Saturday, September 26, 2009

Confederacy of Dunces

There is a myth in the circles of those who study history that the American Civil War was not over slavery. Rather, those who take this view narrow the underlying casus belli of the Civil War to States' Rights, to a fight of Americans to preserve some sort of freedom.

In a way they are right, but only when the white elephant of slavery, the freedom to enslave their fellow man, is ignored. And to this end it becomes apparent that in order to have made such a cause for war that rich planters, particularly in the Deep South such as Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and South Carolina, convinced poor tenant and yeoman farmers from Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina to die. And to say it plainly, the cotton moguls of their day convinced the poor whites of the South to die in the hundreds of thousands for the freedom to own human beings and do what they would with this human chattel.

By the grace of God, or despite it, this war of the South was lost, at the most terrible cost in human lives. And none of the enlisted men of the South who fought and died, or were maimed, or just scarred by the carnage of the first industrial battlefield and total war would have ever, in a million years, owned a slave, or a plantation, or ever have been privy to the Southern Gentility they were fighting to preserve. They were fools fighting to preserve the fortunes of tycoons, paying for human flesh in bondage with their blood.

These are the thoughts which raced through my head as I watched my fellow Americans come together in Washington, D.C., on September 12, 2009, to protest the prospect of healthcare reform and a public option, holding signs lauding the absent Glenn Beck and the rude Congressman Joe Wilson, waiving around the Stars and Bars [that rag of Southern treason] and the idea of secession. I kept thinking how these people in their thousands [not the hundreds of thousands or millions, as some would prevaricate] and how many of them appeared to be stolid working and/or middle class. From the twanging accents I heard from those interviewed a lot seemed to come from former Confederacy.

There they were, their great host gathered from across the nation, to protest reform, and to keep the status quo. They were there in the name of freedom: the freedom of gigantic multinational corporations to make medical decisions for them; their freedom to go bankrupt from skyrocketing medical costs; the freedom of insurance moguls to make more money in a week from premiums and denying coverage than the protesters would make in a year. They were protesting for the freedom to die from lack of medical care.

And the cause of Mr. Wilson's absurd outburst, that illegal immigrants might receive medical care, only undercuts all of the Jesus talk and crucifixes, the overt religiosity of these misguided people. Apparently George W. Bush took the compassionate back out of conservative when he left office. How would Jesus vote?

For these normal, workaday everymen to be fighting for the fortunes of billionaires, patently against their own interests, and against the interests of the tens of millions of their fellow Americans who are without medical coverage, makes them the new fools in our new Civil War.

And make no mistake: we are at war with ourselves. When the man who tried to shout down the President in the House Chamber during a joint address is made a hero by the disloyal opposition over this, we are at war with ourselves. When shouting down using bumper sticker slogans ["You lie!"] replaces reason and discourse, we are at war with ourselves. When the de facto leadership of the GOP calls the half black, half white, raised by his white grandparents President a "racist" with a "deep seated hatred for white people or the whole white culture" we are at war with ourselves. When President Obama is described not only as a socialist, but also a Nazi and a "radical communist" without any sense of irony, we are at war with ourselves. When divisiveness is seen as patriotism, and ludicrous lies unquestionably accepted as truth, we are at war with ourselves.

So the new Confederacy of Dunces marches on, led by Glenn Beck and now Joe Wilson, to preserve the fortunes of the already wealthy and guarantee the middle class becomes poor. So we can only hope that by the grace of God, or despite it, the fools lose this war, too. And before we pay the price in the blood of Americans.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Do You Want That With or Without Profit Motive?

In their never ending quest to prevent a government takeover of healthcare, except if you are under 18, or over 65, or a veteran or are indigent, the right wing has flogged this old horse repeatedly, and it goes something like this:

"I don't want the government, (or a government bureaucrat, or now a death panel), making decisions and getting in between me and my doctor! And universal [socialized] healthcare will result in rationing! And the USA will become the USSR!"

Well, if one is lucky enough to possess really good health insurance, who do you think makes these decisions? Corporate insurance adjusters who are driven by the bottom line. Bureaucrats. Their job, as in all cases where an insurance company is involved, is to find out ways their company does not have to pay out on their policies, or, to find out how to pay as little as possible. So a patient might not end up with the drug or the procedure that they were expecting to get, and that their doctor had, in his judgment, decided that patient should have.

And it should be patently obvious that by limiting the amount of healthcare doled out in the country to the above groups plus those who can afford their own insurance and those who are fortunate enough to have health insurance through their job, and thusly leaving out 40 or 50 million American citizens, is rationing healthcare.

Looking at certain situations where there is a government mandate to provide health insurance can be instructive. In one case there is the workmens' compensation situation, and on the other hand there is the no-fault automobile insurance. While both are mandatory within their respective spheres, one is administered to via a government bureaucracy and the other not.

Workmens' compensation is an imperfect system, but injured workers get healthcare they need for as long as they need, and a bureaucracy of government adminstrative judges oversee each case to prevent fraud and abuse. On the down side, workmens' compensation can be slow, often taking a long time to approve a given course of treatment. And while the insurance industry uses their own doctors to perform independent medical examinations of claimants, a claimants physician's medical opinion is given a lot of weight.

Then there is no-fault, which applies to those injured in automobile accidents. In the no-fault context there is little to no government administration. After approximately one month of treatment, a claimant is sent to see an insurance company doctor, and once a claimant is examined by that doctor there is a 95% chance any further treatment claims will be denied, no matter the actual condition of the claimant or how much pain they are in or how much therapy they really require. And the opinion of the claimant's doctor does not matter for a hill of beans. That's a private insurer directly affecting patient treatment and rationing care in order to protect their bottom line.

Then there is single payer healthcare, like Medicare. A claimant goes to her doctor, a treatment is prescribed, and the doctor is paid, though perhaps not as much as he would like [but who is?]. And patient satisfaction with Medicare is through the roof. And it is socialized. And patients get all the care they require. The same goes for the Veterans' Administration. And so far the USA hasn't become the USSR. Hmmm....

So, we are at the crossroads of healthcare reform. And the arguments of evil government bureaucracy and rationed care are revealed to be empty arguments, mere chimeras without real substance. And went you get to the bottom line do you want medical decisions made by a corporate bureaucrat worried about the bottom line, or by a bureaucrat who is only seeking to avoid fraud and abuse?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Forever in Our Memory, Forever in Our Hearts

For today I shall refrain from politics. Today is a day for all of us to be Americans, and remember the things that make us great, and knit us together as a nation.
It is also to remember my fair city as she once was, and as she should be again. Rebuild the Twin Towers, the soaring pillars of the sky, arms of Atlas, bastions of commerce, and the anchors of the skyline of my mind.

Peace to the victims and their families.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

"EPIC FAIL" Somehow Falls Short: Joe Wilson's Unmaking

After yelling out "You lie!" at President Obama during his widely televised address to a joint session of Congress, Congressman Joe Wilson's [R-SC] derisive jeer may have been the shout heard 'round the world. And while some have defended the distinguished gentleman's two word hem and haw, they are few and far between.

In fact, Mr. Wilson himself begged an apology from the White House just after the speech was over. But the damage was done: to himself; to his district for electing a man of such little respect for our institutions; to the Palmetto State, who is still suffering with her insufferable governor; and the United States itself.

Last time I checked no one in my life has, during an address to Congress, heckled a President in the midst of giving his remarks. I suppose when you think you can't get lower, you find that you have yet to hit rock bottom. And the galling thing is that it is Joe Wilson who is lying - the President's bill, like it or hate it, is not written to cover illegal immigrants, which is the underlying claim for Mr. Wilson's bellow of falsehood.

Now, allow me to be frank: I was a vociferous opponent of President George W. Bush. I did not respect the man nor his vision nor his policies. But I did respect the office. I would never have stood for, or stood by, or defended a member of Congress acting in such a disrespectful way towards Mr. Bush while he was giving an address. He was the goddam President.

This is not to say that Mr. Bush, or for that matter Mr. Obama, is above criticism or derision. But like all free speech, there is a time and place. And that time and place is not during an address to the joint session of Congress. Save it for Twitter, which apparently Rep. Eric Cantor could not have waited until the end of the address, but I digress.

But now it is Joe Wilson's time for derision and for his failure to come home to roost like assorted poultry. Already his Democratic opponent has reportedly raked in well into the six figures for his 2010 run, and Mr. Wilson's disrespect for the highest office in the land has continued to marginalize his already squeezed party in a manner he in no way intended on the grandest stage possible.

Flush from a summertime of town hall hijinks and follies, after knocking a good 20+ points off President Obama's approval rating, the GOP and Mr. Wilson were smelling blood in the water. Instead, Mr. Obama appears to have roped the dopes in Muhammed Ali fashion, assisted in great measure by Mr. Wilson's dopey cry during a brief pause in the speech. What was not counted on was that this was no longer a town hall meeting, and that the hot days of summer are now passed us. It was time for the adults to get back to work, and naked insults to the face of the President were no longer going to work. It looks to me, dare I say it, that the deather movement and their associates have hit their high water mark, and the tide of hatred, so chic in hot July days, has begun to recede in the evenings of cool September.

I suppose we owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Wilson and his Freudian slip. He has, with a mere two syllables, shown us his true face, and perhaps the true face of his party: quick to hate, shameless with insults, but with zero substance to defend their indefensible positions when faced with inexorable truth.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The GOP: Gone to Plaid

In their never ending search for irrelevance the Republicans have orbited the alien worlds of the Birthers, the large dark clouds of Deathers, and throttled it up passed ludicrous speed. They have reached the unknown reaches of the darkest space only known as Nonsense.

The latest and not greatest partisan attack is lead this time by the supposed "moderate" Republican, Governor Tim Pawlenty, who came out Friday against President Obama addressing the nation's schoolchildren.

These days a "moderate Republican" is even an even more rare creature, apparently, than the allegedly mythical "moderate Muslim." One thing that appears to be a curious link, though, is the acceptance, nay, courting by both Muslims and Republicans at large of persons hewing to a fundamentalist religious faith, faiths which question the very fabric of the modern world in light of religious texts written by desert dwellers hundreds or thousands of years ago. I think unicorns and basilisks are more numerous in these trying times. But I digress.

Governor Pawlenty, sidestepping any concerns of actual content in his criticism, went to say that Mr. Obama's addressing American schoolchildren was: "At a minimum it's disruptive, number two, it's uninvited and number three, if people would like to hear his message they can, on a voluntary basis, go to YouTube or some other source and get it. I don't think he needs to force it upon the nation's school children."

Perhaps the Governor should stop acting like Obama is some alien from another planet who violently took over the White House and start acting like he is the President of this country. In addition to his first amendment right to say what he wants, he is the leader of our nation, and is in his very element when addressing American citizens, including kids. Further, he was overwhelmingly elected, so his views are, more likely than not, shared by his fellow Americans, and is not some sort of intellectual swine flu to be assiduously avoided.

The egregious stupidity is not even remotely over, and Pawlenty continued: "It is time we stand up to President Obama," as if the ridiculous and disingenuous conflict over healthcare reform is some sort of Republican resignation in the face of change.

Then: "It is time we stand up for our principles, and it is time we stand up for the American people."

Pray tell, Governor, what are those principals? Disloyal opposition? Truculence? Lies and prevarication? Where is your integrity? What is the Republican vision aside from mindless recalcitrance?

Not satisfied with letting one Republican governor disgrace himself, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney jumped into the fray of absurdity with: "If the president wants to encourage students to stay in school and study, that's appropriate," he said. "However, he should be careful not to cross the line to discuss political issues or policy matters."

Seriously? The President is a distraction, but if he must address the nation's schoolchildren he should shy away from policy? Who the heck do you think you are, Mr. Romney? He's not only a politician he's THE PRESIDENT!! Why can't he talk to the nation's children about policy? It's part of the job description, lest anyone forget "Just say no."

And please, spare us any twaddle over "indoctrination" of our kids. Precisely, where do people get off? He is not some Manchurian candidate, he's the President. His interests are inextricably ours; his ideology, like it or not, by virtue of having won an election, is the dominant one. Elections do have consequences.

Republicans and conservatives should stop acting like petulant children, uncover their ears, stop loudly singing to themselves, and grow up. Because, truthfully, the left does not always have all the answers, and a loyal opposition, with actual ideas and something to contribute, is essential to the two party system and the preservation of freedom in the United Sates.

But right now one of the parties is acting like a bunch of kindergartners when we need more grown-ups.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Democrats and a Cup of Coffee: A Cautionary Fable

Imagine this: the Democratic Party was overwhelmingly elected on the platform of coffee: coffee for every American. Apparently, the Republican's Sanka of the last 8 or 15 years was no longer palatable, many Americans did not even get the Sanka, and the American people wanted a change.

After the euphoria of the return to significance was over, the Democrats went to work crafting a better cup of coffee. It would need a little cream, some sugar, and it need to be brisk but not too strong. It needed to be a cup of coffee that all of Americans could drink.

The Republicans demanded that this be a bipartisan cup of coffee, so the Democrats invited them to be baristas. Then the Republicans said that only socialists drink coffee, and that what Americans really wanted was more Sanka, with extra bitterness and some saccharin.

The Democrats adopted some changes: they mixed in Sanka with the coffee, and put in an option to include NutraSweet or saccharin for those who can’t use sugar, and made the cream skim milk instead.

Then the Republicans said that their job was to kill coffee reform because Hitler and Stalin and the French drank coffee, and the Democrats were going to use coffee to kill Grandma, puppies, veterans, babies, and put Republicans in concentration camps. The Republicans argued that European and Canadian style coffee were un-American, and that those countries had to ration coffee, and wait in line for coffee, and that American style coffee was the best in the world, even though that every statistic showed this to be false. Tens of millions of Americans did not get coffee at all, and it cost Americans 3 times the amount to provide coffee for those who did get it.

Then some Democrats, forgetting that they were elected on the coffee platform, and fearful of the loud Republicans, started to waffle. Their knees got weak. Their livers turned to lilies, and a yellow stripe came down their backs. They forgot all these arguments about Socialist coffee were used before and proved wrong in the ‘40’s, ‘50’s, ‘60’s and ‘70’s. They said that maybe they should be making hot chocolate, or ice tea, or just not reform coffee, even though the costs were getting astronomically out of hand and every American needed coffee.

They took out the milk and sugar, and replaced it with tar; they burned the coffee; they put it in bowls instead of mugs; they served it cold instead of hot, and during dinner instead of breakfast or dessert. They listened to the Republicans and mixed in more Sanka, even though the People hated that stuff. And the American people turned on the Democratic Party for their weakness.
The moral: The Democratic Party, even when it has everything going for it, can screw up a cup of coffee.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Dick Cheney: You Have the Right to Remain Silent

Former Vice President and potential future war crimes defendant Dick Cheney was back in the news this week, once again preemptively setting out his defense strategy in the rare instance he is actually brought to justice for the abrogations of national and international laws against torture and inhumane treatment. He stated that Attorney General Eric Holder's naming of a special prosecutor to investigate instances of mistreatment of prisoners in American custody. It should be noted that the inquiry is to be limited to instances where the persons conducting the interrogations went beyond the guidelines approved by the Department of Justice.

Dick Cheney's various defenses were as follows:

1) "The Justice Department reviewed all those allegations several years ago."

Apparently, the irony of a politically compromised Department of Justice investigating its bosses is lost on Mr. Cheney. Or was he referring to the various, and Constitutionally dubious, legal opinions of John "Anything You Want" Yoo? It is also a compromised argument as former AG Alberto Gonzalez has just stated that Mr. Holder was doing the right thing in moving forward with this investigation.

2) That American lives were saved.

As I have said ad nauseum in prior posts, efficacy of torture is no defense. In fact, this is a rather disgusting defense, as it is entirely false. Torturing prisoners in our custody hurts American interests, and Americans individually, in the long run. By acting immorally we lose our moral authority, and become yet another nation of barbarians, just like the barbarians we are trying to bring to justice. Our natural allies are less inclined to assist us as we become alienated from them, while causing our enemies to hate us all the more. But Mr. Cheney's myopia or arrogance does not allow him to see this.

It is also untrue. It is an unassailable fact that no actionable intelligence of credible threats were disclosed by any prisoners who were tortured, and rather conventional techniques proved to work far better. The fact the Khalid Sheik Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times is proof that it did not work. If waterboarding did work, I am sure that the number of times KSM was waterboarded would have been somewhere south of 100. Or ten.

It is also logically fallacious, in addition to factually fallacious, that this was the right course of action because there was no other attacks on the United States. But there was Madrid, London, Bali, and over 4,000 dead servicemen in Iraq. And this argument relies on opponents of having to prove a negative. There was also no second Hurricane Katrina, but Mr. Cheney cannot take credit for that.

It should be noted that Mr. Cheney even went so far as to stand by officers and contractors who went beyond the rules approved by the Justice Department. Why would he stand by clear criminal acts? The only reason I can discern is to throw his considerable weight behind them before they are indicted in case they might consider turning State's evidence.

3) The inquiry is "intensely partisan."

Ummm, President Obama does not want this. Diane Feinstein does not want this. Harry Reid does not want this. Nancy Pelosi does not want this. They want to move beyond this, and concentrate on health care reform. Further, none of them want to assist Dick Cheney in the Cyclopean effort to make him into a sympathetic figure.

And there is a double irony in Mr. Cheney's statement: a) it was on Fox News, ['nuff said], and b) his was the most intensely partisan administration in modern history. See: Tom Ridge and his half hearted confession of raising the terrorist threat levels days before the 2004 election for no discernible reason but for political considerations.

However, let this be known: I am unconcerned about the political considerations of the Democratic White House or Congress. Laws were broken, serious laws, and legal comeuppance is required, no matter the convenience. Politicians and bureaucrats and officials and contractors must be forewarned that they will pay a price for their cavalier attitudes towards our laws, and not even the highest officers in the land are to be spared the sword of Lady Justice should her blind scales tip away from them and towards the felonious.

All Mr. Cheney's ado, if this is about nothing, then begs the question: what is he getting at? If everything that occurred under his watch was all hunky-dory, why continue to speak out in his own defense preemptively? Public opinion has zero bearing on whether American laws were broken, and rather, bad actors can tell a jury their sympathetic defense of "keeping Americans safe" and see if they agree. So what is Dick Cheney afraid of?

And allow me to be clear: I don't want the Lindsay Englands of the CIA or private contractors to pay the price alone. I want the higher ups who gave the order.

As I said - maybe they should consider turning State's evidence.