they cannot pay the initial deductible.

Businesses who cannot afford to provide health coverage for their employees will no longer continue doing business without providing that coverage; they will either cut back their business and hire fewer people, or they will go out of business. People who have no job cannot buy health insurance, no matter how many “health insurance tax breaks” you provide them with. They are not paying any taxes to get the break on.

Dr. Krugman is a little deceptive in tossing off that $1 trillion as being a mere "4% of the $33 trillion we’ll spend on health care." The "we" part in
that is not the federal government, it's the American people, American businesses, plus the government; with the government being a relatively small part of it. So it's not like we are adding a mere 4% to what the government is already spending on health care, and "gee whiz it's easy to trim 4% off our costs to offset that." I'm calling his bluff on that one.

Note that Dr. Krugman even says in his piece that the “fundamental reform” which he so applauds does nothing to address a reduction in the cost of our system, a cost that is wildly out of line with any other nation in the world and he doesn’t even mention the effectiveness of our health care which, when last evaluated, ranked seriously poorly among developed nations.

Yes, let’s extend health insurance to people who don’t have it. Doing that
is better than doing nothing. But please quit insulting my intelligence by calling it “fundamental reform” when it is nothing of the kind.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Pop Music Idolatry

HardballChuck Todd is normally one of my favorite pundits, but in this segment as guest host of Hardball he kind of gets my scuzzball of the week award. After another endless discussion of the favorite media topic of the week, the guy on the bottom, who goes by the single name of Tour tries to rhapsodize about Michael Jackson as a musical idol, passing over the “curious end of life, curious last act” issues of his life by admitting that “you have to mention that, but…” Gloria Allred breaks in to assert that charges of child molestation is more than curiosities, and Chuck Todd tries to stop her, saying words to the effect that “now is not the time” to talk about that.

His previous segment was about the sexual adventures of the Governor of South Carolina, in which he discussed at length what those adventures were and what they portended for his future and the future of the Republican Party. So when an adult male has sex with a consenting adult female we must discuss at length just how damaging it is to everyone concerned. It is, of course, an act that, whatever its moral considerations in light of marriage, is wholly natural and is fully condoned by nature and by social laws as to the act itself.

But the reasonable conclusion that Michael Jackson was, for the last fifteen years of his life, in the fairly regular habit of having sex with small children must be swept under the rug because we prefer to remember him as a musical icon. We don’t want to think about the probability that he was for many years performing an act that was perverted, disgusting, and against the laws of nature and the laws of society.

He escaped the consequences of the latter with a $20 million bribe in one instance and in another by means of his celebrity status, his enormous wealth and an army of high-priced lawyers. We want to ignore the monstrous issue of his pedophilia because his status as a pop music icon is so important to us.

"Innocent until proven guilty?" Not in the American system of justice where wealth, power and a star-struck jury can, and all too often does, purchase a "not guilty" verdict.

At his best Michael Jackson was a musical genius and a self-idolizing, self-indulgent freak. At his worst he was incapable of keeping his dick in his pants in the company of small children. Why are we referring to him as an “American icon,” running endless television specials, and prating non-stop on television news shows about how “special” he was?

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Mouse In The House

We’ve been fighting an ongoing battle with rats in the garage for several years now. The problem seems to be the driveway slab, which is buckling upward in the center and preventing the garage door from closing fully. Every time I nail shims on the sides the slab buckles up a little more and the rats find their way in again. We are engaged in a dialog with the homeowners association to deal with the slab, a dialog which has also been going on for several years.

In the house, meanwhile, my computer started acting up and I went on a hunt for virus infections, as mentioned in my “Change in Sea Ice” post. (Do I need to say that the bit about porn sites was merely in jest?) That process involved two days of multiple lengthy scans with different scanners and conversations with an assortment of gurus on several forums, all to no avail. Everyone insisted that I had no malware. A few pieces of junk had been installed by Microsoft and Google that I didn’t need, and we removed them, but they were not pernicious and the problem remained.

Then someone asked, “Does the noise sound like when you plug and unplug a usb device, and is your mouse connected via usb?”

Well dog my cats; that is exactly what the noise sounds like and, yes indeedy, my mouse is connected via usb. So I hotfoot down to Best Buy
for a new mouse, a cordless one this time, and the problem is solved.
There was a broken wire in my mouse cord which was making and losing connection, just as if I was plugging and unplugging my mouse.

So, I may not have finally solved the issue of rats in my garage, but I have solved the problem regarding the mouse in the house.