Sunday, April 30, 2006

Ohio churches' politics: Give me that old time religion

In another subtle yet clear example of the current administration's agenda, we have the IRS selectively ignoring 2 Ohio churches' (World Harvest Church and Fairfield Christian Church) violations of their tax-exempt status:
In a challenge to the ethics of conservative Ohio religious leaders and the fairness of the Internal Revenue Service, a group of 56 clergy members contends that two churches have gone too far in supporting a Republican candidate for governor.

Two complaints filed with the tax agency say that the large Columbus area churches, active in President Bush's narrow Ohio win in 2004, violated their tax-exempt status by pushing the candidacy of J. Kenneth Blackwell, who is the secretary of state and the favored candidate of Ohio's religious right.

The clergy members said the churches improperly held political activities and allowed Republican organizations to use their facilities.

. . .

When three months passed without public evidence that the IRS had acted on a January complaint, the clergy members filed a second document, expanding the allegations.

"You have flagrant intervention continuing and no indication of IRS activity," said Marcus Owens, a lawyer for the group and former director of the IRS office that regulates tax-exempt organizations. He considers the evidence of wrongdoing "pretty overwhelming" and suspects favoritism, which tax agency officials deny.

When I lived south of Los Angeles in Orange County, two of my biggest clients were very large evangelical churches with Christian music recording studios. I actually became friends with some of the folks at these places, and found one in particular to be pretty open and accepting. But the other was particularly interesting.

During the '88 campaign, I hear parishoners talk about Dukakis' writing legislation while Governor of Massachusetts to allow human-animal sexual activity. I heard statements from the pulpit that "We all know who we're voting for, don't we?"

I heard a Latino sound engineer express the wish that his mother would 'get saved.' When I asked him if Mom was Catholic, and attended church regularly, he said yes, but that he didn't consider her a real Christian because she wasn't 'born again.'

While these seem like minor issues, they are emblematic of an attitude that drives a large segment of the religious right, that their personal brand of Christianity ought to be the moral and legislative law of the country. And they remain blind to the irony of their Taliban-esque fantasies. They believe that when moral absolutists from other faith traditions promote a similar viewpoint they are wrong, and in some cases evil, as in the case of radical Islamists calling for Sharia law in Muslim countries.

Of course, the IRS takes a different viewpoint when the church criticises the administration:
In Pasadena, Calif., the IRS is examining the tax-exempt status of All Saints Church because its former pastor delivered a sermon that criticized Bush on the Iraq war and Republican conservatives on social policy two days before the 2004 election.

The NAACP recently said it would challenge in court an IRS threat to revoke its tax-exempt status. The case centers on a 2004 speech critical of Bush administration policies by Chairman Julian Bond. The group's president, Bruce S. Gordon, said he was concerned that the IRS audit "was motivated by politics."

As one of the signatories of the complaint notes:
"That's what our ancestors were trying to prevent, having too close a relationship between a government or a government official and a particular religious group so that the government policy and the activities of a particular religious group become intermingled," said Rabbi Harold J. Berman, who signed the complaints.

Too many people see religion as the only arbiter of morality, and feel their own religious beliefs trump any others. The problematic church noted above has a statement on the back of their Sunday programs that says:
We are not a denominational church, nor are we opposed to denominations as such, only their over-emphasis of doctrinal differences that have led to the division of the body of Christ.

Yet I can't remember how many time I heard said or saw in print while working there that "Mormons are cultists," or "Catholics haven't been born again" or "Jews are going to Hell." They really seem to believe that they, along with a few other fundamentalists, are the One True Church, no matter what the bulletin says.

This is what the founders were concerned with, as the Rabbi notes above. And they came to the conclusion, written in the 1st Amendment, that:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion

Of course, religion isn't at all necessary for morality. Thane Rosenbaum, in The Myth of Moral Justice, says:

Law and religion. Judges and clergy. Verdicts and absolutions. Blind faith and blind justice.

For most people, there is a belief that the values and teachings that are embodied in both law and religion -- the consciousness and ideals that are invoked in cathedrals and courthouses -- are basically the same, that they go hand in hand. In practice, however, they are connected by left feet. Law and religion are, in fact, largely and unfortunately not inspired by the same values, although most of us wish to believe otherwise.

We assume that an exalted sense of rightness, and knowing the proper standards for engaging in the world and dealing with our fellow human beings, is what clergy and judges have in common. But men of the cloth and men who sit on judicial benches see the world quite differently from one another. And it's not merely their elevated pedestals that make it so. Let us not be fooled by the robes: priests, rabbis, ministers, imams, and jurists may dress the same, but they are not the same. Uniforms can be deceiving; the mirage of uniformity -- despite the fact that judges wear black robes and clergy are sometimes dressed in white -- may be more of a caveat than sartorial coincidence. And yes, courts and churches are decorated with similar props and vestments. But, once more, the similarity here is only one of interior design. The decor is intended to elicit a particular emotion, an aura that isn't always deserved, but does command respect.

A Catholic priest friend of Pams' once said that fundamentalism is an immature expression of religious faith, for people who need structure provided for their lives. That structure comes from the church, not the Constitution, which denies the kind of America the folks in Ohio seem to want to create.

The final question to any debate about religious-based law is always "Whose religion? Who gets to pick?"

My answer: The Constitution is for everyone, religion is for anyone.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Immigration: Sad eyes, crooked crosses, in God's Country

From International House of Dan, a long but thorough explanation of the horror that must be Sensenbrenner's mind:

The real reason for this post is to explain why these protests are happening. Many believe that for some reason, illegal aliens are suddenly demanding citizenship. As most of you know, the sudden uproar among the immigrant community was caused by Congressman Sensenbrenner's (R-WI) infamous H.R. 4437, a draconian measure that, among other things, would make it a felony for the U.S. born child of undocumented immigrants not to turn in her parents for deportation. Interestingly, the bill is not mentioned on the Congressman's website, immigration is not even listed among the "issues".

H.R. 4437 passed the House last December, and as more has been learned of it during Senate debate, people across America have become irate over the legislation. The Protest in Chicago last March sparked a fire that quickly consumed the nation, May 1st will be less a climax than an encouraging push, a sign of things to come.

. . .

SEC. 274. (a) Criminal Offenses and Penalties-


...`(C) assists, encourages, directs, or induces a person to reside in or remain in the United States, or to attempt to reside in or remain in the United States, knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that such person is an alien who lacks lawful authority to reside in or remain in the United States;

so you can't rent a place, sell or loan a car, give a job, teach english, or do a bunch of other things, possibly even give directions, sell a winter coat, deliver mail, sell food to, or a bunch of other things that assist someone to reside here to someone with an accent without asking first for proof of legal status;

`(D) transports or moves a person in the United States, knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that such person is an alien who lacks lawful authority to enter or be in the United States, where the transportation or movement will aid or further in any manner the person's illegal entry into or illegal presence in the United States;

so a restaurant employee needs to check a co-worker's papers before giving them a ride to work, or give anybody a ride to or from a Greyhound or Amtrak station, or possibly anywhere else without checking their status;

...`(F) transports, moves, harbors, conceals, or shields from detection a person outside of the United States knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that such person is an alien in unlawful transit from one country to another or on the high seas, under circumstances in which the person is in fact seeking to enter the United States without official permission or lawful authority; or

so a foreign friend or relative of someone trying to come here unlawfully is somehow a criminal under our law for things they did abroad (not sure how they plan to enforce that...)

Dan's got it covered. Oh, and he's quite the progressive political activist. Check out the Chicago Alliance for the International Court.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Repubs: What in the world's come over you?

More evidence that the Dems are as corrupt as the Repubs (via John Aravosis):
The CIA has imposed new and tighter restrictions on the books, articles, and opinion pieces published by former employees who are still contractors with the intelligence agency. According to several former CIA officials affected by the new policy, the rules are intended to suppress criticism of the Bush administration and of the CIA. The officials say the restrictions amount to an unprecedented political "appropriateness" test at odds with earlier CIA policies on outside publishing.

. . .

But the White House and CIA Director Porter Goss view spies-turned-authors as political liabilities who embarrass an already battered administration, former officials said. The CIA is now aggressively investigating -- using polygraphs in some cases -- employees who are suspected of leaking classified information to journalists, and last week the agency said it fired a senior official, Mary O. McCarthy, reportedly for having unauthorized contact with the news media.

Sez John:
Is this what 51% of the American people voted for? Outlawing all dissent? Not to mention, if there's such a crisis of former intelligence experts wanting to criticize George Bush then maybe that ought to tell us something - about George Bush.

Seriously, anyone who is Republican out there and voted for this man, how can you continue to support these bizarre un-American policies? Does America stand for anything anymore?

I studied the Soviet Union in grad school, it was one of my main areas of expertise. I'm a hawk on defense. I hated the Soviets and there was little Ronald Reagan could do wrong vis-a-vis the evil empire, in my eye. And I'm telling you, what is happening in our country today is right out of the Soviet playbook. (It's also right out of the Nazi playbook.) You slowly criminalize dissent so that the public accepts infringements on civil liberties that it would never accept in one fell swoop (and, well, in the Soviet Union there was no slowly to it at all - it was pretty instantaneous).

Has America become the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany? No. Have we started down the path to a more totalitarian government that no longer respects, that no longer fears, its citizenry? Absolutely. Do we tolerate today in America presidential policies that would have been unconscionable under any circumstance just ten years ago. Sadly, yes.

Confused as to why the Dems are as bad as this?

Well, according to some of the folks at the Backroom I wrote about here :
The Democrats and the Republicans are the same thing, pretty much. Ninety percent of Dems and eighty percent of the GOP is worthless, venal, petty, idiots. No one with any fundamental willingness to fix the structural issues is going to go anywhere in either party. Fundamental and necessary change would gore too many golden oxen. It would be unpopular, profoundly unpopular. Until....the masses are desperate enough. Then it will be demanded.

Here's the logic:

Repubs are a political party.

Democrats are a political party.

Thus, Republicans equal Democrats.

The Republicans commit evil, therefore the Democrats are evil. Or might be at some future date. At least, maybe, in some alternate universe. You know, the one where Spock looks like Kirk. Or maybe where Kirk was trapped in a woman's body.


Dreier sheets: dirty white boy

On CSPAN, Dreier said that in the past several months, ethics have caused problems for Democrats and Republicans.

Cute. I suppose the problems the Dems are having is how to address Abramoff, Cunningham, et al. So many ethical abuses, so little time.


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Right vs. Left: Slipping into darkness

Written recently on The Backroom, a pro-audio/politics email list:
Kerry is a lot like Bush, only more ambiitious and therefore more dangerous. They are both spoiled rich brats with snob school educations who behaved in ways during Vietnam, and since, that any intelligent person would regard as unbefitting a future Chief Executive.

When you have a choice between Bush and Kerry for president, the only appropriate response is, A, neither and B, who rigged this election?

If you arguing Kerry would have been a better choice than Bush in the particular situation we faced in 2004, because he'd be a one term president facing total gridlock and would at least derail the Bush family, that's one thing. If you are going to say Kerry is actually a good choice for President, you are debased and probably on powerful hallucinogens.

LIBERALS are why we have Bush, because people rightly oppose unlimited social spending, kowtowing to the knaves and fools, and the high hard one of Big Government up our you-know-where all the time. The neocon, fundie, and apocalypse-nutty superfundie lampreys and remoras we have put forth in front of us as "The Right" are not. They are nuts and criminals. The legitimate conservative movement wants less government, lower taxes, etc., but does not seek to put anyone's religious beliefs into law.

Nice. This is in response to Kerry's piece in the Boston Globe, reported at HuffPo &
Thirty-five years ago today, I testified before the United States Senate. I was a 27-year-old Vietnam veteran who believed the war had to come to an end.

Pretty volatile stuff, eh? Hardly worth disputing, that war should be fought for the right reasons. Hardly makes Kerry a traitor, you would think. Well, there's more from the Backroom:

Take a good long hard look at the laws of this land from day #1 to the present. It has been a story about a power struggle. The citizen has been on the losing end since 1934, thanks mainly to liberal Democrats who enabled the process.

As far as the President not being worth much position-wise in the government, you really need to review the laws governing the office, in particular the Emergency War Powers Act. Given the creation of the Fatherland Insecurity department, if you honestly think that this legislation will never be used, you need to have your head examined.

We are now at a point where we are on the very threshold of totalitarianism. (Technology has made it much easier to pull this off.) If you think either side doesn't know it and/or wants to avoid it, you have a fundamental misunderstanding of how Washington operates and thinks. Take a good look at the balance sheet of every one of Washington's elite. Just one of them could buy and sell every person on this list several times over. They risk NOTHING. Laws don't apply to them, only YOU. Unless they get caught with a live boy or a dead girl, it is business-as-usual and even THEN they are given a get-out-of-jail-free card. The general public has been CONDITIONED over the decades to accept this.

Other than the crack about Democrats since 1934 (dang, too bad the depression had to end because of legislating the middle class), the writer makes an almost good point about totalitarianism.

I responded thusly:

You still don't get it.

Leaving Afghanistan while BinLaden ran loose...

Invading Iraq for a theoretical purpose (PNAC) {and no declaration of war}

Letting citizens die while Katrina was totally predictable (see Tsunami response in Thailand for comparison)

Historical deficits and record tax giveaways to wealthy

Patriot Act

Domestic spying

Lobbying corruption at unprecedented levels (DeLay, Abramoff, et al)

Tax breaks for corporations who outsource labor

Homeland Security total failure (no more incoming containers inspected than before 9/11)

and as subsets to several of these: no-bid giveaways to Halliburton, etc.

Harriet Miers for Supreme Court? Roberts & Alito (torture is OK) confirmed

Gonzales as Att'y Gen'l (Torture OK) {I know, you probably think torture is OK, so never mind}

If you think all of these would have happened if Democrats had any shred of power in the legislature, you're not a very good student of history or current events.

Admittedly I was thinking that I would get some sort of "Yeah, the Repubs are really not nice guys." Instead, here are some of the responses:

Leaving Afghanistan while BinLaden ran loose...
As I recall, Elvis had left the building and headed for Pakistan, which led to another series of events. George W had a bit of a Freudian slip when he stated offhand that he didn't care about BinLaden. How do we justify presence in the general region if we nail public enemy #1? As I have stated before, the goal as I see it is a continued, heck... escalating mid-east presence. It is obvious to anyone that Iran is next on the hit parade. Notice how we signed off for nukes a bit west of there? Care to guess who that is meant to send a signal to??

Invading Iraq for a theoretical purpose (PNAC) {and no declaration of war}
What else is new? You think Kerry would have done something different? I disagree. While he would probably have taken longer to do something, he would eventually have been forced to something very similar and perhaps extreme.

Letting citizens die while Katrina was totally predictable
Civil Defense / Disaster Control (something I used to be a part of) was essentially screwed long before George W. I never thought FEMA could respond the way we locals could have. Looks like I was right. CD-DC was the buffer zone... people like you and me pitching in until the cavalry came over the hill. (assuming they weren't getting their chargers re-shogged.)

(see Tsunami response in Thailand for comparison)
Thailand has their own government.

Historical deficits and record tax giveaways to wealthy
Not great to be sure, and not something I agree with in the least. I said this was a Keynesian move to goose the economy ala` Tricky Dick. I said it wouldn't do much good over a year ago.

Patriot Act
...fully supported by the Democrats, before they knew what it was...

Wow! I won't even begin to take all that apart. But here's another response to my points above:
Actually only about 80% of those would have happened under the Democrats, but they would have had their own additional problems.

The Democrats and the Republicans are the same thing, pretty much. Ninety percent of Dems and eighty percent of the GOP is worthless, venal, petty, idiots. No one with any fundamental willingness to fix the structural issues is going to go anywhere in either party. Fundamental and necessary change would gore too many golden oxen. It would be unpopular, profoundly unpopular. Until....the masses are desperate enough. Then it will be demanded.

Present GOP and Dem leaders are mostly like the incompetent, venal, stupid people that ran Germany in the Weimar days. We know what the outcome there was.

I was quite surprised to find out that only 80% of today's hell would have happened under Democrats. This writer believes the Left and Right to be equally bad, never mind that all the stuff I mentioned happened under the total control and domination of the Right.

Of course I responded:
This is utter bullshit. We have never had the level of mendacity, corruption, and warmongering as we do now under the Bushies. That you righties refuse to believe that is really sad. DeLay, Gonzalez, Cheney and his oil buddies, Cunningham here in San Diego, et al are all Republican constructs. The Democrats have nothing to compare with the current level of badness.

Read Sy Hersh's piece in the latest New Yorker. Bush is an end-times fundamentalist who may actually, at best, be trying to stake his legacy on bombing Iran so the students rise up and support the west. Lunacy.

Or he may, at worst, be actually trying to hasten Armageddon. This would NOT happen under a Democratic administration. For one thing, Dobson & Falwell would likely have no sway over Democrats. Big oil might, but not to this extent.

Jeebus, people, are you still so tied to the right wing that you can't conceive of their utter contempt for the constitution, democratic process, and people in general?

And did that convince them?
Let's face the music here: it was the Dems that got this vicious idiot Bush elected IN THE FIRST PLACE. If Algore, the worthless, spoiled brat rich kid with a love for turgid, throbbing big government and the personality of a laminated fiberglass diving board was unable to defeat this loser maybe it was because people were disgusted with Clinton corruption and high-handedness. And it was the Dems who kept Algore from the Presidency when he could have probably had 2 1/2 terms for all intents and purposes by not removing Clinton, NOT for f***ing but for PERJURY and OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE, which he was guilty of, although those were the least egregious things he did.

(Of course it was the GOP who got Clinton re-elected in 1996, by running Dole. I guess stupid is as stupid does. )

When The Rod gets elected, of course, she will set new standards for viciousness and likely for corruption as well.

Well, now we see the real truth:

  • It's the Dem's fault for the evil of the Repubs because Bush won(?) in 2000.
  • It'll be Hillary's fault sometime in the future.
  • Bill comitted perjury and obstruction, for which he should have been removed from the Presidency. Never mind that the Repubs failed to do this. And never mind that no one died as a result of Bill's actions. GWBush still gets a pass.

This, folks, is the Right-Wing base.

Part 2 tomorrow.

There's a new kid in town

Welcome to two new additions:

Daily Docket


Empires Fall.

Good writing. Go, read.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Russ Feingold: On, Wisconsin, on, Wisconsin, stand up, Badgers, sing!

Pam and I, as well as a small group of other LA based bloggers, had a wonderful opportunity to have lunch with Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) yesterday. Other bloggers in attendance were RJ Eskow, Howie Klein, Brad Friedman, Joseph Cannon, and Joseph Mailander.

Pam, being from Wisconsin, told Russ (yes, I call him Russ) that her friends back there, hearing about our meet-up with him, said "Go Russ!"

Howie, Brad, J. Cannon, RJ, & J. Mailander (as "scribes") have great posts up about the meeting, and I have little to add except this: The senator, while talking to us about his censure proposal, said that other Dem Senators were afraid of retribution from Karl Rove.

I asked Sen. Feingold this question:
With GWBush's numbers well into the lower 30s, with Rove looking like a probable indictee sometime soon, with the Abramoff, Cunningham, DeLay, Libby, Burns, Doolittle, Scanlon et al scandals continuing to develop, exactly what 'juice' did Rove have? What could he threaten Democrats with that carried any weight?

Russ's answer:
"I wish I knew."

I like this guy.

Update: Links to the other bloggers pieces added.

Friday, April 21, 2006

As those caissons go rolling along

The rebellious Generals are generating lots of ink. Many, myself included, have griped that they should have spoken out sooner. Of course, there at least two sides to that issue. At least some folks with some serious military gravitas have openly criticized The Global War On Whatever The Hell We Want To Invade, and we welcome them to the grown-up's table.

Sara at The Next Hurrah has an interesting take on military planning, and how the USofA might have missed a few details about running an occupation:
What's important to comprehend is that George Marshall comprehended this in the early 1920's -- and from his "Major" position he worked to deal with what he understood as problems. He pressured Pershing to do what became the "Hunt Report" -- the history of American Military Occupation 1775 -1922. When he taught at the War College -- he used Hunt as textbook and problems to resolve -- how do you do an occupation and accomplish political objectives? By 1934 he was more influential, and got the Army to commission a drafting commission to take up Hunt, and write a military doctrine and then an Army Manual for how to do it. Between 1934 and 41 it went through five editions and revisions. What happened in Germany post 1945 was according to this 5th revised edition of Marshall's plan and one must understand that is not referenced to post 1948 Marshall Plan matters.

Doctrine: Marshall believed that no officer or soldier who had been blooded in combat should be used in occupation. For Germany in 1945 he trained 6000 officers, about 3500 NCO's and about 120 thousand troops specifically for the "Military Government of Germany" and none of them were combat soldiers. If you look at the charts, the two top folk are Ike and Bradley, but below that, there are no cross-overs. Yep, some transport companies got transferred and so did some engineers, but virtually none of them were "blooded" -- and I would suggest that this insight that Marshall gained watching the occupation of the Rhineland in 1919 by an unprepared. untrained, doctrine lacking but fully blooded American Outfit, is perhaps somewhat equal to what currently serving Generals have encountered in Iraq -- and that they have been encountering it now for three years with no relief in sight.

I think using the military to further a political agenda is craven. And to ignore history, to use the military so foolishly and wastefully is really criminal.

American soldiers deserve to have better bosses than they have now. Ones that, you know, actually study world and military history, not just the Weakly Standard, EZ-Reader edition.


As a side note, as I was checking the lyrics to Caissons Go Rolling Along, I found this site, where among the patriotic songs listed are Abraham, Martin & John, and This Land Is Your Land, with the often ignored openly socialist last verse. At the bottom of each page is the slogan:
We are free because of patriots, not weenies

and this quote:
"Our loyalty is due entirely to the United States. It is due to the President only and exactly to the degree in which he efficiently serves the United States. It is our duty to support him when he serves the United States well. It is our duty to oppose him when he serves it badly." - T Roosevelt - 1918
Kinda cool.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Health care: Feelin' alright? I'm not feelin' too good myself

Ed isn't doing well. After having clear scans at Christmas time, he now has nodules, and is currently back in the hospital. This is not the first time in the hospital for Ed.

Ed's son Chuck, my brother-in-law Dave's brother, died of cancer in 2000. Much too young.

Our dear friend Lizzie died 4 years ago last month. Her cancer could have been caught earlier, but a callous and uninformed docter told her the lumps in her breasts couldn't be cancerous, because at 27, she was too young. She was 31 when she died.

My beautiful younger sister Kristin, about whom I have written many times, also died 4 years ago last month, from uterine cancer. She had a hysterectomy due to a benign uterine tumor a couple of years earlier, but no one mentioned that follow-up scans should be done.

And now we learned tonight that Pam's cousin Laurel, who Pam called Lollipop, died last night due to as yet unknown reasons. One thing we do know is that Laurel couldn't find a job. The last job she applied for, for $8.00/hr, had hundreds of applicants. She had been out of work for 2 years.

I'm not trying to be melancholy, but I want to try and make the point that here in America, we have pretty crappy health care compared to the rest of the industrialized world. And having said that, I don't know that anything would have been, or will be different for the people I mention above.

From Ezra Klein, who is rapidly becoming on of the left's leading lights on thoughtful health care issues, we have this:
Interesting study out from Health Affairs comparing the care experiences of patients in six countries. The lucky lab rats are Australia, America, Canada, Germany, England, and New Zealand. The results, for Americans, are not comforting. I'll quote you the interesting parts:

"Concerns about transition care extended to medications. Patients in all countries were often given a new medication when discharged, with U.S. patients the most likely to report new medications. Yet in all but Germany, at least one in four patients said that nobody had reviewed the medications they were taking before their hospitalization.[...]

. . .

Our findings also indicate that insurance and delivery systems affect patients’ experiences beyond basic access and waiting times. Symptoms of inadequate insurance coverage and more fragmented care in the United States emerged throughout the survey. The United States outspends the other countries, spending 14.6 percent of national income compared with Germany’s 10.9 percent, Canada’s 9.6 percent, Australia’s 9.1 percent, New Zealand’s 8.5 percent, and the United Kingdom’s 7.7 percent.25 Yet the United States often ranks last or tied for last for safety, efficiency, and access. With one-third of U.S. patients reporting medical, medication, or lab errors and a similar share citing duplicate tests or medical record delays, our findings indicate widespread performance deficiencies that put patients at risk and undermine care. Moreover, a recent study finds that the United States is not systematically a leader in clinical outcomes.26
And this piece:
Canada's system is too biased against the private sector; some degree of private, supplementary insurance should be allowed. We do not live in an equal society and we've never had a problem with allowing the richest to benefit from their funds. But if Canada's problem is that they have a ceiling, our problem is that we don't have a floor. Liberals shouldn't construct a system that stops Americans from getting ever-better health care, but we need one that guarantees a certain level of care. In essence, we want a floor without a ceiling.

France and Britain are more interesting, Britain for their enormous cost control and France for the fact that their health care is really very good. But Britain's frugalness has a price -- care simply isn't as good, surgeries are underused, medicines under-prescribed, and so forth. While they still have better outcomes than we do, it's only because so many of our citizens are totally without access to health care. If you had to decide where to be treated, you definitely want it to be here.

France is more my speed. Government provided, ceiling without floor, etc. The lack of a gatekeeper leads to overuse (i.e, the French go to the doctor's too often), but that's changing their, and it could easily be side-stepped here. What a shame, then, that France is so off-limits in political dialogue. But whether or not we can invoke the French, they're the closest thing to a model structure out there, and we should study them for ideas.

Kevin Drum has this to say:
In the Wall Street Journal today, Dr. Benjamin Brewer writes that he's finally come around to the idea that America would be better off with a single-payer national healthcare system:
Doctors in private practice fear a loss of autonomy with a single-payer system. After being in the private practice of family medicine for 8 1/2 years, I see that autonomy is largely an illusion. Through Medicare and Medicaid, the government is already writing its own rules for 45% of the patients I see.

My virtual son Jim was visiting his fiance in France over Christmas, and while working in a vineyard, his eye was hurt. He went to a hospital, saw a doctor, was given a prescription, and all ended well. He wasn't denied care because he was a foreigner. On the contrary, he was treated, but because he wasn't a citizen, the fee was 20 Euros instead of the 5 Euro co-pay.

My point is that we really need to do something to fix the system. The insurance lobby claims, falsely, that malpractice claims are increasing. Industry claims that insurance premiums are wiping them out, yet Exxon's CEO:
Raymond received a compensation package worth about $140 million last year, including cash, stock, options and a pension plan. He is still entitled to stock, options and long-term compensation worth at least another $258 million, according to a proxy statement filed by Exxon with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday.
The total sum for Raymond's golden years comes to at least $398 million, among the richest compensation packages ever. The record was the payout of $550 million to Michael Eisner, the former head of Walt Disney, in 1997.
Exxon's board also agreed to pick up Raymond's country club fees, allow him to use the company aircraft and pay him another $1 million to stay on as a consultant for another year. Raymond agreed to reimburse Exxon partly when he uses the company jet for personal travel.
And record profits:
Exxon Mobil Corp. posted record profits for any U.S. company on Monday -- $10.71 billion for the fourth quarter and $36.13 billion for the year -- as the world's biggest publicly traded oil company benefited from high oil and natural-gas prices and solid demand for refined products.
Lest anyone think I'm mixing metaphors, or comparing apples and oranges, I'm really not. It's a matter of priorities.

Many "Conservatarians" as I call them howl loudly about socialism when we discuss universal health care, for reasons, that, while wrong, are understandable. No one wants to surrender control over their health care to a mindless bureaucracy. But there is a different issue to consider. Rather than submit to faceless authority, we instead submit to profit.

I argued with a conservatarian many years ago that the auto insurance industry should be nationalised. No organisation that I am obliged by law to make payments to should earn a profit. It should be regulated, fairly simply, and left to earn subsistance based on actuarial projections. And at the end of the fiscal year, all excess funds returned in the form of a rebate.

I really see no difference. I don't want my health care provider, my primary care doctor, my surgeon, my physical therapist to make medical decisions based on profit motivations.

And I don't want pharmaceutical companies to promise 4 hour erections on TV.

The point is that government has the necessary infrastructure to efficiently provide health care to all Americans, in the same way that it can provide for the common defense. Remember that phrase?

Forced into choosing between Uncle Sam & Wall St. for medical care, I go with Uncle any day. After all, if America can't do it right, who can?

May God/Allah/YHWH/Mother Earth bless Ed, Chuck, Lizzie, Kristin, Laurel, and all who suffer. And may we all contribute to caring for each other.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Hannity: Come sail away with me

Wake the neighbors, call the kids. In a rare display of courage and conviction, Sean Hannity, darling of Fox and right wingers everywhere has finally taken a principled stand: he's gonna go down with The Titanic:
Sean Hannity will not abandon ship. President Bush's approval ratings have sunk into the 30s, but Fox News Channel's tenacious conservative isn't wavering in his support, even while parting ways with the president over immigration and the Dubai ports deal.

"Let me be straight with you - I like George Bush," Hannity said. "I think he's a man of principle, a man of faith. I think he's got a backbone of steel and he's a real, genuine, big-time leader ... He's a consequential figure for his time. We don't see it right now."

History will vindicate Bush as a strong leader the same way it did Harry Truman, another unpopular president of his time, Hannity said.

. . .

He was wildly popular on Broadway, though. After Oliver North and Jackie Mason appeared as warm-up acts, Hannity stalked the stage. He offered a tentative Bill Clinton impersonation, made jokes about Ted Kennedy's drinking and attracted boos at the mere mention of Hillary Clinton's name. He called her "the ice princess."
(Sidenote: yes, that Oliver North:

Oliver Laurence North (born October 7, 1943) was a member of the Marine Corps who achieved the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. He rose to national prominence because of the Iran-Contra Affair, during which he was a key Reagan administration official involved in the clandestine selling of weapons to Iran in order to generate proceeds to support the Contra rebel group in violation of the law — specifically, a provision known as the "Boland Amendment". Today, he is a conservative political commentator, and host of the Fox News Channel program, War Stories, which is usually broadcast on Sunday evenings.)

But I digress. Hannity's instincts are usually right...wing, that is. Here are a few of his proudest moments. From the late, sometimes great Spinsanity:

Numerous lies abound, for instance, about former President Bill Clinton. Hannity cites an oft repeated lie that in a speech at Georgetown University, "Clinton seemingly blamed the vicious terrorist attacks on you and me and all Americans." Citing a passage from the speech in which Clinton noted that Europeans and Americans had engaged in atrocious acts in the past, such as the Crusades and slavery, Hannity says Clinton is providing a "justification for radical Islamic terrorism" and an "apology for terrorism."

. . .

Let Freedom Ring also accuses Clinton of "not effectively going after Osama Bin Laden" and suggests Clinton should have sent "a covert team over to the Middle East to take out Bin Laden." But Clinton, of course, did attempt to kill bin Laden with a cruise missile attack in 1998 and authorized several other overt and covert measures targeting the terrorist leader. He just failed. But such a claim could also be made thus far against President George W. Bush.

. . .

In other cases, Hannity can't even interpret the data from his own sources correctly. In a discussion of President Ronald Reagan's economic policies, he claims that "had all of Reagan's budgets been adopted federal spending would have been 25 percent less on a cumulative basis." This statement is immediately followed by a chart, reproduced from a Web site that shows that the total difference between federal budgets enacted from 1982 through 1989 and those proposed by President Reagan was $197.3 billion, or 2.7 percent (the 25 percent number on the chart is based on a flawed method of compounding the difference between each year's budget).

But wait, there's more. From Media Matters:
Sean Hannity claimed that the current unemployment rate "is literally ... lower than the '70s, '80s, and '90s." But while the current unemployment rate is, in fact, lower than the average unemployment rate for the 1990s it is higher than in 1998, 1999, and 2000 -- the last three years before President George W. Bush took office.

Sean Hannity repeated radio host Bill Bennett's false claim that Bennett was simply quoting from the book Freakonomics when he made controversial comments regarding blacks, crime, and abortion.

There's much, much more here to be mined.

Demonstrating his consistent picking of winners, we also have this from the first cite:
He has donated to some GOP officeholders, like Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (since he's a commentator and not a journalist, he doesn't consider that a conflict). He professed to no political plans for himself.
Here's where Santorum is:
Senate poll has Casey up by 11 points over Santorum
The state Treasurer, Casey is beating Santorum by eight points, 47% to 39%. Part of Santorum’s trouble stems from the fact that just 40% give him a positive job approval rating, and fewer (38%) think he deserves to be re-elected

Here's where GWBush is:
President Bush’s job approval rating continues at 38%, a new Zogby International telephone poll shows.

And here's where Sean Hannity is:
Now that CBS has released an updated poll showing that a roughly equal percentage of Democrats and Republicans produces the same approval rating for Bush, those same media figures who denounced the prior poll have yet to report on the newest results.* Below are their prior denunciations:

Fox News host Sean Hannity, from the February 28 edition of Hannity & Colmes: "Look at, for example, you have these polls that came out today in CBS. And if you look at the headline, it says, "Bush lowest number in his presidency." The first thing we find out that nearly two to one they polled Democrats."

Based on his track record, I welcome Hannity's continuing support of GWBush, since it almost certainly portends failure. Dude, thanks.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Breaking the law, breaking the law

My friend Wintermute has a great post up today, going deeper into the "leaking classified documents" issue, diving deeper historically than most, which makes sense, since he's actually an attorney who knows about such stuff:
Given the White House's outing of a covert CIA agent and disclosing cherry-picked intelligence for political purposes, we the people might wish that even the President himself would follow the procedure prescribed for "any other entity within the executive branch that comes into the possession of classified information." However, this White House has repeatedly cited a 1988 Supreme Court decision as authority for its claims that the President can control access to classified national security information however he likes, even in derogation of oversight statutes passed by Congress.

A little history is in order, and we will consider the version offered by the Supreme Court in that 1988 opinion, Department of Navy v. Egan, wherein the Court decided that the Merit Systems Protection Board did not have authority to review the Navy's decision to deny a security clearance to a shipyard employee. From Part III of the opinion:

The President, after all, is the "Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States." U.S. Const., Art. II, 2. His authority to classify and control access to information bearing on national security and to determine whether an individual is sufficiently trustworthy to occupy a position in the Executive Branch that will give that person access to such information flows primarily from this constitutional investment of power in the President and exists quite apart from any explicit congressional grant....
. . .
To bolster its "unitary executive" theory, the Bush administration has included language adapted from the Egan case -- "flows from the Constitution and does not depend upon a legislative grant of authority" -- in its signing statements on defense appropriations laws of 2002 and 2005 (requiring advance notice to Congress before covert actions are commenced), to the effect that the President reserves the "right" not to so inform Congress.

Go, read, it's really good.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Paranoia strikes deep, into your life it will creep

Extremists often use fear as part of their sales pitch. Far right militia types warn of Black Helicopters flown by UN thugs coming to impose One World government. Frustrated former Cold Warriors fear "creeping socialism." And passionate (and sometimes fanatic) gun fanciers fear a government that might take away their only means of self-defense.

Fear as a marketing tool is nothing new. Scare people into thinking that someone or something is out to get them and you really have power over a person. National Socialists knew this. And GWBush knows this:
"I'm asking for your vote again and I'm running because there's more to do to keep this country safer," George Bush told supporters in the battleground state of Ohio as the threat of a new terrorist attack still gripped the country.

"One of the lessons of September 11 is we face a deadly foe who will kill on a moment's notice to try and shake our confidence and our will."
But here's something about the militia machos, the Red Dawn lovers, the "from my cold dead fingers" types that might be worth considering: The Iraqi insurgency is you.

Imagine if the Black Helicopters were real, and they came swooping into your town
to declare martial law, and confiscate all your precious 1st Amendment rights and 2nd Amendment hardware. The fear you have all lived under, the outright paranoia flamed by Militias and the NRA has the government winning, confiscating your family farm and making your children go to public school.

But in the environmental classroom known as Iraq, the Government, as represented by Chalabi's goons and American troops, can barely keep one small area of Baghdad safe for visiting Congresspersons and politicians. Instead of ruling with an iron fist, America's finest fighting forces are constantly besieged by insurgent factions willing to suicide bomb the "Invaders."

So all you paranoids on the right, take an object lesson from this debacle. If America's best soldiers can't secure Iraq, how can the Black Helicopters of the UN take over America. After all, wouldn't you be willing to die for your country?

Monday, April 10, 2006

Francis Fukuyama: I'm sorry now

Frances Fukuyama begs for cred in yesterday's LATimes piece (free registration required):
SEVEN WEEKS AGO, I published my case against the Iraq war. I wrote that although I had originally advocated military intervention in Iraq, and had even signed a letter to that effect shortly after the 9/11 attacks, I had since changed my mind.

But apparently this kind of honest acknowledgment is verboten. In the weeks since my book came out, I've been challenged, attacked and vilified from both ends of the ideological spectrum. From the right, columnist Charles Krauthammer has accused me of being an opportunistic traitor to the neoconservative cause — and a coward to boot. From the left, I've been told that I have "blood on my hands" for having initially favored toppling Saddam Hussein and that my "apology" won't be accepted.

In our ever-more-polarized political debate, it appears that it is now wrong to ever change your mind, even if empirical evidence from the real world suggests you ought to. I find this a strange and disturbing conclusion.

I previously wrote about Fukuyama's "change of heart" here.

This editorial needs comment. Really. Let's start here:
In my view, no one should be required to apologize for having supported intervention in Iraq before the war. There were important competing moral goods on both sides of the argument, something that many on the left still refuse to recognize
Trying to have it both ways, Francis? "I was right to support, then not support the war, but those who also didn't support the war were wrong?" C'mon, dude.
The debate over the war shouldn't have been whether it was morally right to topple Hussein (which it clearly was), but whether it was prudent to do so given the possible costs and potential consequences of intervention and whether it was legitimate for the U.S. to invade in the unilateral way that it did.

Again, I was right/wrong but you are wrong-style of debate. "It was really a great idea, but might not actually, you know, work."
(I know that many on the left believe that the prewar estimates about Hussein's weapons of mass destruction were all a deliberate fraud by the Bush administration, but if so, it was one in which the U.N. weapons inspectors and French intelligence were also complicit.)
I'm pretty sure Scott Ritter and others might have some pretty good arguments against this point.
It was also easier to support the war before we knew the full dimensions of the vicious insurgency that would emerge and the ease with which the insurgents could disrupt the building of a democratic state.
As predicted by many, many people.
But in the years since then, it is the right that has failed to come to terms with these uncomfortable facts. The failure to find WMD and to make a quick transition to a stable democracy — as well as the prisoner abuse and the inevitable bad press that emerges from any prolonged occupation — have done enormous damage to America's credibility and standing in the world. These intangible costs have to be added to the balance sheet together with the huge direct human and monetary costs of the war.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently admitted that the United States made numerous tactical errors in Iraq, but she insisted that the basic strategic decision to go to war was still as valid as ever because we foreclosed once and for all the possibility that Iraq would break out of sanctions and restart its WMD programs.

But we now know a lot that throws that fundamental strategic rationale into question.
For once, Francis, I agree with you.
The logic of my prewar shift on invading Iraq has now been doubly confirmed. I believe that the neoconservative movement, with which I was associated, has become indelibly associated with a failed policy, and that unilateralism and coercive regime change cannot be the basis for an effective American foreign policy. I changed my mind as part of a necessary adjustment to reality.

What has infuriated many people is President Bush's unwillingness to admit that he made any mistakes whatsoever in the whole Iraq adventure. On the other hand, critics who assert that they knew with certainty before the war that it would be a disaster are, for the most part, speaking with a retrospective wisdom to which they are not entitled.
The reason many of us on the left still don't feel inclined to accept your non-apology is that it's really not so much an apology as a snotty declaration that you really knew what was right all along, when you clearly didn't. As far back as your PNAC letter it seemed clear to many that the idea of Democratiztion of the Middle East was a really fanciful disaster waiting to happen.

That you have partially distanced yourself from the goals is a great thing. But to still maintain that many of the rationales for the Iraq war were good and noble ideas indicates that you're still not getting it.

And there's still the Libby Defense Fund thing.