Thursday, March 25, 2010

Cracks in the Dam

Republicans have had great success over the first year of Obama's presidency by forming a unified block in Congress to oppose ANYTHING Obama wanted done. This froze up the Senate in particular, driving down Obama's poll numbers by keeping anything from getting done.

Finally, with the passage of health care and the rejuvenation of the democrats, it seems like some GOP senators are realizing this strategy has failed:
A top Republican player in the financial reform debate Wednesday said his Republican colleagues have made a "major strategic error" in allowing a Democrats-only bill to pass out of committee.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) effectively conceded that Republicans had squandered their leverage over the sweeping legislation by failing to rally around bipartisan talks last month and that Democrats are right in thinking the politics of the issue are firmly on their side.

Democrat Chris Dodd is saying that he's heard similar thoughts from other GOP senators.

Democrats have finally learned what generations of parents have been teaching their children: the best way to deal with bullies is to stand up to them. They'll cave.

Perverted Priests

Andrew Sullivan writes what is to me a very persuasive explanation of the child molestation scandel in the Roman Catholic Church:
What's fascinating in the steady onslaught of new incidences of previous cover-ups of child rape and molestation in the Catholic hierarchy is the notion that the hierarchs tended to see child rape as a sin rather than a crime. Hence the emphasis on forgiveness, therapy, repentance - rather than removal, prosecution and investigation. Obviously, there's one reason for this: they were defending the reputation of the church by hiding its darkest secrets, and they were using the authority of religion to do so. But I suspect it's also true that this is how they genuinely thought of child rape or abuse.

How could that be, one asks? Well: imagine you are a young gay Catholic teen coming into his sexuality and utterly convinced that it's vile and evil. What do you do? I can tell you from my own experience. You bury it. But of course, you can't bury it. So you objectify sex; and masturbate. You cannot have sexual or even emotional contact with a teenage girl, because it is simply impossible, and you certainly cannot have sex with another teenage boy or you will burn in hell for ever ... so you have sex with images in your own head. Your sex life becomes completely solitary. It can be empowered by pornography or simply teenage imagination. Some shard of beauty, some aspect of sensuality, some vision of desire will keep you sexually energized for days.

Ending the Age of Rising Inequality

This is good.
For all the political and economic uncertainties about health reform, at least one thing seems clear: The bill that President Obama signed on Tuesday is the federal government’s biggest attack on economic inequality since inequality began rising more than three decades ago.

Over most of that period, government policy and market forces have been moving in the same direction, both increasing inequality. The pretax incomes of the wealthy have soared since the late 1970s, while their tax rates have fallen more than rates for the middle class and poor.

Nearly every major aspect of the health bill pushes in the other direction. This fact helps explain why Mr. Obama was willing to spend so much political capital on the issue, even though it did not appear to be his top priority as a presidential candidate. Beyond the health reform’s effect on the medical system, it is the centerpiece of his deliberate effort to end what historians have called the age of Reagan.

Protecting the Church, Not the Children

German Catholics are questioning Benedict’s role nearly 30 years ago when, as archbishop of Munich, he allowed the transfer of a priest molester. That priest had managed to remain at work until last week when he was suspended as the scandal grew with news media scrutiny. There are also questions about Benedict’s directive as a Vatican cardinal in 2001 that bishops worldwide were to keep pedophilia investigations secret under threat of ex-communication.

The American church’s investigative board of laity cautioned “there must be consequences” for prelates who orchestrated cover-ups. This has not been fulfilled, even though the board criticized management of rogue priests by Cardinals Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, the nation’s largest diocese, and Edward Egan, the former leader of the New York archdiocese. The pope’s expression of “shame and remorse” for the Irish scandal is not to be doubted. But what is most urgently needed was well described by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel — “truth and clarity about everything that took place.”
The Pope's expression of 'shame' is not to be doubted? Believe me, I can doubt it. Words don't matter at this point, it's actions that count. Words are cheap, and in lieu of real action, themselves shameful.

The Roman Catholic Church can go bankrupt under the weight of law suits and disappear as an institution, for all I care, unless it comes clean as to this monstrous evil it has perpetrated (and is still hiding).

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Health-Care Coverage, Period

I agree with James Fallows on the significance of the health reform bill:
We'll talk [later] about the many things that will prove to be wrong with the bill, and the many more steps that will need to be taken as far into the future as anyone can see, so as to balance and rebalance the potentially-limitless cost of new medical procedures with the inevitably-limited resources that individuals, families, companies, and governments can spend.

For now, the significance of the vote is moving the United States FROM a system in which people can assume they will have health coverage IF they are old enough (Medicare), poor enough (Medicaid), fortunate enough (working for an employer that offers coverage, or able themselves to bear expenses), or in some other way specially positioned (veterans; elected officials)... TOWARD a system in which people can assume they will have health-care coverage. Period.

That is how the entire rest of the developed world operates, as noted yesterday. It is the way the United States operates in most realms other than health coverage. Of course all older people are eligible for Medicare. Of course all drivers must have auto insurance. Of course all children must have a public school they can attend. Etc. Such "of course" rules offer protection for individuals but even more important, they reduce the overall costs to society, compared with one in which extreme risks are uncontained. The simplest proof is, again, Medicare: Does anyone think American life would be better now, on an individual or a collective level, if we were in an environment in which older people might have to beg for treatment as charity cases when they ran out of cash? And in which everyone had to spend the preceding years worried about that fate?

There are countless areas in which America does it one way and everyone else does it another, and I say: I prefer the American way. Our practice on medical coverage is not one of these. Despite everything that is wrong with this bill and the thousand adjustments that will be necessary in the years to come, this is a very important step.


The continuing reports surfacing about the failure of Catholic church officials to stop priests who abused children sexually boggle the mind.  Today's NYT has a major article on one particular case in Wisconsin, which implicates the current pope himself.

The failure of the Catholic church to come clean on this issue is a major indictment of everything they stand for.  I can think of few things more evil than molesting children.  This kind of moral perversion at the heart of the church requires nothing short of church-wide, sustained repentance.  Failure to do so brings into question their right to call anyone else to repentance, which is at the heart of their mission.

Jesus himself said, "But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea."  Matthew 18:6.  

I would say they are in DEEP TROUBLE, if the gospel is true.  But true or not, to hell with these child molesters.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hating Everything But Believing in Nothing

I just couldn't pass up this quote by James Kunstler:
It was amusing to see the Republican party inveigh against health insurance reform as if they were a synod of Presbyterian necromancers girding the nation for a takeover by the spawn of hell. This was the same gang, by the way, who championed the Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003, then regarded as the most reckless giveaway of public funds in human history. Along the way, they enlisted an army of nay-sayers representing everything dark, disgraceful, and ignorant in the American character. If the Republicans keep going this way, they'll end up with something worse than Naziism: a party that hates everything but believes in absolutely nothing.

At least this once a workable majority in the government has stood up to the forces of cruelty and injustice, and whatever else happens to us in the course of this long emergency, it will be a good thing if the party of fairness and justice identifies its adversaries for what they are: not "partners in governing," or any such academical-therapeutic bullshit, but enemies of every generous impulse in the national character.

I hope that Mr. Obama's party can carry this message clearly into the electoral battles ahead, painting the Republican opposition for what it is: a gang of hypocritical, pietistic sadists, seeking pleasure in the suffering of others while pretending to be Christians, devoid of sympathy, empathy, or any inclination to simple human kindness, constant breakers of the Golden Rule, enemies of the common good.

Well that didn't take long

Yesterday I predicted public opinion would swing to support health care reform. I didn't think it would happen this quickly, and the more Obama campaigns on it the higher those numbers will go:
Americans by 9 percentage points have a favorable view of the health care overhaul that President Obama signed into law Tuesday, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds, a notable turnaround from surveys before the vote that showed a plurality against it.
By 49%-40% those surveyed say it was "a good thing" rather than a bad one that Congress passed the bill. Half describe their reaction in positive terms, as "enthusiastic" or "pleased," while about four in 10 describe it in negative ways, as "disappointed" or "angry."

The largest single group, 48%, calls the bill "a good first step" that should be followed by more action on health care. An additional 4% also have a favorable view, saying the bill makes the most important changes needed in the nation's health care system.
This doesn't say a lot for American intelligence. But it does say that we love a winner. And it says we hate the congressional process. I can imagine that a month ago when a pollster called up someone and asked "what do you think of health care?" that person was so pissed off at congress that they said "I hate it" even if they were in fact inclined to support the actual policies.

Monday, March 22, 2010

To Life!

And now, in honor of the Health Reform victory, a great song:

Today its Spring and the World Looks Different

The days after Scott Brown won in Massachussets were the closest I've come to giving up on the Democratic Party and the ability of politics to make a difference in this country. I promised myself and others that if Obama didn't give a total effort to passing health care reform, if the democrats didn't step up and deliver when they had the votes, I would never support another Democrat. Whats the point if they are willing to give up that easily?

But they didn't give up. They decided, for once in their lives, to win. Stop being afraid, and win. Its like jumping off the diving board for the first time. Absolutely terrifying, but after you've done it you wonder what took you you so long.

So now the landscape of America is changed and everything in politics will be different. Here are some observations I've had since this weekend:

1. Nancy Pelosi has been the most under-appreciated figure in politics, but not for much longer. When you think about it, why has Hillary Clinton been a feminist icon while Nancy Pelosi has not? Pelosi deserves it more in every way. She rose to the top on her own. And now she is responsible for passing the most important legislation of her generation. As has become clear, without Pelosi's fortitude health care would have died with Scott Brown's victory.

2. A prediction: the polls will soon swing around to show support for the health care bill. Republicans can no longer lie about death panels and government take-over. People will realize what a common sense and moderate bill this was.

3. Which leads to another prediction: The craziness of the Republicans will give the Democrats plenty of ammunition for 2010, as summed up by mistermix over at Balloon Juice:
The minute Obama signs the bill, the Democrats can say that health insurance cannot be denied for a pre-existing condition, and that they had to fight every single Republican for this right. That message is simple, it hits people where they live, and it addresses a universal concern.

The commercials cutting from a kid with diabetes to John Boehner yelling “Hell No You Can’t” are probably already being made. They will be the Willie Horton ads of the 2010 election.

4. The big question going forward is this: will this win on health care give the democrats momentum to use the rest of this year to take on the rest of the big legislative issues still on their plate (finance reform, energy policy, education, immigration) or will they instead be so battle-weary that they avoid the hard issues, happy to just run on health care in 2010? My hope is the former, but my fear is the latter.

My hope is that the Democrats realize they've got a big freaking hammer in their hand, and that they decide to use. Realize that if you stand up for whats right, the American people will support you. For once in your life, decide to win!

Obama's Resurrection

Sasha Abramsky, author of Inside Obama's Brain, writes here about the resurrection of Obama's transformative Presidency.
Obama has always been more interested in long-term transformative politics, in the building of new institutions and new social relationships, and in doing so at a sustainable tempo, than in the short-term gimmicks that too often pass for serious political discourse in modern-day America.

Senior policy advisers I spoke with for my book told me how Obama would come into meetings and tell them that instead of thinking about tomorrow's poll numbers or headlines, they should think about what sort of a country they wanted to live in twenty years down the road, then think about what institutions and policies had to exist ten years from now to put America on the road to that sort of change; then think about what it would have to look like five years, and finally one year from now to get there.

Thinking long-term, instead of being preoccupied with the twenty-four hour news cycle, has always made Barack Obama a hard political figure to pigeon hole, and it has frequently made commentary on Obama inadequate. When the daily headlines go sour for Obama, commentators stampede to denounce his ineffectiveness, his indecisiveness. It happened during the primary season, when many argued he couldn't close the deal against Clinton -- and then he did. It happened during the election campaign when many, including influential figures within the Democratic Party, thought he had been blind-sided by McCain's choice of Palin as a running mate -- and then he rode out the hype and won a resounding election victory. Now it has happened again with health care reform.

Very Conservative Reform

Robert Reich provides a little bit of reality among all the exultation:
Medicare directly changed the life of every senior in America, giving them health security and dramatically reducing their rates of poverty. By contrast, most Americans won't be affected by Obama's health care legislation. Most of us will continue to receive health insurance through our employers. (Only a comparatively small minority will be required to buy insurance who don't want it, or be subsidized in order to afford it. Only a relatively few companies will be required to provide it who don't now.)

Medicare built on Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal notion of government as insurer, with citizens making payments to government, and government paying out benefits. That was the central idea of Social Security, and Medicare piggybacked on Social Security.

Obama's legislation comes from an alternative idea, begun under the Eisenhower administration and developed under Nixon, of a market for health care based on private insurers and employers. Eisenhower locked in the tax break for employee health benefits; Nixon pushed prepaid, competing health plans, and urged a requirement that employers cover their employees. Obama applies Nixon's idea and takes it a step further by requiring all Americans to carry health insurance, and giving subsidies to those who need it.

So don't believe anyone who says Obama's health care legislation marks a swing of the pendulum back toward the Great Society and the New Deal. Obama's health bill is a very conservative piece of legislation, building on a Republican rather than a New Deal foundation. The New Deal foundation would have offered Medicare to all Americans or, at the very least, featured a public insurance option.

Defining Moment

Robert Kuttner, a progressive economist, writes:
We have just witnessed what could be a turning point in the Obama presidency. In many respects we can thank Scott Brown. For it took the humiliating loss of Ted Kennedy's senate seat, and the even deeper incipient humiliation of lost health reform, for Obama to be reborn as a fighter. It remains to be seen whether he will match the resolve that he finally summoned on health reform with comparable leadership on all of the other challenges he yet faces.

But even those of us who were lukewarm on this bill should savor the moment and honor Obama's odyssey. His Saturday speech was simply the greatest of his presidency. It reminded us of the inspirational figure in whom so many of us invested such hopes last summer and fall. If you have been on Jupiter and somehow missed the speech, you owe it to yourself to watch it.

At long last, we saw this president leading, as only a president can. And we saw him leading as a progressive Democrat, finally admitting that no common ground with today's Republicans is possible, narrating stories we all can recognize about the human tragedy that is our current health care system.


One of the more sensible neo-conservatives around, David Frum, writes that yesterday's passage of health reform was the Republican's Waterloo:
Conservatives and Republicans today suffered their most crushing legislative defeat since the 1960s.

It’s hard to exaggerate the magnitude of the disaster. Conservatives may cheer themselves that they’ll compensate for today’s expected vote with a big win in the November 2010 elections. [...]

No illusions please: This bill will not be repealed. Even if Republicans scored a 1994 style landslide in November, how many votes could we muster to re-open the “doughnut hole” and charge seniors more for prescription drugs? How many votes to re-allow insurers to rescind policies when they discover a pre-existing condition? How many votes to banish 25 year olds from their parents’ insurance coverage? And even if the votes were there – would President Obama sign such a repeal?

We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat. [...]

So today’s defeat for free-market economics and Republican values is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry. Their listeners and viewers will now be even more enraged, even more frustrated, even more disappointed in everybody except the responsibility-free talkers on television and radio. For them, it’s mission accomplished. For the cause they purport to represent, it’s Waterloo all right: ours.

What Kicks In Immediately In Health Reform?

I've been gone for two weeks, with Dad's decline and death last week.  With the historic passage of the health reform bill, which I supported (with reservations), it's time to blog again.

What were the immediate gains from the passage last night of the Health Reform bill?
Prohibit pre-existing condition exclusions for children in all new plans;

Provide immediate access to insurance for uninsured Americans who are uninsured because of a pre-existing condition through a temporary high-risk pool;

Prohibit dropping people from coverage when they get sick in all individual plans;

Lower seniors' prescription drug prices by beginning to close the donut hole;

Offer tax credits to small businesses to purchase coverage;

Eliminate lifetime limits and restrictive annual limits on benefits in all plans;

Require plans to cover an enrollee's dependent children until age 26;

Require new plans to cover preventive services and immunizations without cost-sharing;

Ensure consumers have access to an effective internal and external appeals process to appeal new insurance plan decisions;

Require premium rebates to enrollees from insurers with high administrative expenditures and require public disclosure of the percent of premiums applied to overhead costs.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Palin Loves Canada?

Oh, this is sweet!
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin -- who has gone to great lengths to hype the supposed dangers of a big government takeover of American health care -- admitted over the weekend that she used to get her treatment in Canada's single-payer system.

"We used to hustle over the border for health care we received in Canada," Palin said in her first Canadian appearance since stepping down as governor of Alaska. "And I think now, isn't that ironic?"

The irony, one guesses, is that Palin now views Canada's health care system as revolting: with its government-run administration and 'death-panel'-like rationing. Clearly, however, she and her family once found it more alluring than, at the very least, the coverage available in rural Alaska. Up to the age of six, Palin lived in a remote town near the closest Canadian city, Whitehorse.

'Banks Own This Town'

In the category of 'the banks own this town', comes this:
The Federal Reserve has won its battle to maintain singular regulatory oversight of America's major financial institutions, the Financial Times reported Sunday night.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) gave up the fight for a new super-regulator over the weekend, and will propose financial reforms this week that leave the Fed in control of big banks and the rest of the major Wall Street players, sources told the FT.

The parties allegedly responsible for the Fed's victory are easy to guess. The FT's sources point the finger at Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, who is unsurprisingly speaking up more loudly now that he's won reconfirmation:

"Until, frankly, chairman [Ben] Bernanke was confirmed I think the Fed's hands were kind of tied," said a banking industry figure who has held discussions with one of those [regional] Fed presidents. "Now he is chairman for the next four years ... the Fed has been able to be more aggressive in fighting for its authority."
You see, here's the problem. Despite their words, the Obama administration is in the back pocket of the big banks. It has always been clear to some extent, based on the personnel, but it's now clearer than ever. 

The words 'fraud' and 'two-faced' comes to mind, for some reason.  It pains me to say it.

Four Big Reasons for the 2008 Crash

From a new study refered to by Paul Krugman of the NYT, comes four big reasons for the global financial crash:
First, there was irrational exuberance: in both countries buyers and lenders convinced themselves that real estate prices, although sky-high by historical standards, would continue to rise.

Second, there was a huge inflow of cheap money. In America’s case, much of the cheap money came from China; in Ireland’s case, it came mainly from the rest of the euro zone, where Germany became a gigantic capital exporter.

Another Addiction Not Discussed Much

Here's an interesting article on the danger of internet porn, from the NYT, of all places. I have a feeling that this could be a larger issue, in terms of younger men-women relationships, that we imagine:
As one young man explained, after mentioning that "porn may have destroyed my relationship with my girlfriend" in an e-mail: "I always feel that I'm over porn, but I find myself keep coming back to it. There seems to be an infinite number of porn sites with limitless variations, one never becomes bored with it. . . . It's a very difficult habit to break."

Or as one 27-year-old female lawyer noted recently: "All of my girlfriends and I expect to find histories of pornographic Web sites on our computers after our boyfriends use it. They don't bother erasing the history if you don't give them a lot of hell." The implications troubled her. "I fear we are losing something very important -- a healthy sexual worldview. I think, however, that we are using old ideas of pornography to understand its function in a much more complex modern world."

A Peculiar Blip

I've been gone for a few days, doing other things.  But it's Monday and time for James Kunstler's weekly essay:
Whatever else one thinks of how we live these days, it's hard to not see it as temporary, historically anomalous, a peculiar blip in human experience. I've spent my whole life riding around in cars, never questioning whether the makings of tomorrow's supper would be there waiting on the supermarket shelves, never doubting when I entered a room that the lights would go on at the flick of a switch, never worrying about my personal safety. And now hardly a moment goes by when I don't feel tremors of massive change in these things, as though all life's comforts and structural certainties rested on a groaning fault line.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


This study of coffee and health comes from JoAnn E. Manson, MD, DrPH, a professor of medicine and women’s health at Harvard Medical School, and chief of the division of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, both in Boston.
Studies suggest that, when consumed in moderation -- meaning two to four eight-ounce servings daily -- coffee may in fact be good for you.

It is not clear whether the benefits come from coffee itself or its caffeine. Even decaffeinated coffee may have some caffeine, and there is limited research on other caffeinated beverages, such as tea. Per cup, coffee has about 100 mg of caffeine... black tea has about half as much. Studies show that coffee may...

Reduce risk for some cancers. An analysis of nine studies found that drinking two cups of coffee daily lowered liver cancer risk by 43%. Coffee also may protect against colorectal cancer.

Help prevent diabetes. Among 200,000 study participants, those who drank four to six cups of regular or decaffeinated coffee daily were 28% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than people who drank two cups or less daily.
--Possible reason: Chlorogenic acid, an antioxidant in coffee, slows sugar’s release into the bloodstream.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Looming Disaster

I think this article by Stewart Lawrence is a good analysis of why Obama and the Democrats are in deep political trouble.  Excerpt:
Barack Obama's presidency is barely a year old, and the November mid-term elections are still nine months away. Yet despite the brave face worn by the White House in recent weeks, Democrats are facing a disaster of mounting proportions. If current trends hold, they may well lose control of the House of Representatives – a stunning collapse given their current 40 vote lead. Even worse, what seemed like a near-impossibility just a month ago - a GOP reconquest of the Senate – has become increasingly "thinkable” also. Political handicapper Charlie Cook, not one for wild-eyed predictions, has identified 11 Democratic Senate seats Republicans might win based on current polling. If they win at least 10, and also retain control of their current 41 Senate seats, which seems likely, the Senate is theirs.

The White House, still obsessed with its manifestly unpopular health care reform bill, is in a state of political denial so deep that not even Senator Evan Bayh's (D-IN) shocking retirement two weeks ago – following similar announcements by Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) in recent months - has managed to pierce its defensive wall.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Avoiding War As Risk to Peace

The gritty, straight-shooter Glenn Greenwald writes today:
For Orwellian Government Statement of the Month, allow me to nominate this gem from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who warned that "the demilitarization of Europe -- where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it [is] . . . an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st."  So according to our Secretary of Defense -- itself an Orwellian title at this point -- the greatest danger to peace (not to mention America's ability to rule the world through mass invasions and occupations) is a desire on the part of Europeans to avoid war.
I also addressed this issue here.


Ralph Nader is EXACTLY right in his column today.
The twin swelling heads of Empire and Oligarchy are driving our country into an ever-deepening corporate state, wholly incompatible with democracy and the rule of law.
Why, Nader sounds, to quote Frank Rich, 'obsessed and deranged!' 

No, actually, he refuses to be bought off or blinded by propaganda, and is just willing to call a spade a spade.

Scraping Away the Bureaucratic Barnacles

James Howard Kunstler sounds positively 'Paulian' in his conclusions about the recent health care summit:
I am personally not confident that we will do anything to address the failures and inequities of so-called Health Care. As a general thing, I have to say that this recent exercise only seems to prove the now permanent impotence and impairment of the federal government. In The Long Emergency we have entered, real governance is likely to devolve downward to the community level, and it may be unrealistic to expect any real action from on high. Things have just gone too far at this point. We have blown past the thresholds of hyper-complexity so that further hyper-complexity only make things worse. At more than 2,000 pages, the current Health Care Reform bill is surely an exercise in the diminishing returns of grotesque additional hyper-complexity.

I am confident in the "emergent," self-organizing capablities of human societies. We are now faced with the task of emergently re-organizing medicine downward to the community clinic level -- and sooner or later probably toward a simple, straightforward pay-as-you-go in cash basis with doctors you know, with all the bureaucratic barnacles scraped away. Like a lot of other things in the years ahead -- education, retail trade, transport, even banking -- medicine is likely to be much less dazzling than the way it is practiced today. But when all is said and done we'll still possess the germ theory of illness and the recipe for lidocaine and a few other things that will make existence tolerable.
But if I don't also share the following paragraph, you wouldn't really get the flavor of Kunstler's column today:
All I can offer, really, are observations: for example, that Congressman John Boehner (R -Ohio) needs a set of steel ball bearings to roll around in his hand to perfect his otherwise dead-on impersonation of Captain Queeg, the paranoid villain of that 1950s movie The Caine Mutiny.  I kept wishing that President Obama would reach under the table for a fungo bat every time the miserable Mr. Boehner opened his Midwestern pie-hole to drone out a new lie, and split his f******* head open like a Crenshaw melon -- but perhaps my fantasies are excessively baroque.

Health Care Is As Public Education

Question: should our health care system be more like the way we provide an elementary and high school education or the way we provide cars? In other words, should everyone be guaranteed a minimal amount of education, or guaranteed nothing but the opportunity to buy whatever car they can (or cannot) afford?

When you think of it this way, some kind of public, universal, guaranteed health care system becomes a no-brainer, at least for a modern civilized society.


A NATO destroyer has sunk a pirate mothership in the Indian Ocean off the Somali coast after allowing the crew to leave, the alliance said Monday.

Shona Lowe, an anti-piracy spokeswoman, said the HDMS Absalon - the Danish flagship of the three-vessel NATO flotilla in the region - disrupted a pirate operation by "scuttling" one of the large boats used by Somali gangs to transport attack teams to piracy hunting areas far off the coast.
Now that's using your military in the right way.


In the 'duh' category, we find this:
A study in the March issue of Psychological Bulletin, a journal of the American Psychological Association, shows that playing violent video games increases violent thinking, attitudes and behaviors among players. And it does nothing to promote positive social behaviors.
Psychologist Craig Anderson of Iowa State University and his team analyzed existing studies of 130,000 people from the U.S., Europe and Japan. His findings held for players in Western and Eastern cultures, for male and female players and for players of various ages.

In its review of data, the new research found that exposure to violent video games was associated with aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition and aggressive "affect." It desensitizes users and is associated with lack of empathy and a lack of "prosocial" behavior.

Distrusting the Establishment

I want to comment here on the Tea Party movement, analyzed so well in Dave Barstow's article in the New York Times, excerpted here on this blog.  The crucial paragraph in that article is this one:
But most [of the Tea Party groups] are not [appendages of the Republican Party]. They are frequently led by political neophytes who prize independence and tell strikingly similar stories of having been awakened by the recession. Their families upended by lost jobs, foreclosed homes and depleted retirement funds, they said they wanted to know why it happened and whom to blame.
Frank Rich wrote about the Tea Partiers in his column yesterday, with the revealing title, "The Axis of the Obsessed and Deranged."  Now, I normally find myself agreeing with Frank Rich, but this time, not so much (more on Rich in a moment).

Where to begin?  First by saying, I am not a Tea Partier.  In fact, Glenn Beck, who is such a hero to many of them, comes across to me as a real buffoon, a parody of a southern evangelist preacher, with his faux weeping, his hysterical speaking style, his slick and manipulative mode of communication.  I know evangelistic preaching very well, having grown up with it until I turned away in disgust, and Beck is a fraud.  A 21st century political Elmer Gantry.

On the other hand, I have much more respect for another of their heroes, Congressman Ron Paul, with whom I agree quite a bit actually.  His integrity is impeccable, and he says what he means and means what he says.  And his honest, longstanding position and argument against the 'warfare/welfare state' has a lot to be said for it.  There is a growing bit of 'libertarian' in me that I'm still adjusting to.

The Truth About Health Care

Robert Kuttner, a long-time voice of sanity and basic equity in economics, writes about how to achieve true health care reform:
In 2009, total health care costs increased to 17.3 percent of GDP, with escalating premiums eating into both corporate profits and worker take home pay. The consensus among the usual policy experts is that there is no good solution. The march of technology and demography will just continue to raise health costs.

But you can reach that conclusion only by ignoring how the rest of the club of affluent countries manages to insure everyone for 9 or 10 percent of GDP, and have a healthier and longer-lived population, to boot. They do it, of course, through universal, socialized insurance.

There is no single formula. The Canadians do it with a single payer system for the insurance part, but physicians are private. The Brits have an integrated National Health Service. The Germans achieve near-universal coverage through a system of nonprofit health insurance plans.

What every other nation has in common is that they have taken the commercialism out of their health systems. As a consequence, they can direct health spending to areas of medical need rather than letting the market direct health dollars to areas of greatest profit. And with everyone covered, they can use highly cost-effective strategies for prevention, wellness, and public health. That's how you cover everyone for ten percent of GDP.  [Emphasis mine]

Awakened by the Recession

I've copied below some excerpts from a major article on the 'Tea Party' movement by David Barstow of the New York Times. I'll make some comments on this soon.

The Tea Party movement has become a platform for conservative populist discontent, a force in Republican politics for revival, as it was in the Massachusetts Senate election, or for division. But it is also about the profound private transformation of people like Mrs. Stout, people who not long ago were not especially interested in politics, yet now say they are bracing for tyranny.

These people are part of a significant undercurrent within the Tea Party movement that has less in common with the Republican Party than with the Patriot movement, a brand of politics historically associated with libertarians, militia groups, anti-immigration advocates and those who argue for the abolition of the Federal Reserve.

Urged on by conservative commentators, waves of newly minted activists are turning to once-obscure books and Web sites and discovering a set of ideas long dismissed as the preserve of conspiracy theorists, interviews conducted across the country over several months show. In this view, Mr. Obama and many of his predecessors (including George W. Bush) have deliberately undermined the Constitution and free enterprise for the benefit of a shadowy international network of wealthy elites.